Orders of the Day — Ways and Means.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 9th April 1941.

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Photo of Sir Robert Cary Sir Robert Cary , Eccles

I intervene briefly in this Debate to thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the concession which he made and which arose out of a question I put to him in February last in respect of the loss incurred in providing additional buildings, plant and machinery for the war effort. I do not think that it is generally appreciated how great has been the strain upon equipment in factories in recent months, and if the scale of production is to continue at its present pressure the charges for replacement will bear so heavily upon many companies that the action of my right hon. Friend in making these small allowances will come to them as something of great benefit. I should also like to applaud his decision in not giving way in any substantial degree to the change which was asked for in the Excess Profits Tax at 100 per cent. I was a little concerned in the weeks leading up to the Budget at the type of propaganda which was being sent to Members of this House advocating on behalf of industry that there should be a change in this tax, in some respects a substantial change, round about 70 or 65 per cent. I received one brochure, like most hon. Members, and there were two sub-headings to which I strongly objected— "Experience versus street corner oratory" and "A political attack upon industry." I took the trouble to look up the speech which was given by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain on 26th April, 1939, when introducing the Military Training Bill, when he made it clear on behalf of the Government that, if war should occur, the country would never be allowed to return to the sordid level of profit which we had known in wars before. But in any case, if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been favourable to the suggestions that were made to him—and I think in some cases on purely a business and technical basis they are almost unanswerable—how could he make any substantial concession when he had to bear in mind that in relation to the rest of the community they faced a position in which the general level of wages had risen by only 13 to 15 per cent., whereas the cost of living had risen by no less than 26 to 30 per cent.? Even if a change were desirable, I congratulate my right hon. Friend in keeping intact the pledge originally given by Mr. Neville Chamberlain.

May I say a few words about post-war credits, as they will apply to firms and individuals? My right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said yesterday that he was a little surprised that no comment had been made on this aspect of the Budget. He thought it would be the subject which would have been discussed most. Perhaps the Committee has not yet recovered from its surprise; perhaps this picture of a benevolent Chancellor of the Exchequer giving back money to firms and individuals in the post-war years is too remote a picture. Perhaps there is a feeling that what could be said about it now would be out of order and would not make any substantial contribution to this Debate. But I feel—and I hope many hon. Members will also feel—that this act on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will in the end prove to be one of the most stabilising factors in the post-war years, both for firms and individuals. The firms which are left in business have a tremendous responsibility to help back into productive industry those firms which are shut down through the concentration of industries. Individuals, too, have an immense moral obligation resting upon them to recreate in our national life that family tradition which has been the main feature of our national character.

In the immediate post-war years we want confidence and stability, and the mere fact that my right hon. Friend will give most firms and so many individuals a financial stake in the stability of those years is something which I think will, in time, come to be welcomed by the whole country. Our financial strength, dependent upon ourselves, is also dependent upon that great panorama of trade which we can inspire throughout the country and the world. The Budget in its interest is not limited to ourselves; it is a Budget which is of great interest to all Empire Governments. The Chancellor must begin to think seriously of the great trade problems which are the direct concern of some of his colleagues in the Cabinet. I should like to see, even at this juncture in the war, an Empire economic policy and a requirements committee, not necessarily exclusively centred in London, working almost day and night upon those problems. Lord Stamp has had many occasions in recent months to ask for a greater degree of unity in what he calls the sterling area. He says that sacrifices have been made in some quarters, but that not enough sacrifices have been made in other quarters.

The sinkings and shortage of shipping are not only having a grave effect in this country—and from what the Prime Minister said to-day we hope the cause of that effect will be removed in the months to come—they have been having a grave effect in some of the other Empire countries. New Zealand, unable to get away her great produce of meat and butter, may come to a serious domestic crisis. I only hope that future proposals will pay due regard to the trading strength of our country. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his statement yesterday referred to our possible trading relationships with the United States. We are exceedingly grateful to that country for the help they propose to give us under the Lease and Lend Act, but my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is also seeking facilities to increase United Kingdom exports to the United States. He is also contemplating setting up a Marketing Board in the United States for that purpose. In 1938 non-agricultural imports by the United States from Continental Europe represented over 400,000,000 dollars. I wonder how much of that former trade with Continental Europe the United States will find it possible to give to us if, on the basis of our scheme of selective exports under the concentration of industries, we are able to supply that market. These things are so profound in the strength of our financial position that they can never be divorced from anything which may be in the Chancellor's mind in framing new monetary proposals for the nation.

When the war ends we shall not find peace; we have to build peace, and perhaps those years that follow this war will be far grimmer and harder than the war years themselves. Some weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), in one of the best broadcasts I have ever heard throughout the progress of this war, said that the war's outcome would be decided by our staying power and the quality of our long-term planning. It is to long-term planning that the thoughts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be directed. Victory will give us immense optimism, but do not let us under-rate the realities which will face us with the coming of victory. There will be an Empire hopelessly over-industrialised, with the special machinery of trade agreements out of date or nonexistent. There will be too little capital or, as a result of inflation, too much, and vast numbers of our people, sick of the blood, tears and sweat of the war, will be longing for the comfort of the homes which they once knew. I dread to think of the fate of any administration which had only a dusty answer to give to that situation. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor upon his Budget, and I think his great work in recent months has made a sound and a substantial contribution to ensure that the post-war Government of our country will have the reverse of a dusty answer to the realities which will face them.