HC Deb 04 August 1961 vol 645 cc1872-92

2.37 p.m.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

I am grateful for the opportunity of raising this subject this afternoon. When I applied for this debate, I did not know the attitude the Government would take towards negotiations with the Common Market. Their decision, which was reached last night, to open negotiations with the Common Market throws all forms of agricultural support very much into the melting pot and, for that reason, necessitates alteration of some of the things which otherwise I should have said today.

One of the reasons why I supported the Government last night was that, having studied the trends of imports over recent months and their effect on the deficiency payments scheme, I have become extremely doubtful how much longer we could carry on as we are doing now. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated about a fortnight ago in the economic debate and in his statement that he would be taking a critical look at the agricultural support system and subsidies in the next Price Review.

I am glad to see sitting on the Front Bench today my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I much appreciate his presence today to keep a watching brief on the agricultural implications of this debate. He will know what was meant when the Chancellor said that he would take a careful, critical look at agricultural subsidies in the Price Review next February.

There is no doubt that the dumping which has occurred this year has very largely contributed to any increase in the subsidy bill, the results of which will be shown in the White Paper on prices in the agricultural industry at the next Price Review.

Our present agricultural policy stems from about 1954, when we had a change from controlled prices to deficiency payments in a free market, and, as a farmer, I remember well at that time my own indignation that any change should be made, and certainly that a change of this nature should be made. I think that reflected pretty accurately the views of a good many farmers. No farmer likes a change in his marketing arrangements, and I have never liked the system of deficiency payments. I must be quite frank about that. I would be prepared to see other modifications and replacements of the minimum price structure which would involve some form of import control. Apart from the excessive dumping of foodstuffs recently, which has thwarted the system, deficiency payments do not always result in cheap food for the consumer, and do not necessarily make for efficient marketing by the farmer either. Of course, and this is what we are now discussing, they can cost the Exchequer a great deal of money.

For these reasons, I should welcome a rethinking of our agricultural policy, and I am convinced that import controls can only be accomplished within the framework of a trading group such as the Common Market. The pressures exerted upon us, if we remain independent, to take cheap imports, both to provide cheap food to keep the cost of living down and to enable more exports to be made, and to be able to compete, would make it impossible for this country independently to take action to restrict, or alternatively to continue, the present policy. I believe, for this reason, that we are safer as an agricultural industry inside the Common Market than we would be outside.

It would, perhaps, be convenient at this stage to look at the present position and to take the commodities which are affected in turn. The first and most important is barley. The background to this crop is that as a result of Government incentives over the last few years, we have reached a point where we are almost self-supporting in this commodity. This year, because of adverse weather conditions in the autumn, when very little wheat was drilled, there is a bigger acreage, although we do not know the exact figure yet, than ever before, and thus we are enabled this year to be completely self-supporting in that commodity.

In the six months up to 30th June, 1960, barley imports from countries other than the Commonwealth or the United States—and those from the United States were almost negligible—were only 940 tons. In the first six months of 1961, we have imported 393,420 tons, according to the latest figures which are available. To put it in mild terms, this is a most fantastic increase. Commonwealth shipments for the same period have dropped from 405,282 tons to 255,438 tons, and this conceals a big increase in Australian imports and a very large drop in Canadian imports. The total imports for the first six months are nearly equal to the whole of the imports in 1960. This is a truly ridiculous situation, when we think of the fact that we shall be self-supporting, or self-supporting to a far greater degree, this year than ever before in our agricultural history, for barley, and yet in the first six months of this year we have already imported within very little of the total imports for last year.

This started to worry the National Farmers' Union as long ago as last October, and the N.F.U. wrote to the Minister of Agriculture at that time and told him that it was worried about the possibility of the dumping of Russian barley. It asked the Minister to request the Board of Trade to obtain the necessary data on prices from the Soviet Union, but it was not until early January that the N.F.U. was told that the information was not available. However, the position continued to deteriorate, and on 19th June an application was submitted on the facts available, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade then moved very promptly and made an announcement about the barley situation on 7th July.

In the announcement, he stated that no more Russian barley would be sold here at under £20 per ton, and that French barley would not be coming in at all. He further said that since the Australian season was at an end, there was not much to worry about there. He said at the time that negotiations were continuing, and I am now wondering if my hon. Friend who is to reply will be able to say anything more about that today. Can he tell us anything about the talks which the N.F.U. had throughout the winter on the subject of barley imports? I wonder also whether he can give us some idea how much barley—although it has not yet been imported into this country—has been contracted for and will be coming in over the next few months.

