§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. John Cope (Gloucestershire, South)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976".
§ Mr. Cope
I am glad to have support already from the Labour Benches. I hope that it will continue.
It is a piece of luck to win the Ballot to move a Private Member's Motion and choose a subject for debate. The Government control most of the time available and, broadly speaking, one accepts that. Private Members' motions give Back Benchers the opportunity to turn the attention of the House, for a few hours at least, to a matter to which the Government have not chose to draw attention. It may be a matter that they regard as being less important, or it may be something that they want to hide.
I think that today's subject is one on which the Government have felt discussion be embarrassing to them, particularly when in practice it stands little chance of implementation, but I have noticed a desire among Back Benchers on both sides to refer to this document. Hence the motion.
Some may think that this motion somehow intrudes the House into the private affairs of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Cope
I am glad to have that support, because I believe that the document is of legitimate interest to the House and the country, but it is not the responsibility of this House or of the Government, as such. The Government have an absolute right to put whatever they like into this document. I defend that right—the more rubbish it contains, the better for us. But we can warn them of the disastrous consequences of what they propose and explain how it would damage Britain and their electoral chances—although I fancy that the Prime Minister, a; least, understands that latter point full well. We can also ask the Government which parts of the document they agree with and which they do not.
1808 It may also be thought by some that it is a frivolous party political move to draw attention to such a document. That would be unfair to the Labour Party, to its conference, and to those who worked so hard to produce the document. The document has a deeply serious intention. It is certainly not a vote-catching document; it will probably have exactly the opposite effect. It is a genuine expression of deeply held views arrived at after much thought and it has been approved at all sorts of levels through the Labour Party. I respect it as such, and if I did not believe that it represented the views of at least a large section of the Government party, I should not trouble with it.
But there is another reason for this motion; it is in the interests of politics as a whole. My colleagues and I will, of course, be increasingly tempted to use this document, along with supporting documents and speeches, as an election draws near, but we do not want to do so unfairly or inaccurately, and if the Government do not agree with bits of this document, let them say so now. Those bits can then be left out of the debate; at least, they can be left out of the debate between the parties from now until the election.
This document is not the most Left-wing document that is going the rounds in Labour Party circles. We read in the newspaper that a new one is circulating now, called "The Socialist Way Forward". This, apparently, is to be considered at the Young Socialists' conference at Easter. According to the newspaper reports, it evidently goes much further than "Labour's Programme for Britain". It calls for the nationalisation of 220 companies by one enabling Act, the nationalisation of the Press, the abolition of the Monarchy—
§ Mr. Cope
It seems some agree with that, too.
The document also calls for the abolition of the National Debt, though not, one assumes, by paying it off. It wants control by the Labour Party of radio and television. It attacks the social contract and the Government's record on prices, rents, taxes, the Health Service, and so on. We can therefore all look forward with renewed interest to the 1809 approach of Easter and the appearance of that document.
Meanwhile, we should pay serious attention to the milder "Labour's Programme for Britain". I do not wish to mislead anyone about the status of this document. It is not a statement of the Government's current policy or a comprehensive description of the whole of the Labour Party's policy. There are other resolutions of the Labour Party conference which equally represents the policy of the party, but this is the most comprehensive statement of the party's policy and was approved as such. From it and the other resolutions are compiled the Government's programme, and from it will be compiled the next manifesto, but the Government, as such, is not firmly committed to implementing it in toto— and I hope that they will make that clear today.
I hope that in the next two or three hours we shall discover how much of the document they feel they have already implemented—there is not much of that—how much they have abandoned openly—there is not much of that, either—how much they want to allow to slip into oblivion—there is a good deal of that, particularly if they are wise—and how much they are really trying to implement, and have in the pipeline.
Having lost so many by-elections, the Government no longer have a majority and cannot do exactly what they would like. It is only thanks to the Liberal Party, who I am glad to see represented here today, that they can do anything at all. Without the Liberals, the Government would have been out a long time ago.
I do not want to cover the whole of the document; I want to leave plenty of time for other motions to be debated today. The motion does not require a vote. I do not want to put the Government to the embarrassment of voting against their party's document—and even less to the greater embarrassment of having to vote for it.
§ Mr. Cope
I might, indeed.
Unless something is said to the contrary today, the rough rule of thumb is that the Government support the whole 1810 document when speaking to their friends but virtually none of it when speaking to the public. It is a question of timing and priorities, upon which Socialists are always very insistent. Take, for example, the construction industry—and the Socialists do want to take the construction industry. The document calls for a "major public interest" in the industry, to be achieved partly by the expansion of local authority direct labour organisations, co-ordinated and developed at national and regional level. Thus, we are told, town hall empire builders will not be allowed to build what they want without supervision. Another part of the document talks of a major new public enterprise stake in the industry, involving the takeover of a number of major firms.
The details of these proposals were referred to a committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), which I believe has duly reported and whose report has been approved by the NEC, so the ideas have been developed a little since the document was prepared. It seems that it is formally the policy of the Labour Party—but not, just now at any rate, the policy of the Labour Government—to carry out these nationalisation proposals. On Wednesday, the Secretary of State for the Environment said:I have no current proposals to nationalise building or construction firms".A few minutes later, on the same subject, the right hon. Gentleman said:we have yet to have the kind of discussions that are normal within the Labour Party.There has been a good deal of discussion already, and I should have thought that more would be unfair to the hon. Member for Walton and his colleagues. However, I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman meant that they have not had enough of a row yet.
Are we to take it that the Government accept what this document says about the nationalisation of a couple of major construction companies? I hope that the Minister will make that clear.
Direct labour is different—those proposals have a higher priority. The Secretary of State said on Wednesday:it remains my intention to introduce legislation"—[Official Report, 8th March 1978; Vol. 945, c. 1408–17.]1811 That is an interesting distinction—there are "no current proposals" on nationalisation, but there is an intention to introduce legislation on direct labour.
One can see the Government beginning to take the document to pieces and pick out those they want. One can similarly dissect the other nationalisation proposals in the document, but they all seem, at least for the time being, to be on the back burner—presumably because of the parliamentary situation as much as anything. But they are part of the Labour Party's luggage.
These things are in the official party policy, and unless we are told otherwise today we must assume that they are official policy and will, in due course, appear in the manifesto. They involve the nationalisation of the four clearing banks and the seven major insurance companies. I find myself rather in two minds about the latter proposal. I declare my interest, which is recorded. I am director of a small insurance company—not one of the "big seven" on the list. If they were nationalised, they would soon decline and leave the field more open to us. So in a sense I have an interest in that proposal being carried through. But, of course, we would be anxious about expanding too much in those circumstances in case we, too, got to the stage of being nationalised.
Apart from the insurance companies, large brewers are also threatened—I see signs of approval on the Government Front Bench. That is the first such sign that I have had. On the list are the big food companies and at least one pharmaceutical company. The document refers toany important segment of the UK economy not at present under UK control".That will do wonders for inward investment, which last year held the balance of payments out of the red. Indeed, a large section of the document deals with the balance of payments.
The document wants also to nationalise a successful leading company operating in each of the key sectors in industry and commerce. That seems to refer to the 32 sectors indentified by the NEC. The shopping list is enormous—too large, indeed, to contemplate individual nationalisation Bills, even one dealing with several industries at once, like the Air- 1812 craft and Shipbuilding Industries Act. So the idea is to take enabling power to nationalise by Statutory Instrument.
All these proposals seem to be approved by the Government, although the targets are slipping. A large section of the document is devoted to a new national plan, and all this seems to be shelved for the time being. There is a proposal to create a new national planning commission like the old Department of Economic Affairs, which had such a disastrous career, but bigger and more interventionist. That seems to have been dropped for the time being.
Planning agreements have definitely been allowed to take a back seat. The document gives immediate priority to agreements with 30 companies by the end of 1976 and to the top 100 companies by the end of this year. These targets have been allowed to slip back, although I believe that they still remain part of the intentions of the Government.
Other policies, too, have been postponed. The document, for example, calls for the immediate introduction of a progressive annual wealth tax. Perhaps we may hear more of that on 11th April. It is already behind schedule and it may be that we shall only hear that it has been dropped. I think that that would be wise. I draw the attention of the House to a recent Budget speech, not the one we enjoyed the other day from my hon. Friend the Member for Circencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), but one from the Irish Minister of Finance.
The Irish introduced a wealth tax the year before this document—"Labour's Programme for Britain"—was produced. On 1st February 1978, their Finance Minister told their Parliament, the Dail, the result of a review of that tax so far. He said:one certain result emerged: existing jobs were lost and jobs in prospect never came to fruition. The wealth tax has undoubtedly created a psychological climate in which investment and risk-taking have been at a decided discount … I have decided for these reasons to abolish wealth tax with effect from 5 April nextI think that the Chancellor, like his Irish colleague, would be wise on 11th April to repudiate the wealth tax. Likewise, I think that he should say specifically on that date whether, as is suggested in the document, he intends to propose the 1813 introduction of a tax on advertising expenditure and sales gimmicks in the domestic market. I think that the uncertainty should be cleared up by now. I hope that the Minister will be able to clear up these tax matters today, but I shall understand if he leaves them over for his colleagues.
Perhaps the Minister will deal with one or two of the other proposals where no Budget secrecy, such as it is now, is involved. I hope that he will be able to say that the abolition of private employment agencies no longer forms any part of the Labour Government's programme, even if it appears in this document.
Some of the Minister's colleagues have managed to ignore the document pretty well so far. The Secretary of State for Defence is one. Various proposals were advanced in the document about defence—for example, the elimination of all costs to Britain of combat forces outside Europe. I assume, although the document does not actually say so in so many words, that we would start paying, in that case, for non-European combat forces which are here, such as the American air and sea bases. If it were done, I am not quite sure how the costs would work out. It seems to me that the sauce should go both ways, and I would have thought it likely that we would actually increase defence spending rather than reduce it.
The document correctly identifies as a major task the expansion of exports. Earlier, it recommended selective import controls in case other people export to us. That is all right, except that it does admit that import controls might increase the cost of living, which I believe would be the case.
These import controls were to be selective and temporary, but to be used to protect industries suffering from "comparative inefficiency". I know that not everyone agrees, but the Government were right to abandon that policy. Perhaps we can have confirmation that they have abandoned it for all time and that it is no longer part of their luggage.
I think that the Government are right to stick to the opening sentence of the chapter on Europe—at least, I hope they are. It says: 1814With the result of the 1975 Referendum the debate on Britain's membership of the EEC is now over.
§ Mr. Cope
I am sorry. Apparently, hon. Members below the Gangway on the Government Benches do not agree. I had taken that sentence as a rough guide, but perhaps it is too crude a view of the matter.
There is one big snag about the whole programme, and that is money. The document is quite frank about it. It says:It is clear that the total additional spending involved in implementing our programme would be considerable.That is certainly the case. It goes on to say that itwould only be possible in the context of an expanding successful economy.Quite so.
The Labour Government have amply demonstrated that they cannot secure for Britain an expanding successful economy. On that basis, this document never can be implemented. It is a theoretical exercise to keep Labour activists happy. Perhaps this is where we come to the real object of this document. Perhaps it is a trick to appease the mob below the Gangway and their friends.
Maybe that is why so many of the proposals have been kept down below the horizon, but I do not think so. I think that the trick is being played on the public. I think that the face that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister shows to the public is the false one and that this document represents the real one. This is the true programme of the Labour Party—and of the Labour Government, if they get the chance.
A basic aim of the programme isto bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families.It is a familiar phrase to those of us who live near Bristol—especially Bristol, South-East.
But the programme would not achieve what it says. What it would achieve is a shift of power and wealth to the State, not to working people, however denned. That is no accident. For that matter, the shift can be genuinely irreversible only 1815 if the State is the owner of the wealth, or if there are so many controls and such high taxes that people are prevented from exercising their talents to earn what they can and to save in the interests of the country. In addition, such irreversibility, if it were to come about, would involve removing every incentive.
It would, in my view, be a disastrous programme if it were ever implemented. It would destroy Britain's economy by removing incentives. In so doing, it would drive down the standard of living of our people still further. It would take away choice—and choice is essential to liberty. It would make more and more of our people pensioners of the State and dependants of the bureaucracy. It is a programme which the British people do not want and for which they will not vote. I think that the Prime Minister is quite right, tactically, to try to keep it out of sight while he does his cuddly bear act.
I suppose that one of the pleasures which the Prime Minister has had to forgo in his great office is that of reading to his grandchildren, now that they are in Washington. But, reading to my children last weekend, I came across a sentence in A. A. Milne's "The House at Pooh Corner" which seemed to me to sum up the Labour Party's dilemma very well.
§ Mr. Cope
It reads:When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.I think that that applies to the Labour Party's document. It is time that the document came out into the open for other people to look at and time that the Government came clean about their true intentions.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
I think that the House—and, indeed, the whole country—owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) for giving us the opportunity to discuss Labour's programme, which was produced in a democratic way through the channels of the national executive committee and the conference 1816 of the Labour Party. We are indeed grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman read out and underlined the fundamental approach of the whole document, which is, of course, to bring about an irreversible shift in relation to wealth and power in our economy.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the fact that I have the very great pleasure, as chairman of the party, of mixing freely with all sections of our movement, the Parliamentary Labour Party—including the "mob below the Gangway"—and of visiting constituency parties, trade unions and all those associated with our great movement. I have been doing so now for about 17 months. I am sure that those of them who have not yet purchased the document, which has been available for some time, will now rush to do so. In particular, I hope that the people at Transport House are listening to the debate, because I am sure that we welcome very much indeed this opportunity to make the document more widely known.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he reads A. A. Milne's stories to his children. We have something in common, because I also read to my children. I suppose it would have been too much to expect the hon. Gentleman, whose time, no doubt, is limited, to have had the opportunity to read the background documents to "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976". If he could have done so, he would have understood a little more some of the arguments and the assumptions that have been made by the Labour Party in putting forward the document. In particular, I recommend to him some of our documentation on the arts, on defence in particular, and on industrial policy, with which I know some of my colleagues hope to deal later. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's name will come up again in the Ballot in the not-too-distant future. He will by then, if he is able to read these documents, have a little more knowledge when doing this excellent job for the Labour Party.
I am rather sorry that the hon. Gentleman has moved onlyThat this House takes note of 'Labour's Programme for Britain 1976'".I should have liked him to move that the Government implemented the programme. That would have made me happier. He spoke so persuasively in his introduction 1817 that I am sure some of his right hon. and hon. Friends might decide to go into the Lobbies with us.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
Before the hon. Lady in her merriment, leaves this point, will she confirm that Labour Weekly has reported the Secretary of State for Defence as saying that if the proposals in the document concerning defence cuts of about £1,000 million, were implemented, this would mean a loss of about 300,000 jobs for British workers in defence industries. What is her comment on this?
§ Miss Lestor
If the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether that statement was in Labour Weekly, my answer is that it certainly was. I did not want to deal in great detail with defence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Just a moment. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so, I shall. It had not been my intention to go into the question of defence, for the simple reason that I wished to talk about several other matters. But if he is asking, quite rightly, whether I agree that, as we develop changes in our attitude to the defence programme, this will involve a loss of jobs, my answer is that that is perfectly true.
But the hon. Gentleman has referred only to what was in Labour Weekly. If he reads what the Labour Party has to say about defence expenditure, he will see what is said about the changes that would be necessary in the areas concerned with the production of arms for profit and murder. He will be able to see what is proposed about a change to a more harmonious and, in my view, more socially beneficial areas of employment.
Some of us have very great fears and doubts about the British economy becoming dependent upon the production of weapons of war. This view is expressed in one of our manifestos on industrial development. It is for this reason that we have had a very important working party dealing with these defence questions. We are concerned to bring about a transformation in those of our industrial areas that are concerned with defence.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South mentioned the wealth tax. The Labour Party and movement are very concerned about the 1818 development of a wealth tax in our society. We believe that it is a necessary part of the irreversible shift in power that we want to see. Whatever the Government's view of this may be in the short term or the long term, we shall press on with the argument, which is gaining support in many areas of the country. When people talk about taxation and complain about the degree of taxation, the complaint that is often made is that it is the poor who are worst hit. In line with our philosophy, therefore, we intend to implement a wealth tax.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) had been here, he could have told the House that, when nationalisation and public ownership were first written into a manifesto of the Labour Party, he, as the young hopeful who had initiated this, was told at the Labour Party conference "You have now lost us the election, by getting public ownership into the programme, because it is a vote loser." That was what some of our Labour Party friends thought at the time, but we went on to win the election. We went on to increase the whole area of public ownership, community involvement and control of industry.
I am always amazed at the attitude of Conservative Members with regard to these matters, because by their own scale of analysis and scale of measurement of public ownership—my reading of the Financial Times, The Times and other newspapers tells me of their standard of profitability—the nationalised industries are doing very well indeed, thank you.
I do not believe they are an unpopular area of public consumption. It was interesting that when the Labour Party published propositions about the public ownership of banking and insurance, for the first time in my life the banks and insurance companies in my area wined and dined me and I realised how deprived I had been over the years. I was pleased that they took the matter seriously, because I enjoyed the meals and was able to explain what the argument was all about. The opposite to those proposals came from big business and from the banks and insurance companies. I did not find it coming from the man in the street or from my constituents, and it is to those people that I am speaking when I talk about public ownership. I 1819 believe that those arguments are of great value in terms of what they can do for the man in the street and in terms of what is happening in our society.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
Is the hon. Lady not aware that a public opinion poll in 1977 conducted by Market and Opinion Research International showed a large majority against any proposals to nationalise the insurance companies? Only 25 per cent, were in favour. Surely the hon. Lady must be aware of this.
§ Miss Lestor
I would say to the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) that if a few months ago a certain poll said that less than 25 per cent, of people were in favour of public ownership of the banks and insurance companies, that is important to us because it tells us that we have a great deal of time and opportunity to discuss publicly what the issues are all about. In the discussions that I have had in my constituency, and in the constituences of other hon. Members, I did not find that degree of opposition. The criticism came from certain sections of the mass media and the way in which they presented the arguments.
But I do not think it is difficult to agree with the way in which we have argued these matters, especially in regard to the construction industry and other areas. The hon. Member for East Grinstead has said that a poll suggests that at present people do not like these proposals. But I believe that we shall argue the case through and that we shall win people over. That is one of the reasons we shall win the General Election.
This morning I heard reports about a Committee of this House asking the Government to explain why there had been such large cuts in public expenditure—much greater than had been asked for. I was interested to learn that the Committee criticised the cut-back in capital programmes because, it said, this hindered employment and other things. One of the big differences between Conservative Members and Labour Members is the fundamental difference on the question of public expenditure and incentives.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) rose—
§ Miss Lestor
I think that I have been very fair. The hon. Gentleman is very persuasive and always helpful in his interventions and perhaps in a moment I shall give way to him. But I want first to make a couple of points because they are important and I believe that it is my duty to bring them out in this debate.
