HC Deb 09 April 1962 vol 657 cc968-9

In this context, the setting up of the National Economic Development Council is a step of major importance. At the first meeting of the Council I defined its tasks in the following terms: First, to examine the economic performance of the nation with particular concern for plans for the future in both the private and the public sectors of industry. Secondly, to consider together what are the obstacles to quicker growth, what can be done to improve efficiency, and whether the best use is being made of our resources. Thirdly, to seek agreement upon ways of improving economic performance, competitive power and efficiency, in other words to increase the rate of sound growth.

The whole emphasis is on the importance of achieving a faster but soundly based rate of economic expansion. At next month's meeting of the Council I hope that we shall agree on the method of carrying out an urgent study of this problem. I believe that such a survey must be related to a specific figure for annual growth in the gross national product. The collective target agreed in Paris by the O.E.C.D. for this decade is one of just over 4 per cent. a year. It will be for the Council to decide whether its study should be based on that figure, or a larger one, and what period of years should be taken for this.

For the first time since the war we shall have a body with its own staff which will include Ministers, representatives of the T.U.C., some outstanding men chosen from the management side of industry, public and private, and two distinguished independent members, meeting together to consider the problem of how to achieve a faster and continuing rate of economic growth.

I certainly do not expect hon. Members on the other side of the Committee to approve the quality of the ministerial membership—that would be too much to ask. But I think that there will be agreement about the high quality of all the others who have agreed to serve on this Council at my invitation. The Council will be considering matters under the direct control of Government such as levels of tariffs, methods and incidence of taxation, and public investment; and matters which will more directly concern both sides of industry, for example, the recruitment and training of labour, restrictive practices, efficiency in management, the better use of skilled manpower.

Certainly, I have no intention of seeking to set limits to the Council's examination of these matters which are very much for industry as well as for the Government—both sides of industry—nor of other matters, such as the best development of our scientific and technical resources. What the Council must do is to set an ambitious but realistic target figure. Both sides of industry, the Government, and, indeed, all sections of the community, must be prepared to face up to the practical consequences involved in its achievement. I say again that I believe that this new development is one of the highest importance for the country as a whole.

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