Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1974 Apr 29 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

HC S [London]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Speech
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [872/798-814]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1646-1730.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5841
Themes: Executive, Parliament, Education, Secondary education, Employment, Environment, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Local government finance, Race, immigration, nationality, Transport
[column 798]

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

Clearly the danger of a debate of this kind on such a large subject is that the right hon. Gentleman and I will make speeches which are a general thesis with a bit of everything in them and nothing about much in particular. I had that impression after listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I am wondering what he did say that was positive.

The right hon. Gentleman started rather naïvely by pointing out that the present Government have been in power for only eight weeks, with the implication that Socialism has been in power in London for only eight weeks. In the difficult London boroughs Socialism has been in power all the time. In fact, the worse those boroughs are the more Socialism they have had. The prosperous boroughs have been Conservative all the time and the medium boroughs have been part Conservative and part Socialist. During the past 10 years we have had a Conservative Government for only three and a half years. For six and a half years the central Government have been Socialist. Of course, the Socialists have been in power at County Hall, almost continually, apart from a six-year break, for 40 years. If we have problems we know at whose door to lay them—namely, the door of the Socialist Party.

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that whatever problems there are they are not the sort of matters that can be solved within a short span of a few years. They are problems that are fundamental and very difficult. That applies particularly to the problem of the London housing market. The right hon. Gentleman made some reference to that problem and seemed to suggest that the housing problem was totally new. He gave the impression that everything had gone [column 799]smoothly during the time of the last Labour Government. That is not so. The housing construction market has always been extremely difficult.

The last Labour Government encountered the same difficulties as the last Conservative Government. In 1968 the number of permanent dwellings started in Greater London was 38,000. That was the last big year. Then there were devaluation and deflation difficulties. In 1969 the figure reduced to 31,000. In 1970 it was 31,000. In 1971, a period of expansion, it was 33,000. In 1972 it was 33,000 and in 1973, although I have only the figure for the first three quarters, it had fallen again. We have all had the same problems with the housing market. We have not yet learned to smooth out the market in any way or to insulate it.

I was interested in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman refused to say anything about the London allowance. With respect, the teachers are but a small part of the London allowance problem. If my memory is correct, the teachers constitute about 60,000 people. The total affected by the London allowance is 750,000. Many of those people are people for whom the right hon. Gentleman has responsibility. To duck the question altogether and to be allowed to get away with it by his own back benchers is remarkable.

Mr. Wellbeloved

He was not.

Mrs. Thatcher

Not quite. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), a seat which I once fought, must agree that he would have given me a much worse ride if I had said what his right hon. Friend said.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The right hon. Lady will recall that, with a number of my hon. Friends, I came to her about two years ago on the question of the London allowance for teachers. She told us that she could do nothing about it, and she turned down the London teachers' claim. The trouble we are suffering today is clearly at her doorstep.

Mrs. Thatcher

But R. Prenticethe Secretary of State for Education and Science now says that he cannot do anything about it either, except what I did, which was [column 800]to refer the matter to the Pay Board. It was referred there with detailed terms of reference, and the report will be out by the end of June. All hon. Members opposite are relying on that at the moment. I am interested to note that the present Government rely on the same things as we did but that their supporters give them a very much calmer ride than they would have given us.

The right hon. Gentleman gave veiled hints about what is going to happen to the office blocks. The worst thing possible is to have veiled hints and uncertainty. That is very bad indeed. We included some clauses in our Housing and Planning Bill, but I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has taken them out. I realise that, as we said that we would do something about the situation long before we did, I might be a bit vulnerable on the issue of veiled hints, but to those the Labour Party has added a great deal of uncertainty by the general phrasing of its policy for land, and we know nothing more about its policy than that at the moment. This is having a bad effect on the market.

I go on to some of the remarks—I cannot call them more than that because I encountered the same difficulty as the right hon. Gentleman—which I had intended to make. I think we all accept that all Governments are going to be interventionist. It is important, first, that economically intervention should be a series of related acts, because a series of unrelated acts, however well meaning and seemingly appropriate to the narrow expedient of the moment, can throw up inconsistencies and contradictions. Economic policy must be more than a series of disjointed expediencies because, if the contrary is true, it can only land us in much greater difficulties later on. Secondly—and here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—political acts of intervention should amount to a philosophy whose objectives can be clearly stated and discerned.

