§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. R. Maudling)
It will be my intention this afternoon to try to deal with the economic background to my right hon. Friend's Budget, and at the same time I should like to make a certain number of comments upon the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell).
The main economic developments last year were the dramatic change in the balance of payments of the United Kingdom and of the sterling area, the reversal of the downward trend of the gold reserves, and the restoration of international confidence in sterling. In 1951, the United Kingdom had a large adverse balance of payments. In 1952, we achieved a healthy surplus. In 1951, there commenced a rapid decline in our gold reserves. In 1952, that decline was checked, held, and the reserves started to mount again. In 1951 we thought that confidence in sterling had begun to flag and waver. In 1952, confidence in sterling was restored. Let no one underestimate the importance of all these things to the livelihood and the standard of living of everyone in this country. As a trading, importing and banking nation, we cannot maintain our 378 prosperity and our standards of living unless we have a currency which is acceptable in the world and unless we are able to buy the food imports which we need to keep our people fed and the raw materials to keep our industry turning over.
Those were the major developments of 1952—the change between a deficit and a credit in the balance of payments, and a reversal in the trend of gold reserves. That was no mean achievement. It was a massive achievement of which Her Majesty's Government, and more particularly the country as a whole, are entitled to be proud. We made clear once again to the world the strength and the resilience of the British economy. We are entitled to be proud of that fact.
I was a little sorry that the right hon. Gentleman seemed in his remarks yesterday to endeavour to prove that this was merely a matter of good fortune and chance. This was not an achievement to be tucked away at the back of a party newspaper or hidden away under rather tendentious headlines about axeing subsidies which have not actually been axed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not —I am sure he will not—fall into the error of regarding our national problems and difficulties in a rather different light because he is looking at them from the other side of the Chamber.
Let us consider the situation which Her Majesty's present Government inherited from our predecessors. In late 1951 when we formed a Government, the gold reserves were running out at a faster rate than they had ever done before. It was the most rapid run-down we had yet had. In 1949 the device of devaluation had already been employed, and even at this lower rate of valuation of sterling the reserves were running out faster than they had ever done before.
It is a fact also that the recession in the textile trades had already commenced and was spreading, a fact which may have escaped the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) when in September of that year he was advising housewives to stop buying textiles, perhaps oblivious of the fact that, if people do not buy goods, manufacturers do not employ men and women to make them. That was the situation, a situation of rapid depletion of our reserves, a situation of growing recession in the textile industry. It is 379 from that situation that, with the direction of our economic affairs under my right hon. Friend, we have restored the position, achieved a breathing space and regained the economic initiative.
What are the factors which led up to this major change in our economic position? The right hon. Gentleman analysed them with great detail and with much accuracy of figures yesterday, but in doing so he did not entirely set matters out in their true perspective. It is true that if we look at the figures alone, the major difference in our balance of payments between 1951 and 1952 was the reduction in the cost of imports arising partly from the fall in import prices and partly from the reduction in the physical volume of imports.
These were not wholly accidental factors. The reduction in the volume of imports was due to the restrictive measures taken by my right hon. Friend. One of the first tasks he had to undertake on becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer was to impose these restrictions. No one wants to impose restrictions, but when one's last reserves are running out at that rate one has no alternative. It is not unfair to make the comment that the right hon. Gentleman fairly said, when the restrictions were imposed, that he agreed with them and thought they were necessary. How much better it would have been if this had been done earlier when he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if it had been done before the General Election which he and his right hon. and hon. Friends decided to have at that time.
The restrictions that we imposed were of very great importance. They were absolutely essential. At this stage I pause for a moment to say that it is a great tribute to the value of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation that, despite the restrictions that we imposed, countervailing restrictions were not imposed by our fellow members of the same organisation. We imposed these restrictions as a deliberate act of policy.
What of the reduction in import prices? It is just not true to say that the United Kingdom policy had no effect on import prices. Perhaps with the exception of America, this country is the greatest imparting nation in the world. 380 The United Kingdom market for many commodities is the world's largest market. What the market does, restrictions imposed on the market, monetary policy with its consequent effects on the level of demand in the United Kingdom market, inevitably affect import prices. It is not true to say that the fall in our import prices is wholly unrelated to policy in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am trying to develop a consecutive argument, and I hope hon. Members opposite will allow me to do so, although they may not agree with it.
My third point is that it is true to some extent falling prices have assisted us, but if hon. Members opposite refer to that it is only fair for them also to refer to the fact that, in a world where markets are becoming less inflationary and prices are tending to drop, it becomes increasingly difficult to sell exports. There are two sides to the story. Though we get some assistance from falling prices, that factor also greatly increases the difficulty of maintaining the level of exports.
There is also the confidence factor. This is immensely important. At a time when the balance of payments is going against us, the trend always tends to be exaggerated by what are called "leads and lags"; in other words, traders seek to delay payment for British goods which they have received and demand early payment for goods sent to this country because they think there may be a variation in the rate of United Kingdom exchange. That confidence factor can have a very big effect indeed. It has a cumulative effect.
When the balance of payments is going against us, the confidence factor puts a new and sometimes dramatic weight on it. That is one of the explanations for the discrepancy to which the right hon. Gentleman referred between the balance of payments figures and the trade figures. Normally we pay for our goods in advance of the receipt of them in this country. Therefore, we see the effect of the import restrictions in the trade figures a good deal later than in the other case. At the time of the rapid exhaustion of our gold reserves the confidence factor was of the greatest possible importance.
381 In dealing with the confidence factor, I ask the Committee not to underestimate the very great effect of our monetary policy. In the first place, there is the direct effect of a tighter credit policy which not only restricts credit internally but also restricts it externally. The effect of a tighter money policy is to countervail the confidence factor. Quite apart from the effect of dearer money, the psychological effect of the increase in the Bank rate last year from 4 per cent. cannot possibly be over-estimated. That is borne out by the dramatic change which took place shortly afterwards in the movement of our gold reserves.
I beg the Committee not to underestimate the importance of confidence in sterling to this country. It is essential to us. It is essential to us as importers that we should be able to pay for the goods we need in currency acceptable to exporters abroad. It is essential to us as traders that the currency in which a good half of the world's trade is conducted—it is not only our trade but half the world's trade—shall be sound and acceptable.
Then there is the position of our invisible exports. Our invisible exports, the earnings of our merchanting, insurance, shipping and banking services in the City of London, Liverpool and elsewhere, are of great value to our balance of payments, not only for what they earn themselves but also for the visible trade which follows the invisible activities. I ask hon. Members not to imagine that the value to this country of our invisible earnings stops just there; without the activities of our banking houses, our finance houses and so on, a great blow would be struck at our visible trade.
Then, as bankers for the sterling area, we have received deposits, as it were, from other members of the sterling area which are invested in the British economy, and, from the point of view of our being bankers, it is most important that confidence should be retained in the currency in which those balances are placed.
Finally, there is the question of cheap sterling transactions. Confidence in sterling flagged towards the end of 1951, and the cheaper sterling enabled operators in different countries to acquire dollars or hard currencies for sterling or for commodities that we should have 382 obtained through the normal channels of trade.
It is, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, of the greatest importance to maintain confidence in sterling. This has been reflected in 1952 in the growing confidence on the world markets, and since the end of 1952 in the constant high level of the quotation of sterling against the dollar, which so often in recent months has been knocking against the upper level of 2.82. So much for what the right hon. Gentleman called the jungle of "phoney" propaganda about 1952.
I was a little interested in his use of the word "Jungle," because I had been watching the development of his political and economic themes in recent speeches. I have admired the skill with which he was threading his way through the Labour Party jungle by swinging from one olive branch to another olive branch.
I turn now to the question of the level of activity at home and the level of production. Clearly the duty of any Government is to maintain the highest possible level of economic activity, but we must never forget that, placed as we are in this island with our import and export needs, it is quite possible for us to have a very high level of economic activity and still become bankrupt. We can produce a great deal, but if we are not producing the goods that the world markets require and at competitive prices, then we cannot afford to pay for our imports.
We cannot live in this country by taking in each other's washing. We can produce activity by sending people to dig holes in the ground, but we cannot sell holes in the ground for dollars. [Interruption.] I am sorry if this appears obvious, but it is important. I am sorry if what I have said to hon. Members opposite is something of which they are aware, but I may have been misled about the awareness of some of them by their speeches and the actions which were taken by previous Governments. The consistent factor in the financial policy of the previous Labour Governments was to ignore the essential connection between the state of the home market and the balance of payments.
Obviously we must be able to produce goods which the world will buy. In a 383 changing world that means change and re-adjustment in the economy. It is true that the index of production in the course of this year has fallen, but it has recently started to climb again. As a result of the Budget, it will climb a great deal further. If we had not taken the measures we had, and if we had continued the policy of our predecessors, the index of production would have fallen drastically because we should no longer have been able to import the raw materials that we need.
There has been a very great change in the whole world economic climate since the days of the previous Government. It is no longer a question of producing goods which, broadly speaking, sell themselves, but a problem of selling at competitive prices and also at competitive delivery dates. That is what underlay a good deal of the policy of 1952.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South, himself took measures which had effect in 1952 by abolishing the initial allowances. This was designed to reduce investment and to make room for defence and exports. Why does he criticise my right hon. Friend and make great play of his claim to make room for exports. That is precisely what we did in 1952. It is all very well to say, "What is the good of making room for exports if you cannot sell them?" But the answer to that is, "What is the good of getting export orders if the economy is so overloaded that you cannot meet them?"
The truth is that in the changing conditions we have had to meet, with the disappearance of the world sellers' market, a more flexible economy has been essential. The policy of the Labour Party was to tackle inflation by a Budgetary surplus based on high and excessive levels of expenditure, while ignoring the efficacy of the monetary weapon. There was no doubt that it was a courageous move, particularly the move by Sir Stafford Cripps in maintaining the Budget surplus, but it was the wrong thing to do. It was based on a high level of expenditure, and it ignored the use of the monetary weapon, which experience in the last year has shown to be far more efficacious than hon. Members opposite ever were prepared to admit.
Not only is the monetary weapon more flexible, but the point is that the cost of 384 dear money is a great deal less than the cost of a vast surplus. When people talk about the cost of dearer money, they would do well to realise that the costs given in estimates are gross and not net. and that the cost of a monetary weapon is a great deal less than the cost of a large Budget surplus. Surely it is only sense if we want to restrict the monetary demand in the country that we should restrict spending of borrowed money by a tighter credit policy rather than by restricting the amount of money available by taking it away from our people in the form of higher taxation.
The problem which the Chancellor has to face lies between two dangers, the danger of inflation and a decline of exports, and, on the other hand, a danger of excessive disinflation, which would lead to a waste of our resources. The same thing applies abroad. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South referred to the question of making sterling scarce. He said that he recognised that it was a good thing to make it scarce but a bad thing to make it too scarce. In that he is entirely right. The fact is that the value of a currency is determined by supply and demand, and if the currency is too easily available in the world the value of the currency will decrease. That is why we have taken steps to reduce the supply of sterling in the world. That is why we have taken pains to make sterling more scarce both by the many cuts in the United Kingdom and in the sterling area and by the monetary policy to which I have referred.
On the other hand, if sterling is made too scarce we run into the difficulty of selling exports, and that is why recently we took the measures which we did to relax our restrictions on imports from O.E.E.C. That was a bold move to make, because, as the Committee is aware, our position in O.E.E.C. is that we have still a large outstanding debt of some £200 million. I do not wish anyone to underestimate the importance of this relaxation. The right hon. Gentleman rather implied, I thought, that we were pursuing a policy of deliberate restrictions on international trade and finance. I do not think that that squares with our action in O.E.E.C. and elsewhere, and, in view of the opinions he has expressed, I should like to ask him what is the joint policy of his party on this question of imports 385 from Europe? Do they believe in expanding them or restricting them? So much for the position abroad.
At home the position is the same, namely, to maintain the level of purchasing power but not allow it to be excessive or too small. That was the policy stated by my right hon. Friend in his Budget last year; and he maintained the level of personal consumption by not imposing any additional or new taxes, and restrained investment by the monetary policy and by other means. Both those things have happened.
The other development in our internal policy is the sharp change in the accumulation of stocks, and I want to deal with this point for a moment. First, it should be made clear that what happened in 1952 was a decline in what the Americans call the "inventories" in industry. In 1952 we ceased to accumulate inventories at the very rapid rate at which they were accumulating in 1951, and a very sensible thing it was, too. In 1951 we were accumulating inventories at the top of the market. That was not a very sensible thing to do, but it always happens in circumstances where there is a loose credit policy. People were going into goods rather than into money. We were accumulating inventories at the top of the market and at the expense of our overseas reserves.
The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that the improvement in our overseas position is balanced by this difference in the rate of accumulation of inventories. But that is precisely our point. It is ridiculous to go on accumulating goods and inventories at the cost of essential overseas reserves. In his broadcast last night, the right hon. Gentleman said that in taking account of the position of a company you must take account of the stocks. I quite agree, but would it be sensible to accumulate very large stocks, and to go to the shareholders and say: "We have piled up great stocks. We have used up our credit and are going into bankruptcy. It is a pity that the company cannot any longer continue; but look at the large stocks we should have if we were still running."
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I was pointing out that it was untrue to say that the improvement in our overseas trade balance was the result of reduced consumption here, and that it has simply 386 been the result of ceasing to build up stocks, plus, incidentally, drawing down stocks to the extent of £100 million. I did not criticise that. I criticised the unemployment resulting from the Government's policy in trying to carry it out.
§ Mr. Maudling
The position about stocks I should like to make clear. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman says is a difference of £100 million in stocks in the pipeline, there was some increase in the recorded stocks of imported commodities; not the entire £100 million but a large proportion of it. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have ceased to accumulate inventories. That is exactly what we wanted to do. We were accumulating them at the cost of our gold reserves. It seemed plain common sense in those circumstances to stop accumulating excessive inventories.
The position we reached this year was as follows. Last year, although the surplus on current account was only £80 million, the Government were able to maintain their capital expenditure without causing inflation. In fact, on the whole, the inflationary pressure eased. Therefore, it seems reasonable to argue that it is possible for the Government this year again to cover capital expenditure of a similar size or extent without any greater surplus on current account. My right hon. Friend showed that at current rates of taxation the surplus would considerably increase from £88 million to over £250 million. But it is clear that the Government had no need to budget for a greater surplus, in broad terms, than the level achieved last year.
The Government argued that it would be possible to remit some of the burden of taxation by reducing the prospective surplus by something in the neighbourhood of £150 million, without causing any additional inflation because the remissions of taxation created would either go into savings and not be expended or, in so far as they were expended, would be matched by new production that could be generated from the spare capital already in existence in the economy. I want to make that point clear. It is important, from the point of view of how overseas countries look at our economy, to realise that it is quite possible in the circumstances to reduce the prospective surplus in the way my right hon. Friend 387 has done without in any way running into the danger, or the result, of inflationary pressure.
Having decided that this amount of taxation should be remitted, we ask, as our next question, how the remissions should be distributed? The view taken by my right hon. Friend was that we had to stimulate and encourage exports. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to throw a certain amount of doubt on this and he asked why, if my right hon. Friend had a surplus of £291 million, which was pretty near his figure of £300 million, it was on that showing a good thing to stimulate further exports? Of course, the surplus of £291 million includes the sum of £120 million for defence aid. The right hon. Gentleman was rather less than fair to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he alleged that in his speech my right hon. Friend had tried to gloss over it.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
As I understood the Chancellor's statement about the O.E.E.C., the target figure of from £300 million to £350 million was after taking account of defence aid.
§ Mr. Maudling
Obviously defence aid is an important factor, and it is the next item I am coming to. I am sorry if I misunderstood what the right hon. Gentleman was saying, which I thought was that my right hon. Friend had concealed the fact that a large element in the surplus was defence aid. In his speech, my right hon. Friend clearly referred to the fact that we received United States defence aid last year of £121 million. There is a great difference between the defence aid that we have received and the economic aid received by the previous Government. The defence aid is received in respect of the additional burden of defence expenditure, a very heavy direct burden on the balance of payments. That is why there is a very great difference between the two.
How are we to achieve our object and stimulate exports? There are people who say that the right financial policy to stimulate exports is by further contracting the home market. It is true that if demand in the home market is excessive it detracts from exports, but that argument can be carried rather too far. There is a point beyond which disinflation hinders exports 388 and economic activity generally. Some economic commentators tend to overestimate the flexibility of our resources and seem to think that if we reduce employment in one place it increases automatically elsewhere. That is as if a young woman lost her job as a cinema usherette in South London and was immediately moved to the Midlands, where she changed her job and her sex and started work in a drop forging plant. That is the fallacy that underlies—
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
It is a philosophy described by the Federation of British Industries as "the mobility of labour brought about by unemployment."
§ Mr. Maudling
It is a fallacy that underlies a certain amount of economic comment, and that underlay the question that the right hon. Gentleman asked yesterday, which was why people engaged in accumulating stocks did not immediately go and do something else.
There are two other ways in which Budgetary policy can stimulate exports. The first is by the provision of artificial tax incentives to exports and by discriminatory taxes in regard to exports. That is a method practised by a number of European countries and it has been suggested that Her Majesty's Government should go in for the same policy. The opinion of Her Majesty's Government is that it would start a race in this type of incentive to export by artificial stimulus that would do nobody any good but would strain the whole economy of the world in the long run. We have decided to try to restrict the use of these artificial devices in Europe.
The main way in which the Budget helps to stimulate exports is by stimulating the expansion, re-equipment and modernisation of British industry. No one can doubt the paramount importance of stimulating those processes, but there seems some doubt whether what is holding back industrial expansion is the shortage of risk capital. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) referred to figures relating to the shortage of risk capital, and the right hon. Gentleman by implication agreed that there was a shortage of capital for industrial expansion by supporting the re-introduction of initial allowances, the whole purpose of which is to give short-term loans to industry.
389 Much play has been made with the figures in the Economic Survey over the financial position of companies in 1952. The right hon. Gentleman was slightly in error in this respect when he referred to a figure of £800 million as being the amount of money available to companies last year for the reduction of debt, and so forth, after paying taxes, dividends, interest and other fixed charges. Included in that figure are £167 million additions to tax reserve. I do not think that the money put on one side to meet tax liability can be regarded as available for the repayment of other debts.
§ Mr. Maudling
That is exactly what I was pointing out. Anyone with experience of industry knows that at the moment there are shortages of capital for expansion. The main brake on the expansion of industry is not that, however. It is that we cannot expect in a private enterprise economy the healthy and flourishing development of industry in circumstances where, if the enterprise takes a risk, the entire loss is borne by the enterprise and the greater part of any profits is taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is why the only effective way of encouraging re-equipment and industrial expansion is by reducing the total burden of taxation on industry, as my right hon Friend said.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
If that is so, why was it that in the time of Sir Stafford Cripps, when £25 million were made available for the Lancashire cotton industry, only £16 million were taken up?
§ Mr. Maudling
That might well be due to the fact that the companies concerned considered that the machinery they could purchase would not have been justified in their particular circumstances. The argument I am making is that the right, indeed the only, way to encourage industrial equipment and re-equipment is by reducing the total load of taxation on industry, and this is the prime purpose of the Budget of my right hon. Friend.
Taking his major measures in turn, the Excess Profits Levy, falling as it does on marginal profits and increased output, was clearly a tax that must be brought to an end as soon as possible. There is a clear difference between the circum- 390 stances of 1952, when the important thing was to restrain industrial investment, and the circumstances of 1953, when our object is to expand industrial investment. Where conditions change, Her Majesty's present Government are anxious to change their policies with them.
§ Mr. Maudling
I can well understand that the right hon. Gentleman may criticise that point of view, since most of the creative political thought of the Labour Party is devoted to solving problems that have been solved long since.
Turning next to Purchase Tax, the right hon. Gentleman should not lay too much stress on luxury articles since what is a luxury sometimes to the consumer is not a luxury to the man who is trying to make and sell the article. Where there is spare capacity in industry, obviously there is a strong case for reducing Purchase Tax in the way that my right hon. Friend has done.
Now I turn to the final and most important proposals. The one which has aroused the most anger from right hon. Gentlemen opposite is the reduction of the standard rate of Income Tax. The reasons for adopting this measure are clear, that it is the broadest possible sweep of taxation. By reducing the standard rate of Income Tax one affords relief to companies, partnerships, sole traders, professional men, farmers and 16½ million individual taxpayers. No other measure can provide the same broad sweep of relief as can the reduction of the standard rate of Income Tax.
Also one must not under-estimate the psychological effect of a direct frontal assault on the main burden of direct taxation. The party opposite have developed the argument that these reductions in Income Tax are unacceptable because, as a result, the richer man gets a greater reduction of taxation than the poorer. That is an inevitable result of any progressive system of taxation. It is the result particularly of the increasingly steep levels of direct taxation which were imposed during their periods of office, and the only logical conclusion of the argument is that it is never justifiable in any circumstances to reduce the standard rate of tax. The argument of right hon. Gentlemen opposite appears to be that we 391 are going to the extent of allowing the wealthy man, through his top slice of income, to retain a whole shilling out of every £. If that is their main opposition to our Income Tax changes, we are certainly prepared to face it.
Before I end there are two pieces of information I will give to the Committee. First, there is the technical matter about the abolition of the Excess Profits Levy. For technical reasons, an additional Resolution will be necessary before the Committee reports to the House. We are putting this down today, hon. Members will be able to study it over the weekend, and we shall ask the Committee to take it on Monday.
There is also the Money Resolution on the Order Paper today which contains a reference to the post-war refunds of Excess Profits Tax. These refunds are at present payable on the giving of certain undertakings, the most important of which is that the money will be used to develop or re-equip a specified business This enabled industry to re-equip itself and overcome the back-log of investment and deterioration which occurred during the war.
It was never intended that this refund should be policed indefinitely. Over £260 million have already been paid and the Advisory Panel under the Act of 1945 have urged that taxpayers should be released from existing undertakings and that future refunds, probably not exceeding £10 million, should be paid without further undertakings. We have accepted that recommendation, and provision will be made accordingly in the Finance Bill. That is the reason for the form taken by the Resolution on the Order Paper.
I sum up by referring to the tax reduction proposals of my right hon. Friend as a whole. They are designed to lighten progressively the burden on industry and enterprise. The Income Tax concessions take effect, from the Budgetary point of view, this year. The restoration of the initial allowances will take effect next year. The abolition of E.P.L. at the end of this year will take effect the year after. Thus we are putting forward a series of measures designed to reduce industrial taxation burdens over a period and designed to enable businesses to plan ahead. I am sure this will meet with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman the 392 Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who so often criticises the Treasury for taking the annual review of financial affairs represented by the traditions of a pastoral society. We are doing nothing of the sort. We are looking ahead three years.
§ Mr. Maudling
I have a feeling that next year we shall certainly continue it. not for reasons of constitutional Parliamentary procedure, but for reasons of continuing political fact.
The purpose of these proposals, taken together, is to give industry a real alleviation of the burden of taxation. It has been suggested by some commentators—it was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton)—that the Chancellor, in committing forward this amount of revenue, is taking a risk. Whatever a Chancellor does, he takes some risk. If he takes no risks at all, if he allows the status quo to continue, he is taking some risk; but in this case what he is doing is giving an opportunity to British industry to expand production, to create more wealth and to expand the national product. If the national product can be rapidly and effectively expanded, clearly we can obtain the taxation that we need without any additional rate of taxation; the same rate of taxation will produce a much higher yield.
The opportunity is taken and given in this Budget of providing for industry a reduction in the burden of taxation on enterprise and effort, which has pressed too hard in the past. It gives to industry an opportunity, which it will take, of showing how the national product and the national prosperity can be expanded and maintained and can progress under wise and sensible financial direction.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
Like the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, I do not propose to deal in any detail with the proposals which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put before the Committee, the more so as those proposals were dealt with fully yesterday by 393 my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and by other of my hon. Friends. In particular, I should like to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon), whom we all welcome here. The tremendous wealth of experience that he showed of local government finance will be of great value, not only to this Committee, but to other Committees in succeeding years.
Before I proceed to reply to some of the extravagant claims and hopes which the Economic Secretary has just been making, I ought to deal with one reference in the speech yesterday of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who seemed to suggest that there was something sordid and petty in the action of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South in discussing the distribution of tax concessions between different sections of the community. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the arguments of my right hon. Friend showed the gulf that existed between us on this side and hon. Members opposite.
