§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Derek Walker-Smith)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I think I can claim that the progress of the Bill through its various stages in debate in this House has shown general agreement that it is right that the Government should have power to deal with dumping and subsidies. When I say "general agreement", I suppose that in all honesty I should make an exception for the Liberal Party which, from time to time, seems to manifest some misgivings about this generally accepted principle. But I observe that tonight, with characteristic delicacy of feeling, Members of the Liberal Party have absented themselves so as not to derogate in any way from the general unanimity of our view.
We on this side of the House have sought to profit by the discussions which we have had on the Bill, and I think that the House will be at one with me when I say that we have succeeded in incorporating to a large extent recommendations and suggestions made from all quarters of the House. The debates have, in fact, confirmed that such disagreement as is left is more as to method than as to the objectives which we have in mind.
The Bill has an important and a useful purpose, but it is, of course, a limited purpose; it seeks to deal simply with imports which are the subject of subsidy or which are dumped and which inflict injury or threaten material injury on one or other of our industries or on an industry of a third G.A.T.T. country.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Would the Minister care to repeat the first part of his speech for the edification of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt)?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Observing the absence of the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), I attributed it to his characteristic delicacy of feeling in not wishing to derogate from our general 1336 unanimity in these proceedings. I now add only this, that his appearance here is evidence of the characteristic consideration towards the House which he always displays.
The Bill has that limited though valuable purpose, and it does not, of course, seek to deal with the problem of low-cost competition, which is part of a more general problem.
In taking these powers, we have done so primarily as a precautionary measure, because we have not at present got any clear evidence that dumped or subsidised imports are, in fact, causing a material injury to our industries. We have, of course, to look at the powers we have taken for this limited purpose in the wider context of our general economic position.
We are, first and foremost, as the House will agree, a great exporting nation. Dependence upon exports is for us a continuing and inherent characteristic of our economy. That being so, our approach to the Bill has been that we do not wish to invite reprisals or excessively stringent provisions in the laws of other countries by anything which we do in this Bill. We have modelled our Bill closely upon Article VI of G.A.T.T.; but we have, nevertheless, left ourselves sufficient flexibility for the purposes of our own domestic law and also to be able, if need be, to deal more severely with the countries with whom we do not enjoy a full G.A.T.T. relationship.
Our intention is to make sparing and careful use of these new powers, resorting to them only when it is clear that dumping or subsidising is really threatening or doing harm to our industries, because to impose additional duties without a thorough investigation of their need would have the danger of inviting reprisals in the context of which I spoke.
One of the main matters which has occupied the attention of the House during the proceedings on this Bill is, of course, the question of its effectiveness. It is not altogether easy to make provisions of this kind fully and clearly effective; but I am satisfied that we have in the end evolved a flexible and effective instrument for this purpose. We have tried to learn from experience and have made the provisions of the Bill less rigid than those of the Safeguarding of Industries Act, 1921. By providing alternative 1337 criteria such as we now have in this Bill, we have got a good workable basis for action.
I should, I think, say just a word about getting the necessary information. This has, perhaps, been the principal difficulty about which anxiety was expressed in the earlier stages of the passage of the Bill. It is true that some industries fear that, even though they may be harmed by dumping or subsidising, they will not be able to prove their case in accordance with the specified criteria of the Bill.
I certainly do not want to disguise the fact that there are practical difficulties in the way; but those difficulties, of course, are inherent in the nature of the case, because most of the things of which proof is required are things which happen outside our jurisdiction. That is the inherent and, to some extent, inescapable nature of the basic difficulty which arises. We have done our best to get a workable solution.
I see the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) in his place, so I will say a word about the position of the Customs in this context. I observe that during the Report stage, on 21st February, he said:The Customs and Excise know it on every single transaction now. All we are asking is that the Customs and Excise should tell the Board of Trade. If that is done, we shall be perfectly happy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1957; Vol. 380, c. 710.]Always, one of my aspirations is to try to make the hon. Gentleman as happy as I can, so I should like to tell him quite clearly that the Board of Trade will have the full co-operation of the Customs in this matter as an administrative procedure.
