Expenditure Arising Out of the War.

Part of Supplementary Vote of Credit, 1941. – in the House of Commons on 16th December 1941.

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Photo of Mr Henry White Mr Henry White , Birkenhead East

It has also passed that figure in Germany where there has been no savings movement and no expenditure of money on a great advertising campaign. I feel that we should now look at our War Savings Campaign effort and make up our minds whether or not in some directions the emphasis should not be changed, with, perhaps, even greater success to the effort. I am very doubtful about the effect of some of our War Savings Campaign methods. As I went through Piccadilly Circus to-day I saw from a bus, in an inverted pyramid, the letters "U.S.S.R.", "U.S.A.", "U.S.", and on the bottom the letter "U", and I wondered Whether there was any individual, of the thousands passing through there, whose patriotic duty was stimulated of whose purse-strings were loosened by reading a display of that kind. Again, there is the slogan, "You can't lose if you lend." That perhaps may touch an answering cord in the minds of some individuals because it is contrary to all human experience. It suggests the possibility that State security is of such a character that it requires to be reinforced by assurances. It rather recalls the criticism of a young lady Who, speaking with great temerity of the Ten Commandments said, "They are not a constructive policy; they only put ideas into your head." I am by no means sure that a slogan of that kind does not put the idea into the mind of would-be investors that there is a certain amount of insecurity. Maybe the alliterative exhortations which bespatter our walls bring some return, but I wonder whether they do.

I think there are other aspects of the war effort which might well be advertised to bring a greater sense of responsibility, in relation to these matters, into the mind of the individual who reads them. I think the note in our War Savings Campaign henceforth should be this: The citizen of this country has had impressed upon him, as never before, that he is tremendously important for what he can do. The War Savings Department must say, "You are tremendously important to this country and to the needs of Russia, not only for what you can do but also for what you can do without." That is a slogan which I should suggest might be developed. Wherever we look, we see the need for decreased consumption. Whether it comes from the new threat in the Far East or from the needs of Russia, it is clearly the case that the citizens of this country are very important for what they can do without.

I would like if I may to draw attention for a moment or two to a very remarkable change that has been made quite recently in regard to savings in Germany. The German method of saving money has been the inverse one to that adopted in this country. They have not had a great war savings campaign with expensive advertising, and they have said that the German citizen knows his duty so clearly that he does not need to be hustled into it by methods of that kind. In fact, however, the Germans have arranged to stop expenditure by complete rationing, by price fixing and by wage stoppage over the whole field from the very out- set. From their last figures it appears that their small savings groups have reached a total of £1,100,000,000. approximately the same amount as we have achieved in this country by efforts of a different kind. It is a remarkable thing that they should have done that in that way and should have carried on without such a drastic increase in taxation as we have had in this country. Although this scheme and these methods have been to carry Germany through two years of very costly war, they have within the last three months had to make special concessions and arrangements which seem to indicate apprehensions of something they were not quite so happy about. Now a scheme has been brought in whereby wage and salary earners can contribute a certain amount every month, for a period of not less than three months, which is free of taxation. It is estimated that by that means £600,000,000 per annum will be accumulated, in addition to the efforts already made, and that it will cost them something like £120,000,000 in loss of revenue.

I want to draw attention to the reason why this has been done. It is due to the rising discrepancy between the immense amount of unspendable income in the pockets of those in Germany and the decreasing amount of consumable goods. It is clear that the stage has been reached where, in spite of all control, there is great danger of that mass of spending money breaking through all obstacles and being thrown into speculation, black markets and practices of one kind or another, to the great danger of Germany's war finances. In passing, I would like to refer to the fact that this new inducement of saving is free of taxation, not only in capital amount which is saved but also in the interest. That is a matter of great consequence. It is open to several members in one family to open one of these iron savings accounts. As the interest is not taxable, there is great inducement to the married woman to take up work. I am not so sure that there ought not to be something like it to the great advantage of this country. Of course, the merging of the incomes of man and wife is an old complaint in this country, from which there is no escape except divorce. That is still a matter which we might well consider in order to induce and encourage married women to take up work.

Is there any lesson for us in this, or is there not? Is there any danger in this country that we may, with increasing earnings and incomes, reach a point when there will be set in motion such a rise in costs and prices that we shall find ourselves suddenly in the midst of an inflation which will seriously disturb the whole course of our war finance? It may well be that these things are a mirage before my eyes and not before those of other people; if so, I shall be very pleased. I notice that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has opportunely arrived in the Chamber to lend point to my argument, for my right hon. Friend has said that we must expect dearer food in this country. I notice that in many directions there are increasing demands for increased remuneration. Those demands are very important. I do not want to discuss them; I merely state that they exist. These great matters which will affect the whole financial policy of this country in the midst of this war are not determined by the Government, but are left to tribunals, outside bodies, which are set up for other purposes. It is not right that these matters, which might carry us, if the circumstances were such that they got out of control, into a state of financial uncertainty, with the possibilities of trouble and disaster, should be left to these bodies. If there is anything in the House of Commons on which we are unanimous, it is upon the dangers of inflation and the necessity of avoiding it. There is no set of people of which I know who are not in agreement about that. The question I want to ask is whether it is not about time that steps were taken to reach an agreement on what is necessary to prevent inflation. I ask hon. Members to direct their minds to that question, because although it may be that I am taking a pessimistic view-if so, I shall be glad to be told so-of the possibilities of the situation, it seems to me that there are tendencies on foot to which we should give very careful attention, not in any spirit of controversy, but with a desire to stop this process at the outset.

Our situation is better than anybody could have anticipated it would be when we were thrust into this great war. I agree that there are many who do their utmost to help on the financial side, but there are others who, up to now, have not realised what is possible. It does not occur to many people that if they refrained from listening to one news bulletin in the course of the day, they would make a saving in their demands upon electricity supply. I think that now the slogan of Lord Kindersley and his colleagues should be, "You are important for what you can do; you are just as important for what you can do without." People should remember that they must make no demand upon public services of any kind—travel, heat, light, or whatever it may be—if they can avoid it; that they must not buy anything they can do without, that they must review the whole course of all their transactions, large and small, and make sure that they are not making a demand for something that is needed in Russia or somewhere else. I think that—rather than the alliterative eccentricities which bespatter our hoardings—should be the note which the War Savings Campaign should take.