HC Deb 30 January 1957 vol 563 cc1078-82

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Fort

The one general point I want to make on this Clause is really to emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) on an earlier Clause—the need for speed if effective action is to be taken against dumping. As I read it, Clause 5 (2) does not give to the Board of Trade the power to collect the price information which is necessary for speedy action. I know that it is argued that if there is introduced into this Measure arrangements such as those contained in the United States, Canadian and other antidumping Acts, there is great danger of retaliation. In consequence, as I understand. reliance is placed on the trades which are complaining about dumping to provide the information needed to determine the domestic prices, a point which my right hon. Friend indicated earlier this afternoon.

In one of the industries which is extremely important in my constituency, the weaving of man-made fibres of all sorts, it is felt that the powers contained in Clause 5 (2) are really inadequate for proving dumping, even to establish a prima facie case. What I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider, when we come to the Report stage, is the putting down of an Amendment which would give him permissive powers to demand price declarations where a prima facie case has been shown to his satisfaction, as proved by the issuing of an Order. The Minister may have some more practical administrative advice for collecting information about prices, which undoubtedly he ought to have if there is to be effective and speedy implementation of this Measure.

Mr. Rhodes

I wish to supplement what has been said by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort). In previous Clauses we have discussed provisions about dumping and subsidies and we have now reached the point where we can make the Bill effective if we put some teeth into it. As the Bill stands it will be far too difficult for an aggrieved trade or firm to prove that dumping is taking place, so we shall need something more than we have in the Bill.

The powers which the Treasury will have under this Measure do not go far enough and I would like to see them augmented during the Report stage. Without the ability to examine books, I do not think that the Bill will be very effective. Where there is such legislation in any other country I know of, such provision is made. For instance, there are officials in London connected with the United States, Canadian, South African and several other embassies, to whom exporters from this country take their books and prove that dumping is not taking place by a comparison between the prices charged for goods to be sent abroad and goods for circulation in the home market.

I will not detain the Committee any longer, but will merely stake a claim at this juncture for putting down an Amendment on Report.

Mr. Alan Green (Preston, South)

I wish briefly to reinforce the plea made for a more explicit power for the Board of Trade to determine the facts speedily as to whether dumping has taken place or not. I am sure that unless these powers are put into the Bill later, the Board of Trade will have more trouble with home manufacturers chasing hares that are very difficult to catch than will be the case if those powers are not given to it for the general reasons which will be given to us —and good reasons they are—why those powers should not be given to it at this stage.

I appreciate that it is difficult to change the layout of the invoices which the Customs and Excise have to scan at present. However, it will be much more difficult to withstand the pleas of home manufacturers who, under this Bill, have no particular point on which they can pin down their dumper. The Board of Trade itself will find the same difficulty unless it is given specific powers to ensure that the exporter from a foreign country must declare at call, if not before call, his current home market price.

I ask my right hon. Friend to consider, therefore, whether on Report he cannot merely make this deterrent, but make it appear to be a deterrent on the lines that good government should act, because good government should appear to be good as well as being good. Then this Bill will achieve its purpose.

Mr. Walker-Smith

My hon. Friends the Members for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) and Preston, South (Mr. Green) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) together present a formidable accumulation of experience and knowledge on the difficult subject on which we are engaged tonight. I need not tell them or the Committee that my right hon. Friend and I will weigh carefully all the suggestions which they have been good enough to make.

The problem here is how far we can get the maximum amount of information which will be at once reliable and capable of being obtained sufficiently quickly to operate this Measure in the speedy and efficacious manner which, as my right hon. Friend and I have reiterated again today—having said so originally on the Second Reading of this Bill —we also believe to be vital for its success.

There are, however, certain difficulties in adopting the methods put forward in the course of the discussion on this Clause. The basic difficulty about incorporating into these Customs requirements a declaration by the importers of the information supplied by the exporters is that it would be a bare declaration which there would be no method of checking. It would, in effect, be a hearsay statement on the part of the importer of what he has been told by the exporter. Unfortunately, we have no corps of inspectors who would be able to check such declarations in the overseas countries from which the information comes, and where it will have to be checked if checked it is to be. The alternative to that is to accept every declaration at its face value, which would probably not be a reliable method of operating this system.

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne referred to the practice of some countries in getting the information through their representatives in those overseas countries. I know that he will appreciate, with his experience of these matters, that the countries which do that are the countries which operate their ordinary tariff machinery on that basis; that is to say, the countries which require a statement of current domestic value in the other country in connection with their anti-dumping legislation are those relatively few countries whose tariff valuation law depends on that criterion.

Our tariff valuation in this country does not depend on the criterion of current domestic value in the other country, but on the price which goods would fetch on sale in the open market at the time of importation. In other words, our criterion requires a valuation in these shores and not in the country from which the article is imported.

Mr. Rhodes

That may be so, but the answer we would get would be the one we want. If we were able to examine the books in another country and could see what were the comparable prices of the same material going into the home trade, we would get the information we want. It does not really matter whether it is the same tariff structure as the U.S.A. or not. So I suggest that the Minister might consider that point between now and the Report stage.

Mr. Walker-Smith

We will certainly consider it, but the point I was seeking to make was the following. We would have to establish special machinery for dealing with this one thing within the relatively narrow, though important, context of this anti-dumping legislation.

8.0 p.m.

The countries which do that checking are countries which, in any event, have the machinery and personnel stationed abroad in the ordinary course of their valuation for their own tariff machinery. That is the difference between our position and theirs, and that is why it would be a much bigger administrative exercise on the part of this country to try to adopt a similar procedure. It would be wrong of me to minimise the difficulties which would face us in trying to set up any such machinery in this country.

As my right hon. Friend has said, we have not had very long since Second Reading to consider these matters in detail, and we will certainly consider what has been said, but it would be wrong of me to hold out unduly high hopes having regard to these difficulties and to the difference between our position and that of the other countries to which reference has been made.

Mr. Fort

Surely my right hon. and learned Friend has exaggerated the administrative difficulties. I should have thought that all that would be needed was a very occasional check in some outrageous case, which could well be undertaken by the ordinary commercial staffs in our embassies abroad, who are, to my certain knowledge, constantly informing themselves about domestic prices.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I did not seek to exaggerate the administrative difficulties. What I was saying was that our position is necessarily different from that of other countries which have, in any event, the personnel to do the checking because they are checking for tariff purposes. I will certainly give consideration to what would be involved, but I do not want to mislead my hon. Friend or to raise his expectations higher than the circumstances warrant.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.