§ 16. Amendment of law
Motion made and Question proposed,
That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance, so, however, that this resolution shall not extend to giving any relief from purchase tax otherwise than by making the same provision for chargeable goods of whatever description or by reducing any of the several rates of the tax generally for all goods to which that rate applies.—[Mr. Butler.]
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has expounded his Budget with his usual lucidity and clarity, and in a very pleasant manner. I am sure that all the experts were able to follow all the figures. Personally, I want a little time to digest them, so the remarks I propose to make will be very brief.
I do not think that this Budget can be considered to be a very exciting Budget, but I am sure that there will be plenty of clamorous demands voiced during the next few days. The right hon. Gentleman will certainly have disappointed some newspapers that have been loudly demanding 6d., as if it was the "dockers' tanner," off the Income Tax. He will, I am sure, have disappointed many who hoped for some alleviation of the lot of the old-age pensioners. I am quite sure 234 that he will hear of that from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and others.
The right hon. Gentleman has not made any very startling changes. This has been, as he says, a carry-on Budget, but I think he will be the first to admit that if his ship is to carry on, how it carries on will depend on the weather. I rather gathered from the right hon. Gentleman, despite the tributes that he naturally paid to his own management of our finances, that, on the whole, during the last year he has experienced fairly calm weather, and I think he was right to draw attention to the fact that we may not, in this next year, be experiencing just that kind of condition.
There is the great unknown factor of a possible big recession in the United States of America. It is, I think, very difficult for any of us to estimate what that will be like. We all hope, with the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests not only of this country but of the whole world, that that recession will not go very far.
The right hon. Gentleman has made some concessions. They were rather small. I think we should have liked to see something rather more on post-war credits. We welcome the very small Entertainments Duty reliefs, but I think he has not done quite enough to please the sportsmen. We shall have to review these proposals very carefully in the next few days, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South opens the debate tomorrow he will, no doubt, deal with the wider issues of finance in which experienced financiers revel. Far be it from me that I should make any voyage into the financial field. I again thank the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the House, for the very clear statement that he has made.
§ 5.13 p.m
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossen-dale)
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer read the lesson at Greenstead Green Church on Sunday the congregation prayed that if any criticism was made of the right hon. Gentleman it should be tempered with sympathy and understanding. I am sure that all of us wish to proceed in that spirit this afternoon, and I should like to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader 235 of the Opposition and congratulate the Chancellor on the lucidity and the good humour with which he presented this carry-on Budget. Indeed, his good humour was, in the circumstances, quite remarkable.
The right hon. Gentleman drew upon a number of nautical metaphors in the course of his speech, and I hope that the Committee will not feel that I am departing from that spirit when I say that he himself reminded me of a water creature, Lewis Carrol's crocodile, who had a very cheerful grinAnd welcomed little fishes in With gently smiling jaws.I am sure that many members of the public, because this is a standstill Budget, will feel that they have had a pretty fair crack of the whip because no new impositions have been placed upon them. I hope very much that members of the public will not be taken in in that way. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was quite right to stress the indignation which we feel on this side of the Committee that the Chancellor was unable to do something more for the old people, and not only for the old people but also for the disabled and the sick—and I would add to that class the spinsters as well.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is because of the situation that we are in that we cannot do more for these classes of people. It seems to me that if the Chancellor is right, he is willing that the country should travel forward to economic stability on the backs of those members of the community who are least able to bear the burden. I think it is wrong that he should neglect these legitimate claims at the present time, but I would add one word of congratulation to the Chancellor on having resisted the temptation to cut Income Tax or to take any other step which would, by contrast, have emphasised the growing hardship of the old people and the other members of the community who are on hard times at the moment.
That this is a disappointing Budget— and I think the Press will tomorrow echo the views of the Committee that this is a disappointing Budget—arises from the fact that our progress towards economic recovery is itself disappointing. The right 236 hon. Gentleman was right to remind us that we must not be complacent about what has been achieved, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman, in the midst of a good deal of optimism this afternoon, from time to time struck a realistic note. It was a note which was struck in the Economic Survey itself, and I should like, in the interests of brevity and for the convenience of the Committee, to quote the summing up of the Economic Survey which appeared in the Board of Trade Journal for 3rd April.
That paper, published by the Board of Trade, said:… the Sterling area ended the year in a stronger position than 12 months before. But there were some less satisfactory features. The United Kingdom's balance of payment surplus was lower than in the previous year in spite of an improvement in the terms of trade which is estimated to have benefited us to the extent of £200£250 million; and although our exports recovered with the revival of overseas demand towards the end of 1953, there were no signs that we were winning back the ground lost to our overseas competitors in recent years.The same number of the Board of Trade Journal quoted a speech made a few days earlier by the Minister of State for Economic Affairs, whom I have referred to upstairs as my second favourite Minister, when the Minister of State was addressing the National Union of Manufacturers. In the course of that speech the Minister of State gave two main warnings to industry. He said that Japan and Germany were still not doing as big a share of the world's trade as they were before the war and that both of them were likely to intensify their efforts in that direction. He added the warning that, in a situation in which the United States' production is two-and-a-half times in volume what it was before the war, even a very slight overspill from the United States would create a serious new source of competition for this country.
I am afraid that for those reasons, the balance of payments figures of the Chancellor this afternoon may produce an optimism which is not justified by the facts. It is true that the Chancellor did hedge himself by referring to the American situation. I should like, if it is any comfort to the Chancellor, to say that my assessment of the American situation largely coincides with his own. I believe, that any recession there is more likely to be on the 1949 scale than on the scale of the recession in 1929 and 1930.
237 But in addition to this very serious shadow which lies over the world economic scene, there is another complicating factor, especially for this country. That is, that there is a world tendency for the terms of trade to run against us in the industrial countries. That is inevitable in a world in which we have had a steadily rising population, going up since 1939 at the rate of 20 million a year, and in which, until 1953, we have had the world production of foodstuffs and raw materials remaining broadly what it was in 1939. Under those circumstances, in which we get greater demand for raw materials and, at the same time, increased production of manufactured goods, I do not see how, in the long run, the terms of trade can fail to run against manufacturing countries like our own.
It would be a great tragedy if anything that the Chancellor has said today should lead members of the public to what I believe is the quite false conclusion that our balance of payments problem is anything but serious or likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. One of the rather discouraging factors for the people of Great Britain is that our success seems to be entirely disproportionate to the efforts which we make.
If I may come back once again to Alice I would remind hon. Members of the time when she, having run very hard for a very long time, found herself where she was when she started—'In our country' said Alice, still panting a little, 'you generally get to somewhere else— if you run very fast for a long time as we have been doing.''A slow sort of country' said the Queen. 'Now, here, you see it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.'That, I am sorry to say, is really the stage in our economic development which we have reached.
At present, unfortunately, in the markets of the world we are not even holding our own in relation to our new and thriving competitors. The Treasury issue every month their Bulletin for Industry, of which I have a copy in my hand, and which was admirably summarised in the "News Chronicle" yesterday in these words:Among the 18 nations of the Organisation of European Economic Co-operation—all 238 West Europe, Greece and Turkey—German exports have raced past Britain's in spite of a rise in our share. And in places like South America, Egypt, and parts of the world outside the dollar and sterling areas, German exports are ahead of Britain's and are still going up while ours slip back. Even in the dollar area, where our share of trade is still ahead of the West Germans, they are putting up a fierce chase. And in the sterling area—including our own Commonwealth—while British exports are rising again after a fall West Germany's are going ahead quicker.That is a most alarming state of affairs. The reason for it is twofold. First, we have failed to make that investment overseas that the state of the world and our own economy called for from us. Secondly, there has been insufficient investment in private industry during the past year, and, indeed, for some years past.
The Chancellor spoke about the effect of rising wages upon our competitive prices. Far more serious than rising wages is the fact that we are not keeping our industry at the maximum pitch of efficiency and productivity. I hope, whether my hope will prove to be justified or not, that the new investment allowances that the Chancellor announced will go some way to encourage greater investment than we have seen during the past 12 months.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Gentleman is, rightly, complaining that our position in the export market is difficult. He is complaining that we are not spending enough on re-equipment and that our position is precarious. How can he, in those circumstances, also demand that we give more away in the form of social services if we have not got it to give away?
§ Mr. Greenwood
We shall not get the money necessary for an expansion of the social services unless we have got industry running at the maximum pitch of efficiency. It is no good taking the purely short-term view and starving industry of the capital it needs in the next year or two. What we have to do is to make the sacrifices so that in five or 10 years' time we may have the efficient industry that we require.
I am sorry that in the last 12 months the incentives which the Chancellor gave a year ago have not had the effect that everyone hoped they would have. We know that during that time industry has 239 been piling up quite nice reserves which could have been used for new plant and new machinery, as the Chancellor implied during his speech.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what people do with their reserves?
§ Mr. Greenwood
The hon. Gentleman will know better about that than I do. No doubt he can develop that point in his speech. As I understand the position, one of the complaints of the Chancellor is that the money has not been used in productive industry as he would like it to be used.
I come to three further points to which I wish to draw attention. The first relates to the fuel tax. I was sorry that the Chancellor was not able to announce any concession, even a slight one, in that direction. Before 1950, the tax on diesel oil fuel, which is known as Derv, was 9d. a gallon. In 1950, it rose to 1s. 6d.; in 1951, it increased to Is. 10£½ and, in 1952, it went up to 2s. 6d. Today, the tax is no less than 214 per cent, which I believe to be at a wicked and punitive level. The untaxed cost of Derv is 1s. 2d. a gallon. When tax is paid it is 3s. 8d. a gallon.
In January, a memorandum was presented to the Chancellor on behalf of four passenger transport associations. I wish that the Chancellor had paid more attention to the representations made to him on that occasion. But we should not assume that this is a question only of passenger transport. It is true that the extra imposition upon our passenger transport is one of the considerations which is making for more wage demands; but we should not blind ourselves to the fact that the tax on fuel is also putting up the price of the goods that we produce and so adding an extra burden to our efforts to compete in export markets.
The second point refers to Purchase Tax. The Chancellor told us that this year we collected £39 million more than he estimated a year ago and that during the next 12 months he estimates that we shall collect £295 million. I do not want to weary the Committee by going into the arguments about Purchase Tax all over again, but I should like to say. very briefly, that I believe that this is 240 a fradulent tax which was put on during the war in circumstances very different from the circumstances of today. It was never intended to be a permanent tax. It is today an inflationary tax because it puts up the cost of living. It makes the development of our export lines more difficult. And it means, because of the operation of the D scheme, that there is a lowering of the quality of many of the goods that we produce.
Representations have been made to the Chancellor along those lines in the last few months and I am sorry that he brushed them aside with the same brusqueness that the Government in variably show in dealing with the problems of the textile industry.
The last point relates to post-war credits. Like other hon. Members, I welcome the slight concession which the Chancellor has made in this direction; but it is a very slight concession. The right hon. Gentleman told us something about the origin of post-war credits. What he did not tell us was that when Lord Keynes originally propounded a scheme of post-war credits the intention was that they should be paid off at the end of the war out of the proceeds of a capital levy.
We are now nine years after the end of the war, and out of £800 million of post-war credits that accumulated there are still £564 million left to be paid off. As we are paying them off at the rate of £16 million or £17 million a year, it will still take us nearly 40 years before we have wiped out the post-war credits. Yet, in 1946, the Government announced that it was hoped to liquidate credits, between then and, say, the next five, and certainly 10, years. The Financial Secretary of that time added that the bulk of them would have been paid within four or five years.
That time has passed, and I think it is most unfortunate, from the point of view of both parties, that the House of Commons has not lived up to the expectation which the public had when the post-war credits were collected during the war. It is unfortunate, when the public have handed over money to the Government on a clear understanding that the time during which the Government will retain that money is limited, that we should now face the prospect of the 241 money remaining in the Government's hands for another 25, 30 or 40 years.
I am not making a party point, because we put this argument over and over again to my right hon. Friends when they were the Government. From the long-term point of view, it is very sad if the confidence of the public in the word of the Government is destroyed in this way. I should have liked to hear the. Chancellor today announcing some scheme not for the minor concession which he has made but for the gradual wiping out of post-war credits, so that we could honour the undertakings which were originally given. I should also have liked, while the Chancellor was making concessions, to hear him make concessions so that people on National Assistance could be allowed to draw their post-war credits rather than rely on assistance.
In conclusion, the test of a Budget is whether it measures up to the needs of the time. I think the needs today are two-fold. In the first place, there is the need to look after those members of the community who are most in need of help; and the Budget fails to do that. The second requirement of a Budget is that it should make a real contribution to the expansion of our industry and to the solution of our balance of payments problems. In my view, the Budget also makes an inadequate contribution in that direction. On both those grounds I believe that this is a disappointing Budget and I hope that as the Finance Bill passes through the House it may be possible to make at any rate some minor improvements in what otherwise would be a thoroughly bad Budget.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I have never before listened to such concentrated nonsense in a speech as that which was contained in the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). The hon. Gentleman made the allegation that industry has failed to re-equip itself. He says it has placed money to reserve. I wonder whether he has ever looked at the profit and loss account of a balance sheet. Reserves do not consist of money put into a box to stick under the managing director's table. Reserves are almost invariably found in new assets on the other side 242 of the balance sheet. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand that; he has not a clue.
In addition, the hon. Member deplored the fact that the Chancellor has failed to provide all sorts of benefits involving in creased expenditure. Next, he deplored that the Chancellor has not reduced taxation. I do not know whether he learned any arithmetic. He regretted that various classes of the community who are retired from work have not been given greater benefit from the Budget. He went on to deplore the high level of Purchase Tax —and I agree with him, for it is much too high. He deplored the rate of petrol duty—and I agree with him because that, too, is much too high. But we cannot spend more money and simultaneously reduce taxation. The hon. Gentleman should do a little arithmetic.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
I said that I recognised that the Chancellor had to produce such a disappointing Budget and could not do many of the things we wanted him to do because our economic progress has been so slow; and I said that our economic progress has been so slow largely because of the lack of investment in new equipment. That is not my view alone; it is also apparently the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and certainly the view of the Economic Survey.
§ Sir H. Williams
I think I know as much about the inside of a factory as do both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member—indeed, far more than the hon. Member knows. The engineering businesses with which I am associated are all the time fighting to get the wherewithal with which to pay for new equipment. The hon. Member should look at the published accounts of the company of which I happen to be a director.[An HON. MEMBER: "How much do you get?"] I work fairly hard and I earn what I get. I see that the provision for taxation in respect of the year to which this report and accounts relate was £61,000. The shareholders received £15,000, so the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the sleeping partner in the business—whose representative is on the Front Bench now, draws four times as much as do the shareholders.
What was left over to carry forward will be used, as far as it will go, to pro- 243 vide the new equipment which is necessary. We are always after new equipment and always finding it exceedingly difficult to get new equipment. I resent the fact that somebody with no experience at all of industrial matters, as far as I know, should accuse those who are engaged in industry of failing to provide new equipment.
§ Sir H. Williams
I do not care what the Chancellor said.
Once upon a time I was interested in the machine tool industry, and that industry provides a very large part of the equipment of other engineering works. The machine tool industry has been working all out ever since the war. Indeed, it was working all out during the war, of necessity. If hon. Members tried to buy large items of equipment from the machine tool industry they would have a long time to wait. How long do we have to wait? It is anything from 18 months to two years, and sometimes even longer for big machines.
One machine which I have in mind will cost £25,000, which is a lot of money to spend when the capitalisation of the company is only £160,000. That machine was ordered two years ago.
§ Sir H. Williams
It is spending £25,000 for one machine and it will take over two years to get it because the machine producing industry is so far behind with orders. To suggest that industry is not spending money on re-equipment is grossly unfair to those engaged in industry. We are doing our very best to finance re-equipment. I happen to be mixed up with two engineering companies.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Did I understand the hon. Member for Croy-don, East (Sir H. Williams) to say that he is mixed up with a lot of industries?
§ Sir H. Williams
What is wrong with that? They are two engineering companies—one in Middlesex and one in Lancashire.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Sir H. Williams
There is no one more willing than myself to give way, but I think I might be allowed to make my speech.
On Friday, I am taking a day off and going to Lancashire. I am the only non full-time director of the company, and I always ask my colleagues, "What about the progress of new equipment?" I am always asking them about re-equipment. I am always asking, "What do you need?" It is vital that we should keep up to date.
This particular branch of industry is not a branch of precision engineering. Our stuff is on the heavy side and high precision is not very much in demand. I am always asking my colleagues, "Are we up to date? Is our equipment satisfactory?"
§ Mr. Jack Jones
I am not asking this in any controversial mood at all, but the hon. Gentleman says he is connected with a company which is about to buy a machine which will cost the company— in effect, this is what it will cost the customers of the company—£25,000. If he is so efficient, will be tell us the exact number of hours that machine tool will work when he gets it?
