HC Deb 11 May 1925 vol 183 cc1456-76

May I ask you, Sir, for the guidance and convenience of the House, how you propose to put the business tonight at 10 o'clock?


I should like to consult the convenience of the House with regard to the Debate on the Silk Duties, to which we are about to proceed. If the information which reaches me be correct, there is a desire for a wider discussion than is normally possible on any of the Amendments to the Resolutions. I suggest, therefore, that I should take an early Amendment, and allow a full Debate, covering both Customs and Excise on both natural and artificial silk. If that met with the approval of the House, I should propose to take that Debate on the earliest practicable Amendment, namely, the one standing in the name of the hon. Members for Leek (Mr, Bromfield) and Shipley (Mr. Mackinder)


Doweunderstand, Sir, that you will, after that, allow a Division to be taken on the Amendment standing in my name?


Hon. Members will understand that a series of Divisions will take off from the time available for debate before 10 o'clock. If it were. desired to begin dividing earlier, I would suggest that the two further points on which Divisions might be taken would be the one referred to by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)—to leave out artificial silk altogether—and possibly a, further one, to leave out the Excise Duty altogether. The two extra Divisions would, of course, be at the expense of the time available for Debate. Hon. Members may, perhaps, consider those points


As far as my own friends behind me are concerned, I am perfectly willing to agree to your suggestion, Sir, for a general Debate, and then a Division on the Amendment to insert "December" instead of "July," which I believe is the one you indicated. I think it would be desirable also to have a Division on the question of artificial silk as opposed to real silk. With those two Amendments being moved and divided upon, I think the House will have all the issues, at this stage at any rate, properly put before it. Then I think a Division on the Fifth Resolution, dealing with Excise, for or against, would adequately meet the circumstances. That would be three, unless we also divide against the Fourth Resolution. We are going to agree to the suspension of the Eleven o'clock Rule without any Division, so that if we go over 10 o'clock on the Division it will be taken out of ourselves


It seems to me that the suggestion which has come from the Chair—that there should be a full survey of the whole duties upon one Amendment—is a very admirable one, and we shall certainly fall in with it. But there are one or two Division, we should like to be able to take afterwards without any discussion


If I may say so, I think the three Divisions. or possibly four, will give an adequate opportunity of ascertaining the view of the House


I wish to ask your guidance, Sir, about the Resolution itself. It is a Resolution which empowers the Chancellor to levy a tax, and I submit that such Resolution should define clearly the article to be taxed. I am informed by experts in the trade that the words "artificial silk" have no precise meaning at all. While they are a common form, they have no technical meaning which is ascertainable by any process. I ask whether it is proper, according to the forms of the House, for a Chancellor to ask for a Resolution embodying a form of tax on sonic article which he does not define. I thought, perhaps, he intended to amend or explain it today, but, in answer to an hon. Friend of mine, he informed us on Thursday that he would not define the article until the Finance Bill was introduced. My submission is, that this taxing Resolution must, according to the forms of the House, define precisely what it is proposed to tax

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Churchill)

I respectfully submit to you, Sir, that any question of making a close definition would be a matter, according to precedent, for discussion on the Finance Bill and not upon the preliminary Budget Resolution, and that it would not be in accordance with the usual procedure to endeavour to incorparate a scientific definition even in the Finance Bill. I would submit that them for example, at present no statutory definition of sugar or saccharine, or even wine to distinguish it from spirits, and it is not proposed to have any statutory definition either of silk or of artificial silk. The goods which will be taxed will be the goods which, in the ordinary processes of commerce, are known by these names. In any case, I submit that there is no need for us to attempt to insert an exact scientific definition at this stage, and that the question whether any scientific definition should be inserted is a matter which should be discussed at a later stage of the Finance Bill


Surely it is most important that a definition should be clearly established now, in view of what happened in the Finance Act of 190910. Owing to the fact that no precise and technical definitions were given to the terms used in that Bill the taxes were inoperative, as the succeeding Act proved. It is not enough to proceed now with a vague definition of what artificial silk is and carrying on Debates and Divisions before the House knows exactly what it is we are going to tax

Commander BELLAIRS

Without asking for a precise definition, would it not he for the convenience of the House if my right hon. Friend would state, in reference to the five or six principal producing companies, which articles will be taxed and whether cellulose articles will be taxed. We have already been told that mercerised cotton will not be taxed though it resembles the cellulose product. It is impossible to carry on the discussion unless we know what articles are to he classed as artificial silk


I prefer to confine myself to the point of Order

Captain BENN

May I submit that that is no analogy at all between wines and spirits and silk? Experts in the trade are unable to determine what is called artificial silk and what is not, and it is impossible to ask the House of Commons to agree to tax an article when even experts do not know what it is. I would ask the right. hon. Gentleman to tell me which of those handkerchiefs is artificial silk


It is quite impossible to distinguish between these varieties of artificial silk, and the right hon. Gentleman is misinformed in understanding that it might he within the realms of commercial knowledge to give some definition which adequately scribes what is artificial silk and what is not. I am prepared to give a definition of artificial silk which would cover commercial varieties


The hon. and gallant Member's contention has really no substance. It is perfectly well known, both in the trade and outside it, what constitutes silk within the meaning of the Resolution, whether natural or artificial. It is a fibre produced by the extension of a viscous substance. through minute orifices in such a way as to make filaments of a homogeneous nature


This conversation has gone rather beyond the point of Order. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), that question had better be asked in the Debate. Regarding the point raised by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), respecting the Finance Bill of 1909, certain definitions were inserted into the Bill, but not into the actual Resolutions. On the original point raised by the hon. and gallant. Member for Leith, it is quite clear that I have no authority to refuse this Resolution on the ground that he has suggested. If a closer definition be required, the Finance Bill is the place where that should he inserted