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 Sir John Hall Sir John Hall , Wycombe 12:00 am, 12th March 1973

I always listen to the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) with the greatest admiration. He generally builds up an absolutely brilliant argument which seems to be unanswerable—except that it is generally based on an entirely false premise. The words come out in an apparently unceasing cascade and to such an extent that most of us are bemused at the end and find it difficult adequately to respond.

As far as I could make out, the right hon. Gentleman's speech consisted in large part of a reintroduction of much of the speech he made last Monday on the Pay and Price Code. It was none the worse for that, because many of the things he said then were matters which should have our consideration. He listed for the second time in seven days the Labour Party's policy for the future which, if it were ever implemented, would mean as far as I can ascertain a sustained increase in wages—certainly no check in that increase—but a holding of prices in such a way that it would inevitably mean that goods would disappear from the shops, expansion would cease and there would be a general falling-off in industrial competition. We would then find that the situation would leave us economically much weaker than we have been for many years.

The main object of the Opposition in their comments on the Budget is to concentrate upon the contrast between what it is said is being asked for by the trade uionists and the "give-away" to what we call the rich man. By "give-away" they mean the Government's decision to cease taking quite so much at some time in the future from some of our taxpayers. The right hon. Gentleman avoided the challenge from this side of the House about whether surtax payers would pay more or less or even the same this year or next year as in the past. He pointed out that the new rates did eventually produce a benefit for the surtax payer—and that is quite right. If we consider the normal surtax payer it will be seen that he will be called upon to pay two lots of surtax in the current year the second of which arises from the new higher rates of PAYE. If he were asked to pay it all in one year, it would amount to a considerable sum, especially for the high surtax payer. For that reason the Government were prepared to allow such persons the concession of paying that extra burden of taxation over a period of three years depending upon the amount they are liable to pay this year.

That means that very few surtax payers will find any benefit at all from the present reductions until the tax year 1976–77. I would not say that that was a handout to the rich. That will not stop hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite from saying this whenever they can. They describe their attitude as the politics of fairness. It is the politics of envy. They are endeavouring to stir up the fires among trade unionists, who are demanding higher wages by saying, "What you are demanding is quite reasonable, quite a small amount when you consider the amount that has been given away to these rich people. It may be true that they may not be getting anything worth while for some years but nevertheless how can the Government contrast the amount for which you are asking with the amount which they are giving away?" This is an appealing thing to say. If I wanted to go on to the soap box in my constituency I have no doubt that there would be people who would cheer me to the echo if I were to use that kind of argument. It is easy to get people to rise to such an approach.

I imagine from what the right hon. Gentleman said that he almost envisages the time when we are all paid the same, because only then would anyone have the right to comment on another person's pay. He argues that if a man is earning £5,000 a year or more he is in no position to comment on the demands of another section of the community which may be less well-off. Ergo, in the end, to comment effectively on anyone's income we must all be paid the same. In a Communist organised society I suppose that might be possible. But, looking at the Communist countries, it does not seem to work. The differentiation between the top and the lower ranks in the Communist countries seems far greater than in Western democracy. The prospect offered by the right hon. Gentleman is not likely to be realised. The only place I suppose that Socialism, as the right hon. Gentleman understands it, could be realised is in Heaven, but it is said that there it is not necessary, while in Hell they have it already.