Orders of the Day — Schedule 2. — (Relief from Temporary Customs Duty.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Hirst Mr Geoffrey Hirst , Shipley 12:00 am, 7th December 1964

I do not think that it will affect our economy in any way along the line the right hon. Gentleman imagines. The way in which it will affect the economy is by damaging it. This is the sort of miscalculation which has disturbed Europe and led to the run on the £—amongst other considerations which are not germane, possibly, to this discussion tonight. It is this sort of thing which has disturbed confidence, and confidence is very easily disturbed. It was prepared to be disturbed at the thought of a Labour Government being returned. Then, when the Government handle the situation in such a ham-fisted, bad way as they have, what was a possibility becomes a certainty. The Government should not be surprised at the reactions to their policies.

These may have been taken into consideration in early Cabinet meetings of right hon. Gentlemen, but what, so far as I can see, was taken into consideration was a mass of political decisions with no regard whatsoever to the consequences. Everybody in Whitehall and the Customs has been working on these misbegotten decisions ever since, and there has been trouble all down the line, because many have been saddled with this surcharge which I think will make an awful mess of things and achieve nothing beneficial.

We have been arguing all through the Committee that the large majority of the imports which are essential to industry, including many which are the raw materials of industry, will continue to be imported if we are to maintain our basis for exports. We already have "Stop". There is no "Go" about it. We can only hope that we shall not go downhill. If we are to export, we must import these goods, and their import will not be stopped by the surcharge. Industry has stocked up and can live off the camel's hump, as it were, for some time. But for this futile business the position would have fallen into equilibrium, as we said during the election, but because of this evil measure the balance of payments crisis may be more dangerous than ever in a few months' time.

I do not think that the Government get any marks for the Bill, and certainly not for the way in which they have handled Schedule 3, which is an example of muddled minds. I can think of no speech from the Government Dispatch Box which has not demonstrated that. To me, it is a matter of shame that the industry and commerce of the country, and all the work in it, should be treated as a political shuttlecock in this way. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite must realise that they have greatly disturbed world confidence and have caused a great deal of alarm and despondency in many quarters of industry.

If they think that this will be paid for by the export incentive, they must think again. The export allowance is too small to attract people away from the home market and into exports—apart from the first which do the great bulk of our export trade. In fact, about 250 firms do 70 per cent. of the export trade. The export trade can be a dangerous business; I have burned my fingers in it. To attract many people away from the home market into exports will require a much better incentive than is offered here.

The Chancellor ought to know what people in business circles are thinking of the questionnaire which has been thought up for this occasion. It will be such an appalling bore and they will be so angry with the futility of form filling that they will resent it. We have been told that with chemical products—an industry in which I did part of my training in life—it does not matter whether the chemical changes its form; one can fill in a form and get drawback. This is the sort of thing put up seriously to industry as an incentive for exports.

The Government stand condemned for this Measure. However good they have been at the Dispatch Box in trying to explain it, the fact remains that it is utterly incapable of being explained—and the country knows it, and the world, too.