Foreign exchange controls in 1955 and 1969

I was sorting through some more of my late father’s things and came across this leaflet, dated March 1955. It details the foreign exchange restrictions that were in force at the time. These were of relevance to my father as he made what I believe to be his first trip abroad in 1956. £25 is equivalent to approximately £600 in 2016 terms.

Foreign exchange controls were finally abolished in 1979, having been a feature for most of the post-second world war period. One particularly lively exchange in the House of Commons in 1969 over a proposal to remove them is documented in Hansard. Moved by John Peel, the Conservative MP for Leicester South East, he introduced his argument that the (then £50) limit should be abolished like this:

I regard this limit on our travel freedom as a typical piece of frustrating Socialism. It is an obstruction to one of the dearest freedoms of the British people, namely, our ancient freedom to travel and to move amongst other peoples and in other countries where and when we want.

The motion was eventually defeated, but it seems highly unlikely to me that this was because of the speech made during the debate by Hector Hughes, the Labour MP for Aberdeen North. I reproduce it in all of its dubious glory below, reflecting that the attitudes expressed do not necessarily seem to be a million miles away from those held by some present-day “Vote Leave” supporters.

Britain today is in a very particular and peculiar financial position. That is one reason why I oppose the Motion.

The Motion is typically anti-British. It is, therefore, unpatriotic and should be defeated. It is designed to drain from Britain money which is badly needed at home.

It used to be said that it was necessary for one’s education to travel abroad. That is no longer necessary. We have the amenities, the instruction and the advantages of countries all over the world without travelling. As Shakespeare said, we have, England, bound in with the triumphant sea, Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege. There is no need today for people to go abroad to obtain what used to be called the advantages of travel.

I oppose this wrong-headed Motion on several grounds which I shall state briefly and seriatim. First, we need the money at home. Secondly, our holiday camps need holiday workers and holiday makers. Thirdly, our hotels, both at the seaside and in the country, need visitors and money. I know that the beautiful city of Aberdeen, which I have the honour to represent, could do with more visitors than it gets today. In the present international situation Britain needs attention at home, both at work and in play.

In our present circumstances we should not pour our largesse abroad. We live in particular circumstances when such money as we have in Britain should be retained. The time may come when the authors of the Motion will have their way and we may pour money into foreign countries. Where are we to go? To dictatorships? To Spain? To Greece? No; I say we should keep our money at home and enjoy the advantages and the fruits of Britain.

It is old-fashioned nonsense to say that we must go abroad for our education. We have at home all that we want. The other evening on television I had the advantage of seeing pictures of five countries. In our modern libraries there are books of a descriptive character. We have every advantage at home without pouring our money abroad into foreign countries. Butlins and other holiday camps offer not only education but enjoyment to people who want to stay at home. It is wrong for the authors of the Motion to try to induce the Chancellor to change his beneficent rule about the £50 allowance. Let us stay at home. Let us protect our industry. Let us encourage trade, industry, commerce and employment here, instead of spending our money abroad.

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