I was hesitating to disturb the genial, friendly atmosphere which the Chancellor encouraged until the concluding remarks of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell). I propose to answer one or two of the charges he made about the failure of the Chancellor to implement our Election promises, but I should like to say, first, that this is a record Finance Bill, for me at any rate.
In 27 years it is the first time that I have never made a speech until the concluding stage of a Finance Bill. Secondly, it is the first Finance Bill to which I have never put down an Amendment, moved a new Clause, or added my name to an Amendment put down by some other hon. Member. Thirdly, it is a faithful and fruitful implementation of the promises and pledges which my party gave at the General Election.
The reasons for this self-imposed restraint on my part are, I suppose, obvious. In any case, they are very sound to me. We were told, timidly I admit, by the former Chancellor, but more forth-rightly by the present Chancellor, and also of course by the Prime Minister, that our situation was perilous in the extreme and that we could only save ourselves by the most hurtful, harsh and drastic methods.
I believed then, and I still believe, that it would be wrong to seek to alter the framework which the Government considered necessary for the structure of our recovery, and so I took no part whatsoever in trying to alter the Chancellor's views. Indeed, I feel that the Chancellor was rather over-sensitive to criticism, and that he should have held more firmly to the design which he had originally created and framed to secure our economic and financial salvation.
Here I must put on record an impression that I gained throughout the various debates on this Bill, namely, that there was a certain amount of cynical shadow-boxing on the part of the Opposition. I admit that there were some useful and constructive speeches, and some excellent suggestions from both sides of the House, but, on the whole, the Opposition knew it was shadow-boxing. They knew that it was a good Budget and a good Finance Bill. They knew that it was a necessary Budget and a necessary Finance Bill. They knew that they would have to introduce a similar Budget and Finance Bill, had they the courage and honesty to do so.
That sentence brings me back to the Election and the reasons for it. The then Prime Minister knew that he had only two alternatives—to go on and to go bankrupt, thus exposing the whole Socialist philosophy, slogans and patitudes with which they had deluded the country for a quarter of a century, as bogus, or of going to the country and hoping that we would get in, believing that we would rescue and restore the country, and thinking that the Measures that we would then have to impose would be so harsh and make us so unpopular that the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. Friends would, in a few years' time, succeed to a solvent concern.
They took the latter course and were proved right from their point of view. Everything has come to pass as they anticipated, except the last contingency. I am convinced that when this Government has fulfilled its purpose and its mission that it will be hailed if not with hosannas, at least with gratitude by the people who will send us back for the many years that may well be necessary to restore the financial economic and moral leadership in the world which, of course, we lost through six years of Socialism.
What does this Finance Bill do as it has finally emerged, and how does it— and here I come to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman—tie up with our Election pledges? I am not going to refer to balance of payments or inflationary pressure, because, as Lord Kirk-wood said in another place, the other day, these phrases do not mean anything to a vast number of our people. They say, "That is something for the boss, or something for the politician; it has nothing to do with us." They do not realise that it can alter their whole way of life and their whole future. I am not going to use any technical phrases; I am trying to put the position as I see it from the point of view of the man in the street.
We promised, rightly or wrongly, that we would prevent anyone engaged in the manufacture of armaments from securing thereby any undue profit. We have E.P.L. as a result. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the former Chancellor of the Exchequer that it may not be the best method, but that can be re-adjusted in the next Budget or in some of the later Budgets which this country will be introducing.
Secondly, we promised that we would cut Government expenditure, which, of course, had reached fantastically high proportions under the late Government, and, as a start—and although I admit it is in a small way, but it is an indication of our good intentions—the Chancellor has knocked £50 million off the Civil Estimates.
Thirdly, we made it clear that we would not be a party to the iniquitous principle that the poorer off people should be called upon to pay increased taxation to pay for the food, or to make it cheaper for the better off people who could well afford to pay the increased costs, and so a dramatic reduction was made in the food subsidies.
But I admit that the Government, and, I think, the Conservative Party, realised that this desirable achievement might well hurt many people, especially pensioners, the retired and those living on fixed incomes, so the Chancellor made it possible to increase the pensions of about four million people and through improved sickness benefits and insurance rates to help another 1,500,000.
One of the main purposes of the Conservative Party was to provide incentives —a word which has been used more often than any other word in the Finance Bill discussions; but it remains a true word, a useful word and a necessary word. Our policy was to provide incentives for harder and more productive work. So as we know—and I think that this should be repeated because it should be known to the country as a whole, as well as to the supporters of the Conservative Party who have shown a little restiveness of late because of the unpopularity which many of the newspapers have sought to impose upon us—that something like three million people have been relieved of Income Tax altogether, while there have been considerable reductions of taxation, involving another 14 million people.
Finally, the Prime Minister said that we would have to follow the hard road before we could undo the harm caused to our economy by six years of wasteful and reckless expenditure, so the Chancellor has arranged that £600 million shall be cut off our imports.
That is a very brief recitation of the faithful way in which the Chancellor has fulfilled our election pledges. Surely, therefore, it is sheer hypocrisy for the Opposition to bleat about the Budget as favouring the rich. Of course, there was one substantial mistake which the Government obviously committed. They trusted the Opposition to put country before party, and hence, of course, the policy advanced last autumn by the Prime Minister who, knowing the facts, or rather having found them out, just as the previous Government knew them, conceived that it would be in the national interest to work together to restore the country irrespective of party.
He misplaced his faith and so was proved wrong. Hence we have now the situation, so well described by Lord Kirkwood, that the cry of wolf has been made so often that the worker today no longer believes there is an economic crisis. It may be too late to remedy that mistake, and we can only try by our actions to justify the nation's confidence, even though we are temporarily unpopular in doing so.
Despite the excellence of the Budget and of the Finance Bill, I sometimes say, "Are we going the right way towards undoing the harm that has been done during the last few years and towards putting our affairs in order?" Somehow or other, despite the integrity of our motives, I am not sure that the result of our post-war policy has been all that we hoped for. All of us seem to have become a nation of takers; giving has taken a low place in our national virtues. All of us, it seems to me, have developed into parasites—parasites on the State and, therefore, on each other—[An HON. MEMBER: "Speak for yourself."]
I remember that in 1944 the coalition Government, which was mostly Con- servative, tried to create the social and industrial target of full employment. I thought that that was a noble conception, and it seemed to satisfy most of my ideals of social justice; but since then I have continuously wondered if it has had the success for which we hoped.
I would go even further: Is it fair to the workers themselves? In the old days, the worker—and by worker I mean all of us—had the privilege, and the very important one, of selling his labour in the best market and to the highest bidder. Under full employment he has no longer that privilege because there is no competition for his talents. I do not know the answer and time alone will clear up that doubt.
Meanwhile, I should not like to lose this opportunity of congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the tact. patience and courtesy which he has shown in guiding this Bill through its various stages.