Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th November 1951.

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Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South 12:00 am, 9th November 1951

With the closing words of the former Minister of Food there will be much general agreement. We are in an extremely delicate position in this island because we have always had to import a certain proportion of our food, but I feel that the former Minister of Food was extremely depressing as to the future. He seemed to imply that there was nothing that could be done and that we should always have these severe crises.

On this side of the House we believe that by better methods and more constructive arrangements we can, over a period of time, build up our food stocks. We are now taking drastic measures because of the financial situation. It has been said by the ex-Minister of Food, and indeed throughout this debate, that the Government should have known perfectly well before they came into power exactly what the conditions were. Although one may read many statistics in that admirable book the Monthly Digest of Statistics and although many of us have been aware of the dollar gap affecting this country, the fact remains that until a Government is in office it cannot possibly know what is the stock position, and what are the country's commitments, or what are the prospects of trade overseas.

The statement that was made by the Chancellor was a very courageous one and very sincere. I think it created that kind of confidence which we all badly need, and which is desired above all by our Commonwealth partners overseas. I agree—indeed, we all agree—that the measures mentioned by the Minister of Food today will cause very great hardship to the housewife. It is obvious that no Government wants to take unpopular measures, but in these last six years under a Socialist Government our assets have been so wasted that we have no reserves left to meet the emergency.

It should be made plain that the crisis which we face today is as bad as that of 1931. In regard to the terms of trade, it is certainly more serious. The only important fact which is mercifully better is that at the present time we have a high level of employment. Owing to the financial and economic policies of the last Government, we are facing a situation in which it is increasingly difficult for us to pay our way and import the raw materials that we badly need for our industries. Owing to past policies, it may well be that we shall face trouble with a fuel crisis.

People throughout the country say, "There is a crisis, but we are getting used to crises; we had them every two years under the Socialist Government." I feel that the impact of the present situation is not really properly understood. I hope very much that the Prime Minister will take the earliest opportunity of going to the wireless to explain to the people exactly what is the position. It is important to show that the cuts which are being imposed are only shock tactics, until the Government have had time to consult the trade unions and the employers' federations on how to increase production, and have had time to examine the whole policy of the future Budget.

These are only immediate remedial measures, and the whole purpose of everything that is being done in the new Parliament is to check the falling value of the pound sterling. The greatest of the housewives' problems is certainly the continuing fall in the purchasing power of the pound, which under six years of Socialist rule has fallen from being worth 20s. in 1945 to being worth only 14s. 6d. today.