Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of Orders of the Day — Ways and Means – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1964.

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Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames 12:00 am, 20th April 1964

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with it by saying "No" while adopting a sedentary posture.

The hon. Gentleman referred to various weapons of war whose development had been halted at one stage or another. Both he and the Committee know that when one is indulging in research in advanced weapons of war—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen may not care for national defence, but we on this side of the Committee do.

When one is developing weapons of war one is working on what a former Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment called the edges of knowledge. It is obvious that lines have to be developed for quite a distance before it is known that they are not as satisfactory as they might have been and do not measure up to the performance which can be met by other weapons. If we do what the hon. Gentleman suggests, and develop only one weapon, we shall be left in a difficult situation if it turns out to be a failure.

This is not an experience which is unique to us. In the United States of America, during the last 10 years, 61 projects have been abandoned before going into service, at a cost of more than £2,000 million. Nor is this situation unique to a Conservative Government. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may remember the Brabazon aircraft and the Princess flying boat.

I turn now to something even more important. Does the hon. Gentleman accept—I think that he does—that the level of expenditure forecast in our White Paper to 1967–68 is the most that our economy can carry? He was asked a question about this during the television programme to which I referred earlier. He was asked, "Does the Labour Party accept that?", and he replied, "You heard me. You heard Mr. Heath quote me in the House this afternoon as having said the same thing". I take it that he accepts that view, but the Opposition as a whole must "come clean" on this, because, while the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East—and I say this to his credit—takes the line that he has done on this matter, it is not the line adopted by the Opposition generally.

I do not know how many hon. Members saw the Labour Party political broadcast as recently as 8th April, less than a fortnight ago. The Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), and the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) took part in that programme. This is what happened. Speaking about prescription charges, the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North said: A Labour Government would abolish the charges completely", and added that he knew that it would cost a lot of money. The present yield of the charges is £24 million.

The hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North said: We shall establish a minimum income under which no old person will be allowed to fall. They will have this income as of right without any recourse to the National Assistance Board. How much that will cost will depend on what figure they fix, and unless they fix a farcical figure, the amount will be very substantial indeed.

The hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North then said: A Labour Government will abolish the earnings rule. I am not sure whether she meant only for widows, which would mean a figure of £6 million to £7 million, or for everyone, which would mean a figure of over £100 million.

The hon. Member for Fulham said: A Labour Government will give financial help to local authorities so that they can grant mortgages at favourable rates. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North talked about deficiencies in the hospital service, which, he said, a Labour Government would remedy. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North said: We realise that our educational plans will cost money, but we also realise the importance of carrying them out. Finally, the hon. Member for Fulham said: It is Labour Party policy that a decidedly bigger share of the total cost of education should be placed on the central Government. It is not good enough that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East should seek to take a responsible attitude and say that further expenditures over and above those in our plans are not possible, and then his hon. Friends should appeal to the British public for votes on the basis of a whole collection of in- creased expenditure. Let me warn hon. Gentlemen opposite that that was just the ambivalent policy which brought them to defeat in 1959, and that it will do so again.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East quite properly referred to the question of public investment, its control, and the load on the construction industry. He stressed, and I agree with him, that if the construction industry is overloaded there will be extravagance and delay. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works is hard at it seeking to modernise methods of construction and introduce industrialised methods. But that will not meet all the demands over the next few years, and, therefore, it is necessary to exercise some supervision of the investment programme.

The hon. Gentleman said that a Labour Government would co-ordinate public investment. That is what we are doing. We are co-ordinating the capacity of the building industry and the resources available in particular areas. We make a careful survey of various demands, and regulate public service investment accordingly.

How much further would the hon. Gentleman go? He referred to more planning and more starting dates. Does he mean licences for building private houses? Apparently he does not want to intervene, so we can draw our conclusions. Those of our fellow citizens—and there are hundreds of thousands of them every year—who want to build houses for themselves will not think it quite so funny.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North attacked the South East Study on the ground that it cancelled out our plans for the North-East and Central Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman reads paragraph 30 of the White Paper, he will realise that what he said is nonsense. He will see, on the contrary, our pledge to give priority to Central Scotland and the North-East, and that development under the South East Study has to be fitted in with that.

The Leader of the Opposition made a very interesting speech on Tuesday. It contained one phrase which, I think, struck the Committee. He was taking the line not of criticism of my right hon. Friend, but of sympathy for him in the difficulties that he thought he was in following what he called the incubus of 12 drifting years. Mercifully, that "drift" has taken us a long way from the starting point. It has taken us away from the standard rate of Income Tax at 9s. 6d. in the £ away from the top rate of Purchase Tax of 100 per cent.; away from food rationing when one received 1½ ozs. of cheese a week; and away from a balance of payments crisis. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition may have forgotten that, because, prudently he left that Administration a little before then.

The ideas of the right hon. Gentleman about drifting are rather curious, because these 12 years have seen the biggest advance in the standard of life of our people in any comparable period, or in any longer period, with more social progress than in any 50 years of our history. House building went up from 195,000 in 1951 to nearly 350,000 this year. In that period 6,440 schools, or nearly 10 a week, were built. Pensions increased in real value by 50 per cent. The pension of a widowed mother with children increased 100 per cent. Hospital building went up from £13 million in 1951, to £64 million this year. In 1951, £2 million to £3 million were spent on the construction of new roads. Last year we spent £124 million for that purpose.

Further, as the Committee knows, the increase in individual material wellbeing was such as we have never seen before, with the motor car passing from being a badge of wealth to becoming the instrument of ordinary people, with three times as many registered as there were at the beginning of those drifting years. The increase in the number of television sets—