Orders of the Day — Sterling Exchange Rate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th September 1949.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Ormskirk 12:00 am, 28th September 1949

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has chosen this moment of grave national crisis to make what was frankly an electioneering speech, a speech as irrelevant to the real issues with which the country is faced today as was his famous, and to us helpful, broadcast in 1945. There are very many things in which it would be tempting to follow him. Perhaps one or two of them will be taken up by some of my hon. Friends and even some of my right hon. Friends. But before I seek to bring the House back to a discussion of the fundamental overseas economic difficulties with which we are faced, and on which I heard not one word in the last 70 minutes, there are one or two things which have been raised in this Debate to which it is, perhaps, right that I should reply.

Perhaps I might begin with one or two points that were put by the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) yesterday. He had some more or less clean fun at the beginning of his speech and then went on to ask us whether we thought it was possible to get the increase in exports which was necessary out of our total national production. Obviously the answer is plain and obvious. Provided that our production continues to expand through increased productivity, the demands of the export market can be met without producing undue shortages at home.

But the right hon. Gentleman went further. He went on to express his doubts whether certain of our export industries could increase their output because of a shortage of skilled labour. He mentioned pottery, where there has been a shortage of decorating labour right through the last three or four years. He mentioned boots and shoes. He might well have mentioned cotton and wool. But he omitted to go on and remind the House, though my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) made good his omission, of the reasons for the shortage of skilled labour in these trades. Let him turn back, if he is interested in this subject, to the figures of wages and employment in those industries immediately before the war. I am not now talking of the great slump; I am talking of October, 1938—because there were no earlier figures which the Government dare publish of wages in these occupations. At that time the average adult male cotton worker was earning £2 10s. 10d. a week and many trained men as little as 25s. and 30s. a week. The average woman worker earned £1 11 s. 5d. In boots and shoes the average earnings were £3 4s. 7d. for men and 38s. for women; for pottery they were barely £3 and—