Sterling Area (Closer Co-Operation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd February 1952.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton 12:00 am, 22nd February 1952

When the hon. Gentleman looks at his speech tomorrow, he will see that he was talking not only about the late Government but about the United States. With regard to those conditions, the hon. Gentleman, a few moments ago, referred to the rice problem in words with which we all agree, and he commented on the fact that one of the main difficulties was that, of the three principal rice-producing areas, two are still prevented from making any major contribution because of the devastation arising from the war. Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that in 1945 the devastation arising from the war was a good deal greater than it is today and that we and the whole Commonwealth were driven into the dollar areas to get the food to live? India was facing starvation and had to go to the United States to get grain. That grain had to be paid for.

The Commonwealth development that went on in 1946 and 1947 required a good deal of American assistance, and we all regret that that was so; but we and the other countries would not, without that loan, have done the amount of development that was achieved. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the conditions attached to that loan were onerous. I think that they entirely ignored the fact that we and the Commonwealth as a whole had come out of the war a great deal poorer because of the sacrifices made in the war, and America had come out a great deal richer.

Although we voted for the loan because it was essential in the interests of the Commonwealth, I think the conditions attached to it were unfair and unduly onerous; but the alternative—to refuse the conditions and refuse the loan —would have held back Commonwealth development and caused famine and starvation in the Commonwealth. That was something we could not accept, and therefore we had to accept those conditions.

A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that the economic crisis we are now facing is a 20-year crisis; it goes back deeply into the past and it is going to last for a very long time in the future. In an article published in a Sunday newspaper two or three weeks ago I indicated a seven-point programme for dealing with the crisis. I said that it would take 20 years to solve and I put very great emphasis on the need not only to intensify intra-Commonwealth trade but to develop a Commonwealth source of supply of materials and foodstuffs.

Great things have been done in the last six years. When the hon. Gentleman says that the Imperial thesis is a declaration of Conservative faith, I agree; but in the matter of Commonwealth development one judges not by faith but by works, and that is how the party opposite will be judged and how we, also, should be judged. On that test Commonwealth trade in the last six years reached the highest figure in its history, not only in terms of quantity—the amount of trade passing—but in proportion of our total trade. We reached a figure of 50 per cent. of our total imports from Commonwealth sources and a figure very close to that for exports going to the Commonwealth.