HC Deb 26 March 1974 vol 871 cc277-8

3.31 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Denis Healey)

I rise to present my first Budget in a mood of humility and trepidation which I think the House will find appropriate for a maiden speech—a mood which I fear may not have characterised all my contributions to our debates in the past.

After only three weeks in the Treasury, I well understand why the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) has felt that three years is enough. May I say how much I regret that we are not continuing our partnership in these new circumstances? However much I may have differed from him on economic matters—and perhaps even more on politics—like all the House, I have always appreciated his charm and friendliness as a human being and the nimble dexterity he brought to our proceedings.

I look forward to my new partner, the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr), who is taking over in circumstances very like those in which I assumed the same responsibilities two years ago—at the outset of a Budget. He is going in at the deep end. I wish him a long and happy career as Shadow Chancellor.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not achieve the same elegance in presenting my first Budget as characterised the Budget Speeches of my predecessors. In normal circumstances, the preparation of a Budget is likely to require up to six months' hard work, not only by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but by the Government as a whole. But these are in no sense normal circumstances.

The Government have been in office for barely three weeks. In those three weeks, I have had to translate the policy on which we fought the General Election into firm decisions on public expenditure, on taxation, on the balance of payments and on inflation. Some of the things we wish to do require complex administrative and legislative preparations which it is impossible to carry through in so short a time.

Even so, it has been the most exhausting three weeks of my life, and I know that my advisers in the Treasury and the two Revenue Departments have had to work even harder than myself. I should like at the outset to pay my tribute to the quite unparalleled energy, experience and dedication of those public servants, from the Permanent Secretary to the shorthand typist, without which the preparation of a Budget in so short a time would have been inconceivable.