HC Deb 10 December 1969 vol 793 cc601-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dobsmil]

11.40 p.m.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

May I be the first in the House of Commons this year to wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a very happy Christmas? But I fear that in view of the Government's actions it will be a very expensive one.

The heading under which I wish to address the House in this debate is one which affects the family and Christmas time in particular, the effects upon the family at Christmas of recent measures by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Christmas, traditionally, is both a family occasion and a time of good cheer. It is, of course, a religious festival and this is sometimes forgotten, but the whole of the Christian world can properly make merry to celebrate the anniversary of Christ's birth. It is a matter of fact and regret that this Christmas, for most families, will be the most expensive in our history. It is my contention that the reasons for this can be laid firmly at the door of the Government in general and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular, for the right hon. Gentleman will be the spectre behind every feast in the land on 25th December, Christmas Day.

Christmas, as I have said, is a family occasion. Already, many culinary preparations will have been made. I am told on excellent authority that Christmas puddings and cakes by now should have been made and should be quietly maturing in the larder. The ingredients for these come from many lands, as we well know—currants, sultanas, peel, glace cherries, rum or brandy, all of which have risen in price since devaluation and many of which must have been affected by the import deposit surcharge.

Coining a little nearer the day, "Mum" and "Dad" will be doing a lot of motoring to buy the presents, to pick up the turkey, to collect the guests from the station and all the hundred and one journeys which Christmas involves. They will be paying the Chancellor 1s. 9d. per gallon of petrol extra duty compared with a Conservative Christmas in 1963, and that is getting on for an extra ld. a mile for a family car.

What about the day itself? Christmas is a time for families and it is certainly a time for the children. As all parents know, the cost of toys has gone up and up largely due to increases in purchase tax by the Chancellor, who bears no resemblance whatever to a benevolent Santa Claus.

The last Conservative Christmas saw sweets carrying 15 per cent. purchase tax; this Socialist Christmas the rate will be 22 per cent. Toys used to be taxed at 25 per cent.; now it is 36 per cent. Luxury items, so called, such as make-up and cosmetics—and every woman likes to look even more beautiful at Christmas—now bear the punitive purchase tax burden of 55 per cent., compared with 25 per cent. under the "wicked Tories". If women looked more glamorous under a Conservative Government, here perhaps is one reason—that under a Labour Government they can hardly afford to.

At Christmas, we probably all drink and smoke more than is strictly good for us. As the old saying goes: Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it brings good cheer. Under a Labour Government it also brings financial headaches. The duty on gin, whisky and other spirits has gone up by 14s. a bottle in the last five years. That is 40 per cent. on the price of 1964. Port and sherry are up by 4s. 1½d. a bottle, 78 per cent. up on 1964. Still worse, table wines, of which the Chancellor is supposed to be particularly fond, are up by 2s. 10d. a bottle, 108 per cent. I have brought into the Chamber a bottle of wine, a bottle of port and a cake to represent the subjects about which I am talking.

These fantastic increases in duty suggest to me that the Chancellor is determined to destroy the golden eggs that flow into the Treasury from the wine and spirit trade. The French say: "Un repas sans vin est tine journee sans soled" —and a meal without wine is a day without sun. All I can say is that the sunshine will be a bit expensive at this year's Christmas dinner.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman very carefully, but I cannot yet see to what administrative aspect of the Minister's responsibilities he is directing his remarks. He cannot ask for legislation on the Adjournment. Perhaps he can help me.

Mr. Cordle

I have already, I trust, made enough pointed comments to show where my remarks are addressed. They are addressed to the Chancellor, in view of the increases that we are experiencing in Christmas fare.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I was not in any doubt about the Minister, but in doubt as to which of that Minister's administrative responsibilities he was directing his remarks. The hon. Member cannot ask for legislation on the Adjournment. It seemed to me that most of the changes he was hoping for required legislation. That is not permissible on the Adjournment.

Mr. Cordle

I am not asking for additional legislation. I am simply pointing out that these increases have taken place and that they will be a very serious expense for those who look forward to a happy and festive Christmas. The cigarettes that the family will enjoy and give to one another as presents will cost ls. 1d. a packet more because of increased tobacco duty since 1965. Food, petrol, drink, sweets, presents, cigarettes, even decorations all cost more, in many cases, much more, because of the deprivations of the Chancellor.

Even the family pet has not escaped. There will perhaps be a plentiful supply of scraps, giblets and other things from the Christmas table, but on all bought pet foods a hefty 22 per cent. purchase tax is now levied and the same rate applies to the potato crisps which will be served with the Christmas turkey.

There are some families who, for one reason or another, like to go away to an hotel for Christmas, and an excellent time can be had with organised entertainment for the children, and no washing-up for "Mum". Apart from all the tax increases I have mentioned, the Chancellor has a further swipe at this group by the imposition of the S.E.T., thus ensuring that such a break at Christmas will be even more ruinously expensive than usual. We in Bournemouth can understand this as well as any other constituency in the country.

