HC Deb 27 June 1968 vol 767 cc813-5
Q3. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Prime Minister what further measures he proposes for co-ordination of Departmental activities to strengthen the economy and reduce imports.

The Prime Minister

There is already full co-ordination between Departments on these matters, Sir.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that nearly six months ago, on 16th January, following his statement, I asked him what special steps he would take to assist British farms to make the maximum contribution to import saving, then assessed at £250 million a year? Is he aware that that figure has now been confirmed by the Economic Development Council, and that no progress has been made in the enlargement of farming? What new steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to implement the proposals?

The Prime Minister

That is a fair and important question. The Price Review which followed that statement was itself a contribution to encouraging agricultural production, and therefore import saving. As I told the House before, we are studying all the possibilities of import saving, and what changes might be involved in this area. It is a very important problem which is taking a certain amount of time.

Dr. David Owen

Would my right hon. Friend look again at the system adopted by the Italian Government when facing a rising import bill, of restricting credit and insisting on cash for all imports?

The Prime Minister

I have heard of this scheme introduced in Italy and I think it has been used by other countries. On the basis of the latest import figures, while they are still giving some concern, my hon. Friend may feel that there is some sign of the import boom moderating.

Mr. Heath

As the Treasury has said that imports are still, unfortunately, running at a level well above that implied in the Budget forecast, could the Prime Minister arrange for fresh forecasts for the second half of this year and next year to be given to the House?

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the successive answers given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on Tuesday to the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. Gentlemen who put that question him. I would remind the House, as my right hon. Friend did, that we went far beyond the practice of any previous Government by making that forecast, and it should be given a longer run to see how these figures turn out.

Mr. Park

In view of the continuing seriousness of the position, would my right hon. Friend consider again the proposals which have been put to him on a number of occasions from this side of the House that there should be some sort of physical control over inessential imports?

The Prime Minister

This suggestion has been made a number of times, and on an equal number of occasions I have given the reasons why we do not feel that it would be helpful. As I have said more than once in this House, I have probably more experience of running import controls than almost any other hon. Member, and I assure my hon. Friend that they are not quite the panacea he thinks.

Mr. Sandys

Has not experience shown that the forecasts of this Government are totally valueless?

The Prime Minister

We expect better than that from the right hon. Gentleman when he gets up. I seem to remember that he was a member of the Government which said in 1964 that the economic position had seldom, if ever, been stronger.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us are very concerned about the continuing rise in the level of imports, particularly as these reduce the valiant efforts being made by large numbers of firms in this country to improve our export position? Will he therefore undertake to look urgently at the proposals that have been made to introduce selective controls of certain imports in order to correct the balance of payments difficulties that we are now facing? Let us not have another situation of "too little and too late".

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition, that there is certainly nothing to be complacent about in the rise of imports, and also in the fact that for the past five, six, seven or eight years, imports of manufactured goods particularly have been rising at the rate of something like 20 per cent. per annum. Many of these are goods that we are perfectly capable of manufacturing for ourselves, if the opportunities are taken. Since devaluation there is an incentive, but it is probably too early for it to show very much in the figures, because many of these imports were ordered before devaluation.

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