HC Deb 02 February 1965 vol 705 cc1031-5

10.27 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Edward Redhead)

I beg to move, That the Import Duties (General) (No. 10) Order 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 1986), dated 15th December, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st December, be approved. The House will wish to know that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments has determined that the special attention of the House does not require to be drawn to the Order. Indeed, as far as I am aware, there is no real contention concerning this Order. It does three things. It consolidates as at 31st December, 1964, the Import Duties (General) (No. 3) Order, 1961, and the various Orders amending it. These Orders prescribe the rates of protective duty for all imports into this country and a consolidating Order is normal and necessary from time to time. Secondly, it reduces the rates of import duty on goods to which the E.F.T.A. Convention applies. This is the sixth time that reductions have been made in accordance with the agreed E.F.T.A. timetable.

Thirdly, it incorporates in the United Kingdom tariff a number of amendments to the Brussels Nomenclature. The Order as a whole is subject to the affirmative rather than the negative Resolution procedure only because implementation of the Brussels Nomenclature amendments results in a number of minor increases in duty. I intend, therefore, to confine my remarks to the Nomenclature Amendments. The Brussels Nomenclature is an international system of tariff classification which is now used by over 70 countries. The United Kingdom, the European Economic Community and E.F.T.A. countries are among the 19 contracting parties to the Nomenclature Convention.

We adopted this form of tariff on 1st January, 1959, and subsequently undertook to bring into force on 1st January, 1965, a series of amendments recommended by the Customs Co-operation Council, the organisation which supervises the operation of the Nomenclature. As a matter of convenience, to avoid unnecessary reprinting of the tariff, we and some other E.F.T.A. countries brought the amendments into force on 31st December, 1964, the date on which the sixth E.F.T.A. duty reductions were due.

The amendments are numerous and in many cases complex and I will not attempt to describe them in detail. In brief, they bring the Nomenclature up to date by taking into account technological developments in the production of certain goods. They also rectify some anomalies of classification and clarify the text of some of the 1,100 tariff headings in the Nomenclature and of some of the legal notes which govern classification as between those headings. Many of the amendments are textual changes but others transfer goods from one tariff heading to another.

In many cases these transfers relate to goods of little or no trade significance. Where, however, goods of known trade importance have been reclassified under a tariff heading with a different rate of duty, subheadings have been opened to maintain the former rate. To take a simple example, a new subheading has been raised under heading 92.11, with a duty of 16 per cent. for recorders and reproducers for television. These were dutiable at 16 per cent. under heading 85.22, their previous classification, from which they were transferred to heading 92.11 which carried a rate of duty of 33⅓ per cent. In the absence of a new subheading, the rate would have been increased from 16 per cent. to 33⅓ per cent. Similarly, new subheadings have been raised to avoid a reduction in the rate of duty applicable to goods transferred from one heading to another.

This Order should not, therefore, result in duty changes in items of real significance in trade terms. If, however, it should prove otherwise in any particular case, the Board of Trade will consider the need to raise further subheadings and will be open to receive representations on these matters.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

The House will wish to thank the Minister of State for his clear explanation of the reason for this Order, and we fully understand the reason for it. I understand that this Order has not yet been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. Is there a reason for that?

Mr. Redhead

I prefaced my remarks by saying that the House would wish to know that the Select Committee had determined that the special attention of the House does not require to be drawn to the Order.

Mr. Hall

I apologise that I missed the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

In a speech in the debate on the Address on 4th November I had occasion to refer to the rate of import duties on goods to which the E.F.T.A. Convention applies, when I pointed out that the effect of the 15 per cent. surcharge had been to eradicate practically all the benefits of the reduction in tariff rates that had been negotiated over months. Does this still apply? Has the 15 per cent. surcharge more than restored the tariffs for the E.F.T.A. countries to what they were before we began to negotiate these reductions, especially in the case of certain special steels which we import where up to last November the duty was even higher than it had been before we began to negotiate the reduction?

Mr. Redhead

I have already answered the first point which the hon. Gentleman made. On the second, the position as regards the E.F.T.A. is not altered by the Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it remains the Government's intention to deal with the import surcharge on a different basis, and to treat that at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Hall

With respect, the Minister has not quite answered the point. Perhaps I did not make it clear. What I panted to know, and what I think the House wishes to know, is whether the duties now laid down in the Order before us for the E.F.T.A. countries are increased or decreased by the imposition of the 15 per cent. surcharge. There have been negotiations over the months gradually to reduce the E.F.T.A. tariffs, in accordance with the Convention to which we are signatories. Have those reductions been more than offset by the 15 per cent. surcharge, and are we back in a worse position in relation to the E.F.T.A. countries than we were when the surcharges were imposed?

Mr. Redhead

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it would be impossible to give a general assessment or answer on that without a detailed examination. The reductions in the E.F.T.A. scales having occurred over a considerable range, it would be impossible at this stage to say what those new rates reflect in relation to the import surcharge.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I congratulate the Minister and his Department on producing this consolidation Order. It was before the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments only today, and, as the Minister said, the Committee saw no reason to report anything to the House. I must say, however, that the Committee was extremely pleased that the Department had produced a consolidation Order of this kind. It is most useful for those who have to refer to them that these Orders should be consolidated frequently. As is shown on page 443, this one consolidates no fewer than 41 Orders, and to this extent it will be a most useful document of great benefit to those who have to refer to these matters.

10.37 p.m.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

We all approve the tidying-up process which the Order represents. This is the kind of Departmental work which often goes unsung and unheralded, but it is extremely useful and much to be commended.

I wish to draw attention to the clever or diplomatic evasion by the Minister of the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall). I suppose that it is not possible at this stage to say whether or not, in actual terms, the 15 per cent. surcharge is more than the reduction in the tariffs, but the House would do wrong not to recognise that, although we cannot, at this moment, ascertain precisely whether the surcharge has outweighed the benefit of the tariff reductions, the surcharge has interfered with the spirit of relations between the E.F.T.A. countries. At a time when we were moving along so well in the direction of having a closer understanding and better working with the E.F.T.A. countries, a time when, otherwise, this Order could have been a matter for congratulation of the Government on having taken the road which we all want them to take, it is a pity that so much has been spoiled by the atmosphere brought about by the surcharge.

The Minister could not answer in actual terms whether or not one has been greater than the other, but, in passing the Order, we ought to recognise the damage which has been done and hope that it will not be long lasting.

10.39 p.m.

Sir Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

The Minister will know that there has been some discussion about the importation of benzole and hydrocarbon oils and that the home-produced benzole has over the years, had a charge laid upon it which the Government recently decided to withdraw. In terms of item 27, referring to hydrocarbon oils and light oils, does this Order in any way affect the position of manufacturers of home-produced benzole who are suffering a considerable amount of loss in production and allowing the same amount to come in from outside, for which we have to pay dollars or sterling? I am not sure whether this is related to the question of the duty on benzole, and should be grateful to be informed.

Mr. Redhead

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am in a very similar difficulty to him in so far as this is a very complex matter involving so many different headings that, without notice. I should find it impossible to give an answer with assurance. If I may, I will write to him after making a further examination of the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Import Duties (General) (No. 10 Order 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 1986), dated 15th December, 1964, a copy which was laid before this House on 21st December, be approved.