§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
Last year when I opened my Budget I told the Committee that I felt justified in taking a reasonably optimistic view of the progress of trade, and at a later stage I added an expression of my view that the reduction of 6d. in the standard rate of Income Tax would probably prove a useful stimulus. Those anticipations have been amply fulfilled. The year that has just closed has been characterised by a substantial advance towards recovery. Our industrial activity has increased by about 12 per cent. Our manufacturing production has established a new record, and our exports were up last year by £30,000,000. Interest rates remained low, and there was a great increase in the volume of capital works and particularly of new buildings. If I may take as an example one or two industries, we find that last January the number of motor vehicles registered was 30 per cent. greater than it was the year before. The output of steel last year increased by 30 per cent. and of pig iron by 50 per cent. The rayon industry also established a new record for output. In fact, I have only been able to find one direction in which a new low record was established, and that was in the time lost in trade disputes, which is lower than has ever been recorded before. Perhaps that was not altogether unconnected with the fact that the cost of living remained throughout the year substantially below the level which existed when the Government first took office.
Then, again, retail trade has continued to expand. In February it was nearly 5 per cent. greater than it was the year before, showing that the improvement had reached right down to the purchasing power of the people. Side by side with this general increase in expenditure there was no diminution in the thrift of the people. Deposits with the Post Office 1618 Savings Bank and the Trustee Savings Banks and the net sales of Savings Certificates by nearly £50,000,000 last year. As an indication of the improvement in the ordinary household budget, the Committee may be interested to know that from figures derived from the returns of Customs and Excise, I calculate that last year the people of this country sweetened their lives with 80,000 tons of sugar more than in the previous year. They smoked 6,500,000 lbs. more tobacco, equivalent, I am told, to the consumption of 2,600,000,000 cigarettes. They spent £2,750,000 more on entertainments; they washed away their troubles with 270,000,000 more pints of beer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and with 700,000,000 more cups of that beverage which cheers but not inebriates they "welcomed peaceful evening in."
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not need to be reminded that our recovery is far from being complete and that we require constant effort even to maintain what we have already achieved; but, in making a review of the financial condition of the country, there can, I think, be no question that improvement has been steadily progressive and has now become substantial. It is not without significance that this forward movement has followed upon a succession of balanced Budgets. When we look round at the other great countries of the world, we see a strange variety of forms of government, of economic systems, and of plans for recovery. Everywhere statesmen and peoples are striving to bring back prosperity by such means as seem to them appropriate to their own conditions. I am certainly not here to claim that our methods are better than theirs, but, in view of our incorrigible habit of self-depreciation, it does not seem unpardonable to point out that nowhere else can you find a parallel to the results which have been achieved here.