Orders of the Day — Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th November 1952.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North 12:00 am, 11th November 1952

The hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) will forgive me if I do not follow him, because I want to set about the Chancellor. I should like to say how fascinated I was by the right hon. Gentleman's performance. I have always thought that, with his gift for glossing over a hopeless brief and making the most of it, he has mistaken his calling and ought to have gone to the Bar.

I should be a very crabbed partisan if I did not acknowledge the fact that the Government have reason to feel a great deal of satisfaction at the result of the by-election at Wycombe. I feel that the greatest credit for that result goes to the Chancellor. So far he has been just as skilful as he was in the late 30's, when he was probably the most plausible advocate inside and outside the House of the policy of appeasement and Munich. He then used his considerable talents; the same sort of eloquent platitudes that he uses in this Parliament to confuse narrow sectional interests with the national interest. Against the true interest of millions of people in this country he convinced them, by his eloquence and persuasiveness, that the disastrous policy that the Government were then following was in the best interests of this country, when it was no more than a subservience to the cowardly feelings of a minority.

Once again the Chancellor has been called upon to give his great talents to lead Her Majesty's Government. Once again he is doing exactly the same thing under cover of a national crisis. In the atmosphere of a national crisis, he is quite coolly and calculatingly putting forward the interests of the few. He has chosen the present crisis to begin, and it is only a beginning, what he would term the redress of the redistribution of income achieved by the past Government. He is putting before national recovery the reversal of the policy of the late Government of fair shares for all.

His primary purpose is to restore as best he can the unequal society we had before the war. He has put that before our national recovery. Because of that, his present policy is as incompatible with our national recovery as his policy of appeasement was incompatible with our national safety before the war.

I am glad to see the Minister of Food here. Let us take a few illustrations of the policy of the Government. We have been debating food in this House continuously for the past months because we all know—none of us has now any excuse for not knowing—that if we are to make a call on our people generally to make a great productive effort the first thing we must do, and patently do, is to show that we are doing everything possible to ensure that everyone has at least a satisfactory basic diet. It was for that reason that we had during the war, and subsequently, a milk policy.

I need not expound the advantages of that policy. It has been done far better than I could do it by the Radio Doctor. We followed that policy until the present Government came to office. The present Government have increased the price of milk, twice directly and once indirectly. At first they said that this would have no effect on milk consumption. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food said how unhappy he would be if it did. Then they changed their ground. They said, "We admit it affects consumption, but not significantly."

I am not going to argue whether a drop of 20 million gallons in eight months of this year is significant. I am not going to argue whether a return, not to 1951, but to consumption levels below those of 1950 is not a reversal of the Labour Party's policy. But surely it is undeniable that it is quite untenable to pursue such a policy in present circumstances. The consumption of milk products, of butter and cheese, is less in this country today than it has been in any other year in peace or war.

What Government can justify, in these circumstances, reducing the consumption of milk deliberately by a price mechanism? Only a Government that is not concerned with the nutritional needs of the nation. A Government doing this, coolly assuming that the rich will be able to buy all the milk that they need, are a Government who cannot claim, as the Minister of Labour claimed yesterday, that they are entitled to expect from industry the broad co-operation which the Government need.

Let me turn to the food subsidies. I concede at once, of course, that if £410 million is to be spent on social services it is arguable whether food subsidies are the best means of spending that money. That is an arguable matter. But what is quite untenable is to withdraw the food subsidies in present circumstances. That is what the Chancellor recognised during the Election. What he said during the Election, in effect, and what the Tory Party said, is, "We will give you, the people of this country, this guarantee that we will not experiment in returning to Toryism while this country is in difficulties. When we have recovered, then we can afford Toryism." That was the burden of their case. But surely they cannot now cut the food subsidies and again expect the Minister of Labour to get a ready response when he calls for both sides of industry to help us out of our present trouble. The trade unions say, "You have embarrassed us by putting up these food prices."

There is more to it than that. All the skill and eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot persuade us that this money has gone to alternative social services. Of course, it has not. It has gone mainly to the relief of Income Tax, and whatever merits that may have, it cannot be described as a social service. What the Chancellor has done is to take from all equally and redistribute according to wealth. What the housewife is doing is contributing to the Income Tax relief of people who are already by and large far better off than she is.

I see that the Minister of State is highly amused by this. He will no doubt have read this document. The United Nations Economic Bulletin reported that, as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's policy, one-half of the people of this country are worse off and one-sixth are substantially better off—not merely much better off, but substantially better off. How can we expect co-operation from five-sixths of the people when they see as a result of the Chancellor's policy that one-sixth only are better off as a result of his fiscal policy?