As part of the ordinary administrative procedure the Board will have access to the statistics which the Customs have; but I ought, in fairness, to make this distinction. There is a distinction between export price and fair market price. The Customs statistics will be sufficient to show the export price, but the Customs naturally do not have the statistics which will give the fair market price. There we have the provisions of Clause 7, which, we think, should be adequate.
The other matter which exercised hon. Members to some extent was that of speed. They wanted to be assured that the remedies given by the Bill were not only effective but were sufficiently speedy. 1338 It is, of course, true that there may be a conflict between speed of operation and thoroughness of investigation. In that case, I think that our bias must, in the ordinary way, be in favour of thoroughness, for two reasons: first, of course, in the general context of our trading position as a great exporting nation with G.A.T.T. obligations, and so on; and, secondly, because of the natural fairness of the case, which means one would not want to take action upon a matter unless it had been investigated.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Towards the closing stages of our debate last week the Minister said that if the proposals we made for investigation were put into operation the importers would have a chance to forestall them and to bring enormous quantities of the commodity into the country. Is that not what he is giving them a chance to do now?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
No, I do not think so. Of course, there are some cases where it will be possible to act more speedily than in the average case.
I have referred before to the sort of cases where there is seasonal recurrence or where there is some previous experience which goes part way to establish a prima facie case. In such cases as those, where we have got a prima facie case of dumping or subsidies, where we have evidence of injury, we can and will act both speedily and decisively; but in the ordinary way, of course, industry must present the case as fairly and convincingly as it can, and we cannot be expected to act on suspicion, which would be wrong and invite reprisal. I believe that we have achieved the highest common factor of effectiveness, speed and fairness in the provisions as we now have them.
I summarise the matter in these words. These proposals fill a gap in our economic armoury. We have, I think, devised a weapon which is effective for its purpose and appropriate in the general context of our economic life, and as such I commend it with confidence to the judgment of the House.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should not overrate the degree of unanimity about the Bill. We do not like it as much as all that. I agree with him, however, 1339 that the Bill has been somewhat improved as a result of the consideration that we have given to it.
The main change, I think, is the proviso to Clause 1 (1), about material damage. The President of the Board of Trade, on Report, said that this was a very pretty piece of drafting. I have since looked at it very carefully in the light of what he said. I am not sure that I agree with him, and I ask the Government for an assurance that this new proviso really does extend to material damage to industries in Commonwealth countries.
We were told by the President of the Board of Trade that it did, but it is so prettily drafted that this particular effect of the proviso escapes me. I tried very hard to read it into it. The Minister of State chided us art an earlier stage for not providing against material damage to Commonwealth industries. I only hope that he and his right hon. Friends have succeeded in making the provision. It would be good if we were to have a firm and clear assurance that that is one of the effects of the proviso.
In general, the extension of the definition of dumping to include material damage at any rate in relation to other G.A.T.T. Powers, is good. This, of course, is a further limitation of the Bill. Some hon. Members opposite, among them the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) seemed to think that it extended the scope of the Bill. It limits it, of course, because it adds one more definition to a number of other definitions which remain just as effective as they were. This is right because, although we must stop dumping, it is important that the Bill does not become a protectionist Measure. I agree about the need for us to give high priority to export and to the interest of exporters in this country. I agree that where we must strike a balance of advantage we must always lean heavily towards the interest of exports.
The other improvement made was also in Clause 1 (3)—the extension of 'the definition of a subsidy on an export. That is clearly necessary. It meets the worst sort of dumping, a sort of surreptitious and devious aid by Governments. The definition may become more necessary if the French colonies are brought into the Free 1340 Trade Area. This may extend the forms in which devious and subterranean subsidies are made by Governments to their own exporters. It is also a useful improvement that there is to be an annual report on the Bill when it comes to be operated as an Act.
All these improvements were due to this side of the House. It is true that we had the co-operation of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in one, although we had thought of it on our own, as we have always done when the hon. Member has a good idea. Nevertheless, the Bill is, in our view, rather defective. It has very little real force. It is rather like relying for the protection of one's property on a watchdog with a big bark and a set of false teeth. There is not very much real strength and force in the Bill.
