Industrial and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th February 1974.

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Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East 12:00 am, 6th February 1974

The House has listened to an extraordinary but not untypical speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Right hon. and hon. Members may feel it appropriate that what may, according to the newspapers, be the last full debate in the present Parliament should be opened by the first grave digger of the present administration.

Let me start with something fairly un-controversial. I agree with a great deal that the Chancellor said at the beginning of his speech about the implications of the oil crisis for the behaviour of the consumer countries. However, he made two points on which I must comment now. First, he said, rightly, that it would be very damaging to the nation's interests to allow sterling to fall any further. Secondly, he said that if we are not to cover the whole of our non-oil deficit this year—and I agree that it would be a mistake to seek to cover it all this year—we shall need a good deal of help and understanding from our friends abroad.

What my hon. Friends and many hon. Members opposite find it difficult to understand is that in a situation in which, for economic reasons, we are likely to depend so much on financial and economic assistance from our foreign friends the Government should have gone out of their way to antagonise all those to whom we should first turn for help. Our relations with the United States have not been so bad at any time since Suez, and more evidence of their deterioration appear every day. Our relations with all the Western European countries except France are almost equally cold. Indeed, the only friends the Government seem to have in the world at present are to be found in the Middle East countries. Some of us find it surprising, if not shocking, that a Prime Minister who first made his name as Chief Whip of a Conservative Government drumming up support for the Suez operation should end his political career begging the Arabs for baksheesh.