HC Deb 05 March 1936 vol 309 cc1692-6

10.19 p.m.


I beg to move, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 2) Order, 1936, dated the tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved. This Order relates to upholstery, mattress and similar stuffing materials consisting wholly or partially of artificially curled animal hair. This is a small matter. It is proposed that the duty on these materials should be increased from 10 per cent., which was the old ad valorem duty, to the difference between the value of the goods per cwt. and 75s. per cwt. The effect of the Order is to impose an additional duty upon this material. In practice it will mean that the duty will only be paid in respect of imported second-hand hair. New hair will continue to be imported at the general ad valorem duty. The better class bedding and furniture manufacturers refrain from using second-hand hair at all, on hygienic grounds. They are strongly in favour of increased duties being imposed upon these imports, which come in at exceptionally low prices, chiefly from the United States, and they come in from the United States chiefly because in August, 1934, under one of the new codes issued under the National Recovery Act, the material is not allowed to be used for bedding and upholstering in the United States, and they have been shipping it to this country at ridiculously cheap prices and interfering with our manufacture.

There are 14 firms manufacturing curled hair in the United Kingdom, four in Scotland, three in Liverpool, two in London and five in the remainder of the country. They employ 1,500 workpeople and the whole production of curled hair is of the value of £360,000. The upholstery trade is having a share of prosperity owing to the increasing requirements of the growing motor-car industry, but the home output has in volume remained more or less stationary owing to the bad effect of these large imports of low price second-hand material from the United States. The average price of imported second-hand materials has been something like 37s. 6d. per cwt., and the average price of the cheaper new material is something about 68s. a cwt., so that very little, if any, imported new material will be likely to be caught by the new duty.

10.23 p.m.


Surely it is altruism for the Parliamentary Secretary to he interested in anything to do with hair. I gather that the present position has arisen because the United States regards the use of this material as unhygienic and likely, therefore, to cause disease in their country. I should have thought this was not a matter for imposing a tariff but for having such a regulation as would prohibit the use of this material on the same grounds as are advocated in the United States. I should have thought it was far better to recognise that the tariff will not keep this out perpetually, and that sooner or later we shall be faced, as we have been in practically all these matters, with a fresh Order of this kind. Surely the proper thing is to bring the whole matter to the notice of the Home Office and suggest that we should be not less careful with regard to the use of this material than they are in the United States. Already we have regulations dealing with the use of flock and similar matters for bedding material. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will bring the experience of the United States to the attention of the Home Office in the hope that it may make a similar regulation to that now in force in America.

10.25 p.m.


Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether at the present time there is any test that this material has to satisfy before its use in the upholstery trade in this country? My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has mentioned the Rag Flock Acts and the necessity for passing certain chemical tests if material is to qualify for re-use which has already been used by human beings. I should like to know whether, in the case of this material which is imported from abroad, there is any qualification as regards its coming into this country for use that it should possess some degree of purity and of absence of those animal matters which are objectionable, and of the bacteriological matters which are equally objectionable for use for such purposes as upholstery and bedding. It seems to be a very ineffective way of keeping an undesirable material out of the country merely to increase the duty upon it. If it is desirable that it should be used in this country, the cheaper it is, the better it is for the country, but if it is undesirable that it should be used in this country—and I am sure that that is the argument of the hon. Gentleman as regards the imposition of this duty—it seems to be a very inefficient way of stopping it. We should at least like to know whether, at the present time, it has to pass any tests before it can be utilized?

10.27 p.m.


This being a substantive Motion, I have the right to answer questions. The points which have been raised have nothing to do with the Order which is actually before the House for consideration. It may be well to consider whether there are alternative methods of bringing about the same results, but what I intend to do is to ask the House to give the affirmative Motion to the Order made by the Treasury upon the recommendation of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. I am, therefore, following the procedure which is now customary under Section 3 of the Import Duties Act, 1932. I think that there has been a misunderstanding. The United States Government, by one of these new codes has prohibited the use of this material. That is the reason why the exports from the United States have enormously increased. I happen to have the figures. In a normal year something like 500 tons of this material come in. In 1934, 550 tons came in, and in 1935 over 800 tons of this material came in largely because it was prohibited in the United States.

The material, when it comes into this country, undergoes a process of reconditioning during which the points raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bristol East (Sir S. Cripps) are dealt with; that is to say, such as disinfection, because it would be found that the Rag Flock Acts apply to a good deal more than what is called officially rag flock. There is no question of this material not being properly cleansed, but the House will remember that I said that the principal bedding and furniture manufacturers refrain from using this second-hand hair altogether on hygienic grounds. It is the cheaper end of the trade that uses this second-hand hair at all. The bulk of the trade in the new material comes from the Irish Free State, and it is thought that this Order will not interfere with that new material at all. The trade is a relatively small one, but it is precisely one of those instances where a manufacturing industry in this country which is capable of expansion is being prejudicially affected by the importation from another country of a material at a price wholly noncompetitive; and that is precisely the type of interference with British manufacture which the Import Duties Act is designed to prevent.

This will not, of course, put an end to the whole thing; it will only mean less temptation for the manufacturers of the cheaper type of bedding to use this rather undesirable material for their manufacture. That, on the whole, will tend to strengthen the better end of the trade.

Resolved, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 2) Order, 1936, dated the tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved