HC Deb 01 May 1922 vol 153 cc1025-6

I take external debt first. A year ago it stood at£1,161,563,000; in March, 1922, the figure was£1,090,184,000, a reduction of£71,379,000. All these figures are at par of exchange. This sum may be regarded as now being represented by an equivalent sum of internal debt. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, in making the Budget speech last year, the transformation of external debt into internal debt is a definite gain to the national wealth. We then pay our interest not to people outside the country but to ourselves, and in this connection it is gratifying to be able to record that in the three years since 31st March, 1919, we have reduced external debt by no less than£274,666,000. Apart from a few small market debts in the United States, our external obligations consist only of our debts to the United States Government and the Canadian Government and to certain Allies who owe us much more than we owe them. The above figures, however, do not include interest temporarily in suspense on debt due to the United States. There is one matter to which I should like very briefly to draw the attention of the Committee. The improvement in the value of the£1 sterling on the exchange markets of the world is one of the first fruits of our redemption of external debt. How great a boon this is, to the taxpayer and the trader of this country, may be illustrated by the two following sets of figures:

Our total debt to the United States of America is 4,166,000,000 dollars, which, valued at 3 dollars 20 cents to the£1— the figure to which the exchange fell two years ago—is equivalent to£1,301,875,000. At an exchange of 4 dollars 40 cents to the£1—it is rather better than that to-day—the sterling equivalent is about£946,820,000, representing a saving of£355,000,000 odd. When the exchange is restored to par, as I hope it will be before very long, the sterling equivalent will be£856,030,000. So much for the taxpayer. The trader and the consumer also benefit. Our direct exports to the United States of America are comparatively small in proportion to our imports of raw material and food from that country. The dollar value of our purchases of foodstuffs and cotton alone from the United States during 1921 was approximately 461,000,000 dollars, representing at 3 dollars 20 cents to the£1 a sum of£144,000,000, and at 4 dollars 40 cents to the£1 the figure is reduced to£104,700,000, showing a difference of nearly£40,000,000 sterling. This question of the exchange and its effect upon the fortunes of the country is a very interesting one, but it is not a matter which can be dealt with in a Budget speech. I think that the figures which I have given are sufficiently striking.