HC Deb 12 November 1936 vol 317 cc1190-213

10.2 p.m.


I beg to move, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 21) Order, 1936, dated the fifth day of August, 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 twenty-ninth day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved. For some time, there have been on the Order Paper eight Orders under the Import Duties Act of 1932. It is proposed to-night to move the adoption of the first six of those Orders, leaving Orders Nos. 28 and 29, which concern steel, to be dealt with on another occasion. I suggest, with your approval, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, that we should follow the procedure which has been followed previously on these occasions, and that I should make an introductory speech, covering the whole six Orders, leaving it to the House to take a Division on any Order, if they so wish, and offering replies to any questions which may be raised on any Order. The Orders are Nos. 21, 24, 25, 26 and 27 and Exemption Order No. 7, and they deal with such diverse subjects as tiles, band knives, typewriters, hot-water bottles, granite and potassium nitrate. I do not think that the House will feel much difficulty in accepting these recommendations of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. Order No. 21 deals with glazed wall and hearth tiles and replaces the existing ad valorem duty of 30 per cent. on certain tiles, by certain specific duties. The Committee have given their reasons for their recommendations in their Report. They are satisfied that the home manufacturers can meet the present demand and that the increased duty on foreign tiles will enable the home manufacturers to reduce their prices. I have the usual particulars as to prices, demand, countries of origin, employment and matters of that kind, which I shall be happy to give to the House if any hon. Members are interested in those details.


Perhaps the Minister would tell us the countries from which these tiles are imported.


Yes, the imports come from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, and certain coloured tiles from the Netherlands and Belgium. The home industry is carried on at Stoke-on-Trent, and the employment is not shown separately in a tile section but forms part of the pottery industry as a whole. The House will appreciate that perhaps one of the results of the introduction of these Orders of a detailed character is to raise a demand for employment statistics being kept in sections of industries rather than for an industry as a whole.


I suppose it is quite certain that in the private discussions before the import Duties Advisory Committee the industry does in fact give the statistics, does say what is the employment in this particular trade, and how that is affected, and surely the House ought not to be deprived of such information.


I think the whole of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said is assumption. No doubt, if the committee asked a specific question, information would be supplied, but I have nothing before me to show that in the particular case with which we are dealing information was volunteered as to the number of British operatives employed in this section of an industry with regard to which there is a good deal of information.


The industry is also carried on quite extensively in Shropshire, at Jackfield, but my hon. Friend only mentioned Stoke-on-Trent.


I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend—principally carried on. I am not for a moment making any exhaustive survey of the question, but principally tiles are, of course, made at Stoke-on-Trent. That is the home of the pottery industry, and that is where the tiles are principally derived from. Order No. 24 deals with endless band knives, which are used mostly for splitting hides and skins, and the Committee expresses the view, which I think the House will probably wish to endorse, that it is desirable that there should be some manufacture in the United Kingdom of an essential machine tool for assisting such a trade as the splitting of hides and skins, which is a trade of a very large character. The Order imposes a duty of 7d. per foot length or part of a length on band knives of a certain width, the previous duty being an ad valorem duty and now being replaced by a specific duty. If there is any question on endless band knives, I will deal with it when it has been raised.

Order No. 25, I apprehend, is an Order about which the House may like to know a little more. It came into force on 4th September, 1936, and altered the existing tariff with regard to typewriters in four particulars. It removes an ad valorem duty of 20 per cent., because the specific duty which it imposes is always more than 20 per cent. It increases the duty on typewriters of a weight exceeding 22 lbs. where the cost of the machine is more than £6—in other words, where it is a new machine—and it increases that duty from £3 10s. per typewriter to £4 10s. In 1935 there was a very considerable improvement in business conditions, and yet there was a reduction in the sale of ordinary office or standard typewriters of British manufacture, and the Import Duties Advisory Committee has come to the conclusion that it is essential for the United Kingdom manufacturers to be placed at a greater price advantage than at present, in order to attract the British purchaser to change over from the foreign machine to the United Kingdom machine, and so the duty is increased on a new foreign typewriter of standard character. The House will understand that a standard typewriter weighing more than 22 lbs. cannot be bought new for £6, and therefore the classification of a typewriter costing more than £6 means a new typewriter.

The third way in which this same Order alters the tariff is that it reduces the duty on typewriters of a weight exceeding 22 lbs., where the value does not exceed £6, from £3 10s. to £2 10s. a machine. That reduction of duty on machines that are sold at less than £6 is to help the rebuilding industry in this country. There is a very considerable industry in what is known as a rebuilt typewriter, that is to say, a machine which has served its day and generation but which is built up to become a machine selling at less than a new article normally worth a little over £20. Machines which are imported at £6 or less are second-hand machines intended to be rebuilt in the United Kingdom before being placed on sale, and the committee expresses the hope that the reduction will mean an increase in the import of machines which need rebuilding at the expense of the machine which has been rebuilt abroad.

