Orders of the Day — Budget Proposals and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th April 1956.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton 12:00 am, 18th April 1956

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's excitement about the prospects of this document. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I would say that the right hon. Gentleman to whom I propose to send this document is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the hope that he will take action upon it.

It really is an alarming state of affairs—I say this quite seriously—and a similar degree of privilege exists because of the anomalous and indefensible distinction between Schedule D and Schedule E expenses. The Chancellor is losing tens of millions by this too privileged system. Death duty yield is only a fraction of what it should be. Surtax rates are up by 46 per cent. compared with pre-war and, while net national money income increased threefold, the revenue from Surtax increased only from £59 million in 1938 to £130 million recently—rather more than double. There is a very serious leakage of tax revenue both on Surtax and death duties. It is a major indictment of the Chancellor's Budget that he has not tackled these problems, because I can tell him that if he had begun to tackle them there would be no question of reduction in the bread subsidy and that a great part of his attack on personal consumption would have already succeeded.

Our attack on the Government is not merely on their ways and means or devices—it is on their whole approach to the economic and social problems of the land. What we had yesterday was cynical opportunism in place of leadership, an appeal to cupidity rather than to the moral purpose of the nation. The Government offered a scramble and free-for-all in place of a common effort.

In recent weeks we have seen a welcome tendency—even on the part of Ministers—to praise Sir Stafford Cripps and to recall the appeal that he was able to make to the whole nation eight or nine years ago. This is a wonderful change. In the words of the poet: The hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return,And glean up the scattered ashes into history's golden urn. Those who wish to have the appeal of a Cripps must have his sense of purpose and sense of moral justice.

Nearly nine years ago this nation faced economic crisis—the crisis of a community devastated by war. We lacked food, shelter and tools. There were those who called on us to consume the seed grain, to sacrifice the future to the present greed of a few. Sir Stafford Cripps stood firm. He insisted that we abstained and invested in the future. [An HON. MEMBER: "He devalued the £."] The £ might have been devalued in 1949 and I would not advise any hon. Member opposite to start crowing about exchange rates at this time. What we saw yesterday was the devaluation of an entire Government.

Now, nine years later, after four years of easier living, in easier conditions, after four years' squandering of the harvest that those measures made possible we are back again—eleven years after the war—facing the same crisis. So, nine years afterwards, the words that Sir Stafford Cripps used in winding up that memorable debate in August, 1947, are still as apposite today. They were: The quality of effort that is needed in the next few years is not such that it can be evoked by mere material considerations or by the intensification of self-interest or competitive self-seeking … It has been truly said that by our faith we can move mountains … it is by our faith in the deep spiritual values that we acknowledge, in our Christian faith, that we shall be enabled and inspired to move the present mountains of our difficulties, and so emerge into that new and fertile plain of prosperity which we shall travel in happiness only as the result of our own efforts and our own vision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th August, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 1764–6.] It is, in our view, only by such an appeal that this nation can win through. The tragedy is that this Government, by their policies, their cynicism, and their sacrifice of social justice to self-interest, have forfeited the right to make it.