Any debate on import deposits has to start with the question of how effective they have been over the last 12 months, because they have been operable since November, 1968. Have they been effective in restraining imports? This afternoon the Financial Secretary put forward three reasons for import deposits, but they were three very different reasons from those which the Government adduced a year ago. He said that they were important first because of their effect on domestic credit; second, because of their effect on the reserves; third, and in a very minor way, because of their effect on the import bill. When the Government introduced these measures a year ago, those three arguments were in exactly the reverse order and the main argument was that there would be a significant effect on our import bill.
One has to start by asking what effect there has been on the import bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the lead to the Treasury case in his speech earlier this year when he said:
There is no way of quantifying the precise effect of import deposits.
In the second breath he took after saying that he said categorically:
But there can be no doubt that the scheme has had a useful restraining effect on imports …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1969; Vol. 788, c. 953.]
What did the Chancellor mean when he referred to a useful restraining effect on imports? How can he know what the useful restraining effect is if in a sentence earlier he has said that there is no way
of quantifying the precise effect of import deposits? It is illogical to say that the effect cannot be quantified and in the next breath to say that there has been a useful restraining effect. Can the Minister of State, who will be speaking tonight on a Bill for the first time as a Minister at the Treasury, start by explaining what the Chancellor meant by that? The Minister of State is an acolyte of the temple and much of his time will be spent explaining the Delphic utterances of the Chancellor, and we should like him to start by explaining what the Chancellor means by a "useful restraining effect".
I think that the scheme has had only a little effect in restraining imports, a marginal effect. The Financial Secretary as good as admitted that when giving us the figures for the five years prior to the scheme for imports of goods on which import deposit now has to be paid and which rose by 13 per cent. whereas in the last year they have risen by only 6½ per cent., or roughly half; but imports of those goods which are specifically exempt from import deposits in the same five-year period rose 5 per cent. and last year 3 per cent.