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Employment

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 6 April 1954

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The expansion in output has been accompanied by a high and stable level of employment. The total of unemployed in Great Britain fell from 453,000 in January, 1953, to 373,000 in January, 1954. At the same time, unfilled vacancies rose from about 230,000 to 270,000. So it can be said that, broadly speaking, there are, at the moment, neither too many workers for the jobs, nor too many jobs for the workers. Moreover, output rose a good deal, and rose more than employment. This recovery in productivity marked a return, in most industries, to the 1951 level.

The resources at our disposal were, of course, enlarged not only by this rise in productivity but also by the improvement in the terms of trade, whose support to our external balance of payments I have already mentioned. We have been asked what advantage we have to show at home from the improvement in the terms of trade. This is the answer to that question. In brief, these improved terms have enabled us to increase our imports of food and raw materials, without impos- ing a corresponding extra strain on our balance of payments or our reserves, in spite of the fact that exports were, unfortunately, slow to increase. This made it easier for our economy to carry its heavy burdens, including the defence programme; and it also contributed, together with our sound financial policy, to the welcome stability of prices throughout the year.

The developments which I have described are encouraging, but it will be our duty today and during these debates to search out the less satisfactory features of 1953. That is what I did over the last year and then diagnosed as a result. In my last Budget Statement, I pointed out the decline in production in 1952 and recommended means of dealing with it. This year I point to productivity. We cannot be complacent about its increase, when we remember that output per man in manufacturing industry in 1953 was, on the average, little above the 1951 level and that our rate of increase is far too often below that of our overseas competitors. I point also to exports. These have expanded over the year, as I have shown, but we need to obtain a substantially larger volume of exports if our balance of payments is to be secure.

Moreover, taking the year as a whole, there has been an insufficient increase in investment in private manufacturing industry. It is true that the volume of fixed investment increased in 1953 by about £200 million. But most of this was accounted for by the larger number of new houses built, and virtually all the rest by higher investment by the basic industries. The level of our industrial investment is still too low; it is still too far below the corresponding achievement in the United States, and the trend compares unfavourably with the effort of some other countries, who are becoming our keen rivals in world markets. The moral for ourselves is serious; and I shall have more to say on this subject at a later stage of my speech.

In framing plans for next year we must therefore start from this simple truth. Our objective is expansion without inflation. If we are to achieve this, we must continue to raise productivity, to expand exports, and to increase productive investment. So much for the Revenue and how we got along last year.