We have heard a great deal about incentives and about public expenditure. The Government have been criticised by the Tory Party, which says that public expenditure cuts were not enough and should have been greater. The criticism of Labour Members was that the cuts were too great and undermined the fundamental principle of the Labour movement, which is that public expenditure, through social services and through capital programmes with regard to social services, is one of the biggest weapons that we have to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-notes. However, because public expenditure with regard to services such as education and health has become part of the social wage, and because the social wage in the main applies much more to the lower and average paid than to most other sections of the community, it affects those in greatest need.
The Tory programme always attacks public expenditure. It talks about incentives and about people being fed by the State machine from birth to death. I believe both as a Socialist and as some one who is concerned that opportunities should be developed for people of low income, middle income and others as well—
§ Miss Lestor
If the hon. Gentleman wants me to speak for two hours, I shall develop another side to my argument. It may interest him that some of the services that have been developed have contributed to overcoming the difficulties of making people aware of what is available to them. It is very often the people who are in greatest need who do not know what is available to them. I am concerned about those people, particularly people on lower and average incomes, and about the effect that major cuts in public expenditure have on their social 1821 wage. That does not affect those people at the higher end of the scale anything like as much, for obvious reasons.
That is why, when we talk about public expenditure and about health, education and welfare services, it is important to consider these matters in terms of the people I have identified. This can be achieved only if public expenditure is developed. It cannot be achieved simply by a cut in income tax. To a large extent that is the argument which exists between Conservative Members and Labour Members.
Talk about incentives, freedom to choose and a couple of quid more in one's pocket because of tax reductions does not allow people, by virtue of their tax allowances, to avail themselves of the services that have been cut in order to give them that tax relief. That is the argument that I believe we must put forward and that is the discussion now going on inside the Labour movement. It is one of the background arguments to this debate.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Lady mentioned the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee whose report was published this morning. In fact, the Committee's comment was thatshortfall has proved more significant in amount than the Government's expenditure cuts".The Committee was not commenting on the level of public expenditure but merely on the inaccuracy of forecasting.
§ Miss Lestor
Whichever way it is, the point remains the same. I have not yet read the report. Whether the forecast was inaccurate—and that was part of our case—or whether local authorities and others cut by more than they needed to cut, which is true, the argument is the same. The important point is that those most hit by the public expenditure cuts are not the people who will benefit from changes in the tax system.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South has, to a large extent, very fairly stated what is Labour's programme. He has emphasised the fundamental assumptions in it about an irreversible shift of power, privilege and wealth. He has rightly said that we believe in State intervention in many areas of society. He has correctly stated that we wish to take into public ownership certain other in- 1822 dustries which we believe have a profound and far-reaching effect upon society. The hon. Gentleman has omitted to say that the success of public ownership in the past gives us confidence to believe that we can go forward to do this. I am grateful to the hon. Member for introducing the subject, as I am sure are all of my hon. Friends.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (Newham, North-East)
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) has done the House a great service by choosing to debate this subject today. It is an unfortunate element in our parliamentary procedure that, while we spend a lot of time discussing current Government policies—irrespective of which party is in power—and we spend some time, as a reflex action, discussing alternative Opposition policies, we rarely, if ever, discuss the future policy proposals of the party in Government. I wish that the House could develop more of this type of debate.
When a General Election takes place, it is the future of the country that is at stake. The effect of the people's choice is to determine the type of Government and the policies which are to be carried out. In this respect our parliamentary procedures do not serve the country as well as they ought to do. If that is true generally, it is even more true at the present time when the Labour Party is committed to the most extreme Socialist policy to which any Labour Party in Britain has ever been committed in history. At the same time we have a conspiracy of silence on the part of Ministers, Labour Members of Parliament and spokesmen of the party on the contents of that policy.
It is worth examining for a moment why there is this conspiracy of silence. The Left wing of the Labour Party does not want very much discussion in public on these issues because it knows that it has won the essential battle inside the party. This Labour programme for 1976 is the Left-wing's programme. It was designed by the Left. It was approved by the national executive committee and the annual conference by what the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) laughingly calls democratic procedures. The Labour Party manifesto will be based on that policy. The Left 1823 wing knows that the public would be opposed to all of the major items in the policy and so, from its point of view, the less said the better until, as it hopes, the Labour Party has won the General Election and it can start bullying Ministers to implement the manifesto proposals.
The Right wing of the Labour Party has different motives. It does not speak about the policy, I think for two reasons. One is that it does not believe in it and therefore does not find it possible to produce arguments in favour of the policy. The second reason is that members of the Right wing dare not oppose the policy because, almost to a man, they are running scared of the Left. They know that if they were to speak out for the national interest instead of speaking up for party dogma, many would be at risk from the Left-wing elements in their local constituency parties.
If I am wrong about this, and I wish I were, this debate gives the moderate members of the Labour Party a chance to prove that I am wrong. I do not think that this will happen because hon. Members are pretty thinly spread on the Labour Benches. In this debate they could have come forward and said with what part of the programme they agreed and with what part they disagreed. They have proved, or some of them, that they are something more than simply party hacks. They could have said from which parts of the programme they are prepared publicly to dissociate themselves in the General Election and they could have said which parts of the programme they would not vote for if they ever became Government policy. But they have run away from this.
Above all, the Prime Minister has run away from this opportunity. In the days when the Labour Party was led by men of the calibre of Clement Attlee and Hugh Gaitskell, such men led from the front. They would have made very clear to the public what they found unacceptable to them in the document and what they would not be prepared to implement from No. 10 Downing Street.
The fact is that the leadership of the Labour Party has been devalued since the premature death of Hugh Gaitskell in 1963—both by the immediate predecessor of the present Prime Minister and by the Prime Minister. For all his bluff exterior, 1824 the Prime Minister is a political coward. If he were not, he would be speaking out against most of the controversial items in this document, because it is pretty clear to anyone who knows him that he does not support them.
Labour's programme for 1976 contains most but not all of the Labour Party's programme to which the party conference has committed the party in the past few years. The document should be read in conjunction with the policy decision of the 1976 conference to nationalise the four largest banks and the seven largest insurance companies, and with the policy decision of the 1977 conference to bring under public ownership a part of the construction industry and part of the building materials industry. The document has also to be read in conjunction with the decision of the 1977 conference to abolish the House of Lords without putting any other second Chamber in its place.
The House and the country should recognise what this programme amounts to in its totality. In terms of the nationalisation proposals, described by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South, if they were all in a manifesto and if they were all implemented, it has been estimated that about one half of the country's working population would be employed in the nationalised sector. The advance of the State in terms of State ownership would be massive. The proposals here are far greater in terms of nationalisation than in any other previous Labour Party document.
Nationalisation is only part of the proposed advance of the State. Reading through the pages of Labour's programme for 1976 it can be seen that on almost every subject facing the country, from the future of agricultural land to the future of youth services, there are proposals for new boards, new commissions, new bureaucracy, new legislation, new controls, a stronger National Enterprise Board, more State holding companies and a vast addition to the already top-heavy bureaucracy from which the country suffers.
On page after page of the programme there are proposals for additional public expenditure—pledges made by the Labour Party before the resources are earned. It is true that there is another passage, I want to be clear, in which it is said that 1825 there will be difficult choices to be made about priorities. In other words, there will be choices to be made between items for additional public expenditure in addition to the very high and excessive level of existing public expenditure.
Public expenditure is to be raised on everything except defence to which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough referred. The public should be aware that the figure in the document is for a cut in our existing defences of at least £1,000 million a year. Those figures are now out of date because of inflation which has taken place since the document was written. The hon. Lady reminded the House to read the Transport House working party report. The last working party on defence updated the cut of £1,000 million on defence and suggested that the current figure should be around £1,800 million. That should be constantly updated, and we and the public should know what the figures are.
To me, the most serious aspect is this: if there were a Labour Government with a working majority pledged to carry out this programme, or a substantial part of it, this should be seen in conjunction with the two major constitutional changes to which the Labour Party is committed. By that, I mean, first, the proposal to abolish the other place, without an alternative second chamber; and secondly, the decision in principle of the last Labour Party conference that all sitting Labour Members of Parliament should be subjected to an automatic full-scale reselection conference in the course of every Parliament.
That latter proposal is intended to bring back into line any Member of Parliament who will not follow the party dogma in every detail. It is meant to clobber anyone who puts the national interest ahead of the party interest. It is meant to make Labour Members of Parliament run even more scared of the Left than they do at present.
The scenario, therefore, would be one in which one House of Parliament was abolished and the remaining independence of this House of Parliament would be seriously weakened. The frontiers of State power would be advanced at the same time as the democratic element of the State was reduced. We would have 1826 a more powerful State and a less democratic State.
It is no exaggeration to say that that is a Marxist concept, designed by Marxists, which would take us a long way down the road to being a Marxist society if it were ever carried out.
What worries me most of all about the debate and about the state of public opinion is that many people are unaware of the contents of the programme, or, even if they have become aware of them, they feel that somehow or other it may not happen because the Prime Minister and the Cabinet will not allow it to happen. Even sophisticated political commentators sometimes suggest that not only is the Prime Minister in charge of our current affairs—I think that that is a doubtful proposition—but that he is in charge of future policy making, which he certainly and definitely is not.
Here we have to look at the programme in relation to Clause 5 of the Labour Party constitution. I should like to give the House two relevant quotations. At the 1976 conference, when this document was approved, the Secretary of State for Energy, speaking for the national executive committee, said:Comrades, 'Labour's Programme 1976' contains our joint analysis now and our perspective for the future … We are asking this conference to vote for it formally so that … it will become the official party programme from which we shall draw our next manifesto.That was stated, in slightly different words, by Mr. Hayward, the general secretary of the Labour Party, in his foreword to this document, when he said:it will be on the basis of this Programme that the Manifesto is drawn up.These simple facts about the Labour Party constitution should be better known. If they were better known, no one would be under the illusion that the Prime Minister would be able, on his own, to prevent these proposals or a substantial part of them from going into the manifesto.
The Prime Minister, with all his political flair, has been capitalising in recent months on his parliamentary impotence, because there is no Labour majority in the House and, therefore, there has been no opportunity for well over a year now to bring forward new Socialist legislation. The Prime Minister has been able to pose in the country as 1827 a moderate, reassuring and avuncular figure, leading an apparently moderate Administration. But of course, when the election is called, the manifesto will be drawn up at a joint meeting of the Cabinet and the national executive committee. The Prime Minister will be there, and the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary will be there, on equal terms with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), Mr. Alex Kitson and Mr. Nick Bradley.
§ Mr. Prentice
I derive some slight comfort from the fact that the hon. Member will be there. But he will know from long and bitter experience of the last year or two that the Left wing will be there in sufficient force to demand its pound of flesh and that it will be able effectively to demand that the manifesto reflects a very great deal, if not all, of the Socialist proposals in "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976." They know that.
Incidentally, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough talked about this is a democratic procedure. I cannot resist making some comment on what she calls a democratic procedure. The document that we are discussing was approved by a card vote, by 5,883,000 for, 122,000 against. This alleged democratic procedure is a sham, and every Labour Member knows that it is a sham.
A block vote is the biggest organised hypocrisy on the British political scene. Allegedly this is done in the name of 6 million people, the great majority of whom did not know that it was being done in their name, a substantial number of whom do not even vote Labour, and virtually none of whom was consulted in the process leading up to the vote. But it is in that basis that any manifesto will be drawn up for a future Labour Government to implement—if we are unfortunate enough to have such a Government again.
Every Labour candidate who is elected to this House, whatever his personal convictions, will be assumed to be committed to every word, dot and comma 1828 in the manifesto, and all the pressures of the so-called Labour movement will be applied to Labour Members of Parliament and Labour Ministers to carry out the proposals.
There is a serious constitutional duty on every Labour Member of Parliament to tell his constituents and the country where he stands on these major proposals, one by one, and whether or not he accepts them. I think that I said earlier that there is a particular duty on the Prime Minister and other leading members of the Government, and if they had the political guts they would come out in public and say what they thought of the proposals. Failing that, however, it is the duty of every active Conservative to read this document and to make its contents known widely among the public, so that the public are faced clearly with the real choice about what sort of Government we shall have in the 1980s. I believe that the public will then come to the conclusion that whatever damage has been done to Britain by the present Labour Government is nothing to what would happen under a Government elected on the basis of this policy.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) would be listened to more by hon. Members on the Government side of the House if he had stayed in the Labour Party and had fought the battle—if that is what he thinks ought to be done.
What the right hon. Gentleman has just done is to conjure up a picture—very much the picture that the Conservative Front Bench are trying to present—of the Labour Party wishing in the future to introduce a bureaucratic, non-democratic type of East European Communist State. I thought that I would hit it exactly on the head. That is precisely what the Opposition are attempting to do.
However, I am delighted to note that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) did not indulge in that. In fact, he genuinely tried to outline, from his point of view, what he felt the programme was, where he disagreed with it and why he was opposing it. He was much more moderate in his approach than the right hon. Member for Newham North-East, who was at one time a member of the Labour Party. I get 1829 slightly upset at the arguments about moderates and immoderates. I do not know quite what that means. My experience in the House is that most Members are very moderate in their approach and arguments. I regard the programme which has been presented to the House as very moderate.
In the Conservatives' statement of aims, "The Right Approach" the Conservative Party says:The first essential can be simply described as a return to common sense".Of course, the Conservative Party is talking about its own particular document. It is common sense that is embodied in Labour's Programme for Britain 1976." Some Conservative Members are trying to equate Labour's Programme with the establishment of an East European State. There may be a few crackpots in the Conservative Party who believe that that is what the Labour Party is out to do, but others do not believe it but think that it is a good political tactic to argue that that is the case, because they think that they can frighten sufficient of the electorate away from voting for the Labour Party at the next General Election.
In fact, "The Right Approach" says,It has become apparent that the only people in the Labour Party who have a coherent prescription for the long term problems of Britain are those who would substitute an authoritarian neo-Communist regime for the free democratic society in which we have so far chosen to live.We have heard a little of that today but obviously we shall hear much more of it as we progress towards the election. And "The Right Approach" adds,The Labour Party today holds out no hope for the future except for those who would choose to live in a society as closed and drab and impoverished as those in Eastern Europe.As we get closer to the election the Tory voices will become shriller and shriller. If we do not have a policy of our own and we have to put up some sort of substitute for a policy, we adopt the tactic of smearing our political opponents. It is the oldest political trick in the book. It is one which the Conservatives, unfortunately, have adopted too often on occasions in the past. We remember the classical boob that was made by Sir Winston Churchill. He was the great leader of our country in the Second World War. He was respected by all and worked alongside Clement 1830 Attlee and other leaders of the Labour Party. In the General Election of 1945 Sir Winston Churchill argued that if the Labour Party got in, it would bring in a Nazi system. The argument that the Labour Party intends to bring in an East European Communist system was as false then as it is now. The Conservative Party knows that it is false, but thinks that the allegation might win it votes.
The hon Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont)—I am sorry he is not here—wants to play it both ways. If anybody should read that rag of the National Association for Freedom he will discover that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that myself and my hon. Friends who belong to the Tribune Group in the Labour Party are equivalent to the National Front. We are said to be either Communists or the National Front. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) described us recently as Watergate followers. He could not make up his mind during one debate whether we were Communists or supporters of ex-President Nixon.
So we are in the doldrums. We are being kicked around. We are either Communist, National Front or supporters of ex-President Nixon. The hon. Member for Blaby has a very colourful imagination, and some of his hon. Friends have shown that they have, too. I exempt the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South, who introduced the debate, because if he and some of his hon. Friends go ahead in the way that he adopted, it will benefit the Labour Party a great deal because he will have helped us to do what we have been wanting to do—to explain the programme to the people.
There is a fundamental difference of approach between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. We have different basic attitudes and different philosophies. Everybody knows that the Conservative Party believes wholeheartedly in the existence of a free enterprise capitalist system. Conservative members differ amongst themselves. Some believe that the best way in which to protect the existence of the free enterprise capitalist system is to have some measure of Government intervention in economic policy. We heard that belief clearly outlined yesterday by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who used to be the leader of the Tory Party. He is ably 1831 assisted by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker).
If I were a Conservative Member, I should listen to them because they are going to save the capitalist system and its future much more effectively than the nonsense that we are getting from the present Front Bench. What they are saying is that the only way is to give a bit, to move back, to accept that the world is changing and that there is a need for Government interventionist policies. But that does not apply to the Conservative Front Bench. They are so stupid. They cannot see the wood for the trees. They say "Let us get back to laissez-faire politics". They might not say it in those words, but that is what they mean. They want to get rid of all controls and have no Government intervention, or very little. It is very embarrassing for them. That is the truth. The Conservative Party is split on this matter, because this is a fundamental question.
The Labour Party wants to see a democratic, socialist society. I quote the opening words of the programme that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South quoted, which sum up our philosophy:Our programme is founded on the principles of democracy and socialism. At its heart is a basic socialist priority: to bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families.To use the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on other occasions, what is wrong with that? It means what it says—an irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families.We have a very long way to go.
If I may give an example of that, the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Wealth and Income published four reports between July 1975 and October 1976. It found that in 1974 the top 1 per cent, of the adult population in Great Britain owned a quarter of the nation's personally owned property. It found that the top 5 per cent, owned nearly half and that the top 10 per cent, had about three-fifths, while the bottom 80 per cent.—more than 31 million people—had a little more than one-fifth between them. So we have a long way to go to arrive 1832 at this irreversible shift in power and wealth in the interests of working people and their families.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
The hon. Member talks about working people and their families. How wide does he cast that net? What does he mean by it? Whom does he exclude?
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Member must have had a very poor education if he cannot understand what I mean when I talk of working people and their families. He must have gone to a public school. That can be the only explanation. I left school when I was 14, and I understand the expression perfectly well. I am talking about all people who work for their livings by their hands or by their brains and who are not owners of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I thought that that was simple and clear. However, since coming to this House, I have learned that these simple matters have to be spelt out time after time to Conservative Members, and that proves that their education has been sadly lacking.
Let us consider the word "redistribution" and what this means. There has been some redistribution and, to underline the extent of it, I go back to the report. It finds, for example, that whereas in 1960 the top 5 per cent, had 64.3 per cent, in 1974 they had only 49.9 per cent. The top 6 per cent, to 20 per cent, in 1960 had 25.5 per cent. In 1974, they had moved to 35.6 per cent. The bottom 80 per cent, moved from 10.2 per cent, to 14.5 per cent. But it is quite clear that we have a long way to go to carry out the objectives of the Labour Party's programme.
What is this programme? The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South was very fair. The programme contains 23 sections. In that respect, incidentally, it is very different from "The Right Approach", which says:It contains neither popular promises designed to win elections nor a host of detailed proposals which rapidly changing circumstances might soon render irrelevantIn other words, it contains nothing. That is what it comes down to. The reason is that the Conservatives dare not say that they actually stand for anything other than the status quo.
1833 The 23 sections in Labour's programme range from Labour's economic strategy, through economic planning, housing, education, human rights and the European Community, to international organisations. It is a programme which has been worked out by study groups, discussed in depth by the national executive of the party, and placed before the Labour Party Conference for debate, amendment and agreement.
