General

Part of Orders of the Day — Budget Proposals – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th April 1956.

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Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde 12:00 am, 17th April 1956

I knew I should have the full support of the hon. Lady.

The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) took us into the Cornish tin mines. It is indeed difficult to get back to the subject of the Budget after having been taken to the Cornish tin mines and to the Olympic Games. The hon. Member for Bodmin said there was a theme running through all the Chancellor's pronouncements at various times. That seems very difficult to find, because the Chancellor puts things in so many words. I am sure there was never an occasion when so many words were used to say so little. We heard him speak for about 110 minutes today in order to tell us that there was to be a new edition of National Savings and that we were to have a State lottery. There was little else in what the Chancellor said to us.

The Chancellor did not, during his long speech, go into the history of the economic position, and I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right when he said he could understand why the Chancellor had not dealt with the economic position of 1955. After all, the Chancellor himself said that 1955 should have been a good year. Later he said, "Everything seemed in our favour." I suppose that everything was in our favour, except for the fact that we had a Conservative Government.

The Government's record is condemned in the very first sentence of the Economic Survey: In 1955 world economic conditions were highly favourable. The Economic Survey goes on: Output was growing rapidly in all the major manufacturing countries, and trade between them was increasing at an exceptional rate. Later on the same page, the Economic Survey explains how well the countries of Western Europe have done, whereby industrial output has risen by about 11 per cent. above the 1954 level. In Germany the rise was 16 per cent. and in no country was it less than 7 per cent. Later it explains how well the Americans have done, increasing their output by 11 per cent.

It is not until we reach page 7 that we find how Britain has done, and we find that home output is up by 3½ per cent. If we look at what happened to the reserves and to imports and exports, to production, to the effort to keep down the cost of living and to capital investment, the Government are to be condemned on all sides. They would have taken the credit if the country had been leading in such matters. Since we are at the bottom of the league in most of them, the Government must take their share of the blame.

Our reserves are at about the same level as they were in 1945. This Government came into office in 1951 to save the country when reserves were running out; but reserves are far lower today than they were when the Government came in in 1951. We have to measure the Government's success against these factors, and we must measure the Budget against the effect it will have upon them.

Imports have increased considerably during the past year, because the Government are not prepared to take action in order to restrain imports. They say, "We will not introduce import control because that will mean rationing". It is strange that it has not meant rationing in Australia, where the Government have imposed import control, and it is strange that it has not meant rationing in this country, despite the fact that 50 per cent. of our dollar imports are already under control. We are importing into the country things which are not necessary. Freedom is all very well when the country is not in difficulties, but in an economic crisis we cannot afford to have imports which are not essential for the country.

Consider the industry of my constituency—cotton. The Government are not prepared to do anything about the enormous increase in the imports of grey cloth from India and Hong Kong. Because, by an accident of history, as the President of the Board of Trade said, when the Ottawa Agreements were made there were no exports of cloth from either India or Hong Kong, the Government are not prepared to do anything whatever. Nor are they prepared to do anything about the increase in the import of yarn. Consequently, the cotton industry finds itself in great difficulty.

I am not one who says that the Government should make the position such that the home cotton industry can have a clear field in the home market—it must fight for the export markets like anyone else; but the Government are making it easy for India and Hong Hong by saving, in effect, "Come along here. There is no tariff. This is the easiest market in the world for you to get into."

In exports also we have failed badly. We are at the bottom of the list of nations who have increased their exports. Practically every other major country has done better than we have. The same is true of production. Under the Labour Government, we were leading in building up our gold and dollar reserves and our production and in increasing our exports. Today, the exact reverse is the case, and we have one of the worst records for our increases in exports and in production and in the matter of our gold and dollar reserves.

The Government were brought in to solve the question of the cost of living. Is there anything in the Budget that will help to bring down the cost of living?