Orders of the Day — Economic Position

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th July 1952.

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Photo of Sir Alexander Spearman Sir Alexander Spearman , Scarborough and Whitby 12:00 am, 30th July 1952

I have answered the hon. Gentleman, and I will leave it at that.

We all realise the desperate need for houses, and we must remember how much could be done by repairing existing houses. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), in a courageous speech on 12th March, said: We have to face the fact that in this country we have hundreds of thousands of houses which are rapidly becoming dilapidated for financial reasons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1447.] The truth of the matter is that a very large number of small houses in this country are owned by very impoverished people, who have bought perhaps one house with their savings, and at present rents they are quite unable to repair those houses. I believe that, if the Government could take some measures to deal with the present rent control position—I am not advocating abolishing it, but asking whether they could take some measures—which would enable those houses to be kept in repair, and encourage those with small families to leave big houses and go into smaller ones, we could do a great deal to alleviate the housing difficulty.

If I have shown that I feel a deeper anxiety about the economic position than perhaps do some hon. Members opposite, I should like to make this point. I am not an alarmist, in the sense that I think that we are likely to fail in maintaining the value of the pound, with all that that means. I am anxious because the consequences of failure would be so absolutely devastating, leading to mass unemployment and probably a great deal of hunger. It is because of the extent of that disaster that I am pressing this point today.

I think that the margin of safety is much too narrow. It is not that I think failure probable, but we are in a very dangerous position. I should like to add this: while the margin is narrow, the magnitude of the problem is not very great as yet. If we could increase our production by about 5 per cent, as I believe we could, then we should have gone a long way towards being out of our trouble. If we cannot do that quickly, then we have only to reduce consumption by a comparatively small amount. I know that is a hard thing to do. I believe, however, that it is vital that we should do it in a planned way, so as to avoid the risk of those who can bear it least suffering the greatest burden. I would press on the Government all I can that they should not be too much concerned with maintaining the present consumption, but they should be altogether concerned in increasing tomorrow's production.