Finally, there are those families who, fed up with the weather, or the Government, or both, go abroad for Christmas. By sticking obstinately to the £50 travel allowance the Chancellor ensures that the citizen cannot really forget the Socialist philosophy wherever he may go. I am sure that the Chancellor, who is alleged to be a good and civilised man, would be offended if I described him as a Scrooge, but By their actions ye shall know them". It is a strange but sinister coincidence that many of the things that we traditionally associate with the season's festivities—good wine, presents and all the rest—have been hit hardest by the Government's enthusiastic tax-raising programmes.

The only happy note on which to end is that this is likely to be the last Socialist Christmas for a long, long time, and that is a toast to which the vast majority of our countrymen will drink—if they can afford it—in two weeks' time.

11.50 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Dick Taverne)

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) has gone shopping for his tax increases. He has gone through fuel, toys, cosmetics, spirits, sweets, cigarettes and what have you. He has listed the iniquities of the import deposit scheme, purchase tax, S.E.T., duties and the travel allowance.

My first comment on what the hon. Member has said is that if this really was a Scrooge's Christmas that we were facing and if, as he thought, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was killing the goose that laid the golden egg, it would follow that the revenue would not hold up. That was the point that the hon. Member seemed to be making. Of course, however, the revenue is holding up. People are buying these things, many of them in unprecedented quantities.

The hon. Member has referred to the cost of living. He has not concerned himself with the standard of living. He has referred to increases in prices. He has not concerned himself with increases in salaries and wages, which one must also consider.

It was a wholly unconstructive contribution from the hon. Member to which it is, in some ways, rather difficult to reply, because one cannot possibly answer his points without looking at the purpose behind them. Like so many contributions from the benches opposite, the hon. Member is concerned not with constructive policy, but simply with denunciation.

In the past, some of the hon. Member's colleagues looked at the purposes of measures and would then argue that the policy was not working. This time last year, we had the argument in an opposite direction from the Leader of the Opposition that there was a consumers' revolt and that they would not have their consumption decreased in any way by the fiscal measures that were taken. This time last year, we were told that none of these policies was producing results. As recently as the debates on the last Budget, the chief Opposition spokesman on finance, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), expressed his fear that the Chancellor would not get his surplus. Hon. Members opposite put all their money on failure. They are now reduced to totally destructive comments, listing simply the number of items which have gone up, because the failure which they confidently expected—I will not say hoped for—has not come about.

Looking at the background of the various increases which the hon. Member has listed in great detail, one sees that every previous boom was a consumer boom. We had a series of booms punctuated by stagnation, which were always led by an increase in consumer expenditure, and, of course, they could not last. There was never any increase in our basic economic strength, hence the succession of crises.

Hon. Members opposite were the first to cry that we were living beyond our means. When, through the fiscal measures that we have taken, we have successfully reduced consumption below what it would otherwise have been and now we are spending within our means, hon. Members opposite simply turn round and say, "But look how you have put up the price of this and that." It is not good enough simply to list these items and not pay regard to the reasons for which those measures were imposed and the effect they are having.

The fact is that at last we have succeeded in doing what was necessary. At last we have succeeded in basing growth on exports rather than on growth of consumption. We have succeeded in making the growth of consumption less than the growth of the national product. Even imports have been kept down and we are now seeing the results of a massive balance of payments surplus in the third quarter of the year, with excellent results in August and September maintained in October, with a better prospect than we have had and with a higher surplus in that quarter, which is supposed to be the most difficult of all quarters, according to the Leader of the Opposition. We have achieved this, and with a better balance of payments prospect than we have faced at any time recently.

There has been no constructive suggestion of any kind from hon. Members opposite. All they can cry is that public expenditure must be reduced in general and increased in the particular. Only recently, they were rightly castigated by their own paper, the Daily Telegraph, when its correspondent pointed out that the Conservative alternative policies lacked any credibility and would involve spending hundreds of millions of pounds extra in public spending and cutting taxes by hundreds of millions of pounds, without any attempt to take the basic measures that must be taken.

So if it had not been for the policies which are working, and which have produced a position of economic strength far greater than we have seen since the early 'fifties, if it had not been for these measures, Christmas and the outlook for the further future would have been a great deal worse. But for these good results, the outlook would have been a great deal worse than it is after the necessary, tough measures which have been taken by the Chancellor in 1968 and 1969, which were slow to work at first, but which have now more than caught up with the timetable which he set himself.

Therefore, while the hon. Gentleman can have his shopping basket, and can go through all the items and individual taxes, it really is not good enough to go through the list without paying any attention whatsoever to the basic problems or to the measures which have been taken and the success which those measures have achieved.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Twelve o'clock.