HC Deb 30 January 1969 vol 776 cc1525-7
Q7. Mr. Biffen

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the major rôle now being undertaken by the National Economic Development Council in the preparation of the new National Plan, he will abolish the Department of Economic Affairs.

The Prime Minister

The draft planning document which has been discussed in the National Economic Development Council was prepared by the Department of Economic Affairs in close consultation with other Government departments and with the National Economic Development Office. On the future of the Department of Economic Affairs, I would refer to what I said in the debate on the Fulton Report on 21st November.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his obvious reluctance to give an affirmative answer to this Question leaves us with the uneasy suspicion that he regards the Department of Economic Affairs as one of the success stories of the Labour Government?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman obviously has not studied what I said in the debate on the Fulton Report. There was no reluctance to give an answer. I gave an answer at some considerable length on this. I understand from the hon. Gentleman's pronunciamento and his support of a certain right hon. Gentleman, whom we do not often see on his side of the House, that he is so opposed to all economic planning, even to the intervention which was undertaken by the previous Conservative Government, that I would naturally not expect him to appreciate the virtues of the Department of Economic Affairs.

Mr. Dickens

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the recent speech made by Mr. Catherwood, the Director-General of N.E.D.C, to the effect that company mergers can be highly damaging to the interests of the British economy? Should not the D.E.A. look into this matter and prepare a White Paper on the Government's attitude to company mergers?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will recognise that I am not responsible for the speeches of Mr. Catherwood. I have a great respect for them, but I think that it is very important, equally, that I should respect his independence as a servant of N.E.D.C. and not as an officer of the Government. He is, therefore, free to make these pronouncements. He is, nevertheless, absolutely right to say that individual mergers can either be very good or very bad or can have neutral effects. [Interruption.] I knew that the hon. Member for whatever Northern Ireland constituency it is would not understand that one. It was too intellectual for him.

Sir Knox Cunningham


The Prime Minister

It has been the whole policy of successive Governments right from the introduction of the monopolies legislation in 1948 that mergers can be good or bad and that we need machinery for examining possible harm arising from the creation of monopoly power. We are certainly not saying that all are good or that all are bad. We say that some have to be examined.

Mr. David Howell

Reverting to the Question, is it not true that there are now at least nine Departments and agencies involving themselves in the Government's economic and industrial policy? Is it not time that studies were made of the functions of all these bodies, with a view to increasing the efficiency, or at least reducing the inefficiency, of the present Government?

The Prime Minister

These matters have been reviewed very carefully. These bodies have important functions to perform. The hon. Gentleman will know the number of mergers and the number of reductions of Ministries which have taken place under the present Government, including some in the economics sphere which we have wound up.