HC Deb 21 July 1953 vol 518 cc180-3
10. Mrs. Castle

asked the President of the Board of Trade under what powers he suspended, without notice, the importation of tomatoes at midnight on 7th July last; whether he is aware that consignments purchased by the importers before they had received postal notification of this suspension on 8th July were seized by Her Majesty's Customs; and what restitution he proposes to make to those importers who incurred financial losses as a result of his action.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

All import licences are issued subject to the condition that they may be revoked under Article 4 of the Import of Goods (Control) Order, 1940; and importers of tomatoes are specifically warned of this. The procedure followed on 7th July, as on previous occasions, is well understood by the trade both in this country and the Netherlands. I cannot take account of the time at which orders are placed, but normally goods which are actually despatched to the United Kingdom before the revocation of import licences are admitted. I understand, however, that the two boats carrying the 130 tons of tomatoes seized by Her Majesty's Customs did not leave Holland until the evening of 8th July. I cannot undertake to compensate importers for losses incurred by the arrival of goods which are not admissible.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is usual to give 24 hours' notice to the trade in view of the fact that goods like tomatoes are ordered forward so that the orders may be placed in the auctions in good time, and is he aware that this ban came into operation half an hour before he released his Press notice and nine hours before the trade were aware of the ban, with the result that the 130 tons to which he referred were shipped in good faith and in ignorance of the ban, but were confiscated by the Customs with loss to the importers? Does the right hon. Gentleman think this is a reputable way to conduct international trade?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Precisely the same procedure was followed on this as on all other occasions, a procedure which is thoroughly well understood both by the importers in this country and the exporters in Holland. I would only add this, that if I were to start giving longer notice of these bans there would be considerable difficulty because of their being forestalled.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the first time that the ban has been brought into operation half an hour after the Press notice was released, and that that meant that the loss was inevitable, and that this is another example of the complete inefficiency of his Department in the conduct of trade?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The hon. Lady is misinformed of the facts.

Mr. D. Jones

What are the facts?

13. Mrs. Mann

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that Scottish housewives have been paying 3s. 4d. to 4s. 3d. for Scotch tomatoes since early spring and are now deprived of the cheaper prices of the flush season, due to import restrictions; and if he will protect housewives by fixing a controlled maximum price and relaxing the ban on imports.

15. Mrs. Castle

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that since the ban on the import of tomatoes the price of tomatoes in the shops has risen to 2s. per lb.; and whether he will consider lifting the import ban.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The suspension of imports of tomatoes was lifted at midnight on 17th July. My information does not confirm the retail prices quoted.

Mrs. Mann

Will the right hon. Gentleman believe me when I tell him that the prices rose from Is. 4d. to 2s. in Glasgow and that in London I saw them at Is. 6d.? We are very pleased that the import ban has been lifted and very sorry it ever was imposed.

Mr. Thorneycroft

My information is that prices in Scotland varied between Is. 3d. and Is. 9d., but I would not deny that the hon. Lady never found one lot at

Captain Duncan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that according to an official of the East of Scotland College of Agriculture the working costs of production are 14s. 3d. per 12 lb. basket, or about Is. 3d. per lb., excluding capital expenses, and that, therefore, having regard to a reasonable profit and the payment of decent wages to the workers, the price of 2s. is not unreasonable?

Mr. Thorneycroft

What we did in this case was to impose a ban on imports when the prices were falling and when they started to rise again we let the imports in, which was, I think, the right way to use this measure.

Mrs. Castle

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for lifting the import ban as a result of the Questions tabled by my hon. Friend and me, may I ask him whether he is aware that his reply proves how intolerable it was that he should have refused to admit the 130 tons sent on 7th July, which were confiscated to the great loss of the importers? The right hon. Gentleman was wrong in his acceptance of the ban.

Sir H. Williams

Is it in order to ask the same question twice?

Mr. Speaker

I was waiting to detect some difference.

Mr. Stokes

On a point of elucidation. Should not Question No. 13 read "Scottish housewives" and "Scottish tomatoes"?

Brigadier Medlicott

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of the occasional mishaps there will be widespread approval in agricultural areas at the general measures he is taking to protect the horticultural industry from unfair competition and to enable it to maintain the standard of living of its workers?