HC Deb 06 April 1948 vol 449 cc42-4

As I have said on many occasions, the European Recovery Plan does not solve our problems or those of Western Europe. We are faced with the need to redress, within the next four years, the present gravely unbalanced position between the Western Hemisphere and Western Europe, so that at the end of the period we shall no longer need extraordinary outside help. It gives us time to build up our own economy and to co-operate with the participating countries for the same purpose. We shall have to devote this opportunity not to an early improvement of our standard of living, but to a strengthening of our physical resources, both in the United Kingdom, in Western Europe, and in those overseas countries whose economies are dependent upon, or linked with, the countries receiving Marshall Aid. As the Committee is aware, rapid progress has been made towards effective co-operation between the countries of Western Europe. This co-operation should not in any way prejudice the close working of our own country with the rest of the sterling area, and particularly the sterling area Dominions. It should, in fact, result in an extension of trade and commerce between Western Europe and the sterling area, to the benefit of both.

The strategy of the Government's plan for bringing about a better balance of payments between ourselves and the Western Hemisphere is set out in paragraphs 67 to 81 of the Economic Survey. The elements of those plans are, the diversion of exports to the dollar areas; the building up of alternative sources of imports in non-dollar countries; close co-operation with the sterling area, and with the countries of Western Europe and their dependencies; and the restoration of conditions of multilateral trade over as wide an area as possible, with the eventual object of our being able to earn dollars or gold by our multilateral trade.

As part of these plans the Government are steadily pushing ahead the development of new sources of supply of raw materials and food in our overseas territories and throughout the sterling area. The groundnut scheme is one example. Co-operative developments of poultry farming in Eire, and of grain production and pig farming in Queensland, are examples of another type. Moreover, we have been able to make arrangements with some of the Western European countries, such as Denmark and Holland, by which we can increase our exports to them of products they particularly require and, in return, get larger supplies of food.

As we turn from our excessive dependence upon the Western Hemisphere to other sources of supply we must, of course, adjust our export plans both as to type and to destination. We must maintain a great degree of flexibility as these plans develop so that we can manufacture for the countries which send us additional supplies the goods they need, at the price and quality they can afford, in return for the imports which we need from them. This is not a matter which is capable of precise regulation by the Government. It must be left to close co-operation between the Government and industry, and producers will have to bear in mind the national interest, as indicated by the Government's plans, rather than their individual interest in seeking quick profits in easy markets.

In particular, of course, we must pay unremitting attention to the expansion of our exports to the dollar countries. Here again, I must repeat that we cannot choose the exports we will send. We must make what those countries are willing to buy from us. We must also expand our exports to South Africa, because that country is a source of gold for us. The increase of our exports to South Africa is one of the few ways of strengthening our reserves that still remain open to us. These changes in our export policy and the development of production of non-dollar sources of supply obviously require time to be effective. The great act of the United States in bringing into operation the European Recovery Programme has given us and the Western European countries that time. Time, I would remind the Committee, is the scarcest commodity of all today, and we cannot afford to waste a moment of it.