HC Deb 31 October 1947 vol 443 cc1302-5

2.10 p.m.

Mr. Follick (Loughborough)

In the Debate on the Gracious Speech, I raised a question which I said might cause a lot of controversy, but I found that, far from causing controversy, I received encouragement from every side of the House on the very important point which I raised. It was the question of Imperial integration. I tried to show, in my speech at that time, how our population was far too great for these islands, and the density of population far greater than that of almost any other country in Europe. I said that our population was rising in these islands to 50 million. It was 46,200,000 in 1938, and it has been heavily increasing since then. We have also been drawing inhabitants into the country to help us out with our industries, and our intention at present seems to be that we have to bring these people into this country in order to help us to export our manufactures so as to import the food which we need. Yet these people whom we are now bringing in are eating a large part of the food that we are importing. In fact, the margin between the export of the manufactured goods and the imports of the food which these people consume is not going to leave us a very big benefit, and probably we shall find that, as time goes on and the export market is drying up, we may be sorry that we are bringing so many people into these islands to increase the already crowded condition in which we live at present.

When Britain was at its most prosperous peak, between 1890 and 1900, we had between 40,000,000 and 42,000,000 inhabitants, and those figures include Southern Ireland as well. At present, we have a population rising to 50,000,000. In that prosperity which we enjoyed between 1890 and 1900, we were the supreme masters of the world. We had practically the whole of the China trade, a large part of the trade in India, because India had not undergone the great industrialisation which has happened since, and the large part of which has been caused by the shortages of commodities during two wars; we had the whole of the South Seas trade, we had a terrific trade with European countries which were then not industrialised as they are now. Eighty per cent. of the ocean-going mercantile marine of the world was ours, either sailing under our flag or under another flag, but still ours; and 85 per cent. of the marine insurance business of the world was done in this country. We became so prosperous that our money and investments went out all over the world and produced an income that allowed us to buy food which otherwise we should not have had.

Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)

May I ask my hon. Friend a question? He is trying to make a case now that the years 1890 to 1900 were, in fact, our most prosperous years. Can he give any statistics on the amount of food grown in this country in relation to the current year and the amount of food imported into this country in relation to the current year, and can he say if there was less food coming into the country in those ten years pro rata to the population? Would he not agree that most of the people were worse off, in spite of that prosperity?

Mr. Follick

I am not arguing whether we are better or worse off in regard to;he masses of the people and their nutrition. If my hon. and gallant Friend will wait for me to develop my argument, I will supply him with the statistics which he himself could have got, if he had wanted them, from the Library. In all that prosperity that we enjoyed between 1890 and 1900–and I am not saying that the working classes enjoyed that prosperity, but only that that degree of prosperity was enjoyed by the country as a whole—with all that prosperity, when we were the undoubted masters of the world, we could not support more than 40,000,000 inhabitants. How do we, then, ever hope to be able to support 50,000,000 at the present time? It is impossible to do it, and the proof of that is that, as we went on towards 1908 and 1910, unemployment began to develop on account of other nations becoming industrialised—consider the rise of Germany—and we were not able to support that amount of population consequent on the increase between 1900 and 1910.

What I suggested in my speech on the earlier occasion was that we should study very carefully what would be the results to us and to the other nations of the Commonwealth if we developed a system of Imperial integration, and I pointed out to the House at that time that the only reliable, sure and certain markets on which we could depend at present were those markets which had grown up and had been developed through the emigration that went out from this country between 1900 and 1914, when it was at the rate of 250,000 a year. Since I last spoke, it has been pointed out to me that there are also other markets. I know there are, but I definitely said, "certain markets." One of our better markets at the present moment, in Europe, though one which I would not consider quite certain, is Sweden. I have been in Sweden recently, and I was having lunch with an important industrialist—

Mr. Mack


Mr. Follick

To satisfy my hunger.

Mr. Mack

With knowledge or food?

Mr. Follick

He asked me "What would Britain do if Russia moved into Sweden?" I told him "In all probability, exactly what Sweden did when Germany went into Norway." He replied "Would it not be dangerous for Britain to have Russia in Narvik?" I answered "Was it not dangerous to allow the Germans to go through Sweden to attack Norway in the rear?" He then said that, in two World wars, his country had become rich and prosperous, and was now like a big fat worm waiting to be gobbled up. That is the state of the foreign markets throughout Europe. None of them could be called certain or reliable. The only ones upon which we can look with any certainty as being reliable are those which were, very largely, built up throughout the Dominions and the Empire generally, by emigration from this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like Canada."] My hon. Friend says, "Like Canada." Canada is a great market, and in the matter of importing and exporting, it is one of our best markets. I would like to see a continuation of emigration from this country into the Commonwealth and Empire so that the population of the British Isles can be brought down to about 35 million. We could feed that number, and the people who emigrated would be building up reliable and certain markets for our exports.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member's speech, but he seems to be in grave danger of repetition.

Mr. Follick

I admit that I am in a little danger of repeating something which I said in the Debate on the Gracious Speech, but I want to emphasise the fact that, by bringing down our population to about 35 million, we shall not only be able to feed ourselves from our own products, but we shall be building up sure and certain markets in the Commonwealth to our own and everybody's benefit.