The fourth alteration in the duty increases the duty on parts of typewriters. Hon. Members in many parts of the House know something of the way in which the United States export to this country not merely the entire typewriter, but the parts from which a typewriter can be made, and it is a maxim of the Import Duties Advisory Committee that if it places a duty on an imported article, it does not mean that the article is to be imported in pieces and assembled here without paying the same duty as the entire machine would pay. So there is a duty put up from 3s. to 3s. 6d. per lb. on cases and parts. With a higher duty on the complete machine, an increased duty is obviously necessary on the parts, and the Committee thinks that the increase of 6d. will be sufficient, but that will not apply to electric motors, where the specific duty on a weight basis bears rather hard, and they are to be charged as electrical machinery. That is a refinement, however, with which the House need not be troubled to-day.

Having dealt with Orders Numbered 25 and 24, I pause to point out that Numbers 22 and 23 deal with the duties on lace and felt hats, neither of them increased duties, and, therefore, they do not require affirmative resolutions of the House. Number 26 deals with hot-water bottles. [Laughter.] They are very desirable articles in anybody's luggage in an English climate.


Why tax them, then?


Because we want to tax the cheap hot-water bottles coming here from Germany and Japan in order that our own manufacturers may be encouraged. The Order imposes from the 5th September, 1936, the first date on which a hot-water bottle is likely to be required, a duty of 4s. 6d. per dozen bottles, as an alternative to the present duty of 20 per cent. ad valorem. British manufacturers can supply most of the demand, but of late the foreign competition has increased to 12,500 dozen in the first six months of 1936 compared with less than one-third of that quantity in the first six months of 1935. The foreign goods have for the most part been imported at extremely low prices. The way to deal with the competition of low-priced articles is not by an ad valorem duty, but by a specific duty, and the Committee have adopted that sensible suggestion. There is no reason why British manufacturers should not be able, with the supplies of rubber available, to make every hot-water bottle that this country requires.


Can the British manufacturer do that?


It is not in accordance with the information supplied to the Committee or to me that the British manufacturer is working to such capacity that there is no ability to fulfil more orders. I shall be willing to deal with that point in the course of the Debate. Number 27 deals with granite, on which an additional 10 per cent. ad valorem, making 30 per cent., is proposed on granite, dressed, polished, carved or otherwise worked, with certain exceptions, chiefly for headstones or tombstones, thus helping that deserving city of Aberdeen.


Will there be any headstones for the Government?


No doubt in due time. I come now to the only remaining Order, which is Exemption Order No. 7. The reason I deal with this Order is that the alteration in connection with potassium fertiliser salts is necessary for administrative reasons, because it was found in practice to be difficult to distinguish certain mineral potassium fertiliser salts from processed salts, and the Amendment now proposed will obviate the need for attempting that distinction and will do no damage to any home interests. An affirmative resolution is desirable because the new definition may conceivably render liable to duty some potassium nitrate which hitherto was free of duty.

10.18 p.m.


We have had an exposition from the Parliamentary Secretary of these Orders, and his comments upon them have aroused a certain amount of humour. No doubt, when we look at the details of some of the Orders, that humour may be maintained. In the general discussion which we are permitted when we take a number of Orders en bloc I would, however, rather strike a more serious note for discussion. We have seen such a change in the position of those countries which adhere to what was called the gold bloc in the last few months, and we have seen such statements made by the ex-Financial Secretary, now the Minister of Agriculture, at Geneva, that one would have thought that the attention of the House of Commons would be devoted from now on towards a freer position in international trade rather than to the introduction of new Orders. It is true that this block of Orders, introduced, as usual, somewhat late in the evening, although not quite so late as usual, has to be passed as a block because the duties are already on. One of the reports is dated June and the imposition of the duty began in August, so the British taxpayer has been paying quite steadily an increased rate of duty ever since August, and now, on 12th November, the House of Commons, the true representatives of the people, are asked to say whether or not this duty should continue to be paid. I think that is really a ridiculous position, and one which as soon as may be ought to be altered; but I want to say to the Parliamentary Secretary that I hope that before we get a new set of Orders such as appear on the Paper or another set of Orders such as we were given notice of at the opening of the new Session of Parliament, there will be a real attempt by the Government to introduce a different policy.

