§ 19. Mr. Marten
asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether, in the light of the first four months' trading figures for 1969, he now proposes to make any alterations in the economic assessment of the balance of payments mentioned in Chapter 3 of "The Task Ahead".
§ Mr. Marten
But are the Government still hopeful of getting a trade surplus of £300 million this year? If so, does the Minister share the Prime Minister's view that if we are to solve our economic problems the Industrial Relations Bill must be passed this Session, otherwise Parliament will have to be dissolved? Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the Prime Minister?
Naturally I agree with the Prime Minister in these matters. Equally, I stand by what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said about the balance of payments surplus.
§ 20. Mr. Barnett
asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what consultations he had with outside bodies about 643 the underlying capacity of British industry before publication of "The Task Ahead."
Mr. Alan Williams
There were full discusions on the draft document in the National Economic Development Council, and we also drew on the information which is always available from the regular contracts between Government Departments and industry.
§ Mr. Barnett
As the report makes it clear that there is insufficient evidence on which to base a forecast of the underlying level of productivity, would my hon. Friend accept that 2.9 per cent. is far too low to be acceptable? Would he consider looking at other competitor countries to see how much growth they have managed to get in underlying productivity, make comparisons and present a fresh report to the House?
We have attempted reasonably to project forward the experiences of the past and to take into account changes which are expected in the working population and in the structure of the working population. After we have had our consultations, we shall possibly come to the House with an amended document, if an amendment is needed.
§ 21. Mr. Barnett
asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs to what extent the change in target for balance of payments as set out in the Budget Statement on 15th April affects the forecasts in the document "The Task Ahead."
§ Mr. Barnett
But in "The Task Ahead" my right hon. Friend refers to the figure of £500 million a year. Thank God the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got away from that. Would my right hon. Friend accept that with the re-phasing of the debts which we are negotiating, it should be possible, if we can get away from that neurosis, to achieve a much higher level of growth than has been possible in the past?
§ Mr. Shore
I have no comment to make on the information which my hon. Friend believes he has. However, I would put 644 this simple point to him: if there were any rephasing of debts, it would not relieve us of the basic requirement and need to repay those debts; therefore, a very strong surplus is required.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Is it not the case that the Labour Party's Finance Committee has been given more information about the intentions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer than the House of Commons? Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) said, abandoned the target of a £500 million surplus a year?