I thought that it was only only the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) who argued that it should be a permanent weapon for the management of the economy.
However, I was disappointed at the hon. Gentleman's speech because I thought that he was an uncompromising free trader who believed in liberalising trade. It must be beyond doubt that this scheme creates a non-tariff barrier to trade, a point which I wish to emphasise because 1 believe that it could have a serious effect in the present primate of world opinion.
A year ago, particularly when we debated the subject in Committee, we argued at length about whether import deposits would conflict with the Convention of Stockholm. It was agreed that the spirit if not the letter, of E.F.T.A. was being offended. At the time our partners in E.F.T.A. were disappointed. Indeed, they maintain that attitude. It was made clear at the meeting on 6th and 7th November of the Ministerial Council of E.F.T.A. that concern was still being expressed at the existence of this scheme. Yet they showed much understanding of the problem we were facing a year ago.
Our E.F.T.A. partners realised a year ago that we were in a state of crisis. They also accepted the word of Her Majesty's Government that this was to be only a temporary scheme. Indeed, several hon. Members have referred to the language that was used by the Government on that occasion. I remind the House of an exchange which took place between my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and the Financial Secretary. The Financial Secretary said, for the nth time:
It is temporary …
to which my hon. Friend interrupted:
Like Income Tax.
The Financial Secretary replied:
Unlike Income Tax, it would not need another Act of Parliament to renew it.
Following that comment, HANSARD describes, in brackets, an "Interruption" —and we know that that is an OFFICIAL REPORT euphemism for a real old rumpus. The Financial Secretary added:
I suppose that that is not so. All I can say is in anything like the present circumstances I would find it deplorable to renew any form of restriction, and it is not our intention to do so. Our intention at present is to bring this to an end automatically after 12 months."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1968; Vol. 774, c. 267.]
Exactly 12 months have passed, but far from the scheme automatically coming to an end—it would have done but for this Measure—we find the Government proposing it for a further year. This is causing our partners in E.F.T.A. not just apprehension but some degree of alarm.
Everyone recognises that as long as countries persist in fixing rates of exchange they must have some safeguards reserved to themselves in the event of balance of payments trouble. Like the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), I accept that this is necessary, and presumably such a safeguard must take the form of a non-tariff barrier. However, nations are anxious, now that the Kennedy Round has been completed, not to resort to non-tariff barriers. Unfortunately nations are devising, and employing, non-tariff barriers which were not even thought of a decade ago.
It is beyond argument that the proposal before us is a non-tariff barrier. The definition of such a barrier, in commonsense —it may not be precise but it will do—is any interruption of the free flow of international trade. We heard sufficient figures from the Financial Secretary to know that this scheme has had a check on the flow of imports into this country. This is to be welcomed, though one would wish that such a check would be only temporary if it is likely to endanger our relations with countries which historically have been our markets.
For this reason I regret the retention of this scheme unless it can be proved to be strictly necessary. It is humbug for this House to advocate any form of liberalising trade in or out of the Common Market if we persist in this kind of non-tariff barrier once it is seen by ourselves and the world that our balance of payments are no longer in serious trouble.