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 Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South 12:00 am, 30th July 1952

I welcome the opportunity of speaking in favour of the Amendment, but I wish it had contained more constructive proposals. I propose to make some critical observations that need to be made in this House and which ought to have been made before now, and then make some constructive proposals on the lines on which I have been speaking for about six years.

I welcome the increasing realisation in this country that we are now on the edge of an economic abyss. Because I am so pleased to belong to the class from which I come, knowing that it is they who in the main have made our country great, and that so much is at stake in that respect, I wish to make constructive proposals, and I hope that they will be carried into effect before I make my final contribution.

We are faced in this country with three wide gaps. The first is in our balance of payments; the second is in our output and productivity compared with the United States; and the third is between the rich and the ordinary people in this country. These wide gaps are due, first, to generations of neglect in the past and to 10 years of world war, a fact which is not appreciated by some other people in some parts of the world. It used to be said that the House of Commons is the graveyard of courage; if we are to deal with the problems which now face our fellow countrymen, that will not have to be said with truth in the future.

I believe that we all ought to be big enough to admit that my right hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and my hon. and real Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) and Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) have been proved right in respect of the problems which we are considering.

A lesson dearly bought should be a lesson well taught. We should have told the United States that we could not afford the economic strain of gigantic armaments. We should have reminded the United States that we lost 700,000 men before they came into the First World War. We should have reminded them that we strained ourselves and stood alone for 12 months before they came into the Second World War. We should have reminded them that we sold our assets to buy arms and that they made large profits as a result. We should have told the United States that we paid large compensation for British shares sold in the United States so that we could buy the arms urgently required to enable our men to hold their own during the 12 months when we stood alone. Well might Mr. Stettinius say that the United States bought time with British blood.

We should have reminded the United States of how they treated that great public-spirited man Lord Keynes, when he was negotiating on behalf of our country. We should have reminded them how soon they cut off lend-lease when the people of this country voted in the way they did after the termination of hostilities. The recent policy of the United States of ruthlessly grabbing scarce materials upset the economic equilibrium of the Western countries and resulted in the rocketing up of prices, which has had a serious effect upon our balance of payments, and upon the export trade, in which some of us have been brought up and about which we know what has gone on for so long.

In my view, we are trying to do too much with limited resources, and we shall pay a terrible price for the refusal of Conservatives in all walks of life and in all kinds of organisations to plan this country. We urgently need increased production, yet we cut down our capital expenditure on production equipment. Last week I put down two Questions in order to obtain replies to what I am about to mention, but up to now I have not received the replies.

If my analysis of Command Papers 8203 and 8486 is right, we are not only cutting down on capital expenditure, but also we are not meeting our current depreciation. If my analysis of the figures is correct, those responsible should be charged with criminality and with the ruining of this country in the way that they are.

In the United States they have three times our population, but ten times our national income, and that is increasing each year. I could quote the figures if I had more time. I want to plead that it is time that we in this country adopted a constructive economic policy which we could all support. I am pleading for a wealth production policy and a programme of action on condition—and let me emphasise this with all the strength I can—that there is a fair distribution of the fruits of industry; and that any increase in output is used in the national interest and not to benefit any small group of people.

We should fix targets and increase output for certain periods to be decided on by industry, so serious is the situation in which we find ourselves. Our people need increased horsepower per head in industry; modern productivity equipment; more manpower in productive industry. There are far too many in this country watching too few do the real production work. We need the modernisation of our organisation, less expenditure on nonessentials and more on world production equipment. We need double-shift working where required. We need incentives and priorities for those engaged in productive industry.

We realise the need for and will readily agree to a critical examination, provided action is taken, of all restrictions in our country, no matter who may be responsible for them. But in my view the most urgent need is for action to be taken against the trade associations which have obtained such a terrible grip upon the raw materials required in the productive industry of this country.

We also need a real shake-up in the Ministry of Education. It is well known among engineering students, whether they be management or workpeople, that we urgently need technological centres at Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle especially.