HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc1983-5

If you add those services you will find that the disparity between us and our very nearest rival is very great, and that shows the extent to which we depended on our international trade. It amounts to £45 per household of the United Kingdom. Realise how important the international trade, the trade across the seas was to the United Kingdom. We cannot prosper, we cannot even exist without recovering that trade and without maintaining it, I go beyond that, and I say without increasing it. How do we stand? Before the War our imports exceeded our exports by £150,000,000. In January last our exports were £47,000,000, and this last July our exports were £65,000,000, but our imports less re-exports in July were £141,000,000. If that were the rate that we maintained, instead of an adverse balance of £150,000,000 we should have an adverse-balance of very nearly £1,000,000,000. But take the average throughout the year—there were reasons why the exports for July should be down; I am sorry to say there were labour troubles—the adverse balance will be between £700,000,000 and £800,000,000. Our adverse balance before the War was £150,000,000; our adverse balance at the present rate—and I must get this fact home to the mind of everybody in the United Kingdom, because unless it is brought home there is no salvation for this country—is nearly £800,000,000.

How did we reach £150,000,000 before the War? We had advanced £4,000,600,000 to the world, and we were getting an interest of something like £200,000,000 per annum. Then our shipping trade, our insurance, commissions and other services came to another £150,000,000, and so we got invisible exports amounting to £350,000,000. Therefore we had a balance on that account of £200,000,000 in our favour. On mere buying and selling there was an adverse balance of £150,000,000, but on the whole balance of trade, our finance and shipping business, we made a profit of £200,000,000 a year. We had a balance of £200,000,000 a year in our trading with the world.

What happened to that? We reinvested it almost every year, and the result was that the indebtedness of the world to us was increasing rapidly every year, more especially during the last seven or eight years before the War. What has happened since the War? We have sold £1,000,000,000 of our foreign securities, in payment for war material for ourselves and our Allies. We have borrowed pro- bably another £1,200,000,000 from America more particularly, and Canada, for the same purpose. It is perfectly true that the Allies owe us a sum that I cannot recall for the moment, but a very considerable figure. I think, in round figures, it amounts to £1,800,000,000. That includes Russia. We are debtors to the West, we are creditors to the East. The rising sun is our debtor and the sunset is our creditor, and as Russia is included in the first, I am afraid the stocks of the dawn are not particularly good security at the present moment.


Change your policy!


No policy would make that a very good security. Let the House take the summary. As far as receipts are concerned, from our foreign investments we are down £100,000,000. We have got to pay an adverse balance on trade of £800,000,000. We must bridge that chasm, for at the bottom of it is ruin. We are building the temporary bridge now by borrowing, not State borrowing but by traders borrowing,—by running into debt for raw materials and for food. That will only add to the catastrophe by your advancing further on the bridge, which is a shaky one, and advancing with increasing weight along it. That is the position with regard to international trade.