HL Deb 07 July 1971 vol 321 cc963-6

LORD BALOGH: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how the statement of the Prime Minister (Commons Hansard, June 10, 1971, col. 1236) that the reduction of official sterling balances must be reconciled with "the avoidance of unacceptable burdens on our balance of payments" can be reconciled with his assurance "that it (the reduction of sterling balances) must not be done in a way which would at any time put a burden on the balance of payments" (col. 1243) and whether this means that the burden will be reduced at a stroke.]


My Lords, the position of Her Majesty's Government is that, as the Prime Minister said in his original answer of June 10 in another place, any proposal to reduce the official sterling balances would have to avoid "unacceptable burdens" on our balance of payments. His latest supplementary answer was, as he made clear, intended to be read in the context of his original answer. How much, if any, burden would in fact prove to be "acceptable" to Her Majesty's Government would depend upon our external prospects at the time.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his courteous Answer. I should like to ask two further questions. The first is: what is "unacceptable" in this sense of the word? Secondly, does this include the movement of capital out side England which will be necessitated by the rule of the Common Market not to have exchange control between its members?


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his courteous supplementary question. In reply, I would merely say that I think that if he reads carefully—as I am sure he will—the terms of my original reply he will see that "unacceptable" must depend upon our external circumstances at any time, and that will be a matter of judgment. It would be quite wrong for me to anticipate the discussions which are due to take place, I think in Brussels on Monday, July 12, where these questions of exchange movements and movement across the exchanges are, I believe, due for discussion. It would be quite inappropriate for me to anticipate those discussions in an answer to a supplementary question.


My Lords, I am not in any way dissenting from the form of the Question, but may I ask whether it means that Scotland will be exempted from these perils?


My Lords, at one stroke I do not think that I would chance my arm on this. I should like to assure the noble Lord that the "perils" are probably much more imaginary than real, whether for Scotland, or England and Wales, or Northern Ireland.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether, in this connection, "at a stroke" is a quicker thing than we are presently led to believe that it is?


My Lords, has not Scotland, by itself, always had a formidable balance of payments?


My Lords, I think that is a slightly different question.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether, if it is to be a matter of judgment, the judgment will be exercised before we enter the Common Market, or after, when it becomes irrevocable? Is that the situation? Putting it very shortly, if there is a reduction in the sterling balances after we enter the Common Market and that should be found to be unacceptable, what is our remedy then?


My Lords, I do not wish to get into a substantive debate on this question. I suspect that we shall be debating the subject of the Common Market at some length in the coming months; but I think that the word "unacceptable" is perfectly fair in what it means. I think that the past Government would have been very content with the sort of arrangement which is now provisionally agreed on in this areas by the present Government, and that they would have been equally good judges of what was unacceptable in the national interest.


My Lords, the noble Marquess has not answered my supplementary question. I agree that we can discuss the matter in detail when we are dealing with the Common Market in general. I am merely asking the question: when do the Government exercise their judgment? Is it before we go in, or is it when we are in and when it becomes irrevocable and we have no remedy?


My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for promoting me in the hierarchy and I gratefully accept the promotion. The point is—this is perfectly clear, as I suspect the noble Lord knows equally well—that the detailed arrangements regarding this subject have still to be worked out, and they will be worked out if and when, but not before, we become a full member of the Community. Thus we shall have our full say in the working out of the detailed arrangements.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is not true that in the event of this country becoming a member of the Common Market we shall have the same rights as existing members of the Common Market to ensure the maintenance of our essential interests—rights such as have been insisted on by France, Germany and all the other members, right from the start of the Treaty of Rome?


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right in this, as in most other matters.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl if, in his capacity as Leader of the House, he will tell the House whether it is normally acceptable for certain words in a Question to be italicised for the purpose of emphasis?


My Lords, I should like a lot of thought to consider the answer to the noble Lord's supplementary question. I think that he has put a very valid point and that it is one which, if need be, I am sure our very active Procedure Committee could well look at. Off the cuff I should not wish—in any event, it would not be possible—to venture a definite ruling.


My Lords, would the noble Earl at the same time consider whether footnotes might be allowed?


My Lords, we are beginning to stray a little from the original Question.

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