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

The hon. Member, I am sure unwittingly, misrepresents what my hon. Friends said. They said last year that the scheme was a temporary one and would have an immediate effect, but they were careful not to give an undertaking, which properly they could not give, about the longer future of the scheme. I ask the hon. Member to examine carefully, as I have done, precisely what was said on Second Reading and what was said in Committee last year. It may be that they and he would like the scheme to have ended, but no commitment whatever was given.

For that reason, hon. Members opposite have found what they regard as a paradox. On the one hand, when the scheme was introduced my right hon. Friend the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, now Paymaster-General, explained that it was intended to cover the period until our strategy enabled us to come into surplus. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said that we crossed the line in about the middle of the first half of this year and have since been in substantial surplus.

The point, however, is surely this. We are making very good progress but we have not yet reached our immediate target of a surplus of £300 million on current and long-term capital account combined during the present financial year. We are moving in the right direction but we are still short of our destination, the destination that my right hon. Friend the former Financial Secretary had in mind a year ago.

I admit that we are being cautious in bringing forward the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary was frank about this this afternoon. It would, however, be extremely foolish not to remain in a cautious stance until the position is plain beyond all doubt. We should take a dangerously short-term view if we were to relax immediately we had crossed the line.

This, after all, was the view of the hon. Member for Worthing. His quarrel—his half quarrel: it was no more than that—was not with the stance of the Government, the cautious one, the reluctance to relax because it might be to relax too soon, but with the means. In other words, he did not like the Bill, but he recognised the necessity, as we see it, for remaining in this cautious posture. I think that is a fair view, it is an honest view, but, with respect, it is not the view which some of his hon. Friends have expressed, and so far as it has been sustained, their argument has been that, because things are better, we can take risks now.

I am not saying that in economic management, any more than in any other field, risks are not involved in all decisions. They are. I think it would be an unusual Chancellor and an unusual Government who said that at no time might a risk have to be taken. There are on this side of the House a number of my hon. Friends who, quite rightly, have been drawing attention to the dangers which might follow if we held the squeeze too tight, but, at the end of the day, having set our target, and having had it accepted, I think both by the House and by the country, it would certainly be wrong to take risks if risks can be avoided.