Annual Report on the Operation of Capital Allowances

Part of New Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th July 1971.

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Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West 12:00 am, 5th July 1971

No—not at all. I was making the point that it is a little absurd to argue that we should not trouble industry for further information about its activities, or about money that the State gives it, when industry itself takes a lot of trouble to discover first such information from its customers and clients, and from ordinary members of the public.

At one stage I worked for Rowntrees for six months, in London. I questioned surburban housewives, trying to discover whether they wanted the covering of Kit-Kat bars to be thick or thin, and made of milk or plain chocolate; what they wanted the wrapper to look like, and whether they were satisfied with the price. The price, incidentally, is now very much higher than it was then.

That is the sort of information that industry desperately requires and goes to a great deal of trouble and inconvenience to acquire. The Government, similarly, go through a great deal of trouble to acquire information for planning purposes. It is said that industry should not be bothered; that it has already too many forms to fill in. But this information is essential for planning purposes. We must have it if we are properly to plan the facilities and services that the State provides.

I want to know what the Chief Secretary meant when he said that firms need not send in the information about the distinction between development areas and non-development areas. I should have thought that the whole point was that there are differential allowances for development areas and non-development areas. I find it difficult to believe that such information should not be sent in some way to tax inspectors, since there is a differential grant and a differential allowance. I accept the Minister's greater wisdom—I know that he reads his briefs well—but I am surprised that that should be the case. I should have thought that a firm would send in this information. It would certainly need it itself, and it would not be involved in much trouble if it had to pass it to the taxation authorities.

We are concerned not only with the Government's reluctance to ask for the provision of information of this sort, on grounds that we must beneficently call laziness; we are also a little suspicious about the attitude underlying it. Since the Government are committed to reducing public expenditure—or, at least, reducing the rate of increase in public expenditure—and made pronouncements about regional policy even before the General Election which indicated that they believed in some form of regional policy, we find it difficult to know how they square the circle. We suspect that they do so by occasionally announcing little lump sums for ad hoc programmes which, when analysed in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has analysed them, add up to a programme far less satisfying and less effective than the one operated by the last Government, or that we should be entitled to hope for at this point in our history.

The proposals under the Local Employment Act were shown eventually to indicate a rate of increase lower than the rate of increase achieved by the last Government. Secondly, there was help to the special development areas, which, once the Prime Minister got his facts right—he over-estimated the position in the first place by 150 per cent., and even then it will be only £10 million in five years' time—are shown to amount to nothing very quickly. More recently there was a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment on policy in the housing areas. That seemed to show a quaint mixture between regional policy and housing policy. We are all aware that housing is as bad in London as in any development area. Hon. Members who represent development areas would concede that. This is a strange mix-up in inter-departmental co-ordination. If that is what the Secretary of State's policy will lead to, he had better start on a different tack.

Finally, there was the inspired leak—perhaps the word "inspired" is a little odd in this context—of a £100 million public works programme for the winter. The word "inspired" is a little too ambitious for something that the Labour Government have already done four times, in the winter, and which is no more than a topping up of a well-known programme. Not only that; it was used by the Labour Government for anti-seasonal purposes to counteract the seasonal drop in the work of the construction industry.

This Government seem to be using it to cope with the whole problem of unemployment, and in that respect it is more unsatisfactory now than it was in the first place. This policy of announcing with great fanfares that lumps of money are going to be available in five years' time, to be put into regional economies, seems to require more careful inspection—the sort that would arise if we had an annual review linked to the capital allowances programme, as an essential part of regional planning. In order to bring about more effective programmes, with good planning, we must have more information coming forward on regional matters which will allow people to make more effective judgments of the effect of our programmes. That would clear away the vast cloud of suspicion that hangs over the Government's efforts so far.