Orders of the Day — Financial and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st January 1952.

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Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Keighley 12:00 am, 31st January 1952

It is seldom in six years' membership of this House that I have found myself so much in agreement as I have tonight with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). As the debate has progressed, we have all been finding ourselves more or less in agreement on some matters. For one thing, I think that the announcement of the cuts came somewhat as an anti-climax. We were all expecting far more.

Right hon. Gentlemen have certainly been building up a position whereby they could have announced far more vicious cuts than have already been announced. They must certainly have disappointed certain sections of the millionaire Press with whom the association of the party opposite is, to say the least, far from being tenuous.

We have learned that the late Socialist Government was not responsible for the crisis. That has been proved beyond peradventure in debate and also by the announcement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. As the hon. Member for Cheadle said, this position has been overtaking the country for many years. Between 1936 and 1939, for example, there was an overall deficit in the balance of payments of £127 million, even taking account of the revenue we received from invisible exports. Of course, that deficit of £127 million had to be met either by the sale of securities or the drawing on gold. So even if there had been no second World War we should sooner or later, unless there had been a complete reorientation in the economic views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, have been arriving at a very serious economic crisis.

As I see it, the problem is that in terms of wealth this nation is a poor country. We have only coal and china clay in abundance. We produce only enough food for one-third of our population. I was pleased to hear that we now hope to be self-sufficient in phosphorous. It is a credit to the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer that when he was Minister of Fuel and Power he did inaugurate a geological survey of this country which resulted in the finding of that very valuable raw material.

Our only other asset is the skill of our own people. I am very doubtful as to the intentions of hon. Gentlemen opposite regarding education. If they cut down on the technical school development they will strike a blow at the efficiency and skill of our work-people.

During the General Election, whatever they may or may not say now, hon. Gentlemen opposite certainly did promise the people an easy time if they were returned to power—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Oh yes, we had statements over the radio about more red meat and reductions in taxation, and that the shortage of food was due entirely to the stupidity of the late Government. One thing has been proved by this debate and by the announcement of the cuts, and that is that one cannot fool all the people all the time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and hon. Gentlemen opposite will find that out very quickly when the next by-elections take place, and when the next General Election comes.

We have had to face these crises. We had to face them in 1945 and we faced them in 1947 and 1949. We had to effect cuts very similar to those that the Chancellor has announced today. We cut tobacco and petrol, and we cut films and canned foods. The only thing we did not do was to cut the Social Services.