This is particularly the case with Clauses 5 and 8. There is still, under Clause 5, no means by which the real facts can be found out. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a further defence of that Clause in his speech tonight, but the truth is that it is not good enough for the Board of Trade just to be an agent for industries which are themselves incapable of finding out the facts that alone can set the Bill into operation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that most of the facts that it is necessary to discover are outside our jurisdiction. That is all the more reason why we need a powerful agency like the Board of Trade or the Customs to discover the facts. It makes nonsense of the Bill to set out a great many facts which must be established before it is in operation and then to say that they must be discovered by people who are incapable of discovering them. That is what Clause 5 says.
We are very worried still about Clause 8, which deals with the countries of origin. It leaves a considerable loophole in the Bill, because it allows indirect dumping or dumping at one remove. It will be possible for country A to send subsidised goods to country B which then adds 25 per cent. to their value and exports them to us, and they are no longer dumped, according to the terms of the Bill, when they reach us.
This is really a very grave loophole, and it would be particularly dangerous if the Free Trade Area was in operation, a 1341 great area in which there are no tariffs and no impediments to trade and in which a country can get its raw materials or semi-processed goods at dumped prices and send them to us with very small additions to their value so that they can no longer be described as dumped goods.
Despite defects of this sort in the Bill, the Measure has some force, and we hope the Government will be ready in appropriate cases to use it, and use it quickly. Readiness to use the powers contained in it will reduce the need to use them very often. There must be a bit of a bite in the bark if the watchdog is to be of value. If importers think that the Bill will never be used, we might as well not have wasted our time on it. If it is used with vigour where necessary, I hope that it will not have to be used very often.
There is a real danger as long as the United States has huge surplus stocks which it wants to clear on terms and conditions which would amount to dumping as envisaged by the Bill, which means selling them at prices lower than they command in their home market. This danger of dumping hangs over us all the time. If America unloads those surplus stocks in the form of dumping, it can do great damage not only to British agriculture but to our British industries, because they will have to compete in the home market with imported goods which may have been made with dumped American material, and throughout the world with goods made with, for instance, cheap American cotton.
There is also constant danger that our trade with Australia, in particular, can be seriously interfered with by the dumping of Argentine meat or French wheat. Things of this sort ought to be dealt with very quickly when the Bill becomes an Act, in the interests of the proper flow of Commonwealth trade.
We are not very happy about the Bill. We think that a good deal of it is window-dressing and will not be really effective. It is a very elaborate and ingenious mountain which has produced a very diminutive mouse at the end of the operation. None the less, it is better than nothing, and we are prepared to allow it to pass with faint praise and a very half-hearted blessing.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) 1342 should have coupled with such faint praise his willingness to give the Bill a fair wind. I do not in any way wish to deprive him of the opportunity of taking credit, if he wishes to do so, for certain alterations in the Bill, but he and his right hon. Friends are not the only ones who have taken exception to some of its provisions.
I should like to have seen rather more "teeth" in the information to be supplied to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I would remind him that those of us who hold that view rely on his assurance, given at an earlier stage, that if the occasion arises he will act quickly and that, if a strong case is made, he will take action before all the facts of the case happen to have been proved.
Though this may be a rather longer Bill than some of us might have wished, I believe it to be a deterrent, and a very necessary one. Even if it might have been put on the advertisement boards rather more obviously than it has been, it will, if it acts as a deterrent without my right hon. Friend having to act, have achieved the objective which we all seek. I therefore lend my support to the Bill, and, relying on the assurance that we have been given by the Minister, I wish it good luck.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) is not very happy about the Bill because he thinks that it is window-dressing. I must say that if I could think it was window-dressing I should be very happy indeed.
§ Mr. Holt
I do not propose to let it get me down. I came with the intention tonight of delivering a last broadside against the Bill, but I am afraid that the very courteous opening remarks of the Minister of State rather spiked my guns. I should like to be able to offer equal courtesy in return.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was the intention of the Government to use these powers sparingly. His actual phrase was: "Sparing and careful use of these powers." If that is so, well and good. It may be that on the whole the Bill will serve a useful purpose, but some of the right hon. and 1343 learned Gentleman's hon. Friends, who on previous occasions have been shooting at him from the flank, certainly do not want him to use these powers sparingly. Neither do they want always a very thorough investigation before they are used. Speed was the essence of their case, and they would really like some of these powers used at the least suspicion, certainly not only after prolonged and careful investigation.
