Ian Gow – 1974 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Ian Gow in the House of Commons on 1st April 1974.

Maiden speakers, like Chancellors of the Exchequer, do not lack advice. I have been told to speak about my constituency, about my predecessor and about non-controversial matters, and, above all, to speak briefly. The first two pieces of advice are comparatively easy to follow. In a Budget debate in which there are real differences of view on both sides of the House it is more difficult to follow the third piece of advice.

I arrive in this place after my third attempt. On the first occasion I fought a most distinguished former Member of the House, Mr. Richard Crossman to, whom we would all want to send our best wishes.

When I arrived at Coventry, East the Labour majority was 7,000. After the election it rose to 13,000. On my second attempt I fought Clapham. When I arrived there the Labour majority was a mere 500. After the election it rose to more than 4,000. The House may wonder how, with that track record, I managed to arrive here at all. At Eastbourne in 1974, despite a reduction in the size of the electorate of more than 10,000 people since 1970, the Tory majority increased, and, for the first time since 1918, the Labour Party candidate lost his deposit, and handsomely at that.

The constituency which I have the honour to represent comprises not only the town of Eastbourne but some of the most beautiful and historic villages in the country—Pevensey with its famous castle, Westham, East Dean, West Dean—and the spectacular scenery of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters.

In Eastbourne we have as high a concentration of senior citizens as anywhere else in the country, and there is real need to rectify the present population imbalance, to provide more local employment and to improve both the stock and the quantity of housing. To these matters I shall seek to return on another occasion, if I should have the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Because of its splendid situation, climate and amenities, my constituency has always attracted the retired. Among my constituents is the former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, now Lord George-Brown. The House will recall that he resigned from the previous Labour Government because he did not like the way in which it was run. He then came to live in my constituency, and I can assure the Government that when they can stand it no longer a warm welcome and happy retirement will await them in my constituency.

My predecessor was Sir Charles Taylor. He served in this House for 39 years, a record of service rarely equalled. It was a record of service recognised by the county borough when it conferred upon him the honour of freeman. He loved this House and his work in this House, and I believe that the House will miss him.

There are two proposals in the Budget which I warmly welcome. The first is the increase in pensions. For too long those who have been members of the working population have enriched themselves at the expense of the retired. One of the marks of a civilised and just society is how we treat those who have retired, and I welcome the Government’s proposals unreservedly. But I have just one comment to make to the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Social Services. Last Wednesday she announced that in future pensions will be increased annually in proportion to the increase in national earnings. I believe that we want to make it clear that what worries retired people today is not so much increased earnings but the rate of inflation which is in prospect under the present Government.

I also welcome the decision to disallow non-business interest for tax purposes. I was in respectful agreement with the present Home Secretary in 1969 when, as Chancellor, he first disallowed such interest, and I was in respectful disagreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) when he restored the allowance in 1972.

I am afraid that here the limited bouquets I offer to the Chancellor must end, but I will try not to be provocative. I believe that the whole philosophy of a £500 million food subsidy is grossly misconceived. If that amount of money is available to relieve hardship, the purpose would have been achieved much more effectively by increasing family allowances, by increasing the family income supplement, or by increasing the rate of supplementary benefit.

What is needed above all today is economic and financial realism. The introduction of food subsidies at this stage and on this scale will be a positive encouragement to the British people to believe that somehow they and the Government can opt out of the real world. Indiscriminate subsidies, whether on food or on housing or in the nationalised industries, encourage a retreat from reality and conceal the true costs involved.

For too long there has been a tendency by both Governments to hide from the British people the harsh truths of economic reality. Until that trend is reversed, I do not believe that the really serious economic problems which face our country will be overcome.

I want to recall with approval what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in the House on 21st November 1967 in the debate on the devaluation of the pound. He described the Labour Party—I do not believe that hon. Members will dissent from this—as being based on “interventionists, centralisers and subsidisers”. I was uneasy at the extent to which the Conservative Party when in Government followed the very course which my right hon. Friend warned against in 1967. There is a danger for politicians, particularly when in Government, to succumb to the temptation to intervene, to centralise and to subsidise, and it is very much easier to subsidise than it is to withdraw the subsidy, as I believe the Government will discover to their cost.

Finally, I want to say something about the underlying strategy of the Budget. The House is entitled to assume that the Chancellor thinks that the Budget will solve, or at any rate will go a long way to solving, the grave economic dangers which our country is facing. Because of the widespread expectation that we are all entitled to a steady and regular improvement in our standard of living, it is particularly difficult for politicians, who have frequently encouraged that expectation, to disappoint it. But what was needed above all in this Budget was to secure a genuine switch of resources from domestic consumption into exports, to reduce the borrowing requirement and, perhaps most important of all, to secure real incentives for further investment in British industry.

None of these objectives has been achieved by the Budget. I wish the Chancellor and the Government well, but I fear that the Budget has only postponed that solution to the nations’ problems which the people, with some degree of encouragement from the Labour Party, were entitled to expect.