HC Deb 16 December 1935 vol 307 cc1511-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Irish Free State (Special Duties) Order, 1935, dated the eighth day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty- five, made by the Treasury under the Irish Free State (Special Duties) Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the third day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, be approved."—[Mr. W. S. Morrison.]

8.45 p.m.


This is an Order which will be welcome. I notice that it was made on Armistice Day and has to do with the relationship between this country and the Irish Free State. One can therefore hope that we are getting towards a state of economic armistice between this country and the Irish Free State. It reduces the duty on dead turkeys by 2d. per lb., not that that interests the turkeys very much, but I should like to ask if any steps are being taken, especially at this season of the year, to make sure that that reduction in the duty will be passed on to the consumer. It is important that if the State is to lose revenue, any reduction in the duty should not pass into the pocket of the middle man, but should be passed on to the consumer. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will be in a position to tell us what steps the Government propose to take to ensure that that end shall be achieved.

We were given the other night by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade a long list of schedules of prices of various chemical compounds which, we were told, had been agreed between various interests when a certain duty was to be imposed. Apparently, therefore, very complicated negotiations do go on to ascertain exactly how these duties shall affect the prices paid by the consumers. Have any such negotiations gone on in this case, and can the Minister assure us that if we buy an Irish turkey for Christmas to celebrate the economic armistice with the Irish Free State, we shall get the benefit in this respect? I notice that with one change of Dominions Secretary this duty has been halved, and I understand that another change in that office may be in contemplation. Are we to understand that if that in fact takes place, the duty will then be abolished and we shall get rid of the second half? If so, that might be an additional reason for hoping that we might have a Secretary of State for the Dominions who will be present in the House to answer himself for the sins of his Department.

8.48 p.m.


It is fitting that, as this is part of the mixed fare with which the House was to regale itself in the course of the day, we should conclude our proceedings with a duty of such a seasonable character as a duty on turkeys. I am obliged to the last speaker for the extremely agreeable and entertaining nature of his remarks, and I think my only duty is to try to give an answer to them and to explain briefly why the Order has been deemed necessary. This is the history of it: The Additional Import Duties Order No. 12 of 1935 was passed at the end of last April, and it raised the duty on foreign turkeys from 1d. to 3d. a pound. By the operation of the Import Duties Act, 1932, this increase automatically became attached to the duty already being paid on Irish turkeys under the Irish Free State Duties Act, and that had the effect of raising the total duty on these dead turkeys from 5d. to 7d. a pound. The House will remember that these Irish duties have a revenue purpose. Their sole object is to collect a certain amount of revenue, and the discrepancy between the duties on the Irish and the foreign turkeys was such that from a revenue point of view it was thought that the trade itself would be injured and that revenue, which it is always the desire of the Department which I represent to collect, would in some way become less easily gathered in. For that reason this reduction of duty is being made.

I would point out that the Order was made on the 8th November last, so as to be there in plenty of time for the Christmas market. I am informed that the traffic in dead turkeys reaches a climax at about this time of the year and that in fact it does not reach any considerable dimensions in other months. The hon. Member asked a number of questions. I do not know that he would like me to reply to all of them, and I am very anxious not to waste the time of the hon. Member or of the House, but as regards the consumer, I am afraid that, attached to this particular Order, there is nothing which has the effect which the hon. Member has in mind. We leave that at this time of the year to the operations of competition. If the hon. Member is buying a turkey on Christmas Eve and goes to Faringdon Market and takes his place among those busy per- sons who are also buying their turkeys, and among the even more energetic persons who are selling them, he will have no difficulty in being assured that there is sufficient competition to keep the prices of turkeys within reasonable limits.


I go to the Caledonian Market.


The hon. Member is probably wise to go to a market with such a respectable name.

8.51 p.m.


I understand that the duty upon these turkeys has been part of those payments from the Irish Free State which go towards the money which they owe us by the engagements entered into by the Government of the Irish Free State, and I should like to ask what is the amount of money which we have received of the money which was owed to us during the last year, and whether there is any money owing. I think that is a matter of great importance, because there are many places which supply us with turkeys, but here we have the turkeys from one particular area which owes us money, and we are levying the money on these turkeys among other things. I think therefore that we are entitled to know what the financial position is. Again, is my hon. Friend so sure that the price of turkeys is going to be unusually high? I ask, because there are many areas in the United Kingdom where turkeys are bred, and the influx of agricultural produce from the Irish Free State naturally affects the producers of similar products in our own land. I think that where the price is going to be kept at about the usual level, the breeders of turkeys in the United Kingdom have a prior claim.

It was a long time before this extra duty was put on turkeys, and I do not know what has led to its being taken off, because certainly the market price of turkeys has not been very high recently. Last year, it was not so bad, but for previous years it has been quite low, and I think, without there being any spirit of hostility, we are entitled to know in particular whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to put on any other duty or duties to take the place of the money which we used to receive from this extra 2d. from turkeys. Clearly there are many agricultural products coming in from the Irish Free State, most of which by no means carry duties up to the maximum to which it would be possible to raise them by Order in Council, and when we sacrifice, voluntarily, half the duty on turkeys, surely it would be possible to get it back somewhere else. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to enlighten us upon these points.

8.55 p.m.


The last speech is, one might almost say, significant if not sinister. The reference to the United Kingdom makes one believe that there is something behind it. We understand there is a brisk trade between Northern Ireland and this country in turkeys. That reminds us of the curious journeys of Irish cattle from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland. I should like to know if any turkeys have been hopping across the boundary from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland in order to undergo the process of fattening and to give profits to Northern Ireland. Are the Government satisfied that the customs officers are discharging their duties efficiently in order to prevent a transfer of turkeys in this way, and, if so, will they be able to give certificates of birth showing whether Northern Irish turkeys were born in Southern Ireland and, after a slight process of becoming stouter and better fed, were transferred to another part of the United Kingdom?


I assure the hon. Gentleman that Irish turkeys have not the same capacity of hopping here, there and everywhere as the Liberals have.

8.57 p.m.


I have just received a letter from Belfast in which I was requested to get a north of Ireland turkey which would be purely Orange. I am told that turkeys in the north of Ireland are very scarce and are going to be very dear, and, knowing the state of my pocket, the writer of the letter rather questioned whether I should be able to afford one. Therefore, I am glad that the Financial Secretary has brought forward this proposal. We poor folk in Yorkshire want cheap turkeys, and I hope the House will agree to this Motion.

Resolved, That the Irish Free State (Special Duties) Order, 1935, dated the eighth day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, made by the Treasury under the Irish Free State (Special Duties) Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the third day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, be approved.