HC Deb 05 May 1959 vol 605 cc353-6

10,12 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Import Duties (General) (No. 5) Order, 1959 (S.1., 1959, No. 736), dated 21st April, 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th April, be approved.

The Order which I am asking the House to approve increases the import duty on ornamental pottery, which I will define in a moment, from 25s. to £4 10s. per cwt. It was made under the powers conferred in Section 1 of the Import Duties Act, 1958, and it is the second Order of its kind increasing a duty to be made since that Act came fully into operation on 1st January this year.

It is difficult to give the House a succinct description of the articles of domestic pottery to which the increased duty applies. The articles are best defined by exclusion, as has been done in the Schedule to the Order. Articles such as vases, statuettes, and candlesticks, are covered by the increased duty, while the duty of 25s. per cwt. remains unchanged on the ordinary run of tableware, whether decorated or not, such as cups, saucers, plates, teapots and coffee pots. There is a marginal field of highly ornamental tableware such as marmalade jars in the shape of oranges—save the mark, such things do exist—and cream jugs in the shape of cows. These are also covered by the increased duty.

The duty had remained unchanged since 1933. The pottery manufacturers asked for increased protection on ornamental pottery on the ground that the ad valorem incidence of that duty had become negligible; that imports which were already substantial were increasing in relation to domestic production, and that manufacturers in this country, though efficient, could not compete with foreign imports, mainly from Italy and Western Germany, unless afforded a considerably higher level of protection. The manufacturers were concerned to secure increased protection against the cheaper kinds of imported ware only. They were not concerned about imports of line high quality articles.

After we had considered all the information available, we concluded that the manufacturers in this country, although efficient, were suffering such damage from foreign competition and had made a case for some increase in protective duty. We decided that a duty of £4 10s. per cent. on ornamental pottery would be appropriate and the Order provides accordingly.

The duty has been kept on a specific basis because an ad valorem duty would have meant a much bigger increase in the duty on imports of the higher priced ware. We have complied in every way with the requirements of the G.A.T.T.

10.16 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

We are grateful to the Minister of State for the clear explanation he has given, however shortly, of an Order which is of great importance to certain sections of the pottery industry throughout the country.

We give this Order a welcome, although we think it is belated. The Minister of State will know better than I that throughout last year the increase in the imports of these articles of ornamental ware was 25 per cent. greater than in the year before and that throughout 1958 they appeared to run to the value of £11 million. That is a very considerable sum of money for the import of objects, the majority of which are not in themselves intrinsically valuable or highly delectable. I was delighted to hear the Minister of State make quite clear that the manufacturers in no way fear competition or wish to be protected against competition from articles of a similar type to those we make, or which in some cases may be superior to articles we sometimes make in this country. That type of competition we do not fear, nor do we ask for protection against it. When I say "we" I must be forgiven, for I forget myself as I have a special interest in that I represent a constituency which is well known to have an interest in pottery generally.

The position has been made worse for manufacturers, as the Minister of State knows, because Purchase Tax is imposed on pottery and because the imposition of Purchase Tax naturally widens the gap between cheaper and dearer pottery whatever the article be. Inevitably it tends to widen the gap. The cheaper the article imported the more advantage it gets when there is an imposition of Purchase Tax as well as import duty when it is sold. These statuettes and ornaments have been made in this country for more than 200 years. We are delighted to see this action taken at long last by the Government because we feel it gives some protection for our craftsmen. Whether it be at the very beginning, the artist modeller who makes the first model, the mould-maker who must make the mould on which these articles will be based, or the caster or decorator who ultimately finishes the article by means of paint, the degree of craftsmanship if the article is to be good—and most of ours, I assert, are good—is very high.

Naturally, all of us in this House are anxious that we should give as much encouragement as possible to craftsmanship in an industry of this type, and indeed to industries of every type in this country. We must see that the premium we offer is of encouragement to the industry in my constituency, and the constituencies of my hon. Friends to the north and south in Stoke-on-Trent, where a great many articles of this ornamental nature are made, whether they be flowers in bouquets, pottery or statuettes. About 100 years ago these articles were made with some social sense of criticism of the lives we lived. I remember having one of a most elegant type, which showed a very handsomely attired young man, with a stiff bowler hat of the type worn in the 1840s, and beautifully striped trousers, with a bouquet in his hands, and on the base, where his feet were planted, was the one word "Water". When one turned him round, it was the same young man, but now ragged, with a battered hat and nothing in his hands, while the base on which he stood bore one word, and that word was "Gin". I thought very highly of this particular object, but, fortunately or unfortunately, when the great ballerina, Miss Margot Fonteyn, saw it, my wife gave it to her, and she found it most interesting and delectable. I am sorry that they do not make these little criticisms of our daily lives in these days in my constituency. We welcome this order for the aid which it will give to the pottery industry, and we are very grateful for it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Import Duties (General) (No. 5) Order, 1959 1959, No. 736), dated 21st April 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th April, be approved.