HC Deb 14 June 1971 vol 819 cc2-5
2. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which industries the Government have assisted over the past year by imposing or increasing levies or tariffs on imported products.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. John Davies)

No new or increased duties were imposed under the Import Duties Act, 1958. Anti-dumping duties under the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act, 1969 were imposed on certain imports of dolls' eyes, new potatoes, zirconium dioxide and certain nitrogenous fertilisers. Under the Agriculture and Horticulture Act, 1964, minimum import prices, maintained when necessary by means of levies, were increased on shell eggs.

Mr. Sillars

The Secretary of State could have added that on 1st July we shall have import levies on certain food products from New Zealand. Can he explain the logic of Government policy in giving protection to agriculture by the imposition of import levies and at the same time offering a threat to the workers in the car industry unilaterally to remove the barriers against imported cars?

Mr. Davies

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my keen desire is, wherever possible, in the consumer's interest, to accentuate the forces of competition; and this was what was in my mind in relation to the motor car industry.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that levies and tariffs will seldom in the long term assist in the way the Question implies but are more likely to slow down investment and development and to reduce our competitiveness overseas?

Mr. Davies

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The whole movement of tariff disarmament since the war is proof of it.

10. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the progress of his studies of the possibilities of removing tariff protection from certain industries.

39. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has completed his consideration of the economic and employment effects of the abolition of import duty on foreign cars; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Davies

As I told the House on 17th May, the Government will continue to keep under review the possibility of a unilateral change in the tariff in relation to motor cars and to other products enjoying substantial tariff protection. After careful consideration, I have decided not to make any immediate unilateral change in the tariff on motor cars. If, however, circumstances arise either in this or in any other industry enjoying substantial tariff protection, where it appears useful to abate, tariffs unilaterally, in order to improve competition, or to deter excessive wage settlements, I shall not fail to do so. In any such case, I will consult those concerned before I reach a conclusion.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Secretary of State aware that Bromsgrove is behind us now? Does not he recognise that his ill-judged statement at the Tory Party conference in Scotland, which will now be very much smaller even than in the past, created a good deal of uncertainty? How comprehensive is his examination of the problem? Does it cover all industries which are now protected? If not, on which criteria does he base his assessment of which shall be protected and which shall not?

Mr. Davies

The level of tariff protection is separately considered, and it can be considered within the framework of international arrangements. As regards the industry that the hon. Gentleman particularly has in mind, I and many others were concerned with the wage settlements which seemed too easily to be passed on to consumer prices. I was therefore taking that industry as an example. I wish to watch any industry which, behind a high tariff wall, can find means of passing high price increases resulting from high wage settlements.

Mr. Carter

Is the Secretary of State aware that the electors of Bromsgrove, near-neighbours of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), have recently given a very clear verdict on the right hon. Gentleman's views about tariff barriers? Does not he agree that it would be madness for Britain to remove tariff barriers on cars when British car manufacturers have to export to countries that impose penal barriers to our exports?

Mr. Davies

I am not certain to which countries the hon. Gentleman is referring. He is certainly not referring to any of those with which we trade extensively in motor cars. I shall continue to keep the matter very much under review if I think that the case justifies it.

Sir R. Russell

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that the complete removal or tariff protection also removes any preference that may exist in favour of Commonwealth countries, which is often the subject of reciprocal agreements that it might be difficult to abolish?

Mr. Davies

I am very well aware of the case affecting Commonwealth countries. The import of motor cars built in the Commonwealth is minimal.

Mr. Benn

Would it not have been better if the right hon. Gentleman had been frank with the House and told us that he made a gaffe, that he was thinking aloud on a matter which had not been the subject of consultation? He now says that there will be consultations and that the initial statement was not well-considered. That is why, when pressed, he has nothing constructive to say on the matter.

Mr. Davies

No, Sir, I do not accept that at all. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be in a poor position to comment on those who think aloud.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his candour on this and other subjects is very much welcomed? Can he say whether he ascertained from his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that in the negotiations at Brussels we were preserving for ourselves the option of unilateral adjustments of tariffs, irrespective of the common external tariff?

Mr. Davies

The abatement of tariffs unilaterally is open to us, on our own decision. When no tariffs exist between ourselves and the Community, the problem will not arise. As regards the C.E.T., we shall undoubtedly be within the framework of our agreements and arrangements within the Community.