I wish now to refer briefly to the other two commodities which are causing us trouble. The first one is Polish eggs, and that subject reflects an attitude about which we ought to be able to do something in future years. The trade in Polish eggs is a seasonal business. The Poles always send eggs here in April, May and June, because it coincides, presumably, with their flush of eggs in Poland. They have come to expect that they would be able to dump their surplus eggs on our market. This year, however, because they have got away with it until recently, they started the process a bit earlier, and at the end of March the Egg Marketing Board received information from trade sources in Poland that there were to be substantially increased shipments to the United Kingdom.

Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument about eggs. I am all for cheap eggs, from Poland or elsewhere. How would he relate his argument about eggs in the flush season to the Common Market?

Mr. Prior

I was about to refer to this. If we went into the Common Market, one advantage from the agricultural point of view would be that we would not take these eggs from Poland, because one of the principles of the Common Market is that it will create round its common frontier protective barriers against cheap imports.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman admits, then, from my constituents' point of view, that it is possible that they will pay more for eggs? Eggs and bacon will be dearer?

Mr. Prior

Not necessarily, but, in fact, if we allow dumped products to come in that will depress the market price, so that one could argue from that point of view that the consumer will pay more, but it is my experience as a whole that, in the case of eggs—I must answer the hon. Gentleman's question here—the consumer would prefer to buy British eggs, which are a good deal fresher, and because a lot of the Polish eggs which come in are knocked out of the shell and frozen or dried.

Mr. Griffiths

They will be dearer?

Mr. Prior

It is possible, in this case, that they will be dearer. I do not think anyone would deny that if dumping is going on it must depress the market price. Indeed, it would be an incredible position if it did not.

The eggs came in in April and May and, of course, depressed the market and thereby increased the Exchequer contribution. Although discussions were taking place with the Board of Trade, Polish eggs continued to arrive here. It was only several weeks later, about the end of April, that the Board of Trade was able to agree terms with the Polish authorities to cut down the number of eggs being imported, but by that time the Polish seasonal flush of egg production was already over, and this was an example of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. What we want to do is to try to ensure that next year and in ensuing years we stop this process before it gets under way.

Mr. Griffiths

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is something disreputable about my constituents in Manchester having reasonably priced eggs? Is he saying that they ought to pay more for their breakfast?

Mr. Prior

There is a great deal of difference between a reasonable price and the price of an egg dumped on the market. For example, in Poland eggs sell for the equivalent of 6s. per dozen, but here they sell for 1s. 6d. or 1s. 9d. a dozen. I do not think that the constituents of the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) want to pay a larger subsidy to the British farmer to protect his legitimate interest, nor does anyone in this country want to take an unnecessary advantage of one section of the community. I do not believe that the people of Manchester mind paying 3d. for a British egg if they know that they can get British eggs all the year through. What they object to is paying 1½d. for the Polish eggs in the months of April, May and June, and 9d. or 10d. for a British egg for the rest of the year. The argument that we must have cheap food at any price in this country is as outdated as some other policies put forward by the Opposition.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I am not putting forward any policy—

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

Back to form.

Mr. Jay

—but to be fair to the British consumers, presumably they are not compelled to buy Polish eggs for 1½d. and can buy English eggs at a higher price if they prefer.

Mr. Prior

No, because the extra eggs coming on to the market are bound to depress the price of British eggs and they prefer to buy British eggs. Some Polish eggs are bought in the ordinary way, but the majority are taken out of the shell and used either as frozen eggs or as dried egg. As a result of the Polish exports in April and May, the British Egg Marketing Board had to take out of the consumer market and out of shell an almost equivalent amount of British eggs for use as frozen eggs, which strikes me as a nonsensical position.

Milk powder is another source of contention in the farming industry at the moment. Milk powder is dumped in this country by a number of countries, including France, Belgium and Holland. Holland, for example, is subsidising its milk powder to the extent of between 8s. and 22s. a cwt. France subsidises it at about 80s. a cwt. and Belgium at between 94s. and 101s. Those countries are dumping milk powder in this country with the result that our own production has fallen considerably, again reflecting on the prosperity of British agriculture and to some extent on the liability of the Exchequer for subsidy payments.

