Economic Situation

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern 12:00 am, 10th March 1947

Excellent. It should have been done here long ago. All I am concerned to say at the moment is, that in a full employment economy it is essential to have a comprehensive production plan for several years ahead; including the production targets clearly presented for exports, borne investment and consumption, together with manpower, fuel and raw material requirements for each industry, industry by industry. There is no reason at all why it should not be a flexible plan. We have not got anything approaching that from the present Administration, which got into power largely because they said that they could not only plan, but could plan better than anybody else.

The problem confronting this country today is quite a simple one. It is a problem of the balance of payments, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said; and therefore, fundamentally, of production. The fuel crisis is merely a symptom of the disease from which this country is now suffering. It is accompanied by a steel crisis; it will be followed by a food crisis; and finally, by a dollar crisis, which will be the most serious crisis of all.

Tonight I want to deal primarily with monetary policy and trade policy. Before doing so, I should like to say a word or two about the mechanics of production. We have heard a great deal of talk about coal this afternoon, some of it authoritative, from members of the Miners' Federation, and other people who know well what they are speaking about. The White Paper says this is of basic importance. If it is of such basic importance, I wonder why they plan only for 1947, and do not look one inch beyond 1947. I ask the Government: Have they abandoned altogether the possibility of coal exports from this country? We must look beyond the end of 1947. I want to know: Is it to be the national policy of this country that there is no hope of ever again exporting coal? If it is, I think our outlook is indeed dark and dire. If we were back to the 1938 level of production now, we should be earning another £100 million a year in foreign exchange. I suggest to the House that we cannot afford to do without that £100 million. The target of 200 million tons a year is quite inadequate from the long-term view, and the projected manpower in the mines is also quite inadequate. What of 1948, 1949 and 1950? That is what we want the Government to tell us about. Just look, for one moment—this great planning Government—beyond 1947. The years 1948, 1949 and 1950 will be just as important for all of us.

I wish now to say a few words about agriculture. It is common ground to both sides of the House that we must aim at least at a 25 per cent. increase in production of "protective" foods in this country over the next two or three years if we are to get through. We will loose 130,000 prisoners of war within the next five or six months.