The economic point struck me very forcibly after reading some statements in the Labour Party document “London; The Future and You” , with a foreword by Sir Reginald Goodwin. It might ease the right hon. Gentleman's mind if he realises that I am not going to make a [column 801]party political point. I think that this is a fundamental matter for us all. I went through the document and picked up one or two paragraphs which are seemingly contradictory or inconsistent, or are the result of contradictory or inconsistent policies which had been insufficiently thought through at the time they were imposed.

Paragraph 6, after pointing out, as the right hon. Gentleman has done, that London's population is declining, continues:

“The net emigration has not represented a cross-section of London as a whole, but has been particularly concentrated in the lower middle-class and skilled working class who are essential to the prosperity and social dynamism of any community.”

After discussing the reason for this, the paragraph goes on:

“a more significant influence has been the regional policies and especially the ‘new towns’ which have provided inducements for people and jobs to move out of London.”

There we have a statement that we are losing the skilled and medium skilled and some of the unskilled because of the new towns policy.

We then go forward to paragraph 11. After pointing out the value of the foreign exchange which we get from tourism, the paragraph goes on to say that tourism's

“rapid growth in recent years has added to the problems of London. Low wage rates paid to predominantly foreign workers have caused an intensification of the inner urban housing crisis. … Additionally hotels have caused a greater strain on the transport system and other public services.”

These are points which one has taken.

I remember Sir Reginald Goodwin coming to us when we were in Government and telling my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) of the great difficulty London was having in finding enough people to man its essential services. It seems to me that here we have several contradictory policies imposed at different times. First, there was the new towns policy, to which we all subscribed a long time ago but which has taken essential labour from London. One of the reasons for that policy was that we could not house them all in London. We all said that they must go to new towns where they would find new and better jobs and new housing. But we had to replace their skills with imported foreign labour and, as the document points out, [column 802]

“Low wage rates paid to predominantly foreign workers have caused an intensification of the inner urban housing crisis.”

We then had a policy, initiated by the last Labour Government in about 1967, of building more hotels—a large number of them—which gave a boost to the construction industry. At that point of time we had to import quite a number of foreign workers for them. The figures of applications for the importation of foreign workers for them. The figures of applications for the importation of foreign workers are given in the Department of Employment Gazette, and the last annual figures I have are in the Gazette for March 1972. The point is that the one policy drew skilled and unskilled workers out of London, whilst the other policy positively imported them from elsewhere and, according to the Labour Party's own document,

“Low wage rates paid to predominantly foreign workers have caused an intensification of the inner urban housing crisis.”

Mr. John Silkin

The right hon. Lady is surely muddling up two categories of workers. The skilled workers who go to Stevenage, for example, are not usually unskilled foreign hotel workers but people with skills in manufacturing although not in very large numbers in each factory. The foreign workers are largely unskilled or perhaps skilled in something specialised, like the hotel business. For good or ill, there are few hotels in Stevenage.

Mrs. Thatcher

Those who come in, as the right hon. Gentleman will see from the categories for which workers are applied for, are not always unskilled. That is true. Some are skilled. But it seems ironic that we are decanting people into new towns, where they can get housing, and at the same time importing people into London for whom we have to provide a lot of housing in areas of housing stress. In addition, of course, we have to provide them with a good deal of education, because some of them bring their families in with them and, obviously, the children of foreign workers speak a different language. There is a great deal of stress in these areas for this reason. We now gather also that London Transport is short of people for manning London's essential services. Today we had a document from the GLC indicating that although organisations like London Transport are short of workers for essential services there is nevertheless a good deal of unemployment in London. [column 803]

These different factors are not tying together. What I am trying to say is that whether the policies are those of encouraging more tourism, of building more hotels, of creating more new towns or of building more office blocks outside central London, they must all be economically consistent.

We did not have in 1945–50 the techniques of economic analysis that we now have. We should use those techniques and not dash into a new policy without trying to work out its effect on other sectors. London Transport is very short of people to operate its services. In its report published this week it said:

“The 1973 revenue surplus of £10 million was partly due to improved receipts but was mainly attributable to the Executive's inability within the Government's counter-inflation policy to improve staff pay and conditions sufficiently to attract enough staff to run the full services.”

