HC Deb 26 October 1967 vol 751 cc1886-8
Q7. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Prime Minister if he will give consideration to reviving the post of Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

In view of the way in which the Chancellor's forecasts of payments surpluses seem to go astray, and in view of the way in which the Prime Minister's own statements that we are paying our way do not seem to be believed in Europe, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that there is a case for strengthening the Treasury team, and might not the strengthening of this team enable us to forecast what is going to blow the Government off course next?

The Prime Minister

I happened to say at a northern seaside resort recently that I am amazed at the avidity with which hon. Gentlemen opposite seize on the difficulties which Britain may be facing at any time. As he will know, because he has his mind on these matters, we had got into the position of balancing our payments in 1967. The hon. Gentleman will recognise the effect of the closure of the Suez Canal, which was not exactly the consequence of any action by Her Majesty's Government, and, indeed, the Opposition were asking us to take much tougher action in June on the Suez Canal than we had done, and on Tiran; but basically we have reached a situation where we are paying our way. We have this surcharge on imports, on which I gave the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition some clear figures a few moments ago.

Mr. Peyton

Going back to the original Question, why does not the Prime Minister issue an invitation to his right hon. and dear friend the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell)?

The Prime Minister

I think that in this House, as in all Government matters, every right hon. and hon. Member should be in the position in which he can make the biggest contribution to the welfare of the nation. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend would necessarily have made a correct forecast of what was going to happen in the Middle East in June of this year, and I have not heard any suggestion from the other side about how the effect on our balance of payments—because I think that there has been substantial agreement about the handling of the Middle Eastern question —could have been safeguarded against that kind of action.

Mr. Maudling

Arising from the Prime Minister's earlier answer, is it not a fact that the current balance of trade is no better than it was in 1964, despite an improvement in the terms of trade of about £300 million a year?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is basing himself—though I do not think he would have done it when he was Chancellor and these things happened—on the effect on exports of what we must all insist are temporary dock strikes. This has an effect on the current balance of trade. Our balance of trade this year is an improvement on 1966, which was an improvement on 1965, which was an improvement on 1964. Ergo, we were doing very much better in 1967 than in 1964, but we have had the effect of the withdrawal of sterling balances in the Middle East, and we have had the effect of the closure of the Suez Canal, which has affected our balance of trade by the surcharge on our imports.

Mr. Shinwell

May I assure my right hon. Friend that, in spite of all the difficulties which face the Government and the country, if I have to choose between him and the potential political terrorists on the Opposition Front Bench, I prefer him.

The Prime Minister

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very limited statement of support, but I think that he rather flatters right hon. Gentlemen opposite by making them sound quite so positive or so terrifying by using that word.