HC Deb 25 February 1932 vol 262 cc660-3

I beg to move, in page 6, line 19, to leave out from the word "Parliament" to the word "then," in line 20.

8.0 p.m.

When the idea of Imperial Preference was first put forward in this country by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, it was to put a tax on imported goods, food and raw materials, the main purpose being to give a preference to the Dominions, whilst admitting Dominion goods free. We have now a very different proposal. The proposal is that, automatically, a 10 per cent. duty should come on, but that there should be a conference at Ottawa, and if no agreement is arrived at there, then, on the 15th November, or at a later date to be specially fixed by Parliament, there shall be for the first time the possibility of a tax of 10 per cent, being placed upon food and raw materials coming from our Dominions, or from some of our Dominions. That is the proposition, and I do not think that the fact is realised in the country. Many hon. Members to whom I have spoken were quite unconscious of that intention in the Bill. I am given to understand that the 10 per cent. duty is to be used as a lever at the Conference to bargain with and to try to persuade the various Dominions to lower their tariffs. The tariffs in the Dominions have been made to suit their domestic needs and what they consider to be the interests of their industries. If I read the Clause aright, it means that if as the result of negotiations the Dominion of New Zealand is prepared to give substantial concessions on our imports, then next November the 10 per cent. duty will not be put upon their goods but if, on the other hand, Australia considers that the interests of Australia must prevail, and she refuses to give us adequate consideration, for the first time certain foodstuffs and products from that Dominion will be subject to a 10 per cent. tax. Take the case of apples, which come from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. According to the Bill it will be possible for a 10 per cent. tax to be imposed upon Canadian apples while New Zealand apples may come in free. The same applies to butter. Butter from Australia, if a satisfactory bargain cannot be arranged at Ottawa, may be subject to a 10 per cent. tax whilst butter from New Zealand may come in free. That is the way to break up the Empire. If you have these differential rates of duty you will create bad blood and bitterness throughout the whole of the Dominions.

I opposed with all my strength the proposals of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain because they involved a tax upon food, but now that we have this 10 per cent. tax on food I would much rather make a generous concession in the interests of the consumer and allow food and raw materials from the Dominions to come in on a Free Trade basis. But if there is going to be bargaining at Ottawa, if there is to be a tax imposed, either of 10 per cent. or a lesser amount, it is much better to make it apply throughout the Empire than to make a concession here and a concession there according to the bargaining power and capacity of the particular Government in a particular Dominion. According to a telegram in "The Times" of to-day Mr. Forbes the Prime Minister of New Zealand said: In accordance with her traditional practice in Empire affairs New Zealand will not go to Ottawa with any desire to bargain unduly with Great Britain. Any bickerings over tariff concessions will be avoided at all costs. I want to avoid bickerings at all costs and the way to do that is to leave these words out. We do not want to have differential duties against various parts of the British Commonwealth of nations. I prefer to let their food products in free. If they are to be taxed then apply the tax all round, to Australia, to New Zealand, to Canada, so that there shall be no bitterness between them. This is entirely against the whole spirit and ideals of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and Free Trade, and fundamentally against the interests of the British Empire.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I doubt whether the Amendment carries out the intention of the hon. Member, and, indeed, it would come more suitably in the next Subsection of the Clause. But let me ask him to consider that, there will not be the bad blood he fears between the various Dominions. Nothing does more harm in negotiations or discussions with the Dominions than the suggestion that they have not yet grown up into communities who are treating with us as equals. We are desirous of entering into commercial agreements with certain great friendly nations closely akin to us, and it is foolish to suggest that it is impossible to come to an agreement with any one of these nations unless you come to an identical agreement with the rest. The Dominions do not desire it, nor would they for a moment resent the suggestion that an agreement may be arranged between two members of the British Commonwealth of Nations which would not necessarily commend itself to every other member. This is not going to break up the Empire. I am not less desirous of keeping the Empire together than the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). I desire to recognise the newer conditions which have arrived, not conditions under which the father of a family cannot give a lollipop to one child without having to give a similar lollipop to another. That is a conception of adolescence. When the sons have grown up and are discussing arrangements with their father it is not necessary that the father, who may be entering into partnership with one of his sons, should also have to enter into partnership with all the others. Very often a son does not desire to enter into partnership with his father.


That is the way to cause trouble in the family.


If the way to cause trouble in a family is to insist that every one of his adult sons must enjoy exactly the same treatment, and live under precisely the same conditions, then all I can say is that the sons must be very different from those of the type of Scottish family with which I am acquainted. We are entering upon discussions in which sentiment must play its part, but not the whole part or even the preponderating part. We desire to arrange commercial agreement, and nothing can do more harm than to suggest that if we give an advantage to one Dominion, the loss of that advantage will be resented by all the others. The Dominions are going forward in a spirit of co-operation just as we are, but they are not going forward in the spirit which suggests that unless they get identical treatment they will go away bitterly disappointed and proceed to break up the Empire. The general principle of the Amendment is fallacious, and as the principle is at fault we cannot possibly accept the Amendment. I hope the hon. Member will not press it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 7, line 3, after the word "sub-section," insert the words: or are goods of a class or description which are not grown, produced, or manufactured in that country."—[Major Elliot.]