HC Deb 19 November 1940 vol 365 cc1831-2
60 and 61. Mr. A. Edwards

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) if he is aware that there are still serious delays at ports due to Customs examinations; and if, in order to speed up deliveries and avoid unnecessary work, he will, for the duration of the war, take steps to abolish all import duties in cases where, owing to goods being on Government account, there is no ultimate financial gain to the Treasury;

(2) What was the total amount Collected in import duties for 1940 to latest available date, and what proportion of such amount is eventually charged by importers and manufacturers to the Government; and whether he has considered the advisability of abolishing import duties on all materials and articles imported on a Government licence priority?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Crookshank)

I have not had any evidence of serious delays occasioned solely by Customs examinations, though if my hon. Friend can give me particulars, I will look into them. I accept and have acted for some time on the principle that direct purchases out of Exchequer funds should not involve the payment of import duties where the total import is so purchased for Government use; but such cases are not very numerous, and if a proportion of indirect or private trade remains, my first duty is to safeguard the revenue. I must also satisfy myself that if import duty were removed, a corresponding reduction would be obtained in the price at which Government Departments buy from abroad. These considerations apply with even greater force to indirect purchases: and, in addition, serious practical difficulties would arise if freedom from duty depended on the ultimate purchaser, rather than on the nature of the goods. The total amount collected in import duties from 1st January to 3rst October, 1940, is provisionally calculated as £289,893,000. I am unable to estimate how far import duties enter into the cost to the Exchequer of goods which are the subject of Government contracts.

Mr. Edwards

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman denying that, the majority of imports are ultimately on Government account? Would it not be worth while giving more serious consideration to this question?

Captain Crookshank

I beg to be excused from answering supplementaries on this Question. My answer was a very full one. If the hon. Member is still at a loss for the information that he requires, perhaps he will put down another Question.