Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th November 1955.

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Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek 12:00 am, 8th November 1955

I am not concerned with the complexities about which the hon. Gentleman is talking; I am concerned with the sum total of the value of this pottery industry to the nation at present, whatever Government be in power. To compare the industry producing metal teapots with the china industry shows a complete unawareness of the realities of the pottery industry.

Traditionally, the pottery industry is an exporting industry. Only 1 per cent. of its raw materials come from abroad. It is, therefore, bringing into this country a higher ratio of dollars per unit of output than most other industries in Britain. What would be the influence of the Purchase Tax on this craft industry? It would create a position where there would be a loss on the home market and we should lose skilled workers whose families have been connected with the industry for generations. If we lose our decorators and skilled print workers in this transitional period, it will be difficult to win back that workmanship—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] While some hon. Members opposite may think this unimportant, there are many on both sides of the House who are just as anxious about this as I am. I was determined not to let this stage of the debate pass without trying to impress on the Chancellor and his hon. Friends the urgency of this matter.

I claim that if jewellery and glassware are protected, which has been done—the tax has been taken off them—the tax should not be imposed on this industry which is earning money for Britain. I apologise to the House for speaking when it is getting late, but I consider that the future of this industry is more important than the fact that we should spend another hour sitting in the House of Commons.

We have had a Budget which has attacked the kitchen and undermined the crêche—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Mr. Speaker, I shall insist on exercising my rights within the rules of the House. Each time when, because of the noise going on, I have not made my point clear to those hon. Members who wish to listen to what I have to say, and because I have been interrupted, I shall repeat it; and the quieter the House is the quicker my speech will be finished.

We have had a Budget that has attacked both the kitchen and the crêche and we have had comparisons of dividends with wages. The difference between dividends and wages can be illustrated in a sentence. If I earn £20 a week cutting coal at the coal face and risking life and limb, or I earn £20 a week from dividends, I know that there is no comparison between those two methods of earning £20. Therefore, when we are discussing the movement of dividends and wages—and I am quite prepared to admit that 90 per cent. of hon. Members opposite agree with me on this—we must not compare the two as though they both necessitated the same risk to life and limb or the same effort.

Early in the debate we were asked by an hon. Lady, to whom I always listen with pleasure, to make some concrete suggestions. Both sides of the House seem to be afraid of discussing the real issue. People are still asking a lot of elementary and silly questions. The real truth about our prosperity is hidden by the fact that we are pushing the debts of the present on to the as yet unborn. We have evolved a very wonderful system which enables civilisation to progress, but there is a limit to what the present generation can push on to future generations.

We are doing this in respect of war and in the preparation for war. If we in this House had had the courage to give a lead, we could have found a new approach to National Service and we could probably have saved £100 million, together with many of our overseas commitments; and, maybe, have introduced physical controls.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury said that he refused to look at physical controls as a means of restoring prosperity to this country. In other words, he was admitting his infantile outlook. I can get as much metal as I like with which to build a dance hall, and if I can jump the market—and it is possible to do that—I can build a dance hall or a night club. But if I want to build a small engineering shed or a flint-grinding mill in North Staffordshire, I get no more help to obtain the raw materials which I need than does a person building a pub or a dance hall. Help could be given to that type of person without the introduction of too much in the way of physical controls.

I accused the Chancellor of speaking too quickly during the Paris talks. The Conservative Government are a little too inclined to gab. At one moment they say that we are in the uplands of prosperity, and the next moment that we are facing an economic crisis. I am not sure of the date, although I am sure about the figures because I checked them in the Library before speaking in this debate, but in the discussion in Paris on the future of the European Payments Union, the British delegation put forward the proposition that the convertibility of sterling might be allowed to fluctuate within as wide a margin as 2·78 or 2·82 dollars to the £.

That was just after the return to office of the present Government. Although we had had an April Budget and had been told that we were in the uplands of prosperity, we were by June and July already talking about the cold winds that were blowing around this island and people were already thinking that if we returned to convertibility we should return at the lower rate. If that is too difficult for hon. Members opposite to follow, they can look up the facts published by the Economist. That statement showed that there was a tendency towards a flight from sterling. I think that the sterling crisis was caused by what occurred at the Paris conference as much as anything; and the Chancellor had to rectify the situation at Istanbul, when he did give a definite statement to the world.

One other point, and then I have made the points I wanted to make—[Interruption.] I challenge some hon. Members opposite who are in such a hurry to get home to come to one of my public meetings in North Staffordshire, where the pottery industry has to earn its bread and butter and help to keep the value of the £ stable. I sincerely believe that with the Geneva spirit that is now in existence one other thing could be done; we could save £20 million worth of dollars a year by developing a new source from which to get feeding stuffs for agriculture. The small farmer is experiencing the squeeze under this Budget. The British farmer has been sacrificed to the City of London and to the moneylenders. He is paying high prices for feeding stuffs. I have just returned from China, and I know that we could get cheap soya beans and animal feedings stuffs. It would not solve the problem—[Interruption.] Hon. Members do not perturb me.

I know we could save £20 million a year in dollars if we had an intelligent East-West trade policy. I would ask the Government, if they are prepared to follow the policy of "Trade, not aid" at the next meeting of the United Nations organisation, to do their best to rescind the embargo on East-West trade, and at last to open the channels of commerce in the hope that we could build a better economy both in the East and the West.

I beg the Chancellor, when we reach the Committee stage, whatever other people may say about giving way on this question of Purchase Tax on pottery, to realise that that industry really is an island of industry in a sea of agriculture—an industry ancient, honoured, and one in which we have great craftsmen. I sincerely hope, although the right hon. Gentleman may not be able to give us all that we want, that he will do his best to help this industry in North Staffordshire to maintain its dollar trade.