§ Mr. Holt
The hon. Members says it would be too late, and I agree that there is a practical difficulty. I quite accept that in some perfectly good case, if the work is not done speedily, the point of the whole thing is missed, but at the same time, as has already been said, we have to remember the great interests this country has in looking after its exporters. If we indulge in too frequent use of these powers, they will undoubtedly react against us in export markets.
I retract nothing I have said about the Bill during its previous stages, but I do not relish the rôle of a Parliamentary King Canute. I will accept what has been done and do what little I can to see that these powers are used sparingly and carefully and bring it to the attention of the House whenever they are not.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I should not like to predict that when it becomes an Act the Bill will never be used, but we can safely predict that it will not be very effective when it is used. There have been comments tonight about the teeth of the dog. The President of the Board of Trade, when speaking on Second Reading, said that he was approaching the House in the hope that he could put up a notice to say, "Beware of the dog. He bites dumpers and subsidisers." But with what is the dog to bite dumpers and subsidisers?
I remember a Lancashire cotton operative who, during the time of a serious round of dumping in the years before the war, was seen in the village without his top teeth. His friends asked him what he had done with them and he said, "I have pawned them because I have nothing for them to do." I hope that the same argument can be advanced for the Bill.
1344 Although it came at rather a late stage, it was interesting to hear the Minister's news that the collaboration of the Customs and Excise had been secured in the matter of providing information as and when it was necessary. That is only part of our grievance. As the Bill stands, an aggrieved industry or firm must put up its own case. It must get the information from somewhere. If it is a very large organisation and is able to employ snoopers overseas, it can probably get the fair market price in the country of origin, but it certainly cannot get the export price. If that can be furnished when a prima facie case has been made out it will be of assistance.
But it does not help the industrialists or industry in making a case. The only people who know are the Customs and Excise authorities and the importers, and the importers will certainly not give that information. The Minister referred to the way in which an order would be made, but I should like the procedure to be explained again for the benefit of some of us. The Minister dotted one or two i's and crossed one or two t's of the information that had gone before, but I should like to have the matter quite clear.
In the Second Reading debate the President said:I should add that the Board could take the initiative itself under this Bill. I doubt if it would do it very often, but it could. However the process was started, the Board would urgently consider whether a prima facie case had been made out. Once we were satisfied that there was such a case we could either proceed to a detailed examination"—which was the alternative the hon. Member was talking about—or in the exceptional case, where it was perfectly clear that serious damage was being done, lay an Order at once, subject to an affirmative Resolution of this House, imposing a duty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1957; Vol. 563, c. 61–62.]and so on. When the Minister of State replied to the debate he said:It would then be for the Board of Trade to decide, first, whether a prima facie case of dumping had been established, and, secondly, whether there was any evidence of material injury, which, as I have explained, would in the case of G.A.T.T. countries, still be relevant. If the answer was that there was no prima facie case or no material injury, the matter would lapse. On the other hand, if a prima fade case were established, there would then probably be some procedure for the advertising of the application with a view to giving other interested parties the right of objection before 1345 the Board of Trade made up its mind whether there was a case for an Order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1957; Vol. 563, c. 120–21.]There is no reference there to acting quickly or getting on with the job of stopping this unfair dumping.
There would be a real chance for importers to forestall action upon any order made, by getting into the country as quickly as possible as many as possible of the goods of that description. If the Bill is to be effective it must be applied quickly. Very often, when these procedures are applied quickly, an assessment has to be made, and it can be a rough assessment.
I do not see how it can possibly be anything else. Up to now there has been no indication given to the House as to how we are to obtain meticulous information about this. It may be that the Minister relies on Clause 7 for the furnishing of information on production costs. Mention was made in a previous debate that declarations would be required from the exporter from another country who would declare what was production costs. But that is far more involved than the Minister may realise.
