HC Deb 01 April 1958 vol 585 cc1020-5
46. Mr. Osborne

asked the Prime Minister in view of the fact that unemployment in the United States of America is approximately 7½ per cent., Canada 9½ per cent., West Germany 7 per cent., and the United Kingdom 2 per cent., and the possibility that United States unemployment will create greater unemployment in Great Britain, what programmes for intensified slum clearance, house building, and road construction are planned and ready to be put into immediate action should unemployment increase in this country; and if he will make a statement.

47. Mr. Dodds

asked the Prime Minister in view of the widespread concern about the possibility of a marked increase in unemployment in the near future, what consideration has been given or is contemplated to formulating special plans to deal in time with any serious deterioration in the situation; and which Government Departments and what other interests are co-operating to deal with any situation that may arise.

49. Dr. Stross

asked the Prime Minister what action it is proposed shall be taken if recession in trade becomes marked and unemployment figures rise appreciably; and through which Government Departments and other agencies such action will be taken.

50. Mr. Moyle

asked the Prime Minister having regard to the marked increase in unemployment in the United States of America, Canada, West Germany, and this country, if he will now review the Government's anti-inflationary measures of last September.

51. Mrs. Butler

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the substantial measure of unemployment which has developed recently in other countries and the possibility that it may create a problem in this country too great to be successfully dealt with unless special measures are devised, he will make a statement giving particulars of any plans which have been made to meet such a situation, including special measures to enable local authorities to proceed with enlarged capital works programmes.

52. Mr. George Craddock

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware of the growing concern at the unemployment situation which has developed in many countries, and which may have a considerable influence on our domestic policy; and if he will, therefore, review the plans of Government Departments to deal effectively and speedily with any serious situation that might develop in the United Kingdom.

56. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the probable effects of the growing unemployment and recession in the United States of America and West Germany on the economy of this country, particularly in regard to employment within the basic industries such as iron and steel, what steps it is intended Government Departments will take to deal with this problem.

60. Mr. Willey

asked the Prime Minister what steps he is taking to review the plans of Government Departments to mitigate the effects of the economic recession in the United States of America upon the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister

The general situation envisaged in these Questions would of course be the concern of a number of Departments. As I said in a speech in the country last evening, the Government have plans ready now which could be put into effect as and when remedial action might be required.

Mr. Osborne

In view of the deep sympathy my right hon. Friend showed to the unemployed in the 1930s, may I beg him to consider announcing the plans he has ready in order to satisfy men who are getting frightened about their jobs by giving them details of the plans already made to provide against widespread unemployment, should this be caused by a bigger slump in America?

The Prime Minister

Last night I tried to deal with this question, which is rather too large and complicated to be dealt with on a Question and Answer basis, by giving a general account, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will no doubt be commenting on the economic outlook and taking a little further the Government's policies in his Budget speech.

Dr. Stross

Is it correct that the Prime Minister has in mind that the real threat may well be from a combination of deflation with falling prices, and unemployment resulting therefrom? If that be the case, will he notify Ministers in different Departments, who today continuously say to us that what we have to do is to fight inflation only?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think this is a matter for a balanced judgment. Nothing could be worse than that we should be left, to use the expression of the right hon. Gentleman, as an island of inflation in a deflationary world—in other words, with a very high price level here while other prices were falling. We have to time these measures. All I say is that we have prepared them for use if and when they become necessary.

Mr. Dodds

Does the Prime Minister realise that the speech he made at Halifax last night will only increase the fear of mass unemployment in many parts of the country? When he made the point in his speech that plans were ready as and when required—not "if" but "as"—did not that strike a chilling note in a speech which seemed to accept the inevitability of a good deal of unemployment? Will not he give us the plans? Why will not he tell us about them? He spoke of avoiding mass unemployment. Will he tell us at what extent of unemployment he will introduce these plans? How much has there to be?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I have tried, and the Government as a whole have tried, to keep this matter in proper perspective. We must still overcome the inflationary situation in our country, but that is not to say we should not be ready and anxious to use any counter-measures as and when they may be required.

Mr. Gaitskell

But what is the objection to the Government announcing what are those counter-measures? Is not there much force in the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) that it would restore confidence over here if it could be known what the Government intend to do? Does not the Prime Minister agree that while it may be undesirable—indeed, is undesirable—that we should be an island of rising prices when prices are falling elsewhere, it is equally undesirable that we should be dragged down in a world deflation?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; but there are a lot of problems connected with this which it is impossible to deal with by Question and Answer. I should have thought that as in about a fortnight's time we shall have the great opportunity of the economic debates to fill in the picture which I have tried to draw in very rough outline, this would be best left to the Budget debates.

Mr. Willey

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a matter that ought to be discussed with industry as soon as possible? Will he inaugurate discussions with the leaders of both sides of industry?

The Prime Minister

The Government are, of course, in very close touch with industry, and I am happy to say that we have much more accurate and up-to-date information than ever before in our history.

Mr. Moyle

May I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of his preoccupations at Halifax last night, he could tell us whether his anti-inflationary measures of last September are not really creating a sick economy in this country and heading us straight for a depression and a slump?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think they are doing their work, as has been shown by events.

Mr. George Craddock

Does not the Prime Minister think that if he made known his plans, it would be to the advantage of the House and of the country? Surely in view of the many pockets of unemployment we have, which tend to increase, the House is entitled to know what are the plans. Is not it a fact that to some extent the present conditions have arisen out of the policies pursued by Her Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I still feel, and I think the House generally will accept it, that the debates which traditionally follow the Budget—not only on the Budget proposals but on the broad economic situation—are the proper occasion when these matters should be discussed in detail.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the Prime Minister aware that widespread short-time is being worked in the iron and steel industry, in my constituency and elsewhere, and that there is a growing fear of unemployment in the basic industries? What does he intend to do about it? Further, did not his speech of last night indicate that the only way to protect this country against widespread unemployment is to have economic controls to ensure full employment; and, in view of that, will he repudiate the speech made by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think the one way to make large-scale unemployment, as well as ruin, absolutely certain would have been to allow inflation to go right to the bitter end.

Mr. Jay

Will the Prime Minister inform the President of the Board of Trade that he should devote more time to bringing new industries to areas where there is unemployment, such as South Wales, and less time to making party capital out of those areas?

The Prime Minister

I think it is the party opposite which has made all the trouble.

Mr. P. Williams

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that exaggerated statements in the House can do more harm and more to make the fear of unemployment a reality than anything else?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. With the best will in the world, it is difficult to persuade industrialists to go somewhere in order to be nationalised.

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