HC Deb 12 November 1974 vol 881 cc252-3

I have tried to give the House a comprehensive outline of the situation as it is today and to make the best estimate possible on the evidence now available of the prospects for the immediate future. On this occasion, although it is not normal to do so with an autumn Budget. I am providing the House with a printed statement covering at least some of the ground which is usual in the annual so-called Red Book.

One reason for this break with precedent is that last March I found it impossible to provide any meaningful projection which would extend beyond the end of the current calendar year. I am now making good that deficiency by publishing the best forecast which the Treasury can make of expenditure, imports and gross domestic product—the information contained in table 4 of the last Red Book. This forecast will cover the first half of 1975. So we are now back on course.

Perhaps it would not be out of place for me to say a word here about the status of such forecasts. Like long-term weather forecasts, they are better than nothing. But no one who has held office in the Treasury or, indeed, who has had the job of following Treasury activity from outside will deny that they are subject to wide margins of error.

The numbers contained in the forecasts—specific to ½ per cent. in every case—give a spurious impression of certainty. But their origin lies in the extrapolation from a partially known past, through an unknown present, to an unknowable future according to theories about the causal relationships between certain economic variables which are hotly disputed by academic economists, and may well in fact change from country to country or from decade to decade. The current state of our economic knowledge allows of nothing better, but I hope no one will reply on it too much.