Budget Proposals and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th October 1955.

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Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth 12:00 am, 28th October 1955

We had it all this morning. This was particularly strange in a debate in which hon. Members opposite were accusing us of a lack of candour. I could not help being reminded of the famous remark of Huey Long, of America, who said, "It is the easiest thing in the world to set up a Fascist party. You have only to call it an anti-Fascist party."

I now pass to the speech that we heard yesterday from the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell). I shall have something to say about his personal attack about my right hon. Friend later in my speech, but I first want to say that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South has enjoyed the position of chief critic in this Committee for four years now. I suggest that before he addresses the Committee again it might be useful if we were to remind ourselves what actually happened when he was in charge of our finances in 1951. In April, 1951, he introduced a Budget which we. on the Opposition benches in those days, honestly thought, and said, was an inflationary one.

Whether we were right or not, by the end of July it was perfectly clear that we were facing severe economic trouble. The trade deficit was running at the rate of about £100 million a month, and the right hon. Gentleman himself told us, on 26th July, of that year, that our gold and dollar reserves would show a substantial deficit for the third quarter. He thought that the fourth quarter's result would be better but that we were unlikely to have a surplus. Faced with that situation, the right hon. Gentleman took virtually no measures at all, as I informed the House shortly before the General Election. He did make a small cut in the imports of cheese and introduced a White Paper on dividends in which the only things worked out fully were the penalties.

On that occasion not only did we have no autumn Budget but no effort was made at all to tell the public the truth during the Election campaign. The Leader of the Opposition shakes his head. I will say this to him: this morning, I re-read his party political broadcast, delivered just before polling day in October, 1951. Not one reference to the economic crisis do I find in that broadcast. I do not think that that was altogether surprising, because I am not sure that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South really knew all that was going on. He said himself in the House, in an intervention on 7th December, 1954, in a speech by my hon.

and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre): I was not informed of the exact position from day to day. I was travelling all over the country, as a matter of fact."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 883.] The only public statement of the right hon. Gentleman at that time was when he said that it was wrong to pretend that a serious problem does not exist for the sterling area. That was at the Mansion House. It certainly did. The loss of gold and dollars for October, 1951, was some 320 million dollars, and for the last quarter of that year some 940 million dollars. The United Kingdom deficit on the balance of payments as a whole was some £400 million in 1951, and between June, 1951, and March, 1952, our gold and dollar reserves fell by a total amount equal to £774 million. I hope that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South will understand that it is no discourtesy on our part if we sometimes accept his air of somewhat schoolmasterly infallibility with a slight pinch of salt.

I want to be quite fair about this. I know exactly what the right hon. Gentleman would like to say on this point, because he has said it many times before. He would like to say—it is perfectly true, and I do not dispute it—that the terms of trade turned more rapidly against us than anyone could have foreseen in 1951. If he wishes to make this point let me say, first that not only did the price of our imports rise very sharply during 1951, but also their volume rose by 14 per cent.; and, secondly, that I have yet to hear him admit the full effect on our economy of the devaluation of the £.