HC Deb 04 December 1933 vol 283 cc1437-48

11.0 p.m.


I beg to move, That the Irish Free State (Special Duties) (No. 3) Order, 1933, dated the tenth day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-three, made by the Treasury under the Irish Free State (Special Duties) Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said tenth day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-three, be approved. Previous Orders made under the Irish Free State Act have substituted specific for ad valorem duties on live animals for food imported from the Irish Free State. The object was to free the Customs authorities from the necessity of examining the price of every transaction and to relieve importers from having to make deposits while investigations were being conducted. I informed the House that the intention of the Government was to make the specific duty roughly equivalent to 40 per cent. Since the specific duties were imposed, however, the prices of sheep and lambs imported from the Irish Free State have fallen, and I accordingly ask the House to reduce these specific duties from 12s. to 10s. per head on live sheep and lambs. At the same time I ask the House to consent to another adjustment.

With the duty on live animals at 40 per cent. and the duty on meat at 30 per cent. there has been a tendency in operation for the trade in live animals to be transferred to the trade in dead animals for meat. The hon. Members for East and West Birkenhead (Mr. White and Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen) have indicated this tendency to the Government, Birkenhead being die principal centre in which the slaughtering is carried on. The complaints of my hon. Friends have been fully justified and it is the desire of the Government to meet them. I accordingly ask the House to consent to raising the duty on meat imported from the Irish Free State to the same level as the duty on live animals. I trust the House will think that our proposals are logical.

Lastly, we take this occasion to substitute the equivalent specific for ad valorem duties on poultry. The House, I am sure, will see the advisibility of this at once. Orders have been made under the Import Duties Act making the duties upon poultry specific duties instead of ad valorem duties and it will therefore be for the convenience of administration that both should be upon the same basis. The duties are precisely equivalent.


Can the hon. Gentleman say what the increased duties on dead meat will bring in in the way of revenue?


We do not anticipate any change in the estimates of revenue. We are lowering some duties and raising others and we anticipate that the result will be exactly the same.


That is not the point. Can the hon. Gentleman say exactly what is the added amount which will come in from the increased duty on dead meat?


It is impossible to give an exact estimate of the sum that will result from any particular duty. The Customs make estimates as a whole. We have never been able to estimate with exact precision what is coming from the Irish Free State. There are many factors. As regards the change that has been made we do not anticipate any alteration in the revenue. I am sorry that I cannot inform the hon. Member what will be the proceeds of the duty on any particular category.

11.5 p.m.


We do not intend to challenge a Division, but if one should be called we should take part in it. I understand that we cannot divide on the matter of principle; that we are barred both from discussing and from voting upon it. We shall simply vote, if we go into the Lobby, on the question of changing the incidence of these taxes. But I would like to call attention to the fact that in whatever way we juggle with them, the effect is just the same. I am sure that the Dominions Secretary will be interested in this, and I would ask him to get someone to look up the OFFICIAL REPORT of 27th November, col. 608, where he will find that with regard to coal his native town of Newport is paying a very heavy penalty for these taxes on imports from Ireland. The facts given by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) are rather astonishing, and I am sure that this sort of thing is bound to continue whether you have the tax levied in this or in another way. I am not attempting to defend either side of this matter at the moment, but it seems to me that we are like a lot of children—I mean those who have got this matter on hand—in that we cannot settle it without these duties and retaliatory duties. I understand that we are to hear something more about the matter to-morrow when we shall probably be able to discuss the matter in order and more fully. I simply content myself with saying that the net result of carrying on these duties and the tariff war between ourselves and Ireland, in our judgment, makes for bitterness, no matter how you levy the duties, and does not bring us any nearer a satisfactory settlement.

11.8 p.m.


I do not wish to say anything relating to the policy of these duties, or whether there should be duties, or whether there should be higher or lower duties. I am simply concerned that if there are to be duties they should be of such a nature that there will be equality in the result as between the live cattle trade and the dead cattle trade. As the Financial Secretary has pointed out, a very serious situation has arisen owing to the cases which he mentioned. In my constituency there was a prospect, owing to the falling off in the importation of live cattle, that some 500 or 600 men would lose their employment in the cattle killing trade, and also in the anciliary and subsidiary trades dealing with hides and matters of that kind. The result was that the Treasury were not getting the income on which they had been counting, and firms who had been established in the business for many years were faced with the prospects of either going out of business or transferring their businesses, if possible, to the Irish Free State. We are grateful to the Government for having taken the matter up and having dealt with it in this way. Since the Order has been in operation, I am glad to say that as far as sheep and lambs are concerned the Order has been entirely effective, and the business is now being conducted on equal terms as between the two branches of the trade. The traders are at present entirely reassured in regard to that portion of the business.

