Clause 14. — (Charge of Income Tax for 1949–50.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd June 1949.

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Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth 12:00 am, 23rd June 1949

In spite of some confusion, I think the issue has been clearly enough put in the Debate. What is clear is that out of this Debate has come a very definite difference of principle with regard to what is to be given and what is to be taken away from the different sections of the community that make up the population of Britain. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have at last made it clear that they are arguing a case that depends for its validity upon premises which we on this side of the Committee cannot and will not accept. These premises are simple enough. It has been said that the present system is one of penal servitude, that it results in a reduction of enterprise and of production, that if it were reduced our recovery would be quicker and sounder, and that if Income Tax is not reduced quickly by 6d. in the £ ruin waits for us around the corner.

All that was clear in some of the speeches, particularly the speech just made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), which revealed itself as special pleading in its most mischievous form. We have been invited by that hon. Member, who accused one of my hon. Friends of being mischievous and not having regard to the effect of his speech upon world opinion, to present the world with an invitation to have no confidence in Britain, in Britain's policies or Britain's economic stability. During the whole of the Debate, hon. Members on the other side of the Committee have been guilty of the same kind of special pleading, having little regard to the facts and wandering from modern France to ancient Rome in what one can only call a picture of history written by Walt Disney in glorious Tory technicolour. It would seem that the people who make our prosperity are only those who now feel the pinch. It has been suggested that we could increase their purchasing power, which would result in the creation of confidence in the world in respect of this country, and that those are the only conditions in which confidence can be created.

6.15 p.m.

Without attempting in any way to minimise the contribution of the salary earners or such rentiers as remain in the country, I think the Debate has clearly revealed a conflict about a way of life. It is important that hon. Members on this side of the Committee who have strong and definite views, should say categorically that the premises to which we work are different and that the conviction that inspires our legislation is that for many millions of people this is the first escape they have ever known from penal servitude which has been inflicted upon them in the ages past by the people who sit now on the benches opposite and who are tasting for the first time the fruits of loss of office. We believe that it is now our duty in this time, to ensure that there is a minimum standard below which we shall not allow our people to go.

The greater part of Government expenditure is on the social services. We know that to cut that expenditure would mean hardship for the people whom in the main we represent. We know that all these things have to be paid for and that they can be paid for only by such taxation as the Government are able to produce. We believe that it is right, when the world and our country in particular are facing an economic crisis, that the cost of a standard of living which we believe to be right and proper should be borne by the whole community. We have no doubt about the fact that the masses of the people in the country would not have reacted as they have done, and rocketed production to levels which are unprecedented in modern history, unless the social services which they enjoy had been introduced.

It is not only improper but it is untrue to suggest, as has been suggested both directly and by inference by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that our recovery is anything other than phenomenal. France has been cited. I love France and have spent as much of my time there as I could. I know it to be true in many parts of that country, from my own experience, that there is no comparison between the standards of living of the ordinary people of this country and of the ordinary people in France. When hon. Members opposite sink to the level of saying what they want to believe rather than what they know to be true, it is time that some sort of recognition was brought home to them that we do not live in a vacuum. So many of the things which they have asserted as facts are arguable, while we maintain what we believe to be indisputable. Without the Government which has been in power, Britain would have been faced with widespread unemployment and with industrial strife.

It may be true that there is need for relief and that some of the acts of the Government bear hard upon some sections of the people, but surely if we are to have a protest against that kind of austerity the protest ought to have been made at some other point than in relation to the present level of Income Tax. If there is need of relief, it is not there. If the Government were persuaded, as I am confident they will not be, by the appeals and by the attacks which have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, to reduce Income Tax by 6d. in the £, they would betray the principles on which they were elected.