§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Dr. Burgin
I beg to move,That the Additional Import Duties (No. 1) Order, 1937, dated the tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, be approved.This Order and the next one on the Paper deal respectively with tomatoes and with hand sewing needles and bodkins. The Order with regard to tomatoes brings forward the date during which there is an Import Duty of 2d. per lb. on foreign tomatoes. Until the making of this Order the first date at which foreign tomatoes were taxed at this rate was 1st June. There has been a tendency, particularly at Cheshunt and the Lea Valley in Hertfordshire, for British tomato growers to grow their early crop earlier than 1st June, and the committee report that that definite trend should be encouraged. But early production is discouraged by the quantity of tomatoes arriving in the latter half of May, which are sold early in June in competition with British produce. These tomatoes come from the Canary Islands, Holland and other places. So that the effect of the Order is to advance the close or protected season from 1st June to 15th 112 May, and after 15th May in future down to 31st August the duty will be 2d. per lb. Previously it was 10 per cent. The home production of tomatoes, especially under glass, increased considerably in 1935 and 1936. The Eastern and. South-Eastern counties together account for about 60 per cent. of the area under glass and the most important areas are Chesham and the Lea Valley. It is difficult to obtain any separate statistics as to the numbers employed, but the homegrown tomato industry is valuable and important.
The particulars of the imports of tomatoes during the last two weeks of May show that there is a very considerable volume coming in normally in the third and fourth weeks in May, from the Canary Islands and Holland. In 1936 for that fortnight the Canary Islands sent in a little over 82,000 cwts. The figure from Holland was a little over 16,000 cwts., and we received from the Channel Islands some 69,000 cwts. which, of course, came in duty free. There is no reason whatever to anticipate any shortage of tomatoes with home production increasing and with the duty-free production from the Channel Islands. The import of tomatoes during the whole of May has been quite considerable. The figure for the Canary Islands for May, 1936, was 242,000 cwts. That represents £384,000. The average C.I.F. value of the total foreign imports in May, 1936, was something like 3s. 8d. a lb. The relative landing prices per peck of 12 lbs. of first or second quality tomatoes are interesting. Take the week ending 8th May—first quality English, 14s. 9d.; first quality Channel Islands, 13s. 9d.; first quality Dutch, 10s.; first quality Canary Islands, 4s. 8d. For the second week in May the figures are English, 14s. 2d.; Channel Islands, 12s. 7d.; Dutch, 10s. 3d.; Canary Islands, 6s. 8d. I do not know whether it would be more convenient to stop there and take the discussion on tomatoes separately before I introduce the figures about needles.
I am a little doubtful about one case in which the hon. Gentleman gave the value per lb.
§ Dr. Burgin
That is the C.I.F. value of the total foreign imports in May, 1936. I think that must be for 12 lbs. but there is a gap in the information I possess. I will have it checked.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
It has been customary, with the consent of the House, to discuss these Import Orders together. On this occasion, if it is more convenient to dispose of the Order dealing with tomatoes and then take that dealing with needles, I am in the hands of the House.
I think it would be convenient if the tentative suggestion of the hon. Gentleman were accepted. It is not that we desire to create any precedent, but when we are asked to discuss matters like this after II o'clock a single discussion on a number of duties is convenient. To-night I shall be glad if the hon. Gentleman will adopt the other course.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
As it appears to be the wish of the House that the Orders should be taken separately, we had better do so, on the understanding that it does not necessarily constitute a precedent.
§ 8.15 p.m.
It is interesting to note that in 1937 apparently the Government are to follow the plan of previous years, in devising imposts upon food and other commodities used by the people. The No. 1 Order, 1937, is not to be an impost of an additional character for the whole period of the fiscal year but is merely to make an additional impost for 14 or 15 days. Nevertheless, it raises once more the important point of principle in relation to, first, the advisability of taxing food at all, and, secondly, the process of spreading the burden of taxation as much as possible in order to relieve the charge upon the direct taxpayer. It does not seem to be possible for the Parliamentary Secretary to argue to-night that, in fact, the consumer of tomatoes is not going to pay this duty. I am obliged to him for the clear and fair way in which he has presented the case. Sometimes I have had to raise a point of criticism because we felt that we had not enough information upon which either to criticise or to express approval or disapproval of the fiscal proposals which came up under Import Duties Orders. But to-night he has given us quite a number of statistics. I have no doubt in my own mind, not being without knowledge of the particular trade, that, if it were necessary to detain the House—he did not think it was—so as to produce a much wider range of statistics 114 over a longer period, very largely the same results that he has indicated in the statistics he has given for 1936 would obtain. I am content to take them on the figures he has given to the House to-night.
