Orders of the Day — Customs (Import Deposits) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1969.

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Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees 12:00 am, 17th November 1969

Unlike my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary, I come new to the world of import deposits. I suppose this accounts for the naivety with which I approached today's debate. I had assumed that there were great issues at stake and fresh arguments which would be deployed. There seemed no other explanation of the Opposition's determination to make such a fuss. I confess that I am no wiser, particularly after having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). I was not sure which side he was on. But at least some of his arguments were arguments which I might have used had not he deployed them. They were arguments, especially on money supply, which were totally contrary to those used by his hon. Friends earlier.

There has been some constructive discussion of the Import Deposits Scheme and its consequences for those most closely affected, and genuine concern was expressed by the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) about the Bill's effects in certain fields. But we have also heard a good deal of nonsense. The Opposition, including the hon. Member for Barkston Ash, have attempted to widen the debate and take it away from the limited case for the Bill. They have certainly tried to avoid facing the particular issue, and I think that they have done so because in their hearts they are divided about it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Worthing as being rather peculiar. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) referred to it as being below the hon. Gentleman's usual standard. If I may be allowed to do so, I will disagree with both my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend. I thought it was a rather good speech. It was ingenious sometimes; it was oblique for most of the time. It was a good speech because the hon. Gentleman was making the best of a very bad job. I enjoyed the speech and I sympathise with the hon. Member. It is the sort of speech which all of us from time to time have been obliged to make. The hon. Member did well on a sticky wicket. His honest doubts on this issue, reflected in the remarks of his hon. Friend, have been part of the background to all that we have heard this afternoon.

It was the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) who gave the game away. He said that we have to deal with the issue as it is. In other words, he was prepared to face the issue as of now about what ought to be done concerning the import deposit scheme. He said that he had some sympathy for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Then he said that he would support his side with slight misgivings.

We know what that Parliamentary language means. The right hon. Gentleman is in favour of the Bill. He is not against the Bill, but, in all the circumstances, he thinks that the only loyal thing to do is to go into the Lobby with his colleagues. That, I think, is the perversity—and it is perversity on the other side of the House today which is at stake —which is a measure of the perversity of the speeches which have been made. I think that hon. Members opposite, particularly on the Opposition Front Bench, wish that they had never been forced to take the stand they have. They have, however, done their best, and even if they have not done it very well, certainly I would have—and it would be appropriate to have—no complaint on that score.

The test of the Bill is simple. First, has our economic recovery advanced so far that we can take avoidable risks with the balance of payments? Second, on the experience of the last year, would an end to import deposits contribute towards such a risk? In the Government's view, the answer to the first question is "No" and to the second question "Yes". Here again, the Opposition have shown themselves to be in a cleft stick. They can hardly set out to persuade us and the country that we have done better than we claim. They cannot say that Britain's economic recovery has gone so far and so fast that risks of that kind can be run. They resort, therefore, to the oldest device of all. They attribute to us a complacency which we have never expressed in order to draw a contrast which would not otherwise stand up.