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Her Majesty's Government (Opposition Motion)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th June 1976.

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Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North 12:00 am, 9th June 1976

I detected in the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) the authentic voice of Socialism. Its case is always well expressed and keenly argued, and we were not disappointed in that respect. The solution is always that of more Socialism. That is put forward as the answer to our problems. I shall return to that matter in a few moments.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is now present, because I should like him to know that I believe that the most disturbing thing about this Government is that they can no longer be trusted to observe the rules. When their policies and failures have been forgotten, this Government will be remembered as the Government who violated the traditions on which our parliamentary government is based.

The arguments of expediency which we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman in the last few weeks have been deeply shocking. We have been told that the end justifies the means and that the will of the Labour Government is too important to be held up by the House of Commons. These are arguments of the tyrant through the ages, and it is sad to hear them being used in the mother of Parliaments.

I turn to the Government's social services programme. Who are the victims of Socialist mismanagement? As always, they are those least able to protect themselves, those who lack the bargaining power of the big trade unions. The victims are the pensioners, the widows, the childern, and the patients.

Which programmes are the Government failing to honour under pressure of events? They are not failing to honour their Socialist programmes. They are failing to honour their social programmes. They can still afford £500 million to nationalise aircraft and shipbuilding, but they cannot afford to expend £500 million to honour their pledges to pensioners. They have an odd sense of priorities. Socialism must march on regardless of cost. However, social programmes are cut back, and apparently the Liberals have decided to support that policy by abstaining this evening.

I wish to illustrate my argument by putting forward four examples. First, I wish to mention pensioners, who have been offered a £2 increase in November. That sounds generous, but it fails to honour the repeated pledges made by the Labour Government to protect pensioners from inflation. The increase should be £3 rather than £2 in order to protect the pensioners from inflation. It should be £500 million more than the Government are offering.

The Government have altered the basis of the calculation to suit their own ends. A tricky little dodge has been used with the method of calculation. Why did the Government not come to the House and say, frankly that they could not afford to fulfil their pledge to pensioners, could not afford the full increase, rather than bend the rules? It would have been better to do that, to confess rather than to use the subterfuge which they adopted.

I am sorry that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was on the Government Front Bench until recently, has now left the Chamber, because I wish to refer to the Finance Bill. The age allowances are being increased in the Finance Bill by £130 for a married pensioner. This sounds generous, but it is less than the pension increase.

What will the effect be? Many pensioners with other income will find that they are paying more tax or are being brought into tax for the first time. They will be worse off as a result of these proposals. Those who will suffer worst of all will be the thrifty ones, those who are receiving occupational pensions or the benefits of other savings, or those who are continuing to work after normal retirement age.

My second example is that of widows who continue to work. They are now paying tax on virtually every pound that they earn over and above their pension. They are trapped by the combination of a low tax threshold and a high tax rate. In many cases they are also paying national insurance contributions. Altogether it means that from every pound they earn they pay 40p in tax. What sort of priority is it which clobbers working widows like this but can afford £400 million to nationalise building land?

My third example concerns children. What has happened to the Government's child benefit scheme? It has been postponed by the Secretary of State for Social Services—or, more accurately, to use the phrase of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), it has been abandoned. No wonder there is the motion on the Order Paper, signed by over 100 Members, which reads: That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to honour its commitment to implement the Child Benefit Scheme in full from April 1977. Here was a far-sighted reform, pioneered by the previous Conservative Government, abandoned by the Labour Government, reintroduced by them under another name and now dropped. Here is another solemn pledge affecting the social services which has been broken. This reform would have brought substantial help to mothers and to the poorest families. It would have helped to relieve the poverty traps which engulf so many of the poorer families. It could have been done at no extra cost whatever above the cost involved in the Government's inferior substitute.

My final example deals with the mentally ill. The Government produced a White Paper a little time ago called "Better services for the mentally ill". The cost of implementing the proposals in that White Paper would be about £40 million. Clearly there is not much hope of getting that sort of money unless it is taken from elsewhere in the social services. At exactly the same time the Government are throwing away £40 million a year in revenue by phasing out pay beds from National Health Service hospitals.

At a time when the health service is crying out for money, this important revenue is being sacrificed. Politics are being put before patients. It is all very well for Labour Members to laugh. They know only too well that it is time that these broken pledges were exposed. Now that they are being exposed, they do not like it.

No one who heard the Chancellor's Budget speech some weeks ago would have believed that these were the sort of measures he was inflicting on the pensioners and the other groups I have mentioned. These are some of the victims of Socialism in the social services, the pensioners, widows, children and patients. Social programmes are being abandoned because of the failure of the Government to manage the economy effectively. Social pledges are being broken but Socialism marches on regardless of the cost.

What a strange sense of priorities! The cost is too great. There are far too many innocent victims. It is for these reasons, among others, that I shall vote for this censure motion tonight.