When the Order was made there was certain misgivings as to whether it would operate equally well with regard to beef, cattle arriving alive and carcases of beef. I am sorry to say that, according to any latest information, it has not worked well in that regard and that the quantity of carcases arriving is no less than it was before, and is showing a tendency to increase. My purpose in intervening is to point out that although it is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement in regard to sheep and lambs, the difficulty still appears to prevail in regard to beef, live cattle and carcases of beef. I would ask my right hon. Friend the Dominions Secretary and those interested that if the Order does not work out as they have intended it to work, they will not regard this as being the last word in the matter, but will be prepared to consider it with an open mind and make such adjustments as may be necessary to preserve this important trade and employment in my constituency and equally in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and other parts of the country.

11.13 p.m.


It is a curious state at which we have arrived when a Liberal and Free Trade Opposition congratulates the Government on the success of its import duties.


If the hon. Member had listened to my opening sentence he would have heard me say that I expressly ruled out any observation on policy. I limited myself to the narrow point covered by this Order.


I listened very carefully, because when I questioned the Prime Minister about the business he said that it was non-contentious. The hon. Member did say that he did not enter into the relative merits of Free Trade and Protection—that would be out of order—but he went on to tell the House that the Order had preserved employment for 500 men. While theoretically he is an opponent of Protection, he does recognise that the Order has had very valuable repercussions in his constituency.


My hon. Friend is not as clear as he generally is. It is not a question of Protection or Free Trade. All that we ask for is equality of treatment. I should prefer, and those who are concerned in the matter would prefer, that there should be no duty, but if there is to be a duty they ask that there shall be equality of treatment between the parties.


I will not pursue it further. I am sure that Mr. Deputy-Speaker will speedily intervene as going beyond the limits of the Debate. I will leave it in the hands of the House. Although I have never been a very sound theoretical free trader I am afraid that I must take the opportunity of going into the Lobby against a Government proposal which does impose import duties on the people's food. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead and the Leader of the Opposition may be prepared to accept a fait accompli both as regards Protection and the Government's policy in regard to Ireland generally, but I do not propose to allow one item to pass of a policy to which I have the strongest objection, a policy of antagonising Ireland, to which I have been consistently opposed, and which, if I am not making a wrong anticipation is going to be demonstrated to the House to-morrow. I am not going to approve this detail of a policy to which in general I am opposed. We are going to divide the House. I am very glad that the official opposition have indicated that they are going to support my colleagues and I and I shall be more than pleased to see Members of the Liberal party, in its stern opposition, refraining from casting a vote in favour of food taxes because they happen to be of value to the constituency of my hon. Friend. Hon. Members who have spoken have referred entirely to the question of mutton and beef, I want to deal with the part of the Order which refers to poultry and game. It is all very well for the Financial Secretary, who is usually very lucid and precise to tell us that this means nothing at all, for the Leader of the Opposition to reiterate that view and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead to give it his blessing. The White Paper says: Whereas the Treasury, having consulted with the Government Departments which appeared to them to be interested, are of opinion that with a view to the making good of the additional charges referred to in the principal Order and to the levying of the duties chargeable for that purpose with greater advantage and convenience, it is expedient to make such order as is hereinafter contained. The basis purpose of the Order is to increase the amount payable by Irish Free State traders, or the importers of this country, so that the total amounts will approximate nearer to the amount due under the land annuities than has yet been reached. [An HON. MEMBER: "Quite right."] I do not object to a Government supporter saying "Quite right," it is their business to try and get the amount they require, but he is not quite right because the Financial Secretary says that it makes no difference at all, that it leaves things exactly the same. As a matter of fact what is happening with these duties is precisely what hon. Members opposite complained about the Beer Duty. By increasing the rate of taxation the revenue from a particular tax diminishes instead of increasing. That is what has happened here. The taxes have been carried to a level at which they have ceased to be remunerative. What was called for was a substantial reduction if the idea was to get in revenue and not merely to be punitive. If the idea was to get in revenue, on the facts and figures before us the case is made out, not for increasing the duties but for lowering them so that there will be an increase in the flow of goods and an increase in the total revenue rather than in the rate of revenue.

I want to deal specifically with the proposals regarding ducks, geese and turkeys. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman the Dominions Secretary is going to get bother on this issue whether he likes it or not. It is proposed to put a penny a pound on fowls, ducks and geese, and fourpence a pound on turkeys, instead of the existing 30 per cent. I presume from the wording of the White Paper that the penny and the fourpence are estimated to be roughly the 30 per cent. ad valorem for which they are substituted.

