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Her Majesty's Government (Opposition Motion)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th June 1976.

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Photo of Mr Brian Sedgemore Mr Brian Sedgemore , Luton West 12:00 am, 9th June 1976

The speeches from the Opposition have confirmed my view that the Press will describe this debate tomorrow as the great debacle. Having guaranteed that they will lose the vote, the members of the Opposition Front Bench team have ordered their troops out of the trenches, on to the open plains and into their graves.

This is an extraordinary censure motion. Like the Conservative Party, censure motions are an anachronism. When they are designed to suggest virility in a barren and sterile Opposition, they are only an insult to the intelligence of the British public. The fact that the motion is in the name of the chicken lady who leads the Opposition and who least wants to be Prime Minister can only cause bewilderment among Conservative Party supporters throughout the land similar to the bewilderment caused when she won the leadership stakes.

What a temptress and tease she has turned out to be. It would be tragic were it not for the fact that the British public can see through phoneys very quickly.

The motion was put down in a fit of tantrum. Not content with challenging the supreme authority of this House by stealing and brawling over the Mace, the strangely inflected distaff of speeches knocking Great Britain overseas, the encouragement of speculators to damage the international payments system beyond repair, unhappy that the Government have not announced any further public expenditure cuts in this debate and angry with the dismal performance of their Front Bench since Monday this week, a number of hon. Members have decided to threaten democracy as can any Opposition by a series of practices which could bring government to a halt.

It is a pity that some of them seem to have lost the sense of the meaning of the word "patriotism". I will accept that the Conservative Party was once a great political party in this country, but I cannot help feeling that we shall be talking about the trahison des Bourbons to our granchildren with great regret. That treachery of the Bourbons is eloquently, if deliberately, pointed up by the whining and whinnying of the Poujadism of the Leader of the Opposition.

The Opposition are in a rage about public expenditure. They have waged a campaign down three decades in this country against public expenditure which has no counterpart elsewhere in Western Europe. The idea that public expenditure is somehow wrong or evil burns very deeply in the Conservative soul, yet even there there is ambivalence. Their attitude is redolent with hypocrisy. It is based on what the Prime Minister described as class antagonism.

When one analyses their attitude, one sees that they are against subsidies for council tenants but for mortgage tax relief for £100,000 three-acre executive houses. We had that debate in Committee on the Finance Bill at which both I and the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) were present. They are against social security benefits for the families of those involved in industrial disputes, but they are for subsidies, grants, handouts and tax reliefs for free enterprise firms which no one could describe as either free or enterprising. They are against free milk for the kiddies but for tax relief on insurance premiums for the better-off.

They are against the cost of raising the school leaving age, but they are for tax relief to enable the middle classes to fulfil their fantasies by sending their offspring to independent and private schools. They are against building nursery schools and hospitals, but they are for subsidising national insurance stamps for the self-employed. They are against setting up a police complaints board, but all in favour of actions which will force up expenditure on the police by the nasty racialist speeches of some of their Back Benchers, which have already led to trouble on our streets.

They are against public expenditure in general, but they are for the election bribes to end all election bribes of open-ended mortgage subsidies and the £3 billion a year tax credits scheme. So far as the poorest and weakest in our society are concerned, they cry halt and they bay sacrifice; so far as the richest and most powerful people are concerned, when it comes to public expenditure, they cry rights and they bay incentives.

In order to get their attitude on to the psyche of the British people they use deceit. They use deceit about the level of taxation in this country, deceit about the effects of taxation on incentives, deceit about the unprogressive nature of our tax system, deceit about the tax evasion and tax avoidance which they succour, deceit about the middle-class nature of our Welfare State, deceit about public expenditure pricing, deceit about the popularity of public enterprise elsewhere in Western Europe.

But worse than all that, they use deceit about the economic argument concerning public expenditure. They really do know, the more intelligent on their Front Bench, that public expenditure cuts now will not help our economy. They have seen the pound rise without public expenditure cuts and they know that the borrowing requirement at this time is not too high. They know that it is being financed comfortably and without printing money. They know that it is being financed without raising interest rates and without crowding resources out of manufacturing industry.

It is about time that the Tories dropped all this voodoo which concerns public expenditure. They really must know that further public expenditure cuts now can only increase unemployment. But apparently, the pursuit of unemployment, like the pursuit of inequality, lies deep in the Conservative heart.

The one positive thing which has come out of the last few weeks is the growing unity, at least in theory, about how we on this side should approach public expenditure. I was genuinely happy to hear the Prime Minister today, in a few moving phrases, develop the idea of the positive concept of freedom. That positive concept runs through Socialism in every country in the world. I was glad to hear him say that, effectively, most forms of public expenditure cuts were a denial of human freedom.

That links up with a recent Fabian pamphlet whose criticism of the Tory establishment's view of public expenditure cuts makes the criticisms of the Tribune Group look very tame indeed. I was pleased to see that Howard Glennister and Paul Ormerod from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research slammed the orthodox Tory attitude to public expenditure cuts. A few weeks ago I heard the Foreign Secretary also break down the central argument about further public expenditure cuts. I read with interest last week that the Secretary of State for Energy said that it would be totally wrong for this Government to cut public expenditure further. Therefore it seems that there is a growing unity in our party.

All that I ask of the Government Front Bench, if this growing unity exists and if the philosphy is coming together, is a simple statement tonight that Whitehall will not carry out a review designed to see what the effects will be of a further £2 billion per annum of public expenditure cuts.

At least we have the philosophy right, and I hope that we shall get the practice right. But the stench of hypocrisy in this debate is in danger of inducing nausea in the Chamber and in the country at large. I hope that we shall reject this censure motion with the absolute and bitter contempt it deserves. It sums up all the sourness and bitterness embodied in modern Conservatives.