If the Tory line is that it is a matter of supreme indifference who gets the tax concessions—provided, of course, that the right people get them—we shall be proud to accept that there is this wide gulf between the two parties. Certainly when my right hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and Sir Stafford Cripps, introduced Budgets which transferred wealth from the rich to the poor, the Tory Opposition at the time were not so sublimely indifferent to the distribution of tax burdens between different sections of the community.
The difference between us is fundamental. The Financial Secretary thinks —he said this yesterday—that since the rich pay higher taxes, a tax concession to them is, in fact, only giving them back their own, and that those who are left out in the cold ought not to object. We take the view that the taxing activities of the Government cannot be separated from the other economic activities of the community, and we regard taxes as a way of redressing the other distortions, anomalies and injustices of the economic situation. They are a means also of taking for the use of the community as a whole the wealth which the community as a whole, 394 and not any single individual, has created. It was a Labour Chancellor, or one who later became a Labour Chancellor, who said many years ago that in dealing with taxation it is not a question of how much one takes away; it is a question of how much is left after it is taken away.
The Financial Secretary sought to justify any inequity by saying that we all have a vested interest in the solvency of the country. Of course we have; we entirely agree. But the Tory Party—and the speech of the Economic Secretary this afternoon supported this—have not yet learnt what is involved in the present economic situation, because they are still glorying in the sunshine of this entirely "phoney" and temporary recovery. [Laughter.] I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not laugh too noticeably; I may have to remind him of this again later. Before long, the Tory Party will realise how precarious and how vulnerable is our economy, and when they do so the whole structure of the right hon. Gentleman's Budget and of his economic policy will collapse like a house built of cards.
At that stage the Tory Party will learn, as we have been warning them for some time, that the country is facing a fundamental underlying problem in its economic affairs, a problem arising in the main from the war and from the unequal sacrifices which this country assumed compared with some others. As the Chancellor himself said—and we endorsed and applauded it—some 15 months ago, this problem has been developing for 50 years and was made worse by two world wars.
The lesson of that, when hon. Members opposite are able to disenchant themselves from the present position, is that this country, no matter what Government are in power, will be faced with at least 10 years of very hard slogging, a purposeful direction of our economy, and an intensive programme of overseas development. In that struggle, involving as it does many sacrifices and great efforts, it becomes more necessary and not less necessary to protect the weak by our taxation system, to protect those who have the lowest standards of living. That is why we must look at the Budget as a whole and not simply at the distribution of the Chancellor's surplus.
395 The Budget obviously has two sides, revenue and expenditure. This Budget, as indeed is true of every Budget, cannot be judged purely on the revenue side alone. We have to consider, for instance, what desirable expenditure has been given up in order to make particular tax concessions possible. It is now almost a cliché that the Government have entirely failed to honour their election pledge about slashing reductions in Government expenditure which nobody would feel. We remember the speech during the last Election of the present Minister of Works, which, I gather, was so highly regarded that its text was circulated to all Tory candidates, a speech in which he showed how easy it would be to achieve a reduction of £600 or £700 million in Government expenditure. Where is that reduction?
§ Mr. Wilson
Despite that failure of the right hon. Gentleman, the figures which have been included in the Budget involve some fairly serious cuts. For instance, the cuts, which we have debated and referred to time and time again, in the real value of the education service have to be set against these concessions in taxation on which the Government are priding themselves. It is clear also—and this is obviously the background of the Budget—that the Government are planning another onslaught on the Health Service. And so we must set these tax remissions on fur coats, jewellery and all the rest of it against the petty educational economies on which the Government are insisting and against further economies which will, no doubt, be coming at the expense of the sick.
We have to judge not only the Budget, but the economic policy as a whole, not by the marginal effect of the particular remissions which have been referred to, but by the standard of living of the people as a whole, and particularly of the most hard-hit sections. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South last night quoted from the Economic Survey figures on food consumption showing a lowering of the average standard of food consumption in this country—only a small one, I agree, but nevertheless a lowering in food consumption standards last year, in a year when food supplies 396 were more plentiful than at any time since the end of the war. That happened at a time when there was growing inequality in the consumption of food in this country.
If one studies the Economic Survey, one finds again—and this is a very serious fact—that in a year when there has been heavy unemployment in textiles and clothing, when there has been an abundance of textiles and clothing in the shops, on which hon. Members opposite have prided themselves, the people's consumption and purchases of clothing of all kinds have been falling. They were £832 million last year compared with £857 million in the previous year, £945 million in 1950 and £853 million in 1948.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) started a buyers' strike.
§ Mr. Wilson
Before the hon. Gentleman gets too excited, let me point out to him that these figures of consumption last year, in a time of freedom for all and of abundance, and, indeed, of unemployment, were lower than in the last full year of clothes rationing under the previous Government.
§ Mr. Osborne
Surely the right hon. Gentleman remembers that it was his right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) who advised the public not to buy. It was his advice that started the ball rolling.
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not think that my right hon. Friend would claim such powers for his speech. Even if he did, I would have thought that the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) would have been one of those on the opposite side of the House who have said that the consumer must be sovereign and must decide when to stop buying. The fact is that the people decided to stop buying because food was costing them so much last year that they had nothing left.
Then, again, the expenditure on household goods last year was the lowest for four years. In view of these figures, it is the more surprising that nothing has been done in this Budget about the D scheme and taxation on textiles and clothing, or at any rate on cotton, rayon and linen; I am not specifically mentioning wool. We all recognise—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the 397 Minister of Materials said many times last year when the scheme was introduced —that the scheme is a very rough-and-ready one. There were bound to be anomalies.
One would have thought that after a year's experience of these anomalies the Government would have been prepared to come forward with some proposals, because at a time when the Chancellor is reducing taxation on luxuries, to make no reduction at all on clothing and textiles means that, in the first place, it is a blow against home consumption of these goods; that in the second place it might have a very serious effect, as Lancashire believes, on the future of the textile industry; and thirdly, that the Chancellor is apparently oblivious to the connection between that tax and export trade at the present time. Certainly we must expect more exports from the Lancashire textile industry and the clothing industry than the Chancellor will get from jewellery and silver plate and some of the other luxuries on which the tax has been reduced.
I was surprised yesterday at the feebleness of the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton). After all the fire and flame that he had been breathing last year about Purchase Tax, he was obviously so excited yesterday about the prospect of a reduction in direct taxation that he was willing almost totally to forget about the needs of Blackburn and other textile districts of a reduction in Purchase Tax.
While referring to textiles, one of the serious points that emerge in the Economic Survey is the decline in the sales of the products of the textile machinery industry. There is no industry in this country in which re-equipment is more urgently needed than in the cotton industry, and I am bound to say to the Economic Secretary, who tried to deal with the interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes), that he must talk to the President of the Board of Trade and learn the real facts.
Although something has been done since the war—perhaps more than some people expected—it still remains the case that that industry has got a great job ahead in re-equipping itself in order to deal with a whole generation of neglect in re-equipping between the two wars. An excessive proportion of that industry 398 is still working on machinery that was put. in before the First World War and in many cases during the reign of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria.
Turning from the Budget proposals to the economic policy underlying this Budget, it is clear that that policy is based on two things: first, a legend, and secondly, a gamble. Under this legend we have a new folklore developing in Tory circles that recovery has been achieved as a result of certain policies adopted by this Government, and I was surprised to find one so well informed as the Economic Secretary still giving currency to that legend. The gamble to which I was referring is the Chancellor's hope that the Budget proposals will in some way, which he does not define, create conditions in which we shall see a miraculous leap forward in production and exports.
The legend was exposed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South. He showed how much of the recovery in our balance of payments was due to an improvement in the terms of trade for which the Government can claim no credit whatsoever. He showed how much of it was due to a reduction in investment and a reduction in stocks and work in progress, including stocks on the high seas and elsewhere outside this country. Hon. Members opposite claim credit for the reduction in imports. They are entitled to; that was a deliberate decision of the Government. But the extraordinary thing is that they blandly disclaim any responsibility for the reduction in our exports caused by countervailing import cuts in other countries.
They have made a great deal of this claim of theirs, that despite the import cuts, visible stocks in this country are no lower than they were a year earlier. Of course, it is a fact that some raw material stocks are up and some are down, as the Minister knows, and on balance it may well be that the stocks are about the same as they were a year ago. But the fall in industrial production in 1952, and indeed the use of raw materials resulting from that, was even greater than the cuts in imports, and that is why the Government have been able to maintain stocks.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government are responsible by their 399 import cuts for the reduction in our exports. Has not the main reduction in our exports been in the sterling area, and is it not a fact that in the sterling area we have had practically no cuts in imports?
§ Mr. Wilson
I did not say they were entirely responsible. I said that they were blandly denying all responsibility. We warned the Chancellor when he made his announcement on 6th November, 1951, that import cuts are an infectious disease, and once a Government in this country announce such cuts any other country in balance of payments difficulties is bound to catch the infection.
§ Mr. Maudling rose—
§ Mr. Wilson
I know the hon. Gentleman is going to tell me that we supported the cuts. In fact, I reminded him of the point yesterday. Certainly it was inevitable that some cuts should be made What was not inevitable and what should never have happened was that, immediately following the Commonwealth Conference a year ago, we should find cuts within the sterling area in our exports to other sterling area countries.
There is nothing clever in maintaining stocks and cutting imports in a shrinking and declining economy, which is what happened last year. That is why our stocks did not fall to dangerously low levels last year. Food stocks did fall, and that has frankly appeared in the Economic Survey. This has happened under a Government which at Christmas, 1951, said that the country could not even have a token Christmas bonus because the cupboard was bare and there were not any stocks available.
But the improvement—I am still dealing with the legend—is due not only to the cuts in imports and the reduction to which I have referred. Of course, it has been helped by the speculative movement to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and the Chancellor's success in improving confidence in sterling, and we hope that confidence will continue to be justified. It has also been assisted, as my right hon. Friend said, by United States aid.
§ Mr. Osborne rose—
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Member for Louth must realise the difference between 400 a confidence factor to which the hon. Gentleman referred and a confidence trick, because one cannot maintain real confidence under a shrinking economy for very long.
This economic situation must be viewed against the background of declining national production. We all remember the election broadcast of the Prime Minister in which he referred to what he called the "paralysis of our national enterprise, contrivance and genius." Elect a Government of businessmen, he said, and production and enterprise would leap up. What happened? They fell for the first time since the war. Now the Chancellor in his Budget speech holds out a hope that, if all things go well and we keep our fingers crossed, this Government of businessmen may succeed by the end of 1953 in getting production back to where it was when the Labour Government left office in 1951.
Of course the Chancellor is not without a rich reserve of alibis and excuses for the fall in production. He talks about world disinflation. My right hon. Friend dealt with that one yesterday. Conservative arguments about international statistics and comparisons are sometimes very extraordinary. One remembers that the Prime Minister, in 1949, in one of those speeches he used to make with the purpose of increasing confidence in sterling and the prestige of this country, said thatevery one of the countries in Europe outside the Iron Curtain has got its life going in many ways better than we have done under a Socialist Government.He said that at a time when the United Kingdom was top of the European league in production, productivity, exports and progress in bridging the dollar gap. But what he said then his Government have now made true as a result of last year's activities.
If we look now at the world league tables for production, we find that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, if not accurate, was at least prophetic. If we look, for instance, at the World Economic Report, published by the United Nations, which is immediately available, showing figures of industrial production between 1951 and 1952, we find that industrial production in Western Germany has gone up by 7 per cent., in France by 4 per cent., in Canada by 3 per cent., in Italy, the Netherlands. Norway and the United States no change, 401 in Sweden down by 2 per cent., in the United Kingdom down by 3 per cent., in Denmark down by 4 per cent. and in Belgium down by 4 per cent. In these league tables only Belgium and Denmark were lower than we were. We are occupying the proud position of Chelsea in Division I at the present time.
If we compare the figures, not with 1951, but with 1950, we find that every country is up—Germany by 28 per cent., France by 18 per cent.—except for Britain, whose production was no higher than in 1950, and Denmark, where production was 2 per cent. down. So we have the achievement that, whereas under a Labour Government Britain led Europe in production, under a Conservative Government production has stagnated so much that we are now almost last in the race.
When one looks at the figures for the cost of living, we find that under a Labour Government, against the background of rising world prices, the cost of living rose a great deal less in this country than in most others. But in the first half of last year, for which figures are available, at a time when the cost of living fell in many countries, it rose more in Britain than in any other of the O.E.E.C. countries. One is bound to say that this is not a coincidence. These facts stem from the monetary and economic policies of the Government.
§ Mr. Spearman
However much we may all agree in deploring the fall in production, would not the right hon. Gentleman also agree that it is far better to produce a little less of the things we do not want so much and a few more of those we want more for export?
§ Mr. Wilson
I have noticed from the figures in the Economic Survey that we are producing a little less of certain types of capital equipment, and I notice from the Chancellor's speech that he wants to encourage the production of silverplate, jewellery, fur coats and television sets; but the point made by the hon. Member will no doubt be noted by the Chancellor.
One of the most important things is the reduction in investment. The Economic Survey gives figures of the total amount of products of the metal goods industries. Investment last year was cut from £985 million to £940 million at 1951 prices. What is the ground for hoping for an 402 increase—which we all agree is needed— in investment goods? Does the Chancellor think that by creating more liquid balances we shall in fact get this investment, and does he think we shall get it in the right places and in the right industries? It is no use talking of investment in terms purely of quantity without talking of the direction of investment. Under the Labour Government we canalised the investment of the country into the places where it was most needed —power stations, coal mines and the expansion of steel and chemical industries and dollar export firms.
The Economic Survey records the results of increased production as a direct result of those investments. For instance, my right hon. Friend mentioned the effect of our oil refinery programme. Now, as a result of the announcement of the Chancellor, a lot of this investment is left to go free and will, in fact, follow Purchase Tax changes, and we shall be getting more television sets when the need is for capital equipment for the export market and raising the standard of life of the backward areas.
We have fallen a long way behind other countries. Last year we devoted about one-sixth as much to capital equipment as in the United States when the ratio should be the other way round because of our need for increasing exports. When we have to face the competiton of the re-equipped United States industries and of Japan and Germany the President of the Board of Trade knows what will be in store for us.
Turning from investment, I must say a word about exports. The only hope the Chancellor gave us about exports was that he is leaving room for more exports. The same proud claim might have been made by pre-war Conservative Governments about their record in the derelict areas with a million unemployed. There was plenty of room for increasing employment, but we did not get the exports— or the employment. In fact, last year exports fell by 6 per cent. by volume although there was a 5 per cent. rise in prices.
We have had very disturbing news about the export situation this morning, as I think the President of the Board of Trade will admit. In March our exports were £213 million as against £240 million 403 a year ago, despite the increase in prices. No doubt the President of the Board of Trade will give the figure when he speaks on Monday, but I calculate that there has been a fall in the volume of our exports of something between 12 per cent. and 15 per cent. compared with a year ago. Where is the Chancellor hoping to get recovery on these figures, particularly as imports are up and the visible trade gap —with all the reservations we must make about the visible trade gap—is up to £62 million in a month against an average of £41 million in the last quarter of 1952?
One is bound to ask the Government where they hope to get these increased exports Are we to get them in the Commonwealth, where for the first time since the war our exports have fallen, for reasons with which both sides of the Committee are familiar, and about which we are all equally concerned? Is the President of the Board of Trade still hopeful of getting a big increase in exports to the dollar area? There is a battle going on there about the future of the tariff situation.
We are very encouraged at least by some of the recent pronouncements of some progressive businessmen in the United States about the tariff position, and by the recent announcement by Congressional leaders that they hope this year to simplify the Customs procedure which, as the President of the Board of Trade knows, is no longer an organisation for collecting revenue but an organised system for the prevention of international trade.
At the same time there are other serious facts to be considered. We have just seen that the President has appointed an avowed protectionist to the Tariff Commission. This morning we have had one of our most serious blows to Anglo-American trade with the cancellation, by the American Government, of a very big order for this country, in Seattle. I saw something of the hopes of our people; I happened to fly across to Seattle in the same plane as some of them. Though our price was one million dollars below the lowest American bid, even after paying 600,000 dollars duty, our successful bid was set aside, and we have lost that possibility of earning dollars. It was set aside by the American Secretary for Defence, 404 if the statements in the Press are correct. No doubt the President of the Board of Trade will tell us rather more about the matter when he speaks on Monday.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
It was not announced in the Press this morning that it was a cancellation. What was announced was that the offer had been withdrawn in order that new specifications should be drawn up. I am not challenging the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, but I thought he would like to be accurate as to the exact state of the game at the moment.
§ Mr. Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman is technically correct, but some of us have suspicions about the reasons for the withdrawal and the altered specifications; I see that the Chancellor has the same doubts. Certainly it is expected in the United States that the specifications will be altered in such a way that we cannot hope to compete. I hope that the representatives of the right hon. Gentleman the President in the United States are being very active at this time in calling the attention of the American Government to the feeling in all quarters of this Committee about what is going on.
It is unfortunate that the President of the Board of Trade should choose this moment for sacking his superintending trade consuls in the United States. Just at the time when we want to expand dollar trade, and when they have done a first class job in the areas in which they have been functioning, the right hon. Gentleman has had to give way, as I believe, to the pressure of the establishment department of the Foreign Office, who never liked them anyway. I was in Chicago a few weeks ago, and I gained some idea of the consternation which this decision has caused there, and the extent to which a lot of people over there think that it reflects on the determination of the Chancellor, which we all know is real, to have trade not aid.
I have referred to the United States. What of Canada? I said something about that in a speech in the House a few weeks ago. I think that our problem there must be that of expanding our exports of capital goods equipment. The market is wide open to anything we can sell, but we are losing order after order because of our long delivery dates; and, 405 worse still, because delivery dates that are quoted are not honoured when the time comes. The previous Government announced, at the time of the armaments programme, that exports of engineering goods to Canada were to rank as of equal priority to defence orders. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will tell us next Monday whether this Government have honoured that pledge which we gave, because the people of Canada are certainly very doubtful about it.
I do not know if we expect increased exports to Europe. I turn to South America, where only this week we see that the Argentine has defaulted on the undertaking it gave to provide a list of goods which it was going to import from this country. We see the position summed up in the Economic Survey, in which it is stated that there is little prospect of expanding world markets, and that, therefore, within existing world markets we have to struggle as hard as we can to try to get a bigger share. That is a very unprofitable business and a big struggle. The Government should be doing everything in their power not to talk about disinflation abroad and the condition of world markets but to try to expand the whole basis of world trade.
There is the whole question of East-West trade. We all know there the difficulties about the strategic list, particularly while fighting is going on in Korea, although I have felt for some time that a review of that list is now appropriate, indeed overdue. Certainly if and when the fighting stops in Korea, as we hope it will, the Government should be ready to dismantle a large part of these strategic controls. Unfortunately, the Government, with their unerring instinct not only for doing the wrong thing but for doing it at the wrong time, have chosen this moment to tighten up the blockade of shipments to China. They will realise the importance of expanding rubber sales and increasing the price of rubber and the importance of getting rice for the sterling area. That is why we should aim at wider trading areas.
We want more stability in international trade. I am glad that the Government made a real effort to get agreement on the International Wheat Agreement. Some of us were a little afraid that the Gov- 406 ernment would pull out. They were right to make an effort, and they were right to resist pressure to pay more than they said they were willing to pay. I hope that that experience will not discourage them. I hope that they will go ahead to promote international commodity agreements for rubber, tin, cotton and a number of other commodities, and that they will make the fullest use of long-term purchasing arrangements also.
We had the extraordinary experience of hearing hon. Gentlemen opposite the other day cheering the bulk-purchase agreement with Cuba. It was all the more extraordinary when we recollect how the Conservative Press denounced the so-called "black pact" with Cuba negotiated by the Labour Government, and when we remember the fine fury into which the Minister of Transport worked himself in successive Questions in this House.
On the question of our balance of payments, I wish to refer to invisible earnings. It is a very serious matter that these worsened by £85 million last year. One looks at the figures to see what has caused that. There has been a £21 million increase in Government military expenditure in 1952 compared with 1951. I hope that we shall be told on Monday whether as a result of the arrangement made in connection with Germany we must expect a further big increase in that figure. There was a worsening of £21 million in relation to shipping. The most serious matter was an increase of £30 million in respect of increased interest payments on sterling balances in London as a direct result of the Chancellor's policy.
We rarely get through economic debates without someone opposite shouting "Groundnuts." The total cost of the groundnuts operation—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member will read some references I have made in a book which has just gone to the printer—cost us £36 million. The Chancellor is losing us £30 million every year in increased interest payments, as a result of his monetary policy, for which we get nothing at all, not even a real attempt to raise the standard of living of the people and all that went with the groundnuts scheme.
There goes with this the fall in overseas investments—from £325 million in 407 1951 to £109 million last year. This shows that overseas investment in the Colonies is not a matter for laisser faire. If we have laisser faire and lack of control there is always the possibility of more capital going to South African breweries when we need more Government expenditure on the economic overheads of basic developments in the Colonies.
We welcome the announcement of the Chancellor about the 40 per cent. provision for mining development. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider extending that 40 per cent. to all colonial and other Commonwealth development, because of the very high risk involved in this kind of activity. We can see that, as a result of his policy, there has been a very serious reduction in the rate of overseas development. In his annual report last year the Chairman of the Colonial Development Corporation made a very strong comment on the way in which the interest rate policy was tending to inhibit new colonial development.
Obviously the Chancellor is still very optimistic about the economic situation, especially when he is in the United States. But this is really a fair weather Budget. Although the Chancellor does not look the part, he is very like the grasshopper in the Aesop fable, who sported and played in the summer and made no preparation whatever for the winter that was certain to follow. I ask the Government, do they feel that we are less vulnerable to any possible change in the economic climate?
Does the Government feel that such a change is less likely to occur now than two years ago? All the facts and all the figures which the Chancellor has been able to quote about improvement in 1952 occurred on a greater scale in 1950. If we look back to the situation two years ago we would be able to acclaim much bigger and more exciting economic recovery in the balance of payments than anything the Chancellor has been able to report to the Committee this year. Yet we all know what happened in 1951.
Perhaps the Chancellor will tell us on Monday whether he thinks the same, but I would have said that we are in a very vulnerable position indeed if there is any change in what the right hon. Gentleman calls the economic climate. We are dependent once again on United States 408 military aid. Our exports are dependent to a scale far greater than ever before on the sale of military goods abroad, which must be a very precarious market and which is going on at a time when we are losing our real long-term markets.
Above all, I consider we are vulnerable because of our dependence on a record United States boom. If that boom comes to an end one day, as most people expect it will, we know from experience that dollar earnings from the sale of sterling area exports such" as copper, wool, tin and the rest will collapse in a matter of weeks—almost overnight—and the whole economic policy of the Government will collapse with it.
Some of us have been warning the Government about that danger, and now I see that the "Economist" in a special supplement has started to elaborate this warning in rather more elegant language. But even before the recent developments in foreign affairs—with the change in the situation in Russia and China—there have been many American observers who foresaw an end to the American boom, perhaps after this year's harvest, with all that that would mean for this country.
And now of course we have a new feature, what some American newspapers call the "Peace scare." We have seen from the reaction in Wall Street that there are at any rate some American business interests who are not only scared of war but appear to be at least as scared of the economic consequences of peace. We know what it would mean to dollar balances were there a change in the psychology of the market, in the purchasing of sterling area materials on dollar account. Does this Budget, or even the policy underlying it, create conditions in which we can avoid such a crisis if it is forced upon us?
We agree with the effort of the Chancellor to give a boost to production, but we must ask whether this Budget will give that boost. Some of the measures will help enterprising firms to expand production and exports, but it does nothing to stimulate the less enterprising firms. A so-called incentive Budget—even if we ignore the repressive character of certain of its parts—operating against the monetary policy of the Government is not likely to be successful. An incentive 409 Budget which is purely a Budget policy may be an adjunct to but never a substitute for the instruments of a planned economy. The economic crisis with which hon. Members on this side of the Committee believe that we are faced will require incentives to overcome, not only incentives to business men, but to workers as well. The experience of 1952 has shown us that it is no good appealing for increased effort from men already on short-time or who are in danger of working themselves out of a job.
