HC Deb 29 June 1967 vol 749 cc743-5
Q3. Mr. Higgins

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Leicester on economic prospects on Saturday, 3rd June, represents Government policy.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Higgins

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that, during the next 12 months, there will be a gentle but progressive improvement in the standard of living of every family? Can the Prime Minister tell us how this is to occur in the case of old-age non-pensioners who are not in receipt of the National Insurance pension and are excluded from having the Social Security supplementary benefits?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was referring to the impact on all families of the growth rate he was discussing in his speech. There will be opportunity to debate the position of all old people, whether covered by pension or not, on the new Bill to increase the pensions, which represents the second major increase in pensions under this Government.

Mr. Heath

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Chancellor's speech, which was buoyant and optimistic and was loudly heralded at the time as a "Sunny Jim" performance only two weeks ago, is in complete contrast with Treasury forecasts today in Economic ", which is heralded by The Times as the Treasury's grim view of the economic situation? Is not this conflict in public between Treasury Ministers and Treasury officials just one more example of the conflict which has led to so many economic crises during this Government's life?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not think that either my right hon. Friend or I are responsible for the newspaper treatment of the speech or of the Treasury publication "Economic Trends". My right hon. Friend's speech, if it was buoyant—and I have read it as carefully as the right hon. Gentleman—was buoyant about the fact that the nation is at last paying its way. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman on one occasion might be big enough to acknowledge this. The rest of the buoyancy referred to in these Press reports related to what he said about the growth rate and further action to be taken if there was any slippage in the growth rate.

Mr. Heath

Am I to take it that the Prime Minister is repudiating the article in this document with its introduction prepared by Her Majesty's Treasury, a document which says that exports are stationary and imports are rising and the trend of unemployment is steadily upwards?

The Prime Minister

I am not repudiating it in the slightest. Since the question related to my right hon. Friend's speech, what he said was that if our policies are under-shooting the growth rate we shall adjust them so that they will produce a 3 per cent. rate of growth. He went on to say, What I emphasise again is that it is consistent for us to have a growth rate of 3 per cent., and a balance of payments surplus. The right hon. Gentleman, who left us with a £800 million deficit, ought to be the first, not the last, to acknowledge what it meant—how tough the measures had to be to put it right and our success in doing it, and he has not done so.

Mr. Heath rose

Mr. Leadbitter

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right and proper in this House that back benchers during this important Question Time to the Prime Minister are to be denied the right to put a question to him because the Leader of the Opposition is constantly doing so?

Mr. Speaker

I sympathise with that point of order, but by raising it at length the hon. Member is depriving someone, possibly himself, of the opportunity to ask a question.

Mr. Heath

Will the Prime Minister kindly tell the House whether the Chancellor is right or the Treasury officials are right?

The Prime Minister

Obviously both are right. The Treasury document for which my right hon. Friend bears responsibility lists some of the difficulties, including the growth rate, which have arisen in the course of putting the balance of payments right. My right hon. Friend was right to take the opportunity of the fact that we are in surplus—and in his three interruptions the right hon. Gentleman still has not been generous enough to accept this—to say what the prospects now were for the next year.

On the question of incompatibility, the right hon. Gentleman will remember a Prime Minister who said that the economy had seldom, if ever, been so strong—when we had an £800 million deficit.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that every time I listen to the Leader of the Opposition I come to the only possible conclusion—that the Government are doing all right.