HC Deb 28 April 1925 vol 183 cc65-7

Now I come to a series of duties of different kinds and of various origins, but which have one feature in common. They all relate to subjects of luxury. They may all be called sumptuary duties or, if that be disputed, at any rate they are certainly optional duties. They are taxes which no man or woman—for women are going to pay their part—need pay unless he or she chooses. They fall on a class of expenditure from which everyone can easily refrain without any detrimental effect on health or morals,

In the forefront of these I place a new revenue duty upon silk. That secret, at any rate, has been well kept. Natural, artificial, raw, semi-manufactured, manufactured or made-up silk will be subject to a new revenue duty. For nearly a generation Chancellors of the Exchequer have probed the problem of the silk tax, and all have retired baffled. The ingenuity and increasing experience of the Board of Customs and Excise have at length led to what I trust is a satisfactory and permanent solution of this problem. Natural silk enters the country at various stages—as raw silk, as silk waste, as thread and as tissue. I propose a carefully calculated scale of duties on all these imports. Itisnot anad valoremtax but a specific duty. No natural silk is produced in Great Britain, therefore, the whole yield, without any countervailing duty, of the duty on natural silk comes to the Exchequer. I propose that similar specific duties, related to the duties on natural silk, should be levied on all corresponding imports of artificial silk at different stages. In this case, however, if the efficiency of the tax is to be fully maintained, a countervailing duty will be necessary in connection with the very large volume of home production. I am told it will be quite an easy matter to arrange.

There remains only silk imported in the form of made-up goods, and here again proportionate duties will be levied on all imports wholly or partly consisting of silk, but in this case the duties will have to bead valorem,as it would be impossible to deal with them on a specific basis. The basic rate of the duty is 4s. a lb. on raw silk, between a seventh and an eighth of the cost of the article; but the story is very complicated, and there are considerable variations in detail between the different grades. I will not weary the Committee with a complicated scale—they will find it in the Vote Office at the close of my speech. But I wish to be absolutely frank and candid with the Committee. These are very good revenue duties. But in calculating the terms as between the foreign importer and the home producer, I have deliberately given a certain advantage to the home producer. I have done that for this reason, because I am using this particular trade for the first time as a fiscal instrument to extract revenue from the consumer, and I expect—I am bound to expect—that the imposition of this duty will lead to a certain decline in consumption. You will not get any result without some disadvantages, wherever you turn, and I wish to make up to the trade by a certain advantage over the foreign importer for the disadvantage they will suffer in a certain restriction in the general volume of their trade. On this basis, I estimate the revenue from silk at £4,000,000 in the year 1925, and at £7,000,000 in the year 1926. That is a substantial addition to our revenue, and if the scheme which we have prepared should ultimately commend itself to the Committee and to the House of Commons, I have no doubt it will be a permanent one.