This economic crisis demands a planned increase in production, in investments and in exports, and an active intervention, both at home and abroad, to create conditions in which exports can flourish. Finally, as I said a few minutes ago, it requires a social policy of justice and fair shares, because these things, in the conditions we are facing, are not only social objectives but essential conditions to reaching a position of solvency and independence which must be the first aim of our economic policy. I submit that against these requirements the Government's economic and Budget policy stands condemned.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
As a very junior Member of this Committee it falls to my lot to congratulate the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) on his return to the Dispatch Box. We are pleased to see him there once again. I am reminded that in the debates last year my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, in amusing and bantering mood, referred to the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Jenkins) and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) as "the heavenly twins." I could not help thinking, when I saw the exuberant faces side by side of the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Huyton and Ebb Vale (Mr. Bevan) that in a more mature sense we have a fresh pair of heavenly twins.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will deal with the major points mentioned by the right hon. Member for Huyton, but there are one or two matters upon which I wish to comment. The right hon. Gentleman said the Budget cannot be judged entirely by taxation proposals, and we on this side of the Committee heartily agree with him. The Budget should be judged, as 410 indeed it is, by the renewed confidence it is spreading throughout the country.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the textile slump and for some reason or other appeared to bring food costs into it. He must know that the textile slump was an international trouble which started before the last Election—certainly so far as the woollen textile trade is concerned. I do not think he is being fair to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) or myself or to any other hon. Member who has a constituency interest in textiles, when he assumes that because we do not make, shall I say, a strong attack on the Government for not doing something about the Purchase Tax on textiles, we are unmindful of the needs of the textile industry.
We feel that in the Finance Act last year the Chancellor went a long way to meet the difficulties of the textile industry and that it would not be fair to be selfish in these things and to ask for too much so quickly, when so many other industries which need help are getting it at this time. All of us who are connected with textile industries would welcome, not only some adjustment of the Purchase Tax, but eventually its complete cancellation.
The right hon. Gentleman also seemed to make a lot of play with the comments of my right hon. Friend about making room for more exports. I do not see anything wrong with that. I am sure that when the right hon. Member for Huyton has been in industry for a bit longer he will realise what the phrase means. There is a feeling among industrialists that with the present rates of taxation there is no desire or even any sound business ethics in taking risks, but with the greater rewards that this Budget provides and, even more, the hope that it holds out for the future, the whole pattern changes, confidence is re-born— in short, there is more encouragement to plan ahead and make, in the Chancellor's words, more room for exports.
From the one or two companies in which I am interested, I know the feeling that has gone out within 24 hours of the Budget and the planning which is now taking place as a result. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton will earn the distinction, if indeed it be one, that was earned last year by the right hon. Gentleman the 411 Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), of being a Jeremiah.
Many of my hon. Friends quoted the London Press yesterday. I should like to make one or two quotations from the provincial Press because they show as much approval of the Budget proposals as do the London and national papers. The "Yorkshire Post," a paper of great prominence which is respected in many parts of England apart from Yorkshire, said:It is eminently the work of a statesman looking skilfully ahead.And so it is. The "Yorkshire Observer," another leading provincial paper, said:There are no new taxes, no new restrictions. Therein lies the expression of Mr. Bulter's faith in the British people of all kinds.I agree with the "Financial Times" today when they review the whole situation, after a whole day in which to consider the matter, and say:He has lifted the Budget out of the restrictive rut.My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is entitled to say what a striking change has come over our affairs. A year ago we were bracing ourselves to struggle out of a crisis of international payments, a crisis from which the right hon. Gentleman who dared to criticise ran away with his hon. and right hon. Friends like rats from a sinking ship. We had to overcome the difficulties of an ever-growing buyers market and the difficulty caused by the action of Australia which affected the textile industry of my Shipley constituency very seriously. We also had to get over the damning repercussions of six years of Socialism.
Let us look at the position today. As my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said, international payments are in balance and the strength of the £ sterling in the markets of the world is of great comfort to those who planned our policy a year ago. My right hon. Friend is entitled on the facts to receive from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite a great deal of applause for his actions.
Again, the textile recovery is truly remarkable. I pressed the Chancellor last year on more than one occasion on behalf of the wool textile industry which is predominant in my constituency. I wish to 412 say that I am grateful, as is the industry, for the actions he took and for the fillip he gave to the industry with the full cooperation of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. In fact, a little encouragement and a feeling of confidence in forward orders bridged the industry over the difficulties until the time came for recovery. Confidence is pre-eminent. An industry does not sell if it is not confident. It does not plan unless it is confident. Confidence is pre-eminnent in all business dealings.
There is no doubt that the outstanding feature of the Budget is that there is to be no new taxation. What a joy that has been to people's hearts. It is absolutely absurd for hon. Gentlemen opposite to talk about this Budget as an unpopular one. It is vastly popular. It appeals to all people, and perhaps the greatest thing that appeals to them is that for the first time for many years there are no new taxation proposals. Nothing that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite say can go against the feeling of thankfulness enjoyed by people in every walk of life about that fact alone.
The cut of 6d. in Income Tax may not be a great deal, but the value does not lie so much in the amount, although the cut is welcome. The value lies in the fact that it heralds a change of financial climate. The country is confident that under a Conservative Government greater production will lead to greater reliefs. That in itself is a spur to greater productivity. I realise the difficulties for the Inland Revenue Department and those connected with P.A.Y.E.—and this is a minor point—but it would have been nice if the back pay could have been allowed in the week before 7th June and before the Coronation.
I suport what has been said by many of my hon. Friends about initial allowances. I have studied this matter for many years. I hope that the time will come when depreciation allowances will be put upon a sound footing. Even before the war the difference between our country and Germany, let alone the United States of America, was most marked. I hope that when the Committee studying this question has submitted its report something can be done to remedy the position.
These reliefs, and the fact that E.P.L. is to go—and I congratulate my right hon. 413 Friend on his courage—provide a great tonic for industry and prepare the way for more exports. They provide a great tonic not only for industry but for all concerned in it. I am delighted by the measures taken by my right hon. Friend in connection with Purchase Tax. Naturally, as a man interested in the textile industry, I regret—although I see the reason why—that a further reduction cannot be made there. The Purchase Tax proposals will reduce the cost of living. As some one once said, people do not eat statistics but they feel their effect on the cost of living.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman says that he sees the reason why it was not possible to do anything about the tax on textiles. Would he be good enough to explain it to this side of the Committee? We also would like to see it.
§ Mr. Hirst
I thought that I had explained in my opening remarks. We realise that the Chancellor went a long way in helping the textile industry last year. He selected it out of all other industries, with, I believe, the leather industry as well. We do not honestly feel that it would be reasonable to ask for a further reduction this year, when there are other industries which have equal needs now even if they did not have them a year ago. I want to be fair to my right hon. Friend in this matter—
§ Mr. Wilson
Is one to take it that the hon. Gentleman does not agree that, a special differentiation having been created last year, it should not be continued this year by lowering the rate still further or abolishing it altogether? Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman say whether he is prepared to go back to Shipley and tell his constituents that he can quite happily vote for a reduction of taxation on some of these luxuries—silverplate, jewellery and fur coats, and all the rest of it— while leaving the present rate on textiles untouched?
§ Mr. Hirst
That was in the days when the right hon. Gentleman was without his boots. Shipley is a very fair-minded 414 place. I do not have to explain to my constituency every effort I have made since I was elected. Nobody knows better than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the efforts that I have made for the textile industry. I am prepared to go back and talk perfectly straight to them and to say that, in fairness, I will support the Chancellor in reducing taxation in other directions this time just as I supported him when he reduced it in their interests last time. It will not prevent me pressing for further reductions in future. It is a perfectly straightforward statement, and I am not in the least afraid of saying it in Shipley.
I am a little disturbed about the effects on retail trade. I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that I think he was rather too precipitate in accepting the recommendations of the Hutton Report. I think it needed a little more study, and I feel that, after reflection and further study, not only of the recommendations but of the evidence put before the Committee, they may not all be regarded as sound, since they appear to me certainly not to have been.
Then there is the general statement about a rich man's Budget, and I hope that during the rest of the debate we shall hear less of that kind of thing. It is just childish, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West gave an accurate description of that attitude. He said that if beer was reduced 1d. or 2d. a pint, the man who drank eight pints of beer would get a bigger share of that reduction than the man who drank two pints, and so it is. When taxation goes up these people pay more, and when it comes down those who pay more naturally pay less. It is just common sense and justice. It is a perfectly legitimate method, and if we want to reduce taxation, it should be done in such a way, as in this instance, that it goes over the whole field of that particular form of taxation. In my opinion, it is a perfectly fair way, and that is also the opinion of a very large section of the public.
May I now say something on our hopes for the future? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West that taxation is still too high. Ever since the war, indeed, on every occasion both outside this House and since I have been a Member of it, I have stressed the vital importance of bringing down the proportion of the national 415 income required for central and local government purposes from something like 40 or 45 per cent. to something much nearer 30 per cent. Such a goal is a long way off, and it is also conditioned by great expenditure on re-armament.
I do not see any reason why a start cannot be made, because, until that reduction can be made, savings cannot be sufficient to meet investment needs here and, above all, overseas, and really adequate taxation reliefs cannot be available. I am gratified to observe that, at long last, my right hon. Friend has acted com-mendably in obtaining a check on civil expenditure. I think the fact should not be lost sight of that a reduction has been achieved after an additional sum of something like £80 million has been spent by this Government on social services, and I think that is very commendable indeed. Some 22,000 civil servants have also gone, but, quite frankly, that figure is not nearly enough; I want to see another 50,000 off the total.
What I am going to say now is not likely to be very popular, but I think it is important to reinforce the internal Government drive for economy, which I know is going on, in suitable instances by investigations into Government expenditure. I personally applaud the decision for an investigation into the expenditure on the National Health Service. We must not accept that all this expenditure is necessarily efficient. There are many occasions when too many cooks spoil the meal, and when fewer and more efficient ones would make a better meal, and so it is in Government Departments. Until these investigations are made and their fruits are brought to light, we cannot expect relief such as we would hope for.
In saying this, I must not be accused of advocating indiscriminate economies of an arbitrary nature. There is plenty of scope in the Departments without touching on that, and I hope that the Cabinet will give to my right hon. Friend the full powers which the Treasury must have, particularly in relation to Supplementary Estimates. Some of them, of course, arise out of decisions of this House, and some particularly out of the Budget, but many of them are examples of over-extravagance in the Departments, and they should be brought to an end. 416 If that was done, on the one hand, and industry, under this incentive Budget, as I am sure it will, can "get cracking," we shall then be on the horizon of a real opportunity which will be opened out for us.
It is in that climate that I should like to see something done about the Profits Tax. It was a shock to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds. South (Mr. Gaitskell) say that it ought to have gone up. Frankly, I think it ought to be cancelled altogether, and the idea that a form of Supertax should be charged on profits retained in a business is quite fantastic. Next, I should like to see something done about post-war credits, now amounting to between £450 million and £500 million. I believe that the rate by which they are being reduced is 3 per cent. Surely we can fairly soon reach the position when, if a man dies the beneficiary can cash the post-war credit, and not have these things continuing over two and three generations?
There is one small matter which I am sorry was not tackled in the Budget, and that is the Entertainments Duty on the cinema industry. Here I must declare a minor interest. My sister is a film producer, and I am associated with her on the business side. I must say that I was impressed by the Cinema Association in the modest extent to which they went in making their proposals. If we take the middle-priced seats, say 2s., the duty is 10d., or something like 40 per cent., whereas the Association asked only for a 1d. reduction.
I think that was pretty reasonable, and if we are to have a good, sound British film industry, we must give sufficient security on the home market, and that is essential to any future prosperity of the industry as a whole. It cannot go unremarked by the industry that the reduction of the Purchase Tax on television sets, admirable as it is in itself, is in fact helping the growth of an entertainment which is contrary to the interests of the cinema, and I should certainly hope that the Association's very reasonable case will receive more attention, possibly, in the Finance Bill.
Finally, I want to mention what is to my mind one form of taxation with a most outstanding claim for relief, and I refer to Death Duties, especially on family businesses. It is no exaggeration 417 to say that the family business has been the basis of all our past prosperity and is the basis of all our future prosperity, because the family business derives from the enterprise and hard work of individuals willing to take risks. We depend on the judgment of such people. We depend on them to maintain the fundamental strength of our economy, to build up the large businesses of the future. [Interruption.] Well, where would the people have been today if others had not built up these family businesses which have grown into much larger concerns?
The basis of that growth was the family business, which was built up by the man who was prepared to take risks. We also depend upon such people to provide outlets for new ideas and fresh inventions, and to ensure a high and prosperous level of employment. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must have taken leave of their senses if they suggest that such people should not be helped. They are the very people who built up the prosperity of our country in the past and on whom we shall depend for the development of business in the future.
They are most affected by the burden of Death Duties. It should be remembered that it was more or less a quirk of war-time legislation which was not very fully discussed and which contained all sorts of unseen complications and acted contrary to the undertakings given at the time, that is responsible for family businesses being broken up or seriously damaged by the mischance of death. Surely in addition, there is a sound argument for having a graduated scale of Death Duties.
Last year I supported very heartily the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) which suggested that there should be some form of scale, rather like Surtax, instead of the present arrangement whereby the State takes the whole lot at the highest rate. But be that as it may, nothing that I have said detracts one single iota from the bold, imaginative, inspiring and incentive filled Budget of my right hon. Friend.
I congratulate him on every count, not least in finally moving away from the dismal, dreary dogma and drift of Socialist restriction and repression. Equally, and indeed with a very full heart, I thank him for opening up once 418 again an era in which opportunity, hard work and enterprise may look forward to ever increasing reward. I can assure the right hon. Member for Huyton that it will do that. I also thank my right hon. Friend for giving the country an opportunity of looking forward to a period of prosperity of. I trust, real and lasting greatness.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
On Tuesday the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), in his few congratulatory remarks to the Chancellor, referred sympathetically on behalf of all members of the Committee to the cause of the absence of the Foreign Secretary and expressed the wish of all of us for his speedy recovery and return to this House. In that, very rightly, he was followed by the Chancellor.
I think it also right that I should refer on behalf of hon. Members on all sides of this Committee to the absence that we all regret of one who has by his integrity, his conscientiousness, his ability and his sense of duty, and by his high office, won, and deservedly won, the respect and admiration of all. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition who is absent through illness, and whose speedy return to this House we all desire. The right hon. Gentleman has earned not only the respect, but the affection of Members in this House and of people outside who are not of his party and who. in fact, do not agree with him.
It is not often realised what a tremendous burden has been borne by the right hon. Gentleman for nearly a whole generation. He has been the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy-Prime Minister, Prime Minister, and again Leader of the Opposition without a break since, roughly, 1931 right down to the present day. It is amazing how he has been able to bear that burden year after year. We all wish to see him back, and we wish him well.
I wish to join with a number of other hon. Members in congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the clarity and lucidity of his speech. I have heard a great number of Budget speeches, and my memory goes back to the great Budget of 1909 to which I listened from the Gallery, because I was then not a Member of this House. I have never known a Chancellor of the Exchequer 419 who showed less exhaustion at the end of his Budget speech than did the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion. That shows that he is a master of his work and has applied himself very conscientiously to the study of it throughout the years, because, otherwise, all the facts and figures which he gave would not have come so readily to his mind.
There is little doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has produced a popular Budget. I do not think that is doubted by hon. Members on this side of the Committee, as otherwise there would not be all this talk of it being an electoral Budget. I cannot imagine that the Opposition believe that the Government would proceed to an election soon after bringing in an unpopular Budget, because in that case they would stand to lose millions of votes. Therefore, the Opposition must think that the Chancellor has succeeded in producing a Budget which will have a very wide appeal, and I agree with them in so thinking.
I also think that the Chancellor has earned the gratitude of the Opposition for he has succeeded in doing something which I did not think would come about for some time. Not since March, 1951, have I seen sitting cheek by jowl on the Opposition Front Bench the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), and not only sitting together, but enjoying one another's jokes, thoroughly happy, and now a united party. If that does not earn the gratitude of the Opposition, I do not know what would. The Chancellor has succeeded in bringing about a kind of miracle which no member of the Labour Party has hitherto been able to achieve.
I agree that this is a popular Budget. It is the first one since 1936 which did not introduce a new tax or add to an existing tax. That is surely an achievement in itself. From 1936 to 1945 we were face to face with the burden of war. In 1945, we thought that we were going to be relieved of that burden, but, unfortunately, we became involved in another war effort. Now, for the first time, the Chancellor has found himself able to introduce a Budget in which there 420 is no new tax and no addition to an old one.
That is still more of an achievement when one recalls the position in September, October and November, 1951, when the Conservative Government took office. I have listened to all the criticisms that have been made with regard to what has happened since that time. But during that period our gold reserves were falling, our debts were increasing, and we were face to face with a great economic and financial crisis.
I did what I could at the time, in that period before the General Election, to ask that the Government of the day should take upon themselves the responsibility of dealing with that situation and of bringing forward an autumn Budget to prevent disaster coming upon us. They chose to take the other course and to fight an election, which they lost, and the new Government was at once face to face with a very critical situation. We recovered; and we recovered through the very steps which were taken by the Government from the day on which they took office. They are certainly to be congratulated upon that. That is a matter upon which I cannot see that the Opposition are entitled to criticise. What would they have done? Would they not have done much the same kind of thing if they had remained in office? Would they not have brought in, as they should have done in November, 1951, an autumn Budget to meet that very serious position?
The fact that there is no new tax and no extra taxation in this Budget has given a great sense of relief to the people. As I have said for nearly a generation—and I am not sure that it has not been for longer—year by year the people have been bracing themselves, awaiting the fresh burden that would be placed upon their shoulders, wondering from where it would come and who would be hit the hardest. Now, for the first time, they say, "It looks as if we have reached the limit of taxation and no further burden can be expected." No doubt that must give a great deal of encouragement to everyone. I think that we all sincerely hope that we have reached the limit. When one remembers that even now 44 per cent. of the national income is taken away from the people and spent by the Government of the day one must feel that surely this should be the peak figure to be taken away from the taxpayer.
421 The Government have achieved the present favourable position in spite of the fact that Marshall Aid has ceased. That aid brought tremendous benefits to us, for which we are all grateful. The Government have also succeeded in paying off what we had undertaken to pay, when times were better, to the United States and Canada. The remarkable change in the balance of payments also gives confidence not only to ourselves, which is important in itself, but also confidence to others, especially in the sterling area, in us as bankers.
I agree, and I am sure that Members of the Government will agree with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South—that this has been achieved in the main through two things. First, it has been achieved through the decrease in the value and the volume of imports from the non-sterling area, and secondly through the fall in prices. I agree also with what was said in a very fine and able speech by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury.
Without casting any reflection upon other hon. or right hon. Members who are occupying the Front Bench at the moment on either side, I was very pleased to observe that the hon. Gentleman began his speech without a document in his hand. We have been go accustomed for so many years to see a brief placed on the Box and to listen to the steady reading of it that I am very grateful to him for breaking what was becoming a tradition. I agree with him that this country has been for so many years the great buyer of the world that when it ceases to buy it is bound to have an effect upon prices everywhere.
With those two factors working in our favour the position has been achieved whereby we have stopped the fall in our reserves and the outward flow of gold, and we are beginning to build up. But much has to be done before the position becomes stable. Still more has to be done before sterling can be trusted by everyone, a state of affairs which we are hoping will come about. I should have thought that everybody on all sides would agree that import cuts are bad in themselves and that we should not have to resort to them except as a drastic panic measure to stop the outflow. It is like applying a tourniquet to stop the flow of 422 blood. The stoppage of imports works in the same way. One cannot pursue that kind of policy permanently without ruining a country, and especially a country such as ours which is so dependent upon its exports and in which exports are so dependent upon the right imports.
No wonder production fell. It could not do otherwise when we were putting a stop to the ordinary flow of trade in this way. I am glad that that has ceased to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I congratulated the Foreign Secretary the other day, when he came back from the United States with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when it appeared that once again Her Majesty's Government, as well as the Governments of the Commonwealth and also the Republican Government of the United States, were agreed that the safety and economic security of the world depend upon multilateral, universal trading—the freeing of trade completely so that goods could flow freely from one country to another.
We have a long way to go before we can build stability. It is suggested in the White Paper that we have to build a balance of between £300 million and £350 million on our income. If we are to do that there must be a very large increase in our national savings, or there must be a greater reduction in stock investment, or a little of both. I do not like a reduction of investment in industry. It can be really dangerous. As is now admitted by everybody, there has been a reduction in stock investment in this country. It was part of Government policy. There was not the same stocking up as previously. I am not sure of the true position—whether it was actually less by some £100 million or was just negative. A stoppage of investment in stocks can be and, of course, will be dangerous. It might lead us very quickly into a position in which we would be lagging behind our very keen competitors who are now in the world market.
I am hoping, therefore, for more and more savings and I only wish that the Chancellor had emphasised that need more than he did. As far as I can see, he only made one reference to it in his Budget speech. I agree that in the main the Chancellor has been stressing the need for a boost and a tonic at the present time, for a realisation by all of us that we are 423 in a sort of doldrums and that we must get out of them. The Chancellor said, as reported in column 52:The first conclusion I have drawn from this is that I shall propose no new taxes at all. For the first time since the war—and high time it is—we take a step in a new direction. The reliefs which I shall propose are designed to improve our competitive efficiencyThat is No. 1.to provide incentives for greater effortThat is No. 2.and to encourage private savings."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April. 1953; Vol. 514, c. 52.]As far as I know, that is the only reference which the right hon. Gentleman made in his speech to the need for saving. I hope that Members of the Government, including the Chancellor, will stress that need, otherwise, as I shall show in a moment, I do not see how they will meet the difficulties even of this coming year.
One of the main points made by the right hon. Member for Huyton was that we are in a very precarious position and that unless things go well this Budget will collapse like a pack of cards. But that is true of every Budget in every year. I remember how precarious was the position upon which Sir Stafford Cripps used to budget. It was mainly, as he said, placing a tremendous burden upon the working class of this country, and especially the trade unions, trusting that they would keep wages steady. If, perchance, wages got out of hand, then the whole of the economy would collapse to the ground like a pack of cards.
One has to take risks, and a Chancellor does take risks. It is quite obvious that all the Chancellor's figures will go wrong if a new increase is required in defence expenditure either in this country or in Europe, and certainly if it is required in both. Secondly, I agree with the right hon. Member for Huyton that they also depend upon the continued import of goods by the United States, especially of raw materials, and upon there being no drop in the coming year. If they are not continued, the figures and estimates which we have today will all go wrong. If there is a serious recession in the United States it will affect all of us. It will not merely affect these figures and the economic position, but will affect our standard of living and unemployment and will, of course, affect the whole world.
424 Some risk has to be taken and is taken by every Chancellor, but there is another gamble taken by the Chancellor in this Budget. I do not condemn it; in fact, it is found in the Keynesian theory and one also finds it in the yellow book of 1928 which has been the standard book not only of right hon. Gentlemen opposite but also of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. During all the economic debates which I can remember he has introduced the yellow book. The theory was this—that we could have a deficit below the line but, according to the true Keynesian doctrine, there ought to be a sufficient surplus above the line to meet it. If we look at the figures we find that the surplus above the line is only £109 million, whereas the deficit below the line is £549 million, so that there is a net deficit of £440 million.
From where is that to come? It is not coming from Revenue. It could have come from Revenue had the Chancellor seen fit to introduce extra taxation in order to meet the deficit, but he has not done so. It can therefore come only from borrowing. From whom is the Chancellor going to borrow? Obviously he will have to go to the City to borrow; he will have to borrow from private persons—and back again we come to savings. He is therefore gambling upon this—that during the financial year private persons will be saving out of their incomes sufficient to lend him this £440 million. He is certainly taking an optimistic view of the future and I sincerely hope that that view is justified.
§ Mr. Maudling
It is a fact that the Chancellor was able to cover that amount of borrowing last year, because the figure of below-the-line expenditure is about the same.