The right hon. Member of Newham, North-East may not like the set-up in the Labour Party. I am not enamoured of every aspect of it myself. However, the trade union movement created the Labour Party, and the constitution of the Labour Party, with certain modifications, is exactly as it has been from the beginning, with the trade unions having a block vote. That is no different. In fact, in the past the Right wing of the Labour Party has been pleased that the Labour Party has had the block vote of trade unionists because at times the block vote has held back further Socialist argument and development in the Labour Party. So I have no doubt that some hon. Members who perhaps in the past argued one way about the block vote are now beginning to argue another way because on occasions the block vote has not gone the way that they wanted it to go. I have never been happy with the block vote. I should like to see the constitution change, with the trade unions being affiliated at local level and coming up in that way. However, there has been an argument about this over a long period of time.
This document was accepted democratically by the Labour Party Conference, and the voting went the way described by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South. The document was not the brain child of a particular elite foisted on the party. The Labour Party does not and has never accepted the ideas of the Communist Party about so-called democratic centralism, which has meant plenty of centralism and very little democracy. That is not the way that we work. If it were, I am sure that the present Government would be a lot happier. There are times when they cannot rely on all their supporters on certain issues, who are not regimented and who are not put into a strait jacket. Both Right and Left have from time to time taken their 1834 own independent positions and stood out against the Government. So it is quite clear that we are not a regimented organisation either in this House or in the party in the country. We are a genuinely democratic party.
§ Mr. Heffer
That is true. I think that we have moved a long way in tolerance in the Labour Party compared with the days when I first joined the party when, at times, an intolerant attitude was shown which is not shown today.
This programme has two aspects to it. First, it has measures to deal with Britain's immediate problems. That brings me to one of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South, because the programme says:It will not be possible to implement the whole of our Programme within the lifetime of this Parliament or even the next. Many of our proposals require lengthy legislation or make heavy demands on resources and the public purse. The pace of implementation, therefore, will depend on the success of our economic policies and the priorities adopted by the Movement in the years ahead.That is the position. It is not that the Labour movement in passing this document has said that every provision must be carried out by this Labour Government or even by the next Labour Government. It is what might be described as a rolling programme which also would be changed in the light of circumstances in a given situation. That has to be made quite clear.
It must also be made clear that the final programme which is put in front of the people and on which we shall be asking the people to vote is not this programme but the agreed document known as the party manifesto. It is that which is put in front of the people.
I do not know what will go into the manifesto for the next election. I know what I would like to see. But whether it goes in will depend on the arguments and discussions at the time and on the views of the majority at the joint meeting to 1835 which the right hon. Member for New-ham, North-East referred.
The other point about the programme is that it is a programme for the future. It states:The perspective we offer looks beyond the present crisis: it concerns the development of our society over the next decade and beyond The crisis must not change our ideals, nor cause us to lose our sense of direction. On the contrary, it must provide the springboard for the radical changes needed to rebuild our economic strength.Obviously I cannot outline the entire programme. I do not have time to do so. However, I can say something about our future projections. The programme rightly states:As Socialists our firm belief is that the needs of the nation can only be met within a society which steadily transforms our economic institutions and changes the pattern of economic power in the interests of the people.It is argued that that means more Socialism and that we are already suffering from too much Socialism.
§ Mr. Heffer
Exactly. That is the automatic response. Labour Members say "too much Socialism" and it is almost like pressing a button. As soon as those words are uttered Opposition Members chant "Hear, hear".
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman might not like it, but I am getting on with it. It is not too much Socialism from which we are suffering but too little. Our economic and interventionist policies lead to a system of semi-controlled capitalism. That is what we have. We are at the cross-roads. We have to decide which way we are to take in future. The argument that my party puts forward is that to solve unemployment, to bring about a genuine redistribution of wealth, to bring about genuine equality of opportunity and to bring about real changes of a fundamental nature that will affect the community as a whole, we have step by step to move along the lines outlined in Labour's programme. That is what we argue and that is what we seek to do.
In that context we must bear in mind the number of companies that we have seen collapse. They have been free enterprise companies.
§ Mr. Heffer
Yes, I shall talk about BSC. If we had not taken into public ownership the probability is that we should have no British steel industry. We did not ask to take British Leyland under the National Enterprise Board. I think that it was a mistake to do so. It would have been wiser to deal with the company as a separate entity. In that way the NEB could have done a proper job, the job that it was set up to do—namely, to develop, expand and create wealth-producing industries—instead of all the time having to concern itself with the rest of the British Leyland organisation, which was a private enterprise company.
Rolls-Royce had to be bailed out. That had to be done by the Conservative Government. That was a private enterprise company. We are faced with a crisis of the private enterprise system. If we did not have Government intervention, and if we did not extend Socialism, the crisis would be even worse. That is the reality.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Apart from not wishing to see the Britain that the hon. Gentleman envisages brought about by way of regimented centralisation, and being prepared to tolerate that it should be brought about by the admittedly unsatisfactory block vote system, what else is it that distinguishes the Britain that he envisages from the Britain, as it were, of the Eastern European State?
§ Mr. Heffer
If the hon. Gentleman wants me to explain in detail, I shall do so. First, I shall give him a short answer. In East European States there are one-party dictatorships. That is a totally contrary system to everything in which the Labour Party believes as a democratic organisation. If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about the history of the Labour movement, he would know that among the first to suffer under bureaucratic dictatorships are democratic Socialists. They either end up in gaol or are shot.
The hon. Gentleman should stop talking rubbish. He is like all his hon. Friends in that he is trying to create a myth. It is a myth, incidentally, that could well backfire on Conservative Members. The British people are not that 1837 stupid. They understand the history of the movement that they created. The Labour Party is not a small elitist group. It is an organisation that was created by working people. The trade union movement created the Labour Party, and that gives it a uniqueness and distinction when compared with most other European social democratic parties.
The movement is firmly based upon the working class. That is a situation that is totally different from that which exists in most other countries. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know why we have to keep spelling out something that is obvious and so well known.
The aims of the Labour Party are to create justice, freedom, democracy and security for our people. That is what we are aiming to do, and that is why we want fundamental changes. Conservative Members are right when they say that social democrats want to abolish classes and that so-called Marxists want classes to continue. We in the Labour Party want to get rid of the class society. We want to get rid of classes altogether so that there is no such thing as our present class-ridden society, with the power and privilege that exists on one side of the fence and the difficulty that exists for those who are not in a position of power and privilege. That is what we want to change.
How do we propose to do that? We believe that on a longer-term basis we want a national plan. We believe that the country's resources should be planned. We say that there should be a national planning commission. It would be responsible for preparing and revising the national plan. In order to be successful, the Commission would have to have the full backing of the Cabinet. It would take over the present planning functions now exercised by the Treasury and other economic departments.
We are not proposing a vast bureaucratic structure. We are calling for democracy in planning. We spell that out by stating in the programme,We must open up to democratic scrutiny all levels of industrial decision-making and planning. The trade unions in particular must be involved at every level in the planning process; and the parties involved in individual industrial decisions must be consulted in 1838 advance and be given full access to information.We want to bring in more and more information. In that respect we are not even at the level of the United States. We are saying that up to a point we must have a planned society. However, we must have information so that the people may be involved in the planning process.
I now turn to one or two other matters—[HON. MEMBERS: "TOO long."] The question of Labour's programme has been raised, and surely we are entitled at some length to explain what it is all about. The debate was initiated by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South. Conservative Members cannot object if my hon. Friends and I use the opportunity, perfectly democratically, to explain our programme.
What is the programme for construction? It is not just the programme now. In some instances we have extended and, as it were, spelled it out in more detail. What are we proposing with regard to construction? Conservative Members are always on about the nationalisation of the construction industry. We are proposing not the nationalisation of the construction industry but the establishment of a national construction corporation that could, if necessary, be based on one or two large companies. We are proposing that direct labour organisations should be extended and made more competitive. The Opposition have put forward that argument over many years. There must be firmer control over direct labour organisations.
We are not suggesting the abolition of small builders. We suggest that there is an opportunity for the co-operative development of building at that level. A great deal could be done by building workers and small builders getting together and forming co-operatives to extend modernisation and development at that level.
Those are our proposals. Of course, they mean public ownership, but that is not nationalisation. The Opposition are ignorant—I mean ignorant—about these matters. They do not understand that public ownership can take many and diverse forms. It does not mean full-scale nationalisation of an industry Private companies can exist alongside one large State corporation.
1839 I conclude by saying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I realise that Conservative Members do not like me going on about this matter, but I must answer the point about the House of Lords. The Labour Party believes in the abolition of the House of Lords. We say in the document that was approved by conference that there should be a second Chamber to meet the genuine revision aspects of the House of Lords.
It was interesting that when the European Communities Bill went through the House of Lords not one amendment was made. Recently, the European Assembly Elections Bill went through on the nod. But when Labour Party legislation goes to the other place, what happens? All the Tories in the House of Lords come in, unsaddle their horses, stay for a couple of days and vote solidly against such legislation.
We think that the House of Lords is an undemocratic body. We want to follow the lead of New Zealand and Sweden and a number of other democratic countries which have a unicameral system. There is nothing undemocratic about that. Having agreed that we should get rid of the House of Lords, we appreciate that we must have a second elected Chamber or some other system for dealing with the revision of legislation to ensure that democracy continues. We are about to publish our proposals on that matter. They will be put before the people.
I am delighted that we should have this debate. I want the people of this country to know what the Labour Party stands for. The more that we can do that, the better. It will not have the effect that Conservative Members may think. Over the years I have consistently put forward my political views. I do not think that anyone either inside or outside the House could suggest that I do not honestly put forward my views. I am not afraid to proclaim where I stand on different issues. I am sure that all hon. Members are not afraid—they should not be—honestly to say where they stand on different issues.
I stand by the terms of the document that was passed at conference. The proposals will not be carried out next week or the week after that. This is a rolling programme. I hope that many of the proposals will be included in our next 1840 manifesto. That is our basic philosophy. I believe in it. I am not ashamed of it. I am proud of that document.
Perhaps I should refer to the Young Socialists' document for the benefit of the Opposition. The Young Socialists have been discussing documents of that kind ever since the Young Socialists were formed. It will go on thus. If people are not strong and revolutionary-minded when they are young, God help them when they get to my age. It means that they have nothing about them. The awful thing is that some people in the Tory Party who start as young reactionaries get more reactionary as they get older. But sometimes it works the other way round. They see the light and become slightly progressive as they get older. I welcome them for that.
I support Labour's programme. I hope that it will be put before the people. I wish that we had television coverage here so that the people could see and hear this debate and know what we are discussing. We can solve this country's problems only on the basis of the Socialist ideas contained in this document. There is no other long-term answer.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I am sure that if the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) had his wish and the public could see and hear the debate on television they would say "Thank God that neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party has an overall majority in the House of Commons and we are therefore saved from the lunacies of the Left and of the Right".
The hon. Member for Walton was right to rebuke Opposition Members who suggested that the aim of the Left wing of the Labour Party was a kind of East European Communist State. I do not think that it is aiming at anything of the kind, any more than the Right wing of the Tory Party is aiming for a Fascist State. I think that it is a disservice to the great democratic tradition of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Party to make such suggestions.
The Labour Party, whatever its faults, has a tremendous democratic, Christian and humanist tradition, as well as a Marxist tradition. The fear that we have about the Labour Party—I put it quite 1841 bluntly—is that the Christian and humanist tradition is slowly losing ground to the increasing pressure of the Marxists.
During the last few years the Conservative Party has steadily moved to the Right. We hear things of the Conservative Party today that we would not have heard five or six years ago. The polarisation between the Left and the Right spells doom for this country. The more they become polarised, the more dangerous the situation will become.
I am sure that all hon. Members would agree with the Labour Party's aims of justice, freedom, democracy and security. The question is whether Labour's programme will achieve those aims. If the programme were to be implemented, the whole country would suffocate under a blanket of bureaucracy. The right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) was right about that. It would not result in a more prosperous, democratic country with greater security. It would, in the long run, mean the gradual creation of a new elite of officialdom. It is not that the eventual aims of the Labour Party are in dispute, but that its methods will prevent those aims from being achieved.
There is no real chance of this programme being implemented in the present climate. While that situation remains, we have little to fear. The greatest danger—I took this view when we entered the pact with the present Government—of a Left-wing-controlled Labour Party being able to have the power to implement this kind of programme would come if a Conservative Government swung violently to the Right and there was an extreme reaction against it. If, in March last year, a Right-wing Conservative Government had taken power, the Left wing would have gained control of the Labour Party and the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) would probably have become its leader. Whatever the faults of the present Prime Minister, the country probably very much prefers him to the right hon. Gentleman. After a Conservative Government the Left-wing-controlled Labour Party could then have swept into power on the swing-of-the-pendulum basis.
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. and learned Gentleman is indulging in extraordinary fantasies about a Right-wing Conserva- 1842 tive Party. Does he or does he not agree with his own leader, who, at the time of the Bournemouth, East by-election last November, said:A vote for Labour could only be a vote for a more Left-wing Socialist approach to government."?That is what we are debating.
§ Mr. Hooson
I know the full speech, because I have a full hand-out of it. The hon. Gentleman has taken just one sentence from it.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Member is a member of the Bar and knows very well that one can take one sentence from a speech and give a totally different impression from that created when the sentence is seen as part of the speech as a whole.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that that sentence does not mean what it appears to mean if it were taken in its full context? Will he say what it does mean?
§ Mr. Hooson
My right hon. Friend was telling the electors of Bournemouth that it would be much better for anyone who did not want a Left-wing Labour Government to vote Liberal than Labour.
The document that we are discussing sets out a vision of what a Socialist State would be like, in a modified British way. Proposals for extensive public ownership, the centralised direction of the economy and trade union hegemony in industry are its key features. Following our agreement with the Government, the last thing that the country has at the moment is a Government who are actually paving the way for this kind of Socialist Utopia. One can test this contention by merely comparing some of the excesses in this document with what appeared in the Queen's Speech as the Government's actual programme.
The most obvious feature of Socialism is its heavy emphasis on nationalisation or public ownership, whichever the hon. Member for Walton likes to call it. This document is suitably ringing: 1843Only direct control through ownership of a substantial and vital sector of growth industries will allow a Labour Government to achieve a fundamental shift in the balance of power and wealth. Then we must control directly a significant percentage of manufacturing output and employment.The trouble is that when the Labour Party takes over a growth industry, it ceases to grow. There is no point in a growth industry which is no longer growing. One of the problems of manufacturing industry—a problem noted by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries—is that it is difficult to ask an industry which is competing at home and abroad to disclose trade secrets. We have not yet begun to evolve, except in the BP precedent of a company whose majority shareholding is publicly owned and which is run as efficiently as private enterprise.
One area that this programme maps out ascrucial to nearly every aspect of Labour's social and economic programmeis the construction industry. At the centre of these proposals is the assertion that the use of direct labour organisations should be considerably expanded.
A measure to bring that about was introduced by the Government in the last Session of Parliament, but the Liberals stopped it dead in its tracks. The text of the agreement between my party and the Government promised thatThe Local Authorities (Works) Bill will now be confined to provisions to protect the existing activities of direct labour organisations in the light of local government reorganisation.The hon. Member for Walton spent a lifetime in the construction industry, or in a particular section of it. Direct labour methods have not proved satisfactory and have generally lost money.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. and learned Gentleman must be fair. Some direct labour organisations have lost money. Others have been very successful. It is like private industry—some organisations are successful, some have lost money. What our document suggests is that the direct labour organisations must be changed so as to give them greater independence and remove restrictions which at the moment make them loss-making 1844 almost from the word "go". They should be put on a competitive basis, with a much better control of finances and organisation. For the benefit of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I would say that some of us are actually experts in this area of construction.
§ Mr. Hooson
If that is so, those concerned should have produced a model of the way in which a direct labour organisation could run successfully, and should have proved it before introducing a Bill designed to give every local authority the right to use direct labour, when it was known throughout the country that most of them lost money heavily. If that is the kind of practical approach that we get from the Labour Left wing, God help the country.
§ Mr. Hooson
Another area in which we have prevented further nationalisation is the water industry. A Green Paper in 1976 proposed that the existing private water companies should be brought into public ownership. They were running successfully and profitably, with no complaint; it was a simple theoretical approach that led to their being proposed for public ownership. We Liberals ensured that that proposal was removed from the subsequent White Paper.
Other targets for nationalisation, like road haulage, Pharmaceuticals, construction and banking institutions have remained in private hands and will continue to do so as long as the Labour Party does not have an overall majority. It is to be hoped that the electors will make sure that they do not get one, at the same time as ensuring that we do not have a Conservative Government either.
When people look back on the history of the Labour Government between 1974 and 1977 and see what an enormous failure they were, but how they pulled their socks up after the agreement with the Liberals, they will have a great deal to thank us for.
The programme's proposals for the public sector also envisage a massive expansion in the powers and resources of the National Enterprise Board. Those have not materialised. While acting as a source of public investment, the NEB 1845 is holding back from permanent and out-right public ownership as its sole function and is emphasising that it will give firms whose shares it owns a real opportunity to buy out the NEB when resources allow. That is a more sensible way to run the NEB.
The second key aspect of Socialism set out in the document, the centralised direction of the economy, is described in detail. The document sees the objective as a national plan backed up by a national planning commission and planning agreements on what is described as a "face to face basis" with major companies. Those proposals have hardly seen the light of day. Only one planning agreement has been made, and that was with Chrysler after the Government had bailed it out.
Again, under Liberal influence, the Government's policy has tended to go in a different direction. For example, in prices policy the emphasis has been shifting from the rigid regulation of prices, which is impracticable at present, to a policy based on competition and an attack on monopolies.
The third area of Socialism that appears from the document is trade union supremacy, which is clearly spelt out. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, the Labour Party is really the political extension of an industrial movement, and in that respect it is very different in its background and genesis from any other party in this country.
The emphasis in the document's industrial democracy proposals that worker participation should be based on single-channel representation through the trade unions has been strongly resisted, certainly by my party and indeed by a number of people within the Labour Party. The Bullock proposals have been quietly dropped. The only mention in the Queen's Speech was a promise thatFurther consultations will be held on industrial democracy, with a view to producing proposals which should command general support".We believe that there should not be that kind of single-channel representation, but that people from the shop floor should be directly represented and that the election should not be based on trade union membership.
1846 Similarly, we stopped the Government from going ahead with their White Paper commitment to restrict worker trusteeship of company pension funds to nominees of trade unions. The only experiment in Bullockry that has been allowed to go ahead is in the Post Office, and then only after we had insisted that the proposals were heavily modified to include two consumer-directors. The Post Office, the Post Office unions and initially the Government objected to that, but they finally gave way.
In these three key areas the policies pursued by the Government are now taking the country down a very different path from the one set out in "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976."
One could point to other areas of policy where Liberal influence has succeeded in diverting the Government's intentions, such as transport, particularly in the rural areas, and civil aviation, where Laker was encouraged and bucket shops and cheap fares were retained because of our intervention. This is of great benefit to the ordinary people. Other examples are incomes policy and defence spending.
On page 114 of the document we read thatThe Labour Party has been considering the effects which would be produced by taking a sum in the order of £1,000 million at 1974 prices as the target figure by which Britain's annual defence spending would need to be reduced to meet the Party's policy.The updated figure today would be nearly £1,800 million.
