HC Deb 18 March 1959 vol 602 cc541-4

10.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan)

I beg to move, That the Import Duties (Temporary Exemptions) (No. 2) Order, 1959 (S.I., 1959, No. 314), dated 24th February, 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th February, he approved. The procedure normally, as the House has heard me say before, is to suspend the duty on chemicals, which are liable at 25 per cent. ad valorem or above, where the chemical is not for the time being available from United Kingdom or Commonwealth sources in quantities substantial in relation to demand.

Under the Import Duties (Temporary Exemptions) (No. 1) Order the duty was suspended on about 1,300 items. One of the items was—and here I take a deep breath — phenylacetaldehyde dimethyl acetal, which, as the House knows, is an aromatic chemical which is used in a wide range of perfumes and cosmetics. After the Order had been made we discovered that there was, in fact, a source of supply of this chemical in the United Kingdom of which we had, unfortunately, not previously been aware. It therefore seemed right and in the national interest that the temporary exemption should be terminated and the duty reimposed.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes, because, obviously, this is not a very important Order, but there are a few questions which the Minister might usefully answer.

The effect of the Order is not transparently clear at first sight. The Explanatory Note rather falls short of what might be expected in the way of help. It gives the impression that phenylacetaldehyde dimethyl acetal is a household expression.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

Say that again.

Mr. Cronin

Certainly; phenylacetaldehyde dimethyl acetal. Some of my hon. Friends, not having scientific training, may have some difficulty with these words.

The Explanatory Note is far from clear. In fact, it draws a veil of ambiguity over a situation of considerable obscurity. We ought to know exactly where we stand. Where a charge is imposed on the people of this country we ought to know exactly why it is to be imposed. I do not think that the Minister gave a full and adequate reason. I have a very high opinion of the way in which he performs his duty, but it is clear that he is not familiar with phenylacetaldehyde dimethyl acetal. Certainly, he has not such familiarity as one would normally expect at this stage.

The important thing here is to understand that this Import Duty was originally revoked at the request of the consumers in the chemical industries, in other words, the consumers who use phenylacetaldehyde dimethyl acetal for making cosmetics and also for drugs. I should like to hear from the Minister of State what representations he has had from consumers which have induced him to revoke this Order. Has he had representations, and, if so, what sort of representations were they?

We ought to know what is to be the financial effect of this Order. There seems to be a small one, but we have not had any explanation at all. I cannot imagine that the purpose of the Government is to obtain revenue, because the revenue would be very small indeed, but it will have some effect on the cosmetics industry and I should like to know whether it will have an effect on the drugs industry. We have a duty to investigate these facts and I hope the Minister will find it possible to make a further statement.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I should have thought that it was hardly correct to say that this Explanatory Note was not exactly crystal clear, because it sets out in one sentence, without any subsidiary clause, exactly what this Order does.

I was only afraid that my description of what the Order was doing was, if anything, long-winded. Phenylacetaldehyde dimethyl acetal—a phrase which has fallen frequently from my lips during the course of the last few days, and which I propose hereinafter to refer to as "that stuff" —was merely one of the items which obtained the benefit of a temporary exemption.

What I would point out to the hon. Member is that this stuff was given protection under the tariff. Therefore, manufacturers were entitled to receive that protection as long as the House so ordained. The temporary exemption was granted simply and solely because, as far as we knew, there was no manufacturer in this country. We now discover that there is a manufacturer and he is entitled, therefore, to the protection given under the law.

Question put and agreed to.