§ Mr. Davies
I know, and I was coming to that. But, without a doubt, there is in the Budget this year an encouragement to spend to the extent of the £160 million which is given to the public and which, according to the Chancellor, is given as a boost in order that they may spend. Fortunately, a good part of it will go to companies and I hope they will not spend, but without doubt this danger exists.
The Chancellor intends to borrow. We all know that the local authorities also have to borrow. The two will be going 425 into the City, competing with one another. What will be the position? There is an old inflexible law that when demand goes up and supply is limited, costs increase; and it looks to me as if there may be quite a substantial rise in interest rates unless the borrowing is carried out with the greatest care and in conjunction with the local authorities.
Let me turn to the Chancellor's remissions. They are in themselves inflationary, but I would give this word of warning. It has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South and others that the Chancellor could have gone much further, for example with Purchase Tax. If he had, what would have been the inflationary position? As long as we have this inflationary pressure we have to release money with the greatest care, otherwise the position can be dangerous unless you are relying on people to save and not to overspend.
Turning to the small remissions, I must admit that I did not know some of these taxes existed. They brought in very little money in a Budget of nearly £5,000 million, and it is not necessary to bring in these few hundreds or thousands in this way. It is much better that the reliefs should be made. Attention has been drawn to the fact that the Chancellor has distinguished between cricket and football and in favour of cricket. The answer was well given by one of the newspapers the other day which said that association football was a sport in this country but cricket was something far more—it was, indeed, a religion. There is something in that, and it is treated rather differently. I think that is justified.
Over 16 million are paying Income Tax, and that means far and away the greater proportion of the householders in this country. Now we have the cry that this relief of 6d. in the £ favours the wealthier Income Tax paying groups and that no consideration has been given to those with incomes below the level at which Income Tax is levied. However, both this and the previous Government have gone a long way to relieve some millions of people from the payment of Income Tax altogether. There have been slight changes since 1945, but, on the whole, the tendency has been to raise the minimum on which Income Tax is liable. So that that freedom has already been reached.
426 Let me point this out. I remember that in the autumn of 1945, although it is true this did not come into effect until April, 1946, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who was then the Chancellor, made a reduction of 1s. in the £, and there was no suggestion then that he was doing something he should not have done. It is true that at the same time he put on an addition to Surtax, but the Surtax is still there.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
He had already made slight adjustments in the allowances just to avoid the effect of the reduction.
§ Mr. Davies
I agree. All those allowances are still going on. I really do think that it is rather extraordinary that there should be this shout that taking off 6d. in the Income Tax is wrong when it is done by one Government but perfectly right when it is done by another.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has misunderstood the argument, which is that it is wrong if done by itself, without changes in the allowances.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall come to certain other things which I think should be done. I quite agree they should be, but not along the lines that have so far been stressed by right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench, but that have been very rightly stressed by the back benchers here. Indeed, one of the most remarkable speeches in this sense was that made by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), and I propose to return to that, and the need to help the people in real difficulties.
I believe the Chancellor is quite entitled to take this risk and is justified in taking it. What, I think, is really and truly the economic position of this country at the present moment, owing to the changes that have taken place in the attitude of Russia, is that we are practically back, or getting back, into the pre-Korea position, to something like what the position was in June, 1950. I sincerely hope that that is so. For the moment there should be no relaxation, but it really looks as if the world itself felt there was some relief of tension.
As to Purchase Tax, I never did like it. I opposed it when it was first brought 427 forward. It is a bad tax. It is a selective tax. It directs people as to what they should buy, and limits their choice. It has one other really bad effect. It deteriorates quality, and I am perfectly sure that it has had an effect upon our exports.
It is all nonsense to think that people start a business with the idea of exporting and nothing else, that they put up a factory and say, "Now we will export to some country." What they do is to set up a factory and build up home trade; as production is improved they look for expanding markets and send their products overseas. What has been happening? In order to meet the pockets of the consumers at home and the double price caused by the 100 per cent. tax put on goods, manufacturers have been producing something far cheaper, nothing like so good an article or so lasting as that which they formerly made, but which looks the same, and they have put that on the market.
No wonder then that we have heard complaints—for the first time—from abroad about the quality of British goods. I feel very strongly that Purchase Tax has had a great deal to do with that. It ought to go. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland is not here, because he rather liked this tax. I remember his first speech as Chancellor in 1945, and his saying that this was not to be put on temporarily, for a passing moment, but that this was a really fine tax. I fundamentally disagree with him. I think it ought to go, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South is also of the same opinion.
I come to another very bad tax, the Excess Profits Levy. This was a bad tax when it was proposed by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain in 1937, and I opposed it strongly then. I then had the tremendous assistance of the present Prime Minister, who, even more strongly than I, opposed it. We both had the great joy of seeing Mr. Chamberlain standing up at that Box, and, before the tax was actually introduced, withdrawing it, during the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. I only wish that the right hon. Gentleman had taken the same 428 course last year. I do congratulate him upon taking the course this year. It will not lessen his reputation in the slightest degree that, realising this is a tax which can have a very bad effect, he is withdrawing it before it can have a permanent effect. Let it be remembered, however, that it will be some time before the effects of this tax can be cleared right off. A beginning will not be made with clearing them off until next year, and it will probably be 1955 before the last payments under it are made.
I come to the initial allowances. These are designed very rightly as a boost. What is needed above everything at the present moment is better tooling up, better factories, better plant, better machinery. If we are to compete with our keen competitors, not only the United States, but the coming competition from Germany and the coming competition from Japan, which we had before the war, and also the new competition coming from other countries, our factories will have to be absolutely up to date, with all the latest machinery and plant and scientific inventions, and it is only right that every incentive should be given which will boost this industrial improvement. The only thing is, I am not sure this is the best way of doing it. When it was introduced by Sir John Anderson when he was Chancellor it turned out to be a rather expensive loan for the time being which had to be repaid by the manufacturer.
I come now to one or two matters to which I promised to refer. This Budget does not take account of those who need real help. First of all come the family once more. Last year, I know, the Chancellor made a very big concession in raising the allowances from 5s. to 8s. for the children after the first. I begged him then and I beg him now to reconsider whether it is not possible to apply that concession also to the first child. We all know that it is the first child that is the greatest expense upon the family. We also all know that what is needed most for a healthy, strong nation is the care of the children in their tender years, and if it is possible for the Chancellor in that way to make a further concession for the benefit of the family, which, after all, thank God, is the main unit of society in this country, he should do so.
429 Now I come to the matter mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wallsend, the position of the pensioners. Their condition is really hard. It is pathetic. Day by day I receive letters showing what their position is. We are not treating them fairly. It does not lie in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Gentleman on this side to taunt any right hon. or hon. Gentlemen on that side. They had their opportunity to deal fairly with the pensioners, whether the old age pensioners or the war pensioners, and I have felt and I feel that all along, with regard to both groups, we have not been carrying out our word. We have been guilty, rather, or a breach of confidence. The value of the £ has fallen since the bargain was made with either group, and they are getting less than we undertook to give them at the time the pensions were awarded. I beg hon. Members on both sides to see whether further help cannot be given to those very deserving people.
Once more I ask: How long have we to wait before we get justice for the women? The promise of equal pay has been made by Chancellor after Chancellor, saying, "The moment the time comes I shall be prepared to do it. In principle I agree with it. It is the right thing to do. Equal pay for equal work." But having made that statement they always say, "I am awfully sorry, but I cannot do it this year." When will it be given? It is a matter upon which both sides ought to try to help, because we are all agreed about the principle.
I think that this is a fair Budget designed to meet the present position, and therefore it has rightly been well received. I finish on this note. How long are we going on with this method of budgeting? It is an extraordinary way of meeting the country's liabilities. I only wish the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) were here. I wonder whether he realises what would be the position if he had his way completely and there were prohibition in this country and no smoking.
It is extraordinary that something like £1,000 million out of this nearly £5,000 million Budget is provided by the smokers and the drinkers, and that we are dependent for balancing our Budget, for our Welfare State, and for our defence upon the extent to which there is indulgence 430 in either smoking or liquor. It is high time that there was a fuller inquiry into the whole question of taxation in this country. I know that there is an inquiry going on now with regard to Income Tax, but I hope that some day some Chancellor will say that the time has come for a better review so that we may have a proper and sounder method of taxation than we have got at the present moment.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The shape of this debate today has been concerned with the larger issues of the health of the economy with which the Chancellor invited us to be concerned. Its shape has been quite a natural one in that hon. and right hon. Members opposite have naturally stressed the improvement in the balance of payments, and we on this side have stressed the relative and very considerable stagnation in the economy at home. Whether the latter is the cause of the former, or need have been, is what I should like to address my observation to this afternoon; and to make, as it were, an honest comparison, if I can, between those two factors, both of them obviously real, which face the Committee this afternoon.
As the debate has gone on, I do not think there is much argument about what has improved the balance of payments. It has been three things, has it not? First, the improvement in the terms of trade. That has been a very real and very substantial factor. Let me say at once, I think it is a factor which is essentially a matter of good fortune for the Government. But they are none the worse for that, and we on this side ought to recognise the old saying that we cannot argue against luck. It is something which has been lucky for the Government, and it has been lucky for the country too, so that, therefore, we are glad it has happened. But, of course, it has not been the only factor.
There has been the very important and large factor of what one might call relative de-stocking; the fact that we stopped stocking up on the very great scale on which that was being done in 1951. There is the criticism, which might have been made from the other side of the Committee about the party on this side, that we stocked up too much in 1951; that we bought too much at too high a price. I, personally, would have had certain sym- 431 pathies with that criticism if it had been made. But I understand why it was not made from the other side.
§ Mr. Strachey
Was it made by the hon. Gentleman? I did not appreciate that. If it was, that is interesting; but he certainly did not draw the lesson, which would be, to my mind at any rate, that if we had avoided that it would have necessitated a still stricter control over imports and over foreign transactions generally than was maintained by the Government of the day. I will come in a moment to the other conceivable way of doing it, the deflationary way, by reducing demand altogether. The third thing, which has improved the balance of payments is the import cuts. Those are the things which have happened and the things which have been done, and they have made a substantial improvement in the balance of payments position. But those are not the only things the Government have done.
Last year the Government, partly in their Budget but more importantly in their monetary policy, undertook a considerable programme of disinflation, deflation, or whatever you like to call it. In other words, they reduced total demand, and by reducing total demand incidentally reduced the demand for imports as well. That seems to us the nub of the question, whether that is the right thing to do. Our criticism is essentially that that must be a most terribly indiscriminating way of reducing the demand for imports; a way which must produce what it did produce, namely, a very considerable stagnation in the economy at home.
It is no part of my argument to say that the Government, from their point of view, with their economic philosophy, could have avoided doing that. I understand why they did it. They tell us in every speech that they did it to restore confidence. If they set their face against controls at what, to my mind is the critical point, controls over foreign transactions, and set their face towards at any rate a laissez-faire free market economy, then they must take into account the dealers or foreign speculators.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say how controls at that point would affect the demand for imports as distinct from the supply of imports?
§ Mr. Strachey
Of course it would not affect the demand, but the actual amount of the demand which would become effective would be controlled. The present Government still do so to a great extent. The hon. Gentleman is surely not suggesting that that cannot be done, because his own Government are still doing it to a very large extent. The import cut, the very substantial one, made by the Government was just that. I therefore say that from the point of view of their economic philosophy they were bound to undertake the very appreciable degree of disinflation, or deflation, which they did in 1952.
What I want to draw the attention of the Committee to once more is the actual price of that. The record of the internal economy over the past year is, after all, a very grave one indeed. The Chancellor never tires of calling our attention to the importance of exports, yet the record is of a very considerable drop in the volume of exports over the year. In consumption at home there has also been a drop, though in this case a very small one; probably about 1 per cent.; in production altogether a drop, for the first time, of 3 per cent. See what that means. That is a drop of 3 per cent. after year after year production going up at something between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent. It is a very sharp reversal of trend, far greater than the mere figure of 3 per cent. would indicate.
Another element is sometimes given us as a cause for congratulation, and it is in one way: it is the fact that employment dropped by only 1 per cent. But see what it means, if production drops by 3 per cent. and employment only drops by 1 per cent. It may be a good thing and, of course, it is socially for the workers concerned, but what an affect it must have on the efficiency of the whole economy of which the Chancellor has always stressed the importance. Obviously it must mean that productivity has gone down very sharply indeed. And that is, again, the inevitable price which we pay for taking the whole momentum, the whole way, off the economy. That the Chancellor had to do deliberately. 433 of course, if he was to embark on his deflationary course.
Lastly, with regard to the stagnation in investment, I shall not argue whether investment has actually gone down. It has gone down very greatly if we take work in progress and stock into account. If we take work in progress, the figures show that; but if we take fixed investment, I should say it has merely stagnated. There again, all the way and all the momentum, the very great momentum which our economy had gathered in recent years since the war, suddenly came to an end. That is the price which the country is paying for the deflationary policy which the Government felt was a necessary part of their general economy philosophy.
I think that one of the most interesting factors in this debate, and the most interesting impression one has had in listening to it, is the impression given on the other side of the Committee that, after all, this stagnation in the internal economy, this fact that production has ceased to rise and has gone down for the first time, does not really very much matter. They put all their stress, naturally of course, on the improvement of the balance of payments, and their speeches show that they pay little or no attention to the fact that the production in the country has ceased to grow.
I think that is a most terrifying approach to the economic condition of this country. It is only too reminiscent of the period of the '30s when they were last in charge of the economy of this country. If that is prolonged, it means a return to the stagnation comparable to that of the '30s. But these are not the '30s. The world situation is a very different one. The world situation is one in which our competitor nations—the other great industrial nations of the world—are by no means stagnating. They are going ahead very fast indeed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) gave some of the figures. In the United States economy, the amount of investment going on is perfectly colossal.
There is one other consideration which, I think, the Committee should take into account. Many hon. Members have referred to the improvement, still young, but we all greet it with hope, in the 434 international situation. We all hope and pray that the cold war is getting less intense. We all hope and pray fervently that we are entering a period of more settled conditions in international relations. If that is so, is it not time we thought a little of what I would call the economics of co-existence? If we are entering into a period of co-existence with Russia, let us think of the economic, and of the social, problems, too, which co-existence will pose.
The economists have a good deal of difficulty in reckoning what is the exact rate of Russian economic progress, but I think that most of them put it at somewhere between a 6 and 9 per cent. per annum increase in production today—a not inconsiderable rate of progress. That does not mean that Russian consumption is anything like as high as ours. The economists reckon that the Russians are devoting some 40 per cent. to defence and investment and holding consumption at a pretty low level. But even that is beginning to come up now, because although that very high investment rate still exists, they are not increasing it and, therefore, consumption is beginning to rise.
According to Professor Myardal's figures, Russian consumption is already running somewhere between that of Italy and France, and they reckon, although one can hardly contemplate such a prospect, that if the stagnation of the British economy went on as it has gone on for two years already—and the Chancellor had little hope that it would not go on for a third year also—Russian consumption would reach about our present level in the early '60s. That would be a very formidable factor indeed.
Generally, we can take the comparison with Russia as perhaps the most striking, but if we make it with all the industrial countries of the world, could there be anything worse for this country than to continue in the stagnation of the last two years and, according to the Chancellor's prophecy, of the next year, while all its great rivals and competitors were going steadily ahead? Therefore, we on this side of the Committee regard the fact that momentum has been taken off the economy, and that the best that the Chancellor can suggest is that he may be able to get a little above the level of two years ago in the coming year, as by 435 far the most serious factor which faces this country.
There could be one justification for this. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman). It can be argued from the other side that a pause in economic progress, in the increase of production, can be justified if it enables a large transfer of resources from one field to another; from where they are being relatively wasted, it can be said; from where they are not so desirable, to more desirable things.
If that is happening that may be an important justification, though it would remain to be seen whether we need pay such a frightful price for it. We all know the kind of transfer of resources we would wish for. We all wish for a transfer of resources first from production for the home market to export, and then, as a whole, from the production of consumption goods to the production of investment goods—of capital goods. That is the type of transfer, about which I do not think there will be any dispute in the Committee on either side, which is needed.
But is there the slightest sign in the White Paper, in the Chancellor's speech or anywhere else that such a transfer of resources is taking place. By far the most deadly passage, I think, in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) was when he called attention to Table 30 of the Economic Survey. Table 30 gives us the actual story of what amount of transfer of resources has or has not taken place.
If we look down that table, what do we find? What we have to look for is the plus signs. It is a table of the changes in employment. It is no good looking to the minus signs, of the places from which labour has been withdrawn. A lot of labour has been drawn from various places because the way has come off the economy and unemployment has perceptibly increased. So various trades and industries have lost quite a lot of labour. But it is the plus signs that count, for it is no good releasing this labour unless it gets re-absorbed where we want to get it absorbed.
The Chancellor noticed, as he is quite entitled to do, the single exception of coal 436 mining, which has gone up by about 22,000. But where are the other plus signs? They are in distributive trades, 23,000; professional, financial and miscellaneous services, 17,000; unemployed, 80,000. In the great key points to which we want the resources to be transferred, engineering shows no increase whatever and agriculture, by far the worst case of all, shows an actual decrease of 17,000.
If I am over-emphasising this and am doing any special pleading, I can be very easily corrected, but does not this table force us to the conclusion that this terribly expensive stagnation in our economy, by which we have lost two whole years of the growth of national production, has been lost all in vain? It has not resulted in any transfer of resources. That is the really serious thing which faces us. Does it not show that in a modern economy such as ours, merely to take off way, to give what the Chancellor calls "flexibility," does not serve the purpose; it does not transfer resources?
The thing simply does not happen. We simply take the impetus out of the economy and it stagnates, but we do not change its shape. That is the only way I can read the figures today, and that seems to me to be the worst tragedy of this two years' pause which we have had in economic growth.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I am sure that the right hon. Member does not wish to be less than fair in this matter of production, but he has failed to observe that in the three most important basic industries—coal mining, steel and agriculture—there was in each instance an increase of production in 1952 compared with 1951.
§ Mr. Strachey
Yes, there was some increase, but as the hon. Member has been one of the first to point out, not an increase in coal mining which was at all proportionate with our needs. I give the hon. Member that point, for what it is worth. In agriculture also it is nothing like the increase which is needed. Obviously, in the case of agriculture and of engineering for exports, we failed to transfer to these industries any new manpower. Manpower, of course, is only an indication of resources in general, but it is the indication which the Economic Survey gives, and it is the best indication, and the one which we are entitled to take.
437 What is the prospect for the coming year? The Chancellor, of course, recognises the force of what I have been saying, because his Budget is intended to reflate the economy. It is intended to undo some of the work which has been done over the past two years. But what expectation can he give that even if he succeeds again in expanding production as a whole it will not be in exactly the same shape? If he has not succeeded in making any of these transfers of resources, all that he will have done is to push down demand a little bit in the last two years and then to let it up a little bit in this year. The real problem which has to be tackled—and it has to be tackled on both sides of the Committee —will not have been affected at all. That seems to me by far the most serious symptom which the Chancellor's speech and the Economic Survey reveal.
Finally in this situation, without having tackled that problem, what are we to expect if we run into heavier economic weather? As most speakers have said, sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, we are bound to run into heavier economic weather. The "Economist" which is not a paper with which I usually agree had a brilliant article describing the situation of this country as "sunshades in the rain." The Chancellor's first Budget was more or less an umbrella Budget, but this certainly has been a sunshade Budget.
Undoubtedly the economic climate of the world is at the moment very favourable indeed. I wonder whether the Chancellor fully realises just how favourable it is. As he said, he cannot complain now of the price of our raw materials. At the same time, economic activity throughout the world remains at a high level, because American activity remains at a high level. But is not the precarious improvement in our overseas situation entirely dependent upon American activity—not merely upon America avoiding a slump, but upon her avoiding even a pause in her upward progress? Is it not entirely dependent on 100 per cent. success in American economic policy? We are being unfair to the Americans if we ask them to be as successful as that. They may manage their economic affairs very well—in many ways they have done so in recent years—but we cannot expect them to be as successful as that. They are bound to have pauses, they are 438 bound to have some elements of recession, and what will happen then?
Think of those ominous figures which I can never get out of my head. The economists calculate that a 4 per cent. recession in American demand affects sterling area imports into America by 33⅓ per cent.—an appalling thought. That is the storm which "The Economist" had in mind, and the sunshades which we have out for it in this Budget may look terribly bedraggled if it hits us. That seems to me the real indictment which will be made upon the Budget. By his whole economic approach—not merely in the Budget, which is only one part of it— the Chancellor seems to be weakening the ability of this economy to meet those situations.
There is one phrase in the Economic Survey which, I think, is the key phrase in the whole document. It has been recognised as such: it is in paragraph 129. where the authors tell us thateconomic activity has become much more directly dependent on the assessment made by business people of economic prospects. …The internal vulnerability is growing. It is true that the Chancellor has not yet undermined the control of foreign transactions, foreign payments, and imports into this country, but he is always telling us that he desires to do so. He is always telling us that he wishes to go along that convertibility road which, as I have ventured to say before, I believe to be the road of sheer economic suicide for this country today.
In the economic climate which we are bound to meet sooner or later, we cannot expect not to meet sharp fluctuations from America. We need to go in exactly the reverse way to that of the Chancellor: the exact reverse of the general economic philosophy which is gradually—rather gently, but steadily—being put into effect by the party opposite. When we return to the responsibilities of office, we must apply a much more drastic form of control on foreign transactions than we have ever done before.
It will not do to hover between these two approaches. In the economic weather which this country is only too likely to encounter—I cannot say when, but over the years—either we have to push the Chancellor's line far further than he has pushed it now, or we must take a far 439 more drastic measure of control over imports and foreign payments—that is the key point. We do not need so much more drastic controls of home economic activity. We may need to have those also, but not necessarily physical ones. We can work there largely through demand.
§ Mr. Spearman
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain how, if he is going to control imports more, he is going to prevent an enormous rise of prices at home unless demand is kept down?
§ Mr. Strachey
I was in the concluding sentences of my speech and the hon. Member must not tempt me into a further speech.
I repeat what I have said to the House before, that for this country, so dependent on its foreign trade and foreign transactions, control over foreign transactions is the key to the situation. Any party which wishes to preserve the economic independence of this country — and that really means the political independence of this country, too—will have to devote itself to that problem. I give this to the hon. Gentleman; it is not an easy problem. But it is a problem which a future Socialist Government will certainly have to meet. For any Government which is not willing to go down the capitalist road, to give it its widest name, the road of laissez-faire and free markets, on which the Chancellor has already put his feet somewhat tentatively, must address itself to the problem of securing the economic independence of this country by a system of complete control over its citizens' foreign transactions and payments.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Horobin (Oldham, East)
I should like to develop one or two points which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) made in his most interesting speech, with almost all of which I agree. Before doing so I should like to suggest an answer to two of his concluding questions, which were almost the only criticism of the Budget.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked why something was not done for the old age pensioners and about equal pay. Surely the brief answer to that is 440 that all the reliefs in this Budget, rightly or wrongly—and in our opinion rightly— were devoted to where they may be hoped directly to assist either productive industry or savings. I do not think, however much all of us wish for the improvements suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and most of us do wish for those kinds of improvements in those particular sections of society—that they would meet the situation which the Chancellor had in mind in this Budget. That is the short answer to the only criticism made by the right-hon. and learned Gentleman.
That partly answers a good deal of the very interesting speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), although we do not agree with it. Any medicine in this wicked world has some unpleasant effects, and the medicine introduced into our system a year ago has had some unpleasant effects though not nearly as many as some people suggested. It is because in this Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing something to assist industry to meet the kind of danger to which the right hon. Gentleman directed our attention that I welcome the Budget proposals.
But most of what I want to say to the Committee reverts to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), because that was almost the only attempt—a difficult and noble effort though it was—to attack the Budget. The rest of the speeches from the benches opposite have been in the form of a desperate search for gloom at any price.
The right hon. Gentleman spent a good deal of time making fun of my right hon. Friend because so many of his figures and prophecies had gone adrift. I want to say a word about that. They are in two separate departments. First of all, there are the prognostications which are the proper job of the Chancellor. His prognostications of the revenue and the expenditure were each £200 million wrong, and that is a genuine criticism. There are, however, one or two things which hon. Members opposite would do well to remember.
