Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th October 1976.

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Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall 12:00 am, 11th October 1976

This has been called a crisis debate and an emergency debate, but I think that the word "crisis" is probably being wrongly used. I part company from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) when he says that perhaps this crisis is in some way different in kind. I suppose that every crisis is different in kind, but I do not accept the view of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that we are at the end of the road.

Anyone who has been in public life over the past 10 or 20 years and who has had any contact with the economy must have felt that we were near the end of the road on numerous occasions. Certainly I felt that in 1974. I thought then that we could not continue with the rate of inflation that then prevailed. I thought that people must begin to realise that and that the tide would have to turn.

A crisis is that stage in an illness when matters either get better or get worse. There is an element of uncertainty about which course the disease will take. However, there is no element of uncertainty about the course which the British economic sickness will take. It will get worse. Nothing has been said in this debate that leaves me with any confidence that the course of our decline will in any way be altered.

I know that that sounds like gloom, doom and despondency, something of which I was accused at my party conference. I was accused of causing a decline in the Liberal vote between the two elections of 1974. The fact remains that there is no reason to suppose that the British economy will improve.

In a pamphlet that I produced in 1974, I started with a quotation from the café wits in Vienna before the First World War—namely: The situation is hopeless but not serious. That seems to be something of the mood of Britain today. I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) carried that historical parallel further in an article in the Observer of three weeks ago. When dealing with Britain's situation he wrote: It is perhaps that of Vienna in about 1910. Austria is no longer a great power. Demands for internal self-government have gone too far for federal solutions. Her economy and industries are decaying. She is overburdened with a grimy mass of unproductive civil servants. She is threatened from without by the barbarism of Russia. She is pleasant, she supports art and music. She has a pathetic, well-intentioned hopeless Government. Surely that is an exact description of Britain today. I should not wish to change one word of it.

I want to take a broad view of our problem, as I believe it is essential to do so if we are to arrive at a correct analysis. Outside the Chamber people are expecting hon. Members of all parties to speak for the national interest. My hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party called for that in a noted speech over the weekend. I am sure that that is what all of us would wish to do today, but it is impossible that it will be done. That is because this place is no longer constituted in a fashion to do so.

If I were a Conservative Member, I should now make a speech to show that this is a crisis of short-term causes, all of which I could happily blame on the present Government, especially the present Chancellor. Indeed, that was the speech that we had from the Conservative Front Bench. If I were a Labour Member, I should try to show that things are nothing like as bad as they really are and that the Government's measures are in fact working. Indeed, the Chancellor went out of his way to do that today. However, neither of those points of view would be in accordance with reality. What in reality is in the national interest?