I find among this block of Orders one or two which urge me to put that point of view to the Parliamentary Secretary. For example, there is the particular Order, which caused a little mirth, imposing a tax on a certain domestic article in order, I suppose, to try to increase domestic felicity. The particular article is the hot-water bottle made of rubber, now very largely imported from Japan. I had a discussion recently, in the course of the Conference on Pacific Relationships, with a large number of influential Japanese representatives, and also some discussion on this point with representatives of the United States of America. I think that in the case of rubber goods and the Japanese export of pencils an agreement has already been fixed up between Japan and the United States with the object of avoiding the kind of Order which is being made tonight; and although that arrangement does not lead to that completely free exchange of goods which so many of us desire, it will at least avoid these continual increases of charge to users or consumers and is therefore likely to lead to a freer exchange of trade.

I hope that before we get another series of these Orders we shall learn from the Government that they are really directing their attention, especially in view of the new monetary position, to a freer exchange of trade. The policy of the Government is proving completely fallacious in regard to the balance of trade. As I said the other day in the Debate on the Address, here we are with a miserable adverse balance of imports over exports of something like £242,000,000 down to the end of September, and by the end of the year it will be more than £300,000,000. Unless there is a most extraordinary jump in invisible exports, such as insurance and shipping, there must certainly be at the end of this year not merely an adverse balance of trade in goods but an adverse balance of payments. It may be argued that the Government, in this policy, have been assisting to improve the position by keeping certain imports out, but what is happening in fact is that their policy is failing to maintain any proper ratio between imports and exports, and we cannot live in the prosperity which is desirable in this country unless we get a corresponding expansion in exports. While it is encouraging to see a certain improvement in the export position in the last 12 months it is not proportionate to the increase in imports, and we are largely "queering our own pitch" in this country, as producers, by the fiscal policy we are adopting. Therefore, I hope that the Government will give us some assurance that they will revise their outlook and their policy on these fiscal questions.

On account of the lateness of the hour and the fact that one or two other Members want to speak I do not propose to say any more on the general issue, and only a word or two about two particular Orders, the first of them that dealing with typewriters. I have listened to some expositions in my time. The Parliamentary Secretary, I admit, is a past-master in making the best of a very bad job. He always looks up his book and speaks with great lucidity, but as I listened to his argument to-night about typewriters I thought "This is really the policy of a mad March hare rather than a sound and sane policy with regard to the business of the country." Hon. Members will recollect his reason why there should be a reduction in the import duty upon second-hand typewriters of a value of less than £6. The idea is that you have to give a fillip to a new and growing industry which is engaged entirely in the process of rebuilding machines which, he said, had served their day and generation.

At the same time, as the reason for increasing the duty upon new machines of a standard type, he explained that although we were in the midst of a sort of boom of prosperity, and business had much increased, nevertheless the actual sale of new British typewriters had gone down in the last 12 months. The remedy for that, apparently, is to import more second-hand typewriters for rebuilding. It really was a remarkable case to put to the House of Commons. The very large organisation with which, the Parliamentary Secretary knows, I am connected, has no desire to give special preference to foreign machines. In our organisation we use only British typewriters, except for particular types of machine with special accountancy and other gadgets which are not so well provided upon British machines. Our standard machines are all British.

The facts behind this recommendation are extraordinary. We are asked to approve to-night an increase of £1 in the duty on each of the standard machines. What is the price position? Take the four principal standard machines which are imported, the Underwood, the Remington, the Royal and the L.C. Smith. The price of those four standard machines is £30. Now let us take the two principal British machines, the Barlock and the Imperial. The price, in one case of the 11 inch and in the other case of the 12 inch, is £26 10s. and £27, so that they are already underselling the foreign machines by £3 10s. or £3. We are told that the remedy for their lack of sales at the present time is to put another pound upon the foreign machine. My own people say to me—I think they do so with sound ground—that we are already giving very hearty and hefty support to the British typewriting producing industry, but if you put a still further duty upon the foreign machines the price will go up of the British machines. History up to date proves that.

I was amazed to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say, in respect of another Order which is before the House to-night, that if we put the duty on it would enable the home producer to reduce his price. What an amazing thing that was. We know that, except in one or two particular instances in which the process is quite fortuitous, the consumer pays the duty either upon the foreign article or in the price which the home manufacturer gets for his particular commodity, and that in the long run the very purpose of the duty would fail if that did not happen. You have only to read one paragraph in the report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas to see, in the case of iron and steel, how they are sheltering behind the protection of that great industry solely for the purpose of making profit. Really, that story will not do at all. Therefore, I shall suggest to my hon. Friends to-night that, while we do not want to keep the House in a procession of Divisions on all these Orders, we ought, in view of the ridiculous position with regard to typewriters, at any rate to record our disapproval of this policy by dividing against that Order.