I took the trouble during the week-end of getting into touch with Glasgow merchants who are in this trade. I asked them the specific question—how the four-pence tax compared with the average wholesale price of turkeys, whether four-pence was more or less than the 30 per cent. The answer was that the price for turkeys is not yet made. An hon. Member shakes his head, but I reinforced myself by getting the official publication of the trade—last Saturday's issue—and in this paper it is stated that there is likely to be a very large supply of turkeys in the market, that it is not possible to predict what the price will be, and that the fourpenny tax might quite easily be, not 30 per cent., but a 50 per cent. tax. There are supplies in sight from the Scandinavian countries, from Hungary, from Holland. The home supply, both from England and Scotland, is considerable, and the supply in sight from Ireland is also very great. What the wholesale price will ultimately be will not be known for a week or 10 days from now. It is a very short season, as one can understand, and this 4d. tax, whether it is 30 per cent., 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. is a punitive tax against Irish produce, and against Irish people who to-night, whatever they may be to-morrow, are still claimed to be inside the British Empire. While Hungarian turkeys, Scandinavian turkeys, Dutch turkeys, turkeys from any foreign country will come in under a tax of ld. per pound our fellow-countrymen in Ireland are to be penalised by the imposition of a tax of 4d. per pound. I cannot understand the Oppositions who regard this as non-contentious business. I think it is contentious in the highest sense of the word. I cannot understand even Conservative supporters of the Government approaching the problem of the disintegration of the British Empire in this trivial way.


It would not be necessary, if the Irish paid their debts.


That is just where I criticise the triviality of the Government supporters. I am prepared to believe in the break-up of the British Empire. Hon. Members believe in holding the Empire together. I would not believe in furthering my view in this trivial, pettifogging way, turning part of your Empire into an enemy, over a penny a pound or four-pence a pound on turkeys and dead poultry. It is cheap, trivial and nasty. You may say that this is an isolated thing and that it is very small. If you look back over the history of the relations of this country with Ireland, yen find that everything at each particular point has been small and trivial, but over the whole period these things have totted up into a great big feeling of irritation between the two countries, which is apparently going to continue to make decent relationships impossible. While the House may accept these proposals as making little difference as compared with what has been in operation up to date, while hon. Members may say that at some other time they will consider all the wider issues involved, I would remind those Government supporters who are very strong on the Indian question and critical of the Government on the Indian issue, that we have been watching this Indian business in this House for something like 10 years and never yet has any Government put the big issue before the House. All the issues put before us have been little issues—so small, we were told that it would be foolish for the House to be controversial about them. But over a period of years you gradually collect a mandate on a series of trivialities, and then, when the trivialities have become bulky, you think it is time to apply it and you say it would be a breach of faith to overthrow what has been done in the past. That is precisely the situation which we have run into, in reference to the Irish question. The little things are all allowed to go because they are too insignificant for the attention of the great House of Commons. But they tot up and at the end they make a policy and the policy has results—results which you do not like.

I ask this House to reject this proposal, from the point of view of the effect it has both on the relationships between this country and Ireland and on the foodstuffs of the people of this country. I would not do it, but how would my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Birkenhead, West (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen) like it if I came and addressed a public meeting in Birkenhead, East or West, and told the people of Birkenhead that the hon. and gallant Member was in favour of taxing their Christmas turkeys by 4d. a 1b.? The hon. and gallant Member would have to draw out of his general political philosophy to defend the doing of it. He would say that it would lead to more employment among the turkey breeders of this country, though as a matter of fact it would only lead to more employment among the turkey breeders of Hungary; but the hon. Member for Birkenhead, East, has not that recourse, and I hope, both out of the regard that I have for him personally and out of my desire to help an Opposition section in the House of Commons, that he will not commit the indiscretion of giving his support to a tax on the food of the people of Birkenhead. We intend to oppose it.

11.33 p.m.


I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) into the realm of the turkeys, but, among other things, he is going to oppose any increase of duties on the rich man's pheasant or woodcock or gamecock, and if I went down to his constituency and told his constituents that those were his views, I wonder how they would like it. I have been very largely responsible for bringing this matter to the attention of the Government, and I want the House to realise that the previous duty meant saving the exporter 30 per cent. to ship his carcases of lamb instead of shipping his lambs alive, and that meant that a hundred thousand fewer lambs were slaughtered at Birkenhead. That made a tremendous difference, not only to the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board, to the Ministry of Agriculture, and to a certain extent to the revenue of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it also affected, and would largely affect if continued, the employment of drovers, slaughtermen, and so on.

