I do not know where the Chancellor got his inspiration in this case, but, certainly, from the point of view of the Conservative Party, the inspiration is of a high, and could be of an unfortunately successful, character. We have had experience of the manipulation of the economy for political purposes. It was done before the 1955 General Election; it was done before the 1959 General Election, and I have no doubt that the Conservatives will endeavour to do it again next time.
If we pass this Clause, we are presenting them with an additional very effective and very easy means of manipulating the economy to their advantage. Having raised indirect taxes and the cost of living during the period between elections, they can then very conveniently reverse the process in the few months before a General Election, and they can do so if, in the meantime, they have raised this tax by 10 per cent., and if they have taken advantage of Clause 26 as well, because they would then be in a position to reduce indirect taxation by a total amount approaching £700 million, which would be a very convenient and useful hand-out on the eve of a General Election.
Therefore, I suggest that those hon. Members—and I am sure that they are not confined to one party—who are interested in the incorruptibility of our fiscal system will regard this Clause as putting a dangerous weapon into the hands of those who may use it.
I agree that there is an argument for economic regulators. There are many which I and my hon. Friends would favour, but this is not one of them. Moreover, it is not one of them mainly for the reasons which I have given but also because if the economy is overturned by an economic crisis due to international speculation with the £ or the pressure of interests who are worried because we are not following a sufficiently orthodox financial policy in this country, then the Chancellor ought to introduce an interim Budget and a second Finance Bill so that his proposals may be properly debated, with opportunity for amendment and opportunity to consider a number of different methods.
In this way we should have a means of dealing with such an economic difficulty by a co-ordinated series of financial, economic and monetary measures which would enable us to deal with the problem equitably, so that any burden would fall on the shoulders of those best able to bear it. That is a better method rather than, as is now proposed, putting into the Chancellor's hands a power to take, whenever he likes and almost at a stroke of the pen, a blind swipe at the standard of living of the masses of the people.