Orders of the Day — Cost of Living

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th January 1966.

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Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford 12:00 am, 27th January 1966

If the hon. Gentleman was not here to hear them, I was.

I can add that the only figure needed in this debate is perfectly simple. It is that in the first year of the Labour Government the cost of living rose by 5 per cent., the highest rate of increase in the cost of living for the last 10 years. That is the relevant figure and the only figure we need to know to asess the performance of the present Government.

It is not only every reputable journalist who has forecast a further rise in prices and a further rise in the cost of living. It is also true that every reputable economist in the country has forecast that there will be a further upward swing in prices in the first months of this year, and the evidence is there. Commodities have consistently gone up in prices; commodities from pork pies to coal, rates, fares, fuel bills, petrol—the list is very long and dismal.

Against the background of this situation, the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) said that it was dangerous nonsense to talk about an inflationary situation. The dangerous part of the situation today is the extraordinary complacency which is shown by that remark of the Government spokesman today, an extraordinary complacency indeed when all over the country, hardship is being suffered because of the rises in prices, particularly by pensioners and those living on small incomes.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say that this was not a Labour Party problem. But, of course, it is a Labour Party problem. It is a problem created by the present Government, who, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has pointed out, have succeeded in combining for the first time stagnation and inflation. The only sense in which it can be said not to be a Labour Party problem is that it is quite clear that it has no idea of how it is to be solved.

The rise in prices and the rise in the cost of living are not matters of opinion, but of fact. Our duty is not to make the facts known—every housewife in the country knows the facts—but to make the causes known. The rise in prices can be attributed to any of a number of causes, but that which surely stands out is the failure of the Government's incomes policy. There are other contributory causes—we have had no industrial expansion and externally we have been loaded with £1,000 million of debt—but it is the failure of the Government's incomes policy which is primarily responsible for our present situation.

Before I pursue this line of criticism, I should like to take up one comment of the hon. Member for Greenwich. It is illustrative of the growing tendency of the Government to treat any criticism of their economic policy as being in some way unpatriotic. This was the line taken by the First Secretary who, when he was speaking at the Hull by-election, referred to us as saboteurs. This afternoon the hon. Member for Greenwich again spoke of the "sobatage" of Government's economic policy. They are confused about their constitutional position. The first Secretary is not a member of the Royal Family. He and his colleagues are temporary trustees—and I stress "temporary" and after midnight tonight it will be even more so—of the economic future of the nation. It is our duty, which we shall discharge undeterred by these accusations of being unpatriotic, to criticise sharply and constructively the discharge or non-discharge of that trusteeship.

The measures or non-measures which the Government have taken to remedy the economic crisis into which they so foolishly and unnecessarily plunged the country when they came into office 18 months ago—[Interruption.] Oh, yes they did. The Government undermined our credit abroad by exaggerating our difficulties at home; and credit is like a woman's reputation—as soon as it is suspected, it is gone. The Government succeeded in making the credit of Britain suspect in every financial capital in the world. That is the root of our present difficulties, not the 13 previous years of Tory expansion and good government.