Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1967.

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Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire 12:00 am, 1st November 1967

The sense of purpose and reality which the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) has described can be found in the countryside of Britain, but I did not find much glimmer of it in the Gracious Speech, as he claimed. I ask him to return to the key paragraph in the Gracious Speech which has been quoted several times today already. It says: The principal aim of My Government's policy is the achievement of a strong economy…a continuing surplus on the balance of payments…a satisfactory growth of output and…full employment. This would be an encouraging declaration if we could have any faith in it at all, but there are no proposals later in the Gracious Speech which have any relevance to the fulfilment of those aims. Indeed, the proposals which follow mostly point the other way. The so-called integration of road and rail transport will stifle competition and freedom of choice which are critical to industry. The so-called Industrial Expansion Bill, with its deceptive and gimmicky title paves the way to State intervention in industry. The Prime Minister's explanation yesterday confirmed the fear that it is little more than a device to help Socialism to scale the commanding heights.

Yesterday, I was entertained by the Prime Minister's comparison of the Government with a merchant bank. The taxpayer who puts up the cash is unlikely to be satisfied in the end with a system of merchant banking by the State which gives low priority to profitability. Nor will industry be much impressed by the individual or collective commercial experience of the merchant adventurers on the Treasury Bench.

This statement of economic aims early in the Gracious Speech appears now to be an annual ritual. We have had it all before. Indeed, this part of the Gracious Speech is a condemnation of the Government. Where is the strong economy? Where is the surplus on the balance of payments? Do three years of stagnation represent a satisfactory growth of output? Do the Government seriously believe that the chant of full employment will cheer the lengthening dole queues? This, of course, is a declaration of intent and I accept that. But these conditions do not exist in Britain and the fact that they do not exist is a confession of failure.

The Government cannot expect the nation to pay much attention to this declaration of aims. No one believes this sort of thing any longer. The Prime Minister and his right hon. Friends are like a row of grandfather clocks which have constantly struck 13—casting growing doubt on their subsequent utterances. In February, 1965, the Prime Minister declared that the economic crisis was now "virtually over". In the Gracious Speech seven months later, the aim of the Government was to "develop a soundly based economy". In the Gracious Speech in April, 1966, there was a promise of action to "stimulate progress in implementing the National Plan"—and we all know what happened to that.

Then we had the measures of July, 1966, and in November, 1966, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the nation on television that the measures were having the effect which they were intended to have. Now, just a year later, the Gracious Speech refers to the promotion of an effective policy for productivity, prices and incomes, and so condemns the Government yet again.

This failure by the Government to manage the economy is of major concern to the development areas about which the First Secretary was speaking earlier, because it is the strength of the total economy of the nation which matters to the development areas in the end. We too often lose sight of that. We will never get prosperity in Scotland, or Wales, or the North-East, or the South-West, unless the total economy of Great Britain is sound.

I understand that we are to hear some revelations later from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. I understand that there may be some statement about action to help the development areas further. It is a great pity that we did not have some news of all this at the beginning of today's debate, for that would have helped us to consider the Government's proposals—if there are any—with a better background of information. However, I look forward with interest to what the right hon. Gentleman will have to say and I hope that it will be meaningful and effective.

I must confess that I was not much encouraged by the First Secretary's observations about development areas when earlier today he called attention in particular to the programme of advance factories. Of course, advance factories are welcome, but their significance in the industrial scene should not be exaggerated. I get a little tired of the way in which the Government pour out this claptrap and sing the same old tune time and time again about advance factories. There have been a lot of advance factories for Scotland in the programmes announced in the last three years and these factories have already provided just over 600 jobs, but this is not very many against an unemployment figure of more than 80,000. The factories have provided some jobs and of course will provide more as they develop and as tenants are found for empty factories, but they do not make much of a dent in the total unemployment figure.

We then had the right hon. Gentleman's statement that there had been a large dispersal of Government offices and what he described as official and non-official organisations. He went on to say that Scotland had had her fair share. I am very glad to hear it. I had begun to think that a fair share of nought was nought, because I do not know where these Government offices are. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what Government offices have been moved to Scotland by the present Government? I know of course that there is a larger bureaucracy and therefore many more officials in Scotland. For example, we have one building full of people collecting Selective Employment Tax and another building full of people busy paying back Selective Employment Tax, but that is not the sort of Government employment to which I am referring.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a list of the Government offices which have been deployed into Scotland from the South by actions taken by the present Government? I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to tell me about the Post Office Savings Bank for which transfer the Government took credit in the Scottish White Paper of about 18 months ago because that, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, was a decision of the Conservative Government and not of the present Administration. Will he give a list of the official organisations which have been moved to Scotland as a result of governmental intervention? Will he also tell us how much new office building there has been in Scotland? If he gives us this information, we shall be able to judge the contribution which these actual or alleged developments have made to the Scottish economy.

