HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc1988-9

The fact that the imports at the present moment are almost exclusively food and raw materials makes it more serious. Under the Order that is still in force most manufactured goods are excluded until the 1st September, so that the adverse balance is upon the actual essentials of existence and of business in this country. That must be redressed if we are to keep our place as a great and prosperous community The only remedy is to ensure that there is an increased quantity of goods available for export at a price that will enable us to increase our international trade and pay by export instead of running into debt. The cardinal feature of the momnt—I am sorry to have to use these phrases, but they are calculated and they have to be considered—is that we are not paying our way. That is the most serious statement that you can make to a business man. It is the most serious statement that you can make to a country. We shall never pay our way until we increase production in this country. If we do not do that now, we shall be driven by the stern scourge of events later on either to increase protion, or to reduce the standard of living in this country to a lower level than ever. I can see no other alternative except quitting the country, for which the people have fought so grandly during four years.

Let me examine the reasons for diminished production, because unless you get at the cause of the diminished production you cannot find the remedy. The first one I am glad to say is vanishing, or almost vanishing. It is the change from war to peace conditions. The machinery is being adapted for that purpose, and I do not think at the moment that is a cause which is responsible for even a perceptible percentage of the underproduction. Another is the renewal, the repair and the cleaning of machinery. All these machines have been run during the War to the utmost limit. There was no time for renewing, there was hardly time for repairing, and there was quite inadequate time for cleaning. That is a process which has been going on for the last three months, but it has slowed down very considerably owing to the lack of labour.

Let us take a third cause. Let us talk quite frankly about it. If the House will not mind, we must talk frankly without seeking offence. When a country comes to this condition we must talk frankly to each other.