In common with most people, I greatly regret that we must spend so much money on defence. I think that most people regard it as a necessity rather than a pleasure. We would much prefer to be in a world where each country's heavy expenditure on defence could go in other directions. But we must be realistic when it is suggested that we could cut defence expenditure by £1,800 million, when the Soviet Union has built so many nuclear-powered submarines and has 7,000 and more tanks on the Eastern Front. Why does it have them? I have never had a satisfactory answer.
For the past two or three years the Government have cut defence expenditure, but in this year's defence White Paper they have made an express commitment, under Liberal influence, to 1847 increase it by 3 per cent. in net terms. We regret that we must do that, but when we look at the reality of our position we see that we cannot take a risk on defence matters. Again, we see the clear influence of the Liberals in diverting the Government's intentions. As a consequence, we have a programme that is more acceptable to the country as a whole.
"Labour's Programme for Britain 1976" is a stridently Socialist document. But Britain today does not have a Socialist Government, much as many Labour Members regret it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) said in the debate on the Queen's Speech:Not even the most rigorous and pedantic member of the Conservative sector of the Opposition can find any trace of Socialism in this Gracious Speech."—[Official Report, 3rd November 1977; Vol. 938, c. 49.]This country has a mixed economy. I have no doubt that areas of public ownership will sometimes be enlarged, but perhaps in a very different way from what we think today. We have learnt the lesson in private industry. The hon. Gentleman learnt it from Leyland. It was ridiculous that the Leyland car firm was set up through the amalgamation of other firms. It became unworkable, whether under private enterprise or any form of public enterprise. We have had far too centralist tendencies in government, private enterprise and nationalised industry.
The country as a whole wants a much more moderate programme. The country is ungovernable save from the centre. I am sure that that is the lesson of the past year for the country.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
I welcome this debate and the opportunity it affords the House to discuss and publicise the important public issues raised in a document which ranges right across all the areas of party policy. It reflects the idealism and practicality of Labour Party thought and embodies an accurate and rigorous analysis of the country's needs and the legitimate demands of its people.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), who initiated the debate, had an opportunity seriously to consider the policies proposed in the 1848 document, to evaluate them, assess their relevance and prospective impact and cohesion and to propose alternatives. In spite of his acknowledgements to the document, I must confess a little disappointment over his treatment of it as a scare story.
However, I was impressed by the hon. Gentleman's reference to "The House at Pooh Corner", an important work of enormous symbolic significance. I wish he were present now, because what I am about to say may be construed as something personal about him. I realise that the debate was an attempt by him to act out in public an obsession with the misanthropic, gloomy, apocalyptic and thistle-eating Eeyore. In other words, the hon. Gentleman came here to ask us to eat thistles. It was less a speech, more a cry for help. I hope that today will help the hon. Gentleman to obliterate this incipient obsession with that unfortunate donkey.
I intend briefly to discuss just two issues in the document on Labour's programme. The first is economic planning, covered in section 3. It is a matter of enormous consequence for our future wealth, jobs and the opportunities of the British people to develop their abilities to the full.
The second is the structure of local government, covered in section 13, a matter of enormous consequence for the people of Norwich. Speaking as someone who had a career in management before entering Parliament, I must say that it seems to me that no organisation or enterprise can be fully effective or even survive without taking a systematic view of its future—stating its aims, analysing it present standing, establishing where present policies will take it, observing and quantifying the gaps that will inevitably emerge between its performance and its aims, setting specific objectives, deriving from them new policies and programmes of action, and reviewing results,
All these activities are conveniently described as planning. Corporate planning based on such proposals has in the past 20 years become normal operating routine in industry. Planning is simply taking a rational view of the future and deploying resources in a way calculated to get the best possible results out of the enterprise or organisation for which the plan is being made.
1849 The Labour Party document puts forward the proposition thatBritain needs a national economic and industrial plan.This proposition produces waves of shock and horror throughout the Conservative Party, though presumably it would support such concepts of large-scale planning in big private enterprises. A national plan is always prefixed by the Conservatives with such adjectives as "bureaucratic", "mechanistic", "dictatorial" and "East European", a kind of Pay-lovian reaction to the use of rationality in making policy.
The Labour Party document is in fact modest and evolutionary in the matter of national planning. It proposes, as machinery, a high level planning agency—a National Planning Commission which would have prime responsibility for preparing and revising the Plan. It would also be responsible for monitoring industrial performance and for urging action upon the responsible Government departments and public agencies.The document proposes, as the infrastructure for planning, the strengthening of a planning agreements system. It sas:Our aim must be to harness directly the energies of the large firms by dealing with them on a face to face basis …In dealing with these firms, we are interested not so much in their day-to-day or month-to-month tactics, but in their medium and longer term strategies. The essence of a Planning Agreement is a deal negotiated between a large firm and the Government—with the appropriate trade unions deeply involved—which sets out what the firms must do to help the Government meet certain clearly defined objectives (e.g. to get extra investment in a key sector), and what, for its part, the Government is prepared to do to help the firm fulfil those objectives (e.g. by providing selective financial assistance).The document proposes, as a safeguard against bureaucratic centralism, democracy in planning, and the section carrying this heading has already been referred to. It says:We must open up to democratic scrutiny all levels of industrial decision-making and planning. The trade unions in particular must be involved at every level in the planning process; and the parties involved in individual industrial decisions must be consulted in advance and be given full access to informationSo much for the jackboot and the whip of Socialist planning. These three proposals amount to the need for a new agency of government to research and analyse where we are going as a nation, 1850 a partnership between Government and big industry in attempting to achieve national objectives, and the involvement of workers in planning their future livelihoods. I should have thought that progressive management in industry would have welcomed these proposals as an attempt to create continuity in industrial policy, an obligation on the Government to state their economic and industrial aims, and an attempt to secure the agreement and commitment of the work force to corporate plans.
It is a measure of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Conservative Party that it can respond to these initiatives only with slogans, by whinnying about taxation without being specific about where it shall be cut, and by failing to produce any clear policy for arresting a century of decline in our industrial performance.
There is in fact much in the old one-nation Conservative tradition which would support a systematic policy for creating jobs and for involving workers in the decisions that affect their lives. But that old Conservative culture, has, of course, been swamped by the new Right-wing Conservatism of the present leader of the Conservative Party.
It is not without interest that The Guardian yesterday reported that the reported that the Christian Democratic parties in Europe would not forge links with the British Conservative Party because the British Conservative Party was too Right-wing. What our Conservatives offer is the worn-out ideas of unbridled, unaccountable private enterprise, a policy of knocking the present improvement in our industrial performance and a search for exploitable issues—immigration and law and order—rather than a fundamental solution to our economic problems.
My second topic comes under the heading "A Wider Democracy" in Labour's programme, where a reference is made to the need formulti-purpose local authorities reflecting genuine local communities, and responsible for housing, education, social services and other major functions".There is general agreement that the Conservative reorganisation of local government was an unmitigated disaster, above all for those great cities which were county boroughs—multi-purpose authorities—and which are now reduced to the status of districts. The demand for the 1851 restitution of powers to those 30 or so districts is growing daily and comes from Conservative-controlled districts as strongly as from Labour-controlled ones. In fact, there are more Conservative-controlled than Labour-controlled former county boroughs.
A memorandum that I have here, which is headed "Organic Change in Local Government", was supported by the majority of districts with populations between 100,000 and 200,000 including not only Norwich but Bournemouth, Brighton, Southend and Torbay, which I imagine are not under Labour control. It sets out the enormous damage done by putting these great cities under the control of shire counties for major local government services. The transfer of social services to the counties is, for example, described as a tragedy. Norwich, a great city with a medieval charter and a proud record of providing a first-class level of community service, lost powers over education, social services and planning to the Stone Age squirearchy of Norfolk County Council—pennypinching, parsimonious, encrusted with fear of change. Only four out of 39 shire counties spend less per capita than Norfolk.
The treasurer's report to the county policy and resources committee in May 1977 said:Norfolk's estimated rate and grant borne expenditure per head of population for 1977–78 was above the all-county average on only three services—libraries, fire and refuse disposal—and was below on all the other services, in particular, education which was £11 per capita below. In total Norfolk's spending was over £19 per capita below the all-county average.These figures can be illustrated in terms of services for people. One-sixth of the old people in the county have no access to the meals on wheels service. The Department of Health and Social Security guidelines for home helps is 12 per 1,000 population over 65. Norfolk provides 4.7 per 1,000. The DHSS guideline for residential care for the physically handicapped is 30 per 1,000 population. Norfolk's provision is 10. Norfolk still has 250 schools built before 1903.
Then there is the case, recent highlighted in the Eastern Evening News of Norwich, of the position of the youth and community services. The paper says:Unless Norfolk puts more money into its youth and community services the county 1852 could face the same problems with young people as cities like Liverpool and Birmingham …The service, which had a staff of 40 compared to a planned staff of 100 in 1974, could not keep up its present coverage more than another year. Many officers were working 90 hours a week.So, as a result of the reorganisation carried out by the Conservative Government, the progressive and caring city of Norwich is finding its community services being dragged down to Norfolk's levels. The people of Norwich have every right to be affronted. I know that Conservative Members of Parliament who represent the old county boroughs feel as badly about this development as do those Labour Members who represent such cities. I am glad to say that the Secretary of State for the Environment is taking up this question as raised in the document on Labour's programme and is developing it and is suggesting, under organic change for local government, that the former county boroughs might have their powers restored to them.
So in two important areas—the need for a rational and systematic approach to reviving the economy, and the need to restore the powers to former county boroughs—progressive Conservatives—unfortunately most of them seem to be in hiding at the moment, though they will stay there long enough to see that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition will not win the next General Election—should be able to support these two rather crucial areas of Labour's programme. I only hope that they have the courage to come out and say so.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Dr. Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) for raising the subject of Labour's programme, 1976, not merely because of the points that we can take on that document but because it gives hon. Members the rare opportunity of discussing basic party differences and our philosophical approaches to society.
As has been well said, when one is examining next week's programme it is sometimes good to stand back and see where both parties are going. I want to look particularly at the question of the threat of increased public ownership and what it will mean not only economically but to democratic liberties. I shall then 1853 make two quick points, one on education, in which I have a special interest, and the other on law and order, by examining two of the paragraphs, almost by textual analysis, in this document.
It is a misnomer to call nationalisation "public ownership" in the sense that the one person who does not own such an industry is the hypothetical person on top of the Clapham bus. The start of the myth of public ownership, called nationalisation, was in the 1945–51 period under the Attlee Government, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice). In those years, the mines, the railways, electricity, gas, the Bank of England, steel, road haulage and parts of civil aviation were brought into national ownership.
Between 1951 and 1954, under the Churchill Government, there was some taking stock. Steel and road haulage were denationalised. Then there came that strange period between 1955 and 1964 when there was a virtual acceptance by both parties of some form of mixed economy. It seemed that the railways and the mines and the public utilities would remain in public ownership, possibly because of the problems of raising capital, while the other industries would remain private.
In retrospect, one wonders what would have happened to Labour's programme on the acceptance of a mixed economy if the Labour Party had lost the 1964 General Election instead of winning it narrowly. My view is that life does not go in a straight line, as the Marxist expects, but is influenced by accidents here or there and by people and how they react. It is these factors which make the lines of political history.
One remembers, for example, the battle that took place in the Labour Party between 1955 and 1959 about Clause 4. The issue, really, was whether the Labour Party should become a social-democratic party, as the West German party did through its acceptance of the Bad Godesburg declaration, by which it accepted a free economy, provided that it was free, and provided that there was fair and genuine competition. Once that principle was accepted, the Social-Democrats came to power in Germany.
But in 1964 the Labour Party came to power, and from that time there seems 1854 to have been among Labour Members of Parliament, particularly the activists, a move towards a greater belief in public ownership, at the same time as a tendency to move away from acceptance of a fairly evenly balanced mixed economy.
Between 1964 and 1970, only two big issues of nationalisation arose—steel and private road haulage. But once Labour went into Opposition in 1970, the programme built up steadily year by year for Government intervention in every sector. In 1971, the banks, insurance companies and building societies—the piggy banks of the people—came under threat. In 1972, at the Labour Party conference the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), now Secretary of State for Energy, said—and it is worth recalling it—Comrades, the era of so-called consensus politics is over.I accept that the right hon. Gentleman meant it, but it signalled an entirely new game in British politics. If there is to be no consensus, if the parties are to have more division than unity, the democratic system and its continuance in this country will be under greater threat in the future than in the past.
In 1973, we had the resurrection of what became the misnamed National Enterprise Board. My main disagreement is with that middle word, "enterprise". In the February and October 1974 General Elections, a large sector of possible nationalisation was mentioned in Labour's programmes. But it is interesting to note that the programme for the October election was much less specific about nationalisation than the February programme had been, and followed much more the White Paper of August that year, which wrote down some of the nationalisation proposals.
I believe that that lessened emphasis was due to the unpopularity of nationalisation proposals in the country. Whatever may be said by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) about the popularity or unpopularity of nationalisation proposals, in practically every case where they have been put to the public—and I have the 1977 figures here—the public has been overwhelmingly opposed to further nationalisation. It is no good the Labour Party considering that by political education it will get the general public to agree with further 1855 nationalisation and accept it with approval when it occurs. The British public is not daft or stupid, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) pointed out.
If the public is against nationalisation, it is not because it does not understand what is involved. It is because it does not like the running of the nationalised industries which we have already. The Labour Party cannot have its statements both ways.
I accept from the hon. Member for Walton that the 1976 programme is a rolling programme and not something that will be put totally into effect by the next Labour Government, and that it will be a "lucky dip". We shall see what is brought out from time to time. But eventually it would mean total Government control—not public control—of a large amount of industry, if not the whole lot. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East pointed out that more than 50 per cent. of our working people would be employed in nationally-controlled industries if this policy were to be carried out.
I want to make four points opposing totally the philosophy of the growth of and programmes for national control of industries. I realise, of course, that such control would never be total one way or the other—there is no myth in that. There is not even a Communist society which is totally controlled by the State. For example, private housing and private plots of land still exist in such countries. On the reverse side, the only time in which there has been an almost totally free enterprise system in this country—I have written about it as an historian—was that odd period between 1845 and 1860.
We are dealing with a policy in which Socialists believe. I have no doubt about their motives. I accept that they believe it to be a good policy. I want to speak about what would happen if that policy were carried out.
First, it would be economically disastrous. I do not believe that economic decisions are better made by 20 people sitting in Westminster or Whitehall which ever side of the House they come from. Such people pay no penalty for the failure of their economic plans, but hundreds of thousands of people in dispersed ownership do. When people in dispersed 1856 ownership are directly concerned in their industries and make their decisions, they know that their own livelihood is at stake. Such people know that they stand to lose or gain their wealth.
There is nothing wrong with wealth. Surely, we want more wealth instead of quarrelling about a cake that is decreasing in size, which is the misery of Labour. Let us have more wealth rather than the gloomy position that we have now. Where decisions are made by those who know that their own livelihood is concerned, it is much more likely that they will make the right decisions rather than that 20 people in Whitehall will make them—people who, having made them, will be able to go home to bed without worrying whether these decisions will be successful.
§ Mr. John Garrett
Did not the hon. Gentleman hear my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) quote from that part of Labour's programme which dealt with the question of democracy in planning and the involvement of the trade unions and work people in the planning process? Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that we are not talking of 20 people in Whitehall making plans for the whole of industry?
§ Dr. Boyson
I accept that both the hon. Member for Walton and the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) have spoken in those terms, and I know that that is what they think will happen. But it will not. We know the power of Parliament and the power of the Government. Rebels in both parties know the power of the Government, of the public purse, of the patronage that goes with it. One may visualise tens of thousands of people sitting on committees all over the place so that the system might be called "democracy", but we know what in practice the decisions will be made by the Government.
If there is a call for complete decentralisation, I have sympathy with that, and we have talked about dispersal. The whole of the cultural revolution in China was about that. Now there is again the total centralisation of power in China, and the cultural revolution has died upon the winds of Asia. Similarly, the hopes of tens of thousands of people in this country will die as we get more and more centralised nationalisation.
1857 The decisions made nationally and centrally are not made on the basis of what is best economically for the country. What happens is that the economic market is replaced, in effect, by a political market. The decisions are made by those in charge of the political market. When there is a marginal political risk involved in a firm going out of business, the decision to save it is made on political grounds.
Similarly, there is political pressure on relations with trade unions to buy peace because of the prices and incomes policy. There is pressure in regard to whoever is chairman of a company or the Minister concerned at the time. Whenever decisions are made in this context, they are not made for the economic good of the country. That is the very last consideration. They are made in the hope that a particular Government will be re-elected at the next General Election.
With regard to the use of available capital, the question is whether it is spent where it will bring the best return. In 1964, £1,500,000 a day was going into the electricity industry of this country. It is now said that if that money had gone into the gas industry at the time, each pound of investment would have bought five times as many British thermal units for the service of the British public as were provided by the electricity industry. The investment was made in that way in order to keep the coal industry going, and for all kinds of other reasons. It was not done on the basis of the best return on capital. The more centralised control of industry we have, the greater will be the disaster attending economic decisions made nationally.
More important, slowly the free society will die. I know that it is not the intention of the hon. Member for Walton or any of his colleagues who have spoken—I have no doubt of the sincerity of their motives—but if they set in train a line of action which will inevitably lead to disaster, they must take some degree of responsibility for it.
The right to sell one's labour is basic to the free society. The free economic system of dispersed property rights is not a sole determinant of a politically-free society but it is one of its conditions, and once it has gone, that free society will slowly die. If people, en masse, are dependent on the feeding trough of the 1858 State for their future, their political freedom to disagree with their bosses has died along the way. If a man can get a job only by virtue of his membership of a closed shop union in a nationalised industry, he is moving towards a form of serfdom which is different from anything that has existed in this country before. It is almost parallel to what happens in the Soviet Union, where no one can get or hold a job without accepting totally the present system.
It was Lord Acton who said that a people averse to the institution of private property is without the first element of freedom. It was John Locke who said that law, liberty and property are an inseparable trinity.
The idea of the "irreversible" spread of wealth does not worry me, as long as it is properly spread, as long as we have our property-owning democracy in this country, and as long as people can have their own businesses which they are free to expand. I do not want property to be centralised in a small number of families or firms. The more we can spread it, the better. I do not want it centralised in any way in the State, otherwise eventually our political liberties will die.
We often have references from the Labour Benches to certain events during the Industrial Revolution, but we should remember that it was the Industrial Revolution which freed the working classes in this country. They were able to move from "status" control to "contract" control. With contract control, a man's livelihood no longer depends upon his status; it depends upon the contract which he has signed. Without that, liberty will die. I know that it is not the intention of Labour Members, but the inevitable result of the greater increase of State power will be the loss of the liberty of the worker.
The right to private property is not just one of houses and things of that description. It is also a matter of the right to sell one's labour in the best market. Members of the Tribune Group—I do not say this in a derogatory sense—hope, with their kind of Cloud Seven Socialism, to have on the one side State control and on the other free collective bargaining. That is an impossible combination, for with the increase of State control that freedom of collective bar- 1859 gaining will die, and with it the right to sell one's labour freely in the factories.