With regard to the Order relating to granite, I do not know of any better ease than the granite industry which shows that this kind of tax is really a tax to protect the inefficient, and, especially in the case of the Aberdeen granite industry, the inefficient in salesmanship. The industry is not without experience of the position, and we are not without experience of buying granite from them. When we want to obtain granite, as many as 50 or 60 travellers will call upon us, all from foreign firms, but, in the case of Aberdeen, I think the whole granite industry has about five travellers to cover the whole country. It is completely out of date in salesmanship as compared with foreign firms, and we have also this spectacle, that they refuse to sell, as I understand, to anybody who is not in the retail trade. I have had a case put to me in which, when someone goes to place an order, they say, "No, you are a middleman, and you cannot have it," so he goes away and buys some of the finest granite from Finland. It is perfectly ridiculous to ask this House to protect an industry which cannot put its own house in order. One of the principal countries exporting granite to Great Britain is Finland. Finnish granite is of fine quality, and they have an increasing trade. I would also point out that Finland has become one of the most important European countries, and the extent to which you damage the industry is bound to react ultimately upon your own trade—and this at a time when you are facing the increasing difficulties of a large adverse balance of trade and a prospect of an adverse balance of payments.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)

Can the right hon. Gentleman give me the balance of trade between this country and Finland?


I am prepared to take the Government's own statistics from the Financial Secretary. I do not suppose he wants to see our export trade to Finland decrease; I do not suppose he wants to see the increase which has taken place in our exports to Finland go back.

Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE

I have just been conducting negotiations with that country, and have a keen interest in our exports to Finland, but the trade balance is very greatly in Finland's favour.


And I suppose the Government want to help the position now by interfering with the extent of trade which is being carried on already. A great proportion of the imports we take from Finland are raw materials. In a certain respect this kind of material is the finished article for headstones, but we use a great deal of granite in building operations in which it is to a certain extent raw material. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to have regard to what I said in the first instance, and I urge upon the Government the necessity for revising this policy, which in my judgment is going increasingly to lead to disaster. The Government cannot always get away with the benefit of bringing in their tariff policy at a time of steeply falling prices, and we are now going to bring increasing trouble upon our taxpayers, when prices in the world are rising, by maintaining this policy. I hope the Government will revise it as soon as possible.

10.36 p.m.


I should like first to say how glad I am, and I am sure the House is, to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade back in his place recovered in health. Two Orders went through in his absence and we missed his clear and precise statement. In fact, it would be impossible to judge and to understand these Orders if it were not for having a very competent representative of the Board of Trade. I was one of those who went out of my way to pay a compliment to the three very distinguished gentlemen when they were appointed to the Import Duties Committee. I know the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time took great trouble to find the most suitable persons, with the necessary trading experience, to discharge these most onerous duties. In the first year or two after the Act we used to have very full elaborate preambles to their recommendations. We nearly always had extracts from the evidence and such information that we could form a satisfactory conclusion as to the reasons for the report. In those days there were a great number of Import Duties going through. Now their work is very light. They are giving us less and less information and treating us with less and less consideration. I hope the Parliamentry Secretary will, in his own interest as well as that of the House, suggest to these distinguished gentlemen that they should take a little more trouble in their preamble to justify the recommendations that they make.

These Orders have already been in operation for some months. When the Import Duties Act was going through, I objected to the provision that it should be Parliamentary days and not calendar months that were required. It is necessary to pass these Orders within 21 Parliamentary days, and we have this absurd anomaly, that you may have three or four months in a long Recess when these Orders are in operation before the House has an opportunity to reject them. I hope I shall live to see the time when the House of Commons again begins to function in these matters and will rise in its wrath and throw these Orders out. In the meantime the procedure is unsatisfactory. Under the law it is quite in order but it is inadvisable and not in the public interest to pass Orders just before the House goes into Recess. The Department might very well postpone its decisions until the House of Commons is actually sitting and should not rush them through in holiday time. They would be much more profitably employed on holiday in August than passing these Orders.

I want to thank the Patronage Secretary or his distinguished representative for the concession he has made by holding over the most important of these Orders—the iron and steel Order. I agree that these Orders are comparatively small and unimportant. But hot-water bottles will cost more this winter, and it is very significant, as in the case of all these Orders, that somehow or other the cheaper the goods the more they are taxed. They are cheap and of low quality, but they give comfort in these cold, wet days in homes where coal is expensive and fire is short. These small comforts will be taxed, and it is rather a. mean thing to do. I cannot believe that really this powerful, prosperous and strong industry is anxious to have this small side-line which is mostly made by big tyre manufacturers, taxed because a few cheap hot-water bottles come from Japan and Germany.

