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Orders of the Day — European Economic Co-Operation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th July 1948.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Ormskirk 12:00 am, 6th July 1948

These things are being discussed in Paris at this moment, and I do not think it would be helpful if I went into these questions while they are under discussion. It is a matter being discussed between various European countries and the Americans, and I prefer not to go into it in any detail.

Let me conclude by referring to a point which has been the theme of most speeches made, and that is the need for this Aid. Some Members have attempted to make party capital out of the nation's need, and have suggested that the need for American aid is the result of mismanagement by this Government over the last three years. The fact is, and it is recognised by everybody on this side of the House, that we are today as a nation paying the price for the war, and above all the price we do not grudge of having stood alone. The Chancellor of the Exchequer showed the main need for this Aid is to maintain the essential minimum reserves of the sterling area.

We should not need that Aid today if we had not spent our gold and dollar reserves as well as our dollar securities in the early months of the war before Lend Lease enabled the burden of the war to be shared. During that period we gave up £600 million of our gold and dollar reserves and £420 million of our dollar securities, making 4,000 million dollars of reserves and securities. Then there is a loss of our invisible earnings since 1938. Our position on the invisible account has deteriorated to the tune of £450 million a year alone. Then there is terms of trade, which are now nearly 25 per cent. worse to this country than they were before the war. There is also the inability to obtain as many goods as we would wish from the non-dollar areas; 34 per cent. of our goods came from Europe in 1938, and only 21 per cent. are coming from Europe today. So, in agreeing on the need for American aid let us put responsibility where it should be for needing this aid. It lies solely on the war, and the aftermath of war.

It is particularly right that in stating the need for this aid no one should seek to denigrate the effort which has been made by our people. Production is well above the prewar rate. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has made it clear that our recovery in industry and agriculture is unexampled in Europe, and is also far in excess of anything which was achieved by this country in the same period after the First World War. Last year, our national exports, in spite of the difficulties of the fuel crisis, and so on, would have been sufficient, against the 1938 background of invisible earnings—world prices, shipping income, and so on—to have shown a better result or the international account than was actually achieved in 1938. Our effort for the first half of this year far exceeds what was done in 1947, and if our present rate of export, in relation to our imports, could have been achieved against the 1938 background we would have been showing, not a deficit of £70 million on the international account, but a credit balance of £200 million, even valued at 1938 prices.

It is not that our record is not a great one: it is rather that the task of the nation in the light of our war losses is infinitely greater. Because of that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was right today when he said that not only is there nothing in this Agreement which is derogatory to our sovereignty, honour and pride, but that it is not a matter of shame