Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd May 1966.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield 12:00 am, 3rd May 1966

The Minister disagrees. I hope that he is right. I shall wait to hear whether there has been full agreement with the countries concerned. If we are to be denied free movement of sterling among one-third of the world's population, these restrictions are the thin edge of the wedge. The Chancellor said that this restriction was only temporary, but that has been said of many other arrangements and restrictions. We were told during the war that Purchase Tax was to be only a temporary arrangement. I have recently read a speech in HANSARD by Lord Attlee, when he was a Member of the House of Commons, in which he wanted to see the end of Purchase Tax. Twenty-five years later, we still have it. We shall follow up later the question of seterling, but it is alarming that restrictions are being placed upon it for the first time.

My purpose in rising to speak is to refer to agriculture. I could not believe my ears when I heard the Chancellor say that the new tax upon employees in agriculture would be taken into account at the next Price Review. I cannot understand what he must be thinking about, because agriculture has had two disastrous Price Reviews, this year and last year, when the industry has had to contribute something like £30 million over and above the grants given by the Government. There will undoubtedly be a well-justified demand by the farm-workers' union in the coming weeks for increased wages—and they should have an increase in wages. The workers in agriculture deserve every penny they get.

But where will the money come from? I have done a rough calculation which shows that under the Chancellor's proposal, the agricultural industry must contribute approximately £¾ million a week. On the basis of 600,000 workers in the industry at 25s. per head, this represents about £40 million a year. We are told that this will be taken into account at the next Price Review.

The new payments will start to be made in November. Heaven alone knows how many months it will take farmers to get their rebates from the Government. The Government are loading themselves up with rebate schemes, and they will be getting others going before this one comes into operation. To tell the farmers of this imposition today is disastrous for the industry.

In the National Plan, the industry that could make the greatest contribution towards partially solving our balance of payments problem is agriculture. It could produce anything between another £100 million and £200 million worth of food a year. We will have the extra-ordinary situation of the dairy farmer or the cereal grower being penalised but the chocolate manufacturer, who gets his milk at half its real price, being treated as a manufacturer. Surely, farmers who grow food should be treated as manufacturers. They should come into the full orbit. Enough men are leaving the farming industry without making things more difficult for the industry. People are leaving because of low wages and profit margins, and small farmers are having to get out of business altogether.

Clearly, the Labour Government have no love for agriculture. The hon. Member for Willesden, West referred to papers which he received from the National Farmers' Union. I have no doubt that in Willesden he is not greatly concerned about agriculture, but I suggest that nationally this industry can make a real contribution towards solving our problems. It is an industry which has always done what has been asked of it by successive Governments. It has had no strikes, it gets on with the job and it has increased production year by year with fewer men, yet this kind of disgraceful treatment is meted out to it today.

On the question of Government expenditure, the Chancellor told us nothing, except possibly on defence, about what the Government will do about their own affairs. They are the country's largest employer of labour. One reads of firms like Courtaulds, I.C.I. and Shell engaging experts like McKinsey's to go through their organisation with a fine comb to show what staff can be dispensed with. Why do not the Government set an example to the country by putting a fine comb through Government organisations and nationalised industries? The hon. Member for Willesden, West referred to civil servants. We have nearly 12,000 more civil servants today than we had a year ago. How many more will there he in a year's time with all these commissions and organisations that the Government propose to set up? That is where the money is going. If the Government want anyone to follow suit they should set their example, but they are not doing so.

I am sure that McKinsey's or some similar organisation, if it went through the Post Office, could achieve a great deal. But even Lord Beeching, doing the same sort of job for British Railways and having some success, was "fired". It was unsavoury of certain hon. Members opposite to throw him out when he was achieving so much. Of course, no one likes the results of these inquiries. No executive likes being told that he is surplus to the establishment. But we must sort out these things.

What worries me is that about 20 per cent. of the 10 million workers employed in industry are in the wrong industry, be it the motor industry or the aircraft industry, or any other. They are being held in their jobs by their firms because they will be needed if there is an upsurge of orders. What we want is a redistribution of workers. What will happen, however, is that there will be a great incentive to manufacturing industries to take on more workers. We want to distribute the labour to those needing it most. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the North-East. One cannot get skilled workers. It is surprising?

A young doctor in my constituency qualified a year ago and works in a hospital in Manchester. By the time he has paid his keep he is left with £30-odd a month. One more year and this young doctor intends to go to New Zealand, following 600 other doctors who have left the country in the past year. The Government must give incentives not only to doctors and professional men but to everyone. By taxing people so very heavily they will drive them out of the country. Some years ago the Prime Minister talked of the "brain drain". It is greater today than since the end of the war. People are flocking out of the country by plane and ship to Australia, Malta, Canada and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, and they include men we can ill afford to lose.

If our industries are to make the contribution that is needed, what must be done is to get men out of industries where they are surplus and not really required into those industries which need more labour. This is a serious situation. The Prime Minister will no doubt go out on his crusade and we shall be told again about the Dunkirk spirit. But what the country really must be told are home truths and hard facts.

The truth is that unless every person, whether he be a chairman or managing director, or an office cleaner, appreciates that he has to work another five or ten per cent. harder than in recent years, the country is in for a very rough time. The average working week is 40 hours, but the average number of hours worked is 47. Overtime totals on average seven hours. The individual is taxed so highly that he wants overtime to make up for his high taxation.

Hon. Members opposite say that we complain about Income Tax. Not at all. Of course money has to be raised. But if we could increase our gross product, that would take care of the extra schools and motorways that we all want. We cannot live on credit and "tick".

The Chancellor was very optimistic about the repayment of loans. We must face the fundamental issues affecting managements and unions. Far too many executives climb into their offices at 9.45 a.m. Continental firms know this and are quite aware that they cannot even get a telephone call through before 9 a.m. No typist will start work before 9 a.m.

There must be a change of outlook by everyone in the country if we are to make our way as a competitive nation. The Government appear to be converted to the idea of joining the E.E.C. The Prime Minister is doing another somersault and we shall probably be in it within two or three years. But if we do go into Europe there will be strong competition among all classes. Even the unions will have to face competition from abroad. But it will be the best way to bring the country to its senses so that it uses its great energy and experience before it is too late.