Orders of the Day — Budget Proposals and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th October 1955.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 27th October 1955

Before I make the main point I want to make tonight, I wish to say one word about Washington. I was in Washington early this year, and I am rather distressed that the Washington proposal for building an Embassy there has been halted. It is false economy, in which we have indulged for the last 50 years, to indulge in a policy of cheap rented buildings for our Embassies up and down the world. Sooner or later, we shall have to have an Embassy in Washington, whether we decide to have it in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, and we shall have to pay as much more for building it—just as we shall have to pay today much more for the schools we might have built 30 years ago.

It is a platitude to say that the fundamental problem of this country is that we have to increase production and productivity and sell in world markets things we should like to keep at home but which we have to exchange abroad for raw materials and food. The battle between the two sides of this Committee, now as always, has been how best to use the nation's manpower and energy for that end, and, secondly, how to share the proceeds of the steadily rising success of Britain in this forward struggle.

I am quite certain that we on this side of the Committee are as delighted about the rise in production and productivity as any other hon. Member, and the workers deserve congratulation, as do the leaders of industry, as distinct from those who buy and gamble in shares on the Stock Exchange, for the part they both play in aiding Britain's economic solvency. We on this side of the Committee believe that one of the great motive forces in that economic struggle is a fairer share-out of the wealth of this country. We think we proved it in the first six post-war years.

We believe that in redistributing the national income for the better-off people of the country the Government have hurt the country in its struggle for economic survival. The greatest moral disservice the Government did, apart from yesterday's Budget, was their campaign last May during the Election. I am generally not keen on raking up speeches made by my opponents, but we were asked yesterday by the hon. Member for Kidderminster to quote evidence of the charge that we were making against the Conservative Party. As half of my charge against the Chancellor is one of political duplicity because of the difference between his pre-Election Budget with the February speech, and the Budget yesterday, I want to give quotations. I am delighted that the Chancellor is in his place.

It is all very well to say, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster did yesterday, that the Government mentioned the economic crisis during the Election. Certainly, they did, pianissimo and in footnotes. The whole Election campaign was based on the prosperity of Britain under the Tories and on the denigrating of all that had been achieved under the Labour Party in the six years after the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Wait for it. I am proving this in a moment. The appeal said, roughly, "Look how workers' wages have gone up under the Tories." Indeed, in yesterday's debate and since the General Election, the Labour Party were twitted because of the restraint the workers showed in not pressing wage claims under the Labour Government. It went on, "Look how we have preserved the social services and increased old-age pensions. Forward, under the Tories, for an increased standard of living in the next 20 years."

Let me quote from a speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as reported in "The Times" on 23rd May: Our party is the most competent to maintain the financial and economic conditions which have brought us prosperity. I ask you to look at our record and to reflect on what we may be about to achieve"— now we know what they were about to achieve— if we pursue our present expansionist policy. We must go ahead and invest in success. We have restored national solvency. I have seen our policies bearing fruit at home and abroad. We can look forward to a steady increase in our real wealth, a rising standard of living which will benefit all classes, and a free and vigorous country enjoying the respect and affection of our friends and allies overseas. … That is the prospect before us … if we choose. The Prime Minister, with boyish exuberance, said on 25th May: You know what is at stake … the future of this country and maybe of the world for a generation. His predecessor, the immortal right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir Winston Churchill), a master of understatement, put it a little more restrainedly and more sensibly when he said: The future of Great Britain may well be affected by the decision which will be taken tomorrow. The Leader of the House painted a rosy picture of England under the Tories as compared with the rationing and misery of Socialist government.

All that political double talk did the country more harm than anything else which has happened this year. Now we face the reckoning. Now the Conservative chickens are coming home to roost. Now, in their first instalment—as in six months' time when the second instalment, the housing subsidy plan, produces rent increases—the Tory workers who have loyally voted Tory all their lives and who listened to the tempters in the last Election again, are beginning to pay for their support of Tory policy by seeing a real attack, the most potent attack that has been conducted since 1931, on their standard of living.

I do not want to speak about Purchase Tax. That has been so riddled from the Government Benches, now and throughout the last six years, that one need not waste time on it. The general economic case of the Government is that we are spending too much at home. The political case of the Government is that the workers are spending too much at home. In the last Budget they made it possible for the better-off people to spend another £100 million to £130 million a year. The whole pattern of Tory Budgets has been to release spending power for the better-off people. Against that I want to examine what the Government are proposing to do for housing.

Everybody who has seen the magnificent housing estates up and down the country must wonder from time to time why there is a housing problem at all—and I am one of those who have paid tribute to the Government for their programme of 300,000 houses a year. Why, when England is dotted about with magnificent housing estates—of smaller houses, under this Government, it is true—have we a housing problem?

I believe that the answer was given years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), who pointed out that if we raised the standard of living of the British people, if we built the Welfare State, those who were content in the years before the war to go without houses because they could not afford them, would be added to the list of those who wanted houses. What is happening today is that young married couples are no longer content, as they were in 1936 or 1926 to live, as a Minister once told them, in one room. Old folks still want to live in their own home; everyone wants a house of his own to live in.

And so the housing shortage still remains. I think that every hon. Member in the House must have my own experience, which is that three out of every four cases which come to me at the weekend for help are housing cases. My fear is that the Government seek to solve the housing problem as poverty solved it in the years between the wars. By increasing the rents of council houses they are going to remove from the council house queue numbers of people who cannot afford to pay the extra rent which will have to be charged. They will even compel to leave council houses people who will not be able to pay the rent which will have to be charged, even though the new rent which has to be charged—because of the cutting of the subsidies—will be less than it would have been but for the social wealth of the 1¼ million council houses we built before the war, and whose tenants are to be used to cushion the grim effect of the Government's policy.

Indeed, many local authorities, faced with the financial implications of the Government's policy will do what one has already announced that it will do—cease to build houses for rent at all. I believe—and I had confirmation of it in the speech of the Minister this afternoon—that the attack on council house subsidies merely creates a climate of opinion for a similar attack on the rents of the tenants of privately-owned houses.

I undertook to sit down at 9.30 so that the Minister might follow, but I want to say a kind word to the Chancellor. I want sincerely to congratulate him on the fact that this time education has escaped the cuts; that this time the Minister of Education has not been thrown out of the Cabinet and then a cut in school building imposed. In view of his own connection with the 1944 Act, in view of his words yesterday when resisting his wild back benchers and defending the social services from cuts, I would urge him to remember the existence of the Report of a Select Committee of this House on school building, to study the week-old report of the King George Trust on the subject of our educational services throughout the country and to remember that, so important is educational expenditure, so vital is it to the economic struggle which the Chancellor wants the country to survive, that he must not be content with not cutting educational expenditure but must expand it.