HC Deb 12 June 1979 vol 968 cc235-6

3.32 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

It is a little over five years since my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) rose at this Dispatch Box to present his first Budget. The House will have seen today the honour recently conferred upon him by Her Majesty. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the great honour that has been conferred upon him.

Like me, the right hon. Gentleman approached this task within a very few weeks of his party's success at a general election. In compressing the huge and complex process of Budget-making into so short a time, he faced—as I have done—a formidable task.

It is right for me to say that I have received unstinting support, not just from my fellow Treasury Ministers but from many people, of every rank, within the Treasury and the two Revenue Departments. But for their willingness to work far beyond the call of duty it would scarcely have been possible for me to present this Budget at all. So I gladly echo my predecessor in acknowledging this assistance with a very real sense of gratitude.

I echo the right hon. Gentleman, too, in saying that I approach my task—and I assure the House that I quote his very words— in a mood of humility and trepidation"—[Official Report, 26 March 1974; Vol. 871, c. 277.] I say that not just because of the novelty of the experience for me—although that is daunting enough—but much more because of my sense of dismay at the disturbing familiarity of the occasion from the point of view of almost everybody else.

As the House will recall, this is the fourth Budget in the last 15 years to be introduced by a new Chancellor in a new Government. The late Iain Macleod, alas, did not live long enough to be included in this series. Before me there was, in 1964, the present Leader of the Opposition; in 1970, my noble Friend Lord Barber; and, in 1974, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East.

The depressingly familiar feature of the first Budget speech of each of those three predecessors is that every one of them found cause to complain, with more or less justice, about the disagreeable nature of the estate that had come his way.

The House will understand, in the light of the most recent evidence about inflationary trends, monetary growth, Government borrowing and the deteriorating trade balance—not to mention the postdated cheques for public sector pay that I found on arrival at the Treasury—that I am certainly in no position to discontinue the tradition of my predecessors.