Orders of the Day — Family Poverty

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1967.

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Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Chelsea 12:00 am, 20th April 1967

It was nothing of the sort. We suggested a graduated pension for old people. The hon. Gentleman would have been wiser not to have raised that point, because had the Conservatives been returned to power in 1964 those older pensioners would have been enjoying increased benefits for two years or more, benefits that they have been denied by the Labour Government.

Our 1964 manifesto proposed a change in the srtucture of Government to deal with a new situation. We proposed the establishment of an overall Ministry which would concern itself with the whole range of personal care. Some of my hon. Friends had been suggesting that type of move for some time previously. I recall calling such an organisation a "Ministry of people." The point was that all personal care and cash should be under the control of one senior Minister, and that would have happened had we been returned to power.

Having raised the general standard of living, one needs a very much more sophisticated and subtle form of Government organisation to pick out, analyse and identify the areas of need. One of the results of this rising standard of living has been that social changes in the community have happened at a greater speed. There is, therefore, more need for the problems to be identified quickly. That is why we would have added to this overall Ministry a social intelligence unit.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) pointed out, we had been relying far too much on the admirable, but necessarily limited, resources of private individuals in conducting this sort of social research. The Government, which alone have the resources behind them, should have at their disposal a social intelligence unit perpetually searching for new areas of need. Such a unit would be related not only to the present Minister of Social Security—as we argued in the debate on the Measure which set up her Department—but would be concerned with the whole of our social life and its quality. This would have been done for some years had the Conservatives been returned to power in 1964.

Instead, we had the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) who, we were told, was in general charge of social affairs. We were also told that he was in charge of a general review, but we have seen little of that. He was like a kettle about to come to the boil. We were always about to hear from him the details of a great revolution in Government social policy. Then suddenly, six months ago, the kettle was taken off the stove. The right hon. Gentleman, with his lips unopened, left the Government and was replaced by the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister without Portfolio. I do not know what he thinks of his appointment; whether he feels that the supervision of the Government's social policies should be a part-time job for a Cabinet Minister. We believe that it should be a full-time job and that there should be in the Cabinet a senior Minister in charge of the whole of this range of Government activity in a co-ordinated Ministry. Only by such a policy can a Government have the sort of social priorities and policies which the present Government so conspicuously lack.

The right hon. Lady the Minister naturally mentioned the economic crisis which, she said, had prevented certain things from happening. I remind her that this was primarily a crisis of confidence in her Government. The reason for the prolonged crisis has, above all, been the inability of the Government to cope with a crisis of their own making. Granted all that, the sort of rearrangement of Government which I have been advocating would have cost nothing and would have been done by now. There is, therefore, no reason why proposals for a realistic social policy should not now be laid.

We listened with interest to the right hon. Lady make in the latter part of her remarks what was a Ministerial rather than a party political speech. She is right in thinking that the more one looks at this detailed problem of family poverty the more difficult it becomes to get the right answer without destroying enterprise. She clearly came down on the side of what she described as her fourth alternative and, although less drastic as a form of taxation disincentive than her first proposal—namely, the abolition of child allowances—it would still be a disincentive.

This country has suffered enormously from the able, young person with children going abroad because he can keep more of his earnings in another country. I would be against any move which would result in the young, energetic creator of wealth keeping even less of his income than he does today. This is as much a social problem as anything else mentioned today because unless we keep the creators of wealth in Britain and encourage them to do better we will not have the wealth to make the overall improvements we need.

We should rule out any solution to this problem which would mean an increase in direct taxation on the very area in the community on which it is biting the most sharply—the young family man; the energetic creator of wealth—and I would, therefore, be very hesitant to support the right hon. Lady in this Measure.