Orders of the Day — Budget Proposals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th April 1953.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Hirst Mr Geoffrey Hirst , Shipley 12:00 am, 16th April 1953

As a very junior Member of this Committee it falls to my lot to congratulate the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) on his return to the Dispatch Box. We are pleased to see him there once again. I am reminded that in the debates last year my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, in amusing and bantering mood, referred to the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Jenkins) and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) as "the heavenly twins." I could not help thinking, when I saw the exuberant faces side by side of the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Huyton and Ebb Vale (Mr. Bevan) that in a more mature sense we have a fresh pair of heavenly twins.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will deal with the major points mentioned by the right hon. Member for Huyton, but there are one or two matters upon which I wish to comment. The right hon. Gentleman said the Budget cannot be judged entirely by taxation proposals, and we on this side of the Committee heartily agree with him. The Budget should be judged, as indeed it is, by the renewed confidence it is spreading throughout the country.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the textile slump and for some reason or other appeared to bring food costs into it. He must know that the textile slump was an international trouble which started before the last Election—certainly so far as the woollen textile trade is concerned. I do not think he is being fair to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) or myself or to any other hon. Member who has a constituency interest in textiles, when he assumes that because we do not make, shall I say, a strong attack on the Government for not doing something about the Purchase Tax on textiles, we are unmindful of the needs of the textile industry.

We feel that in the Finance Act last year the Chancellor went a long way to meet the difficulties of the textile industry and that it would not be fair to be selfish in these things and to ask for too much so quickly, when so many other industries which need help are getting it at this time. All of us who are connected with textile industries would welcome, not only some adjustment of the Purchase Tax, but eventually its complete cancellation.

The right hon. Gentleman also seemed to make a lot of play with the comments of my right hon. Friend about making room for more exports. I do not see anything wrong with that. I am sure that when the right hon. Member for Huyton has been in industry for a bit longer he will realise what the phrase means. There is a feeling among industrialists that with the present rates of taxation there is no desire or even any sound business ethics in taking risks, but with the greater rewards that this Budget provides and, even more, the hope that it holds out for the future, the whole pattern changes, confidence is re-born— in short, there is more encouragement to plan ahead and make, in the Chancellor's words, more room for exports.

From the one or two companies in which I am interested, I know the feeling that has gone out within 24 hours of the Budget and the planning which is now taking place as a result. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton will earn the distinction, if indeed it be one, that was earned last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), of being a Jeremiah.

Many of my hon. Friends quoted the London Press yesterday. I should like to make one or two quotations from the provincial Press because they show as much approval of the Budget proposals as do the London and national papers. The "Yorkshire Post," a paper of great prominence which is respected in many parts of England apart from Yorkshire, said: It is eminently the work of a statesman looking skilfully ahead. And so it is. The "Yorkshire Observer," another leading provincial paper, said: There are no new taxes, no new restrictions. Therein lies the expression of Mr. Bulter's faith in the British people of all kinds. I agree with the "Financial Times" today when they review the whole situation, after a whole day in which to consider the matter, and say: He has lifted the Budget out of the restrictive rut. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is entitled to say what a striking change has come over our affairs. A year ago we were bracing ourselves to struggle out of a crisis of international payments, a crisis from which the right hon. Gentleman who dared to criticise ran away with his hon. and right hon. Friends like rats from a sinking ship. We had to overcome the difficulties of an ever-growing buyers market and the difficulty caused by the action of Australia which affected the textile industry of my Shipley constituency very seriously. We also had to get over the damning repercussions of six years of Socialism.

Let us look at the position today. As my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said, international payments are in balance and the strength of the £ sterling in the markets of the world is of great comfort to those who planned our policy a year ago. My right hon. Friend is entitled on the facts to receive from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite a great deal of applause for his actions.

Again, the textile recovery is truly remarkable. I pressed the Chancellor last year on more than one occasion on behalf of the wool textile industry which is predominant in my constituency. I wish to say that I am grateful, as is the industry, for the actions he took and for the fillip he gave to the industry with the full cooperation of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. In fact, a little encouragement and a feeling of confidence in forward orders bridged the industry over the difficulties until the time came for recovery. Confidence is pre-eminent. An industry does not sell if it is not confident. It does not plan unless it is confident. Confidence is pre-eminnent in all business dealings.

There is no doubt that the outstanding feature of the Budget is that there is to be no new taxation. What a joy that has been to people's hearts. It is absolutely absurd for hon. Gentlemen opposite to talk about this Budget as an unpopular one. It is vastly popular. It appeals to all people, and perhaps the greatest thing that appeals to them is that for the first time for many years there are no new taxation proposals. Nothing that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite say can go against the feeling of thankfulness enjoyed by people in every walk of life about that fact alone.

The cut of 6d. in Income Tax may not be a great deal, but the value does not lie so much in the amount, although the cut is welcome. The value lies in the fact that it heralds a change of financial climate. The country is confident that under a Conservative Government greater production will lead to greater reliefs. That in itself is a spur to greater productivity. I realise the difficulties for the Inland Revenue Department and those connected with P.A.Y.E.—and this is a minor point—but it would have been nice if the back pay could have been allowed in the week before 7th June and before the Coronation.

I suport what has been said by many of my hon. Friends about initial allowances. I have studied this matter for many years. I hope that the time will come when depreciation allowances will be put upon a sound footing. Even before the war the difference between our country and Germany, let alone the United States of America, was most marked. I hope that when the Committee studying this question has submitted its report something can be done to remedy the position.

These reliefs, and the fact that E.P.L. is to go—and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his courage—provide a great tonic for industry and prepare the way for more exports. They provide a great tonic not only for industry but for all concerned in it. I am delighted by the measures taken by my right hon. Friend in connection with Purchase Tax. Naturally, as a man interested in the textile industry, I regret—although I see the reason why—that a further reduction cannot be made there. The Purchase Tax proposals will reduce the cost of living. As some one once said, people do not eat statistics but they feel their effect on the cost of living.