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Government Economic and Social Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 9th June 1993.

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Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire 5:34 pm, 9th June 1993

The prospect of my becoming a folk hero among Tory activists is not a career move that I sought in the autumn of my days.

I have tried in general terms to sketch what I believe our policy objectives should be when dealing with the budget deficit. There is also the question of how to present those policies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) made a memorable resignation speech, which identified the difficulties that arise when there is no close and intimate understanding between Chancellor and Prime Minister—as Baroness Thatcher found with both lord Howe and Lord Lawson.

I regret that my right hon. Friend is no longer able to serve the Administration, and hope that he will have the same experience as Selwyn lloyd and return to high office at a future date.

My right hon. and learned Friend the new Chancellor clearly holds great fascination for the media. The number of times that I have been asked to comment on his hush puppies and other aspects of his sartorial and theological commitment are beyond belief—he is a cottage industry. However, that will pass, and my right hon. and learned Friend will be left with the problem of how to conduct a policy which I have elaborated and which I believe will be profoundly unpopular.

Even after allowing for the impact of economic revival, my right hon. and learned Friend has been given the task of introducing a substantial increase in taxation and trimming public expenditure that will affect expectations. One of the most challenging tasks for a Chancellor in today's circumstances is to adjust expectations. We are distant from the politics of growth and easy redistribution. The more demanding challenge, which we now face, is to have to learn, in national accounting terms, to live within our means. That task now faces the Administration and the Chancellor.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has a good-natured approach to politics—he is of the Ronnie Scott tendency. It is a delicate point to put to him, but I am not sure whether his approach is quite right in the present circumstances. My views are drawn straight from the pantheon of Euro-scepticism—that will not cause my right hon. and learned Friend any difficulty, as he has shown great elasticity over European issues.

In the late 1950s, when, De Gaulle came to office and had Antoine Pinay as his finance minister, he was in a similar position to that of my right hon. and learned Friend. National finances were out of kilter, and many established practices had to be challenged. The policy slogan—one might say, "word bite" had the phrase existed in those days—was "vérité et sévérité"—truth and discipline. In the spirit of fresh start, I do not think that it would do the Government any harm to consider the economic problems that lie ahead in those terms.