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Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Jeffrey Archer Mr Jeffrey Archer , Louth Borough 12:00 am, 20th April 1970

I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for making my maiden speech in the Budget debate, when so many Privy Councillors wish to speak. I had intended to speak on the Second Reading of the Misuse of Drugs Bill, but, due to influenza and the misuse of aspirins, I was unable to do so.

I have the privilege of representing the constituency of Louth, which is in itself a misnomer, for the largest part of the constituency is the attractive seaside town of Cleethorpes and the most progressive and forward-looking great new industrial port and complex of Immingham. Perhaps the Boundary Commission, in its wisdom—and it was allowed its wisdom on this occasion—decided to name the constituency after one of the most pleasant market towns in Lincolnshire, or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) pointed out, after one of the most beautiful parish churches in the country.

Half the House will not know where Louth is and the other half will never have been there—that is to say, until the recent by-election, when right hon. and hon. Members from both sides appeared in droves on the 4.30 train from King's Cross. I suspect that right hon. and hon. Members of Her Majesty's Government who arrived very late at night and departed a little later may still not know where Louth is. The Minister of Transport's decision to axe the local railway line will leave them little chance of finding out.

The entry of a new Member to the House of Commons so often arises because of a personal tragedy and loss, and in this Louth was no exception. I know that the late Sir Cyril Osborne was one of the most respected Members of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] —proving that, to be respected, it is not necessary to be all things to all men. He fought courageously for his constituents and expressed his views with determination and integrity. I shall attempt, in my dealings with constituents and, indeed, with the House, to show the same courage and same forthright determination, but I cannot guarantee that I shall always be as controversial.

I think that it is not a tradition of the House to mention anyone other than the late Member, but I shall, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, break with the custom by saying that Lady Osborne has played as great a role in politics as her distinguished husband and that she continues to be one of the most respected women in public life today.

I am of that generation which has never known this country at war and has really never known her as a No. 1 world Power. My first vote was in the 1964 General Election, which saw the return of a Labour Government even if that return was not assisted by my vote. Since then, I have watched five Budgets increase taxation by varying amounts from £12 million to £900 million, after being promised, as a young voter, that there would be no general increase in taxation. Last Tuesday, I listened to my first Budget lower taxation by £220 million.

I remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of his own maiden speech, made on 3rd June, 1948, when he said: …it was possible to point out "— that was, to the electorate— that it was better to have a somewhat harsh Budget, which would cure inflation, rather than a generous, popular Budget which would merely undermine the purchasing power of the pound."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1948; Vol. 451, c. 1254.] It would appear that inflation can no longer be cured by a harsh Budget. Nevertheless, I welcome this non-electioneering Budget and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being the first Labour Chancellor to lower taxation since his own maiden speech.

But I fear that I must, with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), make up a somewhat unusual and certainly unholy trinity in being very disappointed that the Chancellor felt unable to remove selective employment tax from the building industry. Were it not for my youth, I would take the cynical view and say that the only reason the Chancellor felt unable to cut this tax was to make it impossible for the Conservatives to abolish it. Perhaps I will know better when I grow older.

Nevertheless, I feel that the least the right hon. Gentleman could have done was to remove this tax from the apprentices in the building industry. It would have meant a cut of only about £12 million. This action alone would have done a great deal to relieve unemployment in the industry. Selective employment tax can add anything up to £200 to the price of a house, and often it is the final reason for a young married couple being unable to own their own home. It is absurd to regard the building industry as a service and not as a manufacturing industry. While only 7 per cent. of labour is employed in the industry, it seems ridiculous that it should provide 25 per cent. of the revenue collected by S.E.T.

Lack of housing is perhaps the greatest social problem of the last few years. I would have thought that the Government could have put home building in the same priority category as exports and farming as far back as November, 1967, and I still hope that it is not too late for the Chancellor to reconsider the situation. I remind him of a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister when he was Shadow Chancellor in 1958.

The right hon. Gentleman said: I suggest that this is a year when the Government should have… done everything in their power to help overcome the shortage of housing. Nothing has occurred during the last six years that has done anything to ease the housing situation. But the right hon. Gentleman made an even more important statement: In our excitement about tax concessions I hope we shall not forget that those concessions have been made possible at the expense of a quarter of a million additional unemployed…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1959; Vol. 603, c. 208.] In passing, I want to answer the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who mentioned the mortgage option scheme and said that I was not a Member of the House when it was brought in. I was not, but I was a young voter in 1964–65, when 3 per cent. mortgages were promised to people of my age group. Without going into more detail on the frustrations or disappointments, the successes or concessions of this Budget, I want to comment on one aspect which the Chancellor thought unnecessary to mention and which many of us I believe on both sides of the House will have found a sad omission.

The Budget statement made no reference to aid to under-developed countries. No one will pretend, especially someone young and new to the House, that we have money now to throw around in any direction without thought. But the lessening of our position in the world has in no way lowered our responsibility to those nations we once governed. The latest appeal by Christian Aid and Oxfam was supported by thousands of people throughout the country and I still believe that we as a nation have a role to play in the developing world. I hope that the Chancellor will find it possible to mention tonight what role he sees us playing.

All of us over the last few days will have watched the exploits of the American space men. I know that the nation will have been relieved and thankful for their safe return. We saw the wealth and brains of America bringing these three brave men home. I say with the greatest respect, however, that, from the beginning to the end of that flight, just over 48,000 people died of hunger, and that the world surely must put its wealth, its brains and its finance into solving this problem.

Finally, I return to the speech made by the Prime Minister when he was Shadow Chancellor. He ended it on a very high note by saying: Soon the electorate will be called upon to judge the record of this Government, reelected…with such high-sounding promises —as events have proved, fraudulent ones "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1959; Vol. 603, c. 228.] At this point, HANSARD records a noisy interruption from Sir Cyril Osborne.

The Chancellor must have been aware that the success of the country so often depends on the ability of the next generation. It is only just in time that he has brought back a little incentive into the tax system. I look to my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) to bring back, in his first Budget, incentive and free enterprise in a whole-hearted fashion so that the next generation will not find it necessary to emigrate to any part of the world which will pay them their true worth, thus depriving the nation of its greatest asset —indigenous talent.

Let us stop making "ambition" a dirty word and looking upon risk as an extension of gambling. I beg the Chancellor to remember that he is handing over a legacy to the next generation. Let it be a legacy that sees Britain not as a tiny island somewhere off Europe, which has only its history books to remind the young of its past greatness, but one that leaves Britain with a standard of living second to none.

Let us bring back the British way of life, a desire for each man to better his own and his family's existence. Let restriction and constriction be a thing of the past and incentive and reward again become part of our way of life.