§ Sir H. Williams
As far as I am concerned it will work all day and, when necessary, all night. That is the only proper and efficient method. If one has a valuable machine, if one cares to put a night shift on, one does. But one cannot always get men for the night shift, particularly in a district where the demand for engineering labour is high. I do not see that that point is relevant.
§ Sir H. Williams
We have had comment, too, about extravagant businesses. But what is the ratio of wages and salaries to dividends, tax free, in the case of a large number of companies? Wages and salaries are about 17 times as much as dividends. The hon. Member for Rossendale wants us to make lower profits and, at the same time, wants us to buy a lot of new plant, and then he accuses us of being incompetent because we have not done it. It does not make sense.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
In a last desperate attempt to make the hon. Gentleman realise what we are saying and what the Chancellor has been saying, may I read to him paragraph 42 of the Economic Survey? It states:Expenditure by industry on new building was slightly higher in real terms than in 1952. The increase was mainly concentrated in the fuel and power industries; there does not appear to have been any corresponding rise in new building work done for private manufacturing industry, but this was running at a higher level at the end of 1953 than at the beginning, following the relaxation of licensing restrictions in the spring. Similarly, with plant and machinery there were increases in 1953 in investment in the basic industries, particularly coal and electricity, but no increase in manufacturing industry.That is the point which the Chancellor, other hon. Members and myself have been making.
§ Sir H. Williams
I do not know where the back room boys of the central statistical office get their information. When they used to produce their original Economic Survey, I used to describe it as "Old Moore's Almanac," because their forecasts were invariably wrong. Now, it merely attempts to be a survey of what has happened As anybody with any experience of statistics will find out, if they get one calculation right to the degree of accuracy of one in 10,000, it is remarkable. Everybody knows perfectly well that the original information on which these statistical surveys are based may have an error of 5 per cent, plus or minus.
I base my calculations and gain my experience from the factories I have visited, and I just do not believe this statistical evidence, whether it comes from the hon. Member for Rossendale or from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not listen to it. All companies are doing all they can, within the limits of the money they have, but even ordinary companies are taxed up to roughly 70 per cent, of their surplus. Out of what is left, they have to provide some reward for their shareholders, to which they are entitled, and the rest goes to reserve, to be invested in new plants and buildings when circumstances call for it. This is what happens in actual fact, and when I hear people talking with no particular experience of industry I get a little upset.
§ Sir H. Williams
Well, what about them? I do not know why a remark like that, which is inclined to be offensive, should not be withdrawn, because the implication is that I am getting something to which I am not entitled. I do not conduct my affairs in that way, and I never have done. I make a complete declaration of all the allowances I get for expenses, and I charge against them the expenses which I am entitled to charge, and I make a full return.
§ Sir H. Williams
I sometimes wonder whether everybody who appears on the B.B.C. or on television, or writes articles for publication, makes a full disclosure.
The situation revealed by the Chancellor is very grim in one respect. His first Budget was a deliberately grim one, designed to save us from inflation, and, a year later, he was able to introduce his second Budget to stimulate efficiency. It had that result, because industrial efficiency, as the Chancellor said today, is now running at a much higher level than ever before, and showed an advance of 6 per cent, on only a year ago. Meanwhile, the volume of employment in the country is higher than ever.
It is also true, however, that expenditure has increased, and increased top much. There is a vast increase in expenditure of a kind that ought to have been avoided. I am by no means satisfied that we are getting full value for our expenditure on the National Health Service. The Estimates are far in excess of what was anticipated when it was started.
There has been no diminution in mortality as a result of that expenditure, despite the fact that there has been a vast drop in infantile mortality as a result of measures which have nothing at all to do with the National Health Service, an enormous drop in the mortality from tuberculosis—60 per cent, in the last 16 or 17 years—also due to causes which have nothing to do with the Health Service, but to the discovery of new treatments and mass radiography. There has been a tremendous drop in the mortality of children due to certain infectious diseases, particularly diphtheria, which, again, has nothing to do with the Health Service.
247 The reason for all this is quite obvious. The doctors are cluttered up with unnecessary patients, they have not the time to deal with them before sending them for hospital treatment, when, in many cases, they could be dealt with satisfactorily without going to the hospital. As a result of that happening, there are long waiting lists at the hospitals and people get worse treatment than before —
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman chided my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) for talking about business when, supposedly, he knew nothing about it. May I, as a member of the South-Eastern Regional Hospital Board, say to the hon. Gentleman that he does not know what he is talking about?
§ Sir H. Williams
For nearly 50 years I have studied problems of medicine in various aspects and in a non-expert capacity, and what I have said about infantile mortality is absolutely true. The figures were static until 1900, then they started to drop. They used to average 160 per 1,000 of the population, but, last year, the figure was less than 30, and Croydon has the lowest figures in the United Kingdom.
When I mentioned diphtheria, the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) says that I do not know anything of what happens in regard to tuberculosis. Is it not true that every hospital has a long waiting list? What are the members of the South-Eastern Regional Hospital Board in Portland Place doing about that?
§ Sir H. Williams
The Budget is the result of expenditure, and I was discussing one aspect of expenditure, while hon. Members opposite are very anxious that I should not. However, I will continue with the rest of my speech.
I have always taken the view that there is a great restriction on our freedom which ought to be abolished. I refer to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Even in this rather humble Budget, we can see its effects, and, if hon. Gentlemen will look at page 16 of the Financial Statement which has been 248 issued today, they will find that it is proposed to increase the rates of duty on chicory and on chicory and coffee mixtures, and just as much extra duty has to be paid on Empire chicory as is paid on foreign chicory.
We have lost our economic freedom under G.A.T.T., and I want to restore our economic freedom. I think it is absolutely vital that we should get rid of G.A.T.T. I know it is said that certain parts of the Empire, such as Canada, being under the economic influence of the United States, will not agree, but that is no reason why we should not take unilateral action. If we did so, we should find a great part of the Empire coming in with us. It is true that we cannot now dominate the economic situation quite as we did in the past, but let nobody run away with the idea that we are unimportant. With all our friends joining with us we are, indeed, vastly important.
Already, we have almost disposed of our balance of payments problem, but we still have the dollar shortage. I am convinced that the £ ought to be allowed to go free, because we cannot have a disturbed balance of trade if we have a free currency. If we have one lot of pieces of paper which we call pounds and another lot which we call dollars, and if we try to fix a relationship between them, which is fixing the value of the £ in terms of the dollar, that is a completely non-sensical economic theory. We can either have paper pounds to exchange with other currencies on a purchasing power of parity, to use one of the technical terms, or we can have gold, but, if we have a paper currency, it is complete nonsense to fix a rate of exchange between two bits of paper.
We went off the Gold Standard at the beginning of August, 1914, and for the first time in the history of anybody now living we had paper money in the form of £1 and 10s. notes. We went on like that throughout the war till we came to the time when America joined in. Then was established a fixed rate of exchange between the £ and the dollar, and the Americans went on lending us enough money to preserve a fixed rate of exchange.
On 18th August, 1919, the then Prime Minister, the late Mr. David Lloyd George, gave in the House of Commons a most interesting survey of the economic 249 situation of this country. If anybody wants to read current events in 1919 I advise him to read the speech made by Mr. Lloyd George that day. It is most interesting. He said that from tomorrow morning they would let the £ go free. The result was that the adverse balance of payments was cured in six months. There were other adverse effects due to the fact that, with the assent of all political parties, we decided to pursue a policy of deflation.
Time went on, and we carried out deflation by reducing the currency so much each year. I think it inflicted great hardship, all for the purpose of restoring the £ to gold parity. It was no good going back to the old parity. If we had restored it at a new parity the result would have been a return to the Gold Standard without deflation.
§ Sir H. Williams
The late Philip Snowden, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointed a committee to consider by what method the Gold Standard could be restored. When the present Prime Minister found himself at the Exchequer he received the report of that committee. In his first Budget he announced the restoration of the Gold Standard from the following morning. It was the first Budget speech I had ever listened to. All the political leaders said that it was a spendid idea. Certain precautions were taken at the time. Assurances were given by the Bank of France and by other people in the banking world. The trouble was not in our going back to the Gold Standard, but in forcing us back to the old parity by means of deflation. The mutiny of Invergordon in 1931 put us off the Gold Standard again.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I take it that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) is developing this historical interlude in order to connect his argument with the Motion before the Committee?
§ Sir H. Williams
Certainly, Sir Rhys. I am doing so for the purpose of urging convertibility, which, I understand, has 250 been the subject of discussion in every Budget we have had since 1945. I want to show that on two occasions it came off. We were pushed off the Gold Standard, and the £ had to find its own level when we were face to face with a very heavy adverse balance of payments. It is true that a few months later we introduced a general system of protective tariffs. The two things in combination wiped out the adverse balance of payments.
The first occasion when we had a free £ was when there was full employment. The second was when we were subjected to a very high degree of unemployment. The same remedy, therefore, produced similar results. The £ is self-defending if allowed to go free, but if, when we allowed it to go free, the exchange value of the £ was low, we would have an increase in commodity prices. I hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will look up these things. If freeing the £ has done well on two occasions it might be worth while to try it again. So much for my general theme of the restoration of convertibility.
What was done in 1947 under the American loan was not convertibility at all. We allowed sterling balances in this country to be used to buy dollars at a fixed rate of exchange but that has nothing to do with what I am now discussing. People talk of convertibility in two different senses. What happened in 1947 and what I am now urging are two entirely different things.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made something which should be of very considerable advantage to industry and will help to re-equip it. That is, his new investment allowance. I am not quite clear from his speech, or from what I read in the Financial Statement, how it will work out, and I should like a little clarification. So would one of my hon. Friends who is interested in accountancy and, in due course, will find it his professional duty to explain how it will work out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the initial allowances is a tax-free loan and would have to be paid back later on.
I take it that it is a grant of 20 per cent, depreciation in the year in which we buy, and that we shall definitely save Income Tax on that 20 per cent. I hope that the Financial Secretary will clear up that point, so that we shall know what 251 the proposal is. Quite a number of us are not clear about it. We should like to have an explanatory note to tell us exactly how it will work.
I take it that it is an initial depreciation of 20 per cent, in the year of purchase, in addition to the normal depreciation attributable to the class of goods concerned. The rates of depreciation vary very much in accordance with the probable life of various commodities. Everybody knows that there is an arrangement going back to the Finance Act, 1921, by which a trader can get into negotiation with the Board of Inland Revenue and put up his case for an agreed rate of depreciation for this class of machinery and that. I take it that the 20 per cent, is initial depreciation, called the "investment allowance," and that on top of it the normal depreciation allowance will be granted.
I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to catch your eye, Sir Rhys, and will benefit hon. Members and a lot of people outside by telling us exactly what is intended. I suppose the Chancellor will broadcast to the nation tonight and will elaborate this point, which will attract a great deal of interest among those who are responsible for the conduct of industry. I hope it will also attract the attention of the hon. Member for Rossendale, who ought to assimilate it.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
If I have the good fortune to catch your eye in the course of tomorrow's debate, Sir Rhys, I should like to address to the Committee a few remarks on this subject. I prefer not to do so merely as a reply to a question at this stage, because this is a complicated matter.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. I hope, Sir Rhys, that he will catch your eye and retain it sufficiently long to deal with this matter. I know that I have taken some time. I do not normally speak at great length unless provoked by unnecessary interruptions. They do not worry me in the least, but I do like occasionally to complete a sentence.
As I said in a previous financial debate, the present Chancellor is face to face with a problem that does not cease. On the one hand, he has to try to ensure full 252 employment, and, on the other, to avoid inflation. It is quite true that employment can be created by inflation, but an appalling price has to be paid later. The Germans did that in, I think, 1926. They allowed the printing machine to get completely out of control, with disastrous results.
We were on the verge of getting out of control in the same way, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's first method was deliberately designed to check inflation. He asked the banks to restrict credit, and he asked the Bank of England to raise the Bank Rate with the object of checking speculation and inflation. He succeeded. He was doing it at a rather difficult time because, for reasons which had nothing to do with him the textile trade was suffering rather badly then.
It was an indirect sequel to the war in Korea. America ran up raw material prices to absurd levels and then there was a collapse. Then a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) made a silly speech in which he asked people not to buy. That put thousands out of work.[HON. MEMBERS: "No." People's memories are short, but if they go to Leeds and Bradford they will get the most adequate confirmation about conditions there two or three years ago. Some hon. Members have conveniently short memories.
The Chancellor deliberately sought. first, to check inflation and that had a most marked effect on the adverse balance of payments. I would remind hon. Members that an adverse balance of payments is an unfailing sign of inflation. The Chancellor checked inflation. It is true that he removed certain food subsidies and replaced them in other ways which gave rise to an apparent, though not real, rise in the cost of living. Within a year he was able to achieve stability of prices. I know that we have frequent questions on the subject —
§ Sir H. Williams
It is no use picking out one item. The balloon may be going up for all I know.
One has to take the general range of commodities. Household budgets are certainly up, because people are doing themselves so much better. Of course 253 they are. I think one hon. Member has mentioned old-age pensioners, but I remember Mr. Ernest Bevin, as Minister of Labour, being pestered to increase old-age pensions. He declined because, he said, "Two-thirds are in employment— so do not talk to me about that." His words are recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has succeeded in walking the tightrope with great skill—preserving full employment and preventing inflation. I think he is entitled to every praise and credit for his great success in that direction. I only hope that he will be a little more careful in publishing his Economic Survey and saying that industrialists are not buying more machinery. I think that his purpose has been very good, but unless he cuts expenditure—and there are plenty of directions in which he can do that —
§ Sir H. Williams
I cannot make another half-hour speech, but if the hon. Member will come into the Library I shall show him where cuts can be made. The Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Force—the whole lot; there is not one in which there is not waste. Waste is characteristic of Governments.
§ Sir H. Williams
Tory, Liberal or Labour—and the whole history of Socialism is profligacy. If any hon. Member wants to study economy I shall be only too glad to spend an hour in the Library for his benefit.
I hope that the Chancellor will continue bis success in general economic affairs, but that he will cut expenditure because, quite honestly, the burden on industry today is such that many prosperous firms may go out of business through lack of liquid resources.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
I hope that the hon. Baronet the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) feels the better for getting that off his chest. I am glad, first, that he was not speaking for the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, secondly, that he did not write the Economic Survey, and thirdly, that he was not called upon to be Minister of Health, or we 254 would have had a very much poorer Health Service than we have. I am sorry that he did not tell the Committee his remedies for reducing expenditure. That would have been most useful. We all know that any significant change in expenditure now means a change in policy. It would have been to our advantage if he could have detailed to us the kind of policy changes in the social services that he wished to bring about.
After listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer giving his excellent economic lecture with his usual Olympian calm I began to wonder, at the end, whether his Budget speech was really necessary. Perhaps he could have said, as, in effect, he did, "Last year's Budget was so good that, apart from one or two trivial changes, I propose to do nothing more." He called it a "carry-on" Budget; I would call it an "As you were Budget." Believe me, there will be a "carry on "among the 4½ million retirement pensioners and those supporting their claim to increased pensions.
The urgent need for something to be done immediately to assist the old-age pensioner cannot be disputed. We know that of more than 4 million pensioners there are well over 1 million in receipt of National Assistance. From our own day-to-day investigations in our constituencies we know that very few of them have any room at all for any exceptional expenditure. If something goes wrong they have very great difficulty in meeting the additional expense. Many of them are living perpetually on a bare margin of subsistence. They have a precarious existence.
What the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem to realise is that in such circumstances every penny or half-penny matters. When the prices of different items of food go up a half-penny, a penny or 4d. or whatever it may be, it is no use telling such people that the retail prices index has not altered over the last few months. We know that, as a result of the Chancellor's last Budget, these people have been the hardest-hit section of the community. In assessing their position we have to take into account not the effects of this present Budget but of the previous one. When the Chancellor had sums to disperse in reliefs of one kind and another it was not to those who fall outside Income Tax payments, not to the 255 old-age pensioners that the reliefs were given but to the more well-to-do sections of the community.
I am profoundly disappointed that nothing has been done this year to ease the position of old-age pensioners. I should have gambled on this as an absolute "must" for any Chancellor; indeed, I made a prophesy in my constituency, only a fortnight ago, that the one certain thing about this Budget would be an increase in the basic rate of the pension. I regret to say that that has not come about, and I believe that the Chancellor will hear much more about it later. We know full well that the position in which these pensioners find themselves is due, in the main, to the deliberate financial policies pursued by this Government, and that the rising food prices have hit those who are in the weakest position to bear them.
The poor and the old—especially old-age pensioners—spend a far bigger proportion of their income on food than do other sections of the community, and we know from all the surveys that many of them, after paying their necessary expenses, have less than 2s. a day to spend on food. I regard it as verging on criminal neglect to leave out of account the position of these old-age pensioners. We cannot wait—and we cannot allow them to wait—until the review of the National Insurance Act takes place. There is no reason why, as an interim measure, we could not restore to the retirement pension the same purchasing power it had in 1946. This is an absolutely essential step, and I very much regret that the Chancellor has not seen fit to take it.
Post-war credits are one of the unique and outstanding financial liabilities of this and past Governments. We know that of the £800 million collected in the war years, £564 million still remains in the Chancellor's hands. We know that it is spread over 10¼ million holders, and that it is calculated that one in three of the adults over the age of 25 holds a post-war credit of one kind or another. The annual repayment rate is £17 million, and unless something more is done than is suggested in the Budget statement it will take 33 years to complete payment. Until the announcement made today, short-lived families, who died off one 256 after the other before they reached retirement, would never have obtained their credits. They would have been handed down more or less as family heirlooms. That position will be slightly improved by the present arrangements.
People feel that they will never receive these credits, and that is a very bad state of mind for them to be in. They cannot use their certificates in place of cash, or negotiate them in any way. The only change that takes place in their holding arises upon death. The proposal put forward by the Chancellor today will do a little to improve the position, but it does not go far enough. It will cost £2 million each year after the first year. I should have thought that this payment, the delay in which has been a long standing source of annoyance and complaint, could be made far more quickly than that, and I shall give one or two proposals for meeting this requirement.
First, it should not be paid out in cash. It should be paid either into a Post Office savings bank deposit account or in National Savings Certificates bearing a rate of interest. That would enable people to realise that they had something worth having, and they would not be induced to cash these certificates at the first opportunity. If the whole lot were paid out at once it would have an inflationary effect, but if it were done in a sensible manner, by way of Sayings Certificates, the bulk would remain in the hands of the Government while the interest payments went to benefit the holders.
During the past few years we have had many requests from our constituents for the payment of their post-war credits in cases of grave hardship. We know that the receipt of £20 or £30 in post-war credits would assist someone who has been ill for a long time to obtain well-deserved holiday, or to re-equip himself in furniture, clothing or whatever it may be. I have put forward schemes for sums to be placed at the disposal of the National Assistance Board for use in these cases, but on every occasion proposals for repayment on hardship grounds have been rejected because of so-called administrative difficulties. I should not have thought that it was beyond the wit of the Treasury to devise a scheme whereby the Assistance Board could investigate cases and make payments of post-war credits where necessary.
257 Another problem arises when a holder of post-war credits dies before he reaches the qualifying age for repayment. Under the present law, the beneficiary cannot claim until he or she reaches the specified age. Some people benefit because the credits happen to accrue to them when they are over the necessary age, but in most cases repayment is postponed, and it may be postponed again and again.
I can go quickly through four main proposals for the repayment of these credits. First, the Chancellor could repay them on the death of the holder, what ever his or her age might be. That would be an arbitrary way of dealing with the matter, and it would not provide justice between one claimant and another. The accident of death might benefit someone who is not in need. Secondly, the Chancellor could make payment after the death of a holder when he would have reached the qualifying age had he lived. That is the method which the Chancellor has chosen, and it will cost £17 million in the first year and about £2 million in each succeeding year. That will not reduce the holding of post-war credits at any appreciable rate, although I welcome it as a beginning. Thirdly, the Chancellor could lower the age of qualification—65 for men and 60 for women—perhaps by five years, or any period which is agreeable to the Committee. A five-year reduction would cost £84 million in the first year, and to reduce it by one year would cost an extra £15 million, roughly.
I should not set about the task in that way. I should start repayment of the post-war credits on the basis of the payments incurred, year by year, throughout the period in which they were in operation. We could make a start by paying out the credits incurred in 1941–42. I believe there are about £100 million of those still to be repaid. If we wanted to start with a smaller sum, we could start with the year 1943–44, hi respect of which only about £40 million is outstanding. That would be a fairer way of proceeding. Spreading it over every recipient—not giving him the whole lot at once, but in a series of payments; 50 per cent, of the first year to begin with, or whatever the Treasury thought it could afford—would be a more sensible and practical way of handling this problem.
258 I am convinced that the Government should proceed along those lines. Postwar credits were created upon the assurance that they would be made available so soon as may be after the end of the war. The whole scheme is in danger of being discredited unless a further major step is taken in this matter.
One small anomaly has been brought to my attention by a lady who is over 65 years of age and is married to a man who is under 65. It was the result of their joint working efforts in the war that their post-war credits were amassed, but she did not take advantage of the provision which allowed them to be split between herself and her husband. She raises the point that although she is over 65 years of age her husband has a few years to go before he reaches that age. That is an obvious anomaly, and I hope that between now and the further stages of this debate the Chancellor can give some consideration to the desirability of allowing payments to be made where either the husband or the wife is over 65 years of age. I do not think that this would cost very much, and it would be well worth doing.
We must avoid any complacency in our general considerations of the Budget. There are two parts of it the seriousness of which we cannot overestimate. The first is one the hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, East feels so strongly about, investment. I would refer him to a statement published by O.E.E.C. on economic conditions in the United Kingdom, which says that this country is falling seriously behind Germany and the United States in the amount they are setting aside for fixed investment.
§ Sir H. Williams
How can we set money aside if we have no money to set aside? When 70 per cent, of a surplus is taken in taxation there is nothing left to set on one side.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I refuse to believe that industry is in such a parlous state that it cannot do more than it is doing in this respect. I cannot believe it because of the increased dividends that have been paid in the past year. That survey is absolutely correct in saying that we are more or less mortgaging the whole of our future for some kind of present easement. If we are to hold our position in a competitive world, when the terms of 259 trade may turn against us sooner than we think, we must re-equip our industry.
The nationalised industries have been re-equipping themselves. The bulk of the money that has been spent on re-equipment has been spent by the fuel and power and other nationalised industries. It has always been one of our major arguments in favour of nationalisation that nationalisation enables the Chancellor of the Exchequer to direct the economy and investment in the national interest.
If our survival depends on investment, as I believe it does, and if it is proved that private industry cannot provide the investment, there is an obvious need for the State to step in, in specially selected industries, the heavy engineering industries and the aircraft industry, for instance, and do the job itself. That seems to me to be one of the main principles we have to consider. The Chancellor is trying to help by giving some easement by this Budget. I hope he will succeed, because we cannot go on letting our industry run down in the face of the intense competition that we must meet from overseas.
None of us can feel happy about the situation of our export trade. My belief is that too much of the increased production in the past year has gone into home consumption. That has two very serious effects. First of all, it provides those exporters finding difficulty overseas with a soft option, so they give up trying to expand their markets abroad or recapturing markets they have lost. Secondly, it prevents any flexibility in our investment programme. For instance, if the home consumption of an article is high, people will invest in the means to produce that article, and not invest in heavy industry or anything else that will give the best returns on exports. We are not increasing our exports enough, so that an adequate surplus will be very difficult to obtain. Increased investment is essential, particularly in heavy capital equipment and in aircraft if we are to succeed in our balance of payments problem in 1954.
The question of the future of the American economy overshadows our deliberations on the Budget. It is generally admitted that there is some kind of industrial recession in the United States. The level of industrial activity there has been declining since the middle 260 of 1953. The United States Index of Production fell from 137 to 128 between July and December, and, at the same time, unemployment there has been increasing substantially.
The question to which we all want to know the answer is, is this a major recession, a major slump, or is it one of those agonising reappraisals of American industrial policy? The Chancellor seemed to think it was something that would work itself out fairly soon. I hope he is right, because if he is not it will upset all the calculations upon which the Budget is based.
It would have incalculable effects on our economy. With all the steps we could take, I am doubtful whether we could insulate ourselves against a major American recession. It would have a double effect on our imports from and our exports to the United States, and it would have a disastrous effect upon the sterling area countries. So we must make our policies on the assumption that things may not improve. We must seek wider co-operation within the Commonwealth. We must have a plan to build up buffer stocks in the sterling area of raw materials, so that we can hold our own against this recession. Above all, we must try to bring imports from sources other than the United States of America.
I believe that this Budget will not create any wild enthusiasm in any part of the country. I was wrong about one prophesy I made about the Budget, but I think I may make another. Yesterday's events may lead to a change in the leadership of the party opposite, and I think that the prospects of an early General Election must be receding in the view of the party opposite because in no sense of the term can this be said to be an electioneering Budget.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I should like to add a word of praise to my right hon. Friend, and I would do so for the clarity of his speech. I have not had the advantage of a university education yet I can find it a pleasure to listen to my right hon. Friend speaking about economic affairs. I would especially congratulate him, not on what he has put in, but on what he has left out. Some hon. Members seemed rather amused when he said that, 261 for the second time running he had included no new taxes. I was extremely grateful, and I think the people of the country will be equally grateful. It is a quite new experience for them to have a Budget with no new taxes, and until last year it was one they had not enjoyed for a long time. We are all grateful for the small easements my right hon. Friend has been able to make of the burden of taxation. Of course, we all wish for more. I suppose we wish that every Budget, whatever the political complexion of the Chancellor may be. However, I still think we should be grateful for small mercies.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) made some reference to old-age pensioners. Perhaps he will forgive me if I defer referring to that subject until later. I was most interested and impressed by his observations about post-war credits. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), who is no longer in his place, made some allusion to our not spending enough in investment overseas. I am inclined to agree with him, but there is not much use in talking about investment unless there are savings to invest.
One of the facts mentioned in the Statement on National Income and Expenditure from which we may derive a great deal of satisfaction is that there was a marked increase in National Savings in 1953. Those of us who listen to the news on the wireless on Sundays have noticed that since the first week of this year it has been reported Sunday by Sunday that new savings have exceeded withdrawals each week. That had not happened for a fairly considerable time before this year, and it is a striking fact, especially when it is remembered that there has been a great increase in the amount of consumer spending. Not only are we eating more food and spending more on food, but we are also spending a good deal more on what we might describe as luxuries, or at any rate semi-luxuries, such as tobacco, alcohol, television sets and football pools.
There were record sales at the stoops just before Christmas and again in January. In spite of all this we have been able to save a great deal more, which seems very markedly to disprove the 262 allegations so often made by hon. Members opposite that the people of this country are on the whole worse off as a result of my right hon. Friend's financial policy. I do not see how we can be so much worse off if, in addition to spending more, we are also saving more.
Allusions have been made to the need for investment at home, but I do not propose to get into an argument about this with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). In any event, my hon. Friend has now left the Chamber. I want to turn to another matter—to saving and investment overseas, particularly in the Commonwealth and Empire. This brings me back to what the hon. Member for Rossendale said about overseas investment.
Hon. Members will recall that in paragraph 81 of the 1954 Economic Survey there is a reference to the decision of the Conference of Commonwealth Finance Ministers last year to continue the special efforts made to provide additional capital for Commonwealth development. The following paragraph, paragraph 82, goes on to refer not only to the need for the United Kingdom to earn a surplus on its balance of payments for this purpose, but also to the fact that this surplus must be matched by internal savings. Those two paragraphs merely repeat what was said in almost the same words in the communique issued at the end of the Commonwealth Conference held in November, 1952. That communique spoke about the need of internal saving in the United Kingdom to provide capital for Empire investment.
After reading that communique of 1952, and further inspired, I freely admit, by what I thought was a striking article in the "Daily Mail," I put down a Question to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking whether he would consider issuing special Empire certificates and bonds, as I described them, similar to National Savings certificates, to assist in financing Empire development. In his written reply, my right hon. Friend said:I am satisfied that there are at present adequate facilities for National Savings and I commend these to all small investors who may rightly wish to play their part in Commonwealth development."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 163.]263 My right hon. Friend used practically the same words some 15 or 16 months later in a written reply on 23rd February to a Question about colonial savings put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower).
Nevertheless, despite this rather discouraging view, as I said in the debate on the Budget Resolutions last year, I do not believe that the average small investor sees much connection between National Savings and investment in the Commonwealth. On the other hand, I believe that it would be possible to make a call to him for savings for Common-wealth and Empire development which would make an emotional appeal to him —one to which he might respond. Despite my right hon. Friend's lack of encouragement, I make no apology for returning to this matter once again in the hope that, if this proposal were adopted and if it proved successful, it might open the door, later, to a broader scheme. In fact, I have a slightly different proposal to make.
The Committee will recall that the United Kingdom has paid £83,600,000 in sterling into the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is 18 per cent, of our capital subscription. That 18 per cent, can be used by the Bank for lending purposes only with the permission of Her Majesty's Government. Last year we agreed to make £60 million available for loans within the Common-wealth and Empire over a period of six years. In addition, the Bank raised £5 million in London in 1951 by the sale of bonds. The proposal which I want to put to my right hon. Friend is that the Government should provide facilities for small savers to invest in the Bank's bonds, which should be earmarked for specific Commonwealth projects.
The Committee is well aware that the Bank is a United Nations agency, so that by helping the Commonwealth through the Bank we should also be helping the United Nations which, to some extent at any rate, may be regarded as a development of the Commonwealth idea. I suggest that if there is a further sale of the Bank's bonds on the London market, the Government might buy them, to the value, say, of £1 million, and offer them for resale to the public in small denominations through such organisations as the National Savings Movement, the Post 264 Office, the Trustee Savings Bank and voluntary bodies like the United Nations Association.
If that were to be done, it would be desirable to prepare special certificates and to relate those certificates to specific projects such as development schemes in British Guiana, Jamaica, Nigeria, the Gold Coast or East Africa, and so on. Above all, it would be most desirable to relate them to the Colombo Plan for development in South-East Asia which so badly needs increased public interest and support. I do not think anyone would deny that these and other vitally important Commonwealth projects would be greatly helped by much more widespread interest and support from the general public than they are receiving at present. People do not know enough about them.
It may well be said that this proposal is quite unnecessary. It could be said that the Bank is not short of capital, that it can raise all the money it needs through the normal financial channels and that this would merely complicate a perfectly simple market operation. I am bound to recall that my right hon. Friend has said more than once that there are already adequate facilities for national savings. I recognise, as I must, the force of those arguments, and I also recognise that a scheme of this kind might not produce an enormous amount of savings, but I believe that there would be a sufficient increase in savings to make it worth while from the purely financial point of view.
Furthermore, and what is probably more important in the long run, the scheme would provide a practical expression of the desire of ordinary people to help the poorer countries to improve their standards. I think the plan would do even more; it would provide public education on the Commonwealth and Colonies and it would give thousands of ordinary people a chance to feel that they had a stake in the development of the Commonwealth—which is something they do not feel at present.
If these facilities could be provided on the lines which I have suggested, they might easily be sponsored by the Government and assisted by voluntary bodies through having a combined educational and savings week rather on the lines of "War Weapons" and "Wings for Vic- 265 tory" weeks, which we had during the war. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will give consideration to a plan of this kind. I believe that it has great possibilities. It would have the support of the public and, at the same time, would render a considerable service to the Empire.
I want to say a word on the subject of Entertainments Duty. My right hon. Friend has already dealt with the matter of the cinemas and the smaller football clubs. I confess that I have not been able to digest the figures, and I do not know exactly what effect it is going to have, but I suggest that the reduction made in Entertainments Duty might be even greater if he would consider recouping himself by increasing the tax paid by those people—I am referring to sport— who merely gamble on various kinds of sport instead of giving the sport their active support by paying to see it.
In the case of football, may I again make the proposal which many of us made on both sides of the Committee last year, and which, I think, was made again only last week, that the tax on football pools might be increased and the Entertainments Duty on football matches reduced? I do not think that anyone would mind that, although I do not know the views of the promoters. But I do not think that the winners would mind; the losers would not care any way—and they are the great majority.
I do not know how the proposals made by my right hon. Friend in regard to Entertainments Duty are going to affect sports like horse racing and dog racing. To get a revenue out of gambling is made rather more complicated on account of our somewhat old-fashioned laws on this subject. There is, I think, in the case of the totalisator an unfair discrimination against dog racing. Here the tote contributes both to the Exchequer and to the racecourse executives. But on horse racecourses the tote contribution is only to racing and not to the Exchequer at all.
Much the same thing applies to bookmakers, who have to pay a heavy licence to bet on dog tracks where a tote is in operation, but on horse racecourses they pay the executive for the bookmakers' badges to allow them to bet and their only contribution to the Treasury is through the Entertainments Duty which they pay for admission, although it is 266 only fair to say that they probably pay for three or four employees besides themselves.
I think that there is a strong case for bringing taxation on betting on horse racecourses and greyhound racecourses more into line. But I would urge that this must not be done by reducing the money received from betting by horse racing itself. The cost of maintaining a horse racecourse and of providing adequate stakes is very much greater than in the case of greyhound racing, and one of the great problems in horseracing is how to increase the stakes and reduce the cost of racing to owners who are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their stables and studs.
There is one form of betting which takes vast sums out of the two sports of horse and dog racing and makes no contribution to the sport or to the Exchequer either. I refer to starting price betting away from the course. I believe that if starting price bookmakers were to be licensed it would be possible to reduce the Entertainments Duty on both horse and greyhound racing to a very marked degree.