Those of us who represent London seats know the difficulties involved in providing full services, and we know of the complaints there are when full services are not provided. I can imagine the letters I shall receive from my constituents when they read that London Transport's surplus was due to an inability to provide an adequate service. It is an unusual reason for making a profit— “I could not give you a good service. Therefore I have made a surplus.” We understand the reasons for it: net receipts were up and the services were down. That will not necessarily be easily understood by some of the people we represent, because they do not have access to the figures.

My plea is that the economic policies should hang together. We have initiated some which have caused problems later. It has been said that planners earn their living by tackling the problems created by other planners. In some cases this is what has happened. What was enlightenment some years ago has caused many problems today.

I wish to follow some of the right hon. Gentleman's references to housing policy, dealing first of all with rents. Our Housing Finance Act brought a benefit to many people paying rents in the private as well as the council sector. Many of them are paying less rent now [column 804]than they were paying under the last Labour Government, because we followed a policy of helping the person rather than subsidising the property. The Government have imposed a rent freeze. Even R. Prenticethe Secretary of State for Education, alone on the Front Bench at present, who is not involved in this directly, will be aware of what happens if a rent freeze remains for any length of time.

Two things happen to property. First, rented property disappears from the market. Secondly, because the controlled rent is usually too low for adequate maintenance, homes fall into disrepair and can rapidly become slums. There can be a situation when deterioration of the housing stock is at a far faster rate than the rate at which new houses can be provided. This means that we have to be particularly careful to look after the state of existing houses in London. That is a better housing policy, and it often produces better homes than some of the new tower blocks which have been built in London.

I was interested in a Shelter report entitled “Tomorrow in Upper Hollo-way” , a section of which is entitled “What people want” . The authors say: “almost all private tenants expressed a willingness to pay an average of £2 to £2.50 a week more rent for accommodation that possessed the amenities they thought important.”

They indicated that they were prepared to pay the rent for the facilities, but the problem of rigid rent control is that if the landlord makes improvements he knows that he cannot recover the cost because he cannot get increased rent of that amount—£2 or £2.50. Because of rent control it is impossible for people to get other accommodation with those amenities.

We must not duck these factors. These quick expedients have long-term effects on the housing stock. We must look at those factors, too. It would be different if either Government had made different arrangements for landlords, enabling them to write off the cost of improvements against tax over a period of years. Then they would not have to recoup so much of it through rent.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

What improvements?

[column 805]

Mrs. Thatcher

I am trying to say that we might get some more improvements to the older housing stock if that were done. Neither Government have managed to do that. Street after street of fundamentally well-constructed houses of the Victorian and Edwardian periods have fallen into decay and in some cases have been bulldozed away to be replaced by tall blocks which are much less pleasing in outward design and cause living problems.

In the same document, “Tomorrow in Upper Holloway” the majority of people said that they would prefer

“to live in the type of older terraced houses they are living in now particularly if improvements are made than in many modern council flats.”

I am sure that this shows that it is right to have a policy of improvement grants for those homes and a policy of taking action by designating housing stress areas, about which I suspect we shall be talking next week, so as to put the housing stock in good condition and to keep it in good condition. It is easier to make a home in that kind of house than it sometimes is in a flat in a tall block.

One of our successful housing policies stemmed from the extra number of improvement grants we gave in London and elsewhere. In 1969, the last year of Labour Government, 2,900 improvement grants were given to local authorities in the London area. In 1972, under the Conservatives, the corresponding figure was 5,058. In 1969 there were 7,217 improvement grants given to private owners, including housing associations, whereas in 1972 the figure was 23,900.

I know that the Government are continuing our policy, in the Housing and Planning Bill, of extending grants to repairs. I am sure that that is the right policy. It also often enables young people to get on the first rung of the house ownership ladder. They can buy older houses, some of them in twilight areas, get an improvement grant and do a great deal of work on them. Then they have got over the first hurdle to home ownership. They can sell that house for another later on.

The right hon. Gentleman's Department, the GLC and Labour-controlled London local authorities are pursuing a programme of buying houses and taking [column 806]them permanently into council ownership—a policy of municipalisation. In some cases there may be an argument for local authorities buying properties when there is no other buyer for the time being. But there is no compelling reason why the houses should remain Government owned thereafter. People are usually prepared to spend far more on their own homes than on local authority or privately tenanted property.

