Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 7:06 pm on 10th March 1992.

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Photo of Mr Derek Enright Mr Derek Enright , Hemsworth 7:06 pm, 10th March 1992

I made my maiden speech when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were in the Chair, and this will probably be my last speech when you are in it. May I take this opportunity to wish you a happy retirement and to thank you for your courtesy and great tolerance of much of what I have done? You have been an excellent mentor.

This has been my first Budget since I became a Member of the House. Budget day is supposed to be a great and exciting day—it has a certain charisma. Those of us who have been outside hitherto looking in on the Budget have imagined keen minds working through every full stop and comma. We have supposed there to be great interest among Government Front-Bench spokesmen, and a crowded House until the late hours.

Of course it is not quite like that. There has been yawning on the Government Front Bench and little real examination of what the Budget does. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) put his finger on it when he asked whose hand was on the tiller. He got it wrong; he should have asked whose hand was in the till. This Chancellor has put his hand in the till and, instead of paying the bills, he has taken the money for a night out.

I suggest that this Budget is irrelevant to people's real needs. That is certainly true of Hemsworth, where we have suffered from a great barrage of Tory propaganda recently. Tories claim that 17 million days were lost through strikes in the last year of the Labour Government. In the past three days of this Tory Government 17 million days have been lost through unemployment. That puts it in perspective. This Budget will do nothing for the record number of people who are unemployed in my consituency.

Mine also happens to be a constituency with many medium and small-sized firms. Some of them pay good wages, but some pay truly appalling wages, with the result that a large number of people in work will not even earn enough to benefit from the tax changes made by the Chancellor. Other people will have any advantage from these changes clawed back through means testing on a variety of benefits. In other words, poor people at the bottom of the scale will be hit every time by what the Government do.

One thing that the Government could have done to give a bit of equity, fairness, justice and even mercy to the people at the bottom of the scale would have been to examine what happens with invalidity benefit. It is a scandal that those on invalidity benefit—heaven knows, it is not generous—have to pay for their many prescriptions and cannot invest in the future and get cheap prescriptions. The Chancellor did nothing about that.

What did the Chancellor do to get job creation going? At one point, he boasted about the Government's splendid training programme. It is about time that the Government looked at some of those programmes, because they are not training for real jobs. The training programme is producing cheap labour for people making a handsome profit, and whom the Government help further with their tax policies. Remarkably little real training is going on and that is a scandal and a disgrace.

How has the Chancellor helped people on occupational pensions? He claimed to have done great things for them, but let me tell him about miners' pensions. Every Christmas, miners' pensions are updated by perhaps £1 or £1·5. That is then clawed back. In one case a miner not only had his £1·5 clawed back but had another 6p taken off him. Why does not the Chancellor do something about such anomalies? Perhaps it is because he does not care about them, so he does not care about defending the people whom he is hurting.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that the Government should not be ashamed to say, "If it's not hurting, it's not working." That may be the case, but if one knows that one is hurting people, it is a normal human instinct to protect the most vulnerable. There was no sign of that in the Chancellor's speech. He did nothing to help them.

The right hon. Member for Devonport spoke about the European Community and how he had stood by his principles rather than stay within the Labour party. His narcissistic tour of what happened made me rather sick, because some of us have had principles about the European Community and were consistent about them for a long time but stayed in the party and had the guts to fight instead of ratting on those who supported us. I yield to none in my consistency of approach to policy on the European Community.

The right hon. Member for Devonport rightly said that the exchange rate mechanism would impose a discipline, and that is important. When it comes to economic and monetary union, that discipline will be even tighter. What is meant by imposing a discipline? What action do we have to take afterwards? That is what we should be considering. There is no easy way out and we need thinking policies. The Government think only of interest rates. They are incapable of seeing things three dimensionally. Within economic and monetary union that truly accepts the European Community, we have to work out our salvation, on many fronts, alongside our partners. The Chancellor did not mention collaboration with Europe.

The Chancellor uttered some throw-away lines about the minimum wage. I am not ashamed of the minimum wage which is a just wage. Like the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who mentioned this in his speech, I was brought up in a Christian household which believed in the just wage. We believed that a person who did a decent day's work deserved enough to look after his family and have a home and a reasonable standard of living—nothing extravagant. That is all that the minimum wage is based on. I doubt whether our modest proposal will even achieve that basic requirement, but it will be a move in the right direction. I have no doubt that, by talking to our European partners, we shall be able to get the level playing field that is required and, as a result of our willingness to co-operate, we shall have co-operation from them to assist us in our fight, and that is also important.

Although there have been a couple of derogatory references to it since the statement, the Chancellor made no mention of the social charter. What is wrong with it? What are the Government so frightened about? The charter does not mention trade unions, so it does not give them any priorities. It says that workers should be treated decently. If I go to IBM or ICI, they will tell me that they want to treat their workers decently. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) will confirm that ICI treats its workers decently. It is already fulfilling the social charter and that is why it is a successful firm.

The firms which are not successful are using cheap and slave labour, and they do not have a co-operative work force. They have people who work for them because they are compelled to, but they do not have people who are proud of the work that they are doing, who are keen to make their firm do better and who are willing to put every effort into ensuring that their firm is the best in the area. The Government are opposed to that. Everything the Chancellor said was irrelevant to such a system.

Small businesses need help. Conservative Members have spoken as though the Chancellor had said something wondrous about small businesses. He did not go as far as the Prime Minister went when he signed an early-day motion—way back in the halcyon days of the 1980s when Margaret was queen—that spoke of "compulsory" interest being levied on late payments. That is the only way to help small businesses. One cannot rely on the integrity of the big boys, despite what the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) said.

If we are to help small businesses, we must do something about the business rate. I do not know why Conservative Members think that southern businesses are assisting northern businesses. Businesses in my area, the Wakefield metropolitan district council area—my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) will bear this out—have been hammered by the uniform business rate much more than ever they were by the sensitive local authority.

The Budget epitomises what is wrong with the Government's entire philosophy. They are a centrist and Stalinist Government who believe that the centre rules. They do not believe in devolution and trust, except in so far as they send civil servants—the viceroys of the United Kingdom, or at least of Whitehall—to tell elected Members what to do. The Government have no idea of how to make things tick at the bottom, and the Budget totally ignores that.

I am not simply nitpicking. The Budget shows a dereliction of duty and it has no vision for a Britain of the future. It displays the incredible tiredness of a Government who are clearly ready to go and who must go to be replaced by people of vigour and strength.