Skip to main content

Social Services

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 6 April 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The next large group is that if the social services. The provision here amounts to no less than £1,327 million— an increase of £63 million over the corresponding provision in the original Estimates for last year. It takes the whole of the taxes from tobacco, beer, spirits and Purchase Tax to cover this total.

Of this increase of £63 million, the Education Departments, which rise from £259 million to £279 million, account for £20 million. This is largely due to the increase in the school population and in teachers' salaries. Housing subsidies account for £10 million, increasing from £70 million to £80 million. This illustrates the cost to the Exchequer of the success of the Government's housing policy. The National Health Service has gone up by £19 million, from £411 million to £430 million. National Assistance accounts for another £5 million by a rise from £128 million to £133 million; and Exchequer contributions to local revenues for a further £9 million, with an increase from £68 million to £77 million.

I think even hon. and right hon. Members opposite will agree with what I am about to say now. It is quite clear that progress in social reform, far from being neglected by this Government, has been well maintained. It is equally clear that this progress carries heavy obligations with it and that there is no miraculous and painless escape from these obligations. We cannot, in good conscience, put the clock back; but we must make sure that in the administration of this vast outlay humanity goes hand in hand with economy.

I am not unmindful of the many other claims on the Exchequer, which the Government would wish, in equity, to satisfy. Some of these—for instance, the problems of the old people—are very much in the minds of every Member of this Committee, not least myself. But I have described the already heavy and growing burdens on the Exchequer and I must say this to the Committee: that I cannot bring my conscience to sanction further advances in social reform, involving increases in public expenditure, until we have the growth of our existing commitments well in hand. Only then can we make further progress in meeting some of the claims which are pressing upon us.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance, and indeed the whole Government and all Members of this Committee, have continually in mind the needs of the old people. But no one who reflects for a moment on the immense burden which the working population, and particularly the younger generation, will have to carry in the interests of elderly retired people, could think it right to reach a decision about the future welfare of the old without the fullest consideration of the effect on the cost which future generations will have to meet. This is the year in which a review of the National Insurance Fund is taking place —the first comprehensive review under the new legislation. Moreover, the Phillips Committee is investigating the problems of an ageing population. It will be useful to have the results of those reviews. But our urgent task, in the interests of the old, is to ensure that the outlook for public expenditure as a whole is less menacing than it is at present.

Another reform which is also very much in our minds is that of equal pay for equal work. In fact I was serenaded here this afternoon with the familiar tune of "Equal Pay." There has been a development. Leading staff organisations in the public services have now circulated a statement to right hon. and hon. Members in which they ask me to authorise "talks which will result in agreed steps for introducing equal pay." I certainly think that a gradual solution of this problem will prove to be the right one; and so far as the Civil Service is concerned— for which alone I can speak as an employer—I should like shortly to meet the National Staff Side representatives myself and discuss with them the manner in which we are most likely to make progress and the basis upon which further Whitley talks should rest. But here, too, of course, I cannot ignore the prospects for the Exchequer as I have described them.

I have said enough to illustrate the magnitude of the burdens which will fall upon the Exchequer in the current financial year and in the years ahead. It is an essential part of my Budget statement this year that I should make this warning clear. If—but only if—we control expen- diture, and increase the national product at a faster rate than the growth of our commitments, can we afford the benefits which that expenditure confers on us.