Germany was also suffering from the dumping of milk products from Holland and quickly imposed a levy. Germany got the Dutch to impose a levy of about 22s. a cwt. on this powder. What is now happening is that the Dutch are imposing a levy of 22s. a cwt. on milk powder going to Germany and are paying a similar subsidy to enable their producers to send it here instead. That is an example of dumping and is against the interests of both agriculture and the nation as a whole. In all these cases, the biggest loser in this country is not the farmer—

Mr. W. Griffiths

I apologise for interrupting so often. If the hon. Member feels as strongly as he does about the assault on British agriculture, why did he not vote in the House against the Common Market?

Mr. Prior

If the hon. Member had listened to what I said earlier—I do not believe that he was in the Chamber when I began my speech—he would know that I support the Common Market for agriculture. If he would listen to my argument, instead of surrounding it with statements which are not correct, and allow me to elaborate my speech, he would understand my view. I was saying that the biggest loser by far is not the farmer, nor the merchant, but the British taxpayer, because he has to meet the increased bill which arises from this dumping. It is with that in mind that I wish that something could be done about it.

What can we do? I said at the beginning of my speech that we are in difficulty because we have opened negotiations on joining the Common Market, and obviously cannot make any big changes in our policy while those negotiations are taking place.

Mr. Griffiths

Why not?

Mr. Prior

But there are some things which we can do and which would be entirely in line with the thinking of the European Agricultural Commission, which is the Common Market Agricultural Commission. The first is a system of variable import levies. To take the example of barley; we have told the Russians that they must not send us any more barley under £20 a ton, but the corollary of that is that if they want to send it at £21 a ton, we have to take it. In other words, if we needed barley we would have to import it not at £16 a ton, but at £21 a ton, so that we could be paying £5 a ton more than would be actually necessary.

I would have preferred an import levy on barley of £5 a ton, the money being used to pay for some of the subsidies to agriculture. The variable import levy is one of the methods which will be used by the Common Market countries to support their agriculture, and careful consideration should be given to it.

I am certain that we can take quicker action in anticipating trouble. If there is a calendar at the Board of Trade, red ring should be put around the months of February, March, and April, for Polish eggs, and the same could be done for dairy products like milk powder which always seem to come in in the spring.

We should try to give more instructions and better information to our embassies to enable this information on prices to get back here more quickly. The Board of Trade representative in embassies abroad is a Foreign Office official. He is trying to expand exports as much as he can. He does not pay much attention to the prices of food and the possibility of that food being dumped in this country. In any case, as he is trying to help exports, he would not want to take action or be accused of trying to help to obtain a limitation of exports from that country here. I understand that, but it is important that the Board of Trade should try to get better information from our embassies about the price of food in this country, especially where it is suspected that dumping is taking place.

The other thing we should consider is some form of minimum import price schemes and, leading on from that, international commodity stabilisation arrangement whereby countries with surpluses of food, be it barley or anything else, would try to stabilise both the market and the price. If we can get same sense on those items, I think that we will make progress on this matter.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange who has been asking me a lot of questions, has left the Chamber just as I am about to say something about the Common Market and how I think it will help us. I hope that he will do me the courtesy of reading my speech in HANSARD.

The main objectives of the Common Market policy are similar to those contained in the 1947 Act. They are to increase our agricultural productivity; to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural population; to stabilise markets; and to guarantee regular supplies to consumers at reasonable prices.

Those objectives could be preserved in two ways. First, by controlling markets by having marketing boards for cereals, sugar, dairy products, meat and eggs; target prices and variable levies on imports; and with fruit and vegetables a comomn external tariff. Secondly, by structural reforms which would correspond closely to our production grants, such as the farm improvement schemes, and so on.

How will the British farmer fit into this? It seems unlikely that we will be able to continue with the February Price Review as such, because negotiations will not be merely with this Government. I think it desirable that each year a review of agriculture, setting out the gross and net returns of the industry, should be compiled, and that the prosperity of the industry should be examined as a whole. After these discussions the Government could put forward the views of the farmers to the Council of Ministers. How would the farmers fit into this? For farmers selling fat-stock and cereals the change would mean that they would no longer receive market price and deficiency payments, but higher prices from the buyer.

