Gold and Dollar Reserves

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th March 1961.

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Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham 12:00 am, 15th March 1961

That would be a matter of assessment by foreign observers, but if, for instance, our total holdings of dollar bonds amounted, on current valuation, to 5,000 million dollars or more, even discounting some of that and even assuming that the outside world said that we could not realise all of it if we wanted to, it would represent an addition of a very substantial sum to our reserves, probably, even with a discount, greatly exceeding the total amount of our present gold and dollar holdings.

In other words, we are concealing the greater part of our reserves. We desperately need the confidence of the world, and we are in fact behaving in a way which is less likely to attract it, with really painful results, because, in our situation, it is vital that we should command world confidence for our currency. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will realise that this is a vital matter to a great trading nation like ours. We must preserve in the world a feeling of confidence in the stability of our currency.

Recently, we had rumours of devaluation after the revaluation of the Deutsch-mark, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer made earnest denials of any such intention on the part of the Government. I hope that he means it. There is no reason at all why we should devalue the £. If we had a better Government, there would be even less reason, but in fairness to this Government, I must say that there is not the slightest reason to devalue the £. The £ is not an overvalued currency. The trouble is that these denials, quite understandably, are taken by the outside world to be a mere matter of form.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, of course, is almost bound to deny any pending devaluation until it actually occurs. What the world is watching is not words and assurances from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which count for nothing, but for facts. I mean no reflection whatever on the right hon. and learned Gentlemen. It is simply that the most honourable Chancellor is obliged to deny a devaluation even if he thinks it is coming, in the vain hope that he will be able to stave it off or prevent its premature disclosure. No Chancellor is bound to be absolutely candid with the world on these matters, and that is generally understood. I think it was Dr. Johnson who said that a man is not upon his oath when composing lapidary inscriptions, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is never upon oath when stating the Government's intentions with regard to devaluation or revaluation of the currency.

On the other hand, if assurances will not defend the £, actions will, and one action which could be taken, which is relatively simple to take, is to see that our reserves are properly proclaimed to the world so that the congealed industry and sacrifice of the people of this country—that is really what the investments are—are plainly shown in the balance sheet which we present of our foreign currency resources.

Exports of capital from this country since the war took place at no small sacrifice. In my view, they have taken place on too large a scale for health. They have played a very great part in compelling Governments, just as soon as industry has started to get into its stride, to take deflationary measures. We have been over-exporting capital and, as a result, so soon as industry gets under way, we find that we have a balance of payments crisis.