I am sorry if I have offended the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price). It was not my intention. I did not refer to his speech because I know that we on this side always listen with such care to his speeches that there is no need to repeat them because they are always fresh in our memory.
The Financial Secretary gave us the real reason for this Bill today. These regulations are like something I equally condemn—strong drink. Once one has started, it is difficult to stop. The hon. and learned Gentleman indicated that today because he made it clear that, if we were to remove these controls, two things would happen. First, a free movement of credit—the £500 million tied up in deposits—would flow back into the economy; secondly, there would be an inflow of the built-up demand for imports which have been waiting for the restrictions to go. We know that this would happen and thus, import deposits, like many other bad habits, are difficult to stop, once started, because of the consequences involved.
Only one basic argument has been made for continuance of the scheme. It included the strange figures which have been mentioned. We are entitled to ask what those figures mean. One hon. Mem- ber said that the figures showed that there had been a reduction in imports. That is not my understanding. Another hon. Member said that the rate of increase has slowed up. That is not my understanding either. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the increase in exempted goods had been at a slower rate than non-exempted. That is not saying a great deal, particularly talking in terms of an annual rate of increase of 7 per cent. in money terms, and not at constant prices, and it takes no account of movement in existing prices. If the hon. and learned Gentleman was trying to indicate that the scheme has done something, we should know what it has done. If there has been any increase, then to what specific purposes and for what reasons? But he failed to give any reasons, apart from these mysterious figures.
When the restrictions were introduced, they were accepted reluctantly by some of our trading partners because they appreciated that we were in a state of crisis and that something had to be done—although perhaps the wrong thing from our point of view. The Government said clearly that this would be a temporary Measure for only 12 months and would not be repeated. The 12 months have passed and our trading partners could understandably ask, "What have you done in the interim to solve the roots of the problems which brought you into this crisis? Have you taken specific measures to deal with wage inflation?" Within the last few weeks we have seen wage inflation appear to be soaring. The idea of a norm of 31 per cent. has disappeared and has no significance. Our partners could ask whether the Government have made any real endeavour to cut down unnecessary administrative costs. The answer would be, "Far from it".
Perhaps the hon. Member for Northfield has seen the interesting figures published recently. If this were an average British audience, 22 per cent. of the people would be employed by the public services; in America, the figure would be 11 per cent. and in Japan 5 per cent. The hon. Gentleman should think of that as being among the root problems we should be tackling. If we had tackled those problems, our trading partners would look upon us with far more understanding.