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 Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath 12:00 am, 27th July 1961

It is a very bad advance when compared with their lack of advance in preceding years. On any conceivable comparison teachers come out very badly. There are thirty-six schools in my division and I do my best to visit them all, as I did elsewhere when I was the Member for another division. The country owes a tremendous debt to teachers not only for what they do in school but for the time they put in absolutely voluntarily. Hardly any group of people in the country do more voluntary work than do the teachers. They organise sports on Saturdays, and cultural work of all kinds and trips abroad. I regret to say that all the character building that is done in the country can be said to be in the hands of the teaching profession.

I hope that the teachers learn the political lessons from what is going on. Greatly as I admire their work, I feel when I meet them in Birmingham that they have completely divorced their moral outlook from a sensible realisation of politics. I hope that in future we shall have the teachers coming to a realisation of politics based on the values which they are trying to inculcate in the schools.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us yesterday about sport and, picking it out of the air, as it were, as the sort of thing that was desirable but which he had to curtail, he mentioned the Report of the Wolfenden Committee on sport. Incidentally, he did not say "Sport and Recreation" which is its full title. Anyone who is concerned with psychological trends in this country must be concerned about the whole field of youth activity. I assure the House that the best interests of the country, as is the case with other countries, depend as much on sport activities as almost any other activity.

I would remind hon. Members of the young lad who won a bronze medal for diving at the last Olympic Games and who when he was training had to get up early every morning to catch a train from East Ham to Cardiff in order to practise in the only swimming bath in the country that measured up to Olympic standards. These facts became known to the nation after he had won his medal. We all basked in his reflected glory and delighted in what he had clone. Since then seven swimming baths have been built but not one of them comes up to Olympic standards. Now we are perpetuating and worsening the situation in sports activities.

The point I want to make about the Government cutting back on youth work is very important. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) appears to be laughing, but anyone who is concerned about the lack of facilities for the Youth Service can only deplore what the Chancellor did. Only a week ago the Economic Secretary was so concernad about youth that he said that he was consulting the Minister of Education to see whether there could be a debate on the subject, but within a week we find that there is to be no money to provide recreational facilities, Youth Service facilities and better youth clubs.

What alternative has youth but to resort to the coffee bar, the dance hall and the street corner? The sort of speech which the Chancellor made yesterday and the sort of exception that he singled out mean that those who are concerned about the creative training of young people will remain disappointed for even longer. I hone that hon. Members opposite who will be supporting the Chancellor's proposals in the Lobby will not in future utter their nauseous humbug deploring the state of the nation's youth at party conferences when at the same time they are repressive in providing facilities for people to play games and follow healthy pursuits.

The effect of the Government's proposals on the public services are absolutely alarming. I think of the problems in the Financial Secretary's constituency and in mine. I know that the hon. Gentleman would be the last person who wants to stop slum clearance. I spent the whole of my school life living in a back-to-back house in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Those houses which have neither bathroom nor kitchen are still there and people are living in them. We in Birmingham do our best to deal with the situation but that effort is now to be cut back for years. The Economic Secretary has said that public investment is to be held back over the long term.

Let us consider the effect of these measures. This is all part of the problem of the lack of a moral approach among hon. Members opposite. Many young people are now trying to set up home. I regret to say that most of them voted Conservative at the last election. They took the ward of hon. Members opposite and they mortgaged their future for many years. They worked out what they could afford by way of interest rates and now they are faced with a terrible social problem. Not only is the Bank Rate going up, but year after year since they started to buy their homes there has been an increase in mortgage rates. Every time we run into an economic crisis it is the usury in our society that is elevated to the highest pinnacle. Local authority rates will also be going up, because local government finance is being put into an impossible position.

The Financial Secretary said that the Chancellor did not say that one of the regulators was an alternative to the Bank Rate, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman certainly gave that impression and many of us thought that the regulator was a much more reasonable instrument than the blunt instrument of the Bank Rate. But, having got the Finance Bill on the Statute Book, the Chancellor comes with a weapon in each hand, the blunt bludgeon of the Bank Rate in one hand and the rapier of the regulator in the other. This is not the way to behave fairly by people who are trying to set up home.

