HC Deb 26 April 1932 vol 265 cc343-8
The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sip John Gilmour)

I beg to move, That the Order, dated 23rd March, 1932 made by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries under the Horticultural Products (Emergency Customs Duties) Act, 1931, a copy of which was presented to this House on the 6th day of April, 1932, be approved. This is the first of two Resolutions and perhaps I should say a few words on each of them. This Resolution is a variation of a previous Order dealing with green peas. In the first Order a duty of 40s. per cwt. was imposed from 5th January to 31st March, and a duty of 9s. 4d. from 1st April to 30th June. When that duty was imposed it dealt mainly with peas in shells. It has now been discovered that peas shelled are coming in, and they obviously evade the duty. There is another reason for the variation of the Order, and it is one which will commend itself to hon. Gentlemen opposite. There are numbers of women employed in shelling peas in Covent Garden market. It is not right that they should be deprived of that income, and that is one of the reasons for the modification of the Order. The second Order deals with the importation of rose trees. In the first place there was a duty of 30s. per 100 imposed from 5th January to 30th April. I told the House at the time that this would be dealt with subsequently. I now have dealt with it, and the duty, calculated upon the average price of last year, is now 20s. instead of 30s.


We are not desirous of occupying much time over a matter of a penny per pound on imported peas. We deplore the fact that it should appear that this great nation and this formidable Empire are dependent upon a duty of a penny a pound on imported peas, and we also lament the fact that the right hon. Gentleman should have seen fit to throw out of work so many young ladies who have been engaged shelling peas and who, it would seem, have lost their occupation as a result of this duty. At the same time we congratulate him upon his persistence in continuing his duties and his impositions, but we do not see any real need for opposing this Order.

Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

I am very much astonished at the change which the right hon. Gentleman proposes in the duty upon rose trees, particularly as he asked the growers in this country to undertake to produce rose trees in sufficient quantities to meet the demand which would ari[...] if a duty of 30s. was placed upon that. The 30s. is exactly the wholesale price charged by the foreigner on foreign rose trees and on the assurance of that duty the rose tree growers of England engaged a large number of extra men and opened extra nurseries and undertook to plant and did plant 50 per cent. more rose trees. They now find the whole thing dashed to the ground by this change from 30s. to 20s., a duty which will enable the foreigner to send his trees here in competition with ours and is perfectly useless to the trade. I wish to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the largest firm in England dealing in foreign rose trees, and sells them to the public here, had in consequence of this duty placed an order with the English growers for the whole of their trees for this year. That order will never be placed again, and British growers will never again trust in this House. It is an absolute scandal that rose growers should have been encouraged to engage several thousands of extra hands, to open fresh ground and to grow these trees, and then to find that the 30s. has been turned into 20s., that their labour has been wasted, and that their money is gone, to say nothing of the unemployment which will be caused. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to look into this matter again.


The hon. and gallant Member is giving us a lesson in Protection in practice. I have always argued that while there may be a great deal to be said for putting a tariff on against a particular article, as soon as the Government, in the light of experience, attempt to lower that duty, immediately they find hon. Members, naturally and properly, working up a case to show that this or that interest will suffer as the result of the change in the duty. They will be told, as we have been told this evening, that people have been induced by the promise of this House and of the Government, to invest money and that the consequence of any change will be to ruin them. That is the inevitable result of the tariff in practice. You are not able to take off the duty or even to vary it or alter it without protests of that character. I do not blame the hon. and gallant Member but I would point out to him that this is the result of tariffs. Perhaps he is going to learn the lesson; perhaps his speech is an example of conversion to my point of view, because I have always pointed out the danger of duties of this kind and the danger of dependence upon Governments for the prosperity of particular industries.

We have now an interesting experience of Protection in practice. The Minister of Agriculture is lowering the tariff more quickly than I thought he would. He found that as a result of putting on a duty, a great number of people were being thrown out of work. As I understand it, the peas used to be shelled in England by British labour, but now they are shelled abroad. It was the custom before the tariff was introduced for the peas to come from abroad by rail and be shelled here, but then came the duty, and it did not pay to bring these goods over shelled because of the duty, and a great number of people were thrown out of work and Frenchwomen were employed instead of English. This has been the result of starting these experiments, and they are going to be multiplied a hundredfold in the next few months. You will have to keep on altering your duties in order to prevent people being thrown out of work. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has learned his lesson so quickly, and has had the sense to come down to the House and admit his mistake. We shall have hundreds of examples of that kind in the next few months, and various Ministers will have to come here and say they have learned their lesson and that the duties must be altered because people are being thrown out of work. It will not always be so easy to make the change as in this case, and in consequence some people will be ruined. This is the little lesson we have learned in the first few weeks as to how Protection works.


I am very glad to hear the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) say we shall have hundreds of alterations in our tariff in the next few months. That is the whole idea of a scientific tariff—to change it to meet altering circumstances for the benefit of our people. The whole idea of modern business is to adapt your methods to changed circumstances, and the only way in which you can make progress is to get rid of the fossilisation which characterised this country for 80 years under Free Trade. The Horticultural Act has already proved a Godsend to working men all over the country. I have here yesterday's "Daily Herald," which, I understand, it is not in order for me to read, but which contains a large picture of Covent Garden Market. At the top of the picture it says "Britain's Growing Flower Industry." Underneath we are told that at Covent Garden Market people are now working at top speed to cope with the 25 special trains which arrive each day in London from Southern and Eastern counties laden with daffodils, tulips and other Spring flowers.


This particular Order only deals with peas.


I appreciate that we are dealing only with peas, but I understand that rose trees also are being debated. This picture tells us that tariffs have reduced supplies from the Continent, and consequently the market is now getting a greater quantity of British flowers than ever before.


Can the hon. Member tell us what paper that is in?


I am only too pleased to inform the hon. Member that this is yesterday's "Daily Herald," and this picture, which lauds the great advance in British flowers, was published yesterday, when we had a brilliant display of British flowers by hon. Members opposite. I might mention that had this picture, instead of appearing yesterday, after the return of the new Member to the benches opposite, appeared in this paper two days earlier, it is probable that that new Member would not have been here at all.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Order, dated 23rd March, 1932, made by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries under the Horticultural Products (Emergency Customs Duties) Act, 1931, a copy of which was presented to this House on the 6th day of April, 1932, be approved.

Resolved, That the Order, dated 20th April, 1932, made by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries under the Horticultural Products (Emergency Customs Duties) Act, 1931, a copy of which was presented to this House on the 22nd day of April, 1932, be approved."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]