HC Deb 12 July 1922 vol 156 cc1414-9

The facilities granted to the cultivation of tobacco in Great Britain by Sub-section (4) of Section eighty-three of the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, shall be re-enacted, and shall have force and effect as from the passing of this Act.—[Viscount Wolmer.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Viscount WOLMER

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I am pleading here to-night on behalf of a small, struggling industry in my constituency and in the constituencies of other hon. Members. This industry is the English tobacco trade, and I want to explain to the House very shortly what my proposal is. What I am asking the Government and the House of Commons to do is to return to the wise provisions that were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley and the Liberal Government of that day, and the present Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in granting a rebate of one-third on home-grown British tobacco.

On the Committee stage of this Bill, I endeavoured, I think, at about 3.30 in the morning, to persuade the Government to treat English-grown tobacco as they are treating English-grown sugar, and exempt it altogether from Excise Duty. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to agree to that proposal, and since then I have had an opportunity of introducing a deputation, which he was kind enough to receive on this subject, and I hope we have convinced him, at any rate, that it is possible to grow tobacco in this country; that tobacco is being grown as a result of the concession which the Liberal Government gave in 1910, and that, if the industry is only given protection for a few years, it will be able to get on its legs.

I should like to remind the House of Commons that it is an entire delusion to think that tobacco can only be grown in a tropical country. Over thirty-five thousand acres of tobacco are being grown in France, which is cultivated by over thirty thousand individual farmers, and this shows that it is a crop which is particularly suitable for smallholders and small farmers. In Germany at the present time over twenty-five thousand acres of tobacco are being grown, and tobacco is being grown in Norway and Sweden. Therefore it is not a tropical plant although there is an impression to that effect. In Cuba they have to throw awnings over the tobacco plants to prevent the sun scorching the leaves. Tobacco can be grown in this country. When you are establishing a new industry of this sort, it is necessary that it should be given adequate protection for a number of years until it has become fully organised. The House of Commons must remember that tobacco growing had been established in no less than 31 counties in this country when it was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1660. In 1660 it was made illegal to grow tobacco in this country, and from that moment until the Clause which I am now seeking to re-enact was included in the Finance Act, 1910, it was illegal to grow tobacco in this country. The industry had been killed for political reasons—in order to encourage our American Colonies of that period to send their produce to this country in order that we should send them goods in return. When the industry was restarted in 1911, as a result of the concession of the Liberal Government of that day, it had to face the highly-organised American industry, with 250 years of practical monopoly behind it, and it is impossible for any new industry to compete on level terms with an industry in another country which has had a monopoly of 250 years. I venture to ask the House of Commons to grant English-grown tobacco for another. 10 years, a measure of protection which will enable the industry to be founded. It is worth doing. This is a crop which gives an enormous amount of employment to men on the land. Two men are employed for every 3 acres of tobacco grown. It is a crop that can be raised on the lightest soil. It can be grown on the sands round Aldershot, on the sands of Berkshire, on the sands of Norfolk, and other parts of this country where ordinary corn crops cannot be grown. If tobacco growing is made possible you will bring gradually, but only gradually, into cultivation a great many acres which at present are going out of cultivation, and you will therefore be increasing the ultimate food reserves of the country. For a sacrifice on the part of the Exchequer which will be infinitesimal you will restore to agriculture land which is going out of cultivation, you will be giving employment to agricultural workers, and you will be setting on foot an industry which will be of great benefit to the countryside. It will also be a benefit to agriculture in another way, because if tobacco leaf is grown for smoking purposes, the stalk is useful as a by-product. The stalk will make insecticide washes, which will be of value to fruit growers, hop growers and agriculturists generally.

