§ 2.35 p.m.
§ [The Questions were as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government if, with regard to the procedure of application for licences for the import of machinery of prototype not manufactured in the United Kingdom, they are aware of the serious inconvenience caused to industrialists by current delays, and if steps can be taken to ensure more swift action.]
§ [To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the pursuit of the policy of re-equipment of industry emphasised by the recent Budget announcements, they are yet able to restore the exemption from duty of machinery of a prototype not at present produced in the United Kingdom.]
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, with the permission of the House and of the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, I will answer these two Questions together. Nearly all kinds of machinery are admitted from most countries outside the dollar area under the open general licence, and manufacturers do not therefore need to apply for individual specific licences. Because of our balance of payments difficulties, however, imports of machinery from the dollar area are limited to machinery which is required for an essential purpose and for which no suitable non-dollar alternative is available. Specific licences are therefore required 275 for the import of machinery from the dollar area and aplications have to be considered carefully by the Board of Trade, usually in consultation with one or more other Department. Her Majesty's Government are most anxious to minimise the inconvenience to which manufacturers are inevitably put by the existence of these restrictions on machinery imports. Continuous efforts are being made to reduce the time taken to deal with applications. For the past six months, the average time taken has been between seven and eight days, but there necessarily is a very wide variation in individual cases.
As my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade announced in reply to a Question in another place on April 1, the report of the independent committee which was set up to review the question of duty-free entry for machinery has now been received. The subject, as the report recognises, and as I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, will recognise, is a difficult and complicated one, and the report is now being considered in detail. The Government are not yet able to say when it will be published, or what action will be taken on it.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for his reply. Your Lordships will, I am sure, realise that his action in dealing with my two Questions together makes it rather difficult to get a clear understanding of the reply, which is a matter of great importance to industry. With the indulgence of the House, may I point out to the noble Lord that the Question particularly asked for some encouragement, for hope that there might be a shortening of time. The noble Lord's reply failed to give it. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether in the event of an application having been held up for four weeks, a hearing could be arranged permitting applicants personal appearance to meet queries. With regard to the noble Lord's reply to the second part of my Question, is it to be understood that the Committee are going to recommend the import duty free of machinery where no prototype is manufactured in this country? I apologise to your Lordships for the length of the question.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, in answer to the first part of the noble Lord's question, I repeat that Her Majesty's Government are most anxious to reduce the delay to the lowest possible time. Any suggestions that the noble Lord or any other persons interested in this subject have to make as to how that time can be reduced will, of course, be regarded most favourably by my right honourable friend. I will look carefully at the proposal which the noble Lord has just made. With regard to the second half of his question, I am afraid that I can only repeat my original answer. The Government are now examining this very complicated Report and are not yet in a position to say what action will be taken upon it.
§ LORD BARNBY
I thank the noble Lord for his reply. With regard to his second reply, the question of duty-free import of machinery was, it would seem, encouraged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his recent concession to industry, and has been months and months under consideration. Surely an early announcement is important.
§ LORD MANCROFT
I am afraid that I cannot accept the criticism implied in the noble Lord's supplementary question. The report has been in the hands of my right honourable friend for only a very few weeks. He fully appreciates the urgency which the noble Lord has emphasised. I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend will not waste one minute in producing an answer to this very difficult and complicated question.