CHALLENGE TO DEBATE
Crowds Large Hall In Division
Mr. Norman Dodds v. Miss Margaret Roberts
Tributes to ‘Best Chairman in the District’
Member of Parliament for the Dartford Division, Mr. Norman Dodds, met Miss Margaret Roberts, B.A, B.Sc, prospective Conservative candidate, in a debate at Dartford Grammar School on Friday. The main hall was packed to capacity, and many people were unable to get in.
Mr. J. W. Panton, a member of the Conservative Party, explained that he had been asked by Mr. Dodds to take the chair. After the meeting tributes were paid to him for his unbiased handling of the debate.
Mr. Dodds, opening the debate, said foreigners had been greatly puzzled in the past two or three years at the peculiar phenomenon of British public life. They could not understand how the Government had not lost one Parliamentary seat right through a long series of by-elections—34 in all—and yet, in speeches by prominent members of the Opposition, particularly Mr. Churchill, there had been presented a picture of the British people being under-nourished, fatigued, and almost down-and-out. He (Mr. Dodds) welcomed the opportunity of bringing forward some facts which supported the wisdom of the electorate.
The last year in which the people could be satisfied about the economic state of the country was 1913. Then came the 1914–18 war. Immediately afterwards Britain had to make use of income from overseas investments to pay for the things required. The position got steadily worse; in 1936–7–8 the country was headed for bankruptcy. The recent war had left Britain a good deal poorer.
Since then the Government had faced a very difficult task, a task which had been made worse by some of the speeches made—a great many of them not according to fact—throughout the length and breadth of the world. They had been responsible, in some measure, for lowering the confidence of other countries in Britain.
Mr. Dodds gave figures on production levels. With the execption of Denmark and Sweden, Britain's production, he said, was more than that of any other European country. With regard to imports and exports, the United Kingdom had the best figures of all. She was the only European country to reduce her dependence on the dollar, thanks to John Strachey.
The speaker also referred to the controversy over devaluation, and mentioned the “clamping down almost overnight” of the buying by America of rubber, tin and cocoa. The situation had become desperate and the pound was devlaued. But for Sir Stafford Cripps the economic state would be very much worse than it actually was, said Mr. Dodds.
Miss Roberts said that as yet there had been no incentive to build up any more of those overseas investments possessed by Britain before the war. They had not in any way been a debtor nation in those years. Never once did they have to go to America with their hats out. In those years the pound sterling stood where the dollar stood now.
With regard to Mr. Dodds praise of Mr. Strachey, Miss Roberts said the business of bulk buying was all very well on a rising market, but when the market was a falling one, they were coming back with a total loss.
She quoted the case of maize last year. It also happened (claimed the speaker) in food, raw materials and the metal market. Tin had been taken off bulk buying—and its price had been falling ever since.
“I do not think much of a Minister who tried to skate away from responsibility on the groundnuts scheme.”
Miss Roberts went on to say that the Food Minister could not escape responsibility, whoever he sacked.
In reply to her opponent's remarks about speeches made by Opposition speakers, Miss Roberts said that when Mr. Eden toured the Empire he did not make one derogatory remark about the country; instead, he did all he could to bolster up the country— “which takes some doing,” she remarked.
Two Thirds Given Away
Mr. Dodds, in his second speech (of ten minutes) mentioned that Britain had repaid £661,000,000 in sterling balances, besides giving away two-thirds (£926,000,000) of the money she had received from Marshall Aid. The sum total thus obtained exceeded the aid received by more than £200,000,000.
Miss Roberts said that devaluation meant that they had to increase their exports to dollar areas by 44 per cent. to survive at the same rate. To do this on their own feet they would have to increase by 100 per cent. How was that to be done? The only way was to get American people to invest in this country.
Miss Roberts submitted that Americans had not been willing to put their money into Britain because they were afraid of it being confiscated by nationalisation. Even as she spoke, she said, sterling deals were being made as low as 2.55 Were they in for further devaluation?
At question time, typical queries were “If we are in such a terrible state, why has the Government not lost a by-election?”
Miss Roberts said that most by-elections had been fought in places where there had been large Socialist majorities before; and anyway, Marshall Aid had obscured the true economic position to many people.
In reply to the query, “In view of the situation at the end of the war, why did not the Government start putting the country right before nationalisation?” Mr. Dodds said that the Government believed that nationalisation was the measure for putting things right.
Winding -up speeches were made by the debaters.
Miss Roberts asked if it would not have been better for the Government to let each nationalised industry prove its worth before nationalising others? “They have no policy for when Marshall Aid ends” she said. “We can only hope that you, the public, will restore a Government which, in its turn, will restore confidence, so that the pound can look the dollar in the face and not in the bootlaces.” , she concluded.
Mr. Dodds' main point in a brief final speech was that in August of that year there were 3,780,000 more people working than in 1938. “I believe that if there were any more of these debates, Miss Roberts will want to join the Labour Party. May I ask her a favour? When she wants to join, will she let me have the pleasure of enrolling her?” he said.
Mr. Dodds proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman, whom he described as “a master of the craft of chairmanship.”
Miss Roberts seconded this expression of thanks to “the very best chairman in the district.”