Orders of the Day — Finance (No. 2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th May 1946.

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Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough 12:00 am, 16th May 1946

We are not fighting for quite the same kind of liberty. I feel that there is now a danger of a financial crisis such as will make 1931 look quite simple. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that taxation is too high and that it should be brought down, largely because if either the worker or the employer is taxed too much, there will not be sufficient incentive in industry, and people will not put their best foot forward. Therefore, I make a special plea that taxation should come down. My complaint is that, although there has been a cut of £500 million in the Budget Estimates, more ought to be done. I would draw attention to the item of £335 million which the Chancellor proposes to set on one side for food subsidies. If the House will permit me, I will quote what the Chancellor said on 9th April: I would like at this stage to say a word on the cost of living subsidies. With regard to these, we are spending a formidable total. We are providing, this year, no less than £335 million for cost-of-living subsidies.… We should seek to hold the index where it then was, and not allow it to vary by more than an insignificant amount. I am sure that has been a wise decision. I agree it has, but I think the method by which the Chancellor is seeking to uphold that decision is wrong. Instead of putting the subsidies forward, he ought to take his courage in both hands and say to the country, "You have got to spend your money much more wisely." I plead with him to take away these subsidies altogether. In the same speech he said: The Committee must appreciate that this policy of price stability is costing a lot of money. Later, he said: and it may rise still higher. Finally, he said: But we cannot go on doing this indefinitely, regardless of cost. We shall have to reconsider this matter next year. We might even have to do so earlier.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Tuesday, 9th April, 1946: Vol. 421, cc. 1813, 1814, 1815.] Does the Chancellor mean that he may take off those food subsidies next year when unemployment may be worse than it is today, when the extra war wages will have gone, and when people are less able and willing to pay the higher prices for food that they will have to pay? If so, it is a very dangerous thing to do. I want him to take courage in both hands and abolish those food subsidies now, because it would be a real economy and it would save the agricultural interests which, in part, I have the honour to represent, from the one great fear they have—a repetition of 1921. It is worth waiting all day to catch the Speaker's eye in order to have the Chancellor here to talk to. I want to ask the Chancellor a question. Why should food be sold cheaper than its real cost? Why should the industrial workers be made to live in a fool's paradise so far as the cost of their food is concerned?