Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:01 pm on 16th March 1989.

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Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham 9:01 pm, 16th March 1989

Yes, indeed—and to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow.

I would not be allowed to say, too baldly, that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was dishonest, but it is true that he was economical with the truth when he said that the index of manufacturing production was lower when the Labour Government left office in 1979 than when they took office in 1974. That statement is true, but it does not give the full picture. There is no mention of the oil crisis of 1974–75 or of the fact that the index of manufacturing production for the Labour Administration was always higher than under the Conservative Administration between 1980 and 1986. It is only now returning to its level under the last Conservative Government of the 1970s led by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

The contribution of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was an example of news management, was glib and made no contribution to the debate.

Let me give another example of news management. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said yesterday: we are enjoying the longest period of growth since the war."—[Official Report, 15 March 1989; Vol. 149, c. 435.]

Today, that was almost parroted by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he said: We are in our eighth year of growth.

If the average person were to hear that without giving it a great deal of thought, he might think that the economy was actually a success. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) had it right yesterday when he said: in the whole period from 1979, the growth rate has been unusually slow. The growth of manufacturing output since 1979 has been the slowest of the post-war period—that is, slower than any nine-year period before 1979."—[Official Report, 15 March 1989; Vol. 149, c. 440–41.] That is the fact of the matter. It is all very well to use glib words such as We are in our eighth year of growth", but they are meaningless and add nothing to the debate. Indeed, it demeans Members on the Treasury Bench when they make statements like that without any thought as to what they mean and the impression that they may give. Such remarks are simply facile, and I hope that Treasury Ministers will turn over a new leaf.

Let me give another example of news management. At 10.30 pm on Tuesday, the day of the Budget, the Chancellor was giving his forecast on Radio 4. I am not sure that I have got it right, but he said something like this: "There has been a massive break-away from the policies of the past of high taxation"—the implication being that Labour is the party of high taxation and that he has broken away from that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] I hope that those hon. Members who are saying "Hear, hear" will explain carefully what they mean. I will give them every opportunity to do so.

Again, the Chief Secretary parroted in the House what the Chancellor had said on radio: Labour is the party of high taxation. We are the party of low taxation. But he gave the game away earlier when he said: The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said, correctly, that the tax burden has gone up".—[Official Report, 15 March 1989; Vol. 149, c. 425–29] The tax burden has indeed gone up, and in the Red Book, page 18, there is a very telling table. Table 2.5 deals with non-oil taxes and national insurance contributions as a percentage of non-oil money GDP. From this table it can be seen that under the last Labour Government from 1974 to 1979 that percentage was never above 36 per cent., yet under the Conservative Administration from 1979 until 1989 it has never been below 36 per cent. Where now are all those Tory Members who were saying "Hear, hear", meaning that Labour is the party of high taxation?