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 Alfred Robens Mr Alfred Robens , Blyth 12:00 am, 30th July 1952

Let us see why. In the last six months of the Labour Government retail prices went up by five points, and food prices by eight points. Wage rates went up by eight points, so that wages were keeping level with the cost of living. In the first six months of the Tory Government retail prices have gone up by six points, food prices by 12.7 points and wages have gone up by three points. The Chancellor has put up food prices four times more quickly than he is prepared to put up wages.

He was warned. Before the Budget the T.U.C. saw the right hon. Gentleman. If they did not see him personally they made representations. What did they say to him? Two of the things they said were that, first, the food subsidies should be moderately increased, and, secondly, that Income Tax and Surtax should be increased on the larger incomes. The right hon. Gentleman did neither; in fact, he did the reverse on both. He reduced the food subsidies and he reduced taxation. It had nothing whatever to do with the balance of payments; it was a mere redistribution of wealth within the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] He was merely appeasing the truculent back benchers who have been pushing him and the rest of the Cabinet ever since they came into power.

No wonder there are some gloomy views expressed. I was interested to read a newspaper report of a speech made by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) when addressing the annual conference of the Incorporated Sales Managers' Association recently. The hon. Gentleman said: The country must be prepared for a slump greater than those of either 1921 or 1931. The hon. Gentleman sits on those benches. He also said that there will be more bankruptcies in the next year than there have been in the last six, and he still sits on those benches.

The Government set the T.U.C. a very hard task. There is no question whatever that the lower paid workers will have to have increased wages. The Chancellor has made that essential, but it is still true that there must be restraint exercised by those in the higher income groups. This does not just apply to wage earners; it applies to all those people in the higher income groups, and the Chancellor might turn his attention to these things.

I am satisfied that this vacillating policy of the Government—after all, what has been attempted are only just expedients—will never solve the real problem, which is not one that will be solved in a year or two, anyway, but one which will take many years to solve.

Undoubtedly, we have to do all we can to push out our export trade, and I do not at all share the view that has been expressed in this debate that it is virtually impossible to sell more to the United States and Canada. I do not accept that for a moment. I believe there are great opportunities there, but they mean that the Government will have to give rather special aid. There are many manufacturers who have neither the resources nor the market knowledge to get into these markets, where, in fact, their goods could be sold. There is this great venture of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which we should not ignore. It presents an opportunity, but it means very special arrangements for capital goods and every- thing else, but we should not miss the opportunity.

If I gave the President of the Board of Trade one piece of advice, it would be this: Get the commercial attachés in the embassies away from the Foreign Office and under the Board of Trade; get them from industry, and not from career diplomats. If he will do that, there would be a real chance that we should have commercial attachés with real knowledge, not merely people looking to the diplomatic service for their careers, but people with an understanding of business and of the problems of manufacturers in this country.

Secondly, there is no doubt that a long-term production programme must be proceeded with immediately. After all, throughout the whole world, we live by taking in one another's washing, and half the population of the world lives below the poverty standard. We really have got to go into the backward countries, but we have special responsibilities in our own Colonies. They want capital, knowledge, skilful guidance, and we cannot go on just talking about this. We really have to do something about it.

To prepare the way, there will be some risks to be taken, and there may be some failures, but we shall not quarrel if some of the adventures in this field fail, as hon. Gentlemen opposite continually quarrelled with us when some most gallant adventures in this field failed in the past. [HON. MEMBERS: "Groundnuts."] If the complaint of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that State enterprise or Government enterprise cannot be enterprising, it must mean that private enterprise only can be enterprising. Certainly, it was enterprising, and had it been successful there would have been a very marked difference. Indeed, it was private enterprise to begin with.

I say very clearly that the Government must get on with that task. They cannot leave it entirely to private enterprise. They will have to take risks and to have courage; they will have to be determined, and they will fail sometimes. Never mind if they do fail sometimes. The attempt has to be made, because without it there is no hope at all for this country.

We have put down an Amendment, which hon. Members will have read. On the benches opposite there are a good many hon. Members whose speeches have been most interesting to us on this side of the House. There are many industrialists who understand these problems, and who say privately how much they dislike the vacillating policy of the Government. I say to those hon. Members opposite who really understand the economic problems of this country, and who really want to do something to solve them: Vote for this Amendment tonight; let the Government go to the country, and let the people choose who shall be their future leaders.