HC Deb 02 November 1932 vol 269 cc1853-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I wish to ask a question on this Clause. In Sub-section (2) there is a provision that the Treasury may by order fix different days for the Act to come into effect as regards the various duties, and, I assume, as regards the various Agreements. I should like to know from the hon. Member or from the right hon. Gentleman as to whether that is being done in contemplation of some of these Agreements possibly not. being signed by other parties—India or Newfoundland or any other country—or whether it is intended that all the Agreements shall come into force, but only some of the duties under the Agreement at different dates.


I make no apologies for raising again on this Clause the question of copper, because it has been made clear to us by the Financial Secre- tary to the Treasury that the Government propose to omit fire-refined and bessemer copper from the operation of the proposed duty while immediately imposing a duty upon electrolytic copper. I am puzzled to imagine how under the Clause they will distinguish between the two. Sub-section (2) reads: This Act shall come into operation on such day or days as the Treasury may by Order fix, and the Treasury may fix different days for different purposes and different provisions of this Act and different days as respects the several duties chargeable under section one of this Act. There is no provision there for splitting copper into two, if I may put it in that way. Under the Agreement with Canada, copper, which is to be taxed 2d. a lb., is defined as Copper, unwrought, whether refined or not, in ingots, bars, blocks, slabs, cakes and rods"— in fact all copper. The proposal of the Treasury to omit one type of copper temporarily—it may be for a period of months it may much more likely be for a period of many years—from the operation of the Bill while submitting another class of copper immediately to be taxed seems to have no authorisation under this Clause. I shall be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade can inform us when he replies how he proposes under the Bill or under this Clause to carry out the policy of the Treasury as regards the taxation of copper under the Canadian Agreement?


As questions are being put to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, I shall be glad if he will answer a question which I wish to put. Sub-section (3) says: This Act shall continue in force so long as any of the scheduled Agreements is in force and no longer, unless Parliament otherwise determines. Are we to understand, whatever may happen to the several Agreements, that if one Agreement remains the Act continues? Would this be the effect, taking one instance? We are imposing a duty of 2s. upon wheat. Suppose that in consequence of a decision arrived at in Canada or in other Dominions, Canada and other Dominions, except India, drop out and India remains a party to this Agreement, shall we have to continue the duty? If hon. Members will turn to page 83 of the Bill they will see a Schedule relating to India containing the words: Wheat, in grain, 2s. per quarter. While wheat from India is not a negligible factor, it is not a primary factor in relation to this Measure. Is it, therefore, a fair statement of the case that whatever might happen, say in Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, if the Agreement continued as far as India was concerned, we should still have to maintain the imposition of the duty on the wheat coming into this country?


Article 4 of the First Schedule says: It is agreed that the duty on either wheat in grain, copper, zinc or lead, as provided in this agreement, may be removed if at any time Empire producers of wheat in grain, copper, zinc and lead respectively are unable or unwilling to offer these commodities on first sale in the United Kingdom at prices not exceeding the world prices and in quantities sufficient to supply the requirements of the United Kingdom consumers. I think that is the answer to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot).

6.30 p.m.


I will endeavour to answer the questions which have been nut. In reply to the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), we have no reason to suppose that any of these Agreements will fail to be ratified by any of the respective Governments, but in a legal instrument we must contemplate what is a possibility. Therefore, the answer to the hon. and learned Member's question is that this has been done in that respect. It also applies to individual duties. A notable example is the case of copper, to which reference has been made. There, it is not proposed to put a duty on all kinds of copper at the same time, because different kinds of copper may be subject to duty at different dates, which may be fixed under this Clause. I am not quite sure that I fully apprehended the point made by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Harcourt Johnstone), but I can assure him there is no difficulty in discriminating between the different kinds of copper, if that was his point.


There is nothing in this Clause to enable any discrimina- tion to be made in the sense of the splitting up of any article mentioned in the Schedules. There has been an agreement arrived at between the users and producers of copper to omit one kind of copper from taxation for an indefinite period, while immediately imposing taxation upon another kind of copper, but there is nothing which I can see in this Clause permitting the splitting into portions of an article specifically named in any of the Schedules. You can, of course, put off the time at which you choose to tax copper as a whole. You may tax it at once or in two or three weeks, or later, but I do not see where permission is given to split a commodity into two parts and to tax one and not tax the other.


That is purely a legal point on one of the interpretations of the Act. We are advised that we have power to make that discrimination. In regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), it is the case that if the Agreements with Canada and Australia lapse and the Agreement with India still remains, we cannot remove the duty upon wheat unless by consent of the Indian Government. Of course, he has put a very hypothetical case. I think he will agree that it is very unlikely that the circumstances which he supposes will ever arise. On the academic point, however, it is clear that in that case the duty could not be removed; but I would remind the hon. Member that there is provision in the Agreement that it may be varied by consent, and that in the case of the Indian Agreement it is not of the same duration as the other Agreements and is subject to six months' notice.