HC Deb 13 March 1962 vol 655 cc1130-41
1. House of Lords 89,000
2. House of Commons 550,000
3. Treasury and Subordinate Departments 1,500,000
4. Privy Council Office 16,000
5. Post Office Ministers 2,500
6. Customs and Excise 6,900,000
7. Inland Revenue 20,000,000
8. Exchequer and Audit Department 260,000
9. Civil Service Commission 225,000
10. Royal Commissions, etc. 170,000
5. Police, England and Wales 21,678,000
6. Police, Scotland 137,000
7. Prisons, England and Wales 7,000,000
8. Prisons, Scotland 655,000
9. Child Care, England and Wales 1,491,000
10. Child Care, Scotland 187,000
11. Supreme Court of Judicature, etc. 500
12. County Courts 164,000
13. Legal Aid Fund 1,000,000
14. Law Charges 290,000
15. Law Charges and Courts of Law, Scotland 166,000
16. Supreme Court of Judicature, etc., Northern Ireland 30,000
10. Fisheries (Scotland) and Herring Industry 950,000
11. Forestry Commission 4,000,000
1. British Museum 370,000
2. British Museum (Natural History) 200,000
3. Science Museum 118,000
4. Victoria and Albert Museum 195,000
5. Imperial War Museum 21,670
6. London Museum 18,000
7. National Gallery 160,000
8. National Maritime Museum 33,000
9. National Portrait Gallery 16,000
10. Tate Gallery 48,000
11. Walllace Collection 16,000
12. Royal Scottish Museum 46,000
13. National Galleries of Scotland 43,000
14. National Library of Scotland 40,333
15. National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland 12,000
16. Grants for the Arts 1,600,000

3.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Martin Redmayne)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

On a point of order. This Motion is welcome in one respect in that it postpones, at least for a decent interval, what is a very expensive nod. But, for other reasons, I like the Motion a great deal less.

Over the years we have got very used to Motions of this kind, which have the effect, by the postponement at which they aim, at taking the urgency out of the subject which we are discussing. I suggest that before we too readily accept the Motion, and go on to the next one—which calls attention to a situation in which excessive Government expenditure is at least partly to blame—we should, in my submission, instead of shedding the crocodile tears which we are asked by the Motion to shed, at least consider the possibility now of pursuing an economic policy which would not have as its consequence the erosion, one could almost say the laceration, of the savings and pensions of many people in this country.

This Vote, consideration of which it is now proposed that we should postpone, is part of a very large sum—£5,600 million—which shows an increase of £380 million over last year's Estimates. It is, to my mind, yet another step along the road of effortless, deceiving hope which we have been treading since the war. One might well ask, "Why oppose this Motion? Why not seek another and later opportunity?" My anxiety stems from the fact that attention is so often called in the House to this problem without noticeable result.

It seems that only by disturbing the regularity of this procedural device can one hope, in an exceptional way, to call attention to what is a desperately serious problem. Hon. Members will already be aware that the £ sterling, which was worth 20s. in 1945, is today worth 10s. 11d. In opposing the Motion to report Progress I remind the Committee of the words which were spoken by my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Aviation, when he was speaking from the back benches, in 1958, with all the prestige not only of an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer—and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition knows this problem only too well—but of a man who had had the courage of his convictions and who had seen fit to resign his high office.

The following words by my right hon. Friend put the point very well: The point I want to put is the quite simple one that for twelve years we have been attempting to do more than our resources could manage, and in the process we have been gravely weakening ourselves. … It has meant that over twelve years we have slithered from one crisis to another. Sometimes it has been a balance of payments crisis and sometimes it has been an exchange crisis, but always it has been a crisis. It has meant a £ sterling which has sunk from 20s. to 12s. It is now worth 10s. 11d. That is not a picture of the nation we would wish to see. It is a picture of a nation in full retreat from its responsibilities. That is not the path to greatness. It is the road to ruin."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 1295–6.] Those words, having been spoken with great weight by my right hon. Friend, and having been repeated, maybe without quite the skill, eloquence and weight on other occasions, lead me today to oppose the Motion if only in the slander hope of calling the attention of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench—

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in two days this week we have spent £1,000 million? Where was the hon. Gentleman then? Was he objecting to that Government expenditure?