I want to take up what my right hon. Friend has said about typewriters. Some Members of this House may regard typewriters as a luxury. An hon. Friend behind me says that they are a nuisance. If you work in a bank, in the office of an insurance company, or in a Government Department, or a big organisation, they do not add to the peace and harmony of the office, but typewriters in many cases, where several thousands of them are in use, are an essential raw material of trade and business. To do their work our clerks and typists and business people should have the advantage of the best typewriter available. Why do people buy the more expensive typewriters from America? It is because up to the present—I am sorry to have to say it, but it is the fact—the American typewriter on the whole has been more efficient and satisfactory. It is not a question of price. Already, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the American typewriter, with the addition of the duty, is considerably more expensive than the English machine.

I am satisfied that the English manufacturer, if he cares to put his back into it, can produce as good a machine as the American, but he ought not to be bolstered up by a high tariff. He is far more likely to improve his machine if the rate of duty is kept low and is not increased. If it is increased, the only result will be to enable him to carry on turning out the same kind of machine as hitherto. It is very significant that there is a large increase in built-up typewriters, an inferor article that many people are induced to buy in preference to British because of the price and of the undoubted tradition in favour of the American typewriter. I say to the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Government that this is one of the small, trivial, rather unwise and short-sighted duties. These duties are small, but I am not going to make too much fuss about them. I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said and hope that we shall not have many more of these import duties during the next six months. A gesture was made at Geneva by the French Prime Minister. I do not know whether the Government have given consideration to it and whether there is to be a very satisfactory reply which will have the effect of stopping the work of the Advisory Committee. Let them have a few months' holiday, and let the time of the House be saved from these import duties.

10.45 p.m.


I should like to add my word of protest to that of the hon. Baronet regarding the appalling scantiness of the preamble. We are told nothing as to the reason why all these various duties are proposed. When I look at Order No. 21 I am not surprised that there is no attempt to justify the proposals. One argument used in this Order is that between 1933 and 1935 there has been an increase of 50 per cent. in the imports of glazed wall and glazed hearth tiles. Between those years there was an enormous expansion in the market for tiles in this country. This is not an industry that is on its last legs. It is not suffering from depression. It is an industry which, apart from bricks, has more than any other industry received an enormous fillip. A very large number of small dwelling-houses which are being built for sale have as one of their attractions tiled bathrooms. Ten years ago tiled bathrooms were an unheard-of luxury, but throughout the North of England practically every one of these small houses has a tiled bathroom. In addition, in the last few years we have seen the development of a. new fashion in over-mantels. The wooden overmantel is going and the tile overmantel is taking its place. That has meant an enormous expansion of business.

This industry is highly organised in a price-fixing ring. It is an absolutely close ring as far as prices are concerned. Everybody knows that in the last few years enormous fortunes have been made by the tile makers. It is one of the most prosperous industries in the country. They have used their price-fixing with utter ruthlessness. One man said to me: "Our prices have no relation to the cost of production. They are fixed solely upon what the consumer will pay. There is no competition in prices." They have promised that if this Import Order is given they will reduce prices. We had a similar promise from the iron and steel manufacturers. What has happened there? A steady increase in prices. I should like to know what evidence was put before the Import Duties Advisory Committee as to the cost of production. What evidence has been given that the imports have seriously affected the profits or the industry in general? There is none shown in the Order. The imports are a very small fraction of the total consumption in this country. The vast bulk is supplied by home manufacture, and to suggest that if they keep out a small number of imports it will enable the manufacturers to reduce prices does not carry conviction, unless there is adequate room for a reduction of prices in the homemade article.

The preamble says that the Import Duties Committee have made inquiries of large industrial consumers and that they are quite agreeable to the imposition of the duty. Who are those large industrial consumers? Are they the big tile dispensers who get in their contracts the price of the article plus a percentage, or are they the small speculative builder, who is concerned in getting a cheap article? I could understand that the large tile dispenser would be glad to have the foreign article kept out. He gets his price for the article plus a percentage on the cost, and he is utterly unconcerned as to what the price of that article is. Before we can judge as to the validity of the imposition of these duties we must have more information than we have at the present time. As far as I know the tiling industry there is no justification for paying what is an enormously high duty, which, in view of the present condition of the tile manufacturing industry is utterly and completely unjustified.

10.53 p.m.