I know that this is a dangerous subject to bring up and a highly controversial one, and it is a subject which, I think, no Government has so far been willing to tackle. It does bring in the whole absurdity of our betting and gambling laws. Whatever one's views on the moral issues or otherwise of betting, I do not think that anyone can argue in favour of a system which allows one to put £1,000 on a horse by telephone, on credit, but says that it is a crime if one puts a Is. on in cash with a street bookmaker. The answer is, of course, to license all bookmakers and to make ready money betting legal, thereby getting a larger revenue from it and making it possible to reduce the Entertainments Duty at the same time.
My final point is about old-age and retired pensioners. We are, of course, profoundly disturbed by their difficulties, and equally by those of people like retired officers and others trying to live on small annuities and small fixed incomes derived from invested savings. I think that class of people have been harder hit than anyone else since the war. We all wish, and I think my hon. Friend as much as any of us, that he had been able to do more for them. But we cannot avoid an unpleasant economic fact by refusing 267 to look at it. We are all, I know, anxious to help the pensioners. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees has told us what he would like to do to help them. I should like to do the same thing, and I think that we would all like to do it, but no one has told us how to do it.
It has been said that the Insurance Fund will no longer be self-supporting in a very short time; indeed the cost of retirement pensions alone at their present level will exceed the total income of the Insurance Fund. That is the problem which we are up against. I have great hopes that the Committee now investigating the whole question of doing something to help the old people will be able to find a solution. In the meantime, much as I should like to see something done, I cannot help thinking that my right hon. Friend is right in saying that he must wait a little longer.
I know that it is easy enough for us to tell old people that they have to wait longer, but we have to be realistic, and I do not think that there is any other choice. I know, of course, that help is available to them through National Assistance, but I know, equally, as we all know, that many old people are extremely reluctant to rely on National Assistance to keep them going. I should like to suggest a very modest proposal and one which I have made before. I am quite certain that they would prefer to earn more by their own efforts than by obtaining National Assistance.
We have recently had an interim report of the Committee appointed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour, which is looking into the whole question of the employment of older men and women. I think that we shall have read that report with profound interest. I suggest, therefore, that it would be consistent with the proposals in that report to increase the amount which old-age pensioners can earn without deduction from their pensions. I do not think that that is very much for which to ask, and it would be very little to give, but it would be something.
It would not cost the Exchequer very much, because the amount by which the cost of pensions would be increased would be offset by the saving on National Assistance. I hope that if I make the same suggestion that I made last year 268 my right hon. Friend will look into it, namely, to see if he cannot consider raising the 40s. limit to 60s. as the amount they can earn without deduction from their pension. If he cannot go as far as that, perhaps he would consider deducting 6d. instead of 1s. for every shilling earned between 40s. and 70s.
I apologise for detaining the Committee longer than is my usual practice during the short time that I have been here. I am not an economist, and I recognise that most people will be able to pick holes in the things which I have ventured to say, but I hope that my right hon. Friend and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will at least think that the matters which I have brought forward are worthy of consideration.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
As I understood the beginning of the speech of the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson), he seemed to be grateful that the Budget was no worse than it is. I think that the general feeling of Members on both sides of the Committee will be one of considerable disappointment, particularly with regard to the last point the hon. Member mentioned, namely, the question of old-age and other pensioners. The hon. Member for Blackley touched on other matters, including the question of colonial development. Interested as I am in colonial development, it is not my intention this evening to follow him on that subject. He also touched upon the question of Entertainments Duty and betting tax, and I think that discussion on those particular matters might well be left until the Finance Bill.
I have come to the conclusion that I am a rotten prophet. It is not often that I have indulged in prophecy, and it had better be a long time before I indulge in it again. I was fairly convinced that there would be three things in the Budget: first, something for the pensioner; second, a reduction in the tax on Derv—the technical name, I think, for diesel oil; and third, a concession on post-war credits. The only respect in which I have been even a little near to correct has been in connection with post-war credits, but I cannot say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done very much.
Everyone will realise that it is not the holders of post-war credits but the people 269 who inherit, who will get the benefit. With regard to the old-age pensioners, I am very disappointed. Everyone in the Committee realises the serious difficulties which pensioners are now having. Inspite of the difficulties that face us, I am not convinced that the Chancellor could not have found something to relieve their position.
If it is not presumptuous for a back bencher to do so, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the clear and lucid manner in which he put across a dull and disappointing Budget. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) mentioned that when the Chancellor was at church last Sunday there was a certain prayer. I understand also that the right hon. Gentleman read the lessons, and I believe that the first lesson began with the words:And Moses said unto the Lord,O my Lord, I am not eloquent.…That cannot apply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he is not eloquent, at least he has the facility of putting over a very bad case and making it sound fairly reasonable.
On one or two points today, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had a good case and sounded a little pleasanter than usual, but he seems to be able to make even a bad case sound reasonable. One could detect in his phraseology this afternoon something of the same kind of expressions as we have found in the reports of the Commonwealth Economic Conferences. One thing for which I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman is that he called attention to the present precarious condition of our economy. I was very pleased to hear his note of warning, because I have been worried about the spirit of complacency that seems to have taken hold of Members on the other side of the Committee.
It is generally possible to make a good case by choosing one's basis of comparison. The year 1952 was a bad year. By comparing 1953 with 1952, it would appear to some extent that we have done reasonably well in 1953. But to compare 1953 with 1951, we find that the total receipts for exports and re-exports were less and that the volume of exports was also less. That is a matter of serious concern to all of us. 270 To compare 1953 with 1950, we find that consumers spent more on food for less consumption. The hon. Member for Blackley was wrong.
§ The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. R. Maudling)
§ Mr. Blackburn
The Economic Secretary shakes his head. I think he would take some responsibility for the Economic Survey and also for the Preliminary Estimates of National Income and Expenditure. From this latter document, covering the years 1948 to 1953, we find that consumers spent £843 million more on food in 1953 than in 1950. From Table 11 on page 21 of the Economic Survey, however, we find that the average daily intake per head was less in 1953 than in 1950. The total energy value in calories also was less. From the figures of annual consumption in pounds per head, we find that for practically every item quoted, with the exception of sugar and fresh vegetables, the consumption was less.
§ Mr. Maudling
If, on the other hand, the hon. Member looks at the table above that one on page 21, he will find that consumers' expenditure on food in 1953, valued at constant 1948 prices, was the highest since the war. That is the important figure.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
The important figure is not the money spent, but what people are able to eat.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I admit that the table to which the hon. Gentleman refers is brought down to 1948 figures. I was quoting the amount of money spent on food in 1953 and the fact that, although we spent £843 million more, we yet had less food than in 1950.
Turning to the question of the balance of payments, I think we have been living on luck. Some sections of the House have been very complacent, but are we not still in a very vulnerable position? Is the improvement due to our own policies and efforts, or to the more favourable terms of trade? In comparison with 271 1951, we paid £603 million less for practically the same volume of imports. If we had had in 1951 the terms of trade which we have today, there would have been no crisis.
The Economic Survey recognises, quite rightly, and the Chancellor recognised this afternoon, that the balance of payments problem is stall with us. It is our most vital problem. As the Economic Survey says,The rise in the reserves continued in the first two months of 1954, bringing them to £923 million at the end of February. This was £329 million above the low point of April, 1952, but still only about half way back to the peak reached in June, 1951.Therefore, in the event of a world economic crisis, we are today in a much more vulnerable position than in 1951. Again, on page 37 of the Economic Survey we find:The outstanding economic problem facing the United Kingdom is still that of paying its way abroad, and the needs of the balance of payments must continue to govern the pace of internal expansion.… The maintenance of a rising level of international trade is a matter of particular concern to the United Kingdom, which is so heavily dependent on imports and looks to exports of goods and services to provide something like one-quarter of its national income.There the relationship between exports and imports is shown to be the vital problem before us, and if we are to achieve that degree of stability that will enable us to withstand any vital up-heavals in world trade, we must increase our exports.
The Chancellor emphasised the need for a great concentration on exports, and the Economic Survey points out that internal policies must be designed to lend full support to the attainment of external objectives, that it must be continually borne in mind that we should do our utmost to increase our exports. The Chancellor said that it was possible in 1954 to maintain the same level of consumption that we have had in 1953, but is there not the danger that we are going to concentrate too much on internal consumption to the detriment of our exports? What does the Chancellor think of the Television Bill? Surely if ever there were a Bill specifically designed to increase internal consumption, it is the Television Bill. The Government should 272 be consistent in their policy. The proposals under this Bill must inevitably affect consumption, otherwise the commercial advertisers are not going into the business. They are certainly not going to participate because they want to provide an alternative television programme. They are going into it to make something out of it, and the only way they can make something out of it is by increased sales.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the American example has shown that a large domestic market is the best way to sustain an efficient overseas market?
§ Mr. Blackburn
Yes, and the American film market has shown us something, too. We have not reached the same stage of production in this country, whereas American films have captured the markets of the world. There is a great danger that that is what might happen if commercial television becomes operative in this country, for the films there might all be American.
I do not think that that affects the main argument I have put forward, that there should be consistency in the Government's policy, and if we concentrate on exports, as is vitally necessary if we are to put ourselves in a secure position, then we cannot afford to have Bills of the nature of the Television Bill designed to increase internal consumption.
The whole thing is totally linked up with the question of increased production and productivity and, therefore, with the problem of exports and with the question of capital investment. I do not understand the anxiety of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). If he had read the Economic Survey and listened carefully this afternoon to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would agree that the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale were quite correct.
On page 35 of the Economic Survey reference is made to capital investment, and we find this:There was a further increase during 1953 in investment in the basic industries, but investment in private manufacturing industry remained at about the same level as in the previous year in spite of the relaxation of licensing restrictions on factory building and the special measures taken to stimulate investment in the Budget, when the initial depreciation allowances were partly restored.273 Again, on page 44, the Economic Survey calls attention to the fact that:The development of basic services like fuel and power and transport is just as important as investment in manufacturing industry, but it is in the latter particularly that the United Kingdom appears to be lagging behind its main competitors.I think everyone will agree that the United Kingdom cannot afford to lag behind its main competitors in this matter, and that it is private industry that is letting us down. It will be seen that we have had investment in the nationalised industries last year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he said, made certain concessions expecting an increase in capital investment. That did not take place. This year he is making a further concession in the hope that the private manufacturers will now re-equip their mills. If this does not take place, the only solution is to make it a matter of compulsion, because it is so vitally important to the industry of this country.
Before I leave this point, I should like to make a passing reference to the question of Government expenditure, which this year is the highest that has ever been known in the history of this country. I wonder what has happened to the Tory campaign of pre-election days, when there seemed to be competition amongst Tory politicians and national newspapers in telling us as to how much Government expenditure was going to be reduced when the Tories took office.
We have heard little about that from hon. Members opposite or from the national newspapers. I think they have come up against the facts of life, and they are realising there are certain matters of expenditure which cannot be dispensed with. In fact, I am one who would have liked national expenditure increased in this Budget because—and here I am coming back in conclusion to my main point—of the benefits it would have brought to the old people. There are many hon. Members in this Committee who wish to speak, and so I propose to bring my remarks to a close by expressing once again my very great disappointment that, in spite of all that the party opposite have been saying about improved conditions today, the Chancellor has not found it possible to do anything to alleviate the very serious position in which the old-age pensioners 274 and other pensioners find themselves at the present time.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
I should first of all like to add my congratulations to those already voiced to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the Budget which he presented this afternoon, and on the very lucid way in which he presented it. He called it a carry-on Budget; I would much prefer to call it a Budget of stability, because I believe that as a result of this Budget we are going to get what we as supporters of the Conservative Party have maintained should be the policy to adopt, that first of all there should be stability to enable the cost of living in general to be reduced; and that no reduction in the cost of living will ever be brought about if inflation is allowed to unfold.
This is the first time since 1945 that a Chancellor of the Exchequer has seriously faced up to this problem. What was the result last year? There was more employment and a higher level of employment than ever before in this country. The unemployed was only 04 per cent, of the working population. That is indeed something of which we can be proud, and I believe we have stopped this threat of inflation and can look forward to something even better happening in the future. I know of no responsible person, in the House of Commons or outside, who expected to hear the Chancellor make any great concessions, nor did they anticipate that he would reduce taxation to any great extent.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The hon. Gentleman is claiming that Government policy has stopped inflation. How does he square that with the fact that practically every trade union in the country is coming forward with increased wage claims because the increased cost of living is hurting their members, and that many of those wage claims are conceded on the basis of the case put forward by the trade unions?
§ Mr. Crouch
The Chancellor has dealt with the issue of the increased cost of living on many occasions. The cost-of-living index is in exactly the same form as it was when the party opposite were in power. What has happened is that 275 people are spending more money on food and petrol than when the party opposite were in power, because both are off the ration. Whatever commodity is mentioned, people are spending more money on it because they can get it. I am spending more in my house than I was when the party opposite were in power, because I can now get things I want.
We have had a little concession with regard to post-war credits, but no one seriously expected much. If it is easy to do, why did not hon. Gentlemen do something when they were in power? I welcome the reduction in Entertainments Duty, especially with regard to cinemas. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary is drafting the Finance Bill with his right hon. Friend, he will see to it that the cinemas in small boroughs, of which I have two in my constituency, holding between 200 and 400 people, are treated in the same way for Entertainments Duty as those in rural areas.
I believe that this new industrial allowance will have the effect of bringing about higher production in industry. I am convinced that, if we are to continue to enjoy the various privileges that we are enjoying now, we must expand production because only by that means can we improve our standard of living. Mention was made by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) of the Television Bill and of the home market in television sets. It is not only the consumer at home who will be affected by the increased manufacture of television sets. If we manufacture sufficient of them we can go into the export market. Furthermore, if we get commercial television established here we shall be in the same position over television films as Hollywood is now with cinema films.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I was not referring to the increased consumption of television sets but to the increased consumption that is the logical sequence of advertising under the Television Bill.
§ Mr. Crouch
But unless we have commercial television in this country we shall not have the facilities to make television sets and programmes for the export 276 market. I welcome the Television Bill because I believe we shall be able to export British culture and the British way of life as we have never been able to do before.
Now I want to turn from the general to my particular subject, the position of agriculture under the Budget. I welcome the statement of the Chancellor that this Government stand wholeheartedly behind British agriculture. The farmers have never at any time had anything to fear from the present Government. The subsidies for food will amount to £325 million, but the British farmer will get only half of that amount.
I want to correct the Chancellor a little with regard to what he said about eggs. Various people have attributed the large increase in the amount of home-produced eggs to the warm weather last autumn, but I do not believe that this had anything to do with it. I believe that great and welcome increase in the number of eggs coming off British farms was due to two things. One was that for a long time our pedigree breeders had been improving gradually the quality of poultry stocks and so year by year the hens had been laying more eggs. The more important factor, however, was that the feedingstuffs available last autumn, as a result of the Government freeing them from control, were of a better quality than had been available previously. Never before have we had such high quality poultry food.
There was one thing about the statement of the Chancellor which disturbed me. My right hon. Friend said that the Government would have to put a limit on their commitments. This is a challenge to the industry which it should take up and which it is capable of taking up. The answer to that challenge is a still higher standard of farming. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of our agriculturists to increase production still further by using better methods of production and so bringing down the price of their commodities. I feel sure that the farmers will accept this challenge and will make proper use of all the facilities available. They can accept that challenge as confidently as they can accept the assurance of the Chancellor that the Government and the Conservative Party are standing wholeheartedly behind British agriculture.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
It is a rather negative position when the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) has to defend the Government's agricultural policy by assuring the farmers of England that they need not be afraid of the Government.
§ Dr. King
The experience of anyone who has been speaking in the countryside during the last two years is that the Government ought to be afraid of the farmers if and when an election comes about.
Yesterday's debate and today's debate have been to me curiously similar. We thought yesterday that both sides of the House would unite on the need for peace and on dealing with the new problem that has been thrown into the world by the remarkable progress that has been made in experiments with the hydrogen bomb. We felt that yesterday the chief Government spokesman might have come across the Floor of the House, accepted the gesture of the Leader of the Opposition, and united both sides on the things that concern people of all parties, because all of us are desperately anxious about the problems which we discussed yesterday. In the same way, many of us thought quite sincerely that the Chancellor in his Budget speech would be expressing in a practical form the concern that the best elements on both sides of this Committee have been feeling in the last few months for the old, the sick, the disabled and the children.
It may have been a romantic illusion on our part, but some of us thought that we had begun to permeate the minds of hon. and right hon. Members opposite with new ideas on these matters. The Prime Minister disillusioned us yesterday on the much graver issue of the hydrogen bomb, and the Chancellor has certainly disillusioned us in our hope that something would come from the Budget for the five million people who need most help.
