HC Deb 14 December 1934 vol 296 cc789-92

3.48 p.m.


I beg to move, That the Import Duties (Substitution) (No. 2) Order, 1934, dated the twenty-first day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, made by the Treasury under the Finance Act, 1933, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said twenty-first day of November, be approved. The custom hitherto, with your permission, Sir, and that of the House, has been to consider a number of Orders together, and, unless objection be taken, I should like to take the same course to-day with reference to this and the following three Orders on the Paper. On these Orders, three are in continuation of the series of Orders approved by the House on 9th November, and the other is a substitution Order, substituting a specific duty. The subject matters of these Orders are roller blinds, super-phosphate of lime, peppercorns, and pencils. On roller blinds the increase in duty amounts to ¾d. per roller of he cheapest kinds. I cannot believe that that will seriously affect the consumer. Apparently a large number of cheap blinds, between 8,000 and 10,000 gross annually, are coming in chiefly from Sweden, at a very poor price. The trade, as a whole, decided that the duty, which will be 15s. a gross, or 20 per cent., whichever is the higher, will be effective, and the increase in duty will be ¾d. on the cheaper kind of a roller. On superphosphate of lime there is such a rate of duty as will amount to 10s. a ton or 20 per cent of the value, whichever is the greater. The fertiliser industry has plenty of works in this country to produce what we want, and there is from the makers to protect consumers a guarantee in perfectly proper form. The peppercorn, which as hon. Members know, is the fruit of piper nigrum, requires no other comment. On pencils the duty amounts to one-tenth of a penny per pencil.

3.51 p.m.


Here we have an amazing contradiction. We have just agreed to a subsidy of £2,000,000 to help tramp shipping, in order that our ships may be able to carry something from this country to other countries and back, and then we are imposing import duties, so that there may be fewer goods passing between countries for those same ships to carry. That is just like this Government, which is a Government of contradictions. I should like first to enter a mild protest at having to deal with, these enormous problems within the next five or six minutes, and then to enter a strong protest against the method adopted by the Government for dealing with them. The Import Duties Advisory Committee make a recommendation to the Government and at once, and apparently without any examination, the Government bring the recommendation to the House of Commons and put it into operation. It reminds me of a gramophone record. The Import Duties Advisory Committee produce the record and all that the Parliamentary Secretary does is to bring it down to the House and put it on the machine and we get as a result real modern trade music.

To-day we are dealing with pencils, peppercorns and superphosphate of lime. If the Parliamentary Secretary reads his political history he will find that a duty upon pepper has before now caused a good deal of commotion in the world. I am informed upon the best authority that an impost upon pepper once brought down one of the biggest Empires the world has ever known—and it does not take very much to shake the foundation of this Government. They are taking us back at one fell swoop to 1623, when the Government of that day —I have the impression that was a National Government—put a duty of 5s. per lb. upon pepper. But the most startling thing is to find a duty put on window blind rollers. The hon. Gentleman and his Department are very deep and profound in their intentions, because in the near future we shall have a great funeral in this land, the funeral of the National Government, and I think it is their deliberate intention that we shall have no blinds to draw over our windows.

But while there are here some very trivial points—though they may mean a great deal in the aggregate—I wish to to ask a question about superphosphates. When the hon. Gentleman said he was sure that the producers in this country could meet the demands of agriculture, I wondered what was to happen to that wonderful stuff that is taken from the Dead Sea by an undertaking which, I understand, is financed in part by British capital. I have had the privilege of seeing the operations on the spot. I wish to know whether it is the intention to shut out phosphate brought from the Dead Sea. I saw the works, which were on a great scale and had been extended. This article is produced within a mandated territory under our control, and it would be very serious to put such duties against it that it was impossible for it to come into this country.

I hope that hon. Members of all parties will some day see the utter futility of these Import Orders. Every country in Europe is putting up barriers one against the other and we are doing the same. In the end we shall strangle trade. I sincerely hope that that is not the intention of His Majesty's Government. After watching the growth of these barriers, I almost despair of the future. If these barriers are set up by one country against others, that is the beginning of trouble between nations which may in the end lead to great complications, and possibly to war. These things appear very small, but the implications are very serious.

3.57 p.m.


Will the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade give us a little more information about the guarantee he spoke of in regard to the imports of superphosphates. As he said, this is a most important matter for the farmers of this country, and if, as one would naturally imagine, the price of the imported article goes up as a result of this Order, I should like to know the nature of the guarantee that consumers would not be in any wise damnified. Farmers use a large quantity of this stuff, and though the hon. Gentleman said—and it is in the White Paper—that there is a large producing capacity in this country, one would like to know whether that capacity is made use of, and, if not, how soon it can be made use of. Further, if it is not made use of, whether the hon. Gentleman will be able to pledge his word that the price of superphosphate of lime will not be increased owing to the fact that imports of the lower-priced article are kept out under this Order.


I can only reply with the consent of the House. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) need not fear for his Dead Sea imports, because they are salts which are raw materials, whereas the duty applies not to raw material but to manufactured articles. The manufactured article in this case comes from Holland and Belgium. In answer to the hon. Baronet the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton), the guarantee is by the Fertiliser Manufacturers' Association, and it is a written guarantee not to raise prices above those of 1933–34 to the consumer, unless there is an increase in the cost of the raw material or, in exceptional circumstances, on account of a rise in labour costs, and any such increase will only be made after consultation with the National Farmers' Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and with the consent of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. It is, I think, in every way a thoroughly watertight and satisfactory guarantee.

Resolved, That the Import Duties (Substitution) (No. 2) Order, 1934, dated the twenty-first day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, made by the Treasury under the Finance Act, 1933, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said twenty-first day of November, be approved.