Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1969 Oct 31 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Debate on the Address - Pensions and Education] (Hamilton speech)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [790/532-40]
Editorial comments: 1212-36. MT spoke at c536.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2826
Themes: Pay, Health policy
[column 532]

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) has made an even more irresponsible speech than did his right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) the other day when he was trying to list the priorities as he saw them. One wonders if his party or he himself has ever sought to cost them.

Let me go through them. He criticised the housing figures. Presumably he wants more housing. Does he, or does he not? It means more money; it means more private enterprise housing or public expenditure on council houses. Let me tell him that so far as the Scottish figures for housing are concerned—and I speak only of Scotland in this context—we have nothing to apologise for. In 1963, the twelfth full year of a Tory Government, the number of completions in Scotland was 28, 217. In 1966, only the second full [column 533]year of the Labour Government, completions were 36,029. In 1967 completions were 41,458, and in 1968 they were 41,988, very nearly a 50 per cent. increase of completions in Scotland in the third and fourth full year of a Labour Government, as compared with the twelfth year of a Tory Government.

If one looks at the Health Service expenditure, again in Scotland, capital and current expenditure, in 1963–64, the last year of Tory Government, it was £111.2 million, and in 1968–69, £180.5 million. He talked about the mentally ill, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is cause for great concern, but for him to presume to make those partisan points is too much. He always makes party points on this as on other matters. Let me tell him that the new mental hospital which was opened, not in my constituency but just outside it, in Dunfermline, earlier this year, Lynebank, cost nearly £2½ million, and it was the first new mental hospital in the whole of Britain since the 1930s.

So let him not lecture us and let his party not lecture us about the social problems and about poverty pockets we have still in our midst. It makes us sick, that talk; that hypocritical cant on these matters makes us sick. He talks about more social workers, and bulldozers for subnormality hospitals. My God, the bulldozers should have been in fifty or a hundred years ago. Two successive Tory Governments told us “We have never had it so good” , whilst these people were suffering.

The hon. Gentleman talks about all these things, but what is it all going to cost? Can he tell us? We are to have all these programmes, his party says, and reduced taxation. It is absolute nonsense, but that is what his party has been saying in the electoral campaigning. Meals on wheels, he spoke about, and more home helps. My hon. Friend gave us the figures, and the extension of these figures. We need more; we need more of everything; but it is idle to present this case as the hon. Gentleman did and at the same time say we can reduce taxation. He must either say to the people, “We are going to get these things and you have got to be prepared to pay for them” or else he must keep his mouth shut.

[column 534]

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

Is the hon. Member not aware that during those 13 years of so-called Tory misrule not only did the real money spent on all these services increase but the percentage of the national income increased and that all this was done against constantly reducing rates of taxation?

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman and the party opposite continually say this, but it depends on what is meant by direct taxation. If we include National Insurance contributions with income tax and surtax and estate duty we shall get a very different answer from the one which the party opposite is now giving. There was a massive increase in National Insurance contributions, a more than three-fold increase under the Tory Party between 1961 and 1964, in the most regressive part of our taxation system. The figures were given in Answers to Questions in this House.

I am not prepared any longer to take from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford or his party their continual accusations against this party of cheating, of deception, of lowering—I heard one Scottish Member opposite the other day say—lowering the moral tone of political life. Such accusations come singularly inappropriately from a party which connived at the lies associated with the Suez fiasco, even the Profumo affair, when five Cabinet Ministers went downstairs and connived at a lie incorporated in a public statement and in a personal statement by the Minister involved. For that party to talk about moral standards in politics, to talk about cheating and deceiving—whom do they think they are talking about?

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Who do they think they are?

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman talked about increased expenditure on these things. When his party were in power in the early 'sixties and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) introduced their incomes policy, the first wages to be frozen were those of the nurses and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that Front Bench supported that, including the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford. Does he deny that? Did he go into the Lobby, or did he not, supporting the freeze against the nurses? Did the [column 535]hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) go into the Lobby supporting that? I ask because she is now campaigning and shedding crocodile tears about nurses' pay. But she supported that policy. We have given the biggest increase in nurses' pay they have had for a generation. It is not enough; theirs is slave labour still; and I have campaigned on this and will continue to do so. The meals allowance they are getting, £48, is nonsense. But it ill behoves hon. Members on that side to complain about these things in view of their record in the 'sixties.