It would be impertinent for a back bencher to bandy compliments with the Chancellor on the undoubted technical skill with which he delivered his Budget speech, but even a back bencher can complain of his complacency. One of the irritating things about Molotov and his col- 278 leagues is that the Communist Party, according to its chief spokesmen, is always right. Whatever happens has been predicted and foreseen by the Communist Government. We had a touch of this attitude in the Chancellor's Budget speech, when he spoke of whatever has been good in the country's economic progress and claimed it for his Government.
We are all delighted at the increased production that has taken place in the last year, because increased production and increased productivity are the life-blood of the country and affect us whatever are our political opinions. Our only regret is that the rate of increase of production in the first five years after the war had to dip under the present administration before it began to ascend again during the last year. We are all delighted that the Government have managed to maintain the policy of full employment which was pursued by the Socialist Government in the post-war years. We are glad that the increase in unemployment that took place when the Government came into power seems to have declined.
The Government are entitled to take credit for the fact that we have not had the kind of unemployment that we on this side of the Committee have associated with Tory Governments throughout this century. The cost of living has been stabilised more or less in the last 12 months, but the Chancellor, representing a Government who promised to reduce the cost of living, has no right to be complacent about the fact that all that he has done, on his own figures, has been to decline the value of the £ to 19s. 2d. and prevent it going lower, as a way of carrying out his election pledge to reduce the cost of living.
But according to the Chancellor's speech, whatever was good in the national situation was due to the policies which he had adumbrated and the consequences which he had foreseen, and whatever was bad was due to world conditions over which he had no control or, he was almost tempted to say, due to six years of Socialism. I am very seriously alarmed that we are still not facing adequately the great problems that confront us and that at Budget time, which ought to be a time of national soul searching on the most important problems of all, the Government are steadily lifting themselves out of the position of direct control and handing more and more over 279 to free private enterprise, and on grave issues can only express a wishful hope that things will turn out all right in the long run.
It would be unkind to compare the Chancellor with Gladstone, of whom somebody said that nobody minded his producing an ace of trumps out of his sleeve but what was objected to was that he pretended that God had put it there. But there were touches of Gladstonian complacency in the Budget speech.
I want to address myself to the problem of five million people who will not regard this Budget as dull and pedestrian and who will not regard it as whatever the Chancellor meant by a "carry-on Budget," because these are the people who are rinding it difficult to carry on in present circumstances and who wanted this Budget to be not a carrying-on Budget but a change Budget. This may be a dull Budget as regards the main problems of the taxpayers—the battle between Income Tax and Profits Taxpayers and the rest of the working tax-paying community. It may mark a lull before one side or the other gets back to securing benefits for one income group or other in the country, but for some five million people this Budget will be as exciting as famous Budgets, even the Lloyd George Budget, which introduced old-age pensions, or those Budgets which financed great advances in the social services.
This Budget is exciting for a different reason, for the reason that it does nothing for the five million poorest people of the country. Whether Income Tax is reduced or not means or does not mean slight changes in the pattern of living for millions of comfortably-off people. A change in the incidence of Income Tax determines whether they have a new car or carry on with the old one, whether one has a television set or not, whether the family budget will rise to a mink coat or some other kind of fur coat, whether holidays will be spent in France or at an English seaside resort, and whether one can add a little to one's savings in the bank. They are all minor changes in the standard of living.
Whether the Purchase Tax is reduced or not, important as it may be to industries that are occupied in creating luxury goods, only makes minor changes in luxury living. Even changes in duty on 280 beer and tobacco are not vital, although I believe that we are paying far too much indirect taxation and that the job of some Chancellor very soon will be to readjust the balance between direct and indirect taxation.
The farmer and the farm worker, the millionaire and the lowest wage earner pay roughly the same in taxes on the beer and tobacco which they consume. Both, incidentally, carry an unfair share of the burden of taxation as against the non-smoker and non-drinker. They have the additional injustice of being roundly abused by the teetotaller, whose taxes they help to keep as low as possible. Even Entertainments Duty might be called a luxury tax, although it would be a crazy way of looking at things if we regarded entertainments, particularly the broad entertainments of the people, as luxuries.
This Budget is exciting for those people to whom the slightest concession would have meant, not a change in luxury, not a change in the minor pattern of living, but an improvement in the standard of living which has been condemned from both sides of the Committee and was condemned by Beveridge himself, the founder of the Social Insurance Scheme, as inadequate for decent living. These people are the old-age pensioners, those living on fixed incomes, those having to supplement their income by going to National Assistance, married men with large families and growing children, the disabled ex-Service men and widows. I estimate this group to be at least five million people at the bottom of the social scale, people with no powerful organisation behind them. These people expected help and they had a right to expect help by a raising of the basic rate of pension and a raising of various allowances to be financed by this Budget.
From the speech of the Chancellor it seemed thai his policy and that of the Government is very direct and very simple—that we must wait for the quinquennial review and for the Reports of the various Committees inspecting pensions problems. I say with all the force I can—I wish it was with the eloquence of the Chancellor or the Prime Minister—that the people for whom I am speaking cannot wait until the quinquennial review is made. The groups of people for whom I am pleading want help now; and they want it in this Budget.
281 In his speech the Chancellor suggested—I hope I am not doing him an injustice—that the reason why we cannot put the pensioners' position right until the quinquennial review takes place is that he envisages those reforms and those improvements in basic pensions as being paid for out of the income of the workers. In other words—I may be wrong in attributing this to him—he is assuming that the only way of raising basic pensions is by raising insurance contributions made week by week. Everyone will agree that, actuarially, various pensions and insurance schemes have leaped out of any actuarial reality because of the rise in the cost of living. But Lord Beveridge has said, and hon. Members on this side of the Committee believe, that if the basic pension is to be raised it should not be by raising the contribution of the worker—whose contribution would meet any benefit he got under the old pattern if there were no rises in the cost of living—but out of taxation, because taxation distributes the burden more equitably.
I have said all that ought to be said about this in a recent debate when both sides of the House supported a Motion I moved. I urge both sides of the House, in debates on the Finance Bill, to unite againsit the Chancellor, to demonstrate against the Chancellor and not only to give lip service to the pensioners such as was paid earlier in the debate by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), who said that he felt for the old age pensioners. He reminded me of the story of the Quaker to whom someone said, "I fed for the poor." The Quaker asked, "But do you feel in the right place; do you feel in your pocket?" The only way in which we can make our lip service to the pensioner more than lip service is by feeling in our pockets and by making provision for them in the Budget.
What about the debt of honour which all of us have said we were going to pay to the disabled ex-Service man? In the last 12 months debate after debate has shown unanimity among back benchers on both sides of the House about the need to raise the basic rate for disabled pensioners to what it was in 1946. I plead with back benchers on both Slides of the Committee to unite to compel the Chancellor to do something about it.
282 I am afraid the women will be disappointed about the inadequacy of the reference in the Budget statement to equal pay. I am glad that the misunderstanding which seemed to have crept up between the Chancellor and members of the Civil Service association has been straightened out and they are to meet and discuss some ways of beginning to implement a policy on equal pay. But it is no good the Chancellor meeting them unless he has made adequate financial provision in the Budget for a really bold advance towards equal pay in the Civil Service. I hope we shall be assured that such financial provision has been made, although I doubt it from the speech of the Chancellor this afternoon.
Apart from the pensioners, I think the worst off are the married men. In all the arguments about equal pay we compare the single young woman with the married man to the disadvantage of the single woman, as an argument against equal pay. That is a fallacious argument, because the simple difference is the difference in standard of living between the single man or woman and a married man earning the same income. Anyone from his own experience can agree that when two people are earning the same money, one married and one single, there is a terrific difference in the standard of living; the standard of living of the single person is much higher.
We could tax allowances for married women for the earnings they actually make by eliminating their tax concession on the first £100 or so of their earnings. I asked a Question of the Chancellor about this two years ago and found that it costs about £60 million a year. I am alarmed at the extent to which we are encouraging married women to go to work. I am not sure that, having started this policy for drastic reasons during the war, we should continue it at a time when we need good homes more than anything else, and whether the place of the married woman, if she has children, should not be at home looking after those children. In any case, I have always believed that all income which goes into a home ought to be taxed, and the amount which could be a benefit to the Exchequer by taking off the tax relief on married women's earnings might very well be used to give better benefits and better allowances to married men in respect of their wives and children.
283 I shall not go into the question of postwar credits, because my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) dealt brilliantly with that matter this afternoon. I would merely say that many of us think the Chancellor has not gone far enough, although we are delighted with what he has done. There are technical difficulties in differential payments of post-war credits, but we think they could be overcome if the right hon. Gentleman would consult back benchers on both sides of the Committee. Most of us during Budget debates ask for money, though it would be quite improper and illegal for us to suggest ways of raising money by taxes. Our job is to resist the Crown in its efforts to extract money from the commoners of this country.
I am interested in the records of old Parliaments, and during my researches recently I discovered that the Chancellors at the end of the last century but one had pleasant duties besides the painful one of extracting taxes. As late as 1790 the Chancellor could present a report to this House—which may be found in the Journals—about the income of a State lottery which raised £790,000; gave £500,000 in prizes; had expenses of only £13.009—which I think would compare favourably with the football pools —and made a profit for the State of £277,606 3s. 1d.
In a country such as ours where so much is spent on betting, I think the Chancellor might investigate ways of setting up a national system of football pools, so that people who wish to bet and have their little flutter on the football pools might do it inside a Government set-up. The profits there from could be used to benefit the income of the country. This could be done by the Government at a much lower administrative cost than people outside could do it, and we could earmark the profit for some specific purpose. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen who go to France every year for their holidays buy their lottery ticket from the State post office, knowing that the whole of the profits will go to disabled ex-Service men and feeling very happy about the whole transaction whether they win or lose.
I was glad to hear the defence of the Chancellor, against the more reactionary element which still exists in the Tory 284 Party, of the great social services and health legislation. It is fair to point out that I am one who believes it a great pity that the Chancellor did not remain Minister of Education. Then, instead of resisting demands for expansion in education expenditure he would still be the one to make the demands of some other Chancellor. But it must be pointed out that the whole of the increased expense of health and education is more than accounted for by the rise in the cost of materials and wages and the increased number of children.
The reduction in the food subsidies has increased the cost of meals in hospitals and schools. This Government cannot claim any expansion of the Health Service and education. At the moment we are merely hanging on by the skin of our teeth to what we have so far managed to achieve. It is idle to boast about increased expenditure on health and education when every regional health authority in the country is anxious about what service it will have to cut to keep its expenditure inside the ceiling imposed by the Minister of Health.
Disaster faces secondary education in the next three years unless we do more than we are doing at present to provide school accommodation and teachers. The Government ought not to be complacent about this. I urge the Chancellor not to think that he has done all that he should have done for education by merely in Creasing—as he has done to some extent—the amount spent on education. But my main purpose in speaking tonight is to protest against the betrayal by the Chancellor of the ex-Service men. the old-age pensioners and the widows, and to urge the Government to do something about it before it is too late, and in this Budget.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Sir Roland Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
I believe that the Chancellor was right in the proposals which he announced this afternoon in that he has no elbow room which would enable him to give the large concessions we should like to see, including an increase for old-age pensioners and other such benefits. The Chancellor announced a reduction of £3½ million in the Entertainments Duty, when the cinema industry is giving £2 million to the production side. I do not think that is a sufficient concession to get 285 them out of their difficulties, and that he should provide the other £3½ million for which they asked. Industry must be grateful for the initial allowances on investment capital, but I do not think it is enough. The Chancellor ought to take a wider view of this matter.
I suggest that we must have economies in Government expenditure. I do not mean, as hon. Members opposite might conclude, that we should cut down on services and benefits. I recently received a letter from a constituent which will illustrate what I have in mind. This constituent of mine plays a bassoon in an orchestra. He informs me that his instrument cost him under £20 yet children in secondary schools are being provided with bassoons and wind instruments costing £100 each. That sort of thing is nonsense at a time like this. If school children are being provided with instruments costing £100 the Chancellor should ask for an explanation from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education.
§ Sir R. Jennings
I will give the Committee an example of what happened some years ago. In an elementary school the children were asked if they would like to learn to pay the violin. A firm of violin makers was willing to sell to the parents of the children violins costing 25s. each. These instruments were quite good enough for the children to use when learning to play, and the parents paid so much a week to buy them. Today, we are chucking away £100 here on this instrument and £100 there on another, and I know that hon. Members opposite will not disagree with me when I say that that is waste.
§ Sir R. Jennings
The information was given to me and if it is not correct I will withdraw. I have no reason to doubt the man, who is a constituent and who has asked me to raise the matter. It is my duty as a Member of Parliament to raise it. If there is any doubt surely the Chancellor can find out from the 286 Minister of Education whether or not the statement is correct.
Another example has been sent to me. When a man is unemployed he cannot draw unemployment pay until he has been put of work for three days; so he is entitled to go to the National Assistance Board to get immediate help over that three days. He gets a loan of money.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would want to misrepresent. The three days is a qualifying period before unemployment pay is given, but the hon. Gentleman has been wrongly informed if he has been told that somebody went to the Assistance Board and got assistance. I cannot get assistance for some people who have been out for over a week. The hon. Gentleman has been wrongly advised.
§ Sir R. Jennings
I do not accept that correction. In this matter I have had the opinion of a good authority who has quoted several cases where the money from the Assistance Board has to be repaid when the men get their unemployment pay. I suggest that an inquiry into the administration of National Assistance would be well worth while, and I hope that the Chancellor will order an investigation.
I read in the Press recently of a case where a man was prosecuted and fined. He was asked how much he could pay and he offered a certain amount. The magistrate asked him how much he earned and he said that he was unemployed. When asked for how long he had been unemployed he replied, "For nearly 18 months." That man was drawing about £5 16s. National Assistance for himself, his wife and children. It is absolutely wrong that a man in work should get very little more than a man in receipt of National Assistance. There ought to be a bigger differentiation to encourage people to work.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Would the hon. Gentleman explain whether, if a man with seven or eight children is unemployed, he is willing to make the children go hungry to satisfy his political point of view?
§ Sir R. Jennings
I do not suggest that anybody should go hungry. I suggest that the administration should be such that if 287 a man is able to repay money he should be made to do so instead of being allowed to retain it. I should say that probably millions of pounds would be involved if this matter was carefully handled.
§ Mr. Rankin
Surely the hon. Gentleman realizes—or at least he ought to realise—that an individual goes to the Assistance Board because of need. That is the qualification.
§ Sir R. Jennings
Certainly, but when he gets unemployment pay he draws the money on the understanding that he repays the assistance.
§ Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)
The fact is that a man does not receive benefit for the first three days and when he receives benefit he does not draw anything with which to repay the Assistance Board.
§ Sir R. Jennings
It is very strange that a man who probably earned £10 or £14 a week can go to the Assistance Board on the first three days when he is out of work. [Interruption.] I expected a lot of interruption. The party opposite will not face this matter, and I am asking the Chancellor to face it.
§ Mr. Bartley
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is not true. Last week, with the general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association and my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), I met the chairman of the National Assistance Board in connection with this sort of thing, where men cannot get benefit —
§ Sir R. Jennings
The hon. Gentleman will not disagree with the view I expressed that, whether or not I am right, the Chancellor should inquire into the matter.
§ Sir R. Jennings
I am. The reason why there is so much opposition to the proposal is that it is touching you where you do not like to be touched.
§ Sir R. Jennings
I am sorry, Sir Rhys. I thought that there would be a little opposition. Nevertheless, I should like the Chancellor to look into the matter.
Industry is being burdened with heavy taxation, as is the whole country. No Government Department ought for a single day to waste money. If we are to get relief in taxation it will come as a result of economy in Government Departments. I beg the Chancellor to call together his colleagues from all Departments. Let us have a thorough investigation. I am sure that not only will they get a surprise but that when hon. Members opposite are told they, too, will be surprised.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
At least we have had a little light relief from the hon. Member for Hallam (Sir R. Jennings)—without Entertainments Duty. I am afraid that he produced no argument worth replying to, and no doubt he will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he says.
The smaller reliefs which the Chancellor has been able to offer the country are interesting as far as they go, but I do not think that anybody opposite, including the Chancellor himself, would pretend that they were of major interest. I myself am interested in the slight relief which he proposes to give to the cinema industry. He mentioned that the relief might be used to lower prices, though it is so small that I can hardly suppose that it would have any effect at all on attendance.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it might be used to maintain the amenities of cinemas, but he hardly stressed what surely must have been the main purpose in his mind—that the granting of the relief should enable the cinematograph exhibitors to have no difficulty in meeting their full commitments under the Eady Levy. I hope that that point will be taken by the cinematograph industry and that possibly either the Economic Secretary or his right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will take occasion to stress the point in their subsequent speeches in these debates.
