Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1955.

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Photo of Sir Alexander Spearman Sir Alexander Spearman , Scarborough and Whitby 12:00 am, 26th July 1955

No. That is the point which I am coming to, because I realise very fully that talking about unemploy- ment is political dynamite, and one can very easily be misrepresented. Therefore, I want to spend a minute or two saying quite clearly what I have in mind.

I think that I realise as much as most of us here that mass unemployment in the inter-war years was perhaps the greatest cause of suffering and poverty that we have ever undergone. At that time, I think that we were right to be very frightened indeed of any increase in unemployment, because unemployment in those days was a sort of avalanche which we could not control, and once it started it could suddenly become very big.

I think that we must realise the fact that today that is not the case. Unemployment of that sort is not a bogey today, and I believe that we can control it. I do not believe that there will ever be mass unemployment again in this country, except for one reason alone, and that is a balance of payments crisis which would prevent us from getting raw materials. Provided that we can get raw materials we can always control the unemployment figures.

Naturally it is enormously beneficial to have absolutely full employment because of the improvement in the condition of the workers and because of the improvement it encourages in technique and labour-saving devices and so on, but I think an undue apprehension and fear of a small amount of unemployment might be just a way to bring about mass unemployment if we make a bogey of it. Then we may fall into really serious balance of payment difficulties. When unemployment is enormously below the 3 per cent. which Lord Beveridge said was the best we could hope to attain, I do not think we have any cause for alarm about unemployment. Therefore, in answer to the hon. Member, I say that I think that nothing could be worse for us than mass unemployment, but that that is a fear that is not well-founded.