If we are anxious to have maximum housing standards it pays to have as many people as possible as owner-occupiers. The only reason for retaining these homes in council ownership is that the Government want an increasing measure of control over the lives of the people living in them by way either of nationalisation of land or municipalisation.

That is why I believe the Government are prepared to frustrate the ambitions of many a council tenant by refusing to let him purchase. We believe that many people living in council properties have exactly the same ambition to own their own home as have other people. We also know that the turnover of council property is comparatively low, because once a person gets a council home he hangs on to it—very wisely. Therefore, the only way to achieve home ownership is to let those people purchase the houses. We are particularly anxious that this policy should be continued and hope that the Government will adopt it, if they really believe in home ownership. Tenants can often purchase their homes at favourable prices.

The Government say that they are anxious about land and house prices, yet they encourage local authorities to bid for vacant properties even if the result is that they bid against one another. There is no more certain way of driving up the price of land or property than to have a local authority, with the public purse, going to an auction and bidding. It can almost always win. It is wrong when the GLC bids against Richmond for places in Richmond or when one or two boroughs are bidding against one another.

In some areas the prices being paid are enormous. A case illustrated in the Daily Telegraph the other day concerned the Brent Council, who had purchased a plot of land for £500,000 and later [column 807]bought 47 houses, each with two garages and two bathrooms for £15,000 each.

The Daily Telegraph stated:

“The deal did not qualify for aid under the terms of the Housing Finance Act.”

The houses

“were let to council tenants at a rent of £10 a week. As the true cost … was nearer £60 for each dwelling, local ratepayers were providing a subsidy of £50 on each house” .

The result is that rates in Brent have increased enormously, and they will continue to increase if purchases of this kind take place. The domestic rate has increased by 35 per cent. and the commercial rate by 48 per cent.

If the Government really want to help young people towards home ownership they should not ask local authorities to buy all the available houses. They cannot say, “We are anxious to help people to become home owners” and at the same time ask local authorities to go into the market and buy all the available property. Those are fundamental contradictions.

Mr. Wellbeloved

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way because I am sure that she would want to clear up the position concerning local authorities bidding in the open market at auctions. Is it not a fact that local authorities are governed by the requirement to obtain the district valuer's valuation of a property before making their bid? Therefore, there is a maximum price which is already agreed by the local authority, which it cannot exceed at auction. One assumes that the district valuer would give the same advice to the various authorities. Therefore, conflict is not likely to arise.

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that is the position, but the district valuer's valuation will vary according to the sales of other property in the area. As the hon. Gentleman knows, land and property prices have been falling at the auctions. I do not know the speed at which the increases or falls are reflected in the values of houses in respect of which the local authorities are permitted to bid.

Mr. William Shelton(Streatham)

May I advise my right hon. Friend that in Lambeth the local authority seldom bids at an auction? The council puts a compulsory purchase order on the property. When the owner becomes depressed about [column 808]the CPO, he sells, usually at less than the market price, to Lambeth council.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to say a few words about the question of available land. It is important not only to pay lip service to the desirability of open spaces but to retain them. Many of us have few open spaces in our London constituencies, but the GLC is casting envious eyes at them. We hope that it will keep its eyes off sports grounds and playing fields. The Housing Action Committee found that there was more land available in inner London than there was in the outer boroughs, and yet it lies fallow. It would be best if it were used before a further assault was made on the few remaining “lungs” in outer London.

Inevitably, because I knew that the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) would be sitting on the Government Front Bench, I turn to the question of education. I have said a few words about the London allowance. The right hon. Gentleman is much more fortunate than I was—he has a very reasonable Opposition facing him. I shall not embarrass him as the person who used to stand in my place at this Box would not have hesitated to embarrass me on this point. To jog hon. Members' memories, that was not the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East.

R. PrenticeThe Minister will expect me to say a few words about his new Circular 4/74 as it affects London. The right hon. Gentleman has managed matters rather badly. Other circulars on comprehensivisation have always started with the number 10. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) introduced circulars numbered 10/65 and 10/66. I introduced one numbered 10/70. The present Minister has let the side down by introducing a circular numbered 4/74. We would have found it much easier to remember which circular we wanted to attack if it had been numbered 10/74 rather than 4/74.

