A year ago I had the privilege of speaking on this subject, and I believe that it was then considered more than likely that a year later we should be again debating whether, in view of changing economic circumstances, to remove these duties or extend their operation for a further period. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) said that if we were so hopeful about the balance of payments the Bill would not be needed, but the strength of the trading figures for the last three months is hardly by itself, sufficient foundation upon which to make a change.
The problem with which we have been struggling for many years is still with us, and although the trend towards a healthy balance of payments looks stronger than fcr many decades, hasty action now could be ill-advised. Nevertheless, the gravity of the Bill, the enormity of the Bill, the seriousness of the Bill and its effect on E.F.T.A. nations or any other outside group of trading nations must be put into perspective.
It was, I think, the First Secretary who last year defined quite clearly what the scheme meant. It was pointed out that it did not deal with certain imports from developing countries, or with large categories of raw materials. In total, it affects only about one-third of our import bill—just under £3,000 million. It is, therefore, not very large. Indeed, it is only part of a package of other steps that have been taken by the Government in order to get an export bias and some marginal control of imports.
When the hon. Member spoke of the effect of the scheme on the E.F.T.A. countries I was rather pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) intervene to indicate that we do not live in a pure world. In an aside, I might say that it is the desire of most of us that the world might be purer than it is, and certainly in terms of economics and of moral values it is to be hoped that there will be some improvement.
I was the chairman last year of a subcommittee of the Estimates Committee which dealt with the subject of exports. One of the pleasing things I was able to tell the House was that in the year under review the United Kingdom earned abroad about £10,000 million. That is the highest earning capacity per head of population of any country, including the United States. It therefore serves the country not well at all for hon. Members opposite, within the climate of a deficit on balance of payments or within the climate of a change for the good, to indicate to the world outside that we are behaving dishonourably towards our trading partners, wherever they may be. It serves the House and the country not well for hon. Members opposite to try to minimise abroad the significance of Government policies that have brought about a trend for the good in the balance of payments position, albeit only in recent months. If the rest of the world conducted its trading affairs at the high standard which this country adopts, our trading fortunes might have been better without some of the steps we have had to take. That sometimes hurts us at home far more than those abroad.
If the Financial Secretary was right a year ago, as I suspect my hon. and learned Friend was right today in talking about the very marginal effect of this Bill, I presume that the idea was to take out of home consumption a certain amount of liquidity. That was one of the parts of the package deal arrangements. There were two objectives of the Bill. One was to modify imports in the limited area to which I have referred, and the other was to take out of home consumption some of the demand.