The first is that my right hon. Friend had to fight his way past the duns to get into the Treasury Chambers at all, and if he was a bit erratic in his first reactions 441 it is hardly surprising. That has direct relevance to what we are dealing with, because it cannot have escaped the Committee's knowledge that the revenue estimates in last year's Budget were brought forward for an early Budget in order to meet the emergency which had resulted. The normal procedure of the Inland Revenue for measuring the probable revenue returns was put out of gear. There is no doubt that a very substantial amount of the inaccuracies in the estimates of revenue were due to the fact that the Budget had, for reasons outside the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, to be brought forward before the usual date.
As regards errors in expenditure estimation, at least half of it can be very easily explained, and there is no conceivable ground of criticism from the opposite benches because of that. At least half of it is due to the greater success in building up the defences of this country, and the Danckwerts Award, which we inherited from the party opposite.
About the other errors, personally I am very glad they are all wrong. They always have been wrong and they always will be wrong. All these attempts to prognosticate what the invisible exports will be and what the rate of exports will be are doomed to failure. All planning in that sense is bunk, and the sooner this Committee and the country realise it the better. They have all gone adrift again and they always will.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington) rose—
§ Mr. Horobin
No, I cannot give way as there are others who wish to speak.
The Board of Inland Revenue and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have to make very rough-and-ready guesses for their own guidance, and all that is very good for themselves but it is impossible to try to treat the future as an exact map. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) would put up his head and put down his feet, he might understand what I am saying. I was saying that it was the duty of my right hon. Friend and the Board of Inland Revenue to estimate the figures of revenue and expenditure, but it is not their duty or even within their power to estimate what millions of unknown merchants, manufacturers and consumers are 442 going to do 12 months ahead. I say that in that sense planning is bunk and no sure foundation for any economic policy. I am not in the least sorry that once again, as in previous years, it has proved to be entirely fallacious.
If it is true, then, that so many of the figures in the Survey have gone adrift, how is it that in the year which is just closed the Chancellor's general strategy has been so overwhelmingly justified? I will take the liberty of reminding the Committee of the debate we had on the Budget proposals of last year when I pointed out at the time how precarious the figures were. I think I can sum up the situation I am trying to develop tonight by reading a couple of sentences from that speech. I said:I would sum up the position by saying that this Budget stands or falls by the rise in the Bank rate. Personally, I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done probably just about enough to make the situation manageable, provided the Bank rate is allowed to fulfil its old functions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1690.]That is exactly what happened. The prognostications were wrong, but for the first time since the war we had a Chancellor who had the courage to do an extremely unpopular thing, a thing which all the intellectuals said was quite out of date but which our Victorian ancestors, when building up our Empire, had found by experience to be right, namely, if we wanted to stop inflation it happened if the Bank rate was put up. The Chancellor put it up, and he has killed inflation.
It is not very difficult to see why, in these circumstances, it did work. First of all it made a completely different situation in the foreign appreciations of our position. Instead of trying to get their money away from us, people either left their money here or brought it here. It also stopped the re-stocking which was taking place. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are inclined to think that the only increase of stocks in 1951 was of those under Government control, but everybody all over England was hoarding stocks in that inflationary condition, which had all sorts of other disadvantages, quite apart from the effect on our balance of payments.
The Bank rate change caused people in the City, merchants and others who knew by experience—whatever the pundits on the other side of the Committee may say 443 —to cease hoarding stocks. The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) is continually endeavouring to confuse the country as to the difference between stopping the increase and actually reducing the stocks and he has finally succeeded in confusing himself. He wrote a letter to "The Times" in which he was £400 million wrong in this way and it took him a week to discover his mistake. I repeat it was not only that the Government stopped increasing stocks, but that everybody else stopped doing so, too.
I was very glad to hear the remarks made by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury on the question of the terms of trade, on a point which I have often made myself. [Laughter.] It is unwise of hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh. It is clear that the general financial policy of Her Majesty's Government, carried out not only here but, as the result of the Commonwealth Conference, in other parts of the Empire, had an immediate effect upon the terms of trade. I want to be much more generous and fair than hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am not going to claim, and I am sure that the Minister would not do so, that the whole improvement in the terms of trade is due to that. They were, in fact, moving in our favour in the summer of the year before we came to office, but while the whole is not due to us, a substantial part of it is.
We may take it, therefore, as proved that the decision which the Chancellor made soon after coming into office to set at work the old and well-tried monetary machine for stopping the inflation which was ruining us succeeded in the course of the year, although it has left anxieties of its own. After having been saved from drowning, we do not grumble at still having a slight cold. It is necessary for me to go further and point out what a frightful Budget we should have had if the Chancellor had not succeeded in that way.
Before the present reliefs were given in this Budget, my right hon. Friend had to budget for about £270 million surplus above the line and about £540 million deficit below the line. In other words, he had to find about £270 million. If we had still been in an inflationary position he, as an honest man, just as Sir Stafford Cripps was honest, would have had to 444 cover the whole £270 million by new taxation. It would not have been a question of knocking 6d. off the Income Tax but more like putting 1s. on.
That would not have been the end of it. My right hon. Friend would not only have had to find £270 million by extra taxation, but if he had not already made a saving on the Civil Estimates of about £250 million—every bit of which saving was bitterly fought on the other side of the Committee—he would have had to find that extra £250 million by taxation too. I leave it to the Committee and the country to imagine the kind of Budget we should be facing now if the inflation had not been squeezed out of the system by the monetary policy of Her Majesty's Government in the last 12 months.
However, we must not go from one extreme to the other. We shall face quite an anxious Budgetary situation in the next two years. The reliefs already given in the Budget will pile up to about another £400 million. In addition to that, there is at least one major new liability falling upon us by the automatic increase in the Budgetary claims of the National Insurance Fund. That is one of the most serious things hanging over Budgets in future years. To find it we have only about £100 million surplus left above the line. Even on the assumption that we can go on covering the whole below-the-line expenditure outside the Budget, we shall have to find in the next year or two something like £400 million.
Maybe a saving will by then be possible on defence, and some more from the naturally increasing buoyancy of the Revenue. Income Tax has been increasing in the order of £100 million, and something substantial will come from that. The moral of the figures which I have just given is that the search for further savings in Government expenditure must be ruthlessly carried on. How these savings are to be found is a matter for legitimate difference of opinion, but no responsible person in any part of the Committee can differ from the proposition that a reduction in some way or another in Government expenditure over the next few years is an absolutely inescapable necessity.
I shall not go over the various other points raised by the Budget, although I should like to have made one or two 445 observations on such subjects as the Excess Profits Levy. My right hon. Friend may remember that I made some very tentative observations on that subject a year ago. I would say here and now that we could not fairly have expected anything more from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this direction than he has done. I am sure that he has taken a sensible course in not getting rid of E.P.L. this year but of fixing a time-limit, and for having had the courage to get rid next year of this unstable gargoyle on the fiscal edifice.
I would make one short comment on the extent to which this is an incentive Budget. Industry will cordially welcome the broad outline of the changes made this year, but we must not run away with the idea that they are a huge gift to industry which will have immediate and spectacular results. I am sure the Chancellor does not think of them in that way. The changes in last year's Budget in Profits Tax and E.P.L. together mean that next year industry would have to pay about £64 million less. On the assumption that about half the Income Tax is paid by industry, that would cost industry an additional £84 million. Together these would have meant a £20 million greater burden of tax on industry. This year's change in Income Tax —on the assumption that half of Income Tax is so paid—will reduce the burden on industry by about £58 million. Adding £3 million for various miscellaneous items, the total reduction in the burden on industry this year is thus of the order of £61 million.
By the latest figures, industry is paying £893 million. In other words, the Chancellor has taken about 5 per cent. of the burden off industry, or about 1s. in the £. Industry is grateful, but it is no good giving ourselves the impression that the Budget proposals will be so immediately and spectacularly successful that they will lighten the burden on industry immediately. It is a good beginning and we are most grateful for it, but it must be carried further.
Now I want to take up a point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery and also by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), the financing of the overall deficit, because it is a point of fundamental importance. 446 Last year the fundamental point was the initiating of a change in our monetary policy. That has had the good effects referred to during this debate. But what has been the effect on Government debt? In the year which has just passed, we have added about £450 million in Treasury bills which we have used to build houses. That is putting it crudely, but it is not far wrong. This year, assuming that all is going according to Cocker, the same thing will happen— £450 million of extra Treasury bills will be added to Government debt and will be used for below-the-line capital expenditure.
No one will accuse me of not being a strong supporter of the use of the Bank rate and its effectiveness, but I hope the Chancellor will not overwork the willing horse. The success of his general monetary policy has been remarkable this year, in spite of the fact that all the time he has had to work against an ever-increasing overall budgetary deficit. My right hon. Friend is hoping to do the same this current year and, as far as one can estimate, he will probably get away with it. However, we cannot go on hoping indefinitely to have an overall budgetary deficit running into hundreds of millions without falling into one of two dangerous situations.
Either it will make the present Bank rate policy ineffective and we shall start the inflation again—in other words, 1953 will lay the foundations of the balance of payments crisis of 1955 and that will be the end of us—or, alternatively—and this is a danger which I think will appeal to hon. Members opposite—we shall reach this position: the classical prescription, which has been applied, for killing inflation is indeed dearer money, but it has to be short and sharp. We have not been very sharp and the result is that we may not be very short, and if one keeps dear money on for a long time many of the objections to it which have been urged from the benches opposite become true, as they are not true when it is used as a remedy for desperate diseases and is not kept on too long.
I feel that the fundamental financial problem before Her Majesty's Government in this year is the successful floating of a loan to the general public to mop up the increasing short-term loans which are the inevitable, temporary result of the 447 Budgetary outcome of last year and the Budgetary intentions of this. It is impossible to be dogmatic on such a subject, and it would be presumptuous for a private Member to tender any advice. It is only the Chancellor and those in his most intimate circle who can test the time and the terms of such an undertaking.
I only beg and implore him if, as I feel must be the case, in this coming year a substantial funding operation is to be undertaken, not to try to be too clever, not to try and buck the market. The great thing is to get the money. Even if it turned out that he might have got it a little cheaper, it is not worth taking the risk. Anything would be better than either leaving ourselves where we have to put on even a higher Bank rate or keep it on longer than we need or, alternatively, if we did not get the money, find ourselves running into an inflationary situation.
In the light of informed opinion in the country and the general reaction of the public, I cannot feel that there will not be general agreement that in the last year we have come triumphantly through a grave crisis, aided by a little luck—but, Heaven knows, we deserve some luck in this country—though, by and large, by the sensible application of well-tried remedies. We now have to face the danger which those remedies themselves have introduced into the system.
I have every confidence that we shall surmount those problems as we have in the past and that we may say that, under the guidance of my right hon. Friend, far from following the advice tendered to us in the previous speech, of going back to the dreary prospect of more and more controls and restrictions, we shall give our countrymen the chance to earn the rewards of skill by taking the risks of freedom.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham. Northfield)
I hope the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the interesting matters he has been raising, but I want to spend a few minutes asking some questions about the plans of the Government and their ideas for the future of exports. We have a most serious statement in the Economic Survey, namely, that we are expecting a con- 448 siderable increase of imports in the current 12 months compared with the last 12 months and that it will be almost impossible—the Survey almost says that in so many words in paragraph 106—to get sent abroad the amount of exports we need.
I am shocked at the amount of complacency there has been throughout this debate on the difficult question of exports. There has been so much basking in the sun of a temporary lull in our difficulties in regard to the balance of payments that nobody has been thinking, as far as I can see, of where we are going from here. It is surprising that we have as yet heard nothing from the Chancellor or from the Government spokesmen. For that reason, I want to devote the major part of what I shall say to that problem but, before I do so, I shall refer to the comments we have heard about the redistributory effects of this Budget on the equality of purchasing power and on the standard of living as a result of the taxation reductions proposed by the Chancellor.
We have heard it said from the other side of the Committee that it is almost indecent to say that the reductions in taxation are unjust because they relieve people higher up in the scale to the tune of several hundreds or possibly thousands of pounds. This is an amazing statement. Let us look at the simple facts. I am sure the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will agree with me that we are in a situation where, by and large, no reliefs are given to the people at the bottom of the earning scales. If Purchase Tax reductions are pointed out as a contradiction of my main point, I say at once that they represent little more than 6d. a week to everybody, and certainly will have no effect by the time one measures what it is that ordinary people spend their incomes on.
As a whole, therefore, they have no relief from this Budget. Who gets the relief? I tried to discover who will get as much as 2s. 6d. a week, which is the least we would want to give anybody as a small present these days from a Budget. I find that it is a married couple with £12 a week, a married couple with one child with £14 a week, and a married couple with two children with £16 a week. That is the income they have to reach before they get as little as 2s. 6d. a week.
449 It is not only a question—and this is the main point I wanted to make—of whether the lower paid get any positive reliefs and therefore whether they may be staying as they are for another 12 months. The fact is that people below these taxation levels are bound to face a very much more difficult position in the coming year, because we have yet to feel a good number of the effects of the last Budget. Their lot will become worse by several shillings a week, I imagine, by the time the next 12 months have passed.
Look what is still to come to make worse the lot of those people who have had no tax reliefs in this Budget. They have still to feel, in a weekly sense, the effect of recent rate increases. We are promised, later in the year, a Bill which will probably increase rents. They have to face an increase in the price of coal of five or more shillings per ton. As a consequence, they have to face an increase in the cost of electricity and of gas, the prices of which are bound to go up as the year progresses.
Awaiting this Budget there are a number of wage claims which will now be pressed with the vigour which they deserve in view of the few concessions given. They include claims for the distributive grades, for example, affecting 1½ million workers, and they will again put up the cost of what the ordinary person, and particularly the lower income group, buys. The situation is quite distinctly, therefore, that not only have these people no reliefs from their present position but they will need reliefs on a much greater scale because of the increased cost of living which these factors will create during the next 12 months.
Finally, we have the effect of bus fares. This may seem a small item to raise, but this morning I received a telegram from the chairman of the transport committee in Birmingham in which he said:I urge the strongest protest against the fuel oil tax which costs Birmingham £750,000. No relief will mean that fares will have to be increased resulting in a higher cost of living for workers.They have been living on reserves, hoping that this Budget would give some relief— and there are many other transport authorities in the country which have been running into the red and which will now have to make a substantial increase in fares. On top of all the things I have mentioned, 450 therefore, we can expect an increase in bus fares.
It is thus not only important to say that these people have had no reliefs; but it is important also to say that in the coming 12 months they will need them more than ever and that this Budget gives them very cold comfort for what is in store.
I wanted, however, to speak mainly about exports, and perhaps I may now ask the questions which I intended to ask. The complacency on the Government side of the Committee on this subject has been quite remarkable. We have admitted the temporary nature of this year's fortunate turn in the balance of payments, the effect of the fortuitous movements in the terms of trade and the effect of import cuts and the relative fall—and I am a little afraid of this phrase because one may get involved and the Economic Secretary would then be very angry—in stocking up, which I think is a way in which I can put it safely.
This situation has been accompanied by something like a 6 per cent. fall in our exports. To some extent that is a reflection of last year's Budget which, by interfering with wage costs, put up export costs. As far as I can see, the opportunity provided by this fortunate lull in our difficulties is not being taken. It is, surely, a time for reflection. If I may use the Chancellor's nautical metaphor, it is a time to chart a course for where we are going from here in exports. It is a time to chart a course for increasing them substantially before the next crisis occurs and before we reach a situation in which we have to have a low employment level because we cannot get enough exports out of the country to afford enough imports to keep our people in jobs.
It is a time for taking a slightly detached view for trying to see where we are likely to go in the next 10 years and how we can raise the level of British exports. The basic problem is, I think, both insufficiently and yet, in some quarters, sufficiently realised. It is a problem which faces Britain in a long historical sense. We know that we are now spending abroad something like £3,000 million in the purchase of goods and that we want to export more than that. Our need for exports is so much the greater because we now have to send abroad more goods and can rely so much 451 less on other forms of overseas incomes. Secondly, we know that we have to face a problem of increased prices against Britain, the adverse terms of trade, which are likely to be against us for a long time.
What does that mean when it comes to the practical problem of exports in the next 10 years? It means that somehow we must get for Britain a larger share in world trade of manufactured products, because we now rely on manufactured products for some 88 per cent. of our exports. What are our prospects and our chances? I beg the Government to give a lead here—and in a minute I will mention one industry which needs that lead. What are our chances of getting an increased share of world trade in manufactures?
When we come to consider that problem we must ask the question of whether, in fact, we shall ever get back to the 1938 level of imports; because we are now nowhere near that level, but are at something like 80 per cent. of the 1938 imports. How are we to get back to the pre-war level of imports by exporting enough? There is no lead; there are just some hopes and some exhortations that we must go on exporting more and no lead as to how to do it.
The problem is enormous because we are depending, in our exports, on goods in which we are so vulnerable. As Professor G. C. Allen pointed out in the Westminster Bank Review some time ago, the important thing about Britain's post-war export trade is that we are depending in the main on the exporting of goods in which we are most vulnerable in world markets. There are goods and trades like motor cars, furniture, certain branches of textiles which we developed in between the wars but which, as exporting industries, we have now developed for the first time in our history.
How can we keep the lead in those products against the manufacturing competition of America, Germany, Japan and other countries? How can we do something which this country has never done before? First of all, as I say, we are vulnerable to that kind of competition. Secondly, the prospect is very 452 difficult, as will be seen merely by looking at the figures involved. Professor Austin Robinson has given the best lead on this subject in the Three Banks' Review, which was published in March of this year. He tried to make an analysis of what the future world trade is going to be in manufactured products, what our share of it is likely to be and, on that basis, how many imports we will be able to afford. The figures are very staggering indeed.
He says that with Britain and America both accounting for about 20 or so per cent. of the world trade in manufactures and with two or three other countries accounting for nearly all the world trade in manufactures, our job of snatching some trade to increase our share is going to be almost impossible. He comes to a very important conclusion. He says that he has tried to calculate what are the conditions in which we might hope to finance the full 1938 volume of imports into this country and he comes to the conclusion that, in terms of projection of historical figures, it is going to be almost impossible.
He says that on certain assumptions about the terms of trade, which are very justifiable, it would require total exports of 191 per cent. of those of 1938 with a component of manufactured exports of the order of 217 per cent. of 1938, or 192 per cent. of 1937, and this we could only reach by securing a 21½ per cent. share of a world volume of manufactured exports as great as that of 1951, or some similar combination.
What in fact he says in that article is that if he takes both pessimistic and optimistic assumptions about the future of world trade in manufactured products, and pessimistic and optimistic assumptions about the terms of trade, and then sees what share of world trade Britain can reasonably expect to capture, the chances of getting back to 1938 levels of imports are almost impossible.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Member is pressing this point of getting back to the 1938 volume of imports. Surely that is not necessarily a target for this nation. We have not increased our agricultural production. We have not started the manufacture of multifarious products which we previously imported from the dollar areas merely to continue the import pattern as before.
§ Mr. Chapman
Part of my case which I propose to develop is that if we are now, as Professor Robinson suggests, practically condemned to 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of pre-war exports, the job is a double one for Great Britain. We have to decide not only what extraordinary measures can be taken to increase exports but also how we can economise in imports, by increased agricultural production for example, as the hon. Member suggests.
Let me deal first with the question of increased exports. The motor car industry is a very good example of the dilemma. Last year we had an enormous fall in our exports of motor vehicles to the extent of some 60,000 units. At the present rate of motor car exports we shall do worse than we did last year. They are running at something like 20,000 a month and that will certainly amount to less even than last year's exports. Why will the Government not give a lead on what these industries are to do? What happened at the Commonwealth Economic Conference on these matters? What can the manufacturers in these industries expect to happen in the next four or five years? What kind of lead was given at other conferences?
Let us take what happened in the consultations in the United States of America. Where did all these consultations about future levels of world trade get to, and what sort of pattern do we expect for exports? Not one mention has been made of that in this debate.
I want to make some suggestions that should be put into practice. As I have tried to show, this is an emergency problem of great magnitude, if we are to be condemned to this very low level of imports, for the next five or 10 years. The first thing we certainly need is a greater discriminatory use of initial allowances. This has already been mentioned in the debate, but I am sure that we must now take emergency action. Industries which export, which can get a high level of exports and which can fit into a plan for expanded exports must be given some extra incentive and ability to build themselves up, to modernise their equipment and expand. We have a precedent already in the extra initial allowances which are being given to the mining industry.
454 Secondly, we need some Government-plus-industry top level consultations on how we are to get into some of the markets. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) has mentioned the South American markets, and has suggested bilateral trading agreements with them. Then we need consultation about after sales service and the adaptation of products for those and other special markets.
I should particularly like to mention an article by Mr. Leslie Gamage in the "Financial Times" some time ago when he said:There is no doubt that we have not had half the success we might have had in American and other hard currency countries because we have just not taken the trouble to find out exactly what the intended customer wants. We must be prepared to send representatives for lengthy periods, we must test our markets by properly conducted research, we must use every local device to promote our sales and we must give support to our agents and after-sales service to his customers at least equal in quality to that offered by our competitors from other countries. In some cases this will mean altering our product to suit local taste overseas.He is right. We need a Government investigation with industry into whether credits are sufficient to allow this after-sales service in these dollar markets and other markets throughout the world. We need consultation about adaptation of products. We need market research on an enormous scale. Are the funds available? If not, can industry be helped by emergency methods to get into those markets and carry out the kind of reorganisation which Mr. Gamage and others are suggesting.
We need other incentives to export. The Economic Secretary said that the Government were not going to indulge in a race with export subsidies, but he has already admitted that export subsidies exist throughout Europe, so that we shall not be initiating any race if we start using export subsidies. One of the best examples of export subsidies that we have had are the food subsidies, because by keeping down the demands for wages we have helped to keep down prices of goods sold in export markets. That is a hidden subsidy for exports.
Lastly, I think the industry needs to be taken into the confidence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what future he sees in the export markets. We have had no indication of what happened in 455 the economic conference with the rest of the world and particularly with the Commonwealth. It is said in the Economic Survey that we shall require a considerable increase in the volume of export shipments even to maintain last year's earnings. The figures this year are going entirely the other way. The problem, therefore, is an immediate one. It is also, as I have tried to show, very much a long term one, one involving Britain in living at a lower level of imports for many years to come.
Is it too much to plead that in a Budget debate, or in a speech by a Chancellor of the Exchequer, we could have had something more than platitudes and exhortations, a little more indication of what is in his mind—a little more, if you like, of detachment from the immediate scene—and some indication as to just how we are to keep up in the next five or 10 years in the export market?
I hope that the debate will not conclude next week until we have had some real indication that the short-term problem and the longer-term problem of exports have evoked ideas from the Government as to how we are to face them. I agree we have to increase agricultural production and economise on imports and all those sort of things, but, if we do not also increase exports by emergency measures, we are permanently condemning ourselves to a lower standard of living in this country. I therefore hope that before the end of the debate we shall have an indication of how the Government expect us to avoid that.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
In view of what was said yesterday by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), I do not know whether it is by set purpose, Sir, that you have called two successive bachelors, both of whom sit for the City of Birmingham. To the best of my knowledge, neither of us has a private income approaching six figures and, as far as our eligibility is concerned, as we both have reasonably large majorities, the Committee will have a means of judging that in the years ahead. I will not follow the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) on the question of exports, but I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade will deal with that subject when he intervenes later in the debate.
456 I am very pleased to see the hon. Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon) with us in the Chamber. I think I am the first Conservative Member for Birmingham to take part in this debate since he spoke, and I should like to say how very interesting I found his contribution to our proceedings yesterday afternoon. He comes here with a very great reputation for work in connection with local government in Birmingham, and I am sure we shall not only have the benefit of his advice in this Committee, but we shall frequently have his assistance in other parts of the Palace of Westminster, also, where the publicity given to our proceedings is much less, but where very much valuable work is often done.
The Opposition have been faced with a very difficult task in this debate because, with one solitary exception which I shall mention, all their usual lines of attack have been closed to them. In the first place, they cannot claim that this Budget puts up prices. I notice that the Ministry of Labour have already announced that as a result of the Budget there will be a slight fall in the Retail Price Index. I am quite sure that the public will judge the Budget by its effect on prices more than by any other single factor.