289 The concession on equal pay cannot really be called a concession. It is merely permission to talk. Although I do not pretend that I share the gift of prophecy in which my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) indulged, I had thought that at least on this matter the Chancellor would have been a little bit more forthcoming. Clearly, we are in for some very tight negotiation between the Civil Service associations and the Treasury, and I fear that they may be very considerably prolonged.
The other small relief is in connection with post-war credits. I cannot understand why the Chancellor has gone only so far in the case of post-war credits, because it seems to me that in almost all instances a death in the family is in itself something which leads to some sort of hardship. I cannot see that it is inequitable to repay the post-war credit at the time of death instead of waiting until the time when the person to whom it was due would have reached pension age.
The suggestion made by the Chancellor has the serious practical disadvantage that one is not able to wind up the estate. In most cases, I agree, the amount involved is very small, but I should have thought that for practical reasons the right hon. Gentleman might have gone a little further and said that post-war credits would be paid to the beneficiary on the death of the person to whom they were due instead of making that beneficiary wait, possibly for a long time, before the estate can be finally liquidated. Naturally, all of us would much prefer to have something more substantial in regard to post-war credits, but, as I say, that extra step would have cost very little indeed. It might, perhaps, be reconsidered on the Finance Bill.
Having dealt with these minor matters in the Budget, I wish to say that we on this side of the Committee, together with a great many hon. Members opposite—whatever they may say in public—are seriously disturbed at the Chancellor's failure to do anything whatever for the old-age pensioners, the disabled, and so forth. We realise perfectly well that this is one of the major social problems of our time, and we all recognise that the burden upon the community of supporting what we believe to be reasonable and civilised standards of living for the disabled, the 290 aged, and so on, is something which presents any Government with a very difficult problem. It is something which I do not think has yet been fully faced by anyone.
We realise that for practical purposes there is something to be said for waiting until the quinquennial review has taken place, but when one is dealing with a matter of such urgent human importance I think that such arguments are largely academic. The time may come when a major reassessment will have to be made of this whole problem, including the very difficult problem of dealing with the changes in the value of money in relation to statutory benefits of all kinds. That is one of the major problems that may have to be faced, and it may take time to find a correct solution to it.
However, I cannot see why those people who, at the moment, are suffering from the effects not of this Budget, but of the last Budget and of the increase in prices which has taken place since the last improvement was made in their pension position—increases in the price of articles which are of most interest to them—should be obliged to wait while these important questions are discussed at high academic and financial levels.
According to the figures that were given to us a little earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King), which I think he took from answers given by the Government, the present rate of pension for a man and wife of 54s. a week ought now to be 60s. a week if it is to retain the purchasing power originally intended under the National Insurance scheme. In the same way, the pension paid to a widow with one child of 52s. 6d. a week ought to be 62s. 6d. a week.
These figures are conclusive evidence that something ought to be done now. and in support of this argument I will mention two things. The first is that the Chancellor has said that general consumption is increasing and is likely to be at least maintained and probably some what increased during the present year. That shows that the rest of the community are not suffering from any lowering of their standard of living at the present time, whereas old-age pensioners and others in similar circumstances. including those living on small fixed 291 incomes, are suffering at a time when they see others around them enjoying a reasonably comfortable standard.
If one has any doubt about that, one has only to look at the advertisement column of "The Times" in order to see that many people can afford to pay high rents for houses and flats and are able to afford expensive clothes. That proves that the community in general is not at the moment suffering any severe restriction as compared with the group of persons of whom I have been speaking. These facts are quite well appreciated by many hon. Members opposite, and I only wish that they would have the courage to say today what they were quite prepared to say during a Friday debate when my hon. Friend the Member for Test raised the matter.
The other thing which concerns me is the fact that at present there is a very considerable increase in the number of pension and superannuation schemes promoted by business firms of one sort or another. The number has increased enormously since the war. I am sure that the Economic Secretary is fully aware of all that has been said and written on this matter in recent months. I need hardly refer him, for example, to the works of Professor Titmuss.
Professor Titmuss stressed very graphically in his articles in "The Times" at the end of last year that because of the additional provisions now being made for pensions and superannuation schemes by business firms for those in their employ we are now witnessing a position in which, while the living standards of those at work, both manual and professional people, have been brought within much closer limits than they were in previous generations, when it comes to retirement we are in danger once more of being split into two nations, one consisting of those who are trying to subsist on their statutory pension with possibly some slight supplement from National Assistance, and the other of those who have the benefit of superannuation schemes which to a considerable degree are paid for by the taxpayer.
Professor Titmuss gave an example, which he said was a typical one—I am prepared to take his word for it, because 292 he has studied this matter with some thoroughness—in a salary range of £4,000 to £5,000 a year. That would be the salary of a fairly highly-paid executive. Professor Titmuss suggested that it would be quite possible for an employer who is making the full contribution—under many of these schemes the employee is not called upon to make any contribution at all—of £1,600 a year, which, of course, is allowed to rank for tax relief, to provide a life cover for his employee of £28,000 should he die before retirement, a tax-free lump sum on retirement of £7,000, and a pension for life of £1,900 a year. Towards this the taxpayer has contributed £25,600.
Professor Titmuss goes on to say that such schemes are very popular. I do not doubt it, but I would suggest that as this kind of arrangement is now being resorted to by considerable numbers of firms, surely these sums which the taxpayer is contributing towards the pensions of these very highly paid people might have gone towards some slight in crease at least in some of the benefits available to those who are really desperately in need.
I quite understand that the whole question of the treatment of superannuation provisions and pensions has possibly to await the consideration in future of the Millard Tucker Committee Report. The Chancellor himself said that, and I realise that he has not had this Report in his hands very long. Nevertheless, from reading that Report I thought that there was one small contribution which the Chancellor might have made and which would have helped not the statutory pensioners, but those living on small fixed incomes.
I refer to the suggestion in the Report concerning the taxation of annuities. I cannot see why this subject could not have been treated on its own without having to wait for the consideration of all the complex suggestions that are made in the rest of the Report. If one accepts the conclusion in paragraph 503 of the Report on the taxation of life annuities it would have had the effect of helping some of those who are trying to live on an income from past savings, which, again, is one of the major problems which face us in modern society. If need be there could be a ceiling above which the provision might not operate, although I should 293 have thought that the principle, if it is accepted at all, ought to be accepted at all levels.
If we are asking people to save for their retirement—because at no time is the statutory pension likely to be fully adequate for everyone—then, again, we have this problem of how to deal with small savings that lose their value owing to changes in the value of money. It is a very difficult subject to deal with. Some of us have tried to work out methods by which it could be solved. It could hardly be dealt with by Post Office savings because that is so much in-and-out with some people, but there might be some form of Government savings which would have a guarantee of increase with the changes in the value of money.
That, also, raises some very tricky points, but on this minor matter which would be of some immediate help I cannot see why the Chancellor could not have taken this opportunity of instituting a minor reform, even though the main recommendations of the Millard Tucker Committee quite clearly need a good deal more consideration. On this point, I can only repeat what everyone on this side of the Committee, and, indeed, everybody in the country, is going to say. We are disappointed at the complete failure of the Chancellor to do anything whatever for the pensioners or the people on small fixed incomes.
There is, of course, another side to the Budget, and that is the treatment of industrial investment. On that, in general terms, I would suggest that most hon. Members would support the proposals of the Chancellor, although the result of the proposals would of course depend very much on how far the industrialists in this country are going to take their responsibilities for investment seriously. The initial allowances restoration did not seem to be very encouraging to private industry, and one can only hope that the industrial investment allowances will be more encouraging to industries which obviously are facing and will continue to face extremely acute competition, particularly from Western Germany.
I cannot pass from this subject of industrial production without just saying one word about Purchase Tax. I have a textile interest in my own constituency, and I must say that those of us who 294 have any interest in textiles feel that this is a problem which has not been solved. I do not pretend that it was solved by previous Chancellors, but the effect of Purchase Tax on the export of high quality goods has not been solved by the present Chancellor.
The emphasis in the Budget is on capital goods, with which I would not quarrel. I certainly grant that that is the most important section of industry and the one in which special steps must be taken. But, nevertheless, I think that there is a very strong case for re-examining the effect of the D scheme on the quality of textiles and on their chances in the export markets, including the dollar market which, after all, is still very important.
I do not want to detain the Committee on textiles, but any of us who have any close association with the textile industries are seriously disturbed at the long-term effects of this method of taxation on our prospects in markets which we can hope to conquer or retain only with quality goods. We keep telling Lancashire and the other textile areas that their one chance is not to compete with Japan with cheap stuff but to go in for the quality markets, and we find that when our manufacturers send their representatives to those markets, as a result of the incidence of tax at home it is difficult for them to produce the range and variety demanded in the American market, for instance.
It is very galling to the manufacturers of high-quality textiles when they send their representatives to these markets and have to apologise, because they cannot carry a full range of colours, to be told that the Italians are doing so. I hope that this other problem which is very important to a section of our industry will be seriously considered by the Chancellor and that he will use some boldness in trying to solve it. He is clearly not trying to do it this year. One can only hope that he will try to do it next year.
§ 8.17 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
Before and after a Budget debate Members of Parliament are frequently subjected to pressure of different kinds from powerful groups of one sort or another lobbying them in favour of this or that interest. But there is one section in this country who feel deeply about 295 these things but who are silent, perhaps because they are not skilled in lobbying or have no aptitude for it. We call them by the not very complimentary title, "middle classes."
These are generally people who are not rich and who, in the course of their lives, have asked little but have frequently done a great deal for their country. They are going to be extremely grateful to the Chancellor for what he has done during the last few years in re-establishing the soundness of the value of our money. They knew, probably from wider experience, what the great mass of the people do not ever realise, and that is the appalling danger and misfortune which can follow an inflation if it gets out of control. We in this country had a steady, though none the less slow, inflation over a number of years, bringing considerable hardship with it, but we never had anything such as the people of Greece had to suffer, nor what the people of France had to suffer to a lesser degree.
The people of whom I am speaking, particularly the elderly, realise that. They would have suffered more than those who have an interest in industry as employees or owners. They had a vision of great misfortune, and they will be very grateful to the Chancellor what he has done. They make few claims on society, they took risks during their active lives, and in their retirement they do a great deal of voluntary work for which they get very little thanks. Therefore, I hope that in the years to come these people will not be forgotten by the Chancellor when he has some margin for taxation reliefs merely because they do not exert the same pressure as some other groups.
The Chancellor dealt a blow at these people when he was Minister of Education, when he made it hardly possible for the grammar schools to continue an independent existence. I should like these people one day to get a modest Income Tax relief in return for their saving the general taxpayer the cost of educating their children. That will not be much, but it will be some recognition of the fact that they have been shouldering a certain burden themselves instead of expecting their neighbours and fellow citizens to bear it for them.
There is one curious situation today. If one's child is not a good examinee at 296 the age of 12, he may miss the chance of an education carrying on stage by stage to the university. Yet if the parent can afford the full fees for a boarding school education—that is a very considerable sum of money today—one may be able to help the child make up the lost ground. If, on the other hand, one cannot afford these fees there is little hope for the child today.
For generation after generation, many of the people of the class about which I am speaking have sent their children to the magnificent grammar schools where education of the highest order could be obtained at very small cost thanks to the endowments of many people in the past. Now that has changed. Whereas one can spend as much money as one likes on holidays, on the racecourses and on doing all sorts of other things, it is now almost impossible to help in the education of one's child unless one happens to be able to spend several hundreds of pounds a year upon it. This is an extraordinary anomaly which we have seen develop over the last few years.
I am glad to say that the Chancellor devoted more than a small part of his speech to savings. It is important for us to recover the habit of saving which used to be part of our nature. The people about whom I am speaking had the tradition of saving probably more strongly than any other class, but that tradition has been sorely shaken over the last few years for one simple reason—it has not required much arithmetical knowledge to see that money invested in Government securities after 1945 lost its purchasing power faster than it was made up by the interest due. The wise men saw that there was no profit in buying Savings certificates if at the end of five years they would represent less than the 15s. originally paid for them.
I am glad to say that a change has now taken place, as indicated by figures published by the Savings Movement, particularly in the last few months.
The Principal of Cumberland and Westmorland Farm Institute was speaking in the Midlands the other day about saving and the common belief that it is impossible to start farming unless one 297 has a considerable sum of capital. He said that the farm worker has a good opportunity of saving. I can see how a man who is a bachelor and has no heavy family commitments ought to be able to save in 10 years £ 1,000 maybe, and start farming, and many have started farming with less.
I did not hear what the hon. Member said. If he had risen, I should have given way to him. There were indeed a number of people who invested in National Savings, but the fact remains that faith was shaken during those years, and for very good reasons. Over the last two or three years the shaken faith in our £ has become much firmer again, to the great advantage of the country as a whole.
It has always interested me that while hon. Gentlemen opposite were pursuing a policy which they thought was helping to reduce the distinctions between classes in this country which had become so marked in the last century, they were not in fact creating an egalitarian society but merely a new one with class differences just as marked as those which they were trying to eliminate. I should like the Chancellor to think of this point. It is commonly said that this country was, and still is to some extent, divided between rich and poor. It is now divided between private and official-and-business. The high rate of taxation that we have borne over the last few years has made perquisites of one sort and another far more valuable to a taxpayer at any high level than small additions in hard cash.
Next time hon. Members travel on a Parliamentary warrant and have a meal, which will be at their own expense, in the first-class dining car of a train, let them look round and try to work out how many people are likely to be paying for the meal out of their own net income and how many will be recovering something through taxation allowances. If they think that 10 per cent, of the people in the dining car have paid out of their net income, it will be a pretty high score.
That is what I am saying. It is an awful reflection that we run our first-class carriages for the benefit of an official or business class. In the Communist world, the distinction is well known. And now here as a result of the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite, we are achieving not a classless society but a society with an upper class living on allowances. I wonder how many of those who had lunch at the Savoy hotel today paid for their meal out of their net income? I am only giving these examples to show the sort of thing that grows quickly—and it is a bad growth— in a country which year after year has to bear such a heavy burden of taxation as ours.
§ Mr. Norman Dodds (Dartford)
The hon. Member is making the point that most of the people who travel in first-class dining cars are officials. Has he any evidence of that? Has he asked such people whether they were business representatives, private business people, or Government officials?
I thought I said I did not mean only those employed by the State but rather "business or official." Only they can enjoy such conveniences and comforts because they do not have to pay for them out of their net income. I suggest that the next time the hon. Member has the chance he has a look round. I am sure that he will come to the same general conclusion as I have come to.
I greatly welcomed one point in the Chancellors' speech—the exclusion of motor cars from what he calls the "investment allowance." For many business purposes transport is essential, but I have often felt that the interpretation of what transport is necessary in business has been treated as very elastic.
I have mentioned the danger of the country becoming divided into two. Whether we are shouldering the defense burdens or later when the Chancellor can offer some relief, we must be sure the nation is one. The most powerful weapon to ensure this is the budgetary policy.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) will not expect 299 me to treat very seriously the argument which he advanced about first-class travel. One has only to think of the number of people who can possibly engage in that type of travel to realise how trivial his argument is.
I should like to refer to a viewpoint which was the basis of the argument put to the Committee by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). I am sorry that he is no longer in his place. He advanced the view that one of the crippling factors in retarding development in the country was lack of capital. He welcomed the investment allowance, as I think those who sit with me on these benches also do.
I find the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, East hard to reconcile with certain things that have taken place in the investment world quite recently. Imperial Chemical Industries went to the lending public a few days ago for £30 million of investment capital. Within 10 hours, that £30 million was over-subscribed 10 times by the people who are said to be short of capital. In other words, I.C.I, asked for £30 million of new capital, and within 10 hours they were offered £300 million. I find that fact hard to reconcile with the shortage of capital which the hon. Member for Croydon, East deplored.
I also find the argument about shortage of capital difficult to reconcile with much that is going on in recent declarations of profits, as, for example, by Vauxhall Motors, Ltd. Last week, the Vauxhall Motor Company declared a bigger gross profit than ever before in its history. Just two years ago—on 14th June—a shareholder of one of our great aircraft companies could have gone to bed carrying with him, metaphorically, a 5s. ordinary share. In the morning that 5s. had become £1. Evidently the days of miracles are not yet past. I notice that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury shakes his head in the wrong way. I presume that he does not agree with what I am saying, but it was published in the "Financial Times," whose editor used to be a leading ornament of the present Government when in Opposition.
§ Mr. Maudling
Does the hon. Gentleman really mean that there were shareholders who awakened in the morning four times as rich as the night before?
§ Mr. Rankin
If one goes to bed with a 5s. share and in the morning it has become £1 that, to the ordinary person, means that he has gained wealth.