The best people in our society are trying to look after themselves, solve their own problems and raise their families, and they are being rapidly put in the hands of moneylenders, financiers and usurers. How can we ask the man who is buying his house and is struggling to pay for it, putting everything he has into building a home, not to ask for a rise when he now finds that all this will cost him 10s. or more a week?

It typifies the inherent contradictions in our system when public services and education are cut back. In Birmingham there were 17,773 live births in 1955. During the following few years, and especially in 1959–60, when the nation was told that we had never had it so good, the husbands in Birmingham seem to have got cracking. The birthrate in that year was 21,240. This is a phenomenal increase in the city's birthrate which worries the education authority beyond belief. Where will the authority have the schools in which to put these young people?

I do not know what the Financial Secretary is saying to his hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. I would remind the Financial Secretary that he represents a Birmingham constituency, as I do, and I do not think that he wants the primary classes in the schools in that city, which now number over forty pupils, to increase still further in size. But, with the phenomenal increase in the birthrate in Birmingham, if we retard the capital expenditure programme relating to education, and if we are not to encourage more people to enter the teaching profession, a serious crisis will face the education authorities of the city.

The same applies to the hospital service, and one could discuss other public services which are similarly affected. I happen to be the chairman of a hospital management committee and I know that the Minister of Health was anxious that there should be a dramatic surge forward in our efforts to get rid of old hospitals. The right hon. Gentleman wrote to those people who are concerned with the management of hospitals, and I know that hundreds of people who are members of hospital management committees in various parts of the country spent many hours working out details. They were under the impression that this was the hour; that the great and glorious time was at hand when we should get rid of all our old and obsolete hospitals.

We ask young girls who have entered the nursing profession to work for far too long for a remuneration which is far too small. They are the people who are bearing the burden of nursing the sick. We hear scornful comments from hon. Members opposite about the national average in wages, but in effect that means that we are asking young girls to nurse 30 or 40 patients throughout the night, and the rates of pay which they receive are terrible. They should not be asked to work in such circumstances.

Dr. Sheldon made a report to the Midland Regional Hospital Board which was so extravagant in its language—although so justified—that it received headlines in the national Press. All this work is to be held back now, and we are told that the pace at which the Health Service can go forward in the future represents only 2½ per cent. of our present progress. We cannot rebuild the hospitals of this country with such a programme. It would not be so bad if what the Chancellor referred to represented a pause, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made it clear that in respect of the public services this is not a pause but a long-term programme. It applies to education and to the Health Service and to everything else.

In my view the present crisis demonstrates the complete failure of the capitalist society as epitomised by hon. Members opposite. Their sort of unequal planning is collapsing. In an island economy such as ours, where we have to be careful about imports and where we must stimulate exports, and where we must give priority to the right type of production, planning is needed by people who believe in the right sort of social and economic planning.

I do not believe that hon. Members opposite wish to go out of their way to ruin the aspirations of many young married couples, but that is the effect of the policy which they support. I do not think that they want to create unemployment or short-term employment. But when they talk about over-employment in industry the natural consequence is the creation of unemployment, with all its effects upon individuals. Any one individual in this country is as important as another, and there is no reason why he should be put in economic jeopardy in order to extricate the Government from the economic mess in which they find themselves.

I do not want to see the old folk continually over-burdened as they are. It does not give me any pleasure to go to the theatre, as I did the other night, and see a production like "Beyond the Fringe" in which there is a sketch of the Prime Minister, presented in a masterly fashion by one of the actors. The man who impersonates the Prime Minister speaks of the right hon. Gentleman's tour round the world. He continually points at a model of the globe and he speaks in a halting and hesitant manner which is absolutely reminiscent of the Prime Minister. He says, "I have a letter here from a gentleman in Fife," and he produces a letter. The letter says, "I want to ask the Prime Minister—I have been a lifelong supporter of the Conservative Party—how I am to get on on £2 7s. 6d. a week. I am an old-age pensioner. What is the Conservative Party going to do for me? "Then the actor who is impersonating the Prime Minister tears up the letter and says, "As I was saying when I met Mr. Khrushchev in Moscow …" Nobody takes pleasure in that sort of thing—