Where we have marketing boards, as for milk, eggs and sugar, the present system of payment would continue, but again direct subsidies would mean higher prices from the buyers. All this adds enormous weight to the need to strengthen at once our existing methods and processes of marketing, particularly for cereals and fatstock. I hope that the National Farmers' Union, in conjunction with the Ministry, will straight away get down to the question of better marketing for those products. Target prices will not vary very much from those now ruling, but there is little doubt that the inclusion of Denmark and the need to allow certain duty-free imports from the Commonwealth will exert a downward pressure on prices, particularly meat and dairy products. There is also the factor that grain prices will rise and this will add to livestock costs. It therefore becomes essential that we should turn our attention to better marketing.

Farming opinion on the Continent is relatively more important than here. The standard and layout of farms is not so high or convenient for the most part, so provided we can achieve fair conditions of labour and veterinary standards, and are prepared to work, the threat of lower prices should not be too serious or too real. To a certain extent the changes proposed would be a leap in the dark, but there is still a chance at the moment of guiding the future agricultural pattern of the Common Market. The implications of all this would be extremely grave for horticulture, but I am not prepared, owing to shortage of time, to go forward into that today.

What safeguards do the British farmers need, and for which we should aim? First, there should be fair competition in labour and no hidden tax reliefs or subsidies of that nature. Secondly, we must preserve our higher standards of animal health and hygiene, and make certain that no imports were accepted from the Common Market countries unless they comply with those standards. Thirdly, we must try to get our farm production grants within the scheme, particularly those relating to small farmers and the social problems of the hill farmers. Fourthly, we want as long a period as we can get for implementation before the Common Market comes into full effect. The date laid down at the moment—1967—would not give us anything like enough time. I suggest that we need at least twelve years, and possibly fifteen far the interim period.

Fifthly, the Government would be wise, on agricultural grounds, to try to build up a large supplementary fund to help out those businesses, whether horticultural or farm businesses, which suffer as a result of the new policy within the Common Market. Sixthly, the liquid milk market should be reserved to this country and completely inviolate from anything that happens within the Common Market. Seventh, the cut in target prices which will be adopted on the Continent, whether in the form of tariffs or of stabilised prices resulting from the action of the commodity boards, should not be greater in any one year than is allowed for under the 1957 Agriculture Act. Lastly, we should try to preserve the landlord and tenant system which has been built up in this country over a great many years and which has great advantages over the Continental systems at the moment.

I hope that in all our consultations and negotiations we shall remember that this country is in a very strong bargaining position. This country is the biggest food importer in the world. It is obvious that the high-cost protectionist system which the Common Market envisages for agriculture will result in very great production. If they are to keep their agricultural communities prosperous and their farmers and farm workers well paid the Continental countries will have to pay high prices for their produce. That is bound to lead to very great production, and the Common Market countries are undoubtedly looking to us to take their surplus. That puts us in a very strong bargaining position. Our market is their main hope for unloading their surplus and we may take it that that is what they intend to do.

I hope that we shall use our strong bargaining position to obtain for ourselves proper safeguards for our agriculture, as well as protection for the Commonwealth. I hope that the Government will be able to work out, in cooperation with the National Farmers' Union, a system which can take us into the Common Market while preserving those safeguards which are necessary for British agriculture, and which also take into account the present unsatisfactory position with regard to the dumping of foodstuffs in this country. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us some assurances that the Government have this point very much in mind.

3.9 p.m.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

I am sure that we are very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) for raising the subject of dumping, which has caused a great deal of concern to the House and the country in recent months. It is not in the interest of anybody in Britain that this country should merely become the dumping ground for foodstuffs or any other commodities from the rest of the world. It is not in the interests of the consumer that he should have, for instance, cheap eggs for a short period if, as seems likely to be the case, it has an adverse effect upon the ability of the poultry and egg industry in relation to the contribution of a steady flow of reasonably priced eggs throughout the year. That is the effect of a sudden importation of commodities which can be produced very cheaply at a particular time and dumped in this country. It is not in anyone's interest that this should take place.

Is the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act sufficient to give proper protection to the various interests involved? In my submission, it can give proper protection if it is implemented swiftly and surely. There is a growing feeling that it is more speedily implemented now than it used to be, but there is still room for improvement. This is a lawyer's point, but under the Act the President of the Board of Trade must be satisfied about certain matters which are set out in the Act. Time does not permit me to go into them now. At the moment, my right hon. Friend seems to require to be satisfied about these matters beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proof in a criminal trial. But whether he is not imposing too great a burden on those who have to prove these things to his satisfaction under the Act is open to question. It is wondered whether he should not be more easily satisfied about them than he is at present.