I plead for the sympathy of the House of Commons in this matter. We cannot command a great number of votes, because this industry is at present in a very small way. When the Liberal Government gave this rebate of 30 per cent. in 1910 there was not a square yard of England under tobacco. By the time the War broke out the acreage had reached 140 acres. As a result of the War, and as a result of the change of policy on the part of the Government, the acreage had declined to 30 or 40 acres at the time of the Armistice. This brings me to the point that I wish to impress on the House —that this Government, which at any rate is more Protectionist than the Liberal Government which preceded it, is killing this industry—has killed it. They have given a preference to Colonial-grown tobacco, which is now admitted on exactly the same terms as tobacco which is grown in England. Colonial tobacco comes into this country at a preference of ⅙th of the duty, and English-grown tobacco has, practically speaking, only the same advantage. The Colonial tobacco industry, if not as ancient as the American, is much older and much more highly developed than the English, which is still in its absolute infancy. The extraordinary paradox in the history of this business is that the tobacco industry was restarted in England and fostered by a Free Trade Government, and is now being killed by the Imperial Preference granted by a Government which hon. Members sitting above the Gangway here are always accusing of being Protectionist. Personally I wish it were a great deal more Protectionist than it is, but it has applied its Protection in an unfortunate manner in this instance. Owing to an oversight, I think, it has regarded Empire-grown tobacco as being on exactly the same plane as English-grown tobacco, whereas it cannot be. The Empire-grown tobacco industry is far more highly organised. There is nothing contrary to the principle of Imperial Preference in giving an extra preference to goods produced within our own shores. The Colonies give a preference to British goods over those of the foreigner, but they give a greater preference to goods produced in their own country, and that is what I am asking for. If we reverted to the policy of the Liberal Government in 1910 home-grown tobacco would get a rebate of 30 per cent., and Colonial tobacco would get a preference of 15 per cent. That would give Colonial tobacco an advantage over American tobacco, but it would give English-grown tobacco a preference over the Colonial, and that is necessary if this industry is to be established and is to grow.

Agriculture at the present moment is always in a minority in this House. We are an industrial nation, and the great majority of Members sit for industrial constituencies. It is difficult for agriculture to get the same sort of treatment in this country as it receives in France or Germany. But you will never get people to go back to the land until you make it worth their while to live on the land If you persist in making agriculture unprofitable the land can only become the haunt of the idle rich—if there are any such people still. The land bears a heavy burden of rates and taxes which have to be paid before the produce of it can compete with the produce from either the Colonies or America. These facts should be considered, particularly in the ease of an infant industry. I earnestly plead with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to show the practical sympathy of the Government towards this interesting and hopeful experiment. It was started by a Liberal and Free Trade Government. Let it not be said that it has been killed by the present Coalition Government.


I beg to second the Motion.


I think the House will certainly recognise the sympathy the Government felt towards the subject-matter in the most interesting speech to which we have listened, but I must remind the House, subject to Mr. Speaker's ruling, that the Clause is out of order for the simple reason that it proposes to re-enact a Section of an Act of Parliament on the assumption that that Section has been repealed. The fact is that it has not been repealed and is still law.

Viscount WOLMER

May I ask my hon. and learned Friend whether the Government will pursue the policy under this Section?


I asked the Noble Lord the question, and he gave it as his opinion that it has been repealed.

Viscount WOLMER

I was certainly under the impression that it had been repealed.


It turns out now that it is still law, and cannot be re-enacted. Therefore the new Clause fails.


May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will not now move the adjournment of the Debate as we have concluded what I think he set out to cover, the new Clauses. I have no desire to-morrow to start any thing like dilatory proceedings, but if he will indicate something which he can deal with in five minutes and let us go home, we can start with something substantial to-morrow.


I have a Clause which I did not move on the occasion of the Committee stage and the matter which I propose to place before the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not put. Is it not possible for that Clause to be considered?


The hon. Member refers to the Clause dealing with perfumery. He was absent from Committee, but I noticed the indefatigable Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy).


The matter I wished to put before the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not placed before him.


The hon. Member is now making a reflection on his delegate. There is now no substantial point until Clause 15. There is nothing except drafting Amendments.


In answer to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) has said, I think he will agree that it would be fitting that we should finish the first 12 Clauses tonight. I think these can be disposed of very rapidly, and that, I hope, will ensure that we shall have a comparatively easy task to-morrow, so as not to be sitting late a second time.


Do I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you rule out my Amendment to Clause 4. It is an entirely new Amendment, which was not moved on the Committee stage?


It is passed over. It is not a question of ruling it out.