HC Deb 31 January 1963 vol 670 cc1271-7

10.22 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Alan Green)

I beg to move, That the Import Duties (General) (No. 14) Order 1962 (S.I. 1962, No. 2744), dated 18th December, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st December, be approved. The Order introduces three changes into the tariff. The first of these concerns pitch fibre pipes. These pipes are made from cellulosic fibres. After the pipes have been formed they are impregnated with pitch. There has been a rapid increase in production since 1954, when manufacture on an economic scale first began. The producing firms, which are all subsidiaries of paper manufacturers, claim that pitch fibre pipes have certain advantages over glazed stoneware pipes, the traditional drainage pipes.

The import duty on pitch fibre pipes has always been 20 per cent. Before we changed our tariff into Brussels nomenclature terms at the beginning of 1959, the Pitch Fibre Pipes Association raised with the Board of Trade the question of where the pipes would be classified in the new tariff terms. It wanted an assurance that the 20 per cent. rate of duty would be maintained. After consultation with Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, the Association was told that the pipes would be classifiable— this is the relevance of my previous reference—as other articles of paper pulp, paper, paper-board or cellulose wadding under a tariff heading 48.21. The appropriate rate of duty would be 20 per cent. The Association was quite satisfied with this.

There has, however, been some difference of opinion—we should not, perhaps, read too much into this—among the signatory members of the Brussels Nomenclature Convention as to where the pipes should be classified. Recently, the Customs Co-operation Council in Brussels took the view that patch fibre pipes should be classified under heading 68.08 as being more akin to asphalt than to paper products. All signatories of the Convention, including Her Majesty's Government, are under an obligation to adopt the new classification in their national tariffs since the whole idea underlying the Convention is that they should interpret and apply the Brussels nomenclature on a uniform basis in order to facilitate the flow of international trade, and I am sure that we all agree with that.

Goods falling under tariff heading 68.08 are dutiable at 10 per cent. In order to maintain the rate of duty of 20 per cent. on pitch fibre pipes, which we agreed with the trade to do, we are obliged to raise a sub-heading in the tariff for them. This is what the Order does. The definition of the pipes in the subheading has been agreed between Her Majesty's Customs and the Pitch Fibre Pipes Association.

Because the new sub-heading increases from 10 to 20 per cent. the duty on a category of goods now falling within tariff heading 68.08, it amounts, from the legal standpoint, to a tariff increase, and, therefore, the Order as a whole falls to be considered under the affirmative Resolution procedure. The remaining two changes introduced by the Order would, in the ordinary way, be subject to the negative Resolution procedure since they are both reductions in duty. They are before the House for affirmative Resolution only because they are in the same Order as that containing the provisions I have just explained, which I hope is convenient to the House. Nevertheless, I should briefly explain their significance.

The relief on dried citrus peels is designed to make possible the economic production in this country of citrus pectin. I am no cook, but I understand that this is a jelling agent used principally in jam and confectionery manufacture. For certain uses, pectin made from citrus peel is essential, and citrus peels, of course, are not produced here.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Would my hon. Friend say what those uses are?

Mr. Green

They are used in making certain kinds of jam.

Mr. Bell

What jam?

Mr. Green

I think almost any kind of jam. As I say, I am no cook, but perhaps I can help my hon. Friend by saying that there is no opposition to the appeal for a reduction of this duty.

The changes on certain tanning machinery, which is the third point in the Order, follow an application from both the users and producers of tanning machinery, who have agreed that they would prefer a rather lower rate of duty in exchange for the removal of these machines from the field to which remission of duty applies. This will obviate certain causes of friction, perhaps otherwise inevitable, between makers and users, but, again, it is a reduction in the duty.

I hope that the House will approve the Order making these three quite minor changes in our tariff.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Could the Minister clarify one point? He said that we had to have an affirmative Resolution in respect of the pitch fibre pipes on which he is nominally, at any rate, raising the duty because legally this amounted to an increase in duty. But does it actually do that? Is it not the case that we are not raising the duty on any specific object which is imported?

Mr. Green

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. It is legally an increase in duty because changing over to this new nomenclature, this new tariff heading under the Brussels nomenclature, would, unless we did something about it, automatically drop the duty from the agreed 20 per cent. to 10 per cent. Therefore, taking it out of that new nomenclature amounts, in legal terms, to an increase in duty.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

As I very much welcome the decision about tanning machinery, which, I am sure, will be of great benefit to the industry, I should like to know whether this has come about by the initiative of the Board of Trade. Is the Board of Trade taking the initiative in matters of this kind concerning machinery to get lower tariffs and to do away with the duty-free licensing system or does the initiative come entirely from the trade, whether the tanning trade or any other trade to do with machinery?

