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 Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Enfield West 12:00 am, 12th March 1973

It might have been a good speech, but even good speches become boring if repeated too often. I do not intend to become embroiled in a private argument that is taking place between the hon. Member for Woolwich, West and certain other Labour Members about our joining the Common Market. At this point of time when we have been a member of the Common Market for some 10 weeks it is not credible to retrace all those arguments and to put the blame for all our problems on that one event.

Having sat through most of the four days of this interesting debate and speaking at the twilight hour on the fourth day, it is not easy to feel that one will make any contribution that is either exciting or interesting to the House. But the opening speech by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) provided a reasonable shot of adrenalin for those whose spirits might have been flagging. Many of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks and much of his fervour are fuelled by the very bad conscience which the right hon. Gentleman must have. I cannot stop asking myself why after two years of record pay increases, which nobody denies—and the hospital workers have had a 34 per cent. increase since the Conservatives have been in power—the right hon. Gentleman, who was in a key position in the Labour Government for six years, does not recognise that the more he talks about the plight of the under-paid the more he forces us to question why after Labour's six years of government so many workers remained so poorly paid. Until he produces an answer to that question, much of what he said about the Conservative record in helping the lower paid will be treated with a certain amount of contempt.

I thought the right hon. Gentleman in his speech gave a clue to the way in which his mind works when he replied to an intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler). The right hon. Gentleman quoted from a leader in The Times today about the untimely death of the former Member for Sutton and Cheam. He quoted a passage in that leading article in which he spoke of the fact that it was understandable that if one lived in a community where people who do not live to a very high standard catch glimpses of luxury living by people living at a very high standard, albeit transitorily, then one must expect tensions and resentments and some of the unfortunate consequences that stem from those strong feelings.

It seemed to me that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was speaking straight from the heart. He was saying that those conditions exist and that we should ignore the fact that many of the people enjoying the luxury might well be trade unionists on a five-day package tour from New York, people who may well have worked for a very long time in order to pay for that holiday. Any set of circumstances can be misinterpreted, and the people who misinterpret them by implication are justified in doing so. Theirs is a human reaction. Therefore, the attitude is that we should not waste time trying to explain that the people enjoying a little luxury might have worked for it and that it might well have come as a reward for hard work, but that we should pander to the fact that there is a misunderstanding of the situation and must cash in on it.

Throughout so much of what the right hon. Gentleman says about the low paid, the impression is gained that he is repeating the theme used by the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice)—namely, it does not matter whether people are right or wrong or prejudiced or misguided if that is the way they feel. Play up to it. In his reply to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth the right hon. Gentleman gave us a clue about his well-intentioned but totally misguided motivation.

I endorse with enthusiasm my right hon. Friend's commitment to continue for sustained growth. Many hon. Members, including hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite, have very good growth speeches in them. Unlike them, I never had the opportunity to get mine out. However, I know that when I make mine I shall strike a certain chord with them.

I became interested some years ago in a paper which I read by Herman Kahn of the Hudson Institute about world prospects for the 1970s and the 1980s. I was intrigued by parts of the article in which he briefly assessed Britain's prospects unless major changes took place. He said that in his view the British would at worst enjoy a standard of prosperity by the 1980s of 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. of the rest of the West, and, at best, of 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. He said that the British were being out-distanced but they did not apparently mind. He felt that when they eventually woke up to the fact that they were being outdistanced, and if their achievement was in the 50 to 60 per cent. bracket there would be a wave of national self-disgust and a challenge to many of the basic assumptions on which we base our way of life. He suggested that we spend too much of our time squabbling about how to divide inadequate resources rather than deciding how to generate more resources.

Herman Kahn contrasted our position with that of Japan. One of the most damaging parts of his assessment of the situation, and an interesting one, which I recommend to the House were 15 reasons why the Japanese will continue to grow extremely quickly. He said that the same 15 reasons in reverse would apply to Great Britain.