Secondly, the Opposition cannot claim that this Budget attacks the social services. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Barber), in his admirable speech last night, made a very valuable point when he reminded the Committee that the Chancellor has not only reduced taxation and lowered the total of civil expenditure by £60 million, but in addition he has actually increased expenditure on the social services by as much as £80 million, including £18 million on the Health Service, and £27 million on education. It was only just before Easter that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was accusing my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health of wishing to mutilate the National Health Service. The more encounters that take place between those two right hon. Gentlemen, the better pleased are we on this side of the Committee.
Thirdly, I do not think hon. Members opposite can claim that this Budget will lead to an increase in unemployment, because, as the Chancellor said in his 457 Budget speech, the whole aim of the Budget isto bring out the full production of which we are capable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April. 1953; Vol. 514. c. 50.]It really is rather absurd to say, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) said yesterday,the Conservative Government in this country, prefers an economy that is not operating in conditions of full employment.He went on to say, on the authority of a certain Professor Galbraith, thatthese businessmen dislike Government measures to maintain economic activity, because they destroy their own sense of power." —[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th April, 1953; Vol. 514, c. 291.]I do not know who is the Professor Galbraith referred to. The only Professor Galbraith I know of is the present Regius Professor at Oxford and he is not much interested in public affairs after the reign of King Richard II. When it comes to a question of a sense of power, I do not think any class of the community has a greater lust for power than certain academic economists. In this connection, I hope hon. Members will read—or re-read—a book called "The Dollar Crisis," by Mr. Thomas Balogh, especially the chapter on Britain and the Problem of European Planning, because a book more absolutely steeped in the spirit of a lust for power I have never read.
Fourthly, I do not think anyone can claim that this is a Budget which will only benefit Conservative supporters. If anyone does make such a claim, the electoral prospects of the Conservative Party are even better than I dared hope. Really, the only argument which hon. Members opposite have been able to deploy is the very threadbare argument in favour of penalties on success. I think the attitude of hon. Members opposite was exemplified perfectly yesterday by the reference of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South to the Excess Profits Levy.
I thought we should hear some wisecrack at the expense of the Prime Minister and none of us felt in any way evilly disposed to the right hon. Member because of that. I was even afraid we might have one or two of the staler jokes about the overlords and I was a little surprised that the right hon. Member made no reference to Lord Cherwell. 458 But the main concern of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South was to find out what new burden the Chancellor intended to impose on industry when the Excess Profits Levy had been removed.
That attitude comes very strangely from the right hon. Member, because he once said, in a Budget speech in 1951, that profits should be a reward for efficiency. I cannot therefore understand how he can urge the Chancellor to take a step which must reduce the difference between the respective rewards earned by efficient and inefficient producers. My right hon. Friend believes in lowering the burden of taxation on industry and we on this side of the Committee firmly believe that new wealth has to be created before it can be distributed to anyone.
Passing to the question of Income Tax, I am very glad that yesterday the Financial Secretary reminded the Committee that the lower rates of tax are being reduced as well as the standard rate of tax. This reduction of the lower rates of tax will help many people living on small fixed incomes, and many who have suffered particularly severely from the rise in prices since the war. A second point is that far too many Opposition speakers have tended to speak as though the bulk of the tax relief represented by the reduction in the standard rate will go to individual persons, whereas the Chancellor pointed out in his Budget speech that more than half the reduction in the standard rate will go to corporate industry. He said, in his speech:At current levels of profits and of distributions—and this is why] am impressed by its value for industry—the reduction of 6d. would represent £45 million relief on the undistributed profits of companies—a very potent augmentation of the company reserves available for maintenance, innovation, and development, upon which, I trust, it should be spent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1953; Vol. 514. c. 60.]To those who complain that my right hon. Friend did not stress sufficiently that this money should be put to the renovation of industry rather than be distributed in dividends, I say that I do not think he could have gone further in making his views on that subject perfectly clear.
I wish to turn to two points in the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South yesterday. I have listened to every speech he has made in a major debate since I have been a Member of 459 the House. I find him, as a rule, lucid and easy to follow, but there were times during his speech yesterday when I felt a little like the small boy who said "I think I could understand if only you would not try to explain." It rather worried me that every criticism he made, and every argument he advanced, seemed to lead unerringly to the conclusion that the present Budget was just about the one that the nation required.
The first of the two points of his speech to which I wish to draw the attention of the Committee was that he took credit for the fact that 1951 was a year in which we stockpiled at a very rapid rate. It has always puzzled me that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government of which he was a Member should want to take any credit for the fact that they ran down stocks in 1950 and had to build them up again in 1951, just at the time when the terms of trade were turning sharply against us. I never felt that episode to be a happy example of Socialist planning.
§ Sir E. Boyle
We should never have allowed our stocks to get as low as they were before the outbreak of the Korean war. The great mistake was to let our stocks run down in the months after devaluation, so that we had to stock up after prices had risen sharply following the outbreak of the Korean war.
A more important point on which I should like to take up the right hon. Gentleman is the question of monetary policy. No one has ever denied that monetary policy, like other economic weapons, is a blunt weapon. From the point of view of the preservation of individual liberty it is a good thing that all economic weapons are blunt weapons. But it is broadly true to say that the monetary policy of the present Government has had the financial effects which we claimed for it, and that it has not been accompanied by the harmful effects which many hon. and right hon. Members opposite expected.
We always said that monetary policy would help to stem the drain on our gold and dollar reserves. I do not think that any hon. or right hon. Member opposite can deny that the drain on our reserves 460 last year stopped abruptly in the months following the Budget, in which the Bank rate was put up to 4 per cent. In the first quarter of the year the drain was £227 million; in the second quarter it was reduced to £5 million, and by the third quarter there was no drain at all.
That was not solely due to import cuts and the improved terms of trade. It was also in part due to increased confidence in sterling and in part due to the fact that a higher Bank rate definitely discouraged and effectively checked speculation against sterling. In the early months of last year a number of hon. Members opposite—the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) was one —laid great stress on the speculative movement against sterling which was taking place. By putting up the Bank rate to 4 per cent., we effectively helped to check this speculative movement.
There is a second point to be considered. One of the evil legacies which we inherited from the party opposite, and one which I think has largely been forgotten, was an economic situation in which our heavy industries were seriously overloaded. When we came to power we simply had not all the resources we required for home investment, for the export of capital goods and for our defence programme. One of the reasons we raised the Bank rate was in order to raise the cost of carrying stocks of goods against borrowed money, so as to slow down replacement orders and to lessen the burden on our heavy industries.
It has rather puzzled me that the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), who is such an opponent of a higher Bank rate, should also be one of those who complains that our delivery dates for capital goods are still too distant. The cut in investment in stocks compared with the previous year, on which the right hon. Member for Leeds, South laid such stress, was therefore entirely in accordance with Government policy; but it is absolute nonsense to imply, as he definitely seemed to imply yesterday in his speech, and today in an interruption when the Economic Secretary to the Treasury was speaking, that the rise in the Bank rate to 4 per cent. was responsible for an increase in unemployment. That just is not true. In April, 1952, the unemployment figure was 467,871; that was very shortly after 461 the Bank rate had been raised: in December, 1952, it was down to just below 400,000. I do not think that it is possible, on those figures, to claim that the higher Bank rate caused greater unemployment in this country.
The higher Treasury bill rate did not lead to nearly so big a charge on the Revenue as a number of hon. and right hon. Members opposite feared. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), in a speech during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill last year, said:I know that none of these things is as simple as it looks, but on rough arithmetic, … presumably an extra 1¾ per cent. would mean something rather over £75 million gross —say, £80 million, …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1952; Vol. 501, c. 1208.]In fact, the figures given in the Financial Statement show that the extra cost of the higher Treasury bill rate was about £42 million, and substantially less than the right hon. Gentleman expected.
One other accusation is that the higher Bank rate has been responsible for pessimism and uncertainty. I do not agree, and I believe that if we had had a slightly higher Bank rate in the period between 1945 and 1951, we should never have had that panic buying after the outbreak of the Korean war which was so largely responsible for the severe textile recession at the beginning of last year. The trouble is that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen cannot understand that it is possible to have a higher Bank rate and at the same time to maintain a high and stable rate of employment.
I cannot help feeling that the real grouse on the benches opposite throughout the debate has been that we no longer have any inflation in our economy, and that total demand no longer exceeds supply. We on this side of the Committee have always held firmly to the view that inflation is the greatest evil which can afflict a trading nation like our own. I entirely agree with the views that Professor Lionel Robbins expressed in his Stamp Lecture, a year or two ago, when he said "Stop the inflation, stop it at all costs." Now my right hon. Friend has effectively stopped it, and, as the Economic Survey shows, we still have a high and stable level of employment in this country, and a percentage of unemployment which is little more than half of what both Lord Beveridge and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South recognised as a full employment standard.
462 I wish, if I can, to create a record for the debate so far today by ending my speech within 20 minutes of rising. I therefore wish to comment very briefly on two taxes which my right hon. Friend has decreased. I must first say how pleased I am that he has made an all-round reduction in Purchase Tax.
A few weeks ago I was responsible for initiating a debate on the jewellery and silverware industries. It would only be courteous on my part to thank my right hon. Friend for having specifically referred to those industries in his Budget speech, and for having referred to the silverware industry in his broadcast. I much preferred the attitude to those industries displayed by my right hon. Friend to the rather contemptuous attitude shown by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South yesterday when he referred to jewellery and furs as typical luxury trades. If he talked to some hon. Members opposite who supported the Motion I moved a few weeks ago, he would realise that there is a very strong case for doing something to assist those industries.
I am glad to see the 40 per cent. initial allowance for mining works. Some of us, including my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) and Oswestry (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) have in recent years put down Amendments or new Clauses on this subject. We once received the unexpected support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) who was at that time in opposition, not only to us, but to his own Front Bench, and I hope he will be as pleased as we are about this relief.
I think this is a courageous Budget. I have no doubt some people will say that my right hon. Friend has taken too big a risk in giving reliefs of such a magnitude. I quite recognise that the position always looks less inflationary in February than in July. I also understand the fears of those who say that a reduction in taxation, coupled with the hope of higher production this year and the import relaxations which have been announced, may tempt us once again into taking a higher level of inessential imports than this country can afford.
I agree with the apprehensions which were expressed by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South last night. I am sure, however, that my right hon. Friend 463 would not have acted without carefully weighing up all the various factors which have contributed to his decision. I have confidence that, under his guidance, this country will get through an odd-numbered year without a major economic crisis, for the first time since the war.
Finally, we can all be pleased at the improved position of the £, and let us remember that a strong £ is not only a security for the standard of living of the people of this country, but is also absolutely essential if Britain and her Commonwealth are to make a worthy contribution towards the leadership of the free nations.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
Like the hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), I shall endeavour to keep my remarks within a modest compass. I should like first to underline two pleas made by my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) and Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). On the subject of equal pay it is true that for 30 years successive Governments of all colours have admitted the justice of this principle. I would remind the present Government Front Bench, and particularly the Financial Secretary, that this Government went further than merely admitting the principle. Nearly a year ago they agreed it was important to name a definite and early day. The Financial Secretary and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury were in the House at the time concurring with that Motion.
Any Government might reasonably say that "a definite and early day" cannot mean within the same financial year as the undertaking is given and that there must be an opportunity to look at the finances of the nation as a whole. But would not this have been an opportunity to decide that the words, "definite and early day" should mean something? Hon. Gentlemen will agree that 12 months is not usually considered to be an early day after a pronouncement is made. If the Government feel, as they may, that the economic situation does not warrant taking this step in the foreseeable future, I believe their right course would be to invite the House to reverse its previous decision. If the Government have not the resolution to do that, I believe 464 they should put a definite content and meaning into the words. "definite and early day."
The other plea I wish to reinforce is that for poor elderly people, old age pensioners. The amount of relief they would get from this Budget is literally infinitesimal. Some of the results of the last Budget are still bearing heavily on them and there will be further costs which will bear on them within the coming 12 months. Having referred to these two points, I wish now to comment on the general relation of the Budget to the economy of the country.
The burden of the speeches of hon. Members opposite has been to acclaim a year of progress and to attribute it to the wisdom and virtue of the Chancellor. But what does the Government's own Economic Survey tell us has been happening during this year which is acclaimed as a year of progress? From the Economic Survey we find that production is perceptibly lower, and consumption is slightly but still unquestionably lower. What we have added to our fixed capital assets, on which our productive efficiency depends has been perceptibly less, and unemployment figures and short-time, though not yet catastrophic, have been significantly more.
That is the year through which we have just passed. When one hears so many hon. Gentlemen opposite congratulating the Chancellor on the way in which he has been progressing, and expressing the hope that he will go further in the same direction, one wonders what will be the economic state of this country if those hopes are fulfilled and we have a few more years of this kind.
There have been one or two jocular references to the "Daily Herald" during the debate, but I wish to quote from another source a sentence which gives a significant commentary on the year we have gone through. I would quote from the annual report of a local Conservative association describing what happened at a fair held towards the end of last year. The report states:The net profit resulting from our fair was disappointing compared with previous years, but that is a sign of the times.That refers to the first year of Con-versatism which was disappointing compared with previous years.
465 The speech made by the Economic Secretary this afternoon was far and away the weakest we have heard from the Government Front Bench in support of this Budget. As we know very well, having heard him on other occasions, that was not because of any lack of personal ability. It was because he had been asked to defend the weakest sector, and because his own ability had revealed to him the fact that it was the weakest sector. The plain facts of the economic situation are that we are a less productive community, we are consuming less, adding less to our general store of wealth and using our resources less efficiently than a year ago.
The effect of all that may for the time being be masked by the decided tilt of the terms of trade in our favour—by the tendency of the prices of things we sell to go up and the prices of the things we buy to go down. The Economic Secretary did his best to point out that the action of the Government could have some slight influence on the terms of trade. But as he knows very well that influence is very slight indeed. For good or ill the movement of the terms of trade is as much, or very nearly as much outside the control of the Government of this country as is the climate and the weather.
The effect of the decline in our economy has been masked from us by this movement of the terms of trade in our favour which can be calculated at something like £500 million. But that mask will not always be there. We may, as hon. Members opposite have expressed the hope that we shall, go on in the same direction of lower production and consumption and rising figures of unemployment, but we cannot hope for an improvement in the terms of trade at that rate year after year. The fundamental facts of this country's economy in the mid-20th century remain unchanged.
We are, and are likely to be for a long time, in a state of siege. Occasionally it may happen that the pressure of the siege is relaxed a little. In fact, the threat will be there for a very long time. It can only be dealt with if this country becomes steadily more productive, if the actual amount of wealth produced by a week's or an hour's work goes steadily up and, perhaps equally important, if we get a right alignment of our resources and 466 manpower and a right allocation between consumption and investment, an investment in the right proportion to the different industries and the full use of all our manpower, again in the right proportion between different industries.
What is the Budget's contribution to the solution of those major economic problems which have to be solved if we are not to be constantly liable to balance of payments crises? The Budget solution is simply to make the assumption that these major economic problems of our productivity and of the alignment of our resources and manpower can be solved merely by giving taxation reliefs to the private capitalist, and then to assume that he in consequence will simply go ahead and solve the problem and that out of the unrelated activities of large numbers of private groups of persons the right answers will somehow emerge.
It is the philosophy that if one looks after the pounds of the rich man the pence of the poor man will somehow look after themselves. It is that philosophy that is made the excuse for denying any relief to the claims of the poor elderly people in this Budget and for the nibbling at the social services—which will soon become a devouring—like that which has marked the last year.
As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, when we examine the figures of the Health Service we find that we are faced with a reduction. We know very well that such increases as have occurred in education would have been imposed on any Government by the increase in the number of children to be provided for. The actual value of the service rendered has been reduced all along the line, and it has been reduced deliberately. If it has not been reduced, the torrent of circulars and warning speeches which have come from one Member of the Government after another have had no meaning at all.
All this is excused on the ground that one must give encouragement to the private capitalist and that if one does that the rest of the picture will fall into place. I do not think that it is a caricature to say that in the main that is what hon. Members opposite believe. Will this happen? I will freely grant to the 467 Chancellor that there is already one sign of his incentive Budget getting to work. I find from the "Evening Standard" that:City cafes, normally crowded in the morning by stockbrokers drinking coffee, were deserted today. Every one was queuing up outside the Stock Exchange waiting for dealings to start after Mr. Butler's Budget.It is gratifying to read of these austerities. One knows that from time to time poor people have to go without their rations because they cannot afford to buy them, but when it comes to stockbrokers doing without their coffee one must admit that there is perhaps one swallow, but will that swallow be followed—
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
It is not a swallow.
§ Mr. Stewart
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has applied his usual acumen to the problem. It is an attractive theory that if one does the best one can for a limited number of fairly well off people the rest of the country will sort itself out. The only drawback to this assumption is that we know from bitter experience that it does not work. The moves towards it made in the last Budget have not resulted in increased production or in getting our economy any nearer to the right alignment needed to meet the problems of the middle of the 20th Century.
More decisive still, this is exactly the line of policy tried out in the inter-war years when we faced, if not quite so seriously, fundamentally the same problem as we are facing today. There was the task then of readjusting the economy of the country to changed overseas demands, of re-equipping industry with more up to date equipment, of getting greater mobility into our manpower and getting big shifts of manpower from one industry to another.
The solution which under the leadership of Conservative Governments was continually presented to the country was that if one left it to private capitalism the thing would sort itself out. What do we find in practice? In the main the private capitalist, moved quite naturally by the motive of profit, as he intended to be moved, does not seek profit so much in more production and in getting the right alignment of our resources. He seeks it more easily and more readily, as he did 468 in those years, by restriction, by cartels, by pleading to the Government of the day for tariffs, guarantees and subsidies and for all kinds of devices which would save him from performing the one function which according to the text book he was supposed to perform—that of actually taking the risks and bearing the loss if his judgment was wrong.
Time and again during these years the Government called upon the nation to foot the bill to prevent private capitalists incurring losses. They were not performing the risk-taking function which is so repeatedly ascribed to them and which is made the justification for one Budget concession after another. Of course, the solution then adopted by the country to the problem of having manpower available whenever there was any new demand was always to have a huge pool of unemployed. That was the answer then and that is the answer which follows naturally if we leave our economic problems to be solved in this laissez faire fashion.
Those results do not occur through any individual inefficiency on the part of the private capitalist. The things he actually concerned himself with were often performed with very great efficiency. It is indeed a matter of marvel to the student to note the immense skill and efficiency with which whole industries would be arranged in order to prevent their production rising above a certain figure. The tragedy was in the misapplication of so much talent and ability. Matters turned out that way not because of the deficiencies of any individual but because the major economic problems that a modern industrial State has to face are too large and too complex to be solved by separate groups of private individuals.
The great questions of how much ought to be invested, what ought to be the comparative size of different industries, what should be the different groups of investment in different industries, in what part of the country should new industries spring up, how should we secure mobility of labour—all these are questions the answers to which require resources and knowledge which cannot be at the disposal of private persons. One can no more solve those problems in this way than one can leave the traffic in Piccadilly Circus or Holborn to sort itself out by leaving it to the enlightened self- 469 interest of each separate driver and pedestrian.
It is significant that spokesmen of the Government from time to time, to console us in the last 12 months for the declining figures of production, have pointed to one or two bright spots. Where did the President of the Board of Trade find the bright spots not long ago? He found them in the coal and steel industries. There is also the notable contribution of the aircraft industry to our export problems. In these three industries to an increasing extent the major economic decisions—the decisions to devote a great mass of resources in a certain way and to take the risk that it will prove to be the right one—have been taken by a public authority and not by private persons. Inevitably, that development is continuing.
If we are to solve the fundamental economic problems which beset us, and which will continue to beset us, what do we need? One of the things which we need is a closer relationship between the size of people's incomes and the amount of work which they do, whether by hand or by brain, and I think it is a consideration for Chancellors whether they cannot make a still sharper distinction between incomes which are the result of work, either by hand or by brain, and incomes which have come to the possessor not as a result of work he is doing now or of work he has done in the past.
One of the criticisms of the type of relief we have in this Budget is that it does not in any way add to this distinction. When we are living in a siege economy, as we are, we must have an increasing predominance of the claims of those who are helping to drive the besiegers back.
§ Mr. Stewart
The Financial Secretary mentions old age pensioners, but I think he knows very well the point I have in mind. Those who have worked hard all their lives are in one category. I am concerned with another category—people who get comfortably-sized incomes from the day of their birth for which they have done nothing at all and will do nothing. Both economically and, still more, morally and psychologically, that is something which this country cannot afford.
470 We also need a sure confidence on the part of working people that full employment will be maintained. The movement of the figures, as shown in the Economic Survey, is not such as to maintain that confidence, but it must be maintained at a high level if we are to get the attitude on the part of workers which will make them eagerly willing to accept new technical methods of production and willing to accept the degree of mobility of labour which we shall need if the country is to deal with these difficulties.
We also need an increasing measure of social justice. Hon. Members opposite are constantly trying to find discreditable facts in the record of the last Government, although sometimes they are not quite sure which facts to take. For example, 18 months ago, it was said to be the fault of the late Government that they went out of office leaving the cupboard bare. The hon. Member for Handsworth has just told us that it was our fault that we left the cupboard too full.
But this at least was apparent. During those years, although we had to face balance of payments crises, as this Government has had to face them and will have to face them again, we came through them with an economy which continued to produce more. The nation came through the last balance of payments crisis, but at the end of it the patient's vitality was lowered and his productive power was less. One reason why we achieved those results with the last Government was that, by and large, the working people in the country were convinced of the justice of the society within which and for which they were working. We have to increase that sense of justice if we are to reverse this downward trend in production.
Further, we have to make a positive advance in the field of technical education. It will not be enough for Governments to say that we are spending just enough more on education not quite to keep pace with the increasing number of children. Quite apart from any of the other arguments which may be advanced about education, the need for an improvement in the quantity and quality of our technical education is one of the pressing economic needs of the time.
Finally, among the things which we need. I mentioned that this job of investment and direction of our resources 471 needs to be done today increasingly by public authorities rather than by private persons. We therefore need an increasing section of our economy under public ownership and direction, otherwise we shall reproduce the results which appeared in the years between the wars because, all that time, we had this lower level of taxation which hon. Members opposite keep telling us will solve all our problems—and it did no such thing.
Those four things are at least some of the things which we need—a greater relationship between people's incomes and what they do to earn them; an increasing degree of social justice; improved technical education: and a larger public sector in our economy. Over all those points we are walking in the wrong direction, and I believe that if we continue to do so we shall, in the words of the late Lord Keynes, which he used in condemning the way in which this country's problems were dealt with in the 1930s, end with the Budget balanced at nought on both sides and with ourselves lying flat on our backs producing nothing and consuming nothing.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wentworth Schofield (Rochdale)
The hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) hoped to create a record in speeches in the debate by completing the course in something like 20 minutes. I do not know whether 20 minutes constitutes a record, but, if it does, I can assure hon. Members that I intend to smash it and reduce it to something less than half the time taken by everybody else.
I hope that what I have to say will not be taken as unduly criticising a Budget which I believe has been well received by most people in the country, but, representing as I do a constituency in which a large number of people depend for their livelihood upon the well-being of the cotton textile industry, I feel that I must draw the Committee's attention to an important omission in the Chancellor's alleviation of that most unpopular tax, Purchase Tax, in that the benefits which he has so generously conferred upon others have in this Budget been denied to those in the textile trade.
When the Committee debated the Finance Bill last year, hon. Members on both sides were receiving appeals from 472 various branches of the textile industry asking for the removal of Purchase Tax as a means of stimulating much-needed demand for cotton textiles, the industry of which was languishing very badly in the throes of a world-wide recession in trade. At that time I refrained from joining in those appeals because I realised the difficulties with which the Chancellor had been faced in having to frame a Budget in economic and financial circumstances as bad as, if not worse than, those which any previous Chancellor had ever had to face, and, moreover, at a time when he was having to find ways and means of avoiding national bankruptcy.
I believe that the Chancellor went as far as prudence would allow in modifying the incidence of Purchase Tax by removing the Utility scheme and substituting for it what is known as the D scheme. Hon. Members will recall that he also went out of his way to help the industry by accelerating the placing of defence contracts for certain types of textile production. After a year's experience of the working of the D scheme, examination has shown that it has not been quite the success it was hoped it would be. Indeed, in cotton textiles it seems to have created one or two new troubles. One of the greatest objections to the operation of the D scheme is the manner in which it tends to distort the pattern of production for the home market.
