Clause 33. — (Increase of Investmeni Allowances.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st May 1963.

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Photo of Mr Edward Du Cann Mr Edward Du Cann , Taunton 12:00 am, 21st May 1963

The hon. Gentleman says "unwanted" petrol stations, but I am sure that no one with a commercial mind would build a petrol station or go in for any other consumer enterprise unless he felt that it was wanted. I am sure that the majority of the Committee will agree with me that the fact that commercial enterprise of one sort or another has led to improvement in the standard of life of our people is something to be pleased about and not something to denigrate. I am delighted at the improvement in the standard of life that we have had in this country even since the war. Long may it continue, and long may independent private business serve the community in the splendid way in which it does.

4.30 p.m.

The Amendment on its own, without the hon. Gentleman's explanation, was certainly very plausible. But to come away from political argument, I hope that he might agree with me, when I have finished talking, that it is simply not practicable. The intention in the Amendment is that the increase in the investment allowances proposed in the Clause shall be given only if these assets are provided in an industry prescribed as of national importance or on machinery or plant prescribed as of special national importance. The criterion which the hon. Gentleman adduces for judging that is whether the products of the industry or the use of the plant and machinery is of special value in increasing exports, saving imports, promoting technical development or the better use of national resources. I think that that is a clear summary of the position.

I dislike very much the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman that the improvements in these investment allowances were a form of subsidy. How can it be a subsidy not to tax people as much as one could tax them? It seems to me to be equivalent to the awful phrase, which I hate to see, that the Chancellor has given away so much money.

The Chancellor to use the newspaper phrase does not give away anything. He fails to take it from people, which is a very different matter indeed. The hon. Member for Ashfield was suggesting that it was quite wrong to subsidise certain industries and I repudiate that term. The object of my right hon. Friend's exercise here is to create more trade, business and jobs and a higher level of prosperity. I think that that is a thoroughly desirable objective.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has ever stood by the side of a pool and thrown a pebble into it. As the world knows, the ripples spread, and that is what is happening to the British economy at present, as the figures for industrial production so rightly show. In other words, what my right hon. Friend is seeking to do is already being achieved.

It is so easy to pick one rather disgusting and nasty example, as the hon. Gentleman did, and to say, "Do we really want to give additional help to this industry?", which I believe to be no industry at all in the terms in which he described it, and to ignore totally the good which is being done.

That is where I fault the hon. Gentleman's argument particularly. What I wanted to do was to show the way in which the Amendment was defective in practical terms. The Amendment is, in fact, defective in its wording. If the hon. Gentleman will look at subsection (2) he will see that the second phrase does not fit the first. Perhaps that is a detail. I am quite willing to agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering, who so modestly made the point that drafting is always extremely difficult, but it is appropriate that I should make the point. It will give him the opportunity no doubt of putting it down in an amended form next year. We shall look forward to that.

The hon. and learned Member referred to some discussion on this matter last year and he was quite right to do so. I thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) in speaking to this point last year—a rather different point, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said—was very fair indeed. He said that if we were to provide arrangements of this type or something like them arbitrary decisions would be involved. This is perfectly true. This is where the weakness of the argument plainly comes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry was very eloquent in saying, "How can anybody, however skilful, or however well-informed, judge which industries will be those that matter most to Britain in the future?" From what I recall of history many people had good ideas in the past, and produced new developments with which they wished to press on. And the pioneers, the adventurers, were precisely the people who were laughed at, whether they were the aviators, or the inventors of mechnical devices of one sort or another.

To quote an example from my own experience, I remember that when I established a business five and a half years ago all my friends and all the informed commentators whom I met were honest enough to say to my face that they did not think that I could last six months. That experience is by no means unique. Yet we have to have these arbiters, apparently, to say what are the right things and what are the wrong things for the national economy. I believe that this would lead us into great difficulty.