HC Deb 22 December 1964 vol 704 cc1042-3
22 and 23. Mr. Ian Lloyd

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) to what extent he is satisfied with the variety, scope and frequency of the present routine trade and payments statistics; and what steps he proposes to take to improve them.

(2) What are the statistical limits of error in the major components of the United Kingdom's trade and payments statistics, and in the resulting figure of net deficit or surplus on the overall balance of payments.

Mr. MacDermot

As regards the balance of payments, the series of quarterly and annual figures is under continuous review and further improvements will be made, notably in the measurement of certain payments and receipts for services in the invisibles account and of international trade credit, as more information becomes available. The "balancing item" represents the net total of errors and omissions throughout the accounts, but it is not feasible to say precisely to what extent the various components of the accounts have contributed to this item.

The monthly trade figures are a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Lloyd

Could the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether in future the statistical limits of error will always be prominently attached to the official trade and payments figures to which they refer so that the public will not be misled by attributing to them a degree of accuracy which they do not and simply cannot hold?

Mr. MacDermot

The hon. Member will appreciate that it is not possible, as I have said, to apportion the balancing items between the particular components.

Mr. Maudling

It is not entirely a matter of balancing items. Cannot the hon. and learned Gentleman give us some computation of the statistical limits of error? For example, take 1960–61; that was a year in which the final balance that year differed from the original estimate—I believe by more than £100 million.

Mr. MacDermot

The right hon. Member should know. I think that in general the assessment of the reliability of the various components of the balance of payments accounts is given on pages 37–39 of the United Kingdom Balance of Payments 1964, which is published by the Stationery Office, but it would be unrealistic to try to assess the range of error in quantitative terms for various components.

Mr. Ridley

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that during the year there has been an increase of something like £300 million in aid grants and credit guarantees, which have put a totally different complexion on the case the Government are making?

Mr. MacDermot

With respect, Mr. Speaker, that is an entirely different question.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with this side of the House—it is generally agreed—that better statistics are an advantage? In this connection would right hon. Gentlemen opposite cease making speeches in which they muddle capital investment overseas with our trading balance, which is a totally different thing, because this would seem to be seeking to deceive the public in this country but particularly people overseas who do not realise that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are making political points and not fair points?