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I find it difficult to believe the caution and addiction to the minutiae of procedures should reach the point that we have just heard from the Minister of State. We can only contrast the concern of hon. Members on this side of the Committee to keep industry operating smoothly and efficiently with the concern of the Minister to make sure that not even 1·1 per cent. should become 1·5 per cent. or 0·3 per cent., even taking his present estimate, could perhaps become 1·5 per cent. It is incredible that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have made no mention of the importance of spares and replacements arriving in this country rapidly. With industry becoming increasingly heavily capitalised, with production lines at the mercy of a small breakdown in a single stage of the production flow, it is essential that a spare or replacement part should be flown into this country over the weekend and put into operation at the shortest possible notice.
I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman—although with very little confidence, in view of his previous attitude—to do some mathematics about how many breakdowns in major plants need to be prolonged for an extra 24 or 48 hours for the national interest to be damaged far more than by the possibility of another 0·5 per cent. of imports escaping the levy.
On the same theme, I turn to his question of splitting the consignments. He said that an advantage of the £50 limit was that if one exceeded it, it imposed the expense of an additional entry, and that therefore there was a double deterrent. I believe that the deterent of sending off two or twenty packages instead of one is so great that, even if it were tried a time or two, it would be rapidly abandoned.
The Minister of State does not understand how industry works. Industry is not a grocer's shop, bundling up its products in brown paper bags and sticking a label on them. Industry is used to despatching its goods in batches of 20, 50, 1,000 or 5,000. This is particularly so if it is overseas industry, for whom we are only part of the market: they will not change their routines just to escape a levy at this sort of level.
Some bright spark might try it once or twice, but this will not make serious inroads. We have many times drawn attention to the disproportionate difficulties which the small business will suffer under the Bill. In this situation, there is an opportunity of giving some relief to the truly small operator. There is no question of its being rejected on grounds of equity, for there is no equity in this Measure, especially towards the small businesses.
We must thank the Minister of State at least for giving us the available figures. Would anyone say that the possibility of excluding 28 per cent. of the entries—and the fiddling 28 per cent.—which are going to cause the trouble, is not worth lifting the exemption on this vast sum by 0·8 per cent., and even running the risk that it might lift by another 0·2 or 0·3 per cent. because of split consignments?
If the Minister of State cannot accept the Amendment in the interests of industrial efficiency, of the firms doing the repair work, and of trying to keep the administration down to a minimum, could he not at least give himself a flexible power to vary the limit up to £100, and, if he found this leading to widespread abuse, to bring it back down to £50. At least then industry will have the satisfaction of knowing that the Government made an attempt to accommodate them. The only conclusion one can draw from the reply of the Minister of State, if he does not heed the arguments, is that not only do the Government attach overriding importance to their credit squeeze, but do so at the expense of industrial efficiency and the continuation of smooth production at major plants. That is what they may well be imperilling.