Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I have been waiting for that speech for a long time. It was the frankest speech which has been made by an Opposition Member so far in the course of this two-day debate. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has at least given us some indication of what will be in the Conservative Party's election manifesto[column 757]—that Scotland, South Wales, the North-East and the North-West will be deprived of our investment grants in total, with nothing being put in their place; that the Scottish farmers——
I prefaced my remarks on investment grants by saying “in whole or in part” . I did that because I had in mind the reservations my right hon. Friend had made in respect of their continued use as a regional employment instrument, although it is evident that there is now a considerable body of opinion which believes that they are nothing like as effective in producing jobs as other forms of regional assistance.
The hon. Gentleman is terrified of having his Whip withdrawn. He used the expression, “a demolition job” . When he was challenged on whether he would replace investment grants by investment allowances, he said, “No. We will go the whole hog.” If that does not mean getting rid completely of £590 million of public expenditure on investment grants in Scotland, South Wales, the North-East, the North-West—all the development areas—I do not know what the English language means. He had better square his views with those expressed by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), when he opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition.
The hon. Member for Worcester cleverly sidestepped the taxation issue when challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). He did not say outright but implied that we should grant in total the salary claims of teachers, which I believe that we should, nor the complete salary claim of the nurses, which I also think we should—indeed, I think that we should go a lot further. But one cannot say these things at one and the same time as one is criticising the size of public expenditure and saying that one will reduce taxation. The hon. Gentleman was saying—and I watched his facial expression when he said it—that all this would come out of an automatic and painless growth like that with which the Tories provided the country so painlessly during the 13 years they were in power.
We could have been deceived. I do not believe that the country will accept that the genius of the Tory Party will be [column 758]able to provide a 5 to 6 per cent. growth all the goodies for the teachers and nurses and all the schools and universities painlessly and without increasing taxation and public expenditure. The hon. Gentleman said that there are built-in escalators for so many elements in our public expenditure that one must either cut standards or educate the people by telling them, “If you want better services, or even if you want to maintain the existing standards, you must pay more for them.”
The argument is how one pays for them. Does the consumer pay? Does the taxpayer pay? How do we finance these things? One of the most disturbing features of the White Paper in the view of many of us is that the programmes are not sufficiently ambitious. The question one has to ask is how we are to finance the improvements in the health services, education and all the other services which we on this side of the House want—I am not sure about hon. Members opposite. How are we to finance them? We shall not do it within the figures in the White Paper, so one is driven to suspect that we shall be asked to revert to, or to look at, charges in the National Health Service, increased charges in education—indeed, charges all along the line. If that is the case, it will meet the most violent opposition from hon. Members on this side of the House.
I do not see anything wrong in saying to the public, “If you want these services, if you want a high quality and uniformity of service, you will get only what you are prepared to pay for” . It is up to the Government of the day to ensure that the tax system is so arranged that people who can pay do pay and that the people who cannot pay are protected. One can only do that most fairly within the terms of the fiscal system.
Yesterday, I was struck by the fact that the White Paper innovation was given a general welcome but that hon. Members repeatedly asked for more information, more detail, more about the thinking behind the over all assumptions of the total size of public expenditure and the consideration which has determined the priorities which are laid down within the White Paper.
For instance, one gets global figures on health and education but one is not given figures indicating the priorities within each. In education, we are given no [column 759]indication of the priorities of the Government as between nursery, primary, secondary and further education. I see that the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) is showing passing interest in the debate. She should be here. She is the chief spokesman on education for the Tory Party. No doubt she has some other activities in hand. Surely in such a debate all the Front Bench spokesmen opposite on all the expenditures enumerated in the White Paper should be here.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
The hon. Lady must be patient. This is her token appearance in the debate. She must earn her corn.
I referred in the hon. Lady's absence to teachers' salaries. I repeat that I am very much in favour of the Government granting what the teachers are demanding. We have yet to hear anyone on the benches opposite spelling out whether or not they agree with the full implementation of the teachers' claim or the full implementation this year of the nurses' claim. It is important for them to spell these things out and to marry them and their claims that they would reduce taxation. They cannot have both at the same time.
I was pointing out that the White Paper hides more than it discloses. We have come a long way, but then we had not got very far. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and to the Select Committee on Procedure, but I was disappointed by his remarks today when he said that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will wait until some time in the spring before he makes any announcement about the Government's proposals on the real guts of the matter.