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of and passionate interest in defence subjects is well known. I am here today to perform a slightly different rôle to that performed by him, and perhaps he will let me get on with it.

My point in opposing the Motion is that on countless occasions we have had debates, White Papers and Select Committees, but I suggest that these things are only devices which are no substitute for a willingness on the part of Parliament to control expenditure, to keep expenditure within our means and to check inflation.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in introducing this Vote on Account, the postponement of Which we are now discussing, said that the task of containing public expenditure was made more difficult by the pressure inside this House and out of it for more. I feel that, though this does not in any way excuse successive Governments from having let this thing go on and go on for far too long, with serious consequences, it should at least give some of us, no matter in what part of the House of Commons we may sit, cause to reflect about how we are discharging our own responsibilities in these matters.

Crises have now become routine. As each one followed, we have eventually been forced to take painful, tough and inhibiting measures to cure it, and then, as it were we have "reported Progress and asked leave to sit again". We have then done the same thing again. I would remind the Committee of the words of Kipling: The burnt fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire. That is what we have done with the national economy. No one on either side of the House of Commons can entirely avoid his measure of responsibility. But, of course, the responsibility is, largely speaking, pinned upon those who have had the opportunity in office in successive Governments to do something to stand against this tide which is ruining the wealth, prosperity and prestige of our country.

I feel that before we go on to the next Motion, before we continue our habit of echoing the cries of pressure groups from outside for more, we should at least resolve to speak plain English to the people and, for once, offer them the unvarnished, uncomfortable and uncongenial truth. If we are to have the things covered by this Vote on Account—I certainly accept that they are desirable and even necessary—then surely our effort has to be increased in order to sustain such expenditure. But if we are unwilling to increase our effort, then undoubtedly our expenditure must be trimmed.

We have got into such a habit of refusing to examine the disagreeable and refusing to look at the uncomfortable that it seems to me that the House of Commons should now pause, even if it means the loss of a few votes or the loss of a few constituencies to one party or another, or even if it means the decline, disappearance and destruction of a few political careers. That would be a very small price to pay if we in this House were able to re-awaken the people in this country to the harsh facts of our present economic situation, to tell them quite clearly that if they want these things—which we have promised them—the securing of them depends entirely on the efforts made by management, by worker and by everyone in the community.

I do not believe that we shall gain anything by our smug reliance on the fact that everyone in the world owes us a living. We must instead remind ourselves, and remind ourselves sharply, that we need from management greater enterprise, from workers greater productivity and from everyone a good deal less greed.

3.57 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I should like, in a few sentences, to put before the Committee the effect of following, if we do—as I hope we shall—the suggested procedure today in Committee of Supply.

It is suggested that we report Progress and go on to take the next Motion on the Order Paper. That would, of course, have the effect that the Committee stage of the Vote on Account would not have been passed and so would be available for further debate. It is true that by our Standing Orders it could come under the Guillotine, because it will have been put down, as it has been put down, for debate in Committee of Supply.

As I understand the position, therefore, the Vote on Account, which is, as my bon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) says, for an enormous amount and of very great importance indeed, can come before the Committee again, and I have every hope that it will do so.

I cannot be more precise on this for the obvious reason that it is the ancient, undoubted, traditional right of the Opposition to direct the course of Supply, and this procedure in relation to debates that we have on Votes on Account we have followed for very, very many years. But I hope that it will be possible for this Vote on Account to come before the Committee again, when perhaps in a general debate, or on a Motion, the sort of matters to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention could properly be debated.

Having said that, and having made it clear that the Committee stage of the Vote on Account will not have been passed and is, therefore, available to come before the Committee again, I would hope that the Committee would agree to this procedure.

3.59 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I have no desire, if I can possibly avoid it, to hold up Government business, or to prevent the start of the debate which I know the Opposition want to initiate. However, having heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has said—I entirely agree with every single word he said—and now having heard the Leader of the House, I must confess to even greater concern about our ability ever to discuss this matter.

I think that those hon. Members who have been in the House for any length of time know that it is only rarely that the Opposition seek to make the Government spend less money. In fact, every possible encouragement is given by the Opposition to spend more, except on the matter of defence, which is one of the things I would put as top priority on which to spend the money. Otherwise, the vast majority of the Votes covered under this Vote on Account are votes which the Opposition have frequently sought to make larger than the Government wanted.

