HC Deb 17 April 1946 vol 421 cc2725-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.

4.45 P.m.

Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

I hope we are going to get some explanation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, of the reasons why this proposal is fixed for a period of two years and what, if any, consultations are going on with regard to the future. I should like to take this opportunity of saying something upon this Resolution, which is applicable to the Resolutions as a whole. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is aware that the Report stage of the Budget Resolutions is being taken unprecedently early after the Committee stage. It is the usual practice to leave one whole week between the conclusion of the Committee stage and the taking of the Report stage of the Resolutions. Of course, we on this side of the House make no complaint, because we know it is done to meet our convenience on the question of the National Health Bill. But it is clear that in such a limited time, it has not been possible to ascertain as fully as one would wish, the reaction which some of these Resolutions may have upon various individuals or industries in this country. Therefore, both on this and subsequent Resolutions I should make it plain that the mere failure to put down an Amendment, so as to raise some particular point during the discussion, will not preclude us from doing so when we come to another stage with similar opportunities, the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will give us a fuller explanation of the reasons for this Resolution than the Chancellor was able to give during his Budget speech.

4.48 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

As I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) knows, the duties to which the Resolution refer are commonly known as the key industry duties. They were first imposed under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. 1921, for a period of five years. At the end of that time, they were continued for another ten years and after that for a further ten years. Unless something is done about it now, they are due to expire on the i9th August next. The question of their continuation has been a subject of consideration both by the Board of Trade and by the Customs and Excise, and their future cannot yet be decided with any certainty until the wider policy to be followed is decided. It is obvious that the status quomust be continued, until a firm decision is reached. With regard to the period of two years, it is hoped that that will be enough to enable a decision on their future to he taken.

It is also put at two years for the simple reason that the United States have views on Imperial Preference, and it was felt that it would be unfair to them, as well as to the House, to impose these duties for a longer period than two years. I hope that with that short explanation the House will be willing to agree to the Resolution.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I would like to thank the Chancellor for some head signs which he gave when my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) was saying how much he regretted the short time available between the Budget Statement and the bringing forward of these Resolutions today. I am sure that even for old Members of the House it must he difficult, let alone for new Members. At any rate, I have found it so, because I am not clever in these matters. I would like to congratulate the Government, as I may not be able to do often today, on this Resolution. This is one of the small sound things they are doing, and I welcome the continuance of the duties' period for two more years. I also congratulate the Financial Secretary, who made it plain that if there is no policy, and the Government do not know where they are, it is better to preserve the status quo.I only wish that more Members of the Treasury Bench were possessed of his wisdom and advice. I think he will go far. By continuing the period for a further two years industries are enabled to know where they are, and for that reason I am sure every Member of my party will welcome the Resolution. When we can get this Government to preserve a sensible status quo,and not create indecision, some of us feel it is our duty to say what nice things we can about them.

Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)

I, too, am very glad to see that these duties are to be continued, and the only doubt I have is whether, in this particular case, two years will be long enough, having regard to the fact that the Government have announced that they intend to proceed with the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. There have been occasions when the Government have sought to take powers for a further five years, and when we have appealed to them to limit the period to two years. On this occasion, however, our views are in reverse. We should like to see a longer period. I am glad that the Government think it is necessary to safeguard some of our industries in this way.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I would like to associate myself with what has been said from this side of the House, because I remember the maiden speech I made when I came into the House of Commons at the time when Lord Baldwin, then Mr. Stanley Baldwin, was President of the Board of Trade. I am, therefore, particularly pleased that these duties are to continue, in view of the expansionist policy upon which the Government are about to embark in regard to the iron and steel industry.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I had assumed that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) had a greater knowledge of the subject than he apparently has, but I would direct his attention to the White Paper, No. 6709, which can be obtained in the Vote Office. That White Paper is entitled, "Proposals for Consideration of an International Conference on Trade and Employment." The reason for not suggesting that the duties should be continued for more than two years is because the Government have a moral obligation in this matter. The Conference has not yet met and, therefore, it is impossible to say what our future fiscal policy will be.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

As I listened to the second intervention of the Financial Secretary, with the attention that I always give to whatever he says, I had the feeling that there was more behind his remarks than was apparently behind his first speech. First of all, I understood him to say that the duties were to be continued for a further two years while the Government made up their mind. [An HON. MEMBER: "If they can.''] Oh, yes, I believe that even this Government can make up their mind in two years. The hon. Gentleman said that the Government should have the opportunity of considering the position, and referred us to Command Paper No. 6709, which is familiar to every Member of the House as one dealing with international labour and commerce. I think we might be able to extract, on this Resolution, something more about the Government's approach to international labour and commercial problems than we have yet secured.

Mr, Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

We are grateful to the Financial Secretary for his explanation of this Resolution, but on reconsideration we think that the period for which these duties is to be renewed may well prove to he too short, and we shall probably pursue the matter further on the Finance Bill.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.