Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th March 1947.

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Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , Oxford 12:00 am, 10th March 1947

I thought the hon. Gentleman was better aware of that well-known phrase than he appears to be. I must have heard it at least half a dozen times since I have been a Member of Parliament, but I cannot at the moment quote any hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] The next thing to which I want to draw attention is the size of the cost-of-living subsidies. The present seriousness of our economic position is masked by two facts, of which one is the continued currency of the American line of credit, and the second is the cost-of- living subsidy. Unless I am mistaken the cost of those subsidies on last Budget day, was in the neighbourhood of £335 millions. At the turn of the year the cost had risen to £370 millions, or thereabouts, or about 3s. on Income Tax. It is still rising. Nobody in any corner of the House has quarrelled with the policy of subsidising the cost of living. It was one of the sheet anchors of our war economy. But when it was very much lower in extent, the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman told us that we could not go on indefinitely with those subsidies. It is fatuous to produce a White Paper dealing with our economic crisis, if it does not tell us how long and how far the policy of increasing the ever rocketing cost-of-living subsidy is to be taken.

Now we are told that there is a great shortage of manpower. That makes it all the more remarkable that no serious attempt is being made to redistribute manpower in an efficient way. What has happened to the use of manpower since the war, and in the year and a half since the Government has been in power?

I suggest that there are three major evils that have to be combated. The White Paper has offered no solution for any of them. In the first place it is apparent that the balance of reward between the skilled and the unskilled worker has been seriously disturbed. The result is that all over the country our skilled workers are complaining that their rewards are inadequate, compared with those of unskilled labour. What has been done to remedy that situation? Secondly, it is apparent that for a long period of years, for one reason or another, the balance which should exist beween productivity and reward has been almost completely obscured. What has been done to remedy that? Thirdly, and most striking of all, there has been a complete failure to balance the use of manpower between trade and trade. What is the sense of talking about the shortage of manpower, when we have about as many people—and in spite of the "Digest." I think more—engaged in the manufacture of drink in this country as we had in 1939? What is the sense of talking of shortage of manpower when we actually have more people manufacturing tobacco than we had in 1939? What is the use of talking about manpower shortage when we are not even allowed to know what the position is about those people em- ployed by football pool organisations? What is the honesty or sincerity of purpose which fails to deal with those fundamental questions? The right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "We do not want to direct labour". I thoroughly agree with him. It should not be difficult for the Government, with their new planning staff, to arrange a wages policy which will attract people naturally into those industries where it is most desirable it should be done.