Let us look at the overall picture of social security. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) talked about increased expenditure in real terms. Let me tell him what has happened since his party got their backsides on those benches. Total expenditure on social security has been quite startling in the last few years, and not only in money terms. In 1964–65, total expenditure was £2,051 million. This year—1968–69—it was £3,313 million which is a 61 per cent. increase in money terms and a 37.8 per cent. increase in real terms, in the last five years. We have been criticised for it, because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite complain about the unselective nature of many of these things.

I believe that the hon. Member for St. Albans is one of the proponents of the idea that we should be more selective in paying out social benefits. Hon. Members opposite never tell us how they would do it. We have done it in respect of family allowances through income tax, which is the fairest way of doing it.

Mr. Goodhew

rose——

Mr. Hamilton

I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I know that many people wish to speak, and I want to sit down soon, but I have an awful lot of abuse to hurl yet. As my hon. Friend said, the value of the basic pensions has increased in real terms by 20 per cent. since 1964. He mentioned the personal allowances for taxation, which are very real to these under-paid people. There are still too many pensioners literally left in the cold. In my opinion the pockets of relative poverty are still too large for anybody with a social conscience to view with equanimity. [column 536]

One is bound to express great concern for these people, but when the Leader of the Opposition repeatedly sheds his copious crocodile tears for the under-privileged—and the hon. Member for Hertford today gave his full measure of those tears—and talks about the 250,000 children who are below the poverty line, I am bound to ask what his party was doing between 1951 and 1964. Were those children above the poverty line then? Have they suddenly gone below it since 1964? Then we have references to the chronic sick, the disabled, and the old chestnut about the over-80s. I believe that the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who is to reply, defended this position back in 1963.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

Since the hon. Gentleman has raised this point I shall certainly refer to it in winding up. But is he sure that he has told us the truth about the nurses? I speak only from recollection, but my recollection is that the claim went to arbitration, and I believe that the arbitration court awarded 7 per cent., and that that was paid.

Mr. Hamilton

My recollection is contrary to the hon. Lady's but I will bet her that the right hon. Member for Wirral, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, froze the nurses' wages, saying that the public servants—the people for whom the Government were responsible—would have their wages compulsorily frozen, thus setting an example which he hoped would be followed by the rest of the nation. That is undeniable. The hon. Lady can look at the records. She can get the information from the fellows in the Box, if she wants to.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must not, even inadvertently, call attention to the presence of strangers.

Mr. Hamilton

I withdraw that remark immediately, Mr. Speaker, I believe that I am right in my recollection when I say that the hon. Lady defended the non-payment of pensions to the over-80s when she was a Minister. It ill behoves the party opposite now to say that something ought to be done for those people. That kind of hypocrisy leaves us breathless but not speechless. [column 537]

The implication of the hon. Member's speech is that we are going to spend an awful lot on certain services and therefore, by definition, we must be going to spend a lot less on others. The Leader of the Opposition is on record as saying that he will cut housing subsidies—perhaps not eliminate them, but reduce them drastically. This can have only one implication, namely, considerably increased rents. If the party opposite is going to campaign on that they had better do so.

The hon. Member criticised the new social insurance scheme. We shall debate that matter later at some length. But if we want more generous pensions we must educate our people to pay more for them. The Government do not pluck finance out of the sky. It is a redistributive exercise. I make no apology for that, and neither does my party. We want to see the redistribution of social wealth in this country in a far more equitable way than occurs at the moment. This is one of the major instruments for doing that. It is one, but not the only one. It is not even the major one. I hope that in the next election campaign we shall fight on this as one of our major platforms.

There has been talk about the occupational schemes. Let me refer to the miners' scheme. The miners receive £1 a week: My father was a coal miner. He slogged away in the pits all his life. He did not get a pension, because he was employed by private coal owners. Now they get £1. The miners were ill-advised by their leaders at the time. They were persuaded that they would get a good pension for a not very good contribution. It is not possible to do that. It is not possible in a private scheme, and it is not possible in a public scheme.

The hon. Member says that they will not get the benefit of this scheme for 20 years. I agree that it will not come to fruition for 20 years, but it will go on in that period, as all big national schemes must. When the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) introduced his celebrated swindle it did not appear overnight.