It is for those reasons that I feel that there is not much chance for those of us on this side of the Committee who would like to see this Vote on Account debated at length. It does not give us much confidence to know that it rests in the hands of the Opposition to provide an opportunity to debate it. It is for this reason, and this only, that I should like to follow what my hon. Friend said.

It seems to me that what we and the Chancellor are up against is this appalling problem of the present policy, and the virtually inevitable consequence which flows from it, that to do the same thing as one did in the previous year one has to spend more money in the following year. This has been put to us over and over again. To me, this has gone on long enough for us now to face the fact that policies must be changed, because we do not appear to be able to deal with the problem in any other way.

On 27th February, the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed clearly in column 1141, especially in the Answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, that there are many items of expenditure which nobody wants to see cut down. Probably we all have our own subjects which we would like to see furthered rather than reduced. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now got to the position, which I believe he has, where he cannot see the slightest hope of hitting the target he has set himself unless the policy is changed, that policy must be changed; but this will never happen unless the Government as a whole, and indeed the party that is supposed to support the Government, is united in wishing to fight inflation.

That I believe to be paramount. If I felt that all Ministers, including Cabinet Ministers, were anti-inflation, I would feel more confident of hitting the target the Chancellor of the Exchequer has set. I believe that his target of not increasing public expenditure by more than 2½ per cent. is right, but consider the figures involved. We are dealing with only £1,445,371,503, but this is but part of a bigger bill of £4,113,306,500, and, therefore, this figure has now reached such a proportion that it is no good talking merely of temporary measures here and there to try to adjust the economy. Expenditure in this coun- try is now so vast that we must make certain that every heading on which this expenditure takes place is a heading under which the expenditure should be as great as is proposed.

I believe that the priority is the same as the one I tried to explain in the defence debate the other day. Anything designed to increase productivity by means of education, research, and development ought to come first. This should be followed by defence, and after that we must work out priorities for what is left. Unless we do that, this country cannot afford the defence policy we are trying to pursue. The defence policy is essential for the safety of this nation and the peace of the world, and I therefore say that this policy of the Government setting a target, failing to meet it, and not being prepared to alter the policy has gone on long enough. We must alter policy. I ask the Government to face this and tell the country so. I do not believe that the country will fail if the truth be put to it.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

The Committee stage of the Vote on Account is a Supply Day. It is, therefore, Opposition time. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) are really seeking to turn this debate into Government back benchers' time. I sympathise with their desires to do this, but I hope that they will pursue this in a different way. There are two alternatives before them, in addition to that they followed this afternoon. They can persuade the Government to provide, out of Government time, an opportunity for a debate on the things about which they were talking, or they can join us and come over here for a spell in opposition. They will then be able to choose the subject, as the Opposition traditionally do on the Committee stage of the Vote on Account.

Supply is an opportunity for Members of the House to raise grievances. I have no doubt that the two hon. Gentlemen have their grievances, but so have we, and one of them happens to be the condition of the old people and the low level of pensions and National Assistance, and we think it appropriate that at the end of the Committee stage on the Vote on Account these should be discussed. As it happens, it would not have been obligatory to have chosen the Vote on Account. We could have let this go on the Guillotine without any discussion whatever. We could, indeed, have taken it today on the Committee stage of the Vote on Account, and not on the Motion moved by the Patronage Secretary, and that would have ended the matter, but the Motion we are now considering is that we should report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

There will be further opportunities for a debate on the Vote on Account, or at least there can be, and I think it not unlikely, though I am not going to commit the Opposition to anything at this moment. We shall consider the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is for the Opposition to decide how this time should be used. Hon. Gentlemen must accept that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because that is the tradition of the House over the years, and when hon. Gentlemen were in opposition they took advantage of it. We intend to stand up for the rights of the Opposition in this matter.

We shall consider this matter. It is true that we want in the fairly near future to have an economic debate which, I think, would go over a good deal of the debate covered by the hon. Gentlemen. In any event, there will be further opportunities to discuss the Estimates of the different Departments as time goes on in the spring and summer of this year. I ask hon. Gentlemen not to continue this debate, but to give us the chance of starting the pensions debate which we, at any rate, regard as of the highest importance.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.