Because of the general dislike of retailers against holding taxed goods, and the fear that they may be left holding the baby in the event of a reduction of Purchase Tax, they naturally endeavour to keep their stocks of taxed goods as low as possible. Because of this fear on the part of retailers and in an endeavour to encourage them to buy and hold stocks, some manufacturers are tempted to debase the quality of cloths which sell just above the D line so as to bring them below the D line, whilst long-established brands, which for years have borne a reputation for reliability and constant quality, and which no manufacturer dare debase, are being sold only in rather meagre quantities. Many of them, unless we are very careful, will pass out of existence. The result is that manufacturers and traders alike minimise their risk of loss by scrapping lines which come above the D line and tend to concentrate 473 on lines of inferior cloth which come below the D line.
It requires no words of mine to emphasise the bad consequences which must result from the discouragement of better type production. How often has it been heard that Britain's future lies in the production of goods of the finest quality and design, and that our success in the export field depends largely on our ability to meet our competitors in the production of such goods. Of all the great industries of this country the cotton textile industry is the least suited to a tax of this kind. Though it is slowly recovering from the depression which reached its peak somewhere about the middle of last year it is noticeable that it is those sections of the industry which produce the finest quality goods which are slowest in making that recovery.
Last year the textile industry was suffering badly from a depression in trade which did not affect other industries. Something had to be done to help the industry, and the Chancellor certainly went out of his way to help, but the fact that he went out of his way to help, and that he gave the help, and that the industry is slowing recovering from that depression in trade is surely not a good reason why it should now be denied the tonic of reduced Purchase Tax which has been given to others. I can assure the Chancellor that instead of being left out of any reductions of Purchase Tax the industry was hoping that the tax would be removed completely.
Whatever we in this Committee may think about the effect on the cotton textile industry, there is no doubt at all that most of the responsible leaders in that industry share the view that Purchase Tax is an important factor which is militating against the full recovery of the industry, and that so long as it exists, just so long will there exist that annual recurrent phase of uncertainty which influences buyers to hold off buying because of what may happen to Purchase Tax. In an industry like the cotton industry, in which the normal flow of trade can be affected by the vagaries of nature and by all sorts of external and internal factors outside the power of the industry to control, any tax which has a variable content of the level and of the rate at which it may operate is bound to be a subject for speculation by buyers, and 474 cannot help but militate against the smooth and free flow of trade.
I ask the Chancellor, therefore, to look again at the effect which his decision may have upon the cotton textile industry in the hope that he will be able to extend his reductions of Purchase Tax so that the textile industries will be able to get the same degree of satisfaction as other industries from what is undoubtedly one of the most encouraging Budgets since the war.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
My first reaction to this Budget was one of astonishment at my seven year old daughter's political acumen, because she managed far more successfully than I, on the very morning of Budget day, to forecast the Budget which the Conservative Chancellor introduced.
On that morning I had returned from Germany and was distributing a few small presents around the household. My seven-year-old daughter, who has a fine and mercenary sense of values, asked me how much money I took to Germany. I said only £5. She asked me, "Why did not you take the full £40? I heard on the wireless that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was now giving a £40 allowance where previously he had given a £20 allowance." "My daughter," I said, "this is a harsh and a wicked world. The fact that the foreign travel allowance was increased by £20 does not mean that the Chancellor hands anybody the additional £20 so that he may the more enjoy his foreign travel." "Well," she said, "I think he ought to." And that very afternoon he did, because he handed to the slightly less eligible bachelor on £900 a year, as well as to the very eligible bachelor, a further £20 to increase his eligibility by travelling overseas.
That shows that my seven-year-old daughter had a touching faith in a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, very properly equalled by the faith which those with over £900 a year have in a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, faith that is not, of course, felt equally by the average man with an average family and with an average salary, who, for all the so-called concessions which have been given in this Budget, is no better off. My constituents in Islington are not queueing up to buy pianos tax-free. They may get a penny or 2d. 475 off a frying pan from time to time, but they do not regard this as a Budget which brings them any material benefits.
Yesterday during the debate there was what I thought a particularly revolting expression of glee on the faces of many hon. Members opposite when the simple theory was expressed from the other side of the Committee that, after all, inevitably if the standard rate of tax is reduced, those who originally paid higher taxation will be progressively better relieved and better recompensed. They thought we were very wrong in suggesting that this distribution of largesse for some was not the proper function of taxation in society.
Let us imagine that there is produced each year by those who work by hand and brain in this society a pool of goods and services, a pool of goods and services compounded of what we produce at home less what we export but to which we add our imports. That is what is available at the beginning of any tax year for the people of this country to share out amongst themselves. Our claims upon that pool of goods and services are conditioned by the income which we have, less the taxation which we pay, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, by the income which we have plus the subsidies which we receive, if we are not in a tax-paying category. Therefore, if in the nature of that balance some section of the community is given £20 extra a year, they have £20 more value out of the pool of goods and services produced in that year.
If at the end of the scale those who produce are given only 4s. 1d. a year, they get only an extra 4s. 1d. out of that pool of goods and services. That is where we see the iniquity of this Budget. Some people will get nothing extra this year out of what has been produced, whereas others will get anything up to 10s. or £1 a week extra out of what has been produced.
Would hon. Gentlemen opposite who were so gleeful at the realisation that this would benefit their friends be equally gleeful if the people we represent were to say, "Why should the eligible bachelor at £900 a year be allowed roughly 10s. a week more value out of what we produce? We must ourselves demand a wage increase of 10s. a week to compensate for it. Why should he gain what we are 476 not gaining?" That is an entirely different appreciation of the place of taxation and subsidies in society. It is a different appreciation than that of hon. Members opposite who take the view that there is something divinely pre-ordained in a differential in basic incomes in this country.
I would much rather there was a smaller difference in pre-tax income than there is at the moment. This fiddling with taxation, on the one hand, and subsidies, on the other, is not satisfactory, and we must get a much more originally equitable distribution of our national income sources. But while we have this grotesque difference in pre-tax income, it is only proper that the taxation instrument should be used to put it right.
This Budget is based on three false assumptions which lead to five gross instances of a betrayal of the electorate. Let me first of all list the three false assumptions. The first assumption is that lower taxation on the wealthy leads to higher investment from personal savings. The second assumption is that lower taxation on the wealthy increases personal productive effort. The third assumption is that lower company taxation will lead to increased fixed investment. That, of course, was the gravamen of the speech of the Economic Secretary this afternoon. I did not take down his words exactly, but he said something along these lines: "We cannot expect a flourishing effort in private industry in circumstances in which the private industrialist loses his profit by taxation and stands whatever losses he makes himself." I think he will agree that, although those are not exactly the words he used, he said something along those lines.
Let us examine the assumptions upon which this budgetary assessment of taxation has been made against what happened last year and what happened previously under Labour Governments, because this very prescription of lowering the standard rate of taxation as an incentive to investment and production was tried last year. Although it has been stressed very many times, I see no harm in stressing it again. It was a very poor prescription. It did not have the result, as an incentive, which had been anticipated for it. In fact, production and investment went down. Under a Labour 477 Government, when there was a high rate of personal taxation, when the Profits Tax was actually increased from one year to another and from one Budget to another, two things happened. First, production continued to rise; and secondly, the rate of fixed investment continued to be very high indeed, and usually rose from one year to another.
We have a complete collapse—to my satisfaction, at any rate, although not, I am afraid, to the satisfaction of hon. Gentlemen opposite—of the economic. or attempted economic, justification for what is, in effect, a political action on the part of the Chancellor. We have grown used to a certain standard of integrity and honesty in the presentation of the nation's accounts, and this is the first year in which that tradition has been broken. If, for whatever reason, hon. Members opposite wish to give tax reliefs to some sections of the community, let them for goodness' sake not claim it on a false economic doctrine by pretending it will have a result it has never had before.
Therefore, my summing up of the three speeches which we have so far heard from Ministers on the other side of the Committee is that from the Chancellor of the Exchequer we got a terrifying complacency, from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury we had levity, and from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who was given the job of trying to find some economic verification for these extraordinary arguments and proposals, we had a very sad and distressing sight which led us in the end either to doubt his intellectual ability or his intellectual integrity. His integrity, however, kept peeping through as he went through his speech.
He started with supreme confidence. He had no notes on the Box, his notes were on the side of the Table, which we were not supposed to see at all. But as he went on, he began himself to realise that he was using threadbare and worn-out arguments and at that stage his notes came on to the Dispatch Box to assist him. In the end, he sought to sustain himself by increasing his speed of speaking until he threatened to defeat even the efforts of the HANSARD reporters.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am beginning to doubt the capacity of some Members to 478 appreciate the arguments which I laid before them.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
It did not help us to appreciate them when the hon. Gentleman read his notes twice as fast as he had previously been speaking.
We all agree that there must be an increase of investment. The hon. Gentleman and myself will have a particular interest in this problem because we stand as fairly young Members in this House of Commons. He has a fairly reasonable majority and I have a very reasonable majority and, therefore, for some time to come, we may be locked in battle across the Floor of this House on economic problems.
Is he not afraid of the legacy which is going to be handed to our generation in 10 or 20 years from now as a result of the failure to maintain our investment in industry during the last year and the potential failure to do so during the coming year? Is he not afraid, when he looks at the high rate of investment in the United States, Germany and Japan and other countries, that we are going to be left with a decrepit, worn-out and strangled industry, totally incapable of standing up to overseas competition? I fear, even more than I fear the growth in inequality in reward between rich and poor, the stamp which will be set upon the economic pattern of this country 20 or 30 years from now, if the present policy is continued.
It means that we shall be left to feed an even bigger nation than we have now with a less efficient industry and smaller resources. There is the feeling that dangers which sometimes confront other countries cannot happen here. We are used to thinking that floods which devastate areas of China can never happen here. We are used to thinking that ferry boats overturn somewhere else in the world, but we never thought that the "Princess Victoria" could go down crossing from Scotland to Ireland. There is the general feeling that starvation and hunger may happen to people in Calabria, China, Southern Spain and other countries but that it cannot happen here. But it will happen here and every successive Budget from the Conservative Party makes it more certain that it is going to happen here.
How are we to achieve the high level of investment that is needed? There 479 are three ways of doing it. One way is to give to a certain section of the community such grossly extravagant incomes either through earnings or investment, that even if they were to eat three meals every meal-time and drive two Packards or Rolls-Royces around they could not spend their income and they would be forced, because their personal extravagance could not mop it all up, to use it in industrial investment. That is a tenable theory. It was the way in which a great deal of our industrial investment was done in the old days.
If we are to try to establish our investment in that way, we have to say to our working men and women: these people who enjoy an extravagantly high standard of living are not doing it because they enjoy it but as a favour to you, because by enjoying that standard of living they are able to make industry more productive by investment. That is the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) when he talks about the work providers and the bonus which this particular Budget will give to the work providers.
The Chancellor has not even done that. I am prepared to accept any really determined attempt to maintain the high rate of investment that this country needs. There would at least have been something to say for the Chancellor had be exploited this economic theory, gone haywire, wiped out all the Surtax and given a few people so much money that they would be bound to invest a large amount of it. But he did not do so. He has handed out the odd £20 which will be used for the odd extra trip overseas, and the odd little bit here and there which will be dissipated, but he has done nothing to increase productive investment in this country.
Basically and ethically, I do not accept the economic theory of allowing some people to be grossly rich in order that they may invest; but other methods are possible. One is for the Government itself, through taxation, to raise sufficient funds for investment. The Conservative Chancellor has, of course, turned his back on that method of dealing with the problem. He has done so because any productive investment from Government sources involves public accountability and 480 what Conservative business men regard as gross interference in their private affairs. Thus, the Conservatives are loth to allow public investment in private industry. However, that is a method: it was not adequately exploited by the last Labour Government, it should be studied further by the next Labour Government.
Another way is to encourage self-financing within industry; that is, to allow an industry to retain a larger amount of its profits and hope that the profits will be invested in the industry. In theory, the Conservative Chancellor has at least done that; but two other things are needed. First, we must allow a company to retain its profits, and second, we must then prevent the distribution of those profits. It is no good allowing companies to retain profits if they are to distribute them right away; that is no way to increase the productive efficiency or rate of investment in industry. There are two ways in which distribution can be prevented or discouraged. One is by outright and courageous dividend limitation. by saying that no more than a certain amount shall be distributed and that the rest must be invested, and the other is by the creation of a wide differential in the rate of taxation between undistributed and distributed profits.
What has happened about the latter alternative which, as the Government reject dividend limitation, is presumably the theory upon which the Government operate? When the Excess Profits Levy was introduced, the Chancellor very wisely tidied it up with Profits Tax, which had got into a very untidy situation. Before the levy was introduced the net tax on undistributed profits stood at 5 per cent. and that on distributed profits at 22½ per cent. a differential of 17½ per cent., and it was something like an incentive to plough back profits instead of distributing them. When the Chancellor simplified the incidence of Profits Tax he reduced the tax on undistributed profits to 2½ per cent. and the tax on distributed profits to 17½ per cent. a differential of 14½ per cent. That was wise and acceptable while the levy remained because it meant that there was the same net yield from taxation.
But now the levy is to go quietly like a shade in the night and we are to be given no further Profits Tax to take its place unless something crops up in the 481 next Budget. Now that the new differential between undistributed and distributed profits is 14½ per cent. as against the previous 17½ per cent., that is less of an encouragement to plough back profits and more of an encouragement to distribute them. As a result of the removal of the E.P.L. and the smaller differential between distributed and undistributed profits, two things have happened. First of all, there is a smaller scooping up from the profits pool, by taxation, for investment by the Government, and second, there is a smaller differential and a greater encouragement to distribute.
The Chancellor may say that by removing or restoring the initial equipment allowances he has at least given some incentive for further and new investment. I hate quoting "The Times" because, like all politicians, I only quote "The Times" when it is very favourable to me and ignore it when it is not. I will quote it on this occasion because it was right when it said last Tuesday that it doubted very much whether the initial allowances would provide much actual stimulus to re-equipment, and it indicated that on the whole it was rather doubtful of that theory. I agree with "The Times" in that because the industrialist, when he is considering re-equipment, does not look solely at the tax concessions he is going to get. He looks at the state of industry as a whole and from that he makes his deductions.
What does he find now? He finds lower production all the way round and even lower profit in many spheres. He sees that the number of companies forced into liquidation went up by 6½ per cent. and the number of companies for whom receiving orders were issued went up by 12½ per cent. last year. He finds a not very encouraging economic position. As has been described from these benches during this debate, he finds increasing industrial stagnation, and his attitude, therefore, is not one which will provoke him into a large amount of expensive investment even though he has the initial allowances to help him.
We hold, therefore, that the high level of industrial investment which is required should be obtained by a combination of dividend limitation, a wide differential between distributed and undistributed taxation rates and a high yield from 482 taxation to be used for Government investment.
I mentioned at the beginning that the previous economic policy of the Government had led to some gross betrayals of the electorate. I mourn the passing of some of the robust political phrases which we used to enjoy so much. I think it is a great pity that the phrase "bulk purchase" has been dropped out of our political vocabulary. There was never a more stupid political campaign than that launched by the Economic Secretary in his previous incarnation, which tried to lay the whole blame for our economic difficulties on bulk purchase. Now we have, first of all, the Prime Minister himself pulling off an enormous bulk purchase scheme in steel and now the new bulk purchase in sugar, which provides an additional sweetener to the Budget.
I am sorry that the word "calories" has vanished from our political dictionary. We used to hear about the small intake of calories under Labour, but now that we have an even smaller intake of calories under the Tories the word has gone altogether. We were told by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite during the election campaign that the Profits Tax was to be improved, increased and maintained. We find instead that it is being dissipated and done away with.
We were told many other things, but as time is running out it would be a labour on the patience of the Committee to go into them all. I will reiterate the main points. The revisions in taxation of last year were supposed to be incentives to production and investment. We have had neither of those things, but rather a reduction of production and a reduction of investment. Therefore, this is not an economic Budget, and we on this side of the Committee have paid it a great compliment in trying to discuss it in terms of economics at all. It is a down-to-earth, rumbustious, political Budget such as one might expect from right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I echo the warm welcome which has been given by hon. Members on this side of the Committee to what we all believe to be a bold and courageous Budget, which deserves something a little better than 483 the mean and distorted reception which has been given to it by some Members of the envious Opposition. The country as a whole will judge it and find it favourable, and that is the reason for the outburst. When I read the "Daily Herald" yesterday, I could not help feeling the force of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) when he talks about the need for a Press Council. The distortions which occurred in that paper yesterday were really appalling.
The Budget sets out to provide a stimulus and a challenge to those engaged in industry. Responsibility is being given back to tie individual whether he is on the shop floor or in the manager's office. I think that responsibility will be taken up. We have to rely more than ever on the success of the export drive. We heard from one or two hon. Gentlemen this evening about exports, and we have heard a good deal about the lowering of the standard of production and of industrial output during the last 12 months.
None of those criticisms have faced the fact that the export markets today are of vastly different proportions to what they were when the Socialist Party were in office and that they had been drying up rapidly for a considerable time. We have to be increasingly competitive if we hope to survive. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well that that is the real reason for the reduction in the standard of output.
The Budget gives industry the opportunity and the incentive to take bold measures to ensure a fully competitive position. It now rests with the people in industry to do their bit to make the Budget a success and, by their expanding efforts, to provide the means for further concessions in the future. It really comes down to what happens on the floor of the factory. The Budget only provides the means, and it is up to the people in the factories to produce the results. That is why this is a bold Budget. It is definitely taking chances which have to be grasped, and I am sure that they will be grasped. The future of this country depends upon industry accepting the challenge.
On the question of exports, there are factories in my constituency producing as 484 much as 98 per cent. for export. I know the difficulties that many of these factories are running into in the markets of the world. By the concessions he is making, my right hon. Friend is giving these people an opportunity to reshape their export programme and to try to become more competitive than before. That is the only way in which we can hope not only to increase output but to maintain our level of employment and prevent unemployment from increasing. That is what it comes down to. It is not facing the position properly if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite keep talking about a fall in the level of production when they know perfectly well that it is due to a drying up of the export market.
Particularly welcome is the restoration of the initial allowances. This will be of great help to industry and will be welcomed by the agricultural community as a great help in their efforts at food production. We heard earlier this evening that agriculture is one of the three main industries which are still increasing their production, although it is losing some of its labour. Only by still greater mechanisation in agriculture can we hope to maintain this position.
It is still not sufficiently realised in the House and in the country that in the last 15 years agriculture has undergone a major revolution requiring a tremendous increase in capital investment. Only by extending this to a far greater extent can we increase agricultural output, which is important, if we are not to be able to expand our exports. We have to try this as an alternative. It is still possible further to expand production, and some of the measures taken in the Budget will have a substantial effect in stimulating greater production in agriculture.
I should like the Chancellor in his present mood, to have a look at the capital allocation for rural electrification to see if something more cannot be done in this direction. A lot depends on this in extending mechanisation and improving methods of agriculture. Electrification is playing an increasing part, and can play a vastly greater part in increasing food production. Also it can have a considerable effect on the position due to the loss of labour from the land about which we have heard today.
485 People are leaving the land because of the lack of amenities in the countryside. I know of places in my own constituency where the farm workers are going into the factories not because they want to leave the land, but merely because their wives are not content to continue using oil lamps. That is what we are up against. Therefore electrification has a double function: It increases the yield from the land and produces contented workers.
The concession whereby farmers can elect for the herd basis for cattle where compulsory slaughter has taken place will be welcomed by rural Members on whichever side of the Committee they sit. It will be a real help to farmers who have suffered from the misfortune of losing their stock through foot-and-mouth disease. It has been a heart-rending problem for many of those people, and I am glad that the Chancellor has given this help.
Of the many small concessions in the Budget, while all are to be welcomed, I welcome especially the one to cricket, not so much because I am a supporter of it but because I feel that it needs this support, and anyone who can endure watching cricket all day deserves to be subsidised.
§ Mr. Godber
There are two categories I should like to have seen dealt with in the Budget, the first being the old age pensioners. I feel that they are deserving of a little more help since they are definitely those who are the hardest hit at the moment. The other category was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) earlier, namely, post-war credits. We shall have to grasp this nettle at some time and try to reduce the age at which these credits can be paid. There are many people now who are coming up to the age of 60 who are really hard hit and whom the postwar credits would help tremendously. It is not asking too much that the age for those people should be reduced by five years.
I realise that in both these last categories the Chancellor is seeking by his present policy of freedom and initiative to help them in the most effective way they can be helped, namely, by restoring the value of money and so bringing down the 486 cost of living. That, after all, is what is behind this Budget, and if that can be done we shall all benefit. For six years we have had a policy of over-cheap money, with inflation scarcely held in check by artificial restrictions. Last year we reverted to a more orthodox financial policy, and now I think we can go forward with real incentives which can and should lead to greater production and to a fall in the cost of living with benefit to everyone in the land.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I hope that if I speak very quickly my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) will not attribute to me the same qualities that he attributed to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. I want, however, to limit myself to a very short time in order to give to other Members an opportunity of speaking before half-past nine.
First, I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his ability to make his case sound reasonable. I think he could get away with murder. At any rate, if he were going to murder someone and allowed his victim a choice of deaths, he would make it sound as if he were conferring a favour upon his victim.
I was perturbed when I heard the Chancellor refer to the Budget as an incentive Budget. We had an incentive Budget last year, and what happened? We had a fall in production, a fall in exports, an increase in unemployment and an increase in the cost of living. We want no more incentive Budgets of that kind. I suppose that last year it was an incentive Budget to improve upon what had happened before. This year it is an incentive Budget to try to catch up with where we ought to have been had we not fallen back in the past year.
I want to refer more particularly and in some detail to the balance of payments and the gold and dollar reserves, and to examine these so that we may understand exactly the position. I do not want to rob the Government of any credit that they claim because of the balance of payments. Quite naturally, they claim the credit for it, and I suppose it is only right, because if it had not been balanced we would have blamed them. It is important, however, to realise how precarious 487 the position is and that, if we do not examine it in detail, we are likely to fall into a dangerous complacency that has been so obvious in some hon. Members opposite. If we do not examine the position in detail we shall not appreciate the precariousness of the present position. It ought to be noted that we are not today in as strong a position to meet an economic crisis as we were in October, 1951.
Turning to the gold and dollar reserves, according to the figure given by the Chancellor of £774 million, the gold and dollar reserves on 31st March were about 56 per cent. of what they were in June, 1951. At that date our reserves were £1,381 million. At 30th September, 1951, they had fallen to £1,167 million, by 31st December, 1951, to £833 million, and in June, 1951, to £601 million. At 31st December, 1952, the figure was £659 million. They had begun to go up, and then by 31st March they had gone up again to £774 million.
As everyone knows, in the third quarter of 1951 there began a serious drain on our reserves. The recovery has been in stopping the drain and in beginning to build up again, but the position is still not one that we can view with any complacency. I have listened to some of the speeches from hon. Members opposite and it is clear that quite a number of them still do not understand what was the reason for the economic crisis. I suggest seriously to a number of hon. Members opposite that it would pay them to read the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November, 1951.
When the gold and dollar reserves began running out, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who was then Prime Minister, quite rightly decided to appeal to the country. The phrase from the other side of the Committee this afternoon about rats leaving a sinking ship was most objectionable. With the record of achievement that the Labour Government had, my right hon. Friend had every reason to believe that he would retain the confidence of the people.
We had been fighting with a very slender majority and a non-co-operative Opposition. I am told that even when my right hon. Friend went to America on important business connected with the welfare of the country and the peace of 488 the world generally, the Conservative Party would not even give him a pair. Our majority was maintained merely by bringing sick people out of hospital, and obviously, when important decisions had to be made, such a state of affairs could not have been allowed to continue.
One of the advantages that the present Government have had is that there had been no people going abroad denigrating their own country. In addition, they have had the Press on their side. The importance of this is not only that the Press is read in this country, but that it is read also in other countries and perhaps too much attention is sometimes paid to it.
