Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1954.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet 12:00 am, 7th December 1954

The Central Office, at least, is usually accurate.

To sum up, the argument I have been trying to deploy in reply to the Amendment is this, that we have, since we were elected, dealt with the balance of payments crisis which was bequeathed to us, and that we have restored the international value of the £; we have dealt with the legacy of inflation which was handed over to us; we are achieving a record level of output and productivity on a sound financial basis; and we have been able to achieve great social advances both in house building and now in pensions. In the light of these facts this Amendment makes absolutely no sense-whatever.

I should like to turn to some of the difficulties that we are still facing, because although we have made a great deal of progress we should be falling into precisely the error of which the Opposition accuse us if we should become complacent about the prospects this country is facing. The balance of payments has been recently encouraging; the achievements of British industry have been encouraging; but there is, no doubt, a tendency for imports to rise rather faster than exports. The great expansion of our industrial activity is calling for a very large expansion in the imports of raw materials, which cannot be avoided, and imports of coal, which, perhaps, we ought to hope to avoid. I must say it is disappointing that we cannot get the increase of coal output to keep pace with the marked increase in the rate of industrial production.

Let us look at some of the figures. In 1953, the United Kingdom had a surplus on current account of £211 million. In the first half of this year it was £178 million; that is, an annual rate of £350 million, which, I should say, was an extremely healthy figure. In the second half of this year it will probably not reach quite that level, partly because imports are rising, as I have been explaining, and partly because of the effect of the wet weather on the grain requirements of this country and also on the grain requirements of Europe, which tend to bear on our own balance of payments. Nevertheless, we are achieving a very substantial surplus in our balance of payments.