I do not intend to bore the House by rehearsing the 15 reasons which he gave. When hon. Members have heard a few of them they will understand why I do not rehearse the 15. It seems necessary to go on a course so as to learn the Hudson Institute jargon. I shall give a brief illustration of the jargon. One of the 15 reasons is that the Japanese are— Economically and patriotically advancement-oriented, achievement-oriented, work-oriented and deferred gratification, loyal, enthusiastic employees—probably increasingly so. If one gets through the jargon it says that it matters to the Japanese that they are economically prosperous, that they are prepared to work to achieve an end which they regard as desirable, and that they are prepared to wait until they get the benefit of the prosperity which they set out to achieve. "Deferred gratification" is an awful phrase for something which, in my view, is an extremely important element in a society's approach. People accept that if they work hard and they generate work, the results will come through after—not before—the hard work.

It goes on to mention a strong commitment to economic growth and Relatively few and/or weak pressures to divert excessive resources to "low economic productivity' uses He is saying there, in other words, that they do not believe in propping up Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to very little purpose. The current high momentum of growth facilitates further rapid growth. In other words, if there is a pattern of rapid growth there is the fuel to sustain further rapid growth.

During the last four days I have listened to speech after speech during which the question has been asked—can we sustain a growth rate of 5 per cent.? My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), says, with some relish, that he does not think that we can sustain growth at 3½ per cent. My hon. Friend says that we never had and he does not see how we ever can.

As I have listened to several speeches my mind has gone back to the days when I was growing up on the shores of Morecambe Bay. In that area we used to say—my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) can confirm what I said in this respect—that if the Lake District could be seen from Morecambe Bay it would rain and, if it could not be seen, it was raining. As I have listened to the speeches of hon. Members I have had the feeling that the attitude is, "We know that times are quite good now, but that is the worst sign of all. It means that they are bound to be bad shortly."

We as a nation have talked ourselves into the belief that we are incapable of sustaining a rate of growth which most people would not find acceptable anyway. The Government, in once again stating their determination to go for growth and to take a slight risk in going for growth and to sustain a pattern of 5 per cent., have taken a vital stand. If we achieve this rate, and continue to achieve it, then in Hudson Institute jargon it could be that a current high momentum of growth facilitates further rapid growth Hon. Members should stop talking as if Britain will inevitably be mediocre. By talking like this they may well be making a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My principal criticism of Opposition Members is that in every major Opposition speech we have heard talk of doom, crisis and trouble. My feeling is that hon. Members opposite are obsessed with gloom and cannot talk about anything else. As I said earlier about the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, I have the impression that hon. Members opposite enjoy reinforcing prejudice and backing unreason and militancy wherever they are to be found.

Today the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East spoke about all the products whose prices had risen but made no mention of the fact that wages had risen twice as fast as prices. That omission was made to delay the message getting through to the people that their standard of living has been rising twice as fast in the last two years as it has for years. One feels that it is a message that they do not want to allow to get through lest the prejudice which they hope to sustain be undermined.

I should like briefly to mention a few of the positive signs. I have mentioned growth. We are now growing faster than for many years. One hon. Member opposite complained that the Chancellor had not discussed the balance of payments situation. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor dealt with that in the Budget speech. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North gave us his view. We now know what that is, and I prefer the Chancellor's view. But to say that the balance of payments situation was not discussed is untrue. It was discussed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor who takes the view that we are now collecting the worse effects on our imports of our effective devaluation, and that the benefits to our exports will come through later. He believes that world trade will be increasingly buoyant, and we are well placed to obtain our share. All this has been mentioned but, because it does not fit in with the right hon. Gentleman's prejudices and his complete fixation about the Common Market, he gives the impression that the subject was not discussed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry mentioned the record orders in the machine tool industry and in engineering—the highest ever. We are told that these two industries are particularly sensitive barometers—but according to the Opposition, not apparently when they are giving out a message which is hopeful. Then they are to be ignored.