The hon. Member for Walton spoke about direct labour, which I have always seen as a disaster. Hardly any of the councils involved in it could compete effectively in the open market.
One of the great defects of the State-controlled industries is that they are not responsive to the public. If there is only one gas supplier, one coal supplier and one electricity supplier, there is no real answerability to the public. The only resort is to a Member of Parliament, and most of us at one time or another have had to act as a sort of local ombudsman in this respect. But the ordinary member of the public is unable to say that unless he gets a satisfactory answer to his problem he will take his custom elsewhere. There is nowhere else for him to go. We as Members of Parliament are the only people who have any control at all over those industries. Certainly the general public has no control over them.
If the Labour Party was in favour of a return to the small guilds or a revival of a genuine co-operative movement, that would be another matter entirely. Of course, it is always a good thing to define what one means, and in my opinion what we have had recently are pseudo-cooperatives which are basically State-controlled. I would have a lot of sympathy with anyone who genuinely wanted to spread power inside our society. The nineteenth century co-operatives were not dependent on the State putting money into them. Just as with small individual firms, groups of men came together and decided to work co-operatively and to share among themselves the rewards of their efforts. If they made mistakes, they paid the penalty. Hon. Members may know the old saying "You do what you want and God sends the bill." But if someone else picks up the bill, the result is freedom without responsibility.
I have written about the co-operative movement, and it may please or not please some hon. Members to know that for six years I was a director of the co-operative society in my town in Lancashire. Indeed, my grandparents and parents were closely involved in it. I wrote the history of that co-operative. 1860 People came together freely and put their money together, and there was no question of any monopoly market. In my valley of Rossendale in 1865, even after the great depression which followed the American Civil War, and which affected cotton so tragically, there were 18 co-operative cotton mills with a joint capital of £500,000. Fifty thousand people lived in that valley. There was £10 invested for every man, woman and child in the valley. I have all the time in the world for that kind of co-operative.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Walton is not here. I hope that he will read my speech in the Official Report. He talked about small firms being able to come together. If it is in their interests, they will do so freely. They do not need a Government to tell them to do it. Once the Government act for them, they cease to be free agents. If a man has to be told what is to his economic advantage, he is already on the way out, with a black cloth over the top of him.
I do not want to see Government money going into co-operative enterprise, because the end of such an enterprise is signed the moment the first money goes in. In 1885 the average dividend paid in the co-operative mills in my valley was 25 per cent. I believe that working men and women can once more prove their capabilities if only we can achieve a spirit of adventure and dispersed power.
I want to make two other quick points about public control. It is not only a problem for the Labour Party, it is also a problem for the Conservative Party. It has been the case in the past that one party nationalises a large number of industries when it comes into power while the alternative party hardly denationalises them when it comes to power. We saw that in 1974 when the only action was the denationalisation of Thomas Cook and some public houses in Carlisle which must have caused vast concern to Socialists in the area who realised how the commanding heights of the economy were being pushed over to the free enterprise society. This is inevitably a straight road to Socialism with very few gaps along the way.
Fritz von Heyek has said that if the Conservative Party is like a guard on a train who stops the train at a station and then, at the election five years later, 1861 it goes on in the same direction, he could never be a Conservative. Under that definition I could never be a Conservative either.
We must have a vision of a different society. We do not beat the Labour programme for 1976 by criticising it in this House, as was done with good spirit and truth by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South. We do it by having an alternative view, an alternative train track and alternative driver. That is something which the Conservative Party must think out, just as the Labour Party must, otherwise the ratchet effect of continuance will mean a continuing political dilemma. That is one of the risks at present.
My other point concerns education. Page 82 of the document—I never realised how much it contained until I read it—states:Examinations exert a disproportionate influence on the curriculum, tend to be inflexible and irrelevant and reinforce social divisions.That is an attitude of mind which exists not only in the Labour Party. If we do not like examinations and do not like the inflexibility of them, we now have a model to turn to. William Tyndale came along in 1976. In William Tyndale there were no examinations and no accountability. Even if the Government did not know about it, certainly the Labour voters and governors of that school, who were some of the governors of my own school, knew what they thought.
The point about examinations is that they help people to become professionally qualified. Some years ago there was a movement to wipe out university examinations—a sort of caucus race where everyone runs and everyone gets a prize. I should like to have become president of the association for the abolition of examinations in dentistry, because that would not have been difficult to carry out and no-one was likely to die. However, it would be so painful that within six months people would be clamouring for the return of those examinations.
Another point about examinations is that they indicate to parents whether the school is giving the chances of higher education and employment to their children that all of us would want. If we leave this to teacher freedom, we depend 1862 on the chemistry of the school to decide what is taught or not taught.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
As someone who failed every examination at least twice, can my hon. Friend tell me whether there are any records of later achievement for the succeeders and the failures?
§ Dr. Boyson
I gave way to my hon. Friend because I live in his constituency. Presumably, if I wanted to go to the Ombudsman I would have to go through him. I do not think that any work has been done in the area he has suggested. But in 20 or 30 years' time, when my young Friend leaves the House of Commons, perhaps research can then be done. My own inclination is that most people have succeeded in some way. For example, in order to get into the House of Commons, hon. Members must pass the examination of election. Whatever my hon. Friend did at school, since then he has been a remarkable success along these lines. I am sure both sides of the House would agree with me.
Page 92 of the document states:crime is closely related to the social and physical environment".That is a most dangerous statement. It is a product of our time and not just a product of one party. It implies that the criminal does not enjoy his work, is not making a profit from it and is not liking it because he suffers from some sort of deprivation. We can all claim some form of deprivation, for example, that we were not born the son of a prince or a king. But it is basically our job to cope with the situation in which we find ourselves.
The Labour Party has been in power for the past 10 years out of the last 14. Crime has increased throughout that time. Therefore, according to what is stated in its document, the Labour Party must have increased deprivation during that period. The Labour Party claims to have closed the gap between rich and poor, but I hope it will admit that it has been unsuccessful in cutting down deprivation and realise that the statement made in its document is not as true as it seems at first sight.
I believe that some people outside this House, even more than we inside, try to make excuses for anyone misbehaving 1863 in our society. It is plain that many of the muggings and attacks in London—and the fact that there are many old ladies in our constituencies who hardly dare open their doors after dark—are products of the age in which we live. But I take the view that those who misbehave should be punished at the right time, instead of the view being taken "There is nothing wrong. It is just temporary deprivation".
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South has given us the opportunity to look in depth at the Labour programme for 1976. What worries me is that the growth of central control would be not only economically disastrous but would also eventually destroy the democratic liberties of this country. The job of all of us these days is not just to make sure that the present system of tolerant democracy and the spreading of property rights lasts for our time. We have to make sure, because we believe the system is so good, that it will last not just for our time but for the time of our children and our grandchildren.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
The hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) has put up so many Aunt Sallies and ridden so many hobby horses that it would be impossible for me either to knock them down or to ride side by side with him. It is surprising, in view of his strictures, that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), did not oppose Labour's programme for 1976. He simply notes it. He docs not bother, having been given the opportunity to initiate the debate, to note "The Right Approach", his own party's so-called manifesto. The hon. Member was very wise to do that because there is nothing in it that the public would like to digest. I hope to show that in a few moments.
I say to the hon. Member for Brent, North that the vast mass of people within the Labour movement and the trade union movement, and people outside it, accept the inevitability of a mixed economy for as long as we can see. Both parties have nationalised various industries and institutions at one time or another. The hon. Members for Brent, North and Gloucestershire South and, surprisingly, the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), have shown a woeful ignorance of the way the Labour Party 1864 works. The right hon. Member knows what we all know, that ideas, motions, resolutions and policies are constantly flowing back and forth from every section of the party, trade union branches, Labour constituency parties and the rest. They are mulled over. They go to national executive level.
The document we are discussing is the fruit of the process I have just described. Of course there are some scatterbrained ideas in the document which will never see the light of day. They will never reach the manifesto. Tory Members know that as well as I do. Unfortunately—and we have seen this over the past few months in this House—the Conservative Party is getting more and more hysterical as the election approaches. The last thing it wants to do is to discuss its policies, for the very good reason that it has not got any. We see the attempt to persuade the British public that all of our ills started in the 1974 election.
Even the hon. Member for Brent, North sought to relate the increase in the crime figures to the Labour Government. Crime is the exercise by an individual of the very initiatives on which the Tory Party lays such stress—private enterprise, initiative, breaking locks and safes. All of these are things which are lauded by the leader of the Opposition. We are led to believe that the prosperity and the gaiety of that period epitomised by the three-day week and the miners strike was suddenly blotted out by the onslaught of a Socialist Government. That is an absurdity which it is insulting to expect the British people to believe.
In fact, "The Right Approach" says that our economic troubles are "longstanding and deep-seated." To that we say "Hear, hear." The document goes on to say that it will need a "long, hard haul" to make the structural changes necessaryto restore the dynamic of a mixed economy".It says later:The foundations of economic health will not be relied in less than a decade.That is the responsible Tory speaking. That is the reality of the situation facing us.
I want to give one or two crude indicators which have been provided to me by the Library to show the steady decline, over successive Governments, of the status of the United Kingdom from 1950 to 1865 1976. It has to be borne in mind that these comparisons are extremely dangerous and subject to all kinds of qualifications. I take, first, gross national product per head at market prices in US dollars. In 1950 the United States figure was $1890, ours was $740, the French figure was $690 and the West German figure $490. In the world league in 1950 we were sixth in terms of GNP per head. By 1975 we were twenty-third in that world league. We have gone down under successive Governments.
In the past 25 years our GNP per capita increased five-fold whereas in France it increased eight-fold and in West Germany thirteen-fold. We could go throughout the world, showing how we have steadily declined, using whatever yardstick. Let us take the proportion of world trade. In 1950 the United Kingdom proportion was 11.3 per cent. In 1975 it was 5.7 per cent.
In 1977 Lloyds Bank published a Silver Jubilee edition of the British economy in figures. There was precious little to celebrate. Our GNP in that period rose by an average 2.4 per cent. in real terms over the 25 years. This compared with the United States figure of 3.5 per cent., Italy 4.8 per cent., France 4.9 per cent., West German 5.4 per cent. and Japan 9 per cent. Whatever figures are taken it can be demonstrated that, in comparison, we have declined over the years while most if not all of our competitors have improved their position.
It is true that standards of living have increased in the 25-year period. Lloyds Bank gave some figures. It said that one in 10 of the population has a telephone—whatever that means. It said that one in three of the population had a television set and one in four had a car. But steadily we are going down to the point when we compare with countries such as Portugal. Average earnings have risen from £8.60 in 1951 to £65 in 1975. Yet personal disposable income, allowing for price and tax rises, went up by only 92 per cent. It is a grim picture of remoseless decline in comparative status and performance in the United Kingdom since the end of the war.
It would be generally accepted in the House that for all of those years we have been, and remain, a low-wage, low-productivity economy, among the least 1866 efficient and least productive nations in the Western industrialised world. Yet in many ways we are the most civilised and tolerant free society in the world. No one on the Tory Benches will lecture me on the liberty of the citizen and say that the freedom of the individual is threatened by the Labour Party but will be protected by the Tory Party. The reverse is the truth. The working men of this country have had to fight Tory Governments over centuries for their basic freedoms.
§ Mr. Aitken rose—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I shall not give way. I have a lot to say and I intend to say it. We cannot simply go on regarding ourselves as the world's best-kept museum. That is what we are increasingly doing. We would live precariously if we sought dependence on tourism, on the attractions of Stratford and Soho or the titillation provided for foreign visitors by our theatre and our cobwebbed House of Lords, as it has been referred to. We have got to earn our living in the tough top league, against the Japanese, the Germans, the United States, and the fast emerging countries such as Korea, India, Thailand and the rest. No one owes us a living.
A few romantics on the Government side of the House still believe that we can get cheap food from New Zealand, Australia, or elsewhere. That is a bit of imperialistic hangover, a delusion, in which some of my hon. Friends who are anti-European still happen to believe.
In that context, it is useless for any hon. Member, on either side of the House, to prattle about the inadequacies of the Health Service, of our educational system, of our housing or of our defence efforts, so long as we are simply not capable of providing enough wealth to sustain those services at the kind of level that we have come to expect.
I shall skip quite a bit of what I have to say in that context. However, I want to come to one or two specific problems that are troubling our people and will be featuring largely in the course of the next few months and in the next General Election campaign. First, I want to talk about the prices problem.
We now have an inflation rate that is higher, generally, than that of our competitors, but is very much lower than it 1867 was when the present Government originally took power. The graph showing the way in which inflation was moving up until the Tory Government went out in 1974 shows almost a straight line. Inflation was very much on the up and up when the Tories went out. With extremely responsible behaviour by the trade unions, we have got inflation virtually under control, though it is still too high. We still have a long way to go.
As we have sought to get on top of the inflation problem, we have repeatedly met with opposition, and negative opposition, from the Tory Benches, both the Front Bench and the Back Benches. We had a good example last week, concerning the tea blenders. They have great monopoly power and they were and are exploiting it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection has told the tea blenders that he wants to see them reduce their prices in the shops, by at least 5p per quarter pound. They have said "We shall not do it", although all the evidence shows that these people are exploiting the public.
Last week the Tories, almost to a man, came out in support of the tea blenders and against the housewife. If and when an order to compel the tea blenders to make that reduction in price to the housewife comes before the House, it will be interesting to see how the Opposition vote.
It is the same with the brewers. I hope that my right hon. Friend will put the boot in with them. Much of Tory Party funds conies from the brewers. It will be interesting to see whether the Tories will kick the hand that feeds them when this matter comes before us.
The Government's attempt to tackle the prices problem is introducing a measure of very crude and rough justice. No one presents it as an exact science. However, let us see what the Tory Party has to say about inflation, in its document "The Right Approach". I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Brent, North talking about the sanctity of private property. There are special paragraphs in "The Right Approach" on the private ownership of property. In that document we are told that it encourages "personal responsibility" and'the freedom that goes with it".1868 We are told that "property diffuses power", though it is agreed that its ownership can lead to "social and economic inequalities". They can say that again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) quoted some of the figures that show the gross inequalities and injustice associated with the misdistribution of property and private wealth in this country. In "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976" it is spelt out that the richest 1 per cent. of our people own 30 per cent. of the nation's privately owned wealth. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) shakes his head, but I do not know of any more reliable basis. These indicators can only be crude.
However, one can see with one's own eyes the gross disparities in the distribution of private wealth. I see very little private wealth of any great consequence anywhere in my constituency, and the same applies to the constituencies of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We read the social columns in the Taller, or any other document of that calibre, and see how the other half live. There was an article last week in The Sunday Times, I think, concerning the perks that are generally available to the people who have that kind of wealth. The system itself tends to widen the gulf between the haves and have nots.
The document which we are debating was an attempt to produce policies which were acceptable to the Labour Party, policies which would lessen the gulf. Of course, one can never achieve complete equality. No Labour Member believes that. What we believe, and what we hope to implement when we win the next election, is that we should make further progress towards more egalitarianism than we have now.
Various measures are spelt out concerning tax avoidance, tax evasion and the like. It is interesting to note that over a long period we have heard about the so-called scroungers in relation to social security. As the election draws nearer, we shall hear more and more about them. There are repeated articles on the subject in the Tory Press. The total estimated loss through that kind of activity is a few million pounds a year out of thousands of millions being paid out. But there are estimates of tax evasion, at the 1869 other end of the scale, of about £1,000 million a year. People—some Opposition Members are guilty of it, too; they have been the subject of investigation—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am not sure whether the hon. Member has been a Member of the House as long as I have, but it must be nearly as long. He knows that no reflection upon the integrity or honour of hon. Members is parliamentary.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Yes, Mr. Speaker. As you know, I would not dream of doing anything like that. (HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Of course I withdraw, but I just say that the facts speak for themselves.
I turn to the question of public expenditure. The Tory Party has said nothing specific, or not very much specific, except that it is determined to out public expenditure by far greater amounts than those by which the present Government have out it up to now. The Tories condemn redistributive taxation and then saypublic spending cuts are essential".Those are the exact words used in their document. However, they refuse to tell us where or by how much they will out. They indicate, however, thatvery large reductions will be unavoidable".The Tory Party has said that the present Government's cuts are not enough. The Tories have indicated in their document that very large reductions will he unavoidable.
I shall give examples. The Tories are saying that there is waste and extravagance to the tune of £2,000 million. They do not spell out precisely where they get that figure from, but we can reasonably assume that that is the kind of figure for cuts that they have in mind. These will not be cuts in defence. On the contrary, it proposes increasing defence expenditure. Cuts are not proposed to be made in spending on the police or prisons. Presumably, cuts are proposed in social security, education, school meals and local authorities. In this document it is said that local authority expenditure is far too great and needs to be cut drastically. The most specific example is of proposed cuts in National Health Service expenditure. It says of the Health Service:Morale has been shaken by the divisive actions of a doctrinaire Labour Government.1870 By that it presumably means the abolition of pay beds.
The right hon. Member for Newham, North-East was eloquent on the condemnation of that kind of privilege, as most of us on the Labour Party continue to be. I hope that he does not approve of the reinstitution of pay beds which he, as a Tory, is now committed to support, because that is gross evidence of queue-jumping of the most squalid and indefensible nature that one has ever seen in the Health Service.
§ Mr. Prentice
The hon. Gentleman suggested that I was eloquent on the subject of the phasing out of pay beds. I was not. I did not support that part of the Labour Party programme. I argued publicly against many parts of the Labour Party programme within the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet. No Labour Member is entitled to say that I was committed to everything that the Labour Party was doing when I was a member of it.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The right hon. Gentleman voted for things which he did not believe in, as the price of continuing as a Minister.
§ Mr. Hamilton
No, I have given way. It is not worth squabbling about. I should like to put one or two other matters on the record relating to what the Tory Party stands for as against that which is proposed by the Labour Party. In "The Right Approach" it states:There is no case for holding down prescription and other charges.The Tories are committed within the Health Service to increasing prescription charges and every other kind of charge. The document goes further:We should encourage private provision—that is to say, on the Health Service—in particular, to reverse the rundown in National Health Service pay beds.It goes on, as if to underline that proposition:We see no reason for quantitative controls over the development of the private sector outside the National Health Service.1871 So the Conservative Party is determined to undermine the National Health Service by the increased provision of private service, which means that the wealthy will be able to cream off the best of the consultants and the best of everything in the Health Service, and the ordinary masses of people will take second or third place. That is exactly what it means and that is why the Labour Party introduced the concept of the National Health Service, based on the principle that we have got the treatment that is required and not the treatment for which we pay. Yet the Tories regard our policy as divisive and doctrinaire and one which would create a lowering of morale.
I give an example of the kind of priority of which I know Conservative Members will disapprove and to which there will probably be howls of anguish. Myself and two or three of my colleagues a few days ago visited the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital for women near King's Cross. That hospital is now threatened with closure. The lift does not work. It would cost £20,000 or £30,000 to repair that lift. My Government are saying "We cannot afford it because it would be better to try and transfer this facility to better premises." There are dedicated staff trying to keep that hospital open. I suggest that we should take that £30,000, or whatever it costs to repair that lift, from the annuity of a young lady now holidaying in the West Indies. That money is provided by the House.