We are being asked to approve of the extension of the period of the duty on tomatoes upon the ground that the tendency has been for the English producers in the Lea Valley in Hertfordshire and in Chesham to produce their crops of tomatoes for the seasonal demand at an earlier date than formerly. If that is so, I do not understand why it is necessary to ask for the increased duty. If they have been able to do this successfully in the existing circumstances and have actually been producing that crop earlier, why is it now necessary to ask for a duty? That is the first point which the Parliamentary Secretary will have to answer in putting this proposition to the House. The next point I will put on the information which he has given to the House, is, how can it possibly be argued that, in regard to the prices and quantities of the imports of tomatoes which he has given to us from the Canary Islands, for example, the addition of the small duty which is now proposed will be an effective check upon the use in this country of that particular type of tomato? Therefore, how much can it possibly help this industry which, in spite of the existing conditions, it is said has been increasing its output in the particular fortnight of the fiscal year now to be covered by the additional duty?
According to the figures which I took down, the Canary Islands imports into this country come in, during the first of the two weeks quoted, at 4s. 8d. per dozen lbs., and in the second week at 6s. 8d. per dozen lbs., whereas, as I understand it, the prices of the English fruit for these two weeks were 14s. 9d. per dozen lbs., and 14s. 2d. respectively. Even with the whole of the 2d. per lb., which is the additional duty, how on earth is it to be argued that the average difference of between 5s. 6d. and 14s. 6d. per dozen lbs., is to be bridged by the imposition of a duty of 2d. per lb.? How is it to be bridged to the extent of discouraging the use of Canary Island tomatoes and improving the demand for the English? It is a case very much like the recent imposition of duties upon meat, in which the Treasury, gaining, of course, the plaudits of home producers, because 115 they hope that it will discourage the foreign imports, hope to collect from the home producer something with which to relieve the direct taxpayer and help the Chancellor of the Exchequer along the way of his difficult task of balancing his Budget in face of the suicidal expenditure upon which the Government are engaged.
The Parliamentary Secretary will have to answer on that point. Even when one comes to the type of tomato which is much nearer to the quality and variety of the home-produced article, that is the Dutch, there is still a substantial margin between the two kinds—10s. as compared with 14s. 9d. and 10s. 3d. as compared with 14s. 2d. From what I know of the trade and of the quality of the best White Heart Dutch tomatoes—and, by the way, probably they have supplied the British growers with some of the vines upon which their fruit is grown—I cannot see that the imposition of this additional duty will make all that difference in demand, but it will in fact actually result in a collection from the consumer. Let us see what will happen in respect of the Canary product. If it is to be argued that because the Hertfordshire and Essex product will be labled English, and therefore have a psychological preferential demand from the British consumer, I am convinced that the only result of this duty will be that the purchaser of the English as well as of the Dutch will pay the duty, and that the real aim of the producers in dealing with this particular competitive article will be to get an enhanced price.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon
Would the right hon. Gentleman say, on behalf of the immense organisation with which he is so intimately associated, not say that it is desirable, in the interests of producers in this country, that British tomatoes produced in Essex, Hertford or wherever it may be, should have a preference over tomatoes produced in foreign countries?
Oh, yes, we are only too willing to do so, if as a result of that preference we can get the article without having to pay an enhanced price because of the duty. Most certainly the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) knows quite well that the organisation with which I am connected is perhaps the best customer of the English producer of meat, of offals and grain, of 116 vegetables and of everything you can produce in the list of the agricultural products of this country. Again and again it gives preference to home-grown produce, but that is no reason why I should stand here and admit the rightness of an impost upon the people's food. If the hon. Member can find me any single organisation which, compared with the organised consumers, gives better preference to British products, I should be much surprised.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
Is it not true that the organisation with which the right hon. Gentleman is so intimately associated is also the largest purchaser of imported foodstuffs at the cheapest possible price?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The question of what the co-operative society may or may not purchase has nothing to do with this Order.
