Orders of the Day — Exchange Equalisation Account Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 30th June 1937.

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Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

Certainly; there is, of course, a problem of maldistribution, but that is a very different thing from a problem of superabundance, and we ought not to confuse the two. As a matter of fact, we have had striking evidence in the last few hours that there is not yet a superabundance of gold in the world, because at present the difficulty which confronts the French Government is due to the fact that they have not enough gold. They are faced with a serious financial crisis for the very same reason that we were faced with a serious financial crisis in 1932, namely, that we had not enough gold. All I would say is that I would much rather, human nature being what it is, and human beings thinking what they think, that we had too much gold, especially in existing conditions, than too little; and I say that both in my personal and in my public capacity. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not Christian doctrine!"] I do not know whether it is Christian doctrine or not, but I know that it is sound sense.

It may be, as I said just now, that there is maldistribution; but both the causes of that maldistribution and the remedies are obvious; and, until those causes are removed, it is idle to talk about a plethora of gold or about a reduction of its price. We may have to consider that in the years that lie ahead, but that time has not yet come. No evidence was brought forward in the Debate yesterday that a reduction in the price of gold would not bring about commodity price deflation. On the contrary, I am absolutely convinced that, in present circumstances, if the price of gold were arbitrarily reduced, without good reason, there would in fact be an instantaneous fall in commodity prices. I make that assertion with confidence. I believe it to be true for one reason, if for no other, that every trader all over the world would undoubtedly regard a reduction in the price of gold as a signal that there was going to be a fall in commodity prices; and that overwhelming psychological factor in itself justifies the most strenuous efforts to avert a reduction of the price of gold.

Lastly, there is not the slightest reason to suppose that either the United States or ourselves could afford to reduce the price of gold. The United States Government has over £2,000,000,000 worth of gold at the present time, and it has pledged that gold for the future against the enormous expenditures to which it is committed. So far as we ourselves are concerned, I would say that the present burden of National Debt cannot be borne without a considerable further rise in money incomes in this country. I do not think the House realises that the debt burden of this country at the moment is almost double the annual national income, whereas before the War it was only one-third of the annual national income. The debt burden of this country is in fact crushing; and, if it is increased, any hope of balancing our Budget is, I think, finally removed.

As I said on the Financial Resolution, the problem confronting humanity for generations past has not been how to increase debts but how to write them off; and I do not think that problem is likely to alter for many years to come. If I were to suggest an immediate short-term solution of the problem that confronts us, the first and most important essential is the restoration of confidence, and I believe that to be as important from the political as from the economic point of view. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing a great deal both in his speeches and by increasing this Account to restore confidence at a time when it is very badly needed. Another desideratum is to allow the commodity price level to continue its rise—not too fast—because commodity prices are not high enough yet, and genuine prosperity ultimately depends on the prosperity of the primary producer. After we have achieved the necessary rise, both in the United States and in this country, of wholesale commodity prices, then will be the time to attempt a de facto stabilisation through real co-operation between the Exchange Equalisation Funds. And this in turn should be an integral part Of that larger economic agreement which we all hope, to see between the British Empire and the United States, and which would be by far the most hopeful event that could happen in the world at the present time.