The Labour Government exist to redistribute the resources of this country from those who are not doing anything at all and who get far too much to people who are doing a worthwhile job. That is an example of the difference between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will take that back to the Chancellor and to the Department of Health and Social Security.
I come to another aspect of the redistributive process, that of housing subsidies. We make no apology for saying that millions of people are subsidised in one form or another to enable them to live in better housing conditions than those they could afford if the free market 1872 were allowed to operate, whether they be council tenants or people buying their own homes.
I remember the hon. Member for Blaby getting an enormous mortgage from a local authority some years ago. I think it was £25,000. The hon. Member for Blaby shakes his head. It was an extremely big figure. That figure strikes a chord in my memory. No doubt he obtained income tax concessions on the interest that he paid on that mortgage. A vast number of people in the country, whether council tenants or private tenants, are receiving this kind of preferential treatment.
What did the Leader of the Opposition say on this matter? Speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce on 20th October 1976, she said.Over a period—she did not specify which period—public expenditure will have to diminish as a percentage of our GNP and the public sector must be severely curbed.The Conservative Party's document specifically mentions housing subsidies. We can be sure that the Conservative Party will not touch the owner-occupier—or will it? Presumably it will not touch the tax concessions that he gets on the interest that he pays on his mortgage.
The inference is that all the cuts in housing subsidies will fall on the public housing, sector. That must mean enormous increases in council house rents. How on earth does it think that the trade unions will respond to that. What effect will that have in curbing inflation? One has only to pose the question to see the reactions of ordinary workers.
In the same speech the right hon. Lady went on to sayThe size of the cuts required—in public expenditure—would not be achieved by tinkering.That was the word she used.
Savage cuts in public expenditure are on the way.One could go on with this for a long time.
The Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, talking about railway service, said:I do not believe that subsidies are the answer.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) Hear, hear.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear". A vast number of his constituents travelling up from Eastbourne are heavily subsidised. Is he telling them that if his party gets into power those constituents will have to pay the full economic fare from Eastbourne to London? I hope that his constituents are listening and that the hon. Member's comment of "Hear, hear" is recorded. The subsidies paid by my Government last year were £356 million. The hon. Gentleman said that he will deprive his constituents of the subsidised fares from his constituency up to London.
§ Mr. Gow
The hon. Gentleman quoted from what my hon. Friend the Shadow Chancellor had said about subsidies not being the answer to all the problems of British Railways. That is what my right hon. Friend was saying. I was agreeing with him. It is not the answer to the problem of British Railways. One of the answers is to allow free enterprise buses to compete freely with the railways.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Member cannot wriggle out of what he said. I was saying specifically that the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) had said, in effect, that railway subsidies should go, and the hon. Member for Eastbourne was saying "Right". He was agreeing with his right hon. and learned Friend. It is no good saying that buses will compete. They will compete on that kind of basis only if they can make a profit. What is more, they will operate only the profitable lines, which means that in rural areas, represented in this House by Conservative Members, there will be no buses, no railways and nothing at all, because buses cannot possibly make profits in those parts of the country.
It is no wonder that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), wrote in the Daily Mail of 21st February this year:On the key issue of inflation … present Conservative policy would just not workHow right he was.
I turn now to the problem of unemployment, which again was never mentioned by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South. This is the most unaccept- 1874 able social canker plaguing our society today. It is incredibly difficult to solve, either short-term or long-term. It is impossible to be optimistic about it.
What contribution has the Tory Party to make on that issue? Since the 1975 Budget, my Government have spent or are spending more than £600 million either to create new jobs or to help protect existing jobs and to engage in a massive programme, though not massive enough, of new training.
It was again a Tory Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), who said a few months ago about unemployment that there were no quick or easy solutions. "The Right Approach", the Tory document on these matters, was even more candid. It said:We do not pretend to know today the answers to every problem.The Conservatives do not know the answer to any problem. That is why we are having this debate on Labour's document and not their own. That is why we are discussing our policies and not theirs. They have no policies.
The Tories would have us believe that they are the guardians of this wonderful thing—
§ Mr. Hamilton
No. The right hon. Member has had his say. I think that the most contemptible and pitiful figure in this House is the guy who crosses the Floor. I leave the right hon. Gentleman with that thought. Let him go and find his Tory seat where he may.
The Tories would have us believe that they are the guardians of this marvellous thing called freedom. Speaking to the Greater London Young Conservatives, naturally, in Central Hall on 4th July 1977, the Leader of the Opposition said:Let there be no mistake, economic choices have a moral dimension.What the devil does that mean? She went on:People must be free to choose what they consume in goods and services.Let me try to give one concrete example of how this works in practice. It was given by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian of 6th February, just a few 1875 weeks ago. She was looking for a plumber because she had some burst pipes in her house. No one has much time to exercise freedom of choice when pipes are burst. She panicked and consulted the Yellow Pages. Eventually she contacted a firm called Help Plumping. Its representative came and looked round. The first unofficial estimate given to her for whatever was necessary to be done was £132. So Polly Toynbee had exercised this wonderful freedom of choice which the Leader of the Opposition lauds, and she was landed with an unofficial estimate of £132.
Next morning, the big boss of the company appeared and, as though by magic, the estimate went up to £450. That is a wonderful freedom of choice and a wonderful exercise of initiative by this Help Plumbing firm.
The boss was a Mr. Stewart Weathers. His photograph appeared in that wonderful Tory paper, the Daily Mail, about a month ago showing him shaking hands with none other than the Leader of the Opposition. This boss of Help Plumbing was described by the Daily Mail as both an immigrant and a Tory. The Daily Mail may not have all the facts accurate, but it described Mr. Weathers as being Jamaican by origin, and an eminent member of the Lambeth Central Conservative Association.
Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Weathers met at a Tory Party Winter Ball at the Dorchester Hotel—no doubt exercising that freedom of choice to go to the Dorchester, just like all the rest of us.
According to the Daily Mail, Mr. Weathers lives in a £100,000 home in the Surrey stockbroker belt, with a swimming pool, a Rolls-Royce and two hunters to ride on Sundays. He sends his three children to expensive private schools. All this is done in the name of the freedom of choice adumbrated by the Leader of the Opposition at nauseating lengths in this House and outside. This gentleman apparently arrived in the United Kingdom in 1959 with £5 in his pocket.
I suppose that that is the kind of society that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and the Tory Party seek to create, with everyone doing his own plumbing or engaging in his own plumb- 1876 ing exploitation in the name of the freedom of the individual.
The right hon. Member for Finchley is quite the most unprincipled and unscrupulous leader of the Tory Party since the war. Her overweaning ambition is matched only by her clear lack of distinctive policies for the solution of the problems now facing our country, and that is why we are having this debate.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who has just sat down after speaking for the best part of 40 minutes—
§ Mr. Lawson
—did not say a single word about "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976", the party policy document that we are debating today. That is very significant, because it is part of the conspiracy of silence to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) referred in his outstanding contribution to the debate.
We all owe my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) a great debt of gratitude for having introduced this subject for debate. In his charming way, he was perhaps a little too kind, although when he said that we all knew that this programme had little chance of implementation, what I think he meant was that we all knew that the Labour Party would not win the next General Election and that that was why it had no chance of implementation. However, if the Labour Party by any mischance were to win that General Election, this document would be the basis of the policies that a Labour Government would implement.
§ Mr. John Garrett
The hon. Member began by referring to a conspiracy of silence about Labour's programme. What conspiracy of silence can there be about a published document, price 50p? What conspiracy does that represent?
§ Mr. Lawson
The conspiracy of silence is quite apparent. It is that, whenever the Prime Minister is asked about the programme at Question Time, he refuses to talk about it. No Minister ever speaks about it. It is as though it had never been published.
1877 That is the conspiracy of silence to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East referred. He made an outstanding speech, and I hope that it will be widely disseminated. These is no one who knows better than he the significance of the document "Labour's Programme for Britain". There is no one who knows better the battles that have been fought within the Labour Party and won by the Left of the Labour Party. That is what produced this document and what led him, ultimately, as he has made clear on a number of occasions, to leave the Labour Party and join the Conservative Party. It is an issue of the utmost importance, and we all owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South for bringing the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Lawson
My hon. Friend is right. It may be that Labour Members were disarmed by his manner. When they read his speech in Hansard tomorrow they may find in it less with which they agree. If they found his speech a mild statement, perhaps that indicates that they have at the back of their minds some knowledge of how extreme the document really is.
I find it strange that for this debate there is no Minister on the Government Front Bench. There was a Minister present, whose function in the present Administration is obscure. He was here for a short time. He has crept out. It seems that the occupants of the Government Front Bench cannot take it.
The status of "Labour's Programme for Britain" is clear. We are dealing with no airy-fairy essay into speculative policy making; this is a document that has been approved by the national executive committee of the Labour Party. It was approved by the Labour Party conference, by a two-thirds majority. It has become the official policy of the Labour Party.
1878 It has been made clear by Mr. Ron Hayward the general secretary of the Labour Party, and by the Secretary of State for Energy, that this is the basis on which the next Labour manifesto will be written. I quote one reference in the foreword to the booklet, which was written by Mr. Hayward, namely,the next Manifesto will clearly include a good many of the proposals outlined here, since it will be on the basis of this Programme that the Manifesto is drawn up".The first thing to do is to consider the proposals that the programme sets out. In the absence of any denials by a Minister we may take it that these proposals are official Government policy. It is something of a discourtesy to the House that no Minister is present in the Chamber. The programme sets out a substantial increase in public expenditure—I note that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office has managed at last, to make his way into the Chamber. A substantial increase in public expenditure is set out on page 10.
I shall go through a number of the policies that are contained in the programme. If the Minister, who is now in his place, denies that these are Government policy, I hope that he will say so. I shall give him the opportunity to intervene to make that clear, although I shall not give way to anyone else, as there is a shortage of time. As this is such an important matter, I think it right that the hon. Gentleman, whose position in the Administration is somewhat obscure, should have the chance to make the Government's position clear. It may be that his function is to tell the House which parts of the document are officially approved by the Government as I go through it. If there are any features of the document of which the Government disapprove, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say so.
First, there is proposed a substantial increase in public expenditure. By 1980 this will amount, on the basis of the Labour Party's own arithmetic, to about £4 billion a year. At today's prices that is about £5½ billion. That includes nothing for nationalisation. If that element is included, the figure is likely to be at the very least £6½ billion. That is the extra public expenditure that would be involved.
§ Mr. Lawson
I see that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is now in his place. The hon. Gentleman, or one of his constituents, has hit the headlines today. The hon. Gentleman says that the extra public expenditure to which I have referred is not enough. But even this programme would require a massive increase in taxation. I note that the hon. Member for Bolsover is nodding in agreement. It would demand taxation that would be far and away higher than anything we have known even under the present Government. I take it that the Minister, by his silence, acquiesces.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)
The hon. Gentleman should not draw any conclusions about anything that I may have to say about what he has said. Let him be under no illusions about that.
§ Mr. Lawson
I do not know what that rather oracular statement means. We are debating "Labour's Programme for Britain" and I am seeking the hon. Gentleman's guidance. His silence is eloquent.
The document admits on page 15—a great deal remains to be done to bring in more income tax revenue from those who can afford to pay.That may sound fine. But what we all know that sums of the sort that would be involved could be achieved only by taxing the ordinary working man. It is on him that the increased taxation would inevitably and ineluctably fall. Of course, there would also be—this has been pledged—the immediate introduction of a progressive annual wealth tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that that is something that he wants to introduce as soon as possible, if and when he has a parliamentary majority. He proposes the introduction of a wealth tax that would be far more punitive than any such tax in any other Western country.
The issue of nationalisation has been raised by my hon. Friends. The document goes into substantial detail. It proposes the nationalisation of the banks and insurance companies. That is mentioned on page 20. I make that clear for the benefit of the Minister.
In addition to the vast range of nationalisation that is proposed—it is absolutely massive—there are further proposals that 1880 would make those in the private sector wonder whether they were in that sector or whether they had not been as good, or as bad, as nationalised. There are policies that are designed to bring large companies "into line" that refuse to "co-operate" with the Government. That is proposed to be activated by, among other means, the use of public purchasing. We have seen the trailer to that quite recently, with the policies associated with the black list.
It is also proposed that there should be powers in the private sector for the Government to issue "directives" to companies and to put in what are called "official trustees" to assume "temporary control" of any company that is not conducting its affairs in the way that the Government wish.
This is planning of a sort that is quite different from planning that we have ever seen in this country, or which has ever been proposed. The extension of nationalisation is proposed by a wide range of Government agencies—for example, by the NEB, by the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies and by the existing nationalised industries. Shipbuilding and aircraft are to diversify. The only competition left in the economy will be between the various Government agencies. They will be competing to take over what remains of the private sector.
The document goes into considerable detail. If the Labour Party is given the chance, there is even to be the nationalisation—so we are told—of Castrol, Hal-fords and Rawlplug. For the benefit of the Minister, I give the full reference: the details will be found in page 28. It is clear that there is not merely the intention to nationalise large companies. It seems that the Labour Party also wishes to nationalise "medium-sized firms based in Scotland and Wales."
Building and construction is to be taken substantially into State ownership. All employment agencies—dogma comes before—jobs are to be closed down apart from the State's own agency. All land is to be nationalised, including farmland.
This is a totally different document from anything that has been adopted by the Labour Party as its official policy at any time in the past.
§ Mr. Lawson
It all appears in the programme in black and white. There is one rather disarming note in page 33, where it is said that theGovernment must have the capacity to undertake 'efficiency audits' of particular firms using its own management consultancy service.Presumably that is to bring the private sector to the level of efficiency evinced by the British Steel Corporation.
§ Mr. Skinner
There are other dragonflies who are far more important than I. The hon. Gentleman has been going on about all these proposals in this wonderful document. Despite the fact that we have a Social Democratic leadership, unfortunately it does not seem likely that many of these proposals will be carried out. I cannot see how we shall change that situation in view of the leadership's entrenched position. How will the hon. Gentleman eliminate that part of the intervention in private enterprise which is now costing the taxpayer about £l1 million a day? Will he, with his purist notions, and the rest of his gang eliminate that £11 million a day and throw even more people out of work?
§ Mr. Lawson
The private sector pay out £30 million a day in taxes. That puts into perspective the figure quoted by the hon. Gentleman, which is, anyhow, rather suspect.
I intend to go through this document. I know that it hurts Labour Members. They would prefer that it was not discussed. They hate it. That is why we have to debate it in our time. They will not debate it in their time. But they are not going to be allowed to run away from it. I shall come on to the leadership of the Labour Party later. The hon. Member for Bolsover was right to mention that aspect.
There is a proposal for what is called "joint control" in the private sector. Joint control means the Bullock proposal of trade union nominees on boards of directors. It is clear that is what it means. But even that is not enough. The Labour Party wants to move beyond that to employee control and self-management.
1882 There is a further nationalisation proposal. Such proposals pop up on almost every page of the book. I refer to the nationalisation of British Caledonian, because it is a reasonably efficient airline. Obviously, that cannot be allowed to remain in the private sector.
We now come to education, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) in a thorough and thoughtful speech. He admitted that he had only just read this document and that he was astonished by what was in it. Had he read further in the education section, he would have been even more astonished because the document on page 82 states:The time has come to modify the position, enshrined in the 1944 Act, by which the Secretary of State stays at arm's length from the curriculum in schools. We have already asserted the importance of the schools' role in promoting democratic"—by that they mean Socialist—values in society. The Secretary of State, representing the community at large, should be in a position to set curricular objectives for the furtherance of such values.In other words, the schools are to be politicised and turned into places where Socialist values are inculcated by teachers. We have always set our faces against that. Yet the Labour Party suggests that this should be changed.
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has a very high opinion of himself. He has made an interesting contribution to the debate, but he cannot speak with the authority of the Government, because he resigned. I am sorry that he cannot speak for the Government.
§ Mr. Lawson
There are various proposals for law reform. One relates to changing the law on picketing. We know in what direction they propose to do that.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is 1883 it not reprehensible that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should mutter continuously from a sedentary position, especially when he has not done us the courtesy of attending the debate until now?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. It has been a very peaceful debate up to this point. I have had a very restful sojourn in the Chair. I hope that it will continue in that way until the debate is concluded. I am not rebuking anybody, but it is the custom for an hon. Member who seeks to intervene to rise to make his intervention if the hon. Member addressing the House is prepared to give way.
§ Mr. Lawson
There is also the abolition of the House of Lords, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East. Nothing is put forward to replace it. Therefore, this country would be the only major Western democracy with a single Chamber.
§ Mr. Lawson
This country would be the only major democracy with a single Chamber. The people should know that.
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. Member for Bolsover should look at the population of New Zealand or of Sweden. I am talking about major democracies—the larger countries.
§ Mr. Lawson
Then we come to the freedom of the Press. That would be totally undermined by the proposal on page 105 to take advertising revenue away from the papers into a Government fund to be distributed as the Government see fit.
Finally, there is perhaps the most shameful suggestion of all—a massive cut in defence expenditure. Expenditure on defence is already too low. The out would, on the Labour Party's own 1884 figures, be £1,800 million. In its own words:This level of savings would imply far more extensive reductions in defence spending than any yet carried out or proposed by the Government.This is the policy which is to form the basis of the Labour Party's manifesto. This is the policy which it is trying to keep quiet today. It is a policy which in no serious respect differs from what is now known fashionably as Euro-Communism. It is no different in any material respect from the policy which is being put forward by the Communist and Socialist Parties together in the General Election which is now under way in France.
§ Mr. Lawson
I note that the hon. Member for Bolsover says that the Labour Party is more Left wing than the French Communist Party. It is impossible to imagine the Labour Party of Attlee or of Gaitskell having produced or having tolerated the production of a programme of this kind. If the NEC of that time had produced it, the late Hugh Gaitskell or Clement Attlee would have repudiated it instantly.
§ Mr. Heffer
The right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) should keep his mouth shut.
§ Mr. Lawson
Where have all the moderates gone? The one who had the courage to fight and to cross the Floor is here.
§ Mr. Lawson
Where have all the rest gone? Mr. Roy Jenkins and Mr. David Marquand went off to Brussels. Mr. Brian Walden went off to television. The watchword of the Labour moderates today is flight, flight and flight again. The rump of the moderates somewhat pathetically call themselves the Manifesto Group. That implies that they are ready to support any Labour manifesto, however Left wing—even one which is based on this document. So much for Labour's moderates, who have now only one hope, this one example of power-sharing—namely, that they will receive some of the perks in return for allowing the Left to dictate the policies.
1885 What of the godfather himself, the Prime Minister? Where does he stand? His only known comment on the document is "Of course, it will take rather a long time to implement. It cannot be done all at once."
§ Mr. Lawson
Indeed it does, but I do not want the programme implemented ever. I draw no encouragement from the Prime Minister's saying that it will take a little time. We do not want it to be implemented at all. We want to take no steps along that road, which is a road towards Eastern Europe. The many defectors from the Labour Party—Paul Johnson, Hugh Thomas and many others have all said the same.
§ Mr. Lee rose—
§ Mr. Lawson
I shall not give way. I have given way a number of times and listened to the sedentary interruptions of the hon. Member for Bolsover. That is quite enough.
