HC Deb 14 April 1964 vol 693 cc265-7

The White Paper on Public Expenditure up to 1967–68, published last December, represents an important new step forward in public policy. It was based on the concept put forward by the Plowden Committee of careful forward budgeting of public expenditure, a concept which, I think, has now been generally accepted. I start from the programme as set out in the White Paper, because it is the scale of that programme that is the first determining factor in this year's Budget proposals.

The programme is a very ambitious one, involving great expansion in virtually every fie1d. For example, annual public expenditure on roads is calculated to increase by £110 million between 1963–64 and 1967–68; on housing and environmental services by £180 million; on education by £310 million; on health and welfare by £140 million; and on benefits a ad assistance by £360 million.

The prospective increase over the same period in total public expenditure, which. of course, includes local government as well as central Government, and the investment of nationalised industries, is put at a pout £1,900 million at 1963 prices, an increase of 17½ per cent.

It is, I believe, generally accepted that this programme is the most ambitious that can reasonably be attempted, and that any attempt to carry out a greater expansion of publicly financed services would be economically unsound and indeed self-defeating. It will certainly involve, even on the most favourable possible estimates of the growth of gross national product, a continuing increase in the proportion taken by public authorities.

The adjustments of taxation which may be necessary from time to time to deal with short-term developments—in current jargon, the conjuncture—will have to be made against a background of rising expenditure and, therefore, of rising revenue requirements. I am convinced that our programme is right, and that it is in line with the needs and conditions of the present day. But I must, at t le same time, emphasise again today its implications for the public as taxpayers, as well as the benefits that it is designed to provide for the public.

It is also right to stress that, ambitious though this programme is, it is no more than a continuation and extension of what we have actually achieved in the last five years. From 1959–60 to 1963–64, the increase in public expenditure was very much the same, when account is taken of pay and price changes as the increase now contemplated for the period to 1967–68.

For education, the share of the gross national product has increased from 4 per cent. in 1959 to nearly 5 per cent.; and in 1952 it was only 3 per cent. For housing, the number under construction at the end of 1963 was 382,000: in 1952 the output was 240,000. Annual expenditure in real terms on roads has increased since 1959 by 40 per cent. In all these fields—and in benefits and assistance, the field with the biggest increases in expenditure, both in the past and in the next four years—very rapid progress has been made, and will continue to be made as our plans unfo1d.

The next phase of development outlined in the White Paper will be a very substantial one, but it is certainly within our capacity on the record of past accomplishment. What is equally certain is that to try to do more would be to go beyond our capacity and endanger the progress that can be made.