Turning to the balance of payments problem, paragraph 14 of the Economic Survey says:It is impossible to say exactly how much of the improvement in the balance of payments in 1952 was due to better terms of trade, but price changes were probably responsible for something like half of the improvement of £657 million in the visible trade balance shown in Table 4…The improvement claimed by the Economic Survey is due half to improvement of the terms of trade and half to reduction of imports, but the improvement in the terms of trade, in spite of what the Economic Secretary said, is something over which the Government have very little control. According to the Economic Survey, import prices were 2 per cent. less during 1952 and export prices were 5 per cent. higher. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) said yesterday, the terms of trade in 1951 were £500 million against us, whereas in 1952 they were £350 million in our favour.
There is also another matter which has not been referred to. There was an advantage in 1952 of £250 million because of different accounting periods. If stocks were not increased during the year there was not the expenditure which the Labour Government had. Some hon. Members opposite seem to forget that those stocks were accumulated partly in accordance with the re-armament programme.
Reduction of imports was direct action taken by the Government, but I should point out that in the reduction of imports the import of raw cotton and raw wool decreased by £200 million in 1952. Therefore, it was the misfortunes of the textile workers of my constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde and other textile 489 constituencies which contributed to this reduction in imports. But surely we are not expecting that to continue for another year. This year we are expecting that the improvement which has taken place in the textile industry will continue and that therefore it will put up the import bill by another £200 million.
Turning to the matter of exports, the Economic Survey says:The driving force behind our export expansion can come only from industry, but it is the Government's duty to create and maintain economic conditions favourable to such an expansion.My complaint is that the Government are not doing that. I wish to refer to two complaints from industrialists in my constituency which show the slackness of the Government in taking the urgent measures which are necessary.
First there is the question of the balances in Brazil. The Secretary for Overseas Trade yesterday answered a Question from an hon. Member opposite about money owing by Brazil. He referred the hon. Member to a reply he had given in January. In January, after the problem had been in existence about 12 months, his answer was that there had been talks with the Ambassador and the Government were hoping to have more formal talks later. Now we are in April and there have been talks, not only with the Ambassador here, but also with our Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro. That is as far as they have gone; there have not yet been formal talks.
The second complaint was in regard to shipments to Mombassa. When I raised the question why there was a delay of nine months in our shipping compared with that of the Continent, it was not helpful to be told that the Port of Mombassa was not big enough for our shipping.
A very serious matter is raised on the export problem by the export of armaments. I would refer the Committee to paragraph 50 of the White Paper on Defence and paragraph 111 in the Economic Survey. It is a definite policy of the Government to try to balance our payments by the export of armaments. To me that is crazy economics. If we are making more armaments than we need and exporting them we are thereby losing markets for our traditional exports. I am not arguing against the 490 rearmament programme, but I say it is wrong that we should be trying to build up our balance of payments on a short term by exporting armaments. We are losing ground all the time; we are leaving it open to Germany and Japan to get in.
Secondly, we may find ourselves in a position where a general reduction in armaments could cause a slump here. The trouble is, in the matter of the export of armaments, that we are strengthening a group whose financial interests would be antagonistic to disarmament. I should like to follow that up by dealing with the internal position of the country, but in view of the pledge I gave that I would restrict my comments to a space of 10 minutes, I had better leave to some future occasion any other comments that I have to make on the Budget.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) has given us an extremely interesting speech. One point he made is that we were not as strong today to face an economic crisis as we were in 1951. All he has to do is to look at the rate of the £ sterling on the foreign exchange to get the answer to that assertion. He also chided us for not having been co-operative when we were in Opposition. Whether he really suggests that the article on the Budget written by his right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) in the "Daily Herald" was exactly co-operative I leave to the hon. Member to decide.
He also told the Committee that the average man was no better off after this Budget than he had been before it was introduced. The reception which the Budget has received throughout the country gives the lie to that. It is clear that everybody is better off as a result of the Budget, and that the all-round reductions in Purchase Tax have been of considerable advantage. We are already beginning to see the prices of goods coming down in the shops. What fascinated me particularly about the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) was the way in which he attacked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for treating too liberally the people with incomes of £1,000 a year. I wonder how that ties up with the clamant demand of hon. Members on 491 the benches opposite for an increase in their own salaries.
A point with which I wish to deal is the question of the cost of living, because much of the gravamen of the speeches from the other side of the Committee has been that since we have been in power the cost of living has continued to rise. It is perfectly true that that is so, but we made it quite clear that it would take time to overcome the legacy which we inherited from the party opposite when they left office. What is important is that we should get the trend of the cost of living reversed. The effect of that downward trend will then become cumulative and hasten the progress towards lower costs.
Last year the cost of living rose under a Conservative Government by 4½ per cent., compared with 12 per cent. in the last year under the party opposite. Even food prices, which rose more rapidly because of the removal of food subsidies, rose only 9 per cent. compared with 18 per cent. the year before. It will be seen that we have already started to reduce the rate of the rise. This Budget will have the effect of bringing down the cost of living, and once we achieve that we shall have honoured the pledge we gave at the time of the Election.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) was right when he said that if the Budget succeeds in stimulating production, as we are convinced it will, there is a danger that we may find ourselves without sufficient coal to meet the increased industrial demand. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to do something more to stimulate the use of coal economising plant in order to encourage the more efficient use of coal.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South that a way out of the difficulty would be to impose a tax on coal. The whole country would feel that to put a tax on coal to discourage its use would be a return to Socialist methods. We should encourage the economic use of coal in every possible positive way. I would pay tribute to the miners who have increased their output and who are fully aware of the difficulties which would face this country if we do not get enough of this basic commodity.
492 Unlike the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), I welcome the statement of the Chancellor that he is moving towards convertibility as rapidly as possible. The purpose of money is to assist the exchange of goods, whether between individuals or countries, and to avoid the inconveniences and difficulties of bartering. Lack of convertibility hampers the proper functioning of money in the international sphere and if we can achieve convertibility it will prove a considerable advantage.
Hon. Members opposite fear, if I understand them correctly, that if we have a convertible £ people will hoard their £s in order to exchange them at a later date for dollars rather than use them to help buy the goods we produce in this country. They fear that making the £ convertible would deal a blow at the exports of this country. Surely that would apply only if people continue to believe that the £ will depreciate in value in terms of dollars or gold. If we convince people that the £ is good currency, and if anything better than the dollar, there will be no temptation for anybody to hoard £s in order to convert them into dollars, gold or anything else.
The essential pre-requisite to convertibility is to convince the world that Britain will maintain a stable £ and stop trying to get 21s. worth of goods out of 20s. worth of work, as we did when the party opposite were in power. I believe that this Budget by increasing production will play a large part in bringing nearer the day when convertibility is practicable. I welcome the Budget and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. William Reid (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I should like at the outset to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his presentation of the Budget and the able survey he made of our whole financial situation. All of us on both sides of the Committee realise that he has a tremendously difficult problem to face.
I wish to draw attention to the impact on bus fares of the duty on diesel oil used in road passenger vehicles, and to the inflationery effect of this inescapable tax. The vast majority of bus passengers are daily users travelling to and from 493 their places of business or, in the case of housewives, travelling to and from shopping centres. To them bus travel is therefore essential, and not a matter on which they can exercise any choice or self-restraint as they can with regard to the purchase of luxury or semi-luxury goods.
With few exceptions, buses throughout the United Kingdom are run on diesel oil. The basic price of diesel oil is about 1s. 2d. per gallon. The duty, which remained stable at 9d. per gallon from 1938 to 1950, was doubled in the latter year. In 1951 it was raised to 1s. 10½d. and in 1952 to 2s. 6d.—an imposition of 214 per cent. on the basic price. Complete exemption from this tax is granted when the fuel is used, one, for agricultural purposes, two, for industrial purposes and, three, by diesel railway locomotives. This duty is payable only in respect of the buses, and it has to be passed on in full to the passengers.
The duty is manifestly inflationary in its effect, because higher costs of travel are one of the factors affecting demands for wage increases. These increases, when granted, add to the cost of production and thus give another twist to the inflationary spiral. I hold strong views that the fuel tax is quite wrong in principle, selective and discriminatory. Fuel oil is the primary raw material of the motor-bus industry. I am not aware of any other essential industry which has its raw material taxed, or taxed as savagely as is fuel oil.
The services which motor-bus vehicles provide to the public are fundamental and essential to the life of the nation. The tax is thus a direct tax on a necessity, and the medium of this tax ensures that it is borne throughout the land more by the poorer than by the richer classes. Whatever may or may not be the case for heavy taxation on the petrol used by the owners of motor cars, with the purpose of restricting the importation of fuel, that case cannot be applicable to the fuel oil used to provide motor-bus services. These services must be provided. They are essential to the industrial life of the nation, and the consumption of fuel oil on these services cannot be avoided.
The tax on public utility road passenger transport services throws into bold relief the absence of any similar tax on other public utility services such as gas, electri- 494 city and water. I feel that the tax on fuel oil is greatly excessive, being at a rate substantially higher than the rate of duties on such luxuries as cosmetics. In fact, it is difficult to find any other commodity on which the rate of duty is comparable with that on fuel oil. The only ones which come to mind are liquor and tobacco, and the injustice to the public at large of including fuel oil in this category is manifest. Liquor and tobacco consumption can be reduced, or even almost entirely eliminated if necessary, to balance the family budget, but the family's essential travelling cannot.
The Glasgow Corporation—the Corporation of the City which I have the honour to represent in this House— operate their own motor-bus services. Last year, they paid in tax no less a sum than £400,000. If Glasgow Corporation were treated in the same way as British Railways, which has that tax eliminated for the driving of diesel engines, it would mean to the City of Glasgow a reduction in bus fares of no less than 20 per cent.
I therefore ask the Chancellor to give this matter his serious and urgent consideration. I would impress upon him that the abolition, or at least substantial reduction, of the tax on fuel oil would, first, stabilise fares, and secondly, materially assist in stabilising the cost of living.
Owing to the short time available, I have stated these facts as briefly as possible, in order to bring to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the iniquity of a tax imposed on a very large section of the community, which cannot be justified on any financial or economic grounds and from which the yield to the Exchequer is relatively small. In view of the pledge I gave you, Sir Charles, that I would stop at 9.30 I shall resume my seat, and continue this argument at another time.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
What has most impressed me about this varied debate has been the complacency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, equalled only by the flippancy of the Financial Secretary. The Chancellor's complacency is rather frightening as well as surprising. Sir Stafford Cripps, whether one agreed with him or not, at least strove to tell the country the facts. But the present Chancellor has spent a 495 great deal of time in building up a glow of synthetic sunshine which, I fear, is beginning to mislead him as well as the rest of the public.
What have been the real facts of the economic life of this country in the last year or so, as they have emerged from this three days' debate? I think there are three that stand out. They are not quite the same ones as the Economic Secretary mentioned earlier today. There is first the fall in production; second, the swing round in the balance of payments; and third, the fall in the volume of our exports. The public are a bit puzzled to understand how our overseas balance has recovered when production and exports have both been falling. It should surely have been the Chancellor's job to have given the answer to that question, but that answer has emerged clearly not from his speech but from the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson).
The first cause was the physical cut in imports made by the Chancellor with our support, and, indeed, on a plan prepared by the previous Government, as I think he will agree, before he actually got to the Treasury. I fully agree that in that respect we should have done exactly the same thing ourselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did they not then?"] The second reason has been the sharp recovery of the terms of trade which gave us a windfall of about £350 million. The Economic Secretary produced a new argument today in which he tried to maintain that that was somehow due to the action of the present Government. He said the fall in world prices was somehow caused by the Chancellor's policy. Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that nowadays it is not the British market, but the United States economy, which dominates almost entirely the movements of world prices. So I do not really think we can accept that argument.
The next and, I think, most significant cause of all was the cessation of stock building in 1951 and the drop of £100 million of stocks in the pipeline in 1952, which is recorded in the Economic Survey. I do hope that the Committee will note the crucial importance of linking these movements of stocks with the 496 changes, for better or worse, in the balance of payments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South gave the Committee some figures about that yesterday. But in case the Committee does not accept them from him, I would ask hon. Members to look at an article in the District Bank Review recently by Professor Paish. Professor Paish shows that, in the three years 1950, 1951 and 1952, stocks rose while the balance of payments was worsening and fell when it was improving. Professor Paish draws this conclusion about the present outlook:While the fall in stocks has provided a relief from the immediate balance of payments crisis the cure is essentially temporary and cannot be relied on to solve the problem permanently, or, perhaps, even in 1953.That, I believe, is sound, but it is not quite what the country would have grasped from the Chancellor's Budget speech. In saying, to use his own words, that stocks in the United Kingdom had not fallen in 1952, the Chancellor seemed to me to be carrying verbal conjuring tricks rather too far; just as it seems to us he is when in his speeches and in the balance of payments White Papers he counts American defence aid as being equivalent to a British export. So much for the balance of payments.
Now why is it that in 1952 our production fell by 3 per cent. and the volume of exports by 6 per cent.? Surely that is one of the vital questions we ought to try to answer. Today the Economic Secretary rather minimised the fall in production, but I hope the Committee realises that it is at this moment 10 per cent. below what it would have been if in the last two years it had continued at the rate of the four or five years before. That is a loss on our national income of certainly more than £500 million, or very many times more than the total tax cuts which the Chancellor has given in this Budget. Why did that reduction occur? I think it is true that production fell last year, partly because of the decline in stocks induced by the Government's own credit policy, but mainly because exports themselves were falling owing to a fall in the demand for them. Why, then, was it that last year our exports fell for the first time for five years or more?
In this debate a year ago there was a controversy between the two sides of the 497 Committee about the effects on production and exports of the Chancellor's Income Tax concessions and cuts in subsidies. We on this side said that the subsidy cuts would inflate costs and so make exports harder to sell. The Chancellor said that his tax cuts would in some magical way boost or stimulate production and exports. One can always tell when the present Chancellor has no rational argument, because he takes refuge in rather woolly and vague metaphors of this kind—lightening the ship, flexibility, and all the rest of it.
Perhaps I might quote just one sentence from what I said in this debate a year ago:I believe—and the coming months will show, one way or the other—that the Chancellor delivered last week"—that is to say in his Budget speech then—a really wounding blow at the prospects of our export trade."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1945.]In point of fact, those months did show —and I am reading the lesson of experience—a 6 to 10 per cent. fall in the volume of our exports. Hon. Members may say, very naturally, that that was all due to a falling off in world demand; what they call the disappearance of the sellers' market. Incidentally, that admits straight away that it is mainly demand, as of course it is, which determines production and exports, and not some rather inexplicable effect of altering the Income Tax and so giving an incentive to those who produce something they may not be able to sell. That is an interesting admission straight away. I suggest the evidence establishes that the fall in exports was by no means wholly due to those changes in the outside world. The subsidy cuts here led to a rise in our cost of living relatively to that in other countries last year.
If hon. Members look at the United Nations' World Economic Report for 1952, which has already been quoted today, they will find that it says this about the world as a whole:The cost of living increased less from 1951–52 than from 1950–51 in all countries except the United Kingdom.That means that we were relatively worse off in 1952. Naturally, therefore, while our exports were falling other countries' exports were rising, and that is what in fact occurred.
498 The U.N.O. Report says, for instance, that in the first nine months of 1952 the total of all O.E.E.C. countries' exports was 6 per cent. in volume above 1950 and the United Kingdom volume was 5 per cent. below it. If the Committee want further evidence, let them read the article by Professor Austin Robinson who, I am sure, the Chancellor will respect as an ornament of Cambridge, in the Three Banks Review for March of this year. He gives provisional figures which show that the United Kingdom's share in the world export of manufactures fell actually from 22.2 in 1951 to 18.4 in the third quarter of 1952. That really does not justify complacency.
The truth is that world production was rising last year while United Kingdom production was falling. World production actually, according to the U.N.O. figures, went up by 2 per cent. and production in what that Report calls the Western industrialised countries, including North America, also went up by 2 per cent. while it fell here by 3 per cent. That, I believe, should rouse us to action rather than to self-congratulation.
This evidence surely proves that it was a fatal and damaging mistake to force up living costs artificially in the Budget of last year, just when world competition was growing more acute. I am delighted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in deciding not to sweep away the remaining food subsidies has now admitted, in fact, that on this we were right last year and he was wrong.
He said on Tuesday, in his usual rather sly fashion:I must try to avoid increasing living costs by this Budget."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th April, 1953; Vol. 514, c. 52.]Note the words "by this Budget." There we have the Chancellor's admission, first, that he did raise the cost of living by his Budget of a year ago and, second, that he was wrong to do so.
Now when we look below the financial crust to the real facts of our economic life, last year was really not very much to boast about. I suppose that the purpose of economic policy is to see that production, investment and exports go up and that unemployment and prices are kept down. But in 1952, on the evidence of the Chancellor's own Economic Survey, the volume of production, exports, productivity, investment, stocks, con- 499 sumption, employment and real wages all went down. And prices and unemployment went up.
Yet the Economic Survey tells us:Thus the changes in the economy during 1952 were broadly in line with the main objectives of Government policy.Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said in his speech on Tuesday that the "developments of 1952 had vindicated the strategy of the last Budget." If he really meant that I must say, heaven help the British people in 1953.
It was, of course, because the previous Budget had hampered export and stock-building, and so created under-employment, that the Chancellor felt able to give his tax remissions this year. It is a little dangerous to encourage the public to think that if we push down production one year, we can make tax concessions the next; at least, it is dangerous unless you clearly explain that to depress exports one year by raising costs, and to increase home demand a year afterwards, is the surest way of getting back again into a balance of payments deficit.
There are several financial aspects of the Budget which the Committee ought to note but which the Chancellor did not bring out quite clearly. First of all, the real deficit of all expenditure over all revenue for which the Chancellor is budgeting is £440 million—the highest deficit in any year since 1945. Strangely enough, we do not even find that figure in the Financial Statement.
Secondly, the Chancellor, rather slyly again, boasted of a reduction of £60 million in civil supply expenditure this year, but he did not tell the Committee —if I am wrong I am sure the Government will contradict this on Monday— that that reduction is almost entirely represented by the abandonment of the holding of stocks by the Ministry of Food, which is, of course, a once-for-all operation, and will mean a rise of £60 million or so again in the subsequent year.
Thirdly, many of the tax reliefs for which the Chancellor is now claiming political credit will have to be paid for in cash by whoever is Chancellor next year and in the years after that. That is true of the abolition of the E.P.L. and of the restoration of the initial allowance. 500 Therefore, we should note that the financial foundation is built up in more ways than one by borrowing on the future. Indeed, in addition to that there is no provision in the figures for the new liability of perhaps £100 million which will arise, if the Bonn Agreements are ratified, for extra defence expenditure in Germany.
Still granting the Economic Secretary's argument that tax cuts of £170 million can in the circumstances be justified, none of the Treasury spokesmen seem to me yet to have produced a shred of defence for the extraordinarily inequitable manner in which they have been framed. The Financial Secretary admitted that he had no serious arguments by taking refuge entirely in frivolity on this point. These questions of social justice in taxation are, in my view, serious and deserve our serious consideration.
The leading feature of the Budget— this is a hard statistical fact—is the huge bonus given to both profits and unearned income. Strangely enough, that is done in a year when the Economic Survey has shown that companies had a large sum— the Economic Secretary prefers to make it £600 million instead of £800 million, and I willingly accept that figure—over and above what they needed for taxation, dividends and investment.
On top of all this, the Income Tax cut is so framed as to benefit unearned incomes most of all. Working people and old age pensioners will not join with the Financial Secretary in regarding this as little more than a joke. Why should it be, for instance, that at the £500 level a single man gets £7 a year out of the Budget if his income is earned, and about £9 10s. if it is unearned? What is the purpose of this? Do hon. Gentlemen opposite really regard it as an incentive to work? This is the change the Chancellor has in fact made. We ought to know the reason.
Why again—and we have had no answer to this—give the biggest relief to those with the biggest incomes? Take a very ordinary case, a married couple with two children, an average family. At £500 a year, which is a normal level of income, the earner gets 4s. 6d. out of this Budget, whereas at a level of £50,000 the benefit is £1,200 a year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) and the 501 Economic Secretary tried to argue that this could not be helped, that it was an inevitable effect of the change in Income Tax. If they really think that, they are remarkably ignorant of the structure of Income Tax. By altering the allowances almost anything can be done in Income Tax.
§ Mr. Maudling
What I did say was that it was the inevitable result of the change in the standard rate.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
The right hon. Gentleman should tell that to his constituents. They will not object.
§ Mr. Jay
The earned Income Tax allowance could have been altered in such a way as to exempt from Income Tax altogether several millions of the small taxpayers now paying the tax. I believe myself that that would have been the right thing to do at this stage. These figures are a little out of date, but they are the latest, and it is a remarkable fact that 5 million taxpayers receiving the smallest incomes within the Income Tax range are only paying altogether about £30 million out of a total yield of £1,400 million in Income Tax. I think the Chancellor would have done much better if he had made a start in exempting some of the smaller taxpayers.
More surprising still is the further discrimination against the family in this Budget. One of the worst feature of the Income Tax is that it discriminates so heavily against the family with one earner and several dependents, and in favour of the family with several earners and few dependents. We can all give figures to show that the effect of this change is to make that discrimination worse and not better.
I hope the Chancellor will tell us why he did this. It seems to me a gross mistake. If he did it on purpose, perhaps he will tell us why. But if, as a matter of fact, he did not intend to do it, I hope he will correct it during the Finance Bill. I can assure him that we will give him our support if he will do so.
502 But perhaps the worst feature of all —and here I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies)—is that old age pensioners and others below the Income Tax level have been treated worst of all by this Budget. They will not have the benefit to any significant degree of the Purchase Tax cuts, as the Financial Secretary tried to make out. They will certainly lose more by the rise in the price of sugar and other foods which is going to follow from the Chancellor's decisions.
§ Mr. Jay
Finally I should like to say this. What we really need surely at this time is something quite different from the Government's policy of drift and stagnation. We need a positive strategy and a positive policy for more production, more investment, and more exports. At this moment we are losing the production race in the world. We are losing not merely to the United States and to many European countries. But as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (M. Strachey) quite rightly said, at the moment the evidence shows that in Russia production is increasing rapidly at the very time when it is stagnating here. That is a formidable fact to which we should not shut our eyes in this Committee. It would not be particularly wise to do so.
I hope that the Committee will also take note of the fact that the dollar situation today is more precarious than some people appear to realise. The American economy is now running at an all-time high record level. Dollar imports in the sterling area are heavily restricted. We still get considerable dollar aid from the United States, and our gold reserve—let us remember this—at 2,166 dollars is still 1,100 million dollars less than it was at the time of the General Election. What is going to happen— this is a question we ought to ask ourselves—if there is even a slight United States recession in these circumstances? If, as we all hope and believe, international tension is relaxing, that possibility may become even less remote.
If any hon. Gentleman opposite thinks these are just mere imaginings of mine, 503 I may quote the "Economist" which, only on 28th March, said that a drop of 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. in America's national income from its present all-time high level would throw the sterling area —with its present very low reserves—into crisis; and that a drop of 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. would throw it into something like catastrophe. Very rightly the "Economist" made this comment on those calculations:Everything must be done to push forward with dollar earning and dollar saving projects while the boom lasts.Is that being done by the present Government? I should like to draw the Chancellor's attention also to Professor Austin Robinson's summing up in the three Banks Review. He said this:We have in any case been failing to use a period of good trade to strengthen reserves which will be certain to be needed if a recession reduces, as it would almost certainly do, our exports more than our imports.I believe that is the truth of the situation. Nobody knows when the economic weather will change. Surely we ought to be prudent enough to be forewarned and forearmed against the change which may come at any time, the precise moment of which we cannot possibly predict. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheer up."] That is a fair summary of the situation, and it is the substance of our complaint against the Chancellor today.
It is about these disturbing possibilities that the Chancellor should be thinking and planning and warning the country, rather than talking with his partially sealed lips about some convertibility scheme of which we have never been very clearly told, and conjuring the newspapers into the rather hilarious state of unrealism which we saw on Wednesday morning. The Chancellor may come to regret this complacent attitude. The speech that we listened to on Tuesday would not have been made by a Chancellor who really cared either for social justice—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—or wished the country to understand the economic dangers which may be facing it.
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.