Economic Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1966.

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Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West 12:00 am, 26th July 1966

The House will not expect me to try to follow the arguments of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), particularly when some of his basic solutions are to put back prescription charges and to remove the cost of school meals from the Exchequer. If this is the type of solution which the Conservatives offer, it is not the solution which we on this side will propose. I listened with great interest to the Leader of the Opposition's analysis of the present crisis. When he came to his remedies—of which he had none—we saw that they were Tory packages rolled up again in "if's" and "but's". I am convinced that the House was not very interested in them.

We must look at the present position and we must break the boundaries within which we are now looking at this crisis. Within these boundaries, we are limited to the measures and the remedies which we can take. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) spoke about Britain's role in the world, particularly from the military point of view. This is certainly one sphere in which the present boundary must be broken, I hope by a Labour Government. The present position is absolutely ludicrous, for, on the one hand, we are not able to balance our payments, while on the other, we are trying to maintain a world role, with bases and forces east of Suez and in Western Germany. It is only a myth to suggest that Britain has such a world role to play or that, because of our present role, we are listened to in the councils of the world. While this is happening, the foreign bankers are dictating our domestic policy to us.

I say with sincerity to the Government that unless we are prepared to break these boundaries and initiate fresh thinking and policies, particularly in the military sphere, the present economic crisis will only lead to further crises. A change in our attitude is vital and our basic problem is, of course, the balance of payments. the gap between success and failure is very narrow.

However, anybody listening to some of the tales of woe, particularly those told by hon. Gentlemen opposite—about Britain not producing the necessary goods, not moving forward economically and not trying to meet its industrial problems—should recognise those statements for what they are. They are not true. Last year, we produced more in goods—I am not speaking about monetary totals—than we ever produced before. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor pointed out, productivity has risen by 31 per cent. in recent months, although this increase has been hidden or absorbed by external costs; overseas expenditure and higher prices of imports.

Britain is not in the doldrums. The balance of payments has hardened at about £350 million to £400 million in recent times and it appears that the foreign bankers are not prepared to underwrite that sum. It is about time that we in this country accepted the realities of the situation, got these people off our backs—particularly some hon. Gentlemen opposite, who speak in grandoise terms about Britain's world role—and stood on our own feet. We can do that only if we change our present policies.

I suggest to the Government that it is rather late to start blaming the seamen's strike for our present difficulties. Many of my hon. Friends and I counselled how the seamen's controversy could have been avoided at an early stage. We were told that, by some means, the strike would show the foreign bankers could have confidence in us and that we were standing up for the prices and incomes policy. It was inferred, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Cousins) resigned, that that, too, would result in confidence being shown in the Government because they were being firm about the prices and incomes policy.

In fact, the reverse has been the result. Recent policies in this matter have had an absolutely catastrophic effect and we have paid a dear price for the weeks of the seamen's strike, a strike which legitimately and honestly could have been settled very early on, in the interests of the seamen, for we might easily have granted their just demands at the time when they were made.

I wish to speak, as a trade unionist, about the important issue of productivity. A lot of nonsense is talked about the subject and it is said that there is a feeling abroad that increased productivity can be obtained only by manufacturing industry. This is not so. Increased productivity can be obtained in many ways, and even this place could do with a bit of examination from the productivity point of view.