It is a tremendous job to find out what are the production costs in a foreign country. In that case, as I see it, there be an attempt at an assessment of the amount of dumping in any particular transaction or series of transactions. The Board of Trade will assess it on the high side. It cannot assess it correctly and it will not assess it low. The result will be that we shall have an enormous number of reclaim forms coming in backed by data of all kinds, in metres, centimetres, kilograms and grammes and the discrepancies in foreign currencies.
Samples will come in and we shall have examples of the type of thing that traders do when they are in danger of losing some money. The question of trade discounts and details of construction will be raised, and the rest of it. When that has been exploited to the full, in all probability they will attack the legitimacy of the reclaim procedure, because I have not heard it explained yet how this fits into the scheme that we know as G.A.T.T. If it was thought that it did not fit we should have all the commercial consuls from all the countries importing into the United Kingdom, lining 1346 up for information about why their nationals were experiencing a delay.
It may not be in the mind of the Minister, although perhaps he has heard of it, that there was an inquiry in 1955 under the G.A.T.T. organisation into the working of a tariff in Sweden. I think the item was something to do with nylon stockings. It was found that on this system of reclaims that we have in Clause 3 there was a delay of seven months, and a tremendous lot of grumbling went on.
We do not think that adequate powers have been taken in this Bill by the Board of Trade. During the Second Reading debate the President said that the Bill would be similar to legislation in the Commonwealth countries and the United States, but that is not strictly correct. This is not so good a Bill. The powers are not very similar to the ones which the Americans have. Not only do the Americans demand that there should be a declaration—which is what we wanted, but that has now gone by the board—but they also demand that the exporter shall put in the home market price in the country of origin.
I wish to say a word on the question of dumping through an intermediary country with intermediate products. It was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). Twice in his Second Reading speech the President of the Board of Trade mentioned the dangers of dumping from totalitarian countries and Socialist countries, which had monopolistic systems. He spoke of the danger to the economy of other peoples from that kind of trading. It was precisely to help the President of the Board of Trade that we put down an Amendment to Clause 8. It was not accepted, but even now I think it would have been a good thing to put it in.
In the case of totalitarian countries, there is no difficulty whatever in dumping here or in any other country in the Free Trade Area. Totalitarian countries can make their own home market price. They can send the goods to an intermediate country and get a little processing done on them. We are only allowing them 25 per cent., and we could have a commodity coming in here which really, from the point of view of the totalitarian country which sends it, has no home price, whereas over here it can shatter an industry which has 1347 perhaps been struggling along for many years and which at that particular time is in difficulties.
We shall not divide on the Bill although there are still points on which we are not satisfied. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall watch what the countries on the Continent will do about their anti-dumping legislation. The Bill is precipitate and too early. What is the use of saying, "We hope that nobody else on the Continent will do anything different, when, as we are the first, they can make this Measure their model and get as near to the provisions of G.A.T.T. as they are able? We shall watch it with interest and hope at some time or another to amend the Bill if Continental legislation is more severe than ours.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
In spite of the good will that we have shown through all the stages of the Bill it is very difficult, as I think the Minister will agree, logically to advance any argument in support of it. We do not feel so antagonistic to it that we would divide on it, but I find it extremely difficult to reconcile myself to the Bill.
In its present form, if it were considered as the final word on this subject, it is one of the most piddling little Measures I have ever read. I say that advisedly. One can only reconcile oneself by regarding it as an interim Measure. It will necessarily be interim, for a perfectly obvious reason. We all agree with the objects of the Bill; in fact, we are more enthusiastic for them than the Government apparently are themselves, but the Bill will fail because its powers are not strong enough to attain the objectives which the Government have in mind. That is particularly true of Clauses 5 and 8.
We have done all we could to give the President of the Board of Trade more power. We have said to the Government, "You should have more power to do this effectively." We are not saying, "Heavens above. What are you up to? You beastly Tories are at it again. We must attack you and you must not have this power". We say, "For heaven's sake take these extra powers, or something will happen."
