Clause 3. — (Charge of Temporary Customs Duty.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st December 1964.

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Photo of Mr George Mackie Mr George Mackie , Caithness and Sutherland 12:00 am, 1st December 1964

I rise to put the Liberal point of view on the surcharge. Of course, we dislike it. We dislike it historically. But we have leant over backwards to understand the Government's point of view. There is no doubt in our minds that they were left with an appallingly serious balance of payments position. Therefore, we have not voted against the surcharge, although we loathe and dislike it. We feel—in fact we know—that it is rather like the case of a drunkard trying to cure his disease by drinking a bottle of whisky all at once in the hope that afterwards he will be able to give up drink. The cause of the balance of payments crisis is primarily the fact that we cannot export cheaply enough to be profitable. There is no profit in exporting when the home market is so protected and so good. Therefore, the 15 per cent. surcharge must be regarded as a very temporary measure.

I understand that we are discussing the Liberal Party's Amendment No. 16, which suggests that the surcharge should cease to have effect in May, in six months' time. However, we hope that before then there will be, as a guarantee of good faith by the Government, a reduction in the duty which will enable hon. Members to judge whether it should be carried on and whether it was a temporary measure. We are prepared to give the Government a chance, although we dislike this surcharge. There is no doubt that there is a great deal in what hon. Members on this side of the Committee have been saying about its effect on the members of E.F.T.A. I understand, although I have only been a Member for a very short time, that if one proposes to attack someone notice should be given, and I feel that this might have been done in the case of the 15 per cent. surcharge.

Another reason why the surcharge should be removed as quickly as possible is that there is no doubt that manufacturers and farmers—indeed, everyone in the country who is in business—are mainly in business not for patriotic reasons but in order to make a living. If business people are able easily to dispose of their goods on the home market, they will not export for patriotic reasons. There is little doubt that the 1½ per cent. rebate will be quickly eaten up by increased costs in this country unless the surcharge is removed pretty rapidly.

Lastly, people abroad who sympathise with the Government's difficulties, and hon. Members on this side who are prepared to give them a chance to put the situation right, would be reassured if the Government gave a promise to come to the House of Commons in six months and to put their decision to us and give us a chance to discuss it. This would assist in reassuring a lot of people in this country and on the Continent that the Government mean what they say, that they are not basically protectionists. I have a sneaking feeling that some members of the Labour Party are protectionists. If the Government were to accept the Amendment in principle it would go a long way towards reassuring many people both here and abroad.