Economic Situation

Part of Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th November 1961.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West 12:00 am, 7th November 1961

What? I cannot hear.

Next, the heading is, "Possibilities of Government action." The Pressmen have sharpened their pencils and are all agog waiting for it. He said: You may say, we know all this, we've heard it all before. What we want to know is, what are the Government going to do about it. That is a fair question, although before answering it we must be clear as to what matters are suitable for Government action. In the international field, it is a proper Government responsibility to take action … I do not believe in a complicated system of physical controls. I prefer monetary measures, i.e. restriction on credit and fiscal measures through the Budget, which hold back consumption. In the last Budget my predecessor did some things to restrict consumption, and during his last six months as Chancellor did quite a lot to restrict credit. On the whole these measures have fulfilled their purposes and slowed up the pressure of demand at home. I will relax these measures as and when I can in the interests of the economy as a whole. That is one statement of policy which most people will not think very profound or find particularly illuminating, but the Prime Minister made another statement. I cannot remember his exact words. They were said in Oldham in 1959, and to paraphrase and colloquialise them he said, roughly, "You can't shove 40 million nicker down the drain without doing some good for somebody." This was a slightly inaccurate figure, but one expects that. What has it done, anyhow?

Then we got the present —I hardly know what he is at the moment —Colonial Secretary; he was the President of the Board of Trade a week or so ago —making a statement about Ford's. In point of fact, the debate took place the previous November. The present Colonial Secretary said that it is a jolly good thing to sell out to America. There are great advantages in this.

If this is so, what on earth is the point of trying to balance the payments at all? Up to now we have always been told that foreign investments provided the basic balancing repayment which goes far to cover the gap, that it was the destruction of foreign investments in the First World War which led to the initiation of this series of crises —if they are a series of crises.

It is at this stage that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) pops up in debate on the Common Market —I quote him from memory; I have HANSARD here, but I do not think he would suspect me of misinterpretation —and says, "We have a ' stop and go' system. We stop when we are reaching an inflationary situation and we go when we are reaching a high degree of unemployment." Then he added the words, "Carefully timed electorally." Well, I was a little surprised that the Chancellor did not reply to that one. The noble Lord always speaks with integrity and with clarity, and this was as grave an allegation, after all, as could be levelled against anybody. The suggestion behind it is explicit, that measures are taken, and it is very convenient to have an economic crisis half-way through one's period of office.

Indeed, the Chancellor today in one of the most amazing of his observations, and he has made some amazing ones, described the position like this. He said, "We are getting on like wildfire now. We have reduced the Bank Rate from 7 to 6 per cent." One would have thought that some criminal from beyond our borders had put it up to 7!"We are making progress; we are getting back to where we were before I started." It is surely a rather astonishing state of affairs.

The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who told us that we were going to double the standard of living in twenty-five years, and has never told us how, is absent from this debate, but, of course, we are going to restrict consumption to expand the standard of living!

Then, of course, the Chancellor has got this one. I had forgotten this one. This is the best of all —he says, "So you see, we budget for a surplus. We always budget for a large surplus to reduce the purchasing capacity." Where has the money gone to, because the argument seems to be that all that money is in our pockets somewhere?

An hon. Member opposite was saying that £15,000 million was missing in the National Debt. He could not find it, he was saying only an hour or two ago. It reminds one of Francois Villon's "Snows of Autumn"—" Ou sont les neiges d'Antan?" What has happened to the surplus? Because the National Debt has gone up every year. Every time we have a surplus in our pockets we owe more money!

Then the Minister says that having sold Ford's of Dagenham we will join United Europe with Ford's of Detroit having 99 per cent. of the German Ford's so that there can be all sorts of jiggery-pokery and organised local competition, and so on. The Minister said that it was a jolly good thing, and then we find that it leads, as it inevitably must, to an entry in the balance of payments, and the current month's deficit is reduced by that amount. That is what happened to the £100 million and more which came from Detroit for taking over the Ford interests at Dagenham. It now means, of course, that the invisible exports are going the wrong way. A lot of things are going the wrong way.

Finally, there seems to be a complete lack of efficient control. We have every Minister with his own ideas and recently every Minister has his own alias and alibi and they sleep two in a cell instead of three, and each answers for the other and vice versa, but there is nobody nowadays who is responsible for anything.

I was told a story the other day, though I am not sure that I believe it. An industrialist said, "I have constantly to ring up Government headquarters"— he was in the advertising business —"and wherever they are, Chequers, or Drumnadrochit or Inverlochy, wherever the Government happen to be at the moment I have to ring them up. On this occasion instead of the normal, civilised, urbane and perhaps rather snooty voice the answer was a cheerful ' Mac, Mac and Mac speaking.' What was I to do? You have to play up on these occasions so I said, ' I want to speak to Mac' and I was told ' He is out to lunch '. I said 'What, at eleven o'clock?' and I was told ' Yes, but he is in South Dakota. President Kennedy sent for him on something urgent'.

Then I asked to speak to Mac Minor —the Foreign Secretary. The reply was, ' He is on the telephone'. I asked, ' Will he be long?' The voice replied, ' He may be. He is talking to General de Gaulle. He has not said a word yet, but he has been on a long time. He is getting Home sweet Home.' I then asked, ' What about Mac Minimus — the Chancellor?' The voice replied, ' He is up in the attic with a wet towel round his head playing with his regulators.' I asked, ' What's wrong with those? ' and I was told, 'Some will not regulate and some are not regular'."

My friend was a bit worried and he said, "Who can I speak to then?" The voice replied, "What about me?" "Who are you?" Well, I am the butler here. I do pretty well everything. I clean the carpets. I put reports in pigeon holes and pick up all the bricks Master Marples drops. Only a fortnight ago he made the Atlantic into a one-way street." My friend said, "I frankly did not believe this. I felt like the man in Edgar Allen Poe: 'Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream beforeBut the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,And the only word there spoken …' And then, my friend said, there was a word. Someone in the distance had left the television set on and the programme had changed and from the set there came a beautiful, pellucid voice like an archangel, somewhere between Enrico Caruso and Adam Faith, talking with all the dignity of a life peeress and all the authority of a retired Chief Whip and saying, repetitively, "Rab washes whiter, Rab washes whiter." I replied, "I know that is true anyhow because Mrs. Jones of Oswaldthwistle says so."