Budget Proposals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1953.

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Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Ealing South 12:00 am, 20th April 1953

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. It seems to me incredible that a reduction of 25 per cent. in tax should not be helpful. To suggest the contrary is merely another indication of the slightly ungracious attitude towards any sort of improvement in fiscal burdens which is generally met with from hon. Members opposite.

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland then proceeded to discuss old age pensioners and to say how he would have distributed the available surplus had he been budgeting now. He asked, for example, why family allowances should not have been given in respect of the first child. The reasons against that are very obvious and well known and have frequently been canvassed. He then went on to recommend a proposition which I can fairly claim to have invented, that is, that family allowances should be given in respect of the first child when there are already three children in the family. That of course means the doubling of the family allowance on the third child.

That is a proposition in respect of which I am glad to have the support even of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland—which I do not think will do it much good. Even with that handicap, however, I would still recommend it to the Chancellor when be comes to consider the question of family allowances. Incidentally, in view of all this talk and interest in family allowances, we are entitled to ask who raised the family allowances for the first time since 1945. The answer is that it was raised last year by my right hon. Friend, and that the compensation which that gave more than outweighed the increase in food costs which accompanied it.

So one can go through all these extraordinarily bald and mutually contradictory arguments which we have heard from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. There was the argument about stocks which we heard from the right hon. Member for Leeds, South, which if it was not meant to be deliberately misleading came at least pretty near to being so. He has been going about the country and writing in the newspapers for some time trying to insinuate that stocks of imported raw materials in this country are lower whereas, in fact, they are higher.

When these arguments are boiled down and examined dispassionately, one cannot escape the feeling that there is really one major question of principle which divides us on this side of the Committee from hon. Members opposite. It is that, having achieved a record level of taxation during their period of office, which was violently, and in our view dangerously, redistributed, they are prepared to fight almost to the death rather than see even the smallest burden taken off the shoulders of the higher and middle income groups in this country.

Nobody can pretend that this Budget puts any burdens on the poorer sections of the community. It does not; if anything it will reduce the cost of living. There are no new taxes; there is only the reduction in Purchase Tax. But when one listens to remarks such as that made by the right hon. Member for Smethwick today, when he said, "If you destroy people's sense of social justice you weaken their will to work and so lower their productivity," then one comes up against the basic principle which divides us. "It does not matter what I have not, so long as the other chap does not have it either. It does not matter whether you give me the extra incentive to work so long as you do not give the other chap anything which I have not got."

Is it really conceivable that the workpeople in British industry are actuated in their will to work by no higher motives than that of jealousy of their fellows? I do not believe it. I never have believed it, and I do not think that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will have much success if they try to spread this feeling throughout British industry. That is what they are trying to do. If not, the remark of the right hon. Gentleman has no meaning whatever. It is just a meaningless form of words which may sound well in public but cannot bear any other interpretation in fact.

I believe that this Budget marks a turning point in the economic history of this country. Last year my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was faced with great difficulties. The decisions he made then were courageous and in fact the out-turning has been pretty good. Memories are getting short, I think, when my right hon. Friend is taunted by the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Bishop Auckland and Leeds, South with sloppy, slipshod, inaccurate estimating and with having all his forecasts falsified.

One of those right hon. Gentlemen was responsible for the most dangerous runaway inflation this country has ever seen. He went into convertibility in a debacle such as we have not seen certainly since the war. He saw his 1951 Budget falsified in every particular within six months and found himself, before the ink on his Estimates were dry, in the middle of another inflation and a balance of payments crisis which proved one of the most serious since the war. My right hon. Friend cleared up the debris which he found. He has halted, at least for the moment, the deplorable decline in our balance of payments position; and saved the £ sterling.

We have lived far too long under the control of a band of people who believed that monetary weapons would inevitably fail in their effect and who believe that controls, restrictions and exhortations would inevitably succeed. We have found that the tax, the fiscal weapon, is on the whole a bad weapon for producing the results we wish to achieve in the way of restrictions. We have found the monetary weapon is a much better one. If there is any surprise to be expressed, it is that my right hon. Friend found himself able this year to go as far as he did with his tax concessions. I did not believe a year ago that he would find it possible to go so far this year, and I think he will be proved right.

Were I to make any criticisms there would be just two. I hope that by next year my right hon. Friend will find it possible to make some reduction in the rate of duty on petrol and oil. I believe this to be a serious burden, both on industry and on the travelling public. I realise fully that he could not have done that this year and also reduce the standard rate of Income Tax.

My second criticism would be that the professional practitioners of this country are on the whole getting less out of this Budget than are businessmen. I am not at all sure that some form of tax reform is not necessary. We hope they may benefit as a result of the reports soon to be presented to the Chancellor. There is no doubt that the position of private professional partnerships is very serious, and some tax reliefs ought to be given.

Having listened to the greater part of this debate, I have heard no satisfactory argument advanced against the Budget, but merely hon. Gentlemen opposite whistling, or rather hissing, through their teeth to keep up their courage. I think the reaction of the country to their efforts will be very marked.