§ 2.47 p.m.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether at his recent meeting with the President of the United States the Prime Minister raised the question of the effect upon Great Britain of the devaluation of the United States dollar.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (EARL JELLICOE)
My Lords, the Prime Minister discussed the dollar with President Nixon, but those discussions were confidential. They took place before the disturbances in the foreign exchange markets had fully developed. The United States initiative in proposing a change in the value of the dollar came later.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to tell the House why on this occasion the Government are so coy? Is he aware that at the Bermuda meeting in December, 1971, the Prime Minister was extremely forthcoming both in being a party to a communiqué and in a subsequent statement when he emphasised what he called the "natural relationship" between Britain and the United States? He made a statement that it was significant that there should be continuing discussions about exchange rates. Is the noble Earl aware that, with the way that relationships have developed between ourselves and the United States, it almost looks as if we are on a parity with other defeated nations and that we are not being now informed of what happened? For all his brave words, is the Prime Minister being treated naturally?—unless that is the way his natural relationships normally develop.
My Lords, the noble Lord has had considerable experience of office, and I am sure that he knows as well as I do that on certain occasions conversations between a Head of State and our Prime Minister are confidential. It is quite hopeless from the point of view of international transactions if the confidentiality of confidential discussions is not preserved.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, it goes without saying that I entirely accept—and I hope that the noble Earl will accept it from me—and fully understand the need for confidentiality in matters of this kind. But it looks as though we are more confidential on some occasions than others. Can it be that it would be in the interests of the country that we have some objective standard of confidentality, and not one standard when it suits the Prime Minister and another when it does not suit him?
My Lords, these exchanges happen to be two-way exchanges. There are confidences on both sides. I do not think that it would necessarily he right for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to apply necessarily the same standards in these matters as did his predecessor.
§ LORD HALE
My Lords, would the noble Earl give his assurance that this was another simple operation, non-speculative, of tired businessmen anxious to ensure their hard-earned future and thus refute the alarming rumours from Paris which say that the advance guard of the 7 million dollars flew from the Western seaboard to Bonn with the ordered precision of B.52 bombers and that Mr. Nixon and Mr. Brezhnev have since been exchanging congratulatory valentines upon the increased price of gold which will reimburse the perennial loss on the Russian agricultural plan and on the 30 per cent. competitive position achieved with Japan?
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on a compendious and rhetorical question.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, would the noble Earl be good enough to explain to the House how it happens that on one occasion the re-alignment of the currency is welcomed and on another occasion 132 not a single word has been said about it?—unless, of course, President Nixon did not tell the Prime Minister with the consequence that the Prime Minister was not in a position to comment on a matter of vital concern to this country?
My Lords, I really do think that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, should study what I said in my reply, because he seems to suggest that there was some prior arrangement between the President of the United States and our Prime Minister. I must make it clear to the noble Lord that any such suggestion is complete nonsense. The exchange market disturbances which we are all well aware of blew up very suddenly, after the Prime Minister's visit to Washington.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, may I assure the noble Earl that I did not have that in mind at all. In fact I hold the opposite view. For President Nixon did not tell the Prime Minister that he was going to remove the 10 per cent. surcharge before he went to Bermuda, and I believe he did not tell the Prime Minister or discuss with the Prime Minister what he was going to do on the present occasion. In fact, this country is being treated not as a second-rate Power but as a fourth or fifth-rate Power. In many ways it would have been better if we had been defeated, because at least we should have been treated on equal terms with Germany and Japan.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, is it not a fact, so far as defeat is concerned, that Germany and Japan have the strongest currencies?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, will the noble Earl examine the replies he gave to my noble friend and consider whether this was not rather an unusual circumstance; that is, that none of the kind of statements or information usually given after such a meeting were given on this occasion. Why were they not? It may have been forgetfulness, but I hope the noble Earl realises that there may be some justification to wonder why this was not done.
My Lords, I am always very glad to re-examine answers which I have given, but I do not think that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is correct in assuming that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is forgetful. What he is not forgetful of is the confidentiality of confidential discussions.