I am not sure that it is a good thing to forget them. I am not accustomed to repeating my speeches, and I shall not do so tonight, but I was one of about three Members who supported last year's Act. Everybody else was sceptical, and I was one of the few who pointed to exactly what it would probably do if we gave it a chance.
I also pointed out then some of the extraordinary remarks made by hon. Members opposite. I said that their prognostications were doomed never to be realised. I remember weeping tears as hon. Member after hon. Member opposite told us graphically, almost chancing their arm at the exact numbers involved, of the number of people who would be driven to bankruptcy by the Act. According to the Opposition. the queues in Carey Street would be miles long as a result of the little Act we passed then.
One hon. Member opposite looks as though he does not believe me. If I am challenged, I will read some of the things his hon. Friends said about last year's Act. It would make good reading, and make one wonder whether hon. Members opposite ever learn from their mistakes. I begin to doubt it.
Last year I said that the Bill we were considering was designed to have a marginal effect; we wanted to hold down our imports, or if possible slightly to economise at the margin, for a limited period. I said that, with an import bill of about £6,000 million or £7,000 million a year, to turn the corner into a period of surplus we needed to economise by about 2 per cent. at the margin. That was just to turn the corner towards home in the long effort to solve our balance of payments problem.
We are gradually reducing the monthly deficit on the balance of payments. We have got it down to a figure, at the moment,
of between £20 million and £30 million a month.
After an intervention, I continued;
By the time we take invisibles into account. we have the figure down to £20 million or £30 million a month. What we are trying to do is to make a quick action to get it turned round the corner as soon as possible into surplus …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1968; Vol. 774, c. 845.]
I said that this was for very good reasons which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had outlined.
That is precisely what last year's Act has helped us to do, despite all the fears of hon. Members opposite and some of my hon. Friends, and without the enormous queues in Carey Street that hon. Members opposite were wailing about at the top of their voices a year ago. Do they never learn?
I went so far as to put down an Amendment in Committee, about which I am quite unrepentant, because I believe that such legislation, to be used as infrequently as possible, should be a part of any country's permanent armoury in the modern world.