Cost of Living

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th November 1950.

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Photo of Mr Archibald Macdonald Mr Archibald Macdonald , Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire 12:00 am, 7th November 1950

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, at the end, to add, But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the rising cost of living and makes no adequate proposals to relieve the growing burden of increasing prices on consumers, particularly on the lowest income groups. During the last few days, the House has shown in this Debate on the reply to the Gracious Speech its awareness of the urgency and gravity of the increase in the cost of living. The discussions in the House are a reflection of the fact that all over the country people are worried and feel insecure about this question. They realise that the new situation created by rearmament has probably aggravated the steady increase that they have noticed in the costs of their necessities of life. They read day after day of the fantastic rise in the price of raw materials—wool, cotton, tin, rubber and so on.

A few months ago, it seemed, to most of us, that our economic recovery had reached a stage where we could allay the feeling of insecurity which had been with us since the war, and the possibility of another major economic crisis, with its renewed austerity, seemed to have receded. A welcome move towards decontrol had been made, and, generally speaking, the country was at last beginning to feel that, in spite of its severe housing shortages, we were all getting back to a fuller life, provided we could keep the cost of living in check.

May I take this opportunity of congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his first great speech since he was elevated to his present high office, and on giving the House a remarkable review of our economic problems. No one will dispute his technical understanding of the situation, but it is disturbing that he appeared to have no fresh policies to offer to the House to combat the inflationary dangers which at present confront us, and will confront us still more in the near future.

Let us examine our situation to assess its strength and its weak points, as we must beware, on the one hand, of those fatalists who insist that we are moving into a war economy, and that there is no escape from siege-like restrictions and a serious fall in living standards, and, on the other, of those people who believe that a reasonable degree of rearmament is beyond our resources if we are to maintain our present standard of living.

Let us took therefore at our productive potential and the likely calls which are to be made upon it during the coming year. On the assets side of the balance sheet, we should not under-estimate our strength. Firstly, our gold and dollar reserves have doubled during the past year, and for the first time since the 1930's we have a surplus on our balance of payments. Secondly, our production is increasing satisfactorily, although not as greatly as some claims have been made for it from the Government benches. There is no doubt, however, that productivity is increasing, notably in the motor vehicle industry, in engineering, in steel and in chemicals, upon which the main impact of our rearmament will fall. It would not seem to be an over-estimate to put the prospective addition to our national output, in real terms for the next 12 months, at some additional £400 million. Furthermore, devaluation has to a great extent assisted the export of many of our manufactured products.