Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th October 1948.

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Photo of Sir Alexander Spearman Sir Alexander Spearman , Scarborough and Whitby 12:00 am, 27th October 1948

The Gracious Speech states that Ministers will continue to devote themselves to the problem of the balance of payments. It is to that subject that I wish to confine my remarks. I have noticed a certain element of complacency arising from Government sources on that point. Not long ago we had a rather guarded speech of optimism from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a speech, a good deal less guarded, from the President of the Board of Trade. I quite realise that, for the moment, we are in calm waters and that there is no immediate fear of our running out of food to starvation point or of such raw materials that we cannot maintain employment.

But I emphasis that it is not because we are spending less here or producing more. It is due to windfalls. It is due to the unprecedented generosity of the United States of America. It is due to the fact that we have had over £100 million by the sale of the Argentine Railways. By next June we may well have eaten those Argentine Railways and we cannot with any confidence know that we shall get further aid from the United States of America, at any rate on the same magnificent scale. I believe, therefore, that the prospects for the moment are all right. But in a few months' time we may well be arriving at a crisis of payments even more drastic than last year, a crisis in which, if we are to maintain enough food to keep our people, we shall have to increase our exports by say 20 per cent., and it may then not be so easy to sell those exports, even if we can produce them. I should like to know what steps the Government are taking to meet that eventuality in a few months' time.