There are certain mischievous and even pernicious influences at work, trying to whip up that kind of scare. [column 538]

The Daily Express of 28th October said:

“Mr. Ralph Harris, general director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said, ‘Let us hope that the trade union leaders … are alive to the implied threat to the private pensions schemes. Twelve and a half million people with accumulating pensions rights were put at risk by this ill-conceived, mischievous, and redundant pension of State welfare …’” .

This is the same person who writes in the Black Paper on Education—which proves his worth.

My right hon. Friend talked about the widows. I hope that there will be some mention in the Bill and the White Paper about existing widows under 50 years of age, because the scheme is bound to take some time to come to fruition and the widows under 50 are one of the most under-privileged sections of our community. It is an indefensible position, and I hope that the Government will do something forthwith for that section of the community.

I turn, very briefly, to an educational point. I represent a Scottish constituency. Those who represent Scottish constituencies find it difficult to understand why the comprehensive principle has been put into the political cockpit. It has been an accepted principle in Scottish education for a long time. We have had our 12-plus or our selection. That is being got rid of in Scotland, and there has not been much commotion about it. I give this warning to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It may be that I should not, but I like to be fair-minded. I warn them not to get themselves into the position of appearing to be the party which favours the selection and segregation of children at the age of 11. It will be dangerous for them if they try to persuade the vast bulk of people in England and Wales that it is educationally, morally, socially and economically wise to separate children into sheep and goats for the rest of their lives at the age of 11. That is what the 11-plus means. Those who go to grammar schools are branded as successes and those who go to secondary modern schools are branded as failures for the rest of their lives.

It is rather sinister at this juncture in the educational controversy that the Tory Party's spokesman on education has thought fit to get out. He could not [column 539]stand the heat. I have much admiration for the hon. Member for Finchley and a great respect for her ability, but we on this side of the House think that she will be the “skinhead” of the Tory Party in educational matters. I hope that we are proved wrong. Already she has made noises about “botched-up comprehensive schemes” .

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are very careful not to say that they are opposed to the comprehensive principle. They say, “No, we are not opposed to it, but this is not the time.” The time is never opportune for reforms of this kind. I hope that everyone believes that Britain's children have the right to the kind of educational facilities which will draw out of them the abilities that they have, at their own speed and in their own time. It is our responsibility to provide the teachers, the institutions and the curricula. At the same time, I do not believe that all children are born equal. Demonstrably they are not. We have to provide the facilities to cater for the abilities of them all.

I gather from reading the newspapers that the hon. Lady has a problem in her family, as I have, that one child is academically minded whereas others are not. Children have to be catered for equally and convinced that one child is not a first-class citizen and another second-class. That cannot be done by putting them into separate buildings, with uniforms and better standards for one class of child. If right hon. and hon. Gentleman disagree with that, they had better say loud and clear that they believe in segregation and that some children at the age of 11 show signs that they will lead the nation and that the failures will be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.

I do not pay too much attention to the Bill which is to come before us. Whatever we do in the matter of putting legislation on the Statute Book, it will be a very long haul. I hope that we shall not appear to be doing it out of any sense of vindictiveness. Whatever we do, I hope that it will be done with a due sense of our responsibility to the children involved. That is a most [column 540]important point which must not be overlooked.

We may exaggerate and abuse each other in this House but, at the end of the day, when we discuss education, the lives of youngsters who at the moment are inarticulate are in our hands. I hope that we shall not let them down by indulging in too many verbal and political gymnastics in this House. We have to provide the facilities for all our children in institutions which are as large as possible. Only in big educational institutions can we get the range of facilities to suit the range of abilities in a catchment area. If we accept that principle, it seems inevitable that we go on towards the comprehensive principle.

If there are local authorities in the country who deliberately put their heads in the sand, it is our responsibility here to say, “You will not be allowed to do it.” Florence Horsbrugh did that. When she was Minister of Education, she stopped the Labour-controlled L.C.C. from building comprehensive schools. She interfered. This House has the sovereign responsibility in the emergent aspects of policy. Let us not have this humbug about the Government interfering with the rights of local authorities. We have always interfered, be it in health, education, or any other matter.