I mean to go direct to the duties before us without wasting any time on general issues. As to granite I would draw the attention of the House to this extraordinary sentence: A very considerable proportion of the present imports represents a new trade in cheap granite memorials which has not been acquired directly at the expense of the British granite industry. Is not that a charming way of saying that the British industry has not produced, is not producing, and is not likely to produce cheap granite headstones? After all these tariffs have put up the cost of living, there is this to put up the cost of dying. With regard to hot-water bottles, my information from two large London stores is that the demand has risen enormously. In all lines except the very cheapest, which in one case did not get past the door of this particular store because they would not stock such trash, the British and Canadian article is sweeping the market on quality And the industry has ample scope for expansion. Although my own researches cannot cover anything as widely as those of the Ministry and there may be found factories which are not in full production, I have been informed of factories which are working to full capacity. With regard to typewriters I refer to the report: The sales of British manufactures showed a healthy advance in 1934 over 1933, but in 1935 only slight progress was made, and in the case of ordinary office or 'standard' machines a small reduction actually took place. That was written on 29th July. I asked a question the day before yesterday of the President of the Board of Trade. I asked what has been the value of the sales of British typewriters in 1933, 1934, and 1935. He gave the figures for 1933 and 1934 as 268,000 and 319,000. I should say that that is a very healthy advance. He got his information as a result of the Import Duties Act inquiries. But he said that the corresponding information for the year 1935 was not yet available. How is that possible? The information is in the Order. They can get it so accurately that in one particular section of the industry, they say, a small reduction has actually taken place. I say that we should not pass these Orders until we are given this information.

Now I come to tiles, about which I have something even more important to say. Let me quote from the recommendation of the Committee: There has been a marked increase in imports … of half as much again. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what the actual increase has been? Can we have the figures and how they compare with British production? I am not trying to catch the hon. Member. I do not know the answer. The report says that this increase has been attended, particularly in the white tile section, by foreign price-cutting below the level of British prices. They say that they have consulted the largest consumers. I have taken the trouble to get into touch with one of the largest house builders in the London area. He has not been consulted. He told me that the price of British white tiles is Ss. per square, and that the price of foreign tiles, which the report says has been cut below the level of British tiles, is also 5s. per square. I am told by this large builder in the London area that the price of British and foreign tiles has been 5s. per square for the last two years, without any variation. The Committee also says: We are satisfied that the United Kingdom manufacturers are now fully equipped to meet the demand. This builder tells me that already he has difficulty in getting delivery of British tiles, and if you put a duty of 2s. 3d. per square, a duty of 50 per cent., the whole of the British house-building industry will be forced to go to the British manufacturers, and in my opinion delivery will not be difficult but impossible. The Committee also say: We understand that if the increased protection we recommend is granted, it will be possible for them to make reductions in their present schedules. It is well known that the making of tiles is closely controlled by a ring; there is no competition inside the home market, and the result of a 2s. 3d. duty per square will be an immediate increase in the price of British tiles. If we are beaten in the Division Lobby we shall have to take a careful note of what happens.

Now I want to say something about knives, and to support what has already been said as to the need for more care in the preparation of these recommendations. The Committee say: For a time the British manufacturers were able to make progress and to sell their knives at prices competitive with imports, but more recently the prices of foreign knives have been substantially reduced and they are now sold at exceptionally low prices with which it is impossible for the home manufacturers to compete. What do we gather from that statement? We assume that the British manufacturer was trying to sell a good-quality knife at, say, £5 and that, as the foreign price was only £4 10s., he could compete, but that within recent months there has been a drastic cut in the foreign price to something like £3 10s. But this is what I have heard from somebody who is well established in the trade: There has been an effort in this country to establish a business in endless band knives; they are being offered to the trade. We are not aware of any reduction in the price at which foreign knives can be bought. Yet we are told in this recommendation that there has been a terrific foreign drive at cut-throat prices—prices with which it is impossible for the home manufacturer to compete. It may be that this foreign drive at low prices has entirely missed a firm which is well established in the industry in which these knives are used. It may be that my correspondent is lying, or that there is some mistake in the Order; but I think the House ought not to pass the Order until the Parliamentary Secretary has shown us where the mistake lies and has given quotations showing what the prices are. I would like to tell the hon. Gentleman what I say the prices are: English knives £2 7s. 6d., German knives £2 15s., American knives £3 5s., and corresponding prices for knives of other lengths and sizes. The firm which gave me this in-formation said: We have had experience with knife purchase from English firms, and although the knives we have purchased from them have sometimes given satisfaction, the quality has not been as consistent as knives purchased from Messrs.£ In other words, it is the same old story. We cannot make the article yet and the industry is to be forced into purchasing an article of an inferior quality. I have made these remarks because, as a result of a little investigation, I have received information directly contrary to that which has been given us, and I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to give an answer.