The major concern in Scotland is the actual level of unemployment. I welcome the fact that the underlying seasonal trend has improved in the last month. Of course I remember that the underlying seasonal trend has been geting worse steadily for months past. While it is reasonable to call attention to and to welcome this improvement, the Government ought not to give the impression of making too light of the serious and worsening position in Scotland.

It did not help the Prime Minister's reputation in Scotland—or what is left of it—when he spoke on television the other day. I myself saw a news bulletin on television when it was announced that unemployment in Scotland had gone up and a few minutes later we saw the Prime Minister assuring people in Scotland that unemployment had gone down. There appeared to be a conflict which increased the cynicism which the people of Scotland have about all declarations by the Prime Minister.

There is little triumph in the Government saying, as they now say, that unemployment in Scotland has not gone up by as much as it might have done. In effect they are saying to the unemployed man in Scotland that he should not worry, because unemployment in Scotland has gone up by only 48 per cent. whereas in other parts of Britain it has gone up more. The argument that unemployment is being spread more evenly is not very impressive. There is not much virtue in spreading more misery more evenly, and yet that is precisely what is now happening.

When the Prime Minister speaks about Scottish unemployment, I hope that he will make it clear that the level is far too high and must come down. He will remember that when he previously visited Scotland in March he declared that a level of 3·6 per cent. unemployed was intolerable. I hope that he will now reflect that the level today is 3·8 per cent., and worsening.

In all our discussions about the development areas, we tend naturally to concentrate on factories and industrial development. I trust that we will pay more attention than previously to areas lying outside the industrial belt, where there is little manufacturing industry. In Scotland over half the working population is engaged in the service industries. The proportion of the population engaged in these industries outside the industrial belt is very much higher. It is these very people who are discriminated against by the absurd Selective Employment Tax.

I wish that the Secretary of State for Scotland would stop pretending that all is well and that the S.E.T. is a success. It is doing harm to constituencies such as mine which depend very largely on the service industries. It will do more serious harm in the winter as people are laid off because of the pressure of S.E.T. on the service industries.

This discrimination against the service industries will be heightened by the regional employment premium which makes matters worse for the service industries. The greatest help to development in Scotland would be the immediate removal of the S.E.T., or the removal of the tax 'luring the winter months when it will have its gravest effects, and the switching of the £40 million promised by way of regional employment premium from what amounts to a wages subsidy to investment in housing and modern communications, and to the total improvement of the infrastructure, which should he the most important ingredient in any regional development policy.

Where reform is needed, there is no mention of it in the Gracious Speech. Instead we have the proposed reform of another place, although that will not cheer the unemployed in Scotland very much. The advance publicity given to this proposal, which is surely unusual for any proposal in any Gracious Speech, shows the way in which this questionable Measure will be handled by the Government. Quite obviously it is to be treated as a diversionary activity during the months of discontent ahead. We have no proposal for the reform of the social services.

The First Secretary was quite right to refer to the reform of the organisation of social work in Scotland. Perhaps he did not grasp the fact that this has nothing to do with the social services in the sense that we refer to them as being in need of reform. I welcome this proposal which I imagine will implement the Kilbrandon Report, although I hope that the Government will give us time to discuss the Bill with our constituents, and time to debate the Report before the Bill is published, because it is not entirely a non-contentious proposal.

There is no sign of any social measure to assist poverty, yet the First Secretary was speaking of social measures to assist poverty today. Family allowances are to go up, but that is not identifying and helping true poverty. The First Secretary spoke very movingly about the need to identify people in hardship and of his experiences in Scotland. He went on to say that someone ought to write a book about it, and I agree that it would be very helpful. It was discouraging to hear him in the course of this take a swipe at the market research conducted by the detergent manufacturers, because this is yet another manifestation of the contempt that this Government has for commerce, for competition, and for the whole process of selling the goods we produce.

The greatest problem facing the nation and the development areas is the fact that we have lost the sense of purpose and the feeling of incentive which create the conditions in which we could expect a return to the growth of the economy, which this Government have abandoned. Although there are some welcome minor proposals in the Gracious Speech, none of these has any relevance to the primary need for a return to growth, and it is a return to growth, in the total economy, which will provide the advance for which the development areas and the whole nation so critically looks.