§ Mr. Maudling
The question is what the ordinary person could sell the share for—whatever its nominal value.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry that I cannot quote offhand the market value of the shares in the aircraft companies. When we take the general rate of dividend, running at about 17½per cent., 20 per cent. —in the case of the company to which I have referred it threatened to be 40 per cent, in that year—we shall not, I hope, quarrel about the market value of aircraft shares.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hallam (Sir R. Jennings) has left his place. After hearing him talk about the Assistance Board, I am perfectly convinced that he represents a division entirely different in character from mine. He does not know anything about the workings of the Assistance Board. He does not realise that if there is any criticism that many on this side have to make of the Assistance Board it is that it is far too harsh and penurious in its attitude to the individual applying to it. I have had innumerable cases of that.
Not a penny passes over the counter that is not looked at twice. Every transaction, every payment made by the area manager has to be justified to the regional officer. In addition, at any moment without warning the auditors from the regional office may step into the area board offices and ask the area manager to justify any single payment that he may have made that day, that week or at any period since the previous visit. The area boards are closely supervised in their operations. The Economic Secretary knows perfectly well that there is no particular call for any investigation —any May Committee—into the transactions of the Assistance Board at present. I would rather see a little more flexibility than a tightening up in the operations of the local offices at the area level.
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope that I am not immune to humour, but to those who apply for assistance this is not a very humorous subject. Every time they get a little clothing—and that, unfortunately, is usually only as a result of the intervention of a Member of Parliament or a local councilor—they receive a letter telling them that although they are receiving this grant, in the shape of boots, socks, stockings or overcoats, they must realise that the expenditure involved must be met out of any future moneys which they draw.
I should like to add my voice to the plea which has been made by so many of my colleagues today on behalf of the old-age and other pensioners. There are three very strong organisations in my area, and I know that in the hearts of their members tonight, and in the hearts of old folk all over the country, there will be a sense not merely of deep disappointment but of frustration. When the industrial worker fails to get what he demands he can do something about it. Machinery has been created for that purpose, and, in the end, if he chooses he can use his industrial might to help him. But the old folk can only plead with us. They have ceased to be of any industrial, account. They can use their votes, but the happenings of yesterday and today seem to indicate that the time for doing that is now much further ahead than many of us had hoped a few days ago.
Knowing the distress which has entered into most of their homes, I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and many hon. Members opposite, in view of the opinions they have expressed, will bring tremendous pressure to bear upon the Government to think once more about this matter. It is merely hiding behind a comfortable hedge to tell us that this matter will be dealt with in the quinquennial review. If one is drawing the miserable pittance that many of these old folk are drawing today, even with the help of the Assistance Board, it is no great comfort to them, in their declining years, to be told, "Just go on starving for a little while longer. We are coming to your aid some day." When? Can the Economic Secretary tell us when the report of the quinquennial review will be completed? Will it be this year, or next year? If we ask the 302 old folk to wait, as we are doing, at least we can in mercy tell them definitely how long they are to be expected to wait.
I regret that nothing has been done about equal pay. Parliament has expressed its mind on this matter. I know the difficulties of the Chancellor, but, nevertheless, I am sorry that nothing has been done about this problem. We are told it is to be left to some future meeting. We have been told that for years. For years we have been considering it. Surely the time is now ripe for at least the initial action of starting equal pay in the Government service. I hope that during the Budget discussions there will be sufficient pressure on the Government to compel them to think again on this matter.
The Chancellor is taking shelter behind the fact that the nation is in economic difficulties at present. Before he finished his speech his Budget was being described as a standstill Budget. We could say that the ship of State is hove to, because there are difficult winds blowing. The Chancellor said there were three winds he seemed to feel.
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not know, but may be some day he will be.
The Chancellor told us that one of the three bad winds was rising Government expenditure. Another bad wind was the problems associated with world trade. There was the bad wind of what, I think he agreed, was a decline in American production. However, he has to set a course somewhere. He cannot lie to all the time. He has to make up his mind what to do. I hope he is not going to describe rising Government expenditure as a bad wind, because the problems allied to that will affect increased production.
In my constituency, for example, there are engineers, ship workers and dock workers, men who believe in the need for the Health Service that is being deplored by many Members opposite. They are men who believe in the need for more expenditure on the Service. They believe that there should be some protection, through subsidies, against the rising cost of living.
They are living with their families in houses of the most appalling description and they are being forced by the Government to face an increased demand on 303 their earnings through an increase of 40 per cent, in the rents of the miserable dwellings in which many of them live. If we are to get increased production, it is surely evident that we must keep the minds of these people at peace, keep them happy and see that their housing and living conditions and their wages are all good. If we do not do those things we shall retard the increased production which the Chancellor said was such a dire need.
The Chancellor referred to the fact that American production was tending to fall. That poses another problem with which the Government have been playing for a long time. The end of 1953 saw America achieving a production such as she had never reached at any period in her history. In our money, she produced £ 130,000 million worth of goods. She had an employed army of 64 million people. She employed so many people and she produced so much wealth that this year she is glutted with it. She finished the year with £ 2,000 million worth of wheat unsold.
This is happening as a result of policy. It is happening because we are piling up wealth in the West and are not distributing it throughout the world. We are restricting the channels of distribution while, at the same time, the granaries of the West are overflowing with wealth of which we cannot dispose. As the Economic Secretary knows, this will affect the economy of this country. Last year, we sent to America about £ 450 million worth of goods as exports. If the American recession develops, as the Chancellor seemed to infer that it might, we shall lose from our exports to the West a large part of that £450 million.
I agree that the situation is serious, but it can be remedied by an alteration in Government policy. The Chancellor has just as big a stake as anyone else in doing that. If we can get a freer flow of trade, then I am certain that we shall improve the economic condition not merely of this country but of the entire world and we shall make it easier for the Government to meet the legitimate demands of the old-age pensioners and of those who believe, as I think most hon. Members now believe, in the principle of equal pay for equal work.
I should like to say "Thank you" to the Government for one thing. I am not 304 going to speak too long because I have been here since 2.20 p.m. I am thirsty and hungry and that will prevent me from making a speech in any way equal in length to that made by the Chancellor. But I want to close with this word of thanks. The Economic Secretary will remember that last June the Chancellor promised to many of us, who were then and had been for a long time advocating a reduction in the cinema tax, that the cinema industry would be the first in the queue for consideration this year. I thank him for keeping his word. We appreciate what he has done, though it has not been so much as we had hoped it would be.
We felt that £7 million was the least sum that was necessary to put the industry on its feet, and the Chancellor has given us £3½ million for which, of course, we are grateful. I would say, with respect, that when we come to the Finance Bill I hope that the Chancellor will give consideration to a revision of the application of the £3½ million. I should like to draw the attention of the Economic Secretary to the incidence of the tax as shown in the White Paper.
I agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) that we do not want to help two classes. We want to help one class—the working-class to which everyone should belong. But here Chancellor is creating two classes, because on the payments of admission from 10d. to Is. 9d. he is giving a reduction of ½d.; from Is. lOd. to 2s. a reduction of ¾d.; from 2s. to 2s. 6d. a reduction of Id.; and from 3s. 2d. upwards a reduction of 1½d. In other words, the small cinemas in the small towns to which most of the working people go and the cheaper seats in the cinemas in the larger towns to which again most of them go, are the seats which will get the smallest rebate in tax, and the costly seats of 3s. 2d. and upwards are the seats which will get the big rebate in duty, if l½d. can be called a big rebate.
I would, in conclusion, make the suggestion to the Economic Secretary—and I hope that he will convey it to the Chancellor—that a 1d. reduction hi Duty should apply to all seats from 10d. to 2s. 6d. I think that could be achieved without any great increase in the very welcome £3½ million which he has devoted to the industry. That is my suggestion, and I hope that it will not 305 be without some help so far as the problems of an important section of the community are concerned.
If the Chancellor and the Government are prepared to look at the general solution along the lines that I have indicated—lines that will enable trade to flow more fully and freely throughout the world and will improve relationships among countries and peoples—they will be able to carry out these steps of social reform, of raising the status of, and payments to, old-age pensioners, and of introducing the principle of equal pay for equal work. They will be able to do these things if they agree to carry out a policy which creates the economic basis on which those social changes can be effected.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Barber (Doncaster)
It has always seemed to me somewhat futile that one should speak on the same day the Chancellor of the Exchequer has delivered his Budget and before one has had an opportunity of reading and digesting his statement and general survey of the economic situation. I certainly had no intention until about an hour ago of speaking this evening. There are, however, one or two aspects of my right hon. Friend's statement which seem to me to be of considerable importance and on which I should like to touch.
Two aspects of his statement which are of vital significance: first, the fact that if we are to improve the standard of living of our people, we must increase industrial productivity; and second, that if we are to increase the standard of living—I believe that, ultimately, we can do that only by a considerable reduction in taxation—we must direct our minds to the present high level of Government expenditure. I am fully aware of the difficulties, but I should like to touch on these two points.
No one in the Committee would disagree that productivity depends largely upon the efficiency of industry, which in turn depends to a great extent upon the capital equipment with which working men and women have to carry out their daily tasks. My right hon. Friend has done a great deal to encourage the re-equipment of industry by his introduction of what he has termed investment allowances.
306 I was a little surprised when the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said that there was nothing of major interest in the Budget. I have every sympathy with hon. Members on both sides who would like, if it were possible, to see an increase in old-age pensions, and I fully appreciate the sentiments of the hon. Member for Trades ton (Mr. Rankin), but it is neither fair nor right to say that the Budget contains nothing of major importance.
It was indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon that the old system of granting initial and annual allowances was, perhaps, somewhat defective in that the initial allowance was in effect merely a tax-free loan to the industry concerned. But now industry is to have an investment allowance of 20 per cent, in respect of plant and machinery and 10 per cent, in respect of industrial buildings. In addition to the new investment allowance—and I think it is vital that those in industry should know and appreciate the full significance of what the Chancellor is doing—a business will be entitled to annual allowances on the full capital expenditure that is involved, and not merely on the balance after taking into account the new investment allowances. I believe this will do a considerable amount of good, because re-equipment in industry breeds efficiency, and the system which the Chancellor has announced today gives immediate financial reward and is directly related to the efforts of any particular factory or works to increase efficiency and so productivity.
I believe that the new investment allowances will be welcomed not only by those directly concerned, but by all those people throughout the country who think seriously of these matters, because it must be apparent to any one who has directed his mind to this sort of thing that the welfare of any individual citizen depends upon our ability to produce goods cheaply and efficiently and to compete successfully with countries like Western Germany and Japan.
Another matter to which the Chancellor directed his attention was the position of small private companies and family businesses. It may not be true to say that the small family business is the backbone of our economy, but it is certainly true to say that it constitutes 307 a vital limb. The death of a shareholder of one of these small family businesses, on which we rely so much, often leads to serious trouble. If Estate Duty has been assessed, on the valuation of the deceased's shares, on an asset basis, the Estate Duty payable frequently bears no relation whatsoever to the value of those shares in the open market. The result is that, in many cases, a prudent man decides to make provision for the Estate Duty exigible in respect of his shareholding in the family business, and can only do that at the expense of the re-equipment of that business. I might add that one of the shocking things about this particular system is that nobody knows until the man has died whether or not the Estate Duty Office are going to value the deceased shares on an assets basis or on the normal basis of what they would fetch in the open market.
I should like to make a suggestion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of which I hope he will take notice, because it is a matter of great practicable importance. It is that when there has to be a valuation of shares for Estate Duty purposes there should be some provision, in the event of a dispute between the executors or administrators, on the one hand, and the Estate Duty Office, on the other, for a cheaper form of appeal. At present, in the event of a disagreement, it frequently happens that the only remedy open to the deceased's personal representatives is an appeal to the High Court.
If the deceased were a wealthy man the estate might well make it worth the while of the personal representatives to appeal to the High Court. On the other hand, it places the personal representatives of small estates in an extreme difficulty. They have to ask themselves, "What shall we do? If we appeal to the High Court and lose we will have to pay the costs of the Crown." The thought of that potential burden has deterred many from going to the High Court because the estate is so small that they dare not risk the cost.
I would suggest that the system which operates in respect of Income Tax, Surtax and Profits Tax should operate here. In those cases an appeal can be made to a most efficient body, the Special Commissioners, and justice is done with expedition, efficiency and cheaply. I 308 would suggest in the case of valuation of shares, and indeed other property, for Estate Duty purposes that it ought to be possible, at any rate in respect of small estates of say £10,000, to appeal to somebody like the Special Commissioners, or perhaps the Special Commissioners themselves, who would do the job extremely well, and ensure that justice was done both quickly and cheaply. I throw out the suggestion for the consideration of the Chancellor, and I hope that, if not on this occasion, it may be possible on some future occasion to insert a Clause in the Finance Bill to give effect to it.
The other major aspect of the speech of my right hon. Friend which struck me forcibly was the high level of Government expenditure. I should be one of the last persons to ask the Chancellor not to fulfill this country's obligations to our allies in the sphere of defense, or to our own people in the sphere of social services. I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hal-lam (Sir R. Jennings) in giving examples such as those which he gave about the cost of trombones for use in schools, but I feel strongly that some intensive effort should be made in the coming year to ensure that we are not wasting money in the public services.
This year the Estimates are up by about £12 million, and I sincerely believe that this cannot go on for ever. I know the difficulties, and I am sure that the Chancellor would be the first man who would be delighted if he could save money somewhere. If it is not possible for the Departments, at the instigation of my right hon. Friend, to cut down their Estimates and, particularly, their administrative costs, I hope that the Chancellor and the Government will not exclude altogether from consideration the possibility of an independent inquiry consisting perhaps of men with long public service and with business experience.
Finally, I cannot believe that any hon. Member of this Committee can say honestly that he is not, in general, reasonably satisfied with the progress made by this country during the past financial year. Great credit in this regard is due to the Chancellor and to those who work with him. Perhaps I may be permitted to quote one or two figures which were given recently by my hon. Friend the 309 Economic Secretary, and which I think are extremely significant.
In 1951 wages rose by 12 points while prices rose by 14 points. That was the year when we took office. In the next year, 1952, both wages and prices rose by about the same amount. In 1953 wages rose four points, but prices rose by only two points. Nobody can deny those figures, and the basis on which they are calculated is the same basis as that accepted by the previous Government. Whatever hopes we in this Committee may have of improving the lot of those people who are finding it extremely difficult to live on meagre fixed incomes, the fact remains that in general through out the country we have been successful in slowing up the rise in the cost of living.
Last year productivity was up, employment was up and food consumption was up. I have every confidence that in the coming year, as in the past two and a half years, we shall continue to make steady progress towards that complete recovery which all of us desire.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I have listened to so many speeches that I feel rather confused as to which hon. Member I ought to refer before I go on to say what I think of this "wonderful" Budget. I would point out to the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Barber), who had something to say about prices, that the change in the cost of living has been so great that wages have been increased in almost every industry in recent years, and there is still a demand for higher wages.
§ Mr. Barber
The only point that I was making, and I assume that the hon. Member is not denying this, was that last year wages rose by four points but prices rose by only two points. I assume that the hon. Member is not denying it, because those figures have a basis which has been agreed between both sides of the Committee.
§ Mr. Keenan
I am not denying the fact that index figures record certain things, but my point is that the ranges of articles in the retail price figures include coats of all kinds, television sets, and so on. Clothing is included, and so are household goods and beer and tobacco.
§ Mr. Maudling
The figures which my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Barber) was quoting, as is well known to the Committee, are based on the normal expenditure of working-class houses, as revealed by a very large number of statistical observations.
§ Mr. Keenan
They are not based on that at all. The hon. Gentleman need not "come that" on me. The Interim Index of Retail Prices includes many things that are luxuries to most families.
§ Mr. Keenan
I am not confusing any thing. I am dealing with index figures which include clothing, drink and tobacco and those kind of things. I said to the hon. Member for Doncaster that workers in every industry not only demanded higher wages in the past, but are still demanding those wages and that that indicates the great changes that have occurred in the last year or more. The hon. Member said that we were eating more food. The fact is that we are eating less and paying more.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am sorry, but I really must point out that the figures that have been published by the Government show precisely the opposite of what the hon. Member is saying. The figures in the Economic Survey show that more money was spent on more food last year than in any year since the war.
§ Mr. Keenan
I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is true that considerably more money was spent, but less food was actually bought. Whether it was consumed or not, I do not know.
I am sorry that I did riot have the opportunity of interrupting an hon. Member who spoke two hours or more ago, so long ago that I have forgotten his name. He was advancing the old cry of, "Let us have more assistance from the Government for private education." We have heard that cry in previous Budget debates. He was grumbling because when somebody is sent to a private school, usually because his parents prefer that he should go there, the Government make no tax concession for that purpose.
All Governments have done jolly well for education on the higher levels. A 311 few weeks ago I pointed out that the Government pay between 60 per cent, and 70 per cent, by way of grants towards the cost of university education, even in Oxford and Cambridge. In the case of Oxford 56 per cent, of costs are paid in grants and, in the case of Cambridge, 49 per cent. I think the Government do well for people who can afford fees in those places. They worry about that, but do nothing for old-age pensioners.
