HC Deb 25 April 1944 vol 399 cc665-6

Now this fact must be taken in conjunction with the other fact I have just emphasised, that we were already living up to our international income when we entered the present war. We cannot afford this time to accept a further loss of export trade, and continue to import as much as before. On the contmary, if we are to avoid a drastic curtailment in our volume of imports, such as might threaten our standard of life and gravely prejudice our prospects of active employment, it will be indispensable for us to increase our exports, and recapture some of the trade which we lost in the inter-war years. That will be a matter of life and death to us, for it is impossible for any country to live indefinitely beyond its international income.

Let me make one point plain at this stage. The Government cannot make an export trade. That depends on the manufacturers, merchants and workpeople of this country. What the Government can do is to try to make conditions in which export trade can flourish, both by their foreign policy of co-operation in the international field, by an appropriate internal policy in managing and disposing of physical resources, material and labour, and by their financial policy.

In that connection let me say a word on another aspect of our external financial problem. It is vital to maintain confidence in the value of sterling. I spoke a moment ago of the debts we are incurring to many other countries in order to finance our war purchases. A large part of that debt takes the form of what are called "sterling balances," which are very much like deposit accounts which other countries are content to hold in London. It is a very convenient form of war-time borrowing, and it has been rendered possible by the confidence which sterling enjoys as a reliable international currency. It would add greatly to oar difficulties if anything were to happen to disturb that confidence and cause countries to prefer some other asset to a sterling balance. In practice, I have no doubt that confidence in sterling will be maintained as a consequence both of our performance in the war and of the steadiness of our policy both to-day and in the post-war years.

Mr. MacLaren (Burslem): That is confidence in the people.