HC Deb 23 February 1932 vol 262 cc313-7

"No duty under this Act shall be payable on any goods conveyed in any vessel on a trans-oceanic route which has arrived at any port of the United Kingdom on or before 29th February, 1932, notwithstanding that a portion of such goods may be discharged at another port of the United Kingdom on or after the date when this Act comes into operation."—[Sir F. Hall.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

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

I apologise for introducing a manuscript Amendment at this stage. I had put down an Amendment to a new Clause which is on the Paper, but that new Clause was ruled out of order, and it has therefore been incumbent on me to draft this further new Clause. I am opposed to excluding from duty the goods in any vessels that may arrive from what I may describe as the near ports, but what I wish to bring to the attention of the Committee is the fact that there are now certain steamers en route from the Pacific carrying cargoes of fruit. These steamers are, the Nictheroy, which sailed from Seattle, 5th January, for Liverpool, Havre, London, Rotterdam and Hamburg; the Loch Katrine sailed from Vancouver, 7th January, for Liverpool, Southampton, London, Rotterdam; the Pacific Grove sailed from Vancouver, 9th January, for London, Liverpool, Manchester and the Clyde, and left Colon on 10th February; the Gracia left Vancouver, 15th January, for London, Liverpool and the Clyde, and sailed from Colon on 10th February; the Damsterdijk left Vancouver, 18th January, for Liverpool, London, Southampton and Rotterdam; the Tacoma Star sailed Vancouver, 30th December, for Liverpool, the Clyde and London and arrived at Liverpool on 20th of this month. The Committee will appreciate that all these vessels had sailed long before this Bill was introduced. I do not hold any brief for forestalling in any shape or form, but one of these steamers has actually arrived, and the others are all due between now and 29th February, though, in the case of one, it may be 1st March.

The position is this. If these ships arrive at London, Liverpool or Southampton, as the case may be, on or before 29th February, they will be exempt from the duty. But the whole of each consignment is not for one port. The consignments are divided up for the different ports which I have indicated. Each of these six ships carries cargo intended for different ports. If it appeared necessary to do so in order to avoid having to pay the duty, the shipowner could have the whole of a cargo discharged at the first port. Thus the cargo would be dumped out at the first port and in all probability would cause considerable congestion. It would then be possible to ship parts of that cargo round in coasting steamers to the other ports for which it was intended, thus avoiding the duty. As I say, this is not a question of any desire on my part to assist in the avoidance of the duty, but I think that a, commonsense point of view ought to prevail in reference to this merchandise. I have said that no duty will be payable by any of these ships arriving on or before 29th February and it seems rather un-businesslike to say in effect, "If you want to save the duty you can dump it all at the first port and afterwards send it round to the other ports, thus increasing the cost of the articles by having them handled a second time."

I cannot help thinking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see the reasonableness of my proposal. It is not going to cost the Exchequer anything but it is going to assist the merchants if you say to them, "We are quite willing to, accept the first arrival as rendering the cargoes free from duty." I may add that the contracts for these goods were, in many cases, made in August or September. I have inquired into the circumstances and I find that the money, in many cases, hat been paid for this mer- chandise, either in cash or by banker's draft. In these times when industry is so bad and when merchants are suffering heavily, I am sure we do not wish to make things more difficult for them or to increase the cost of sending such goods on to the final ports of discharge. To give the small help which is asked for in this new Clause will not interfere with the fundamentals of the Bill and I hope that, in the circumstances, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to accept my proposal.


I appreciate the difficulty to which my hon. and gallant Friend calls attention, but I am afraid it is inevitable that that difficulty should arise. If a change of this kind is made and if we decide that certain new duties are to come into force, there must be some sort of difference between the goods of those who have succeeded in landing their cargoes just before the duties have become payable, and the goods of those who cannot manage to land their cargoes until after the duties have become payable. My hon. and gallant Friend probably knows that the established law in connection with the Customs is that the time at which duties are determined to be payable or not, depends on the time at which the goods are entered with the Customs. That is the law and practice. There is no other way of doing it.

Let the Committee consider what is happening at the present time. A number of ships are on the sea bound for the United Kingdom. Some are near; some are a long way off; some can get to this country before 1st March, and some are not due to arrive until after that date. My hon. and gallant Friend says, "But they may have parts of their cargoes consigned to one port and other parts consigned to another port. If a ship arrives before these duties come into operation and discharges the whole of its cargo at the first port, it will be discharging part of its cargo at the wrong port, but if it goes on to the other ports with the rest of the cargo it will have to pay duty." That is true, but let the Committee observe what would happen if the proposed new Clause were adopted. It would then be quite possible for a ship, comparatively near to a port in the United Kingdom to make a dash for the nearest port and land just a small part of its cargo and then go on and land the rest at other destinations and so evade the duty altogether. My hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate that if that were allowed in this case, it would form a precedent which might be extremely embarrassing in the future. He will see the difficulty in the way of accepting the Clause and understand why I am obliged to decline to do so.


May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the proposed new Clause is not a complete denial of the argument of the Tariff Reformers, that the foreigner pays the duty? All that the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) is concerned about is that the duty should not be paid by those bringing in these commodities in certain ships arriving after 1st March. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman in refusing the new Clause would have put forward the ordinary tariffist's objection about the foreigner paying the duty—


I think that question hardly arises and the Chancellor of the Exchequer therefore was more in order than the hon. Member.


If I may be permitted to say this in reply to the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), I do not think he followed me when I put the facts before the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was particularly careful to say that the amount had already been paid for these things, either by cash or by bankers' drafts. The goods had already been bought before there was any intention of bringing in this Bill. If these contracts had been made subsequently, I would not ask for any concession, but it is only these specific steamers, which have actually come within this category, for which I am pleading, and I have already said that if it were a question of vessels on short voyages, I would not have asked for any concession. These vessels left their port of lading at the beginning of January, and one at the end of December, when there was no question of any tariffs at all or of anybody else having to pay the charges. The circumstances are such, however, that I would ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, even if he says that he cannot do anything now, whether between now and the Report stage to-morrow he will not give the matter with regard to these six steamers his careful consideration, because one of them has actually arrived. It would cost the Exchequer nothing at all, but it would save an enormous amount of extra work and the additional cost of getting the goods to the other ports of discharge. I do beg of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider the question favourably.


I followed quite clearly everything that the hon. and gallant Member said, but he merely repeated his first speech, which was to the effect that this particular consignment had already been paid for, and what he was objecting to was that they should have to pay something extra in the shape of a duty. Therefore, I am perfectly correct in saying that he has now admitted to this Committee and to the country that it is not the foreigner who pays the duty.


My hon. and gallant Friend has put his case so persuasively that it is very hard to refuse him, but I would point out that, although he is pleading only for these six or seven ships, the same problem would arise every time a new duty was put on. Therefore, we are not legislating for these six or seven ships which happen to be on the sea at the present time, but we should be laying down a new general principle, which would always be applicable in every case that might arise in the future. I would remind the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) that the argument to which he refers was never used about cargoes of imports which had started before the duties were levied.


If any duty is put on at all, it must be paid by someone.


Is it not a fact that although the merchants about whom the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) is talking paid for the cargo when it left the other side, when they land their cargo here and have to pay the duty, the merchants will put it on and get it back from the consumer?


That is a question that we cannot discuss now.

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