A lot has been said about post-war credits. I think there is still time for the Government to have second thoughts about that question. A Measure could be introduced to effect changes in the distribution of post-war credits. I suggest that the Chancellor has time in which to consider the desirability of making a change similar to that which I tried to get Chancellors of the Exchequer to make from 1946 onwards—to lower the age each year.
As hon. Members have said over and over again today, whatever else is done with post-war credits, instead of waiting until the individual who has died would have reached the qualifying age, the desirable thing to do is to pay the amount on death. That would get over the great disappointment caused by previous Governments. I was always disappointed that the previous Government did not do something about it. The payment could start at age 64 and could be made lower each year. It would cost only £17 million or £18 million in any one year.
A large number of hon. Members have been very worried about there not being a reduction in Income Tax. I did not expect it. I knew from the figures we had that the Chancellor was not in a position to do much in that direction, but I think we can justifiably say that the sections of the community which have been well treated by the Chancellor will still benefit. Although we talk about increased productivity, when we read company meeting reports we find that dividends are still too high. I noticed in the Financial Statement that the Exchequer receipts from Surtax have been £5 million over the estimate. That does not indicate that dividends are down. It is costing a little more to die because the figure for Death Duties is up by £4½ million.
Yesterday the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance was asked what it 312 would cost to increase old-age pensions. I think something should be done in this matter, not because the Government are generous or considerate but because the situation demands an increase in basic pensions, no matter how small that increase may be. If we had an increase in basic pensions of 5s. a week it would not cost more than about £60 million and would affect between 4¼ million and 4¼ million pensioners. I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to an incorrect statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance during Question time yesterday, when he was asked if he would state the basis on which he calculated that a basic retirement pension rate of £2 10s. a week would cost £570 million. I remember arguing this matter with officials of old-age pensioners' organisations and calculating what it would cost. It appeared to me that if their demands were met it would mean an average increase of £1 per week above the present figure. That does not amount to £570 million. It is about £270 million.
It emerged from Questions asked yesterday that there are 2½million persons in this country of a pensionable age who have no claim to a pension. There are fewer than 4½ million contributory and non-contributory pensioners and, in addition, we have these 2½ million people who have no claim to a pension, but who are probably well provided for. We should remember that when we are discussing the difficulties resulting from an ageing population. In 20 years' time the problem will be twice as great as now. Already, there are 2½million people who are much better off than the old-age pensioners for whom we are pleading.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Is my hon. Friend aware that when the Minister of National Insurance tells us how much old-age pensions cost and how much they will cost in 25 years' time he invariably speaks as though every person of a pensionable age would be receiving a pension? Therefore, his figures are grossly inflated.
§ Mr. Keenan
I accept that. As a matter of fact, it appears to me that the officials of the Ministry of Labour and National Service cannot count. I was invited by the Parliamentary Secretary 313 to bring my figures to the Ministry so that it could add them up for me, because it was suggested that I could not count. I dispute that, but it seems to me that the officials in that Ministry are unable to count. Nothing has been done for the old-age pensioners. I remember that we voiced the same complaint at the beginning of this Parliament. If the Government had agreed to do something for the pensioners it would have been about September before anything could have been put through. By the time that a new Bill had been introduced and the Ministry had been able to change the pension books, it would have been next September before new rates could have been put into effect.
As the Government have no intention of doing anything, the pensioners can resign themselves to the fact that what they get now they will get for the next 12 months or more. That is the position. Most hon. Members opposite have wives, just as we have. Any man whose wife does the shopping knows perfectly well that the actual cost of food has increased in the last year by about 25 per cent. I know that my wife has had to have a lot more from me than she used to get for household purposes. I am sure that the Economic Secretary, if he has a wife — and I daresay he has from the way in which he seems to be enjoying what I am saying— is in the same position.
The fact is that the pensioner is not able to find the extra money as some of us have been able to find it. Only about a million pensioners get supplementation. The reason is that they still suspect what the hon. Member for Hallam (Sir R. Jennings) was talking about a few hours ago. He complained that the National Assistance Board was too generous or that it did not make sufficient inquiry and allowed people to get money on loan. Back to the Board of Guardians and the Poor Law was his idea. I am afraid that that point of view expresses the obvious satisfaction— at least there is no dissatisfaction— that nothing has been done for the pensioners.
That alone is an indication of what is thought by hon. Gentleman opposite about the conditions of old people. I have been closely associated with the old-age pensioners organisations. I know the tragedy and hardships which have been inflicted on them by the increased cost of living. Nothing has been done 314 for them and it does not look as if any-think will be done for a long time.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) failed to talk about the National Debt. He is not here now, but we could hardly expect him to wait so long to hear criticism of what he said. I want to say something about the National Debt because it has always worried me. The interest on the National Debt has climbed to over £600 million a year. That is more than we pay to the old-age pensioners on contributory and non-contributory pensions. That is something we shall have to look at one day. I am not suggesting that we should repudiate the National Debt. I see hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench smiling at me, but they know that what I am saying is true.
The interest rates on the Debt are considerably higher this year than they were before. The Debt is now standing at about £26,500,000 and the interest is more than £60 million a year. I remember that Mr. Chamberlain, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, did something towards reducing the rates of interest upon the Debt. We are not far away from the time when something of that sort will have to be done again. We have to pay interest on the Debt for services and wars that took place 100 and more years ago, yet we cannot adequately look after 4½ million of our old people who have served the nation in their younger days. There is something wrong with our administration. In spite of a Budget of this size, we cannot pay more to the old-age pensioners than 32s. 6d. per week for a single person and 54s. per couple. It is time something was done about it.
I remember Mr. James Maxton being told, during the War, that members of the Government, including the present Prime Minister, had been sent to Parliament to do a job for the workers. He asked the Government to do something for the old-age pensioners and said "We shall never get a chance again. If we do not take action now, a force greater than ourselves will come along and do it for us."
People will not tolerate the present position indefinitely. If we cease to make progress I believe that a force greater than either side of this House will cause something to be done better than it has been done before.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Price (Lewisham, West)
Before I say a few words which I have prepared for this meeting of the Committee, I would like to comment on the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan). He referred to the quantity of food consumed in this country during 1953 and said that we had paid more for less food. The hon. Member will find the answer to that statement on page 21 of the Economic Survey, a copy of which I happened to have with me. I will read out what it says.The volume of food consumption rose in total by 4½ per cent. More meat, bacon, sugar, fats, cheese and fruit were eaten than in the previous year and less of most of the starchy foods.Might I emphasise that? We ate more meat, bacon, sugar, cheese, fat and fruit and less of the starchy foods. In other words, we have moved further away from the bread-and-potato economy of the Socialist Administration and more towards the meat-fruit-egg-milk-protein economy in which we believe. If the hon. Member cares to see the analysis, he will find the table immediately underneath.
Converted into terms of calorie intake, in 1953 the calorie intake per day per person was 3,030, an improvement of 80 calories per day over 1952 and an improvement of 30 calories per day even on the pre-war average. In other words, in 1953 the average calory intake was 30 points up on our pre-war diet. I think that effectively disposes of the hon. Member's comments on that aspect.
§ Mr. Keenan
Am I right in saying that the actual cost of that increased food is something like 5 or 6 per cent.?
§ Mr. Price
So far I have not dealt with the hon. Member's remarks about the costs but have confined myself to his remarks about quantity. I am trying to dispose of his statement that we had less food. I think that I have been successful.
I want now to refer to the hon. Member's comments about the old-age pensioner. I entirely agree with everything that has been said about the almost unanimous wish in this House that the Chancellor had found it possible to do something for the old-age pensioner. But there is another side to it. First of all, even the old-age pensioner is better off for food today than under the late Administration in 1951.
§ Mr. Price
The B.M.A. has a formula based on calorie intake. A report was published not long ago. I do not have it with me. but it is probably obtainable in the Library, and I can remember the figures. The figures were that in the months of January and February, 1951, under a Socialist Administration, the old-age pensioner's daily calorie intake was 7 per cent, below the minimum requirements. In 1952, under this Administration, his daily calorie intake was equal to his minimum requirements, and in 1953— again under this Administration— it was 4 per cent, above his minimum requirements. Quite conclusive proof, I think, of the justification for the statement I made a little while ago.
No one pretends that the old-age pensioner is living in luxury. He never could and never will. But I would take much more kindly to the campaign being waged on this issue from the benches opposite if hon. Members had raised a similar campaign during the years 1946 to 1951. I wonder how many of them during those years made the type of speech to which we have just listened? During those years, under their Administration, the cost of living rose by 40 per cent, and the cost of food by 60 per cent. The old-age pension rose not at all.
§ Mr. Swingler
I am not challenging that, but I should like to point out to the hon. Gentleman— who had the impudence to say that the pension did not go up under the Labour Government and that hon. Members on this side did not campaign for it— that in the first 12 months of our Socialist Administration there was a tremendous agitation— almost exclusively from Members on this side— which resulted in this more than 100 per cent, increase in these pensions.
§ Mr. Price
I remember the details of that, too. I remember that the previous Administration had fixed an increase, I think to 20s., and it fell to the Socialist Administration to implement it in 1946. It is to that period from 1946 to 1951— five years— that I am referring. If the hon. Gentleman looks at HANSARD tomorrow he will see that I said "from 1946 to 1951." In that period the cost of living rose by 40 per cent. and the cost of food by 60 per cent. I did not hear that kind of speech then. Had they made that type of speech then I should have listened with more sympathy to the speeches they have made tonight. Unfortunately, they are using the old-age pensioner argument as a political weapon, to serve their own political ends, and it reflects discredit upon them, but that is a matter for their own consciences.
A Budget speech from the Chancellor is rather similar to the "State of the Nation" speech of the President of the United States. I think we all have reason to express sober pleasure at the results of the past year, and sober confidence at the prospects for the forthcoming year, as a result of the Chancellor's speech, In the few comments he made, the Leader of the Opposition uttered a moderate warning note, with which I do not quarrel: I think he was quite right to do so. If no other right hon. or hon. Member opposite does more than that during this debate, I shall be very pleased, but I do not expect it. I have a shrewd suspicion that in this respect at any rate, the debate will follow the form it has followed in the last two years, and that hon. Members opposite will try to discredit the progress we have made, purely because they do not want this Government to take too much credit for it.
Before they do so, I should like to quote from a purely independent source, the Report of O.E.E.C., published about three months ago. That Report said:There has been appreciable progress towards balance of payments equilibrium after the unmanageable deficits incurred in 1951.There are two phrases which I want to stress— first, the "appreciable progress," for which I hope we shall all take credit, and, secondly, the "unmanageable deficits." When I listen to financial, economic and Budget debates, I cannot forget those unmanageable deficits of 1951, or that the Members of the Administration which incurred them are now 318 telling us, the Members of the Administration which have managed them, that we do not know the answers and they do. They must forgive me if I accept that argument with a little incredulity. The evidence is against them. It was they who incurred the unmanageable deficits, and we who were called upon to manage them, and the Report of O.E.E.C. pays a tribute to the way in which we have done so.
I want to underline that by quoting the words of a noble Lord who was once a Socialist Minister. On 29th April last year, in another place, he said:… today the pound sterling stands, in exchange with the dollar, close to the upper limit of the gold points, and therefore the prospect of sterling holding its own may be regarded as quite satisfactory. These are extremely healthy facts, and they are all of the utmost importance. I say, quite unreservedly, that Mr. Butler and the people of this country are entitled to the highest congratulation. For without such recovery we should have been today in imminent peril of bankruptcy, if not of starvation."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 29th April, 1953; Vol. 182, c. 59.]I suggest that that tribute is fully justified by the results of the past two years. The noble Lord was quite justified in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend and the people of this country, and I wish that more hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite could find it possible to do the same.
That is not all. Mention has been made of the cost of living. I find it very difficult to understand why hon. Members opposite should continue the fairy story that the cost of living is still going up and up. The evidence is all against them. They have only to look at the Official Index of Retail Prices to see that it is not so. They refuse to believe the official cost-of-living index. They are rather like the hypochondriac who is only happy when the thermometer shows that he has a temperature and insists that there must be something wrong with the thermometer if his temperature is shown as normal. That is like hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The thermometer is the cost-of-living index, and they ought not to try to discredit it, because it is their own index.
I know the difficulty of hon. Members opposite. It is that they place so much stress on those items that have gone up in price and ignore those items that have gone down. So does the average 319 housewife. I do not blame her in the least. The hon. Gentleman mentioned his wife. I have a wife, too. I get the same complaint from her, and I have to point out to her that when meat was rationed she was limited to spending 8s. 8d. a week on it. Last week she spent 13s—.
§ Mr. Price
—not because meat is any dearer, but because she can now buy much more than she could before. That is the problem with which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are faced. There are many articles that have gone down in price, many articles of food, most articles of clothing, everything subject to Purchase Tax, and many household goods. I have a list here.
§ Mr. Price
I imagine that old-age pensioners eat, and that they eat some of those items of food. Other things that have gone down in price are linen, furniture, curtain materials, sheets, pillow cases, hand towels, bath towels, table cloths, tea cloths. Old-age pensioners wash and wash up, do they not? Men's, women's and children's clothing all went down in 1953; men's suits, pyjamas, nightdresses, sports trousers, slippers. Even ladies' vests and nylon slips came down in price in 1953; and of household goods, saucepans, soap, talculm powder and many other toilet articles. These all came down in 1953.
While some articles went up in price the net result is that the cost of living 320 has remained remarkably steady, in a way we have not witnessed since before the war, and I think we are entitled to take credit for it. I do wish sincerely that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would treat this matter with greater political honesty. Let them make their valid arguments, by all means, but let them face the facts.
Now a word about the future. To hold the cost of living steady is very satisfactory. To bring it down will be even more satisfactory. I suggest to those who are disappointed, as I am, that the old-age pension has not gone up that there is another solution to that problem. The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) suggested that for a married couple the old-age pension ought to go up from 54s. to 60s. to compensate them for the increase in the cost of living since the present Government came into office. I believe that it would be possible to increase the value of the existing old-age pension to the same extent if we could solve some of the problems of productivity.
Here I propose to ride a favourite hobbyhorse of mine and to tilt at restrictive practices, not only at the workshop level but at all levels. It is customary, when dealing with topics of this kind, for hon. Members opposite to attack the management, the bosses, and to assume, I do not know with what justification, that we on this side think in critical terms only of the workers. That certainly does not apply to me. I am conscious of the restrictive practices all round.
May I mention two kinds of restrictive practice in order to show the Committee how my mind is working? I am a victim of one form of restrictive practice. In private life I am a paper merchant, and if I want to buy a certain kind of paper and go to any of ten or a dozen mills in this country, they all quote me the same price, no matter how eager one or more of them may be to quote a lower price.
Similarly, having bought the paper and ordered it to my customer, I have to put on a controlled margin of profit, the margin being 6 ¼ per cent, for lots of one ton. No matter how willing I may be to put only 5 per cent, on, I dare not do so — I must put on 6 ¼ per cent. If I put on less and it became known, I should be in danger of being blacklisted, and all 321 the mills concerned would be forbidden to supply me with that type of paper in future. If that process continued, I should eventually be forced out of business. This is the kind of restrictive practice which I have in mind at one end of the scale and it is making no contribution whatever to the solution of the problem of the cost of living. It is ruling out competition and it is not my idea of private enterprise.
At the other end of the scale there are restrictive practices on the workshop level. We all know examples of this. The latest example which I read in the Press was of a woman who was penalised by her union for making 93 cushions in a day instead of 40. But let us remember that for every example of which we learn, as a result of such a disclosure in the national Press, there are thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of similar examples of which we never learn because the workpeople dare not contravene these rules. They are held down to something below their maximum output for fear of being penalised. That makes no contribution to the solution of the problem of the cost of living.
I am quite certain that if we could solve that kind of problem we could bring the cost of living down by at least 10 per cent., which would be quite sufficient to solve the problem of the old age pensioners without increasing their pensions. Not only would it help in that direction but it would also assist us to compete with other countries, such as Germany and Japan, in our overseas markets. It would solve both problems at the same time.
I know it is not easy to deal with this kind of problem and I do not suggest that it can be dealt with by legislation, but it is a problem which we must face if we are to overcome all the other problems which beset us. Somehow or other we must get rid of this mentality of the 1930s, as I believe it is; for all these things are a legacy of the mentality bred during those years when work was scarce and therefore had to be rationed. That mentality is out of date. It has no place in the economy of the 1950s. We can beat Germany and Japan and every one else if we can use both hands, but to try to beat them with one hand tied 322 behind our backs, which is what we are doing now, is folly of the first water. Solve that problem and all the rest, or most of the rest, will fall into place.
Whereupon, Motion made and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again," —[Mr. Kaberry] —put, and agreed to.
Resolutions to be reported Tomorrow; Committee also report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.