HC Deb 23 October 1945 vol 414 cc1880-1

We cannot yet indicate with any precision the increase of cost which we must expect as a result of the termination of Lend-Lease. It will depend, to some extent, on how far and how quickly we can switch our sources of supply to non-dollar markets; but it is already clear that the increase in the cost of subsidies due to this cause alone—the cessation of Lend-Lease—will not be less than £50,000,000 a year. I must ask the Committee, therefore, seriously to face the fact that whereas in earlier years we have been concerned with a figure which was creeping up towards £200,000,000 a year, the figure we must now reckon with is at least £300,000,000 a year; and I must add that the actual figure may prove to be considerably higher, especially if the decision which I have just announced to hold prices substantially at their present level has to be carried out in face of still rising costs.

So much for the cost of living. I have referred to the sudden ending of Lend-Lease, which has, of course, created for us a serious immediate problem in relation to our balance of trade. As the Committee know, talks have for some time been proceeding at Washington between representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States Governments. Not everything written in the Press on the subject of these talks should be believed. None the less, they have not yet reached even a provisional conclusion, and I do not propose to make any further statement on them to-day, though I should mention them in this context. But I can tell the Committee—and the Committee will desire to know this—that with regard to all the matters under discussion at Washington we are keeping, and shall keep, in close touch with the Dominions and with the Government of India. Meanwhile, pending a settlement at Washington, it is more than ever urgent to stimulate British exports and, on the other side of the balance sheet, to restrict, to the minimum necessary to assure our essential supplies of food and raw materials, imports, especially those which must be paid for with dollars. Whatever the outcome of the Washington talks we must make all possible efforts, the most vigorous efforts, the most imaginative efforts of which private enterprise shall be proved capable, to re-establish as quickly as we can the balance of our external trade. Until this is done we shall not, in truth, be the masters of our own economic and financial destiny. For this reason we must do this great job soon, and recover equilibrium as rapidly as may be.