§ 2.44 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have an import control policy ready for use in the event of export expansion proving inadequate to cover the import bill and other exchange commitments.]
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD BROWN)
My Lords, the Government must of course be prepared for contingencies of many kinds. We are, however, confident that the measures we have already taken will put our balance of payments on a sound footing.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his answer, even though it was a bit "dusty". I expected it, and I understand. May I ask him whether he has any comment to make about the prospects for achieving our exports targets in the latter half of this year?
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government we do not feel that there is the prospect of achieving any balance of payments in the latter half of this year. We believe that we shall move into that kind of situation in about the middle of 1969, so far as our optimistic hopes lead us to believe.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, in view of the fact that the Government thought that there would be no need for devaluation and that U.D.I. would be "cracked" in weeks rather than in months, would not the noble Lord agree that there is also a case for contingency planning in this matter?
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I put a question? Would the Government consider whether, if they have to have a contingency plan, it would not be better to restore the export rebates rather than to go in for a policy of further restrictions on imports?
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, discussion of various measures of contingency planning by Her Majesty's Government is not a matter which it would be productive for this House to go into because it always concerns hypothetical situations. The question asked by the noble Lord is a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper, and perhaps he would put down another Question.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, have Her Majesty's Government had any conversation with the National Farmers' Union regarding the possibility of producing here far more of the food which we consume in this country?
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, I feel that that is another question. I am sorry to appear a little unwilling, but this Question could so easily lead to a general debate on export prospects, and I think that it would be better reserved for a proper debate on this subject, if the House feels that to be necessary.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, did not the Minister say in his original Answer that the Government "must … be prepared"? Is this not an astonishing change of policy?