Debate on the Address

Part of Sessional Orders – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd July 1970.

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Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham 12:00 am, 2nd July 1970

It is rather a long call, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the days when you were in command of a Polish fighter wing and I was at a bomber station at Bramcote and our service together in South-East Asia, to today, when I am able to congratulate you on being elected Deputy Speaker of this House, which I do with the greatest pleasure.

The General Election has to a great extent been an election between two personalities. One tried to present himself as the oracle, as someone who need not be questioned and who need not at any place or at any time put himself in a situation in which he could be questioned—a gentleman who showed himself rather like a peacock which he hoped everyone would applaud and return to favour. On the other hand, there was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who had to fight his way to the front, and did so, and who I believe became Prime Minister because he showed above all during the battle, as he will do as Prime Minister, that he is a man with humility, an essential in any man with great power. Perhaps that is what was lacking and has been shown to be most lacking in the previous Prime Minister before the election, during it, and today. The Prime Minister showed himself as a man of compassion and integrity, the greatest virtues which any Prime Minister can have. I believe that this Government will be an exceedingly good Government.

The Leader of the Opposition has led the country up the garden path about the balance of payments situation for some time, and even today he said that he had turned over to the present Government a situation in which sterling was on a sound basis, that it was accepted and respected throughout the world and that there was a current surplus of £500 million in 1969. He was careful to say that that situation was likely to continue for just a short period. A disclosure of the way in which the public were hoodwinked over a long period was given in the Labour Party manifesto which said that Labour inherited a deficit of £800 million— So in just five years, Labour has registered an improvement of more than £1,300 million. This is not so at all. Nothing of the sort has happened, and it is right that this should be exposed.

The then Prime Minister and his Government carefully selected two years. They selected 1964 when the deficit was not, as stated here, £800 million but £744 million, but, of that, £381 million was Government portfolio foreign investment. Since then there has been no Government portfolio foreign investment, so that only £363 million was current account deficit, and it was stated by my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had taken steps to rectify the situation. What has never been stated and never taken into account in the figures published by the Government is that in 1965 the deficit had fallen to £81 million and in 1966, the year of the election, there was a surplus of £40 million. So it was that the Labour Government when they went to the election said that there was no financial crisis and that they had weathered the storm. The real situation was disclosed in the following years.

In 1967 there was a deficit of £322 million and in 1968 a deficit of a further £309 million, and in November of that year the Government devalued the £ purely and simply to bring our prices into line with world prices and boost our exports. The 1969 surplus, which does not wipe out the deficits of the previous two years, is due in part to the engineering exports, orders to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, and which were taken soon after devaluation and which are now maturing. To say, as the Leader of the Opposition did, that the economy is above suspicion and that the situation has been rectified is the greatest possible nonsense.

My right hon. Friends have thanked the Leader of the Opposition for giving us the opportunity to go to the country in June instead of waiting another 18 months. Underlying our economic situation are possibilities that could bring about a similar position to that which existed at the time of devaluation in 1967. When my right hon. and hon. Friends have examined the books they may well find that it was because of the fear of a financial crisis developing in the autumn, when, because of inflation, it will be more difficult for us to compete in world markets, and because of the fear of drastic action having to be taken, that the then Prime Minister called the election in June.