Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 5:22 pm on 10th March 1992.

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Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge 5:22 pm, 10th March 1992

There has been a certain air of unreality in this afternoon's Budget debate in that most people know that a two point cut in interest rates would do more than anything else to revive the economy, but we know that that cannot be done because of German control. As an Englishman, it grieves me that we have handed over control of our economic and monetary affairs to a foreign bank. That is a non-party point, as the Opposition are even more keen on the exchange rate mechanism than are Conservative Members. I fear that the ghost of an independent bank rate decided by ourselves alone in these islands will haunt this country and its people for many years to come.

That, of course, is not my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's fault. I congratulate him on what he has done. I expect to see clarity of purpose and execution coming from this Budget—as I am sure we shall—with its principle of low taxes, protection of private property under the law, limited state intervention in social and economic affairs, emphasis on non-state institutions such as the Church and the family and rejection of bureaucratic attempts to centralise and standardise. I object to the state telling me what to do in any aspect of life where an individual should have free choice according to his conscience. I am glad, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has not made punitive increases in the taxation of tobacco and alcohol.

Looking at the country at large, and my constituency in particular, those in work have never been better off. With low inflation and average pay rises of 7 per cent., their standard of living has continued to rise. All that would be put at risk by a Labour Government. What is needed now is to help industry and commerce to recover as much as possible and to give individuals more confidence about their future, including those who, unfortunately, have become unemployed.

Looking back over previous years, I wish that we had been able to cut taxes by a larger amount, even if that meant paying less back in borrowing. I hope that we can still find a way to make local government more accountable to its electorate in terms of spending, which was the merit of the original community charge. I am also concerned about the increasing numbers in the exceedingly popular national health service, which is good and getting better. But we must watch the numbers. I think that I am right in saying that, with the disintegration of the Soviet army, the national health service is now the largest organisation in Europe. If its staff continues to increase at the present rate, in due course half the British people will be employed in the health service. Therefore, we must be careful, as I am sure the Government are, to ensure that we get full value for all money that is spent.

I welcome enormously the reduction in the business rate and the increase in VAT thresholds, as the contribution that small firms make to the economy is immense. As a Member from the west midlands, I am delighted that the tax on new cars is to be reduced. That will be greatly welcomed in my constituency and elsewhere. The reduction in inheritance tax on small businesses and farms is splendid. One hopes that those reductions will continue in the years to come with future Conservative Governments.

I welcome the lower band in income tax which has long been needed. That will help those who are in and out of work and who find life difficult. It is a splendid measure which I am glad the Government have introduced. Altogether, the tax cuts will stimulate investment and the economy and enhance confidence at consumer level. We must continue to help people to be more self-reliant and to provide more and more for their education, health and retirement.

It is vital that the Government and the Chancellor should be committed to minimising Government intervention in favour of the free market and individual choice. That is the essential difference between the Conservative and the Labour parties. We must also make it clear that we commend a Conservative Government who know what they want to do, who are confident that they can do it and who will have the chance to do it, too. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has shown confidence and competence and for that reason the Government deserve to win the next election.

I have two personal sadnesses which arise not from the Budget but from the way in which we spend or save our money. The cuts in the Army, in the armoured regiments and the infantry battalions, will prove to be a dangerous and false economy and I hope that the Government will reconsider them in a few weeks' time. I am also concerned about the headlong rush to enable more young people to go to university. More students may mean a lower standard. There are better ways of bringing on our young people than by making them mad to get a degree in all kinds of absurd subjects.

Finally, a Conservative Government must protect and defend the institutions for which Britain is so renowned—the Queen, Parliament and especially the House of Lords with its hereditary element, the Church of England, the judges, the armed services and the police.

I hope that we can emerge from this long recession, which is world wide, with more confidence. I hope that we can show that we have the will and the purpose to make our country great again, so that we can be an example to other nations, particularly on the continent, which so badly need a lead from us.

This may be the last speech that I shall make in the Chamber. I want to say how very much I have enjoyed being here. What a privilege it has been to represent my constituents and to stand up for all that is best in our country at home and abroad. I thank Mr. Speaker for his unfailing courtesy to me and everyone on both sides of the House for their kindness and companionship, which I shall never forget.