As the supposed economic adviser to the Government, will my right hon. Friend trot along to the Governor of the Bank of England and suggest to him that there is now a growing call for an inquiry into the whole of the "lifeboat" administration and the suggested loss by the Treasury in the process of £120 million of taxpayers' money? In view of my right hon. Friend's con cern in these matters, does he think that this is a likely area that ought to be dealt with by the Bank of England, especially as in respect of the Crown Agents it acted in a very dilatory fashion? We should not want this to happen again.
As my right hon. Friend is economic adviser to the Government, will he consult his colleagues about recent estimates that unemployment since 1974 has cost the nation £15,000 million in lost production, plus another £5,000 million in lost income tax, national insurance contributions, payment of benefits and so on? Does not that prove conclusively that unemployment is disastrous in economic as well as in social terms?
Without going into the details of the arithmetical documentation offered by my hon. Friend, I would say that he can rest assured that every member of the Government regards unemployment at its present level not only as economic waste on a vast scale but as morally and ethically repulsive.
The right hon. Gentleman did not mention any meetings with representatives of small businesses today. Are we to understand that his mandate to look after the problems of small businesses has lapsed? If not, will he prepare to answer Questions on this important problem when he next answers Questions?
Any such inference would be wholly misguided and unjustified. The fact that I shall not be seeing their representatives today does not mean that work will not be continuing in that area today and, indeed, every day from now on. I shall be seeing representatives of small business firms on more than one occasion this week. Certainly, I shall be very happy to deal at Question Time with any of the issues that arise on this important subject, as hon. Members require.
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, can he confirm that, if he is not today seeing Lord Northfield, the Chairman of the Development Commission, he will see him some time this week and that he will give a receptive ear to the request from Lord Northfield that more money should be given to the Development Commission to help rural areas, such as my own, that are suffering from high unemployment and wish to encourage small businesses in those areas?
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that I am not seeing Lord Northfield today, or next week, but that I saw him last week. I had a full and fruitful discussion with him, and I shall certainly give close attention to all possibilities of encouraging and enlarging the exceedingly valuable work over which he presides.
In the discussions that my right hon. Friend is having with representatives of small firms this week, will he be able to tell them when he will publish his report into ways of assisting small businesses? In particular, can he say whether he is looking sympathetically at the case that has been made to increase funds available to the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas?
On the latter part of the question, I assure my hon. Friend that I am looking at all possibilities not merely of increasing the funds available to COSIRA but of giving it any aid and encouragement that I possibly can in the exceedingly valuable achievements in that area that it has already shown. My hon. Friend is mistaken if he supposes that a comprehensive report is impending. What is occurring is a continuous and intensive study with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry of all possibilities of giving help to small firms in the three main areas of tax, the impact of legislation upon them, and the possibility of assuring them of adequate funds, both equity and loan capital. COSIRA is a notable example of what can be done.
Does not the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster owe it to the House and the IMF to expand on the answer that he gave earlier, namely, that it was no longer an essential element of the Government's strategy to secure a continuing and substantial proportion of the national resources required for the public sector?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman, who is forbidden to quote at Question Time, is erring even more in misquoting. I merely said earlier that I was not able to give the hon. Gentleman concerned the assurance in the terms that he sought. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will be sending another Letter of Intent to the IMF in the not-too-distant future fully setting out the Government's purposes and commitments in relation to the Fund. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of maturing a thoughtful judgment on that letter and asking for further information in due time.