Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1973.

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Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East 12:00 am, 12th March 1973

If the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) who follows these matters carefully, seriously thinks that he can persuade the public that the surtax payer has been put at a disadvantage, even allowing for the point that the hon. Member made, by his Government and notably by the Budget he has missed the point.

May I read an extract from a leading article in The Times which I did not mean to quote but which exactly provides an answer to the question. The article concerns the situation in Bermuda following the tragic murder of Sir Richard Sharpies. The passage makes a reference so relevant to what we are discussing that I should like to read it. It is an incredible statement: Tourism, however profitable, unfortunately breeds discontent and social tension—and not only in the West Indies—when the local people, taking employment in the hotels, see at close quarters the disparity between the tourists' standards (temporary as these may sometimes be) and their own. The tourist generates both greed and a sense of national identity where neither prevailed so strongly before his advent. When the average workers in this country—and, even more important maybe, the lower paid who have lived in a sort of industrial dungeon from which they did not feel they could emerge—learn what the Government are giving to the rich, it creates a whole new political situation, and it is to that issue that I want to direct the attention of the House.

Confronted with this situation the Government have responded by trying to restrict the freedom of the trade union movement. The Industrial Relations Act was the first shot in the battle. Then, through the Counter-Inflation Bill the Government have laid down an upper limit and have therefore assumed the rôle of the employers by limiting wage increases. They then make industrial action illegal and then they say that decisions about wages are made not by Ministers but by a Pay Board not accountable to Parliament. Then they bring the courts in to enforce it and then they wheel out the Lord Chancellor like Big Bertha to make a speech about patriotism.

That is the Government's answer to the militancy created by Government policy. That is what it is all about. When the Chief Secretary speaks about it he knows that he is dealing with militancy in industry. If workers take industrial action, that is extra-parliamentary action and he condemns it. If the workers reflect their view through a joint statement with the Labour Party he regards that as putting the Labour Party at the mercy of the TUC. Whichever way the people of this country act to correct the injustices from which they suffer, the Government have a way of blocking off.