HC Deb 06 March 1978 vol 945 cc970-3
50. Mr. Gow

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will list his official engagements for 6th March 1978.

51. Mr. Canavan

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will list his official engagements for 6th March.

Mr. Lever

Apart from my duties in this House, I have one meeting today with ministerial colleagues.

Mr. Gow

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy find time today to explain what he meant in his speech a week ago at the Grosvenor House Hotel, at the conference organised by the Financial Times on the subject of world banking in 1978, a Press release of which was issued by No. 10 Downing Street? In particular, will he tell the House whether he really believes that we should put an end to the floating rate of sterling and return to a fixed parity?

Mr. Lever

I should certainly like to see an orderly system of co-operative management internationally in the parities of nations. The present disorder in the international currency markets may give great delight to the rhetoricians of freedom of markets without restriction in all circumstances. It gives no satisfaction to me or, I suspect, to the 15 million unemployed among the advanced countries of the world, whose employment prospects, in my view, are jeopardised by the growing instability of currencies in recent times.

Mr. Canavan

In his capacity as Government economic adviser, could my right hon. Friend make a statement today about oil revenues? Does he agree that they should be used to help those most in need, whether they be on Clydeside, Merseyside, Tyneside or Teesside? Further, in view of the claim made this morning by the chairman of the Scottish National Party that the English are stealing Scotland's oil, will my right hon. Friend ask the parliamentary leader of the SNP to dissociate himself from such disgusting, divisive and racialist propaganda?

Mr. Lever

I agree with my hon. Friend in inviting a broad and benign governmental apportionment of such part of the wealth of the country as comes within the Government's purview. I do not think that an invitation from me to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) is likely to produce the kind of response which my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Biffen

Is it now the Government's policy to seek an orderly return to a fixed rate for sterling?

Mr. Lever

I think that these matters require more careful explanation than can be given even in response to an indignant supplementary question from the hon. Gentleman. It is certainly the Government's policy to seek greater stability in world currency markets than we have been seeing of late. It is the Government's view that the present anarchy in international currency markets operates to the disadvantage of the peoples of the world, and of no country more dangerously than to our own.

Mr. Robinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Government Benches agree very much with his article in yesterday's Sunday Times and are deeply concerned and bitterly disappointed about the lack of success of the economic summit to do anything about these problems? If we cannot secure a more co-ordinated programme for reflation in the strong markets, shall we not have to take risks here at home which we do not want? Can my right hon. Friend treat it as top priority in his relations with the Prime Minister to get countries which are strong to reflate?

Mr. Lever

I think that my hon. Friend underestimates the efforts which have already been made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in pressing for the kind of economic and monetary co-operation which he has in mind. There is no reason to believe that the processes of accommodation and international conciliation and negotiation are by any means exhausted. I suggest that my hon. Friend is wrong in concluding that the efforts arising from the summit have been as negative as he supposes. Many valuable results have come from these exchanges, and my hon. Friend must not be so impetuous as to believe that there is not hope for further important advances in international economic co-operation.

Mr. Rathbone

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it that many of us on the Opposition Benches find it extremely worrying that he does not have time within his diary today to concentrate on the problems of small business? He announced only one meeting today, and that with Ministers. Will the right hon. Gentleman take it that the Opposition await with interest his indications of what the Government will do to relieve small businesses of the burdens which they have imposed upon them?

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman could not have carefully considered the terms of the Question and my answer. I was referring to my official engagements for today and not at all to my duties and work in terms of correspondence, conferences and discussions that take place every day. The hon. Gentleman can put his mind at rest. There is no working day when I and my staff are not seeking further achievement in the encouragement and support of small businesses. The hon. Gentleman takes a very negative view if he supposes that the help consists of removing obstacles which we ourselves have placed upon small businesses. The fact is that the last Labour Government were responsible for the Bolton Committee inquiry into what could be done for small businesses. We accepted its report and we shall continue our efforts systematically to improve the prospects and conditions of work of small businesses.

Mr. Gow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the failure of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the Government's economic policy, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

I allowed the hon. Gentleman to make his point of order in that way, but I hope that all hon. Members will continue to use the usual formula: "In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply".

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