1348 What will happen is this. The evasions of the provisions of this Bill, which are so clearly possible in the state of trade as we find it internationally, can easily be made, and they have been pointed out on all sides of the House. Indeed, only the Front Bench opposite seems to be of a different opinion. When the Government seek to deal with persons who are guilty of these evasions—and, heaven alone knows that they will want to deal with them, because, like ourselves they resent as much as we do unfair trading practices, and I have said before that we have suffered very badly from them in Lancashire, and that point has been made time and time again in the debate—if the Government then seek to deal with the matter, they will find they have no reserve powers at all. The powers which we wished to give them are not in the Bill.
If we look at Clauses 5 and 8, we find that there is almost a repellent degree of toothlessness about that part of the Bill, and that has been pointed out from both sides of the House. Will not the Government, even at this stage, try to avoid this Bill being an interim Measure, with a subsequent Measure forced upon them by the process of events and unfair trading practices which the very helplessness of this Bill itself provokes? Will they not, even now, take into consideration the fact that they need extra powers if they are to do this job and that we would with all our hearts give them those powers? We cannot understand why they should be so reluctant to accept them.
The only argument which has been put—and it has been put again today by the Minister of State—is that there might be retaliatory measures. There might be retaliatory measures following this Bill. It is conceivable that there will be a sort of combat in toothlessness between different countries, and the Minister is not going to have a lack of retaliation or an avoidance of unfair trading practices merely by putting a footling Bill of this sort forward.
To the best of our ability, we have tried to put the Bill into such a form that it will do something, but I must say that if it is the final step, then, with a rather heavy heart, I can only invite the Minister to say De minimis. Let him not boast about the Bill. It is small, it 1349 is ineffective, and it is likely to fail completely unless it is buttressed by a subsequent Measure. Having said that, I do not see how we can get a subsequent Measure without this preparatory one, and as I can only regard it as an interim Measure, which might lead to something better in the near future, I shall, though without any great enthusiasm, support it.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I will not make any comments on the Bill itself, but I should like to express, on behalf of this side of the House, our appreciation of the courteous way in which the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of State have handled this Bill, which certainly augurs well for the future.
I should like particularly to express my gratitude for the change of mind in the modification in Clause 1 which fitted in with an Amendment which I moved in Committee, and which was the brainchild of my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams). The President of the Board of Trade did change his mind, and as we are accustomed to changes of mind on the other side of the House, I am sure that the Minister of State will find that his mind will become increasingly agile as he rises to high position. These gymnastics, however, usually take place before or after elections, but in this case the change of mind has been a very beneficent one.
This Bill is overdue, and so far as it concerns commercially advanced countries which have not got anti-dumping legislation, it is particularly desirable, in view of the possibilities of the cold war taking a commercial form. There is a very real danger of that when coping with totalitarian countries which can dump goods without any protest at all from their own side. It is also desirable that before we enter the European Free Trade Area we should define our position on dumping.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) in his strictures on this Bill. I think there is a possibility that it might be used as a measure of protection. I hope the Minister will see that the Bill is administered with great care, particularly as to 1350 the evidence of dumping. It is very easy for an industrialist who has some difficulty in selling his wares to feel that something which is being imported more cheaply is dumping. But there is a danger that he might be a little lax in suggesting that dumping is taking place.
In Clause 1 there is a reference toless than the fair market price of the goods in that countryas the criterion of the price involving dumping. I think that would be a rather difficult Clause to evaluate because, obviously, prices vary from time to time and even from place to place. In Clause 8, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick pointed out, there will probably be considerable lack of flexibility on account of the unfortunate 25 per cent. criterion, but that is something that we can do little about now.
In Clause 3 (4), one notices that an application for relief cannot be made after six months have expired from the time the duty has been paid. I feel that there is a possibility of some genuine hardship occurring there and I hope that in another place further consideration will be given to that question.
The main weakness of the Bill will obviously be the price factor. This Bill will be effective, or fairly effective, when dumping is of prolonged duration, but, as many hon. Members realise, dumping of long duration is not the most dangerous or most annoying kind of dumping. The worst kind is sporadic dumping. That is the kind of dumping which has the maximum deleterious influence on our trade and industry.
