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 R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden 12:00 am, 20th April 1953

All hon. Members will agree that we have had a most useful debate. I have listened to the greater part of it and I should like to pay my respects to hon. Members who have spoken from all parts of the Committee. While of course I cannot agree with every word said either by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) or other hon. Gentlemen opposite, I can say that hon. Gentlemen have been inspired by a sincere desire that the course taken should be the right one in the national interest. In the intervals of dealing with the right hon. Gentleman and otherwise trying to counter some of his arguments, I shall, I hope, indicate by my own demeanour the intense seriousness with which I regard the national position, and the intense conviction that I hold that the course which I have proposed to the Committee on behalf of Her Majesty's Government is the right one in the national interest.

It would be invidious to single out individual contributions to the debate, but I am sure that, in the course of a long debate none of us would like to forget the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon). I shall not have time to traverse all his arguments, but I should like to assure him that the problems of local government finance are very much in my mind, and, in so far as we have been able to help by the adjustment in the subsidies earlier last year, we did so; but I agree with him that the problems of local government finance remain in the mind of any serious person studying our country's difficulties at the present moment, and that the maximum degree of economy consistent with the progress which we all want to see should be maintained by those authorities.

Then, we have very valuable speeches from two right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) who made one of his —I do not wish to be patronising—best reviews of the economic situation to which he has treated us, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who, although I disagreed with him more than almost anybody else, sustained his arguments in a remarkable manner.

We had two very useful speeches from this side of the Committee— from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Water-house)—and, while I am dealing with textile areas, I should like to mention also the speech of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes), who was of considerable help to me in the course of the debate in Committee last year' on the textile depression. I should also like to remember the speech from Yorkshire by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst).

I shall not be able, in the course of my remarks today, to deal fully with the textile problem, and I should only like to say that, while I agree that this textile question is in the forefront of the minds of many hon. Members, we did attempt, in the last Finance Bill, to give a certain degree of help to the textile industry. When it is said that it has not been included in this year's Budget, I think it should be remembered that it is only now that the general rates of Purchase Tax have come down to the same level as those to which textile rates were reduced last time. That cost some £17 million of public money, and, in addition, some £20 million worth of orders were deliberately placed by the Government, thereby improving employment in the textile areas, despite all the criticisms of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, by well over 100,000 in the course of last year, so that the situation now is very much better than it was. However, we shall have plenty of time in which to discuss the problems of the textile industry in the course of our debates during the spring and summer.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale for his courteous reference to my giving help to authors. I am not an author, but I think the right hon. Gentleman is, to a limited extent, an author. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is an author. At any rate, this action was taken on a very limited scale, because it does not deal with a major problem of many others who wish to space their earnings over a longer period. They must wait for the Royal Commission on Taxation to deal with this problem. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for one of the few kind things he has ever said to me in his life.

We should like to welcome back the right hon. Gentleman from the East. It was a source of great satisfaction to us to see the faces of the patient herd of barren back-biting heifers here, waiting for their champion Brahmin bull to come back from the East, to see him going round the Committee, to see him browsing here and browsing there, having a word with the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) here and a word with the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) there, and with several words with his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), with a bit of sugar cane here and a little melted butter there, and, finally, producing this magnificent oration on economics for us.

I can assure hon. Members opposite that we study their facial expressions—not only my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but all of us—with the greatest pleasure, and the way they make place for the right hon. Gentleman and look to him to inspire their policy, which is not quite clear, is really most touching and gratifying to us all. No doubt the reason why the right hon. Gentleman's periodical, known as "Tribune," has paid so much attention to an election and called this an election Budget is that for the few seconds or perhaps the few weeks that the party opposite may present an appearance of unity they no doubt wish to go to the country themselves.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my motives in bringing forward this Budget—and I am sorry to be so dull to the Committee—were based entirely on economic considerations. The position would, I think, have been very much worse had we attempted to look at this Budget from the point of view of an election. I can only say that had right hon. and hon. Members opposite not shirked their duty, but faced up to it last autumn, then they might have been able to undertake, as the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) suggested, some of the import cuts which he said in the debate at the end of last week they had themselves got ready to use.

The truth is that we are thankful that we had the opportunity to take the energetic steps we did to put right the political and economic situation. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Labour Government had left industry in a more flourishing condition than it had ever been since 1913, and he went on to say that he and his hon. Friends had rescued Great Britain from the greatest crisis since 1945. Those were his proud claims.

What, in fact, was the position? It may be that there was an artificial booming of the economy internally, leading to the raging inflation with which we were faced. But we were also faced with the worst balance of payments crisis which this country has had for many years, a balance of payments crisis which meant the draining of our life blood and the ultimate collapse and devaluation of sterling. That is the situation with which we were faced and which we overcame.

I think it has been a very remarkable feature of the debate today that so few tributes from a genuinely patriotic angle have been paid by right hon. and hon. Members opposite to the state of sterling —I do not ask for tributes to Her Majesty's Government—because it is upon the state of the £ sterling that our economy and the employment of our people depend. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to all his proud boasts, that there is no doubt that had this balance of payments situation continued and the drain on our gold and dollar reserves proceeded in the way in which we found it when we came to power, we should have been landed with really severe unemployment and with a disastrous fall in our standard of living.

If the right hon. Gentleman pays tribute to Sir Stafford Cripps I should like to join with him, because he was not only a friend of mine but one of my finest predecessors. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will remember the warnings given by Sir Stafford Cripps and by the right hon. Gentleman my predecessor as to the danger which a balance of payments crisis would present to our employment and our standard of living.

When the right hon. Gentleman tries to make out that our economy was in a state of stagnation during the past year and that we are threatening, as the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) suggested, the standard of living and the ideals in the social spheres of our people, I hope he will remember that it was his own Government who brought this country to the verge of ruin and then ran away.

Now I will come to the challenge which was put to me by the right hon. Gentleman. He, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South—if I may so address him—both criticised the forecasts I made before the last Budget. The position as I put it in my speech on the Budget statement and do not think I really need repeat, was that there were definite reasons for the fall in Inland Revenue duties due to the deflationary policies I adopted, and which I quite openly stated were due to the terms of trade and their effects on our balance of payments, which actually upset many of the forecasts I made before the last Budget. That is precisely what happened. This is a perfectly straightforward argument which is understood by everybody. The very action we took to cut imports naturally resulted in a fall in the very import duties which make up the Customs and Excise part of our revenue.