Perhaps different considerations are involved in the case of Iron Curtain countries where G.A.T.T. does not operate. The members of the farming community generally would be very pleased if they could have a statement from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to the effect that in future the President of the Board of Trade will be more easily satisfied about the matters contained in the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act so that we may have even more speedy action, for instance, concerning barley or eggs than we have had in the past.

I would welcome another weapon, especially in the case of the Iron Curtain country products, namely, the further use of quotas. There has been great trouble in the past about the importation of strawberry pulp under conditions which appear to amount to dumping. This has largely been overcome by a system of quotas calculated on a tonnage and not a financial basis. It is not expedient that we should alter the present legislation at this stage because this might cause reciprocal action to be taken against our imports, and, in the present context of our economic situation, it is vital that nothing should be done to impede our export drive. If there were stronger legislation, that might be the result.

If the present legislation is implemented even more speedily and with a greater degree of acceptance by the President of the Board of Trade of the representations put to him, then I think that the end which we have in mind can be met in the immediate future with the assistance of the further use of the quota system in the case of Iron Curtain countries.

3.13 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) for not being able to hear his speech. I do not know from where the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) obtained the idea that the department of the Board of Trade which we are discussing is acting with greater speed and expedition now than it used to do.

On 11th July, I asked the President of the Board of Trade what applications concerning anti-dumping action he had under consideration and when they were received. To my astonishment, the reply showed that he had six applications under consideration. One had been under consideration since 25th September, 1959, a second had been under consideration since 3rd June, 1960, and a third had been under consideration since 16th December, 1960.

Mr. Buck

My information was based largely on correspondence which I have had with the N.F.U. For example, the union informed me that the Board of Trade had acted with due expedition, or words to that effect, concerning the dumping of Polish eggs.

Mr. Lipton

The evidence which I am trying to put before the House is the official information which I received from the President of the Board of Trade as recently as 11th July last. Only yesterday I asked the right hon. Gentleman when he was likely to come to a decision in the three cases to which I have referred. Apparently, the Board of Trade got a spurt on, because in respect of the application connected with corduroy fabric coming from Spain, which had been under consideration since 16th December, 1960, the right hon. Gentleman said that a decision had been come to on 28th July. Therefore, in that one case anyhow the right hon. Gentleman had taken such action as he thought appropriate.

I do not object to deliberation in matters of this kind, but when deliberation becomes indistinguishable from constipation then, of course, it is time that someone examined the machinery and tried to find out what had gone wrong.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

The hon. Gentleman will realise, of course, that one of the relevant factors is whether the goods complained of are coming into the country. In the case about which he is speaking the goods were not coming into the country.

Mr. Lipton

In that case, I submit that the Board of Trade might not unreasonably have come to the conclusion that there was no call for any action and that therefore these cases should no longer be under consideration. It is not possible to have it both ways.

Mr. Macpherson

It is possible to have it both ways, because had the goods been coming into the country there would have been reason for taking action. In the case to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, we were in consultation with the country concerned and we reached an agreement satisfactory to us both at the end and did not need to put on the antidumping duty.

Mr. Lipton

In that case, if the Board of Trade had come to a satisfactory agreement, there was no point in saying that these matters were still under consideration. I still do not understand why it is that a matter which has been satisfactorily settled by negotiation should still be described as being under consideration. Let us have a little common sense in the matter. I fear that these perhaps not terribly important cases reveal that all is not as it should be. It is certainly time that this particular department of the Board of Trade should be examined so that we do not get a repetition of the somewhat ludicrous state of affairs to which I have referred.

3.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has ranged very widely today over such important subjects as the Common Market, the working of the Agriculture Acts and the working of the structure under those Acts. What he said on these great topics was most interesting. Part of my hon. Friend's speech was, perhaps, more appropriate to yesterday's debate, though I make no complaint about that. However, I am afraid that the adaptations which our entry into the Common Market will necessitate under the Agriculture Acts is not a matter for me but one for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft has asked me to do today is to speak about the dumping of agricultural foodstuffs. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) his gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft far giving the House an opportunity to discuss the subject of the dumping of foreign foodstuffs in this country. It is now four years since the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act was passed. It is probably still true to say that the provisions of the Act and the procedures under it are not yet fully understood; though perhaps somewhat better understood as a result of the past few months' experience.

