Orders of the Day — Customs (Import Deposits) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1968.

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Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian 12:00 am, 28th November 1968

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) is under an illusion when he imagines that there is a difference between his party and the Official Opposition. If he had only looked at the Front Bench opposite he would have noticed that when he talked about the pool of unemployment hon. Members sitting on the Front Bench opposite nodded their heads heartily in approval. Equally, when he mentioned the icy winds of competition there were hearty nods of approval. He must not deceive himself that he is independent on this policy. I will read his speech with a good deal of interest, and there will be people in Scotland who will read it with a good deal of interest. It will not spell very much good for the Liberal Party in Scotland.

During the debate we have heard about the credibility of the Government. Surely we are entitled also to talk about the credibility of the Opposition in economic policies. During the last two or three weeks, when the country has been involved in argument and discussion about economic policies, one of the important factors has been the credibility of the Opposition. It has succeeded in managing to unite this side of the House. We have had speeches from the Opposition about the regional policy, about housing policy, and about the agricultural policy, which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition raised in the debate on economic affairs. That brought forth one of the most devastating editorials ever written about a Leader of the Opposition.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite should be very worried indeed. Last night I had a meeting with a lifelong Conservative. He told me that he could not see his way to vote for the Conservative again because of their irresponsible attitude during the economic crisis. It is not very nice to find that the Official Opposition seem to be more concerned about what the Germans think than what the country or the British Government think. This will not do them any good. They may think that they will get some political capital out of it, but people are concerned that certain members of the Opposition are most anxious about what the Germans think than what they think.

Comment has been made about our troops in Germany. Both sides of the House had better face up to this issue. Many people in this country are asking why we should subsidise troops in Germany and why we should have an Army of the Rhine. Some people may say that it is necessary that we should have troops in Germany in the interests of defence, but we should be very foolish if we were to ignore the fact that people in this country are questioning this expenditure.

Some hon. Members talked about vested interests. Some were involved in the export business and others were economists. I am not an economist. My reason for intervening in this debate is, to some extent, to obtain clarification from the Government for the people of Scotland. I am concerned about the development areas and about Scotland. I want to know what effect these measures will have on them. There is already evidence in Scotland that unemployment is starting to recede. We hear hon. Members opposite talking about regional policies. It is ironic historically that it was about the time when we had another crisis of the Deutschmark that they introduced deflationary policies. They can be proud of what they did: at one time, we had 136,000 unemployed in Scotland as a consequence of their policies.

Unemployment in Scotland is now decreasing fairly substantially. Industry is beginning to go with a real swing. We are beginning to get the advantages of electronic and engineering industries. We have a rather Gilbertian situation in Scotland: we are advertising for miners. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said that this debate was very wide. I do not want to start shovelling coal in this debate, but the reason why I say that advertising for coal miners is Gilbertian is that it will be a very expensive policy in the long run largely because of the Government's fuel and power policy. We shall have to try to buy miners into the industry towards the end of 1969 or the beginning of 1970.

We have heard many contradictory statements about what the Bill means and its effects on business and the economy. There have been many contradictory statements in the Press about the effects of the surcharge. The Financial Times of 26th November tried objectively to give a survey of what it thought the impact of the surcharge would be. It dealt with the car, engineering and paper industries, textiles and chemicals. Its objective analysis in relation to the engineering industry was that the Bill could have some effect, it would not be helpful and it was concerned about it. It adopted the same sort of line on the engineering industry. The textile industry may be in a different situation. I refer to what the Financial Times said about the textile industry because of the pessimistic attitude adopted by one of my hon. Friends: 'We look like being net gainers overall', was the fairly chirpy comment of one major textile group spokesman yesterday—and he could well have been speaking for the manufacturing side of the industry as a whole. I have a vested interest in this matter because I have some textile interests in my constituency. Some people in my constituency are dependent on the textile industry outwith it for their livelihood. What comments has my hon. Friend to make about this? Does he feel that the surcharge will have any impact on the textile industry?

The survey in the Financial Times dealt also with the paper industry. Its comments were interesting. It said: The British paper makers have been campaigning for some time for firm measures to discourage steadily climbing imports. Their spokesmen are thus expressing considerable satisfaction at the Government's import deposit move, claiming that it will give many of the manufacturers a welcome opportunity to use up surplus capacity". I have a vested interest here. Indeed, Scotland has a vested interest. We have extensive paper making interests in Scotland. I am a little concerned because there was substantial contraction in the paper industry in my constituency.

I know that the people engaged in textiles, carpet making and paper making will be very concerned and anxious about my hon. Friend's reply tonight. It is vital that he should comment on these matters. The Financial Times went on to say about the paper industry: The Chancellor's deposit move, however, could mean a price advantage of around 30s. a ton to the British manufacturer—about £75 a ton being the estimated average price paid for imported paper. 'Broadly speaking', the B.P.B.M.A. said yesterday, 'you could say this is very pleasing'". I hope that my hon. Friend will answer some of these questions. I finish as I started. My vested interest is not that I am engaged in importing or that I am an economist, but my concern about the employment prospects of my constituents and the prospects of the Scottish economy.