HC Deb 07 March 1917 vol 91 cc355-9

asked the Secretary of State for India whether the proposed duty of 7½ per cent. on cotton goods imported into India will be imposed on goods which are the subject of contracts now in existence, which have been entered into by buyer and seller on the footing of the present rate of duty?

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Chamberlain)

The case of such contracts is already provided for by Section 10 of the Indian Tariff Act of 1894.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say what that means?


It follows the lines of our old custom of legislation in this country, and enables the exporter who has undertaken to deliver duty paid to add the additional duty to his price.


asked the Secretary of State for India whether he is aware that Sir William Meyer, in introducing the Budget for 1916–17, stated the view of His Majesty's Government that proposals to make a material increase in the cotton import duties and the possibility of the cotton excise being altogether abolished would be most unfortunate, as it was specially desired to avoid all contentious questions both in India and England; whether the views of His Majesty's Government have since changed; and, if so, whether he can make a statement of the reasons for such change of views?


I am aware of the terms in which Sir William Meyer referred to this matter when introducing the financial statement for 1916–17, from which the hon. Member quotes an isolated passage. The rest of the question is covered by the reply I gave on Monday last to the hon. Member for Oldham.


asked whether the proposed increase of duty to 7½ per cent. on cotton goods imported into India has received the sanction of His Majesty's Government; when such sanction was given; and when the new duty will be come operative.


As regards the first portion of the question I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Oldham on 5th March. I have no doubt that, following the usual practice, the Amending Tariff Act will declare that the enhanced duties are leviable as from 1st March, 1917.


asked the Secretary of State for India whether his attention has been called to the resolution unanimously passed at a meeting of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce on 5th March, 1917, requesting the Indian Government to postpone the imposition of the new protective duties on cotton manufactures imported into India until after the War or until after the settlement of the fiscal policy of the Empire at the forthcoming Imperial Conference; and, if so, whether he will afford the House of Commons an opportunity for an expression of opinion before carrying them into effect?


I have received a copy of the resolution referred to and have arranged to receive representatives of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and other bodies interested on Monday next. I will consult my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to providing an opportunity for discussion in the House. I think such an opportunity will be furnished by the Resolution which will be necessary to authorise the grant made from Indian revenues to the expenses of the War.

Sir J. D. REES

Is it not a fact that the imposition of these increased protective duties might have been avoided if the opium revenue had not been destroyed?


When does the right hon. Gentleman propose to put the Resolution down?


I should like to receive this deputation, which is fixed for Monday, before we have the discussion in this House. After that I should be very glad to take the Resolution on as early a day as possible, but I have to do some preliminary work, and I must consult the Leader of the House in connection with the general business.


Is it not the case that the Manchester Chamber of Commerce is in favour of tariffs for this country?


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether an opportunity for discussing the proposed increase of Import Duty on cotton goods into India will be given to this House before the proposed duty becomes operative?

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)

It is impossible to comply with the request of my hon. Friend as the increased duty is already in operation.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say on what day the proposed Debate will take place, in accordance with the promise of the Secretary of State for India?


My right hon. Friend has informed me of what took place at Question Time, and I think it will be possible to arrange for it on Wednesday or Thursday next week.


(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for India whether, in view of the fact that early in 1916 the late Cabinet declined to sanction the increase of the import duties on cotton goods in India to 5 per cent., and gave their reasons, since published, for refusing their sanction, the right hon. Gentleman can say on what he bases the assertion that the decision of the present Cabinet to allow import duties to be imposed now at 7½ per cent. is in full accordance with the spirit of the declaration of the late Governnment in 1916?


The instructions issued by the late Cabinet and embodied in the Budget Statement of the Finance Member, whilst declining to sanction at that moment the increase of the Customs duties then proposed for purely Indian objects, reserved the subject for further consideration in connection with the general fiscal policy of the Empire and with the share, military and financial, taken by India in the struggle which it was then thought would not be fixed till the close of the War. It seems to me, therefore, that, as the share of India in the War has now been determined without waiting for the close of the War, it is in accordance with the spirit of that decision that sanction should be given to the proposals of the Government of India. I cannot believe that the late Cabinet, who were well aware of the strength of Indian feeling on the subject and must have known the expectations which such a declaration would arouse, would have authorised it if they had not intended to give favourable consideration to the Indian demand when the proper time arrived.


Has my right hon. Friend refreshed his memory as to the two points which were put last year to the Indian Government, neither of which has been satisfied by the answer now given to me—that the revival of old controversies during the War is prejudicial to the ultimate settlement, and that the fiscal relationship of all parts of the Empire must be considered after the War?

Sir J. D. REES

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the profound satisfaction which his action and that of the Government of India have given not only to Indian public opinion, but also to officials who were constrained to vote in their day for equal countervailing duties, of whom I was one?


I am aware of the statements brought to my notice by my right hon. Friend opposite and my hon. Friend behind. The declarations of the late Government were before the present Government, and were taken into account when the decision was given. I will venture to say, if I may, that I think it would be difficult to exaggerate the serious effect which a rash handling of this question may have on public opinion in India. I know that my right hon. Friend opposite will treat it with circumspection, and I hope that all the other parties interested, both inside and outside the House, will be equally mindful of their responsibilities.

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