HC Deb 06 December 1973 vol 865 cc1445-7
Q1. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister what further meetings he has planned with the TUC and CBI.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Anthony Barber

I must inform the House that since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister it taking the chair at the tripartite discussions on Ireland, I have been asked to reply.

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Norman Lamont) on 8th November.—[Vol. 863, c. 231.]

Mr. Meacher

When the right hon. Gentleman does meet those bodies, will he explain how he justifies the fact that over and above the 2–3 billion pounds which the Government will now have to borrow to cover next year's deficit they are encouraging the nationalised industries and local authorities to borrow from abroad at a rate of a further 2 billion pounds per year, so that by this time next year we can expect to be in "hock" to the tune of 5–6 billion pounds? Since, in the present world economic situation, one-eighth of our national income is committed to foreign debts, does this not show reckless housekeeping?

Mr. Barber

The alternative is to pursue the sort of policies that were pursued by the Labour Government. The facts are that at the end of October the reserves in this country amounted to $6,761 million and the level of public sector borrowing in foreign currencies amounted to $2,131 million. That compares with the situation in June 1970, when our reserves stood at only $2,791 million, with $3,506 million in short-and medium-term official debt, the bulk of which was due to mature very soon. Therefore, we are now in a much better position.

Sir Robin Turton

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the appraisal of the future growth rates made yesterday by the Director-General of the National Economic Development Office?

Mr. Barber

The Director-General of the National Economic Development Office this morning issued a statement making clear that certain accounts of yesterday's meeting of the National Economic Development Council were incorrect. It was not the case that Ministers, management and unions agreed that the Government's economic target were unobtainable. What the council, including the unions and management, agreed was that we should aim to maintain growth of output at the highest possible level permitted by physical limitations of supplies of oil and other materials, and that industry could absorb an overall cut of 10 per cent. in oil supplies without widespread loss of output. That was the view not only of the Government but also of unions and management.

Mr. Healey

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer aware that there will be disappointment on both sides of the House that reports to the effect that he courageously admitted yesterday that the assumptions on which he based his Budget strategy had been undermined by the energy crisis now appear to be untrue and that he is still showing the same complacency as he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry have been showing for so many weeks?

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the trade figures published yesterday which show, contrary to Government claims over the last few weeks, that the volume of imports has not increased since January whereas the volume of exports has increased by 9.6 per cent.? I am sorry. Obviously I was overcome by the Government propaganda to which I referred. I meant to say that the volume of exports had not increased since January, whereas the volume of imports had increased by 9.6 per cent.

Mr. Barber

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, in the national interest, will agree with everyone else in the country that the efforts being made by our export industries at present are first-class. No one would seek to deny that who has the national interest at heart. The simple fact is that when the right hon. Gentleman speaks in the way he does, he does this country no service whatsoever. If I may say so, he would do well to heed the words of Mr. Len Murray, who said that people who exaggerate temporary problems do Britain no service at all.

Mr. Healey rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have spent seven minutes on this Question, but I shall call the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).

Mr. Healey

I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to impugn my patriotism for quoting figures published yesterday by the Department of Trade and Industry?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.