The real guts is not so much the White Paper, but what follows. Contrary to the views of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) and of my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), I believe profoundly that the guts of the problem lies in the creation of the new sub-committees of the proposed Expenditure Committee, the idea of which was put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure. If we do not [column 760]get that, these debates will be as pointless and uninspiring, and the House will be as empty, and hon. Members will be as uninformed as happens in defence debates, in which half a dozen hon. Members vote £2,000 million virtually on the nod. If we do not get these committees, we cannot inquire in depth in any sense at all.
My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said, “We will be glad to provide information if hon. Members ask Questions in the House.” Any idiot on that Front Bench can get away with murder at Question Time. He has just got to waffle and Mr. Speaker protects him. Mr. Speaker says, “We must get on.”
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not intending to reflect on the Chair. I hope that he will not do so.
On the contrary, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was praising the Chair. I was saying that Mr. Speaker was safeguarding the business of the House by saying that we must get on with Questions. Mr. Speaker's target when he came to office was 70 Questions an hour—more than British Railways—and this is what my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary calls public accountability.
If we want to investigate in depth the figures which have been produced in the White Paper, this House is not the machine for it. It is not equipped for it. Therefore, we have to think about equipment for it and I think that the Select Committee on Procedure might have the answer, in principle, anyhow. I think that the size suggested for the sub-committees might be too big. I do not think that nine members plus a chairman of a sub-committee will attract people to the job.
I know from my experience on the Estimates Committee, where the membership is smaller than that, that, where you get a domineering chairman who insists on asking 90 per cent. of the questions, he does not get a quorum. Members say, “What are we doing here? Let him ask the questions” . They simply disappear. However, one can consider details of that kind. In principle, I agree that we should get on, and quickly, with the establishment of these committees.
The right hon. Gentleman for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) expressed the [column 761]fear that we might not get the numbers. I want to make it clear—and it was implied in the Select Committee's Report, although never explicitly said—that other Specialist Committees would disappear. We had better face that fact honestly. If we are to have this new system working properly, the Select Committees on Agriculture, Education and Science, Overseas Aid and Race Relations will be wiped out because all the subjects they are investigating can be covered within the terms of reference of the eight sub-committees suggested. If we do not do that, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that one will not get the bodies to man these committees. Nor have we the physical capacity in this building to house them. Nor will we get Clerks to service them. There are all kinds of difficulties to contend with unless we face these problems realistically.
Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I am in sympathy with the general argument of my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. William Hamilton). However, there are certain sectors where the expenditure is not the major or only consideration—for example, race relations.
All these matters can be investigated within the terms of reference suggested by the Select Committee on Procedure for the proposed committees. Even we in the Estimates Committee, with our restricted terms of reference, went into overseas aid. We made a thorough investigation of it less than two years ago. Now, the Government have set up the Select Committee on Overseas Aid. In the selection of it, I was not consulted. I was Chairman of the Labour Party's Parliamentary Reform Group. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who was then Leader of the House, came along and said to me, “What Select Committees do you want? We want two more.” I gave him two subjects. He went away and set up two others.
Mr. John Mendelson
Surely my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. William Hamilton), with all his experience, did not seriously expect that the Government would consult a group of parliamentary reformers when they were taking a decision in real life.
I accept that. I am just recording the fact. [column 762]
The Government set up these Specialist Committees ad hoc without any long-term view of what they are after. I suspect that they set them up to keep a few of us out of trouble.
This will be an historic occasion. The debate will go down in parliamentary annals because it is the beginning of a process of establishing a new relationship between the Executive and this House. It is giving us just a little scent of power—just a whiff, no more, but I hope that this will not be deceptive. I hope that we will proceed with this in this Parliament. I suspect that, when we have a General Election, whatever the constitution of the Government, this will be swept quietly under the carpet and forgotten. If we get a Conservative Government, I certainly fear the worst——
Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
I like the right hon. Member very much, but I do not think that he will be in the Government.
Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Is the hon. Member suggesting that one has to be in the Government to have power?
Yes, I think so. I feel a bit like a political eunuch. When one gets on the Front Bench, I suspect that one becomes another animal: I have seen the change.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will take my remarks seriously, that the timetable which the Government have in mind for the introduction of the proposals in the spring is not enough unless we can be assured at the same time that they will make an effort to get these sub-committees of the ground and fully implemented.