HC Deb 19 June 1935 vol 303 cc513-7

The excise duty on playing cards shall be reduced to two shillings per dozen packs as from the first day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-five.—[Mr, H. Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.59 p.m.


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

This, I think, is the fourth successive year in which a new Clause to this effect, together with a number of other new Clauses of a similar import, have appeared on the Order Paper in connection with the Finance Bill. Under the Import Duties Act duties were imposed on all goods that were not dutiable under other enactments. Therefore, there was a gap in our tariff system because, so far as we had any duties in existence the object of which was revenue, we did not put those duties where it was possible to put them on a protective basis. Some of us studied this problem and from time to time made representations to the Chancellor in order that these gaps in our protective system might be filled. One or two of the gaps have been filled, but there are still some, and this is one. By a curious chance, although there is no protection for the British manufacturer of playing cards, the home market is apparently supplied almost entirely by the British product, so that the case for more protection may appear to be a thin one.

We often hear of cases of competition from Japan where the competition arises in connection with a cheap article, but in this case the competition which the British manufaturer has to face is almost entirely in respect of the more expensive variety of playing cards. A friend of mine is the head of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards, although it does not make any cards. It is an ancient City company founded in the days of Charles II, of happy memory, for the purpose of protecting the makers of playing cards. Although my friend does not make playing cards, he makes something much more interesting and important in the long run. He tells me that the manufacturers are subject to a curious form of competition in the expensive varieties. If you design a very beautiful decoration on the back of the cards, and decorate the kings, queens and jacks—which I did not hear called knaves until I came to London; perhaps that was appropriate—you must sell 6,000 copies of an edition before you can pay the fee to the artist, the cost of producing the plates and all the overhead expenses. You only make a profit if you sell beyond a certain quantity.

We can only be in competition in respect of playing cards with countries that speak English because it is no use sending to this country Czechoslovakian or Japanese playing cards printed in the native language. The United States is the only other English-speaking country that makes them. That country, which has a population three times as great as ours and, in normal times, a large luxury consuming population, is able to produce playing cards of high value, ship to this country the surplus products, and sell them at prices with which the British manufacturer cannot compete. About half the expensive type of cards sold in the West End of London are produced in the United States. That is the kind of competition to which our manufacturers of playing cards are exposed, and a fear has existed for some time that there may be a growth in dumping from other countries where the costs of production are lower than ours.

I am assured that the situation does merit serious consideration, and though this is not a very happy time to discuss it it is not my fault that the subject has to be raised at five minutes past 12 o'clock. That is the result of the undue eloquence of the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot). If he had spoken less we might have been discussing this subject at a civilised hour, at nine in the evening. I am glad to see that as a reward for his eloquence he has been promoted to the Front Bench. I cannot hope that the Chancellor will accept my new Clause for two reasons. The first reason is that the proper way of dealing with the problem would be by an increase of the Customs Duty on foreign playing cards, and only a Minister of the Crown can make that proposal. All I can do is to afford protection by a reduction of the existing Excise Duty, making it effectively lower than the existing Customs Duty. I do hope the Chancellor will look into the problem, which up to now has not been a very serious one, but which, I am advised, is becoming one of some seriousness, so that if he cannot deal with it in this Finance Bill he may, when he introduces the next one, as I hope he will, be able to give serious consideration to this subject.

12.8 a.m.


My hon. Friend has rightly said that this is a matter which has been brought up on a number of occasions but has never yet received favourable consideration. I think the reason for that must be fairly obvious—because it never has been possible to make out a good case for the alteration. To make out a good case it must be shown that the production of playing cards in this country is being seriously affected by the importation of cards from other countries, but the figures I have do not bear out that view. The United States predominates in sending playing cards to this country. In 1934 the number of playing cards imported from the United States was 13,000 dozen packs, which compares with 27,000 dozen packs and 21,000 dozen packs in the two years 1929 and 1930, and also compares with a home production of 495,000 dozen packs in 1934–35.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give the figures for last year?


Does the hon. Member mean the figures of importations? In 1933 they were 9,000 dozen packs from the United States, in 1934 13,000 dozen and in the first five months of this year 4,793 dozen. We must compare that importation with a production of 495,000 dozen in this country. It is obvious that the importation is trifling by comparison with the home production, and in the circumstances it does not seem to me that there is any need to be alarmed or to alter the present arrangements.

12.10 a.m.


I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for whom I have the profoundest respect, should have given such an inadequate reply. I am aware of the figures. I know that the home production was 849,000 dozen packs two years ago, and that it was 495,000 dozen last year, but that was because the gift coupon system was brought to an end. But I was dealing with expensive packs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not devoted his mind in the slightest degree to that point. I am familiar with the imports and am aware that in relation to production in this country they are small. But I was dealing with the importation of a particular category, and I drew attention to the sales in London of expensive types. In respect of these types, the importation is not the three or four per cent. which the Chancellor has in mind; it is more than half the total sales, and I would ask him to direct his mind to that point. I hope that he will give the matter much more serious consideration that he is prepared to do to-night.

12.12 a.m.


The hon. Member has repeated what he said before. I will add one more figure to those I have given. The value of the amount of importation from the United States during the first five months of this year was £1,745. Surely he cannot suggest that that is considerable.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.