HC Deb 19 February 1952 vol 496 cc189-92

11.34 p.m.

The Secretary for Overseas Trade (Mr. Henry Hopkinson)

I beg to move, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 6) Order, 1951 (S.I. 1951, No. 2291), dated 22nd December, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd December, be approved. This Order deals with the import duties on cotton sacks of a kind commonly used for exporting salt from this country. It has the effect of restoring the 20 per cent. duty normally applicable to these goods which has been temporarily in suspense. Until 1949, these cotton sacks, and other sacks and bags of vegetable fibre, were liable to the general ad valorem duty imposed by the Import Duties Act, 1932, as well as an additional import duty of 10 per cent., making a total of 20 per cent.

In December, 1949, the whole import duty on cotton sacks was suspended by the Import Duties (Exemption) (No. 2) Order, 1949, for a period of one year. The object of this action, which was taken with the consent of all concerned, was to assist the salt export trade, whose requirements of cotton sacks could not at that time be met from home production. This Order was later extended for a period of one year, ending 31st December, 1951, by the Import Duties (Exemption) (No. 11) Order, 1950.

The production of cotton sacks in the United Kingdom is now sufficient to meet the salt trade's requirements, and there is therefore no justification for continuing an exemption from import duty. Both the salt export trade and the British producers of cotton sacks have accepted this view. The present Order has the effect of restoring the duty to 20 per cent. as from 22nd December, 1951.

I should explain to the House that an additional Imports Duty Order is not normally required to restore a duty which has been suspended for a stated period. In this case, however, for technical reasons, an Order is necessary. The 1949 Order suspending the 20 per cent. duty was overtaken by the Import Duties (Consolidation) Order, 1949. This Order included provision for the 10 per cent. ad valorem duty on the sacks, but it could not make any provision for the charge of an additional duty of 10 per cent. because the sacks were at that time temporarily exempted from all duty.

Consequently, when the Order expired on 21st December last these sacks became liable only to the 10 per cent ad valorem duty if the present Order restoring this duty to 20 per cent. had not been made. I would add that that action has again been taken by agreement with both the salt exporters and the home producers of cotton sacks.

11.37 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The Minister's rather complicated explanation of this Order may, as far as the imports are concerned, be satisfactory so far as it goes. But I do not think he has attempted to explain to the House why it was left until as late as 22nd December before this Order was made because, as the Minister pointed out, this exemption was due to expire on 21st December, 1951. If it were necessary to remove the exemption then, presumably some steps ought to have been taken about it before the expiration of the exemption on 21st December.

It seems to me hardly fair to the House that the Minister should have left it until the 22nd December before making this Order, thereby depriving the House of any opportunity of either assenting or dissenting until the present time, namely, 19th February, 1952. I think that where the Government feel it desirable to make a change of this kind in import duties they should not wait until the period of exemption has expired, but should take steps long before the expiry date.

They must have known long before 21st December, when this exemption was due to expire, whether they wanted the exemption to continue or not. I suggest that out of respect for this House the Government ought to have made up their minds much earlier in December regarding what they wanted to do about the matter. If they wanted to remove the exemption they ought to have made an Order before the House rose in December so that we could have had an opportunity of expressing an opinion about it instead of the situation in which we now find ourselves. Nearly two months after this exemption expired we are asked to approve the Government's action. I hope the Minister will give the House some explanation why this matter was not dealt with much earlier.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. Hopkinson

By leave of the House, may I say that I am obliged to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) for raising this point. As a matter of fact, I had thought of dealing with it had not the time been so late. The position is that the Additional Import Duties (No. 6) Order, 1951, was laid before the House of Commons on 22nd December, 1951, and, as the hon. Member said, came into operation on that day. This procedure was necessary —it was not a question of not having made up our minds or not having considered the matter—because the Order could not legally be made before 22nd December, 1951, that is to say until im- mediately after the expiry of the Import Duties Exemption (No. 11) Order, 1950.

It was desirable to bring the Order into operation on the same day so as to restore the whole of the duty on these cotton sacks at the same time to the original level of 20 per cent. Had there been the delay of a normal period of four or five days, it would have caused confusion if a certain number of sacks came in at 10 per cent. duty and others at 20 per cent. It was thought desirable to bring the whole duty back at the same time.

The matter was brought to your attention by the Treasury in a note and the whole position was explained. I can assure hon. Members that certainly there was no intention of any disrespect to the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Additional Import Duties (No. 6) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 2291), dated 22nd December 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd December, be approved.

  1. ESTIMATES 16 words
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  3. PUBLIC ACCOUNTS 17 words
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