11.3 p.m.


I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) was in his place when I introduced these Orders, because I gathered from his remarks that nothing had been said about knives; but in introducing the Orders I was careful to point out that the question with regard to knives was not one of price. The knives for splitting skins are essential machine tools, and it was thought desirable that there should be an adequate and healthy manufacture of these knives in this country. Consequently, I dismiss at once any question of prices. What I am concerned about is to see that a tool which we greatly require should be made here. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) and a number of other hon. Members have referred to the question of tiles. Some reference was made to the price of 5s. The figure that I have as the c.i.f. value of the foreign tile is 3s. ld. per square yard. That is the information which I am able to give to the House.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield said quite rightly that there has been a, big boom in building, a great demand for tiles, so that it is no wonder that the demand for tiles, foreign and British, has gone up. There is, however, another consideration. If in an expanding industry it is found that the proportion of that expansion which is being taken by foreign imports is growing, it is time to do something about the matter. This House has decided what to do about it by passing an Act of Parliament which places the Import Duties Advisory Committee in the position to receive evidence, to hear the whole of the case and to go into it in detail—not to ask one friend in the trade whether he happens to have heard of a knife.


I hope the hon. Gentleman will give us the relative proportions of foreign and British tiles used in this country.


What I would prefer to say, as a broad generalisation, is that in the development of the building trade, there has been an increased demand for tiles and that the proportion of that trade which has gone to the foreigner is an expanding and increasing proportion. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] With great respect it is quite immaterial what it is. I am satisfied as the Government spokesman to ask for a duty in respect of that increasing proportion of foreign trade without detailing the amount. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris)—and I thank him for his most kind references to my own recovery—mentioned the case of hot-water bottles and said that the duty would fall upon the cheap article. As I listened to him and to the hon. Member for Barnstaple, who took up the refrain, I could not help wondering what those hon. Members would do, if they were receiving a deputation of manufacturers who told them that there was competition from Japan. They spoke as if that were a novelty but I assure them that in a great many trades there is competition from Japan which has an entirely different wage level from ours and where the people live on rice and fish—and grow the one and catch the other. It is precisely in the case of these very cheap articles that the Import Duties Advisory Committee has found it necessary to make these recommendations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) mentioned the Aberdeen granite industry, but he knows that all the arguments which he mentioned were put to the Import Duties Advisory Committee and were considered by the committee and were over-ruled.


As usual.


Whether it is usual or not it is not for me to say, but all those points were taken into consideration by this tribunal before they made their recommendation. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green asked whether a typewriter was a raw material or a luxury. I should say that, to a Minister as a means of dealing with the correspondence of 615 Members of Parliament, they are a blessing.


Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the typewriters or the typists?


The point which I put to the House is this: Hon. Members may wonder why if a British typewriter is sold at a lower price than its American equivalent there is not already sufficient inducement to do as the great co-operative movement has already done and buy most of the machines from British factories. It is precisely to that argument that the Committee address themselves. They say that the typewriter was an invention of the United States, that it was greatly improved in the United States, that the English industry has come along very much later in the day, and they say that in order to induce people to change over from the American typewriter there must be a greater price differential than there is at present. That is the whole object of the duty. It is not a suggestion that the British price is to go up, but that in order to induce British consumers to buy the British article, which is admittedy cheaper, it must be by so much cheaper as really to warrant the change over.

The right hon. Member for Hillsborough will not expect me to deal with the various economic considerations which he introduced, but I would just say that all these Orders were made prior to the devaluation of the franc. None of his observations about the

gesture made by France at Geneva applies to these particular Orders. It may very well be that the comments which he has made of a general character are such as should commend themselves to His Majesty's Government. That is another argument, but the whole of these Orders came into force prior to the devaluation of the franc. He referred a great deal to the balance of trade and said that, as imports are coming in so much better, why do we have matters of this sort? One of the methods of correcting the balance of trade will be by duty on some of these imports, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, before he draws conclusions from the character of the increase in imports, to investigate their nature a little more fully.

Resolved, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 21) Order, 1936, dated the fifth day of August, 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 twenty-ninth day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved.

Resolved, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 24) Order, 1936, dated the twenty-sixth day of August, 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 twenty-ninth day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved."—[Dr. Burgin.]

Motion made, and Question put, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 25) Order, 1936, dated the second day of September, 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 twenty-ninth day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved."—[Dr. Burgin.]