The argument about comprehensive education has been going on for some time. However, a new element has emerged from my predecessor at this Box, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley), and from the right hon. Member for Grimsby, who has just written a book on the subject. The new doctrine of the Labour Party is egalitarianism, or equality. One would not [column 809]deduce it from certain people's life style, but that is what the party says. But equality is death to education. Education is about opportunity, and opportunity is the opportunity to be unequal. If children's only opportunity is to be equal, it is a very restricted opportunity. Indeed, it is no opportunity at all. Therefore, opportunity is the opposite of equality, and education is about opportunity.

I well know R. Prenticethe Secretary of State's argument about selection and creaming off. We used to talk about selection and creaming off. Now the right hon. Gentleman says that we cannot separate children into sheep and goats. Therefore, I suppose that we must all be sheep or goats. The creaming off and selection argument is that it is not possible for a grammar school to co-exist alongside a comprehensive school because if that were so one would cream off the talent into the grammar school. People used to say, “We are against selection because it is inefficient” . But if the selection creams off all the talent, it is very efficient, otherwise it would not be creamed off.

The argument has gone round in circles for years, but, as the Secretary of State knows, or should know, in an area such as London, whatever people's feelings and ideals may be, they consider whether the system will work. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are and will be problems in London with the neighbourhood schools in the difficult areas, and having an ideal or theory about them will not solve them.

In the previous Labour Government Alice Bacon, as she then was, used to quote to me the acme of the perfect comprehensive school in London offering fantastic opportunities to children which was the great advertisement of the system—Tulse Hill. During my time as Minister we learned a little more about comprehensive schools, and Tulse Hill became a problem school. I shall be eternally glad that I did not listen to Labour doctrine and turned down flat an application from the Inner London Education Authority to enlarge that already large comprehensive school. Had I taken notice of its doctrine I would have expanded the Tulse Hill school and closed the Strand school—a small grammar school which was doing a magnificent job for children from all backgrounds. [column 810]

In case the Secretary of State should think that it is only grammar schools which people wish to save, I would point out that I went against the Inner London Education Authority and saved a small secondary modern school called Bow, in Tower Hamlets. People who were concerned about the future of the school came to my home. They bought me a beautiful fuchsia plant, but that was not why I saved the school! I should like to thank them for the plant; it flourished beautifully. Those people who wished to save a small secondary modern school which was doing well were not concerned with doctrines or theories.

Against the background of the situation in London, it is monstrous that the Secretary of State should say that children should not be sent to grammar schools or even to secondary modern schools and that it was an absolute crime to send children to schools like Emanuel, Colfe, or even to Godolphin and Latymer, which have served very well the children of some members of the Labour Party, even though those schools suited the children.

I have looked at the Secretary of State's circular very carefully. It states:

“The position of pupils at present in unreorganised schools should be safeguarded” .
I agree with that, but not with what he goes on to say:

“so far as this is compatible with the progressive admission, without regard to ability, of pupils coming from primary or middle schools.”

In other words, the child must fit the system, come what may. The system must never be adapted to the child. The right hon. Gentleman has not allowed any exceptions. His tactics are tactics which I pay him the compliment of saying I did not expect of him. I expected him to use his powers of persuasion, which are considerable. I expected him to say, “I cannot under the existing law coerce local authorities, parents or governors. In all constitutional decency I must go to Parliament to get a law to enable me to do it.” That I could have understood. We would have fought it, but he would then have had the power.

I cannot accept the method which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen. He is saying to local authorities, parents and [column 811]governors, “Unless you do as I say, I shall withdraw both capital and revenue money from you.” Those are the tactics of the bully, the tactics which the teachers used against him when they said, “Give us what we want or we will withdraw the education of the children” . The right hon. Gentleman said to the teachers, “You do not think that I am the sort of chap to be influenced by tactics of that kind, or bullying” , but now he is using the identical tactics with the parents and governors. He is saying, “Do as I want or I shall withdraw the finance for the education of your children.” The tactics he condemns are the tactics he adopts.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reginald Prentice)

Is the right hon. Lady saying that the doctrine of the Conservative Party is that central Government should never use financial sanctions to ensure that their policies are carried out? Is she saying that there should be no differential taxation, no differential tax rebates, no subsidies, no industrial training levies and nothing to persuade people to carry out agreed national policy?

