Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1966.

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Photo of Mr John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwickshire and East Lothian 12:00 am, 9th May 1966

In the world. It was there that the eighteenth century agricultural revolution was born and it was there that we learned to drain, to plant tree belt barriers, to try new forms of stock. The farmers of East Lothian are among the finest in Britain.

They have felt a squeeze from Governments of both parties since the 1957 Agriculture Act and this squeeze has gone on and on, despite increasing efficiency and effort on their part. We cannot, as the economists say, quickly drive men in farming bankrupt. These men's farms are worth £120,000, £180,000 or £200,000. A man can be driven into debt—a bank will carry an overdraft of £40,000 or £50,000 on assets of this kind—but if a man is driven into debt for ten successive years, he gets worried and begins to wonder.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) talked about a crisis of confidence in the mining industry, and the same is true of the farming industry. The farmers are disillusioned and cynical about politicians of both parties. What we have to do now is to assure them that this tax is not yet another blow aimed at them. I think that it is within the Chancellor's power this afternoon to do this. Let us be clear about it. We now have, for the first time, a steady future for farming. We have given farmers, by way of the National Plan, long-term targets and shown them that they will get selective expansion. What we need to do now is assure them that this is a genuine policy and that we are not attempting to add fresh burdens to men who have increased efficiency and who, in 1963, took an 8 per cent. cut in income, in 1964, a 15 per cent. cut in income, and who are now offered a small 5 per cent. rise in the present Price Review.

The three things which I should like the Chancellor to consider and which, I think, would restore confidence would be within his own aims. He does not intend the farming community to have to pay the tax. He intends them to get it back. Let him make it clear that if they start paying this September and pay through the following year, whatever method of reimbursement is used will cover all these payments from September and will not cover only the payments from the 1967 Price Review onwards.

Secondly, could he not devise a method of seeing that the repayment went to the people who made the original payment. As has been stressed in the House again and again, the people who will be paying in proportion to their manpower, if the money is given back through the Price Review, will not be the same people. There is no reason why a different principle should be applied to farming from that applied to manufacturers.

My third point is that I should be grateful if he would find some method of solving the problem of horticulture, which operates on very thin margins and which would have to pay the tax. This industry does not come under the Price Review. I appreciate the Chancellor's point that this is a vital, important and progressive tax reform. He wants to get it launched. He cannot dab bits of paint on the funnel to suit every interest, but I ask for something within the limits of his own policy, which is part of his intention and which requires only administrative manipulation.

We have, of course, light industry in Berwick and East Lothian, although unfortunately too little. I am sorry that the Financial Secretary has just left the Chamber, as I wanted to address my remarks to him, through the Chair, on this point. If anything tilted the scales in my constituency at the election, it was the National Plan, broken down into its regional framework, which offered us in our area, for the first time, a border development plan, an attempt to bring population, to give to Berwickshire, an area which is losing population faster than the Highlands and faster, I think than any other place in Britain.

It offered the Lothians a chance of employment, to replace industry and jobs lost in mining. I think we were all moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian, a neighbouring constituency, when he made his eloquent plea for the miners. Many of them work in my constituency and their alarm is great. I can only emphasise my hon. Friend's point. We need industry in the Lothians to replace those lost jobs. We have the plans before us, but what I want the Government to consider is who is to carry out these regional development plans. I do not think that adequate thought has been given to this.

The target is set out before us in the Scottish White Paper for the next five years, giving advance factories, houses, roads—an infrastructure—but who will put them on the ground? I know that the present tendency is to say, "Let the local authorities do this", but I should like all hon. Members to think about their own constituencies. I am sure that they will agree that local authorities cannot be adequate engines of development in all parts of Britain. If hon. Members represent constituencies in the North-West, they will know that there are four local authorities in that area which can do a magnificent job—Lancashire, Cheshire, Liverpool and Manchester—but the places which need most regeneration are the smaller boroughs, which have not the money, the skill nor the expertise to do this job.

Who will do it there? We in Scotland, in the Borders, have some excellent local authorities. I am fortunate, with two good county councils, but I have 11 small burghs which have good hard working men but do not have the manpower, the skilled town clerks, the surveyors, the architects, or the money to do the job.

I know that the answer which I will get from my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench is, "We will reform local government and when we have big units they can do the job". However, my reply would be, "It will take two years to get the report from the Royal Commission and another two years before we get a Bill through the House which will result in these new big local authorities". We cannot wait four years for this development. I am frightened that it will be a continuing song throughout this Parliament of, "Wait for the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government".

If we cannot wait for four years, who will do the job? What frightens me is that we will have another rash of ad hoc bodies, what we in the study of political science call "intermediate government"—scrambled-together agencies, consultative committees, bodies here, consultants there, who will replan, rethink a bit here and there, who will work hard, but who will not organise the crash programme which we require to halt depopulation, to provide jobs in the declining mining and agricultural industries.

I ask the Government to consider a uniform executive agency for this work. I would prefer something like the new town authorities but, instead of being tied to a particular town, attached to an area, including town and countryside, to which we would appoint a specialist group of men with the technical expertise to do a package deal, to bring in the advance factories, put up the houses, build the approach roads and provide the power. Naturally, they can work in co-operation with the local authorities, if they are capable of doing the job. If not, this agency could do the job on its own.

At the last election, we won because we were able to offer—I am wearing my academic hat now, rather than my political hat—an idea. We offered a positive programme of ideas and attempts to tackle old-fashioned, difficult problems which no one had looked at for the past 10 or 20 years. At the next election, we will not be judged on plans and programmes but on actual, concrete activity on the ground. Are the factories there? Have the houses been built? Is agriculture thriving? This is how we will be judged.

I also believe that, in doing this, we have brought the country a step nearer to a society animated by social justice, with more enthusiasm, openness and willingness to consider new ideas. It is because this tax is a new idea that I welcome the Budget. I hope that, with his enthusiasm, the Chancellor goes on from strength to strength and sees that we, in our areas, get the jobs, the opportunities on the ground, where people need them.