HC Deb 14 January 1988 vol 125 cc441-2
8. Mr. Tim Smith

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he is next due to meet the Finance Ministers of the other major industrial countries to discuss the international financial situation.

10. Mr. Bowis

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he is next due to meet the Finance Ministers of the other major industrialised countries.

Mr. Lawson

I am in regular contact with my opposite numbers in other G7 countries.

Mr. Smith

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the factors that makes it difficult for managers in industry and commerce, especially those involved in exports, to forecast and plan ahead is the volatility of exchange rates? What measures will he be urging upon his counterparts at the next meeting to try to achieve greater stability in exchange rates?

Mr. Lawson

I agree with my hon. Friend. What are needed within a climate of low inflation all round are domestic policies that will sustain reasonable stability in exchange rates, which is of the first importance to successful trade and industry. I hope to say a little more about that in the debate that will follow later today.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is good news that we have had five consecutive years of growth in the Group of Seven industrialised countries? It is doubly good news that Britain is at the top of the league for such growth. It is a pity that Britain is at the top of another league table—the league table of the Opposition parties, who see nothing but unremitting gloom and despondency every time that something goes right.

Mr. Lawson

That is a characteristic of the Opposition, and a rather sad one. It is not doing them any good, or doing any credit to the country as a whole. I found it particularly interesting at the meeting of NEDC yesterday, which I had the honour of chairing— [Interruption] This is a very moving moment in the history of the House, with the entry of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), but we are still one short.

It was very striking that at the meeting of NEDC yesterday afternoon the TUC openly acknowledged the economic success and the economic strength of Britain at present. The argument was over priorities. Our priorities were different from its priorities, but it acknowledged Britain's economic success and strength.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer seen today's reports that the United States is selling special drawing rights for yen? That is the nearest thing to selling gold for yen. Does the Chancellor believe those reports, and if he does, does he think that the United States will properly defend its currency?

Mr. Lawson

I have seen those reports and I have no idea at present whether they are true, but clearly that would be a move consistent with a determined American attempt to defend the dollar.

Mr. Mullin

What does the Chancellor think would be the career prospects for a Finance Minister in Europe or in Kuwait who sold 20 per cent. of his country's largest company to a foreign power at knock-down prices?

Mr. Lawson

The shares were sold by Her Majesty's Government at a very good price indeed. It was certainly not a knock-down price, and the British taxpayer did very well as a result of that. Contrary to what the right hon. arid learned Member for Mon klands, East (Mr. Smith) predicted, we have had to buy back only a tiny proportion, less than 2 per cent. It is true that following the stock market fall those shares fell considerably, along with many others, and the Kuwait Investment Office took the opportunity to buy, not all of them, but a substantial block of those shares. Anybody could have done that. However, as I told the House on Monday, it has given an assurance that it has no intention of seeking control of BP, nor any management role.

Mr. Yeo

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he will avoid committing too much of Britain's financial resources to concerted foreign exchange support operations for the dollar until it is clear that the United States Government are adopting policies that are themselves likely to produce a firmer currency?

Mr. Lawson

That is certainly a policy position which I have taken throughout. During the greater part of the period since the Louvre agreement the Americans had been following such policies and were fully committed to the defence of the dollar. There was a period towards the end of last year when that commitment by the American Government appeared to be in doubt. Subsequently, however, they have taken action which suggests that they intend to defend their currency. The commitment of the United States is crucial, both in terms of intervention arid in terms of the appropriate internal domestic policies.