Since the Prime Minister's statement to the NEC in 1976 that it would take a little time to implement all this, there has been absolute silence. He stands at the Dispatch Box quoting happily from "The Right Approach". He is always happy to quote from that, but he is very careful never to quote from "Labour's Programme for Britain".
There is something that I must reveal. I think that it is well known to the House, but I must reveal it to the whole country, where it may come as something of a shock. It is that the Prime Minister is a card-carrying member of the Labour Party. Indeed, since the retirement of Mr. Jack Jones he is widely believed to be the Leader of that organisation. Therefore, it is no youthful indiscretion on his part. It is his programme and nobody else's that we are debating today.
The hon. Member for Bolsover pointed out that implementation of the programme is not what is happening now. He is rather worried that this policy is not being introduced. But he knows perfectly well that the only reason is that the Government do not have a majority in the House. When they can put it off no longer, they will go to the country in a General Election and ask for a majority 1886 specifically to put into action this programme.
There is plenty of evidence of this. For example, only a few weeks ago the Minister for Social Security, who is in the Cabinet, revealed in a speech that a Bill to enable the trade unions to appoint 50 per cent, of the membership of all pension fund management and trustee boards had already been prepared. He was reported as saying that the Bill had already been preparedbut would not appear in this Parliament because of the Government's lack of an overall majority.That applies to most of the items in the document, so there is no room for illusion about the Labour Party's true policy.
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. Gentleman is almost unique in campaigning on the document. Nobody else does, least of all the Prime Minister, who keeps it as quiet as he can. But this is what the General Election will be about. This is the big issue before the British people. It is a stark choice.
The choice that the British people will have to make at the General Election will be greatly assisted by the Minister's replies today, when he answers the questions "Do you and the Government repudiate this document? And if you repudiate only certain parts, which parts?" The British people have a right to know and a right to assume that unless and until the document is repudiated the Britain that it describes is the Britain which the Labour Party wishes to see and which a Labour majority at the next election would inevitably bring about.
It is for that reason that I commend the motion. It is valuable that the document should be debated in the House for the first time. At least the document and the hon. Member for Walton are honest and open. That is more than can be said about the leadership of the Labour Party in this regard.
Let this debate be no isolated incident. Let it mark the end of the cover-up and let us make sure that its contents are known in every home and every family in the land.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)
In opening the debate, the hon. Member 1887 for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) asked about the status of the document. I think that its status is made perfectly clear by the general secretary of the Labour Party in the foreword, but so that there can be no doubt perhaps I may quote it:We are aware that there are policies and priorities outlined in this document on which the Government takes a different view. These differences have been the subject of considerable discussion between the National Executive Committee and the Government, and these discussions will continue in the future.Further on we read:Nonetheless the next Manifesto will clearly include a good many of the proposals outlined here, since it will be on the basis of this Programme that the Manifesto is drawn up." I regard that as being the position.I have never belonged to "that lot below the Gangway", as they were described earlier, but I welcome the fact that the next General Election will bring about a position in which there can be no difference of opinion about the differing policies of the main parties. In recent elections, certainly in the last two, I have found on the doorstep an increasing number of people who have argued that there was little point in voting, because the parties were now so close together. I do not think that that was ever true. It certainly will not be true next time.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) rightly said, the Opposition want to scare people. The allegation has just been repeated that we are on the way to creating an East European type of dictatorship. Maybe we have moved—after long and detailed consideration, argument and discussion, because that is how we do it in the Labour Party—but I very much doubt whether we have moved as far or as fast as the Tories have under the present leadership.
I left the debate for only 10 minutes, unlike the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), who left for an hour and a half and then abused me for going out. I cannot understand why a programme that we are assured is so unpopular and will lose so many votes should worry the Opposition so much. They should be deliriously happy that we are intent upon cutting our own throats, but they do not look to be deliriously happy. They look to be running scared.
1888 Nobody got more excited than the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice). There is one consolation in his case. At least he will not be here to see us implement the manifesto.
I get the impression from the debate so far that there is a General Election on the way. Bearing that in mind, what we have heard from the Opposition has been entirely predictable. Our record has been decried and our programme attacked. I get a good deal of satisfaction from the latter. At the very least, we can argue that we have a programme, that it is known and that it can be debated and, when necessary, quite properly opposed. We prefer the people to know what we are up to.
That is in stark contrast to the Opposition. Either hon. Members opposite have no programe or, as I suspect, it is so Right wing that they are terrified of taking the wraps off. We have heard nothing about it today. The attacks that we have heard are a cover-up for their own troubles.
This debate should be welcomed by the House. I certainly welcome it. I believe that the hon. Member has done us a service by giving us a chance to discuss the real issues. That makes a change from the phoney nonsense of the last few weeks.
The next General Election should be fought on three issues—this Government's record, their programme for the following five years and, one hopes, the Tory alternative. The real issues are listed on page 12 of Labour's programme, where we say that we seek to achieve five objectives:to bring down the rate of inflationto create a base for British industrial successto restore full employmentto restore rising standards of living torevitalise and improve the social fabric of Britain.That is what we have been trying to do.
We should consider the progress that we have made, or that we have failed to make, because it is only by considering the record that one can assess a Government's ability to carry out present and future programmes.
I do not want to weary the House with the Government's achievements. It is a remarkable record but it would take an hour even to introduce the subject. However, perhaps I may be forgiven for referring to inflation at 9.9 per cent, now as 1889 compared with 15.2 per cent, that the Tories left behind. That figure will continue to fall and I hope that, just for once, the Opposition will give due credit to the British trade union movement for the part that it has played in creating that situation.
Whether the Tories like it or not, this Government are beating inflation—despite the efforts of the Tories to support, encourage and occasionally provoke firms to act in a way which would render our counter-inflation and pay policy useless. That is what they have been doing. I can think of no more squalid behaviour than that of the Tories over pay.
§ Mr. Price
I had hoped to get through the afternoon without my hon. Friend intervening. I nearly made it, but not quite. However, I am grateful for his support, which he always gives. At least he is consistent—that is one difference between him and the Tories.
On the one hand the Tories demand the firmest possible action—more drastic than the Chancellor or anyone else in this party has ever suggested—and then they oppose any Government action designed to implement a far more modest policy. That is what they are up to and that is not what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is doing. One cannot be more opportunistic than the Tories are being. They demand a tough line and then support those who wish to destroy it. The same goes for public expenditure—a sordid tale. They demand far greater cuts, regardless of the consequences, and never say where they should be made, and then they fight for more money in almost every area in which the Government are involved. That is absolutely incredible.
We seek to restore rising standards of living. No Labour Member denies that the past two years have been difficult of that many people have taken a drop in their standard of living. But we are entitled to look ahead. The Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection did so earlier this week when he predicted a real increase in living standards:Not an increase in the paper value of our wages but an increase in our actual purchasing power, in the quantity of goods and the quality of services we are able to buy. The improvement will not be spectacular but it 1890 will be substantial—and, more important, it will be sustained.Living standards mean far more than wages. They mean social services, schools, houses, pensions—a multitude of public services—and in due course people will have to decide whether they leave those matters to us or to the Conservative Party.
The Opposition have had a lot to say about unemployment. The hon. Member for Blaby has been shouting about it Would he care to tell us the line that he took in our part of the country when the Government came to the aid of Chrysler? What did he say then? What was he prepared to do about the 200,000 jobs involved?
§ Mr. Lawson
I said it on television—there was no secret about it—that I thought that the Government's rescue operation in the case of Chrysler was a gross waste of public money and that the jobs were being destroyed elsewhere in an attempt to help Chrysler in the short run.
§ Mr. Price
We estimate that in the Coventry district alone, of which my constituency is a part and in which many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents work, this Government saved more than 40,000 jobs in Chrysler, British Leyland, Meriden Co-op and Alfred Herbert. Yet the hon. Gentleman has the gall to talk about unemployment.
§ Mr. Lawson rose—
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Gentleman does not like to listen to the facts, but he will have to listen for a while. We can claim that unemployment is a critical problem throughout the developed world. It is not an argument that I like to use. The unemployed in my constituency are not likely to be convinced if all that I can tell them is that Americans in the deep South are just as badly off. What I can do and what I do is explain what this Government have done both in saving jobs and in creating opportunities for those in temporary difficulties, particularly youngsters. Many of those measures stem from the work that was done on and the work that went into Labour's programme.
The problem of unemployment will not readily go away. We suffer basic industrial weaknesses which will take years to 1891 correct. The real issue at the next General Election will be how we set about correcting them, how we deploy our resources, and how we spend North Sea oil revenues.
It is argued in Labour's programme thatthe nation must adopt a new and powerful economic and industrial strategy.We believe that we have made a start on that and, given the opportunity, we shall continue the good work.
The Conservative Party want to take us back to the market place, whether we are talking about the hard-line industrial views of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) or the Tories' passionate desire to instil discipline into the people by making them pay for medical treatment. My earliest recollections of life in a mining community were of my mother borrowing money to take my brother and myself to see the doctor. Nothing did more than that to bring me into the Labour Party. I shall be in difficulties, I know, if I stray into another Minister's province, but I shall not rest until this Government abolish prescription charges, some of which were introduced by a Labour Government. That was my earliest recollection. That is what the Tory Party wants to do to the people I came from.
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. Gentleman talked about unemployment. Is he not aware that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, that the result of Labour's policies has been a massive increase in unemployment to the point where unemployment in Britain is higher on a comparable basis than in any other industrial country? That is what this Government have done. It is no use pointing to one factory in Coventry or one factory in Meriden. What matters is unemployment over the whole country. It is worse in Britain as a result of Labour's policies than in any other comparable Western country.
§ Mr. Price
What I know is that had the policies of the Tories been substituted for the policies of this Government another 1 million would have been out of work, 40,000 in the hon. Gentleman's area alone. That is what the Tories want to do. They want to set the clock back. One can only hope that when the programme eventually appears—I appreciate 1892 the difficulties that three-way splits make in drafting—people will read the small print.
We have a difficulty in presenting our record and our programme to a public who are very much dependent upon the whims, the policies and the prejudices of Fleet Street. I recognise the right of newspapers to pursue their own political line. I am greatly opposed to any form of Government interference with the Press. That was one of the reasons that I had the job of arguing from this Front Bench that broadcasting the proceedings of the House should be left to the broadcasters.
I have a fairly long record as a newspaper man myself. I believe that a free and unfettered Press is absolutely vital in any democracy. I am from the Press. I have spent my life defending it. But I do not like what I have seen in recent months.
It is my belief that we now have in this country a greater degree of news management for political and party purposes than at any time since 1948–49. The hon. Gentleman referred to Press freedom. I suggest that the time has come for Fleet Street to take a cool, calm look at itself. Among certain newspapers there is no longer any attempt at objective news coverage, editorial comment is mixed up with what used to be straight reporting, there is evidence of journalists being instructed as to the political line they will take, and the headline writers are wallowing in the gutter.
Some of us remember the same editors over a period of 18 months heaping abuse on my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, when he was Secretary of State for Employment, for allegedly having diminished editorial freedom, but certain newspaper editors in Fleet Street have not only diminished the responsibilities of, but, indeed, have stripped them from, members of their staff.
I give two examples from yesterday's newspapers. The Government announced a substantial drop in the rate of immigration. Despite its campaign of recent week, not one paragraph of that announcement appeared in the Sun. Does anyone seriously think that that story was judged on news value? It is much more likely that a political decision was taken to leave it out.
1893 But the "heavies" produced a classic of their own. On its front page yesterday, The Times had the following report:Britain enjoyed its largest balance of payments surplus ever in 1977 and the first for six years. The surplus of £7,363 million was even more remarkable as it represented a turnround of £10,000 million on the previous year's deficit…Let us look at what The Daily Telegraph did. It had one paragraph headed "Back in the Red", which said,New figures for Britain's balance of payments last year show…and so it went on.
§ Mr. Lawrence
On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the fact that time for other Members to speak is running out, may I ask what this has to do with the motion?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The speeches in some cases have been rather lengthy, but I have allowed them to go on. In my opinion, what the Minister is quoting is strictly in order.
§ Mr. Price
I will tell the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) why this is in order, if I may, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is because of the paragraph in Labour's programme which says,We need a genuinely free Press not only to inform but to give every section of the community an equal opportunity to express its views and interests. Freedom of the Press depends to a very large extent on diversity in the Press—diversity in the number of publications, in their ownership, and in the views they represent.We now have lined up against the Government a motley collection of propaganda sheets—the Sun, an increasingly extreme Right-wing daily Reveille; the Daily Mail, a mixture of political satire and straight abuse, a down-market version of Private Eye. It has imported Central Office staff to produce its features and political comments, whilst Mr. Andrew Alexander sits upstairs writing a piece proclaiming the glorious independence of his newspaper. Even he cannot believe that one.
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is on a good thing—there is no question of that—when he talks about matters like Andrew Alexander and others. But when he talks 1894 about them sitting up there reporting our views, I hope that he will not forget that a few of them are against the Common Market, as I am. When my hon. Friend talks about the freedom of the Press, I remind him that the Common Market membership campaign was orchestrated by almost the whole of the British Press in the same way as nearly the whole of the British Press is orchestrated against the Government.
§ Mr. Price
The trouble is, I think, that the Press was right on that occasion. It is true that the Press was virtually unanimous. I very much approved of our decision to join the Common Market. I have always supported it. However, looking back objectively at the campaign—which is what my hon. Friend is doing—I agree that coverage of the subject by the Press left something to be desired.
People may wonder why, apart from there being a General Election ahead, there has been from Fleet Street an unparalleled adulation of the Opposition and their leader, together with a torrent of abuse of the Government. There is a theory, prevalent in the Lobby, that the Gang of Four had better watch out. If the desires of politically ambitious news paper men are to be fulfilled, there will be, in the event of a Tory victory, a gang of 40—all journalists. My own view is that we are seeing a scramble for the job of Press secretary at No. 10 Downing Street. At least one editor believes that he has been promised the post. Competition is hotting up. Despite those efforts, according to a Daily Express opinion poll published this morning, the parties are again running neck and neck. At least the Daily Express—
§ Mr. Prentice
Will the Minister at any point in his speech address himself to the main proposals in Labour's programme, which is the subject of the debate, or is he ducking the subject altogether?
§ Mr. Price
I heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman on which I wanted to comment or reply. The Daily Express has its slogan "We're backing Britain"—as long as it does not involve putting in a good word for the Labour Government—but at least it published the result of its poll. That is more than one can say for the Daily Mail on occasions recently.
1895 I very much look forward to the live broadcasting of our proceedings. It is clear that the majority of the national newspapers have no intention of presenting the political issues in an objective and balanced way. We are having to rely more and more on radio and television.
We on the Government side welcome public discussion about our programme and our intentions. We shall present the radical and socially just alternatives to a Conservative Government of the extreme Right. We shall be guided by what is set out in Labour's programme 1976. Let there be no doubt about that. In it we said:There can be no relaxing of our efforts to achieve greater fairness and equality—we are determined to create a society in which decisions which affect us all are taken only after full and open discussion, with democratic control over all concentrations of economic and political power and the guarantee of the individual liberty of our citizens. We must rebuild the nation's sense of community. We need to persuade our people to set aside enough resources for the services which unify society.We added:Economic growth is not an end in itself. What matters is how it is distributed and whether it is used to enhance the quality and values of our national life.That is what the Labour Party—and this Government—are about. That is the sort of programme that we shall set before the British people when the time comes, and I for one have absolutely no doubt what their verdict will be.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
In the interests of brevity, I shall not attempt to follow the Minister in his tortuous defence of the record of Government.
One of the features of any Socialist Administration, and notably this one, is that we end up after a few years with high taxation, high public expenditure, high unemployment—worse than in any comparable West European country—and a shift in power to the State and away from individuals. We see this feature highlighted in the document which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) kindly brought to our attention in his motion today, which he moved in consummate and dignified style, and in a most moderate manner.
1896 We see this feature—the shift in power to the State—highlighted in the document, and nowhere more than in those paragraphs which deal with the nationalisation of insurance companies. It is really about the narrow issue of insurance that I want to speak, and I declare an interest here and now. I am one of the 80 per cent, of the householders in this country who have taken the trouble voluntarily to take out life insurance cover, and I certainly do not want the Minister and his hon. Friends to be mucking about with my savings.
After I have paid taxes, I do not want a Socialist Government to be putting political pressure in the direction of my savings through a nationalised corporation. That is what will happen if the Government get their way. If I want my savings to go into Government bonds, or to help the National Savings movement—which is being abolished anyway—or to go towards any Government venture, I shall do that voluntarily. I want it to remain a voluntarily action, and I shall make my choice after I have paid my taxes.
I pay my taxes, along with the rest of the 80 per cent, of householders who put their money into life insurance cover. On top of that, we pay, willingly or otherwise, into the Government's national insurance scheme. But, after that, cannot the Government please let us alone, and let us have this priceless commodity, freedom of choice, which has been sneered at by the self-confessed, middle-aged Marxist the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)? That is what part of living in this country is about.
People should understand—as they will no doubt after reading the debate—that if the Government should come to power again, their savings will be used by the Government. I believe that if that happens, people will lose confidence and cease to use insurance as a vehicle for their personal savings. Why should people have their savings used and directed by a Government which would use political pressure, resulting in the supporting of industries which are unprofitable, or those which the Government favour for political purposes, examples of which we have seen frequently in recent times?
There is an overwhelming weight of evidence which has been submitted to the 1897 Wilson Committee that there is no shortage of funds with regard to the investment requirements of British industry. In its evidence to the Wilson Committee the CBI said,the clear conclusion of an overwhelming majority of our members is that it has not been a shortage of external finance that has restricted industrial investment but rather a lack of confidence that industry will be able to earn a sufficient return".That is the argument used by the Labour Party for the nationalisation of insurance companies. The Engineering Employers' Federation has stated just as much itself. Then there are those in the Labour movement, like Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who in a Labour Economic Finance and Taxation Association pamphlet published last year concluded:the failure of the NEC to deal with the international aspects of its insurance nationalisation proposals is quite extraordinary … The rapid growth of life insurance in this country has been based upon the belief that the companies regarded the policyholders' interest as paramount and if this belief was undermined, I am convinced that the flow of savings would decline.We come to the unions themselves. They have not pronounced wild enthusiasm about this scheme. Unions like ASTMS, many of whose staff are employed in the finance industry, have overwhelmingly voted against the nationalisation proposed by the national executive committee. In addition, APEX and the National Union of Insurance Workers are also against the proposal. Unions that are not affiliated to the TUC have also overwhelmingly voted against nationalisation.
I quoted a public opinion poll in an earlier intervention which, in a wider public opinion research, came down to the same conclusions. I notice that after the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) made her speech she departed, as did others, which perhaps shows how this particular document has been supported by Labour Members. Even the little gadfly, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), has left the Chamber. He is constantly saying that people should stand up for their principles in this House and he complains about half-time or part-time Members of Parliament. Here was a great opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to tell people of the Socialist cause in which he believes. But he drifted into the Cham- 1898 ber for only a few moments, made a few sedentary remarks—no doubt getting him that little headline that he so avidly seeks—then left.
