Public Expenditure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th January 1974.

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Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire 12:00 am, 29th January 1974

It is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) except to comment a little on his view of the oil situation. I do not think that the real impact of this in terms of import costs has been brought home to the people. My calculations are that the import cost of oil in the next few years will account for 25 per cent. of our total import Bill. In terms of goods and services we shall have to export about three times that amount to pay for the same quantity of oil we were importing in 1972. Every aspect of that is inflationary.

This is an important part of demand management in terms of the demand-pull type of inflation. To the best of my knowledge the Government have made no pronouncement upon this. They are scurrying hither and thither trying to patch up barter deals with the Shah of Iran and others in the Middle East. The fact that we have avoided petrol rationing is not something for which the Government can take a great deal of credit. It is due to fortuitous circumstances arising from the split among the OPEC countries.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) that there is just as much chance in the long term, not in three or four years, that the oil crisis will recede because the OPEC countries might see the difficulties, in international monetary terms, arising from their inability to make fruitful investments with the funds flowing to them. But that is a long-term matter.

I intend to draw attention to the division between the parties. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) in his place because he pays great attention to public expenditure matters. He asked a Question which was answered on 21st January about the proportion of public expenditure in relation to the gross domestic product. The reply gave the impression that public expenditure accounted for almost £1 in two of the gross domestic product. But that is a fallacious assumption because in the year concerned large transfer payments in social security were involved. I was happy to hear the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) say that such transfer payments should be excluded from public expenditure. If they are excluded, I admit that public expenditure is still substantial.

In 1972, public expenditure as defined by public authorities' current expenditure on goods, services and the public sector component of gross domestic capital formation accounted for £3 in every ten—substantial, but necessary.