Many people do not know when the Act can be invoked and how to set about invoking it. When somebody is hurt it is natural that he should seek to be protected from injury. Sometimes it may be the farmers, sometimes it may be those who supply the farmers. But whoever it is, he wants to be protected. The Act affords protection where an industry in this country or in a country exporting to this country suffers material injury, or is threatened with material injury, as a result of dumping or subsidies, provided that it is in the national interest to give such protection. There are thus three conditions. First, dumping or subsidising of goods imported into this country, secondly, material injury to an industry either in this country or the exporting country, and thirdly, that it is in the national interest to take action.

In the sphere of tariffs we are not free to do as we like for we have undertaken certain obligations. In particular, we signed the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade. By Article 6 of the G.A.T.T. we are entitled to take action provided for in the Customs Duty (Dumping and Subsidies) Act. The hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) seemed to be taking the view that in no circumstances would it be right to stop dumping. But Article VI starts by saying: The contracting parties recognise that dumping, by which products of one country are introduced into the commerce of another country at less than the normal value of the products, is to be condemned if it causes or threatens material injury to an established industry in the territory of a contracting party or materially retards the establishment of a domestic industry. I doubt whether the hon. Member would have taken the same view were the manufactures of the industries employing some of his constituents being undercut.

The article permits us to take action against dumped or subsidised imports causing or threatening material injury, but there must be material injury or the threat of it. Before the Board of Trade can start to investigate we must be given some evidence of material injury together with a reasonable suspicion at least that the goods in question are being sold to the buyer country at less than the fair market price in the country of origin apart from subsidy. What constitutes a fair market price and how it is determined is set out in Section 7 of the Act and what is meant by a subsidy in Section 1.

We recognise that it is not always possible for a firm, organisation or a trade association which considers there is material injury to establish the fair market price or provide incontrovertible evidence of subsidy. We do not expect that, but what we must have is evidence of material injury to the industry whether suffered or threatened. I suggest that the best thing for anyone, who is considering putting in an application for protection under the Act, to do, would be to come to the Board of Trade and talk it over as soon as they are aware of an injury actual or expected. Then it would be possible to give some idea of whether a formal application would be likely to succeed or at least to be worth investigating.

Generally speaking, I would say, particularly to the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), that the stronger the case the quicker action is likely to be taken and vice versa. It is the marginal and complex cases which take time. Both of my hon. Friends have posed the question whether the procedure takes too long. In the nine serious applications we have received on foodstuffs since the Act came into force the time taken has varied from eight days in the case of Polish and Rumanian eggs after the application was made—and that resulted in no proceedings—and nineteen days in the case of barley in June of this year—where action was taken—to eleven months in the case of pearl barley from West Germany in June, 1958, where a dumping duty was imposed. Of these nine applications one, the pearl barley application resulted in an order imposing a dumping duty. One was not proceeded with, three were rejected, and four ended in successful negotiations, that is to say, either the subsidy was withdrawn, as in the case of French new potatoes in 1957, or exports were limited, as in the case of Greek new potatoes in 1959, and butter from Sweden, Finland the Argentine and the Irish Republic in 1958, or the minimum price was agreed, as in the case of barley this year, coupled with an agreement on maximum quantity with Soviet Russia.

Can we reduce the time? We are bound to satisfy ourselves on three points. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) wondered whether we are seeking too high a degree of satisfaction. I do not think that is true, but we must be satisfied. If we were to take action on inadequate or faulty evidence, we would be liable to be summoned to defend ourselves in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It is particularly important for us not to give an excuse for indiscriminate reprisals. We must, therefore, investigate each case thoroughly.

Once we are satisfied that there is a prima facie case, these are the steps to be taken. First, we have to advertise the case, inviting representatives from interested parties, all of whom must be given a chance to be heard. My hon. Friend will be aware that it is not always in the interests of the farmers to keep the price of imports up. He will recall that two years ago there was dumping of sulphate of ammonia from West Germany and Belgium. It suited the farmers to be able to buy as cheaply as possible, and they were against the imposing of an anti-dumping duty. Last year, there was an application for an anti-dumping duty on fishmeal from Peru, but it was not established that there was dumping within the meaning of the Act. I say this to show how necessary it is to maintain a balance and for the Board of Trade not only to be impartial but also to be seen to be impartial.

