HC Deb 12 February 1924 vol 169 cc760-3

One of the great factors in connection with this is the financial position of the country, and upon that we shall have to make a proposal a little later on. The position to-day is this: Owing partly to our National Debt, the cost of production is high. Owing to the unsettled state of Europe, international exchange is against honest countries that are paying their Debts and balancing their budgets. We are paying our Debt, and balancing our Budget. Therefore our industry is being somewhat hit by the fact that the currency in certain countries when spent on the markets of those countries is of relatively higher value than when it is sent abroad, and translated into sound currency. The Cabinet must consider the whole question of the National Debt. It has to consider how far certain forms of taxes enter directly into the cost of production, and hamper the trade of the country, how far certain other taxes are only taxes upon luxuries, and by their imposition do not in any way hamper the industrial development of Great Britain.

I think the best course is that a really authoritative Committee should he appointed. I know Committees sometimes appointed by hon. Members below the Gangway have been appointed for the purpose of shelving questions. But here, with a colossal Debt, with an enormous revenue to be raised under conditions that almost defy scientific accuracy in the distribution of its burden. this country is faced with a financial problem, a budgetary problem, that it has never had to face until the first financial results of the War began to be felt. [An HON. MEMBER: "A hundred years ago."] Conditions now are altogether different. If ever it was necessary to have a complete, an honest, an able, a scientific survey of our national finance. I think now is the time to have it. I believe it is possible to create such a Committee. I believe it to be possible to get men of business, men in the actual production side of business, the finance side of business—economists, men of experience, men whose work and whose judgment will be accepted by the whole intelligent business community. I believe an exploration by such a Committee would be one of the greatest benefits that could come, and one of the best. guarantees the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have. So much for normal, ordinary business itself. Everything we can do will be done to stimulate it. Then take relief works. They also have to he taken into account. All I would say with regard to this is that land drainage, which is very, very important at the present time, the development of light railways, a wise expenditure of the Road Fund, not in the interests of the unemployed only—we want to be perfectly right in regard to the Road Fund, which is not a fund from which unemployed work alone ought to he paid for —but a wise expenditure of the Road Fund which will help to relieve unemployment, and which, at the same lime, will substantially increase the efficiency and utility of our roads, will certainly be undertaken. The Unemployment Grants Committee will be encouraged to continue its work. If all that be successful, it will vastly increase the wealth of the country, more particularly the land, more particularly the power put into the hands of the owners of land to exact an enhanced rent out of the capital expenditure found by the nation at large. That will have to be considered. Some of that will have to come hack again into national resources.

With reference to what I have been saying, foreign policy, of course, occupies a very important position. The Government have decided to recognise Russia. In a few minutes I will explain what is going to follow, but I say here, in connection with trade, that., while I am sure there will be a considerable impetus to trade as soon as the recognition of Russia is made complete by certain agreements of an economic character, we must not be too impatient in reaping the harvest. But the great regret I have to express is that we have had to wait until February, 1924, to take the first step in a policy which is absolutely essential for the revival of our foreign trade. There is the specially difficult question of enabling women to benefit under the unemployment schemes, and in the efficient hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Miss Bondfield) I am sure that will not be allowed to suffer, because the whole House knows that she has very intimate knowledge of the subject' which has been put under her charge.


When are we going to have the detailed schemes for present unemployment, and adequate maintenance if out of work?


I am just coming to the Insurance Fund, but, as to the details, every Department concerned is working at the present moment full steam ahead to get the schemes produced, and, as I say, it is impossible to expect a Cabinet for the first time to go into Departments, take charge of the offices, and produce such schemes as those within three weeks. But what was necessary, and what, I think, we have done, is to take those schemes with a general conception of the nature of the problem, and of what has to he solved, and I am trying to indicate the lines upon which we are going in order to do that.