Quite obviously, time has to be allowed for someone to find the necessary information about prices and costs of production in a foreign country and report to the Board of Trade. Then the rather complex processes of the Board of Trade have to take place before action can be taken. For short and sporadic dumping this Bill will obviously be ineffective by reason of the time factor involved.
I will not proceed further, as the Minister of State will want to say a few words in winding up the debate. On this side of the House we feel that the Bill could have been greatly improved and it is unfortunate that more of our suggestions were not accepted. We rather relied on canine metaphors in discussing this Bill. 1351 Everyone referred to the fact that it is the dog that bites dumpers and subsidisers. I can only suggest that we give the President of the Board of Trade's dog a friendly pat, despatch it to another place, and hope for the best.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Perhaps with the leave of the House, out of courtesy to right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, I might make brief reference to the points they have made.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) asked for an assurance that the proviso to Clause 1, which he said he found difficult, enables us to act on behalf of Commonwealth countries. I can certainly, confidently and gladly give him that assurance. The proviso says… that, where the Board of Trade are not satisfied that the effect of the dumping or of the giving of the subsidy is such as to cause or threaten material injury to an established industry in the United Kingdom or is such as to retard materially the establishment of art industry in the United Kingdom, the Board shall not exercise that power if it appears to them that to do so would conflict with …G.A.T.T. obligations.
That, in effect, means, if I may paraphrase it, that where there is no injury to a United Kingdom industry we must act in accordance with our G.A.T.T. obligations. The G.A.T.T. allows us to impose a duty on behalf of a third GA.T.T. country, including, of course, a Commonwealth country. Therefore, the draftsman has rightly interpreted what the right hon. Gentleman wished.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Would the word "obligation" mean that? Under G.A.T.T. this is not an obligation but a privilege that we have. I wonder whether the word "obligation" would not, in fact, exclude that part of Article 6 of G.A.T.T., with which, of course, I am very familiar. It seems to me that an obligation is something that is laid upon one, something one must do, whereas Article 6 gives permission.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I think if the right hon. Gentleman traces the negatives through the ingenious draft he will see that the question of not conflicting with an obligation is the same as acting in accordance with a right—I think so.
1352 The other main point made by the right hon. Gentleman was that the Bill was window dressing; but I think that he received a very confident although slightly regretful contradiction of that from the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt). There was another Bill with which I was associated in the last Session which, in its earlier stages, was said by some to be window dressing, but I think that even the right hon. Gentleman will admit that it is turning out to be a very effective instrument now that it is on the Statute Book.
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) referred to my speech on Second Reading about the procedure and complained that then I had said nothing about speedy action in exceptional cases. I did make that omission good in regard to the Amendment moved in the Committee stage by, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant); and he accepted my assurance then and referred to it again this evening. I would, though, just remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that in the ordinary way we have to have regard to the interests of the importers as well as of the manufacturers, and the importers representatives have strongly indicated to us their anxiety to have the right to be informed of complaints and to reply to them if they can. In the ordinary case—not these exceptional cases which justify the very speedy procedure—it is obviously right and fair that they should be able to do that.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about Clause 7, I would just remind him, when he referred to difficulties of finding out the cost of production, that if there is not a sale in the country which enables a fair market price to be ascertained then, if the Board thinks fit, it can be done by reference to the cost, or the estimated cost of production. So, in that context, in the last analysis we can estimate, which gets rid of some of the difficulties which he had in mind.
On the subject of the country of origin, which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman and also by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin)—whom I should like to thank for his very agreeable remarks—we debated that at length, and I do not think that we can usefully add to it now. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) was in rather 1353 ferocious mood and deplored any tendency to what he called, rather quaintly I thought, a combat of toothlessness—we have had this succession of dental and canine metaphors during this debate. I must remind him of what I said earlier; that all the time we have to measure what we are doing in this limited context against the possibility of reprisals to us as a great exporting nation. Personally, as a peaceable sort of person, I would rather have a combat of toothlessness than a combat of tooth and claw. Therefore, although hon. Members opposite have, in the classic phrase, confined their enthusiasm within the bounds of decorum, I am indeed glad that they accept the Bill as commended to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.