Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 14th April 2003.

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Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North 7:12 pm, 14th April 2003

Because of the two important and encouraging statements and the ten-minute Bill that preceded this debate, according to my calculations only 11 Labour Members will be able to speak. I am extremely grateful for my chance to do so.

I congratulate the Chancellor. As in earlier years, he has produced an excellent Budget. Year after year we have heard the same complaints from businesses, well expounded by their handmaidens on the Opposition Front Bench. Year after year they have been wrong, and I am sure that they will be wrong this time.

I am pleased that there has been no reduction in public expenditure. Again, time after time the Opposition have criticised all our services and the way in which things are run; but whenever efforts are made to improve the situation, the same people object to the provision of money for the purpose. I am sure that the public are beginning to realise that, because they are becoming extremely stale.

In the early years of the Chancellor's reign, he brought about a significant reduction in the national debt, which allowed more public expenditure without the need for increased taxes. Probably his greatest asset is his talent for obtaining revenue. If I needed to raise money quickly, as I hope I never shall, the first person I would go to would be the Chancellor. He has performed miraculously in obtaining money and making it available for investment in infrastructure, and in making a better life for people.

Many Opposition Members are grinning. The public will tell them that the last six years have been the best in the past 25 for the vast majority of people: there is no denying that.

I hope no one will assume that because I am sometimes a little critical of what business organisations say, I am against business. I am not. I understand enough about economics to realise that the only way in which wealth can be produced is through various types of business—large, medium-sized and small. When I talk to those running small and, often, larger businesses, they are not as critical of the Chancellor or the Government as Opposition Members. I say that in all sincerity, and I meet quite a few businessmen.

What does concern me is the possibility that my right hon. Friend is rapidly running out of options for what are sometimes called stealth taxes. I think that stealth taxes have been marvellous. They are one of the best things that have ever happened in this country, and they have led to much better lives for the citizens whom we are supposed to represent. Let me point out to the Opposition that we are supposed to represent everyone, not just businesses.

Although it emanated from my own party, one of the most rubbishy sayings I ever heard was "If it is good for business, it must be good for Britain". That is not necessarily true. It is true to a large extent, but sometimes things that are good for business are bad for the rest of society. It must never be forgotten that businesses are only a small part of society, albeit an important part. I make that point because I do not want to be accused of being anti-business just because I have spoken the truth.

If we want to go on improving life in this country, we must eventually revisit the whole issue of personal taxation. My view, and that of the Government, is that the fairest form of taxation always has been, and always will be, progressive personal taxation. Those who make the most from society must be required to put the most back into it. It is an old-fashioned concept: it is called socialism. I believe in it, I do not believe that it is out of date, and I believe that its time will come again.

In the future, my party may well have to revisit that issue. We shall have to explain to the public that whatever they want must be paid for—and, in the long term, the only way of paying for a decent infrastructure and decent services is obtaining the necessary revenue through tax. We do not need to be John Maynard Keynes to realise that—a fairly elementary knowledge of economics makes it obvious—yet time after time there is opposition to any increase in public expenditure from the same people who demand better services.