HC Deb 14 November 1968 vol 773 cc584-8
2. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what steps he is taking to draft a revised National Plan in the light of the inaccuracies and miscalculations which caused the withdrawal of the First National Plan; and whether he will make a statement on the Government's policy regarding national plans.

4. Mr. Alison

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what arrangements he is making for a revised or interim National Plan; and when it will be made public.

10 Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs when he expects to introduce another version of the National Plan.

11 Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what consultations he has had with the National Economic Development Council, with a view to publishing a new National Plan.

20. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs when the next version of the National Plan is to be published.

30. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs when he now expects to publish a revised version of the National Plan.

32. Mr. David Howell

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs on what date he proposes to submit a draft of a new planning document to the House for discussion; and whether it will contain alternative policy assumptions about which there can then be full public discussion.

The Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Peter Shore)

As the first stage in a new and continuing planning process, we are preparing a substantial document for consideration by the National Economic Development Council initially in December. It will give an assessment of the economic prospect up to 1972 and will discuss the implications for Government and Industry. The document to be circulated to the Council will be a working draft prepared by officials. From discussions of this draft I would expect a revised document to emerge which would form a basis for more detailed discussions next year, not only with the Council members but also with the Economic Development Committees and individual industries. We hope to be able to proceed to the preparation later of a further planning document or documents, which will take account of the outcome of these more detailed discussions. The question of publication and discussion in the House will be considered in the light of progress made in the initial consultations with the N.E.D.C.

Sir G. Nabarro

Could not the right hon. Gentleman let the House of Commons into his confidence as to his intention and cause the substantial document to which he alludes to be published in the early days of the New Year and then give us shortly positive and precise dates for each stage towards this further ignoble National Plan?

Mr. Shore

As I said, the first stage in the preparation of this planning document is to discuss it with both sides of industry and in the N.E.D.C. When we have had those initial consultations, we shall certainly consider publication and, following that, when it will be right and most useful for the House to debate it.

Mr. Alison

Does this fresh draft make a specific projection of the likely rate of economic or demand growth in the years to come and can industrialists basing their own plans on such projections have an assurance that they will not be vitiated, as they have been in the lifetime of this Government, by a repetition of stop-go policies?

Mr. Shore

The content of the revised document is obviously one of the things which we shall be discussing with the N.E.D.C. However, my expectation at this stage is that alternative possibilities for growth will certainly be contained in the document.

Mr. Biffen

Will not the Government take one further tentative step on the path back to economic realism indicated by Sir Leslie O'Brien by abandoning here and now this wholly fatuous exercise?

Mr. Shore

The view of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) of what is economic realism is not universally shared in the House. I remember very well his advice to us a few years ago to adopt the policies of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, before he resigned in 1957. His approach to economic policy is neither relevant nor helpful at the present time.

Mr. Ridley

Since the whole point of a National Plan is that workers should know what is expected of them, what is the point of doing all this planning in secret? Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that members of the Cabinet who are opposed to publication of the National Plan may well be right and that the best thing would be to abandon the whole exercise altogether?

Mr. Shore

I would not comment on the hon. Members' strange source of information about discussions in the Cabinet, but I find it very odd to suggest that we are preparing a document in secret when in fact we are presenting it to the N.E.D.C., where the trade unions are very strongly represented, and on which we have to have further consultations which will certainly include the T.U.C. and other organisations.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

If the right hon. Gentleman is eventually to publish this fatuous document, will he ensure that we do not have a repetition of the circumstances of the first Plan by which the projections of Government—public sector—spending were fulfilled on the basis of overall growth in the economy, growth projections which were missed by miles?

Mr. Shore

If I may comment on the hon. Member's remark about a fatuous document, I find it a little difficult to see why he should be so interested in its publication if he thinks that it is such. To take up his particular point about public expenditure, it is of course true that the public expenditure programmes put forward in the 1965 National Plan were related to a higher growth rate than was in fact achieved. What followed from that was not what the hon. Member anticipated, but a deliberate choice of priorities by this Government in favour of social and public expenditure in spite of the temporary unpopularities which that brought.

Mr. Higgins

Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that it is quite wrong that this preliminary document should be made available to industrialists and others without the House itself having it available? Does he appreciate that we have concern about this matter? Will he ensure that, whatever document is given to industrialists, a copy will be placed in the Library?

Mr. Shore

I do not think that the document, which as I said is a working document and which is going to the N.E.D.C., is the best document to present to this House. I have, however, every hope that a revised document—which will form a much more useful basis for discussion and will emerge from these early consultations and be subject to a decision to be taken later—will of course be made available.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend not beginning to realise that we are not prepared to tolerate very much longer the decision and action of the Government in consulting organisations outside, however necessary and essential that is—we recognise that—and then presenting it to hon. Members as a fait accompli?

Mr. Shore

No, Sir. It is not going to be a fait accompli, but if my right hon. Friend recalls the history of the N.E.D.C. he will remember that it was a body that was set up by the party opposite when they were in government, a body to which they felt it would be useful to refer particular problems, to discuss them with them and then, in the light of those discussions, actually to publish and produce useful documents. I do not think as my memory goes back to that earlier period that a first draft went to the N.E.D.C. and was at once released generally, but I recall that a number of documents were published following discussion with the N.E.D.C.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a number of Questions. Questions and answers are getting rather long.