HC Deb 06 February 1969 vol 777 cc577-9
Ql. Mr. Ian Lloyd

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of the official planning document which he submitted to leaders of industry and trade unions for discussion at Chequers on Sunday, 15th December.

Q2. Mr. Kenneth Baker

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the result of the official discussions held on Sunday, 15th December at Chequers concerning the growth rate of the United Kingdom economy for 1969.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

The planning document discussed at Chequers and subsequently at the further meetings of the National Economic Development Council on 14th January and 5th February will be published as a Green Paper towards the end of this month. This will be a Government document but it takes account of views expressed by industrial members of the Council and will provide the background for consultation with industry through the Economic Development Committees and in other ways.

Mr. Lloyd

Although the House will doubtless welcome its belated admission to the Chequers and Sunningdale clubs, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the information which was used at these meetings will be published well before it becomes merely of historic value?

The Prime Minister

I should have thought that the House would agree that what is being done here is right, that we had a report from officials, which was made available before Chequers and discussed at Chequers by both sides of industry, and that it was right that we should take into account the practical views of industry on this document, amend it accordingly, and then publish it as a Green Paper, so that not only the House but industry and the whole country could discuss what is in it.

Mr. Baker

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the rate of growth in the United Kingdom economy is likely to be sluggish in 1969 unless there is a boom in industrial investment? As investment grants do not seem to be bringing this about, would he consider scrapping the investment grant system and replacing it with a combination of initial allowances and free depreciation?

The Prime Minister

Investment grants were debated very fully in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on Tuesday, and the particular proposals which the hon. Gentleman puts forward were fully dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade. The rate of growth depends on the rate of export advance. Last year, our increase of 11 per cent. by volume in exports enabled us to have a much higher rate of growth than for many years past, which was, as it had to be, export-led.

Mr. Barnett

Is there any reason why a Green Paper cannot be issued for discussion by the House at the same time as other bodies, as it is not official Government policy? As to investment grants, has my right hon. Friend seen a document issued recently by the London School of Business Studies, in which it is said that investment grants work faster than investment allowances?

The Prime Minister

On the first point, one could proceed as my hon. Friend suggests, but it is more helpful to have a definitive document which takes the views of industry into account and which is appropriate for discussions with the individual industrial "Neddies". On the question of investment grants, I have not seen the document to which my hon. Friend refers, although I should be interested to look at it, but the view expressed in it is exactly what my hon. Friend the Minister of State told the House the other day. He stressed particularly, of course, those small and growing firms which, under the system of investment allowances, have no profits record against which to set it.

Mr. Heath

When the right hon. Gentleman says that it will be a definitive document, does he mean that the document in its entirety will be agreed among the Government, the C.B.I, and the T.U.C.? If not, would it not be better for the Government to publish their own views and indicate those parts with which the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. disagree? We could then form our own judgment on the whole of the proposals.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt form his own views when he has read it. The Government will make it clear that this is put forward now with the authority of the Government and that we have at every point tried to meet the points made by industry, but it would be wrong for us to suggest that every line, every proposal, and every dot and comma in it is agreed by both sides of industry. It would take a long time to get that document published, but this will be helpful, because it is a document produced after consulting them.