I understand from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) that such things do not matter, that where you have more employment you are parasitical, and so I can quite understand Members of the Opposition going into the Lobby against more employment being given in Birkenhead. But I am deeply grateful, and so are all those connected with the trade at Birkenhead, for the action that the Government are taking in this matter. We rather fear that there may be insufficient strength in their action as regards beef. The duty on beef on a 5-cwt. carcase at 30 per cent. was approximately £3 10s., and to-day at 40 per cent. it will be 13s. 4d. The difference actually, not including the Free State bounty to the man who ships a 5-cwt. carcase, which is the equivalent of a two year old beast, is £1 10s. 6d. in favour of the carcase. I may be wrong in my figures; I hope I am. All I trust is that the Government will watch this beef question closely in future. I think that they are acting in the right direction, but I ask them to take great care to watch the beef and cattle question to see that such damage as occurred with regard to sheep is not done. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) in thanking the Government for their action.

11.36 p.m.


I can find no consolation in the Measure before the House. I feel very indignant about it, because I asked a question in the House about the relief at Christmas time in Liverpool, and I am wondering what will be the position of the poor there as the result of this Order. For 15 or 20 years it has been the custom in Liverpool, with the full consent of every member of the board of guardians, to give extra relief at Christmas, but by the Order of the Ministry of Health that relief has to cease.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

That matter appears to me hardly to arise upon this Order.


I am trying to show that the purchase of goods in Liverpool will he clearer owing to this Order, and that a hardship will be inflicted on the poor at Christmas as the result of it. It is madness on the part of the Government to carry on a vendetta by refusing to allow goods to come into this country in order to collect a debt. If the duties which are imposed were paid by the Irish people, there would be some justification in the contention put forward by the Government, but the duties have to be paid by the people in Liverpool. The Government have ruined the Mersey trade by their importation duties, and now they are going to ruin the Christmas trade. The front Government Bench is mad, and anyone who does not go into the Lobby against this Order is also insane, because I am convinced that the action of the Government is a vendetta. Are friendly relations to be brought about

Resolved, That the Irish Free State (Special Duties) (No. 3) Order, 1933, dated the tenth day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-three, made by the Treasury

when the very food of the people is made a gamble for the purpose of a vendetta?

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes, 137; Noes, 35.

Division No.7] AYES. [11.40 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Hartland, George A. Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Blist'n)
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.
Albery, Irving James Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Pybus, Percy John
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller Raikes, Henry V. A. M.
Aske, Sir Robert William Hore-Belisha, Leslie Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Hornby, Frank Reid, David D. (County Down)
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Horobin, Ian M. Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Horsbrugh, Florence Rickards, George William
Bateman, A. L. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Ropner, Colonel L.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.) Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Rosbotham, Sir Thomas
Blindell, James Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Bilge) Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. James, Wing-Corn. A. W. H. Rutherford. Sir John Hugo (Liverp'1)
Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.) Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West) Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Browne, Captain A. C. Leckie, J. A. Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.
Burghley, Lord Leech, Dr. J. W. Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Burnett, John George Lees-Jones, John Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly) Liddall, Walter S. Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Lloyd, Geoffrey Spens, William Patrick
Castlereagh, Viscount Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.) Stevenson, James
Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Loder, Captain J. de Vere Storey, Samuel
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Stourton, Hon. John J.
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Strickland, Captain W. F.
Conant, R. J. E. McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Cook, Thomas A. McKeag, William Tate, Mavis Constance
Crooke, J. Smedley McKie, John Hamilton Templeton, William P.
Crossley, A. C. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Martin, Thomas B. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery) Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Dawson, Sir Philip Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Dickie, John P. Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Train, John
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Mitcheson, G. G. Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Eastwood, John Francis Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (wallsend)
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Elmley, Viscount Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald Wells, Sydney Richard
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. White, Henry Graham
Flint, Abraham John Newton Sir Douglas George C. Whyte, Jardine Bell
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Fraser, Captain Ian North, Edward T. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Fremantle, Sir Francis O'Donovan, Dr. William James Wills, Wilfrid D.
Goff, Sir Park O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)
Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Womersley, Waiter James
Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Pearson, William G.
Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Penny, Sir George TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Percy, Lord Eustace Lieut.-Colonel Sir Lambert Ward
Gunston, Captain D. W. Petherick, M. and Major George Davies.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Milner, Major James
Attlee, Clement Richard Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Parkinson, John Alien
Banfield, John William Grundy, Thomas W. Price, Gabriel
Batey, Joseph Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Harris, Sir Percy Smith, Tom (Normanton)
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) John, William Tinker, John Joseph
Cape, Thomas Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Logan, David Gilbert Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Capps, Sir Stafford Lunn, William Wilmot, John
Daggar, George McEntee, Valentine L.
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Debbie, William Mainwaring, William Henry Mr. Buchanan and Mr. McGovern.
Edwards, Charles Maxton, James

under the Irish Free State (Special Duties) Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said tenth day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-three, be approved."

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