Mrs. Thatcher

The right hon. Gentleman should come to the House of Commons to get the appropriate powers for that purpose rather than making a threat in the circular. I hope that the parents and governors will respond to his threats in the same way as he responded to the teachers' threats. I am well aware of certain legal opinions that were given in previous cases. I hope that people will say that they are not moved by those tactics and that they will make the right hon. Gentleman go through every legal device—and that will be a lengthy process. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that unless the schools go comprehensive he will withdraw money so that the children have no schooling of any kind, an interesting legal point may emerge that could have to be thrashed out in the courts. The question, is, who is in breach of his statutory duty to educate the child—the Minister or the local authority? I hope that the voluntary aided schools which have not before had a threat of this kind will fight to retain their grammar schools or secondary modern schools if they wish to retain them. The right [column 812]hon. Gentleman knows that in practice there will be trouble in London if he has every school turned into a comprehensive school.

The circular shows once again a difference between Labour and Conservative policy. The right hon. Gentleman is making a final assault on parental choice. There is to be none. The Minister knows best for the child, and the parent shall have no choice. The parent is to be informed that the school is to go comprehensive and is to be consulted only about what kind of comprehensive school it shall be. If the choice is not enough the remedy is to widen it, not to reduce it.

I turn from the circular to make one other comment to the right hon. Gentleman about education. When there was a period of retrenchment under a Conservative Government I accepted, as most of us have to accept during a period of retrenchment, that education must take its share. That is why there were capital cuts before Christmas—cuts which, incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman has not restored. When in Government whatever one may say in opposition, one has to take one's share of the retrenchment. But when money was being handed out by the Treasury, my hon. Friends who were with me as junior Ministers and I lined up outside the Treasury and we would not have been mollified, pacified, satisfied or quietened without getting some of that money for education.

There has been a great spending period. Pounds have been trotting out of the Treasury, left, right and centre—there has been another £10 million this week—and not a penny piece extra for education. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing? As Secretary of State I was a good badgerer of the Treasury, and I obtained a great deal for education, but the right hon. Gentleman sees money going everywhere but to his Department. He knows full well that I would have supported him in everything he did to restore the money for the primary school improvement programme or part of the secondary school improvement programme.

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) is related to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), in whose constituency the replacement of the Thomas Calton School has had to be delayed. Some of the [column 813]£10 million could have been used to restore to the programme the Thomas Calton School, and others which did not get into the primary school building programe. But the right hon. Gentleman has not got money for education in a period of greatly increased public expenditure.

Mr. Prentice

Will the right hon. Lady explain to the House which items of Government expenditure she would rather do without? Is she against increased pensions? Is she against food subsidies and, therefore, in favour of higher rises in food prices? She will be aware that there has been no increase in expenditure for most Government Departments and that the increases have been selective. If she says that the increases are wrong she has a duty to tell the House which ones she would do without.

Mrs. Thatcher

I would far rather put some of the money that has gone to food subsidies into restoring the school improvement programme. That would have been fundamentally better in the long term for the children who are affected. I know the condition of some of those schools, and so does the right hon. Gentleman. He knows that we need a programme which stretches ahead for years. I have no difficulty in meeting that point. Vast sums have gone into food subsidies. A comparatively small amount would have done. The £10 million to unions would have done quite a bit. It would have provided 10 big secondary schools.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Some of the Maplin money could have been used in that way.

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, and the Government are carrying on with the Channel Tunnel, which they opposed when in opposition. However, we shall debate that tomorrow, and I shall be speaking in that debate too, if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

I come to finance. We find that the Labour Party is the party of high taxation, very high rates, particularly in London, and high public expenditure. It seems that whatever policy the Government have the people must pay. My own council—Barnet—has sent a resolution to the Greater London Council about the high precept which the GLC has made upon Barnet. The resolution has also been sent to the London Boroughs Association. [column 814]

The right hon. Gentleman may not have noted—I am not sure whether his right hon. Friend Denis Healeythe Chancellor of the Exchequer has yet noted—that the tendency of local authorities is to spend more than the estimated amounts. That tendency could upset the Chancellor's Budget judgment. Last year there was an out-turn of more than £200 million over the Estimate. If this is going to happen, the right hon. Gentleman will find himself in difficulties at the end of the year over his general Budget judgment.

I began with some of the economic inconsistencies of policies which have left London with severe problems and continued with one or two of the philosophic differences. Whether in taxation or in policies, the modern history of Socialism in this country is the history of increasing control over the life of the citizen, whereas the history of liberty and responsibility is the history not of increasing Government power but of its limitation.