Orders of the Day — Export and Import Trade

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th March 1947.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Viscount  Hinchingbrooke Viscount Hinchingbrooke , Dorset Southern 12:00 am, 24th March 1947

I believe that may have been the case during the past year or two, but the position is very rapidly improving today. It is becoming apparent now that in our efforts to avoid the charge of war loot and pillage, we have rushed quixotically to the opposite extreme. We have carved out of our economic resources one quarter of all the good and useful things of life—after the recent fuel crisis and after what the right hon. Gentleman has said today it may amount to one-third—and sent those good things overseas. To satisfy what? To satisfy an entirely new Socialist craving for traditional financial orthodoxy and rectitude. We despatch overseas agricultural machinery and wreck our farming programme. We send overseas machine tools and interfere with industrial recovery. We send overseas locomotives and delay the travelling public. We send overseas cars and vans, and harass the professional man and the distributive trades. We send overseas household goods and clothes, and keep the housewives in a permanently exhausted state.

We despatch those things overseas in the interests of a strict overseas trade balance and against all the natural laws of war and victory. We heard a lot before the war about the economics of the jungle, but what we are suffering from today in international trade and in the mentality of the right hon. Gentleman is the economics of Mr. Gandhi. Since his last interview with that extraordinary fanatic, the instructions from the President of the Board of Trade to the British people have been, "Lie down and take it." So we have sent goods to India and Egypt to pay them for having allowed us to save them in 1942; we have sent goods and services to Germany to fill the vacuum caused by the blowing up of plant; and we have sent goods to France and Holland to pay for the wine, the mimosa, and the tulips, which one would have thought the Governments of those two countries would have sent us gratis in recognition of their five years' sojourn over here.

I remember making a speech in this House about six months before V-Day in which I expressed the fear that the economic organisation behind the Armies would prove inadequate to keep Britain's head above water after the war. I was reproved by hon. Gentlemen opposite for not speaking in the correct accents of liberation. Well, we have liberated and all the world except our late enemies enjoys a higher standard of living than our own.

I would like to say a few words about Imperial Preference, the other main theme of this Debate. My hon. Friends are believers in Empire trade and Imperial Preference. So am I. I regard it as a step to freer trade. As such it falls within the terms of the Bretton Woods provisions and the Conference which is about to be held. Wherever a group of friendly democratic countries can be got together, whether in the Empire or whether in the West of Europe, it seems to me that that should be done, and tariffs lowered between them. But we ought to avoid two mistakes about Empire Preference. The first mistake is that the Dominions will play on the idea that tariffs can be lowered between us and them, and maintained or raised against the United States. The Empire free trade idea exclusive to other countries is unworkable. For example, we could never get Australia and Canada to accept our cars under an Imperial Preference scheme and to deny the right of the United States exporters of cars to send them at equivalent prices. The second mistake is in thinking that Empire Preference makes any substantial contribution now or in the foreseeable future. To my mind the thing has been completely transcended by the new trading techniques—export subsidies, bulk purchase of entire crops and markets, import and currency controls, and the whole rigmarole of regulations dictated by war and carried on by postwar Socialism. To base a policy now upon Imperial Preference is to do something which is ideologically right but practically ineffective. As the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) said, in what I thought was a most pointed speech, by itself it is not enough. We are temporarily through the period when Imperial Preference can save us. It is good stuff for the future, but it is luckless now.

Let me say by way of illustration that it is redolent of an interview which might have taken place in 1936 between Mr. Baldwin and Dr. Schacht: they would never have understood each other's economic language. Imperial Preference is not the right economic language today. If Lord Baldwin was still active in politics I believe he would not be advocating a policy of Imperial Preference. I feel sure he would be advocating a policy which would get us back to a situation where Imperial Preference was real and workable. What might that policy be? I believe it should be a temporary policy of stopping the exports of goods urgently required here; a policy of importation of food, raw materials and machinery on a large scale; and of course a consequential policy of a deliberately unbalanced overseas budget. The arguments in favour are, as I see them, five, and I will give them very concisely. First, the prospective exportable surplus of America, Canada, the Argentine, New Zealand, Denmark and perhaps some other countries; and the fears of unemployment to which the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon-Walker) referred, that might arise—and I think soon will arise—in those countries if the markets here are suppressed or curtailed—