HC Deb 07 December 1953 vol 521 cc1619-21

3.38 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Heathcoat Amory)

I beg to move,

That the Import Duties (Exemptions) (No. 5) Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 1696), dated 20th November, 1953,a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved.

Though this is called an Import Duties (Exemptions) Order, it is really almost exactly the opposite, because it reimposes a 10 per cent. ad valorem import duty on the import of sulphuric acid and oleum from 25th November, 1953.In 1951 there was a severe world shortage of sulphur and at that time the United Kingdom, as a result of that shortage, had to import sulphuric acid. At that time an application was made for the suspension of the 10 per cent. ad valorem duty from the main users in this country, and the Government of the day agreed that there was a case for doing that while the shortage lasted. So the duty was removed by the Import Duties (Exemptions) (No. 6) Order, 1951, and sulphuric acid was added to the Free List on 24th May, 1951.

Today the situation is quite different. At the present time there is no shortage of sulphur and the United Kingdom supplies of sulphuric acid are adequate and are likely to remain adequate. In these changed circumstances United Kingdom manufacturers have now requested that the duty should be restored; as was the original intention. Their application was advertised by a Press notice on 18th May last. No representations have been received since then that the United Kingdom supplies are inadequate or that the reimposition of the duty would impose a burden on producers, though one representation was received against the principle of the duty on products of this kind.

I would remind the House that the 10 per cent. ad valorem duty is the basic import duty in the United Kingdom tariff, and it is only removed when there is a clear case in the national interest that demands its removal. In this case it was always the intention that the duty should be reimposed when the shortage ceased. In view of the fact that supplies are adequate and look like remaining adequate, that condition is now fulfilled, and I hope that the House will approve of this Order.

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we support the view of the Government in introducing this Order because, as he has made clear, this is not the imposition of a new tariff, it is the reintroduction of a tariff which was suspended for very good reasons some two and a half years ago. Certainly at that time it was right to suspend the duty, because against the background of the world shortage of sulphur and the serious position in that respect which we were facing in this country, it was neccessary to encourage to the maximum the abnormal—and I stress the word "abnormal"—importation of sulphuric acid.

But now the world sulphur position has eased, though I gather that there are anxieties about it even today. There are also the exceptional measures which we took two and a half years ago to establish new sources of sulphuric acid in this country, particularly those processes using non-dollar pyrites or, even better from the point of view of national security, native anhydrites. Those measures are now coming to full fruition and that means that we shall be much more self-sufficient in sulphuric acid production in this country.

Indeed, it might have been argued that, if there had not been a duty on the acid before 1951 there might be a case for it now, because some of these methods using non-dollar sources of material are inevitably operating at higher cost than those using cheaper but insecure supplies of American sulphur. However, that is not the issue now. We are asked to agree to the restoration of a tariff which was suspended for purely temporary purposes and I am sure that the House will wish to support the right hon. Gentleman's Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.