HC Deb 26 April 1926 vol 194 cc1701-2

The results of the extended preferences which were given last year are satisfactory. The reduction of the Sugar Duty by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley without any compensating change in the preference, abated the amount of the preference and the imports of Empire sugar declined. As the result of our action last year in restoring the preference, the flow of Empire sugar into this country has been greatly stimulated. In 1923–24, it was 368,000 tons. Under the right hon. Gentleman it fell to 165,000 tons, but it has risen again last year to practically the 1923 level, and we look forward to a further increase in the present year. Empire wines of the heavier kinds have for the first time found an appreciable market in this country. Empire supplies of tobacco are increasing. They are cheaper than anything else sold, and they are steadily improving, so I am informed, in quality. Empire raisins have also increased.

It is, however, only by stability and continuity that these trade preferences can be made to produce an effective and permanent deflection in inter-Imperial trade. Four years ago, in the days of the Coalition Government, I was authorised to state that the preference accorded to British Dominions and possessions would be maintained at the existing pro- portions over a lengthy period, and I mentioned, in the case of sugar, a period of 10 years. The right hon. Gentleman opposite took marked exception to this when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. His Majesty's Government were, however, quite impenitent. Last year we stabilised for a period of 10 years the actual amount of preference on sugar then granted. We shall now take a general step forward. Subject, of course, to the unfettered discretion of Parliament to vary or abolish any tax, we propose to extend the principle of a 10 years' guarantee to all the numerous articles which now form the subject of Imperial Preference. In the case of specific duties, the actual amounts of the rebates will be maintained for 10 years, or for so long within that period as the full duties do not fall below those amounts. In the case of ad valorem duties, the present. proportions will be maintained. I also propose, although this is not a matter of Imperial Preference, in the interests of the British producer, to repeal the Excise Duty on chicory, which involves a sacrifice to the Exchequer of about £500 a year.