asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what changes he proposes in the composition and functions of the National Economic Development Council; and to what extent it is the Government's policy that the Council will continue to be serviced by a National Economic Development Office of a size, professional standing and independence comparable with that which existed prior to 31st March, 1966.
My right hon. Friend—
Where is he?
Even if hon. Members are not interested in international affairs affecting this country, at least they ought to know that my right hon. Friend is representing Britain at the Ministerial Council of the European Free Trade Association.As I was saying, my right hon. Friend is proposing no changes at present in the composition and functions of the N.E.D.C., which is agreed on all sides to have a major rôle in the drive for economic growth. The Council will continue to be serviced by the National Economic Development Office basically as it was before 31st March, but with some strengthening of the staff.
I suppose we must take some comfort from that Reply. But does the statement by Mr. Catherwood that the National Economic Development Council could not expect to remain independent of the Government represent Government policy? If so, it represents a considerable change.
What Mr. Catherwood said was that the responsibility for economic planning is today that of the Government and not of the N.E.D.C. But, of course, we shall continue to receive independent advice from the N.E.D.C., as in the past.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, so long as Mr. Catherwood makes the kind of statement referred to, the N.E.D.C. cannot continue to command the support of both sides of the House?
We have no evidence that the N.E.D.C. does not continue to receive the support of both sides of industry. Indeed, I would say that that support is as strong as it has ever been.