I bow to your Ruling. I did not raise the point, but I am perfectly willing to answer the question. All I can say is that the records show that we are the largest purchasers of British products. With regard to tomatoes, we have experience in growing them. We grow large quantities in different parts of the country. That, apparently, is not a crime in the view of hon. Members, because it is encouraging British production. That does not, however, make it right to do what we are asked to do to-night, in view of the fact that whenever there is a rise in prices our working-class consumers always find a lag in wages and get only such increases of wages as they are able to wring out by means of their trade union organisations. I hope that I shall always find myself standing in the position of opposing duties of this character unless a much better case can be made out for them than has been made out to-night.
Let us look at the imports, and compare them with the needs of the population. With all the pressure that is being brought to bear, largely upon medical advice, in favour of the kind of diet which is considered to be advantageous, more vegetarian and fruitarian in character, I should have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary would have admitted that the figures of imports of tomatoes which he mentioned are not too large to make adequate provision for the needs of the people at reasonable prices. Therefore, whilst I should always be willing 117 to consider, and I hope I have always been willing to consider, any case which is sound and presented with facts which will show justice to the producer and the consumer, I consider that to-night there has been no real case made out for the new imposition, and I hope that I shall be able to persuade my hon. Friends to go into the Lobby against it.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
It is amazing how these Orders are passed and the manner in which they are introduced. To-night we have a very good example of it. Contrasts have been made between the prices ruling for English tomatoes and the prices at which foreign tomatoes are sold, and the House is asked to impose this new duty because of the contrast in the figures. I was interested in the statement of the hon. Member for the Moseley Division of Birmingham (Sir P. Hannon). He asked my right hon. Friend whether the society with which he is associated would give preference to British products as against foreign products. Surely he knows as well as anyone that the one thing that the English working man's wife prefers is English-grown produce, because it is fresher than the stuff she is very often obliged to buy. Londoners would rather eat fresh eggs than consume, as they do every day at the great organisation which has its catering shops at every street corner, tons of Chinese eggs, but the price is the question. British people would certainly rather eat British produce if they could get it at a price within the ambit of their spending power. It is no impeachment of the British housewife who cannot afford to buy English produce to say that she is disloyal because she does not buy it.
Coming back to the figures that have been given by the Parliamentary Secretary, I would say that if there is one thing more essential than another it is that when figures are given relating to specific commodities the costs of production ought to be tabled. Prices have been given of the cost of Dutch tomatoes as 10s. 3d. per 12 lbs. against English tomatoes at 14s. 3d., but we are not told What is the cost of production that necessitates such a price for the English commodity. We are just given the ft: ores, as if the prices were enough to make us say, "We must keep the foreign 118 produce out." While the Parliamentary Secretary was speaking I was wondering whether this Order had any relation to the coming Coronation and the belief that there will be a heavy demand for tomatoes. The cost of the production of the English tomato ought to be stated and we ought to be told the reason why the English tomato needs protection.
In this country we have had derating, and that has given a great impetus to tomato growers. In Scotland, where we produce the finest tomatoes, perhaps, in the world, we could compete with any tomato grower on the Continent if we were given a fair field and no favour, but there are incidental expenses thrown in which the producer of tomatoes has to meet. It would be very interesting if the Parliamentary Secretary would take us into his confidence and give us the reason why this Order has been introduced. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the twopence extra duty will not level' up the difference between the lowest-priced foreign tomato at 6s. 8d. per 12 lbs. and the English tomato at 14s. 3d. It might have appeared that my right hon. Friend was complaining that the twopence was not high enough.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I recognise that, but while my right hon. Friend was speaking one hon. Member whispered: "Why not make it 8d, a pound?" He says that that is logic. When you are standing on your hands looking at the universe your logic differs from that of anybody else. The logic of Orders of this kind is to keep the foreigner out, but that was not the idea that was supposed to be behind the bringing in of these import duties. It is unfair to come to the House and merely, by a few pious statements and figures of contrast between our selling prices and the foreign selling prices, expect the House immediately to agree to an import duty. The cost of production ought to be tabled and we ought to be given the reason why the English tomato is so much dearer than other tomatoes, so that we could as intelligent human beings know exactly for what we are voting.
This Order is another in the series of ramps which have been going on steadily in this House for years, despite the fact that we hear so much about bringing the nations of the earth together and bringing 119 peace and amity among them. You shake the hand of the foreigner in the morning and talk piously about the League of Nations and peace, but when you find him trading up your street in the afternoon you give him a black eye. One of the greatest of Englishmen, Cobden—if I may use his name in this House at this time—said, "Give me tariffs and all forms of restrictions, and I have the breeding ground for future wars." It is a far cry from tomatoes to the