Orders of the Day — Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1961.

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Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central 12:00 am, 27th July 1961

Except the Tory Government, as my right hon. Friend says, and they cannot escape responsibility for the present position caused by the impact of their policy on the nation.

However much the Government try to wrap up their apologies in technicalities, and appeals for a bipartisan approach, as the hon. Gentleman did in his closing words, they cannot escape responsibilty for what is happening at this moment. If in October, 1963, when the next General Election is held, they claim again to have set the people free, let the people remember that they will have been set free from the mess into which the Government have got them. Let that not be forgotten.

The party opposite talks a great deal about patriotism. When they make election speeches they drape the rostrum with the Union Jack and end the meeting by singing "Land of Hope and Glory". They claim a monopoly of patriotism, but in the past ten years the Government have cynically and selfishly manipulated the economy of this country —housing subsidies, taxes and everything else—in order to suit the interests of those who own the Conservative Party and whose tool the Conservative Party is. They are the men whose philosophy has been summed by in that infamous comment, "It's bad for sterling, but who cares, it's good business."

The Government have manipulated the economy for a decade in order to serve their interests. It is high time that this was said, and said clearly. In doing so they have created in Britain a society in which the spiv does better than anyone, a nation of Bingo players. Premium Bond-holders—that was the Prime Minister's only original idea—property speculators, take-over bids, and tax dodgers. The Chancellor told us about the best brains being put to work on this.

This is the sort of society which the Government have created. They have created it simply because it is the sort of society in which the people who own the Conservative Party thrive. In this decade of power, they have created the most unwholesome atmosphere in Britain since the Restoration. They cannot escape responsibility for it. The crime and violence figures are the highest in the history of our country. Who dare say that it is not related to the way we have been governed in the past ten years, to the philosophy of the Government and the kind of inspiration they have provided?

The Christian principle of interdependence has been almost completely usurped by the principle of "grab what you can." The manipulators and speculators do increasingly well at the expense of the hard-working, decent members of the community, in a society in which the Government give £80 million to the Surtax payers and £42 million to the teachers on whom the future of the country depends. That is the sort of society this Government have created. It is a society in which the people that I represent, most of whom live in slums, are bearing an increasingly disproportionate burden in order to relieve the well-to-do. They have had their National Insurance increased in recent weeks; 4d. a packet put on their cigarettes yesterday. But the Surtax payers get £80 million more. It is a society in which the Mr. Cottons and the Mr. Clores can, by putting through two telephone calls in a morning, earn more than a teacher earns in the whole of his working life.

It is a debased, unwholesome society. I believe that the chief architect of it is the Prime Minister. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has left the Chamber. His cynicism, amounting frequently to arrogance, has been seen by us all repeatedly during his years in office. Who cares if the Conservative Party diddles the Post Office? It does not matter; it is just a little incident.

Who cares? Who cares about the principle of Ministerial responsibility when a Minister is shown to be absolutely incompetent? Who cares about Ministerial responsibility today when the Government have a majority of 100? Who cares if the Home Secretary drops a colossal brick in Spain? Who cares about public protests when the Prime Minister pushes his relatives into the jobs? Who cares about all these things? The Prime Minister cannot complain now if he sees his cynicism reflected in the face of the nation and the people who run the economy.

In my view, this Prime Minister has been an unmitigated disaster for Britain, and I am sure that history will show this. If he gets his way about the Common Market, he may well be an unmitigated disaster for the Commonwealth as well as for Britain. He has inspired a society over the last few years where it is praiseworthy to get something for nothing, where getting something which is not earned by service is the highest kind of endeavour.

In my political philosophy, a society based on private property is unjust anyhow, but when it is based on private property which is acquired without service, as this society increasingly is, it is not only unjust but immoral as well. The Conservative Party now faces the acid test. If the Tories really want for a change to try honest government divorced completely from the fortunes of the Conservative Party, this man the Prime Minister must go. He is a national disaster. Britain cannot afford this Prime Minister any longer. The national well-being cannot any longer be subordinated to the demands of the Conservative Party, as it has been for the past ten years.

The first essential, therefore, to put our national malady right, if it is to be cured, is to get rid of the principal carrier of the disease, its principal inspiration—the present Prime Minister. If the Tories want to put things right for Britain, the Prime Minister must go.

The second essential, in my view, is not a dog's dinner of half-baked measures such as was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, which as my right hon. Friend so brilliantly said can only aggravate the two specific problems at which they are aimed—inadequate exports and inadequate production. What we want is not that but a restoration of some sense of national purpose, some confidence that in this community of ours, in Britain, service to the community will be rewarded, and that anti-social conduct, just as much in the boardroom and on the Stock Exchange as in the back streets of Newcastle, will not be tolerated. It is not tolerated in the back streets of Newcastle, but it is tolerated on the Stock Exchange and in the boardroom.

This calls for leadership of the highest order, which the present Prime Minister can never give because he has lost the right to give it. But it also calls for something else. It calls for a restoration of education from the debased position into which ten years of Tory rule has relegated it to a central position in the pattern of our national life. The harm done to the ethical and moral standards of Britain by a decade of "You've never had it so good" philosophy cannot be undone by a box of Treasury tricks, but it can be undone by the schools and their teachers, given the right sort of leadership and the right sort of inspiration at the top.

I have always believed that a civilisation—as well as an individual—can be judged by its attitude towards its teachers. It is very significant that the only body of workers singled out for special treatment by the Government in the Chancellor's statement was the teachers, the people who perhaps alone can put Britain right. I think there is an over-whelming case for a revaluation of the importance and the role of education in our society, for two reasons: first, because it has a direct relevance to the efficiency and health of the economy; and, secondly, in restoring our debased standards. There is not only an overwhelming case for it, but if we do not make this revaluation of the place of education in our society we are doomed to ethical and, indeed, economic deterioration.

How do the present Government evaluate education? I will give the House one or two figures. We pay an executive officer in the Civil Service £42,000 far a life's work. He is a man who sits an a high stool and manipulates figures all day long; no doubt he performs a useful function. We pay a qualified teacher for a life's work £35,000, £7,000 less than an executive officer. We tell a qualified man teacher that he must work for seven years after qualification before he reaches the national average earnings. We pay a police constable, with his emoluments, on his maximum, £1,326 a year. We pay a qualified teacher on maximum salary £1,110 a year. If the chairman of the Building Societies Association is to be believed, the great majority of our teachers will never be able to own their own houses.

The teachers have the whole nation behind them in asking for a reassessment of their role in society, but not the Government. The teachers rejected the provisional agreement of the Burnham Committee because it did not amount to that sort of re-assessment of their role in society. Now the Government reject even this provisional agreement, which amounts to £42 million against the £80 million which the Surtax payers are to get. Even this provisional agreement would leave the qualified teacher worse off than the police constable. Were the teachers responsible for the economic crisis? Did they squander their miserable salaries and upset the economy? Then why single them out for this special treatment?

Nothing in the Chancellor's statement reveals more clearly and more starkly what is wrong with Britain than this deplorably mean little statement about the Burnham Committee. The debasing of the standards of the teachers is symptomatic of the debasing of our national life by the vicious, voracious Toryism under which we have lived for ten years.

I believe that the purpose of government is to achieve human happiness. The Government believe that we can judge human happiness by counting the number of motor cars, refrigerators and television sets. This is the eternal fallacy. These things are important, and we want people to have them, but they have little to do with human happiness.