§ Mr. Heffer
I understand that the hon. Gentleman referred to me as a middle-aged, middle-class, self-confessed Marxist. I take a very dim view of the fact that he has called me middle class, which I am not. With regard to being a self-confessed Marxist, I happen to be a Christian—which I always have been—but I do accept much of the Marxist view. That should go on the record as well.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I did not use the phrase "middle class", but I do not see why the hon. Gentleman should be so happy to get away from that description; he should not be so class conscious. However, I think he did say that he was middle-aged. As for being Marxist, from what I have read I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman has very much espoused the Marxist cause. But if he wants to wriggle away from that under the guise of Christianity, that is all right with me.
The overwhelming evidence is against the nationalisation of insurance on the ground that it will not help the industry. Nationalisation should not be seen as a way of getting after big insurance companies. It is not simply a takeover of insurance companies but the creation of a State monopoly with regard to services provided by companies, such as financial protection against loss, personal long-term savings and the provision of pension schemes, many of which are taken out by trade unionists themselves.
The effect of these proposals on London as the centre of world insurance will be catastrophic. In the United States, where alone we earn millions of pounds, the law positively prevents the transaction of insurance by companies which are in part or in whole Government owned. Since the newspapers have been wildly attacked—and I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will live to regret that swipe—let me quote from one newspaper which he omitted to mention in his criticisms, the Sunday Mirror of 12th September 1976. It said:Nationalisation would turn banking and insurance into another disaster area.No doubt the hon. Member could boast 1899 about the help he would be able to give to such a new disaster area. The comment went on:The hundreds of millions a year now earned in foreign exchange would vanish. So, too, would the value of your savings.That is it. That is what this debate is all about and what the debate at the time of the next General Election will be about.
It is not enough for a Socialist Government to tax earnings to the hilt and expect a person to pay national insurance. The Labour Party must have another bite at people's money. The Labour Government would filch what is left and manipulate our own personal savings as they thought best. That is Socialist democracy. That is Socialist freedom. It is some democracy and some freedom.
This attitude underlines the main difference between us. Despite what the hon. Member for Walton says, I do not think that he believes in encouraging individual choice and freedom. I believe that he is much happier if he is urging and arguing and fighting basically for a collectivist approach to many of our problems. That is why we get such appalling and irrelevant rubbish as the document under discussion today. Labour's programme for 1976 would not produce the irreversible shift of power to the ordinary people, not a bit of it. It would produce an irreversible shift of power to bureaucracy, producing one committee after another. There would be a shift of power to the State and it would end up by destroying the fundamental independence and freedom of the people living in this country.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I once heard the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) described as a "Wardour Street Socialist". That was a long time ago. I am not sure who said it, but it is certainly not a term that would aptly describe him now. What I did expect, since the hon. Member is supposed to be one of the more liberal and civilised members of his party, is that he would produce some contrast with the Poujardism that we have heard from the Tory Benches for most of the day.
What has been most extraordinary about the Conservative Party in recent 1900 years has been the way in which it contrasts, both socially and ideologically, with the days of the old actor-manager. When he was Prime Minister, when he was not ladling out jobs to his various titled relations in the manner of a degenerate medieval Pope giving out indulgences, he was surreptitiously taking the Tory Party to a greater degree of State involvement.
It took the Conservative Party some years to realise that this was happening and it finally used the squalid Profumo intrigue for the purpose of bundling the man out of office. Ever since that time the Conservative Party leadership has become drearily petit bourgeois and is now becoming more and more Poujardist in its approach to our affairs. It bodes ill for those of us who take a rather detached view of the situation. My hon. Friends may be right; we may have shifted a little to the Left. I have not seen very much of it in practice, so there may have been a certain amount of theoretical activity suggestive of that. One thing is clear. In total contrast to the events of the past 100 years, the Conservative Party has been moving, cussedly and obtusely, to the Right.
People would hardly have thought that it was a Conservative Prime Minister with an overwhelming majority who presided over the wartime coalition which controlled the economy on a far wider basis than would be the case if the whole of the programme that we are discussing today was implemented in the course of one Parliament. We can hardly recognise the people speaking for the Conservative Front Bench today as the spiritual successors of Disraeli or, to take a rather less extreme example, of a man who initiated a good deal of social and economic intervention, even before the war, when a Conservative Government under Baldwin intervened and semi-nationalised parts of the sugar refining industry. When the national dock scheme was introduced, imperfect and inadequate though it was, it represented an advance in State intervention.
What is so disturbing is that I have no doubt that the Tories really mean what they say. I disagree with my hon. Friends who say that the Tories have no policy. I am afraid that they have and that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition really means what she says. I am 1901 afraid that if the Tories get into office, she will set about, in a punitive expedition, to roll back the influence of the State. She will not flinch from creating unemployment. I give her her due; she has a lot of guts. Was it not said that she was the only man in the Government of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)?
I believe that the right hon Lady would not flinch from creating 2 million or 3 million unemployed and that she would set about this with the same vigour as that with which she would set about smashing up the Health Service or making the comprehensivisation of education more and more difficult and less and less likely.
I have only a limited time in which to speak. There are many things that I wanted to discuss. I shall probably confine myself to one point only, that is, to express a welcome for one matter that is raised, a little tentatively, in "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976". I refer to the City institutions. It is clearly long overdue, quite apart from any statutory orthodox nationalisation that we need—and we need a good deal of it—that we should seek a means of preventing a repetition of the scandalous state of affairs that existed between 1970 and 1973, when the secondary banking phenomenon showed itself and was responsible for the very memorable phrase from the right hon. Member for Sidcup, as being the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism.
I hope that it is not too sore a point for Opposition Members for me to mention the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Not only is he estranged from them because of the Common Market—that is the principal cause of his estrangement—he has castigated them, quite rightly, for the way in which the money supply ran riotously out of control during the absolutely disastrous period of the Chancellor of that time.
It is worth remembering that there is a kind of double irony about this situation. When Conservative Members talk monetarist economics, they forget that they presided over an expansion of the money supply which took the most undesirable, unpleasant and, in some cases, downright corrupt form. We were left to deal with that situation under the 1902 supervision of the Bank of England and the lifeboat exercise of £1,300 million.
Much of that sum, ultimately, and for various reasons, for tax purposes, we know must have come from the taxpayer. That amount of money was shelled out to rescue a number of disreputable institutions, some of which were wound up, some of which are still in being and some of which have merged with other banking institutions.
For one who has not all that much confidence in the likelihood of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) producing anything really drastic from his committee of inquiry into the City, it is at least some reassurance to find that there are some references to this phenomenon in the manifesto. I am hoping that we shall see an entirely new companies Act. We need to look again at the whole principle of limited liability. We need to deal with such matters as insider bidding by statute, and not leave it to a domestic code within the City. Most of all, we need to grant the right to Governments to intervene through the courts to wind up compulsorily companies—banking companies and others—that we can rightly describe as having failed the nation. There are plenty of them.
Therefore, I am looking with growing interest to see that aspect of the programme—this is a document which tries to cover the whole spectrum of political activity and does so very well—developed into legislation of the kind to which I have referred. I hope that it will be as drastic as the situation deserves.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
This has been a remarkable debate. The sadness is that it has not been longer. It was opened with a remarkable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), and we heard a speech of eminence, power and force from the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), which will be noted widely outside the House. We also heard one of the most intemperate and unjustified assaults upon the Press—an assault that I believe the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office will live to regret. Why the Parliamentary Secretary was sent here this afternoon at all, when the principal object of his coming apparently was to deliver this blow 1903 to the free Press, is something that can only be linked with the intemperate nature of "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976."
I find myself almost in agreement with the second part of the second sentence of this programme and in significant agreement with its wording. If one word were omitted I should be in total agreement with it. The words to which I refer are:to bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families.I am in broad sympathy with the objective. The only word that I would like to leave out—because I bear in mind the 10 million pensioners of this country—is "working". I want to bring about a "fundamental and irreversible shift"—with the real concentration on the word "fundamental"—in the balance of power and wealth. I want to take power and wealth and decision-making away from the State. I want to take them away from the unaccountable bodies, such as the nationalised industries, and away from the local authorities, and to give them back to the people. That is at the centre of Tory philosophy and certainly at the centre of mine.
The tragedy of this programme for 1976 is that it will not give power and wealth to the people at all; it will concentrate power and wealth and decision-making increasingly in bodies, boards, commissions and, ultimately, in the Treasury Bench. It is there that we find our fundamental divide. One of the things that has come out of the debate is what is to me the absolutely breathtaking arrogance of the Labour Party and its presumed superior knowledge. If only there could be more decisions taken by the Labour Party, so the argument runs—more decisions by that small group of Ministers and by people of the intemperate nature of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office, if only we could hand over more power to him, to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) and to the Secretary of State for Energy, and if only the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), with his well-known liberal views, could have greater control over the levers of power and decision-making, this country would move into the promised land. I have sufficient humility to recognise that my constituents 1904 and the great majority of my fellow countrymen will make decisions infinitely wiser and better for the future of this country, exercising millions of decisions every day, than any group of politicians, however wise.
I turn to three specific areas of this document which I find particularly offensive. I begin with education. It was touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who, I hope will shortly have an important post in the Department of Education. We read on page 84 of Labour's programme that:We reiterate that our long-term aim is to abolish fee-paying in schools and to bring all children of compulsory school age into the national education system.Let us note what that commitment is. No one will be allowed to go to school in Britain unless he or she goes to a school owned, managed and run by the State, and whose teachers are employed by the State. This comes from a party which is talking here about shifting the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people. It is quite breathtaking. There are miners who, I am delighted to say, are earning £5,000 a year and whose wives may be earning £2,000 a year. Why should not such persons have the right to send their children to a different kind of school?
The second subject is land. The document says, on page 48:This interim measure … is not intended in any way to detract from the basic policy of the Party: that is, the public ownership of all land.These are the words of the Labour programme. They are not the words of an unknown Back Bencher from a seaside resort. They actually appear in this document, which apparently can be bought from a few bookstalls for 50p. The public ownership of all land means every square inch of land, yet Labour Members say that they want power and wealth to go to the people.
There is this contradiction in terms. However, because I always defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), my third subject will have to wait for the occasion when I next catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
What I hope will be learned from this debate 1905 is that this Government, given the opportunity to do so, never once denied that it was their intention to introduce the proposals contained in "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976". The workers at Allied Breweries, at Bass and at Marmite-Bovril, the workers in banks and the workers in the construction industry in Burton on Trent, will remember at the next election the opportunity which this Government have chosen to pass over.
The strongest defence for this programme came from the self-appointed conscience of the Labour movement, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), supported by a chorus from his hon. Friend the fossil of Bolsover. One reason why I voted for broadcasting to be introduced into this House was so that the country could actually hear the hon. Member for Walton and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). If anything is calculated to frighten not only the horses but the electorate, it is those two gentlemen.
The hon. Member for Walton pointed to the distinction between my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) and his moderate tone and the tone of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice). The difference was only one of tone, and the hon. Member for Walton quite failed to notice the significant point, which is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East was driven out of the Labour Party by the Left wing in its desire for complete control and sumpremacy over the moderates in the party and that my right hon. Friend had the guts to join us Conservatives rather than stay in the Labour Party and compromise his views.
The hon. Member for Walton said that the Tories were just trying to frighten the people. His implication was that there was no justice in the attack which the Opposition had launched upon this programme. It does not need the Tories to make speeches which frighten the people. It is in the mouths of the Socialists and Labour adherents themselves, who are warning us of what is in this programme. It is in the words of Mr. Bert Ramelson, the industrial organiser of the Communist Party, who said in January 1974:We have more influence on the Labour Party than at any time in the life of our party. The Communist Party can float an 1906 idea early in the year and it can become official Labour policy by the autumn.It is in the words of Lord George-Brown, who after a lifetime of service in the higher echelons of the Labour Party said that the Marxists had crept into every sphere of influence in the Labour Party, from the branches to the districts, through the unions into the national executive and into the Cabinet itself. It comes from the words of people such as Paul Johnson, who in an article in the New Statesman of 9th September 1977, said:Why has the Labour Party become a repository of destructive envy and militant failure, a party of green-eyed monsters? The answer is that Labour has starved itself of intellectual nourishment and the stimulus of debate.I interject to say that the stimulus of debate has been offered to the Labour Party today by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South. The article continues:It was inevitable that the Marxists should fill Labour's intellectual vacuum. Alas, Labour has never been able or willing to throw out Marxism bodily; it has always held that there must be something in it. Such feeble resistance as it once offered has been overwhelmed by the crudest kind of Marxist now roaming through the party at all levels.We would be mad, would we not, to ignore those warnings? They come not from us but from those within the ranks of the Socialists and Labour Party. The public would be mad to ignore them, as would the moderates within the Labour Party. We can see with our own eyes the spread of Marxist or Trotskeyite influence in the Labour Party from, for example, the fact that the Prime Minister was impotent to prevent the appointment of an avowed Trotskeyite as the youth officer at Transport House.
The all-important question in this debate is whether Labour's programme has taken a large step towards Communism. The hon. Member for Walton says that it is absurd to make that suggestion. He says that we are frightening the people. I asked him what the difference was between that which he was advocating in the programme and the programme of East European States. He said that the Labour Party would not want regimented centralisation. That State. However, that is a difference of means that he would not want a police 1907 means of achieving the so-called workers' paradise. It is not a difference in ends.
I asked the hon. Gentleman what else, apart from wishing not to have regimented centralisation, was the difference. After a volley of anti-Tory abuse, he said "We do not want the one-party system". That is the same as saying that he does not want regimented centralisation.
The hon. Gentleman's replies take nothing from the point that I make. It is clear that there is a difference only as to means and not ends. The British people do not want a Communist society even without a one-party police State. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman would do if he failed to achieve that end through the two-party or three-party system. Others who have had the same aims and been frustrated of securing them have been tempted to become more and more autocratic and less and less concerned for democracy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East warns us that the hon. Gentleman's ideas on democracy are very different from ours. He spoke of the hypocrisy of the block vote as a means of co-called democracy. That does not appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends. The block vote often represents those who did not know that they were voting. Often they would never have supported the block vote had they been aware of what was going on.
The whole issue comes down to the question of ends. There is an astonishing air of unreality when Labour Members pretend that somehow there is a difference between the ends set out in Labour's programme and the ends of the Communist Party. Do not the Communists—as in this programme—blame capitalism for all the ills of the economic system? Do not they—as in this programme—want to shift the power balance in favour of the working people? Do not they want to introduce public ownership as the best means of achieving that shift? Do not they want to nationalise our banks and insurance companies, the top engineering firms, the top chemical firms, road haulage firms, construction firms, farmland and building land?
Do not they want to go further to extend nationalisation by including all 1908 key firms throughout industry, and not only the larger organisations? Do not they want to abolish the House of Lords? Do not Labour Members want to abolish the other place so that it will be easier to introduce this extreme form of Socialist legislation?
The Communists also want to reduce the strength of our Armed Forces, to introduce a wealth tax and to take more in taxation from the body of the people.
The Communists also want to dissolve NATO and the Warsaw Pact, to introduce selective import controls and workers' co-operatives. I could give a long catalogue of other matters which are common not only to this programme but to the Communist Party.
To deny that the ends are identical is idiotic and absurd. If that is what the hon. Member for Walton was saying, it is likely that if more people heard what he said they would indeed be frightened. If I am wrong in suggesting that this programme is frightening, why then are the Government so coy and silent in their support for it? Why has it been left to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South to expose the Government's silence? Why has it been necessary for the Government to send here the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office, the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Price), to bowl a full toss into the stomach of the square leg umpire?
The answer is that the British people are not so foolish. They do not want this programme. The Prime Minister and the Government know that the British people do not want this programme and will not support it if they speak out in its favour. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South has done a great service to democracy and to the country. Burke said that theprice of liberty is eternal vigilance.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
In making this winding-up speech—I do not usually make winding-up speeches—I should first thank the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) for introducing the motion. I thank him on behalf of Transport House, because I can only imagine that the sales of "Labour's Programme for Britain" have increased considerably in the past week. I remind 1909 the hon. Gentleman that I had my copy two years ago. If Opposition Members had studied it when the issues were raised at that time, we might have had a more informative debate today. At times I wondered about the relationship between certain speeches which have ben made today and "Labour's Programme for Britain".
I shall confine my remarks mainly to the specific issue of education. We have had three brief references to that subject. I was disappointed not to hear rather more from the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), one of the shadow spokesmen on education. All he could bring out on that issue was that Labour was opposed to examinations, and, as far as he was concerned, examinations were the be-all and end-all of education.
The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) stated that if Labour's programme were carried out, the curriculum—he wanted to chill our blood in this respect—would be dictated from Whitehall.
Finally, we had a blood-curdling reference to education by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). He said that the long-term aim of the document was to bring about the abolition of private education. I subscribe to that. It is the long-term aim. The idea is to take the people along with us and to have the support of the Opposition in improving State education so that there will be no objection by parents to sending their children to State schools.
The document deals specifically with aims for the under-fives. It is not necessarily a programme for the next election, it is an ongoing programme. Many of the ideas about education are already being implemented. The Government are making a strong bid to get as many children under five as possible into the education system.
I am sure that there is no difference of opinion between the parties that the extension of nursery education is an aim that should be pursued as vigorously as possible. But there is a difference between aiming to do things and having the will to do them, and that is the difference between my party and the Conservative Party.
Nobody is satisfied with the progress that has been made, but over the few 1910 years of the present Government the numbers of under-fives attending school of one kind or another has risen from 417,000 in 1972–73 to 513,000 in 1976–77. As matters are going, more and more nursery places will be provided.
But—and this is a big "but"—the local authorities must co-operate with the Government. I take my own borough of Redbridge as an example. In the present financial year it was offered an allocation of about £29,000—not a large sum of money—for nursery provision, but turned it down without reason. Only this week we had the good news that the precept for the borough is not going up this year, which means that the people of Redbridge will have far less than they would have hoped. The 1p rate would have given not merely that £29,000 but many other desirable objectives that the people of Redbridge want.
Incidentally, it was just before the by-election last week that the chairman of the finance committee dropped a hint that that might happen. I do not know whether that had any influence on the election result but here we have an example of a Tory local authority dragging its feet. Such examples are to be found in many other parts of the country.
We must also consider the part played by the pre-school play groups. The Tories made quite a thing about this in "The Right Approach", where they said:The development of the play groups movement should be encouraged; play groups perform a valuable social as well as educational role.I agree, but I return again to the example of my own authority. There are a large number of play groups in the constituency and in the borough as a whole. The movement has been encouraged to some extent by the local authority, which in 1977–78 handed over the magnificent sum of £1,100 to the various play groups in the borough. For the next financial year it has dropped the amount to £430. That is the attitude to education not only of Conservative Members but of Conservative councillors throughout the country. I should say in mitigation that the authority has added a few pounds after a tremendous agitation from outside.
The Leader of the Opposition might have a word with the leadership of the Redbridge Borough Council on this matter and perhaps even give it a copy 1911 of "The Right Approach", because apparently it has not come across the reference that I have given.
There is one other issue, on which I shall have to close, a matter raised in the Labour Party document, namely—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.