Charge of Import Deposits

Part of Clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd December 1968.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby 12:00 am, 3rd December 1968

Clearly the hon. Gentleman did not hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who made it clear that, on the one hand, these measures were not determined as a result of the Bonn meeting of the Group of Ten but that, on the other hand, they were linked to the international monetary crisis.

The second point which was raised concerned the spirit of the E.F.T.A. agreement. I hope that I am as anxious as any of the critics to maintain and enhance the spirit of E.F.T.A. Some of the language used by, for example, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) is quite inappropriate to these discussions and wholly out of line with any language used by any of the other E.F.T.A. Ministers.

We must all form our own judgment about the spirit of E.F.T.A.; I cannot claim unique accuracy for mine. I can only report my impression—and, after all, I was at the Ministerial Council—that the E.F.T.A. reaction was not as it has been painted today by hon Members opposite. There was a general recognition that we had to do something to restrain our imports and that of the possible measures open to us we had chosen the one least damaging to E.F.T.A. trade. As far as I remember, during the whole of that afternoon, the question of legality was not mentioned in the Ministerial Council. I can only give my impression as honestly as I can that what has been said about the threat to the spirit of E.F.T.A. today is not in accordance with the facts.

The next question raised was: should E.F.T.A. have been excluded from the operation of the import deposit scheme? This is the object of Amendment No. 98, in the name of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery). I put it to the Committee that whatever international repercussions there are from the scheme as a whole, with E.F.T.A. in, would be as nothing to the international repercussions if we were to make this a positively discriminatory scheme. Successive British Governments, like almost all Governments of advanced countries in the world, have long been committed to the principle that, if they had to do something about imports, they would do it in a non-discriminatory way. I assure the Committee that any attempt to exclude E.F.T.A. would make the international repercussions of the scheme ten times worse than they can possibly be as it now stands.

I was asked what representations had been received. I assure the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) that I have read, as he heard reported on the radio, I think, the very critical speech by the Danish Finance Minister. We have, in addition, as the Committee knows, received representations from the Prime Minister of Ireland. Apart from those, no representations have been received since the Vienna Conference from any other E.F.T.A. country. All the other E.F.T.A. countries are satisfied that we should now follow the normal procedure in these matters, that is, that the question should go to the E.F.T.A. Official Council for its consideration in the weeks and months ahead.