The House divided: Ayes 153; Noes 91.

Division No. 6.] AYES. [11.13 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Bower, Comdr. R. T. Christie, J. A.
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. w. Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Boyce, H. Leslie Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.
Albery, Sir I. J. Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh) Brockiebank, C. E. R. Courtauld, Major J. S.
Apsley, Lord Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Craddock, Sir R. H.
Aske, Sir R. W. Bull, B. B. Critchley, A,
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Bullock, Capt. M. Crooke, J. S.
Astor, Hon. w. W. (Fulham, E.) Burgin, Dr. E. L. Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.
Atholl, Duchess of Butler, R. A. Cross, R. H.
Baldwin-Webb. Col. J. Campbell, Sir E. T. Crossley, A. C.
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M. Cartland, J. R. H. Cruddas, Col. B.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Carver, Major W. H. Davies, C. (Montgomery)
Bernays, R. H. Cary, R. A. Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)
Bird, Sir R. B. Channon, H. Dawson, Sir P.
Blindell, Sir J. Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Denman, Hon. R. D.
Dodd, J. S. Leech, Dr. J. W. Rayner, Major R. H.
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. Leighton, Major B. E. P. Reid, Captain A. Cunningham
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Liddall, w. s. Remer, J. R.
Dugdale, Major T. L. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Duncan, J. A. L. Lloyd, G. W. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)
Eckersley, P. T. Loftus, P. C. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Elliston, G. S. Lumley, Capt. L. R. Rowlands, G.
Elmlpy, Viscount Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Salmon, Sir I.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Salt, E. W.
Entwistle, C. F. Mac Donald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)
Erskine Hill, A. G. McKie, J. H. Sandys, E. D.
Fleming, E. L. Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Fox, Sir G. W. G. Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Ganzonl, Sir J. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Southby, Com dr. A. R. J.
Greene, w. p. C. (Worcester) Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon H. D. R. Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Grimston, R. V. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.
Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake) Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Spens, W. P.
Guinness, T. L. E. B. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Srauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Gunston, Capt. D. W. Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Guy, J. C. M. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. Sutcliffe, H.
Hanbury, Sir C. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Unlv's.) Tasker, Sir R. I.
Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Munro, P. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Nail, Sir J. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Herbert. Capt. Sir S. (Abbey) Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Titchfieid, Marquess of
Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon) O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Holmes, J. S. Palmer, G. E. H. Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.
Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Peake, O. Wakefield, W. W.
Hulbert, N. J. Penny, Sir G. Walker-Smith, Sir J.
James, Wing-Commander A. W. Perkins. W. R. D. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Keeling, E. H. Ponsonby, Col. C. E. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Proeter, Major H. A. Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.
Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Radford, E. A. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Lamb, Sir J. Q. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Latham, Sir P. Ramsbotham, H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.) Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin) Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert-
Ward and Mr. James Stuart.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Naylor, T. E.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Grenfell, D. R. Oliver, G. H.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Parkinson, J. A.
Amnion, C. G. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Potts, J.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Harris, Sir P. A. Price, M. P.
Barnes, A. J. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Pritt, D. N.
Sarr, J. Hicks, E. G. Ridley, G.
Bellenger, F. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Riley, B.
Benson, G. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Ritson, J.
Broad, F. A. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Brooke, W. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Rothschild, J. A. de
Burke, W. A. Kelly, W. T. Sanders, W. S.
Cassells, T. Kirby, B. V. Seely, Sir H. M.
Charleton, H. C. Kirkwood, D. Sexton, T. M.
Chater, D. Lathan, G. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Cluse, W. S. Lawson, J. J. Sorensen, R. W.
Cocks, F. S. Leonard, W. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Daggar, G. Logan, D. G. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Daiton, H. Lunn, W. Thurtle, E.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Macdonald, G. (Ince) Tinker, J. J.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) McEntee, V. La T. Walkden, A. G.
Dobble, W. McGhee, H. G. Watson, W. McL.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) MacLaren, A. White, H. Graham
Ede, J. C. Mainwaring, W. H. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Marshall, F. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Mathers, G. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Foot, D. M. Messer, F. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Milner, Major J. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Glbbins, J. Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)
Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Muff, G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Mr. John and Mr. Whiteley.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 26) Order, 1936, dated the third day of September, 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 twenty-ninth day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six be approved.

Resolved, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 27) Order, 1936, dated the nineteenth day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Teasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House, on the twenty-ninth day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved.

Resolved, That the Import Duties (Exemptions) (No. 7) Order, 1936, dated the twenty-eighth day of October, 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 twenty-ninth day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved.".—[Dr. Burgin.]

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