Mr. Green

While I should not want to miss a chance of gaining kudos for the Department which I try to represent, I must say that the reduction followed an agreed application from the British Leather Federation in conjunction with the main tanning machinery manufacturers. I am glad to give this credit to the two parts of the industry concerned with the matter. I am glad to see the way in which they can get on like this and agree on a reduced tariff as a consequence. I am keen that they should have all the credit that is going.

I should, however, like to assure the hon. Member that we do not miss opportunities of pointing out to industrial interests concerned that this procedure exists. None the less, I am very glad that the industry took the initiative in this case.

Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)

I should like to ask the Minister whether, having set his hand to the reduction in tariff for the machines in the tanning industry, he will sympathetically consider representations from other industries who would also like to import machinery with a lower tariff.

Mr. Green rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

As another hon. Member wishes to speak, I think that it would be better if the Minister made his reply at the end.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

My question is somewhere in the same category, but not quite. I am worried about item (C) in paragraph (2) of the Schedule. When we get the Finance Bill and I see the schedules of duty on machinery, I am always deeply concerned about this kind of thing.

Those of us in the engineering industry and who professionally were production engineers see the processes from time to time on the modification of machines, improvements and technological developments, and yet we have this sort of description of a machine. I do not know the machines in question, but they are described as Spraying machines incorporating an endless conveyor and one or more spray guns with a reciprocating or rotary motion and also incorporating mechanism which cuts off the spray automatically when the material is not directly beneath the gun or guns". The material must be directly beneath the gun or guns". Suppose that it is at an angle of 24½ degrees instead of" directly beneath". Does it then not come within this category? The description uses the words "reciprocating or rotary motion". There are no other forms of motion. One cannot have motion in an endless chain; it is either reciprocating or rotary. Why these two words are inserted is beyond my comprehension.

I should like the Minister of State to explain what forms of motion there are other than rotary or reciprocating. The only other form of motion is in a horizontal or vertical plane in perpetuity. I do not know why these two words should be used. I have been in the engineering profession all my working life, and to suggest that there is any other form of motion than these two forms is outside my knowledge of mechanical engineering.

Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)

While not delving into problems of motion, it is obvious that if one is to spray upwards when material is going underneath one will waste a lot of material. The reference in the Order means simply that.

Mr. Bence

It says in the Order that the material must be underneath. If the guns are pointing downwards, the material must be underneath. But supposing the guns are pointed upwards?

Mr. McCann

The guns are set in a rotary cylinder and the material goes underneath. Thus, when the guns are pointed downwards at the material the paint or tanning is sprayed. When the gun automatically turns upwards it cuts off and so cuts the cost.

Mr. Bence

Would it not be possible for the guns in rotary to be pointed up and cut off when at the bottom? After all, according to these provisions, the material is underneath. Supposing someone develops a machine where the material is on both sides? In the motor industry, the material is at the side, and when the guns are spraying on one side they are automatically out off on the other if there is no material there. If someone invents a tanning machine where hides are suspended at the sides, it will not qualify under this Order.

Someone may decide that it is better to have two hides, one on each side.

instead of having the material at the bottom. I know nothing about leather, except that it goes on the soles of one's shoes, but I can see that someone may devise an economical machine with the hides travelling each side. We shall have to put that to the National Research and Development Council. There are possibilities.

But such a machine would not qualify for a reduction in tariff. This is very serious. So long as the machine is for spraying hides, why include such words as "reciprocating or rotary motion"? There is no other form of motion. Why worry whether the material is beneath, or above, or on both sides? As long as the machine does the job, then give it the tariff. I hope that the Minister of State will explain the reasons for the words "reciprocating or rotary motion", and why the machine must be designed so that the material is underneath the guns.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Green

I am always ready to consider any proposition the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) cares to make. If this were Question Time, however, I should have to remind him that what he has raised is another matter and ask him to put down a Question later. Perhaps he will do so.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) attempted to clarify my mind. I have to inform him that he has not succeeded in this case. This description of the machines is tolerably satisfactory so far both to the users and the makers. These are the people who are most particularly concerned. I accept that the time may arrive when changes of description are needed, but at the present time this description appears to be satisfactory to the industry, whether user or producer. I hope that he will not be less content than the industry, but if he would like to make representations to me about it, I will willingly listen. I am not prepared at this moment to do so. I do not think that I ought to have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman on the nicer points of the drafting on an Order, because I do not think that either of us should stand here and boast that we are experts on the drafting of these things. We ought to be experts in the scrutiny of what is proper.

Mr. Jay

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether this form of words has had to be agreed with the people in Brussels, or whether it is purely British design?

Mr. Green

I strongly suspect that it has had to be internationally agreed, but I can only suspect so. I cannot answer that question with certainty. In any event, I shall inform myself of the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Import Duties (General) (No. 14) Order 1962 (S.I. 1962, No. 2744), dated 18th December, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st December, be approved.

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