Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th March 1977.

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Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall 12:00 am, 30th March 1977

The hon. Member must await the rest of my speech, and he may even have to wait until Monday night. But I am not likely to go back to the familiar words that the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East read out from the Front Bench this afternoon. It is easy for Conservatives to make capital out of the past failures of the Chancellor. There is no easier game on earth than that. But they only do so by relying on the short public memory of Conservative errors. The present leadership does not want to be judged by the mistakes of Lord Barber. I understand that. For all his manifold sins and weaknesses, no one could say that the present Chancellor is worse than Lord Barber.

I shall try not to judge either the Conservative or Labour Party by the past, because I would not want anyone to judge the Liberal Party by what the Liberal leadership did to Ramsay MacDonald when it sided with Montague Norman and the Conservatives against the advice of Lord Keynes. It is futile to look back in that way. But both the Chief Secretary and the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East opened their speeches by looking back at the past and I, too, shall give the Liberal view of the past.

I begin with a statement made on television by the Chancellor on 26th March 1974, when he said: The way I look at it is this: within a few years' time oil will start flowing in from around our shores, and a lot of our problems will be that much easier. So the job is to get from here to there without either our economy or our society breaking down. The folly in that statement and strategy, if it was a strategy, was that it grotesquely underestimated the appallingly low state of the British economy. It was the weakest economy in the Western world in terms of equipment for dealing with the 1973 oil crisis.

I prefer the words of Dr. Edmund Stillman, of the Hudson Institute, who said: North Sea oil is one of a series of evasions of reality which Britain has developed to avoid confronting harsh economic competition. The Chancellor's speech yesterday was very different. He said: Our aim must be to earn a balance of payments surplus in conditions of full employment.The growing output of North Sea oil will not be sufficient to achieve this. He went on: In sum, North Sea oil will not itself create a large number of new jobs, nor will it make possible a rapid return to full employment."—[Official Report. 29th March 1977; Vol. 929, c. 262–3.] That is the reality and it is a pity that the Chancellor did not recognise it and did not realise the full extent of the British economy's weaknesses when he took office. I do not deny for one moment—and I do not think that anyone can deny—that the Chancellor's inheritance in 1974 was a bad one.

The added value, the wealth created per employee in British manufacturing industry was, is, and has been for a long time appallingly low by international standards. The wealth created per employee in manufacturing industry was £2,615 in 1973 and 66 per cent. of that went in wages and salaries. In a sample of 416 Japanese manufacturing companies for the year ending 30th September 1974 the added value per employee was £8,083, of which 42·3 per cent. went in wages and salaries. One must note that in spite of the extraordinary differences in percentages between us and the Japanese because of the very much higher added value in Japanese manufacturing industry, the actual amount paid out in wages and salaries per employee was £1,726 in this country and £3,420 in Japan.