HC Deb 23 February 1932 vol 262 cc308-13

Notwithstanding anything in this Act neither the general ad valorem duty nor any additional duty shall be chargeable in respect of goods which are shown to the satisfaction of the Commissioners to have been consigned from and grown, produced, or manufactured in any country, colony, or dependency which permits free entry to the goods of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.—[Mr. Dingle Foot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

The purpose of this new Clause is quite clear and should commend itself to members of all parties in the Committee. In spite of the enormous tariff majority which exists in this House there are very few theoretical protectionists, and on many occasions we have heard tariff reform speakers declare that what they object to is not Free Trade in itself but rather to the one-sided system of free imports, under which we admit the goods of the foreigner while he gives us no corresponding facilities in his markets. Even those who advocate a tariff with the eloquence and forcefulness to which we have been accustomed nevertheless declare that they regard Free Trade as the ideal system. In view of these declarations I feel that I can appeal even to Members of the Conservative party to support this proposal, and I appeal to them in the name of whit they once held sacred—reciprocity and fair trade—both of which principles are embodied in this new Clause.

8.30. p.m.

The Committee is aware that there is already a provision in the Bill, Clause 7, dealing with trade arrangements with foreign countries, but this new Clause will not interfere with Clause 7, in fact, in my view it strengthens it. It goes in the same direction but a little further. It does not prevent bargains being made for a lower tariff or in regard to special classes of goods, or bargains being made with any nation which does not give us complete Free Trade in the future, but it issues a general invitation and makes it clear that we are ready to do business on equal terms with anyone who is ready to do business with us. We are saying, in fact, to other nations of the world that if they are prepared to let in British goods without let or hindrance, and let them compete on their merits in their markets, we are prepared to do the same for them. This Clause does not apply to any country. The words are: In any country, colony, or dependency and that is the important part of the new Clause. Take the example of the Canary Islands. They are a dependency of Spain, and although Spain is a high tariff country the Canary Islands are a free area and all British goods are let in free of Customs duties. There is a case in which we get perfectly fair treatment, and automatically we ought to give the same treatment to the Canary Islands. Next summer, at the Imperial Conference at Ottawa there will come into existence for the first time some kind of an Imperial Zollverein. What we are urging is that entry into this Zollverein should be free to anyone who cares to come in, that we ought not to limit its boundaries. I am not attacking the idea of developing Empire trade, let us develop Empire trade and communications as much as we can, but in doing so do not let us shut the door in the face of our friends and customers in other parts of the globe. One of the reasons why the party to which I belong are opposed to Lord Beaverbrook and his closest followers is because we believe he has too narrow a conception of Empire. He wishes to decree that trade shall only be allowed to follow the Flag. A much better view of Empire is that it is not limited to those parts of the atlas which are coloured red.


The hon. Member is misstating Lord Beaverbrook's position entirely. He has made no such assertion that trade should only follow the Flag.


Lord Beaverbrook's aim is to entrench the trade of the Empire, and when it was reported that a Minister of the Crown had had art interview with the representative of the Danish Government and had been talking about a trade agreement an immediate attack was made upon him by Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers.


It has been definitely stated by one Minister of the Crown that no arrangement will be made with any foreign country until after the Ottawa Conference.


I do not think that Lord Beaverbrook has shown any particular willingness for trade agreements with any other nation outside the British Empire.


He is the one true prophet.


I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member into the prophecies of Lord Beaver-brook; all I say is that his policy from the beginning has been the economic isolation of the British Empire. I do not think that any of my hon. Friends who seem to have such an attraction to Lord Beaverbrook, could point to any case where he has advocated trade agreements or free trade with countries outside the Empire. Let me follow that up. I was about to ask the Committee to take the example, say, of a Scottish engineer working in the Argentine, backed by British capital, laying down British rails, and creating a demand by his work for British materials. I submit that he is just as good a citizen of the Empire as any one who lives in Canberra or Ottawa or Cape Town or any part of the world that is painted red. I do not wish to labour a very simple point or to take up the time of the Committee unnecessarily, for I believe it is generally felt in all parts of the House that we are not going to solve all our trade difficulties and trade problems merely by the limitation of imports.

When this Bill is passed the Government will have to come to a very much more important and difficult part of its work, and that is the expansion of exports. It is to that end that the new Clause is directed. It ought to go out to the world that we are ready to welcome and encourage customers, wherever they are to be found. In the past few months we have all been made familiar with the phrase "Buy British." I am not criticising it in any way, but I suggest that there is a far more useful slogan, and that is "Sell British," and I hope that that will be the watchword of the Government after they have disposed of this Bill. I am very glad that the representative of the Government on the Front Bench at the moment is my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, because his colleague, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, has been taking the view on a number of Amendments that any suggestion which comes from these benches is necessarily a hostile Amendment or a hostile suggestion. That is not necessarily true.

I assure the Minister, and I hope he will believe me, that this new Clause is not intended in any hostile sense. We are in very much the same position as Disraeli in the late 'forties and early 'fifties of last century. A new fiscal departure has been made of which we are not able to approve and for which we cannot personally take any responsibility; but the verdict has been taken, and we on these benches, and all Members of the House, have to try to make the best of it and not the worst of it. We know that the Bill is certain to reach the Statute Book, unless that were prevented by the operations of a second and more successful Guy Fawkes. But, apart from that contingency, we know that the Bill will be an Act of Parliament in a few days. I would urge on the Government that by accepting the new Clause they will make it clear that they are not approving or endorsing in any way the economic nationalism which has been strangling the international trade of the world, and that so far as is humanly possible this Measure is to be used as a tariff to end tariffs.


I would not doubt any assurance of my hon. Friend, and when he tells me that his object is to assist the Government I can only express my gratitude, and if I were asked to express anything else it would be appreciation of the very vivacious speech which he has delivered. My hon. Friend seeks to exempt from duty goods coming from any country which gives free entry to British goods. As far as Dominion goods are concerned, they are already exempt up to a certain date, after which date new arrangements will be entered into. Colonial goods are completely free. There remain only those goods which come from countries that cannot be described as countries within the British Empire. As regards those countries the proposal of my hon. Friend is that the goods shall come in free if those countries give similar treatment to our goods. My hon. Friend has deplored the departure which we are making in our fiscal policy and he wishes to keep to the old policy. The old policy still prevails to this extent: We are governed by the most-favoured-nation Clause in our arrangements with the majority of foreign countries. Under that Clause we must give to all countries the same treatment as we give to a particular country wherever the most-favoured-nation Clause operates.

What, then, would be the effect of the new Clause? A particular country would give free entry to British goods. We would be compelled consequently to give free entry to their goods, and under the most-favoured-nation Clause we would have to give free entry to all other countries enjoying the benefit of that Clause, which would not be countries giving us the benefit of the free entry which my hon. Friend envisages. Therefore he will see that, however pacific his intentions may be, the actual terms of his Amendment go far beyond the intention that he himself expresses, and on those grounds I am sure that the new Clause will meet with his own disapproval.


With regard to the most-favoured-nation Clause, surely the same difficulty will arise under any arrangement made under Clause 7 of the Bill? The Government must have anticipated that in drafting the Bill.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.