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 Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough 12:00 am, 28th November 1968

It is lucky for the reputation of Parliament that this is not being televised tonight. A few moments ago there were 15 hon. Members in the Chamber. We are supposed to be discussing emergency measures to deal with an economic crisis that brought home the Chancellor from Bonn only last Friday flying the S.O.S. flag. It is incredible that the benches on both sides of the House should be nearly empty—there are more Members on the benches opposite than on this side of the House—when we are discussing a matter that affects us all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) said that the Financial Secretary had argued that there was no alternative to these proposals. He suggested rather abruptly that there was one, that the Government could resign, to which the Financial Secretary said that that would not produce imports in the next six months. I asked the Financial Secretary by how much this miserable, friendless little Bill would reduce imports and he said that he did not know. And this is a Government of planners—[AN HON. MEMBER: "But it is a free country."—but we are planning to reduce imports. That is what we are discussing. Yet the Financial Secretary with all his charm and honesty, which we all admire, could not answer the question which really matters—how far will the Bill bite, by how much will it reduce imports? He had not the vaguest idea and had the honesty to say so.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), in his impassioned speech, made one point with which I completely agree. He said that some import control was inevitable and that this country had a perfect right, as a sovereign Power, to control its imports. I agree, but if that is carried to its logical conclusion it means that we have to control consumer expenditure. We cannot have a policy of real, savage and serious import controls without facing the ultimate of consumer control, the ration book—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"—this is the logical outcome.

The hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) followed the Financial Secretary by saying that this miserable little Bill will have very little influence on imports. If so, why go on with it? [Interruption.] Because we would like to destroy it. If this pettifogging, miserable little Bill will do so little to help exports—the Financial Secretary said that it was only temporary and would have only a marginal effect—then what is all the fuss about? Why did the Chancellor come home in such a bother and so worried? Is not this a miserable effort to get us out of our troubles?

Let me remind the Financial Secretary of what the Chancellor said on Friday. He said that the aim was to bring the balance of payments deficit to an end. It is a fraud to pretend that this miserable little Bill——