HC Deb 12 June 1934 vol 290 cc1656-8

Section two of the Import Duties Act, 1932 shall be amended by adding, after the words "made to them," the words "by any person, including the Treasury and the Board of Trade."—[Mr. Caporn.]

10.3 p.m.


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

The purpose of the Clause is to clear up a little doubt which seems to have arisen upon instructions that may be given under Section 2 (3) of the Import Duties Act, 1932. Under that Sub-section the Import Duties Committee are instructed from time to time to take into consideration any representations that may be made to them in respect of matters on which, under the provisions of the Act, action may be taken on recommendations made by the Committee, and they may make recommendations with respect to such matters. As the result of questions that have been put from time to time to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade it appears that the Government have taken the view that anyone who might apply to the Committee or make representation would not include a Government Department. I submit that it is both expedient and desirable under present conditions that the Government Department concerned should have the right and the power to appeal to the Committee under this Sub-section, so that they may have the advantage of receiving the advice of the Committee upon questions relating to revision or otherwise in respect of the duties which national interests make it desirable should be imposed. There are at least two occasions upon which it may be desirable that the Government Department should seek advice from the Committee. One is when the Government are negotiating a trade agreement with a foreign country. It may be highly desirable that the Committee should be consulted as to what would be the effect of altering an existing set of duties or providing for an increased duty on certain commodities. Another case is that in which the Committee have recommended under one Order a number of classes of goods, as occurred in the first Order which was made on the recommendation of this Committee. In order to make it quite clear that the Government have the right and power to make this request I have moved this Clause.

10.6 p.m.


I did not quite appreciate what was the proposed new Clause to which my hon. Friend was addressing himself, but I imagined it was the one which was put from the Chair. I cannot connect the arguments that my hon. Friend used with the exact words of this proposal, but perhaps if I deal with the Clause on the Paper I shall make myself plain. Sub-section (3) of Section 2 of the Import Duties Act reads: The committee shall … from time to time take into consideration any representations which may be made to them with respect to matters on which, under the provisions of this Act, action may be taken on a recommendation by the committee … My hon. Friend desires that those representations should be made to them by any person, including the Treasury and the Board of Trade. Among the matters upon which action may be taken is the imposition of additional duties. The Import Duties Advisory Committee was established especially for the purpose of freeing Governments and Members of Parliament from what was considered to be improper pressure. It was constituted as an independent tribunal, and that is a position which we attach much importance to preserving. If my hon. Friend's Clause were accepted it would cause representations to be made, not to the committee but to the Government, for it would give the Treasury and the Board of Trade a special status to make representations. Instead of the committee being there to advise the Government, the suggestion is that the Government should advise the committee. The reason why we have to keep the two functions completely independent and why we do not reserve to ourselves the right to make representations or to bring pressure, is that we attach the utmost significance to the impartial status of the Advisory Committee. I can understand that criticisms may be made either of the work or of the committee, but I beg my hon. Friend not to press his new Clause, to allow us to keep the position as it now is with an independent Advisory Committee, and not to change the status.

10.9 p.m.


The last thing I desire to do is to change the status of the Advisory Committee. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I cannot see that in giving a right to the Government to request the committee to consider certain plain facts with a view to advising the Government—whether any, and, if so, what alteration should be made—we would in fact change the status; but seeing that my hon. Friend takes a different view I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 137.]