HC Deb 24 February 1972 vol 831 cc1490-1
Q3. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister why he has no immediate plans to take the chair at a meeting of the National Economic Development Council.

The Prime Minister

I shall continue to take the chair myself from time to time: but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is Chairman of the Council, will preside over the next meeting on 1st March, when there will be a further discussion of regional policy.

Mr. Meacher

When he does next take the chair will the Prime Minister explain why, despite his electoral commitment to reduce poverty, the number of people living in poverty in Britain today is 10 cent. more than it was at the time of the General Election? As the supplementary benefit line has fallen further below national average earnings, would he also explain why the poor have now become poorer under the Tories?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman wants to deal with a specific question he should put it down to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have had considerable correspondence with the hon. Gentleman about these matters, and we differ. I have given him the official statistics of the position, and I must leave it there.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my right hon. Friend agree that whatever answer he gave to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), that supplementary question, already prepared, had nothing to do with the Question?

Mr. Atkinson

When the Prime Minister eventually takes the chair, will he discuss with the Chancellor the change of policy which he announced last night, when he said it is no longer sufficient to stimulate the economy by raising the level of demand but that there is now a new necessity for investment in the economy on a very large scale?

Will he tell the Chancellor that investment in itself is not sufficient and that that investment must be labour-intensive and not the investment now taking place, which is going into capital-intensive industry and, therefore, will not solve the problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain these simple facts to the Chancellor?

The Prime Minister

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman, although we have discussed this before, that one must set out to make investment employment-intensive. What is required of investment is that it should be competitive, and that is what the nation requires. This means, therefore, as I pointed out in the debate on unemployment, that we require this additional investment and the markets which it can serve—and the market is Europe—and that we must also think in terms of an expansion of the service industries.