The second step that we have to take is to notify the countries accused of dumping or subsidising and give them a chance to reply. We may carry out an investigation into the prices in the countries of origin, especially in those countries where it is difficult for a private firm or association to do so. At the least, even when the facts are given to us, we have, of course, to verify them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft asked whether we could have this information available in advance, and the home prices certified by the commercial attaché at the Embassy He recognised that the main task of our commercial representatives abroad is to help to sell British goods and that we should distract them as little as possible from that task. Apart from that, to put this extra burden on our overseas representatives would add immensely to the work and the staffs of our High Commissions and Embassies abroad.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

I appreciate that, but I wonder if my right hon. Friend would give consideration to the possibility of looking at the items which are repeated each year, to see whether each year we can properly accept imports of Polish eggs, for example, and pick out one or two commodities coming in each year to see whether they should be accompanied by a certificate giving the internal price.

Mr. Macpherson

I am sure that where an application has actually arisen, as in the case of Polish eggs, that will be very carefully watched, especially as, even this year, it was established that there was dumping. There was dumping but the question was whether there was material injury.

I put it to the House that, considering how few applications we have had under the Act so far, even in total in addition to the agricultural ones or including them—there have been only twenty-five investigations so far made out of fifty-nine applications—it seems that the cost of trying to anticipate the sort of products which might be dumped would not be justified. I fully share the view of my hon. Friend, however, that in those cases where there has been an evident case of dumping, or the threat of dumping, we shall carefully watch the positon so that prices in the country of origin Cain be known at short notice. I quite agree with him there.

The fact that we have not dealt with cases more speedily is not due to any reluctance to implement the Act. On the contrary, it is because we are bound to carry out the terms of the Act and to satisfy ourselves that there is dumping or subsidy, that there is material injury to an industry, and that it is in the national interest to give relief from that injury. I repeat the assurance which Ministers gave the House when the Act was before Parliament, that in all appropriate cases we use, and shall use, the powers with speed and determination, as we did in the cases of barley and eggs this year.

I turn to the points which my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft mentioned. Dealing briefly with milk powder, I cannot, I am afraid, deal with the application in detail since it is under consideration at present. As my right hon. Friend indicated to the House on 27th July, it is virtually sub judice. It would not be right to go into the merits of that case, but I can say something on the questions of eggs and barley. It is a fact, as my hon. Friend said, that at the end of March there were discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture on the subject of eggs. On 19th April the National Farmers' Union and the British Egg Marketing Board applied for duties on eggs imported from Poland and Roumania. On 27th April the President of the Board of Trade was able to announce that agreement had been reached with Poland to reduce the level of egg shipments to a relatively insignificant quantity and that Roumanian arrivals would be negligible.

We did not agree with the Poles to reduce sales. They told my right hon. Friend that their planned sales would fall. We decided that actual and prospective imports had not caused, and would not cause, material injury to the U.K. producer. In this case there was dumping and the threat of material injury because of the level of imports at the time with 60,000 boxes a week against a throughput of 400,000 boxes going through the packing stations. In the first six months of this year total imports from Poland were 480,000 boxes as compared with the packing stations through, put of just over 10 million boxes. There can be no doubt that the Poles will have taken note of what has happened and will have learned from experience this year so that they will do their best to spread out their shipments next year to avoid causing material injury and forcing us to put on an anti-dumping duty.

I turn to the question of barley. It was on 19th June that the National Farmers' Union applied for anti-dumping duties to be put on barley from Russia, France, Australia, the United States of America and West Germany. It was on 4th July that the President of the Board of Trade told the House that he was satisfied that imports were taking place at dumped or subsidised prices, that they threatened material injury to United Kingdom barley growers and that action against the imports would be in the national interest.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft was quite right about the announcement made by the President of the Board of Trade on 7th July. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) giving information about the amount of barley which on 7th July was due for delivery under existing contracts. My hon. Friend asked how much barley has been sold forward and at what prices. I cannot give him that information. Any information which we have on this subject is obtained from the trade in confidence and it would not be proper for me to disclose it. It is not possible for me to say when the 150,000 tons of Russian barley will be delivered, but the Russians are likely to space their deliveries so as to get the best possible price. In all the circumstances my right hon. Friend decided that the arrangements were satisfactory and would not cause material injury to barley producers.

I hope that I have said enough to show how the Act is working. I think that it is working satisfactorily. Once an application is made to us with the necessary evidence accompanying it, we can proceed with all speed. There is no intention at all by the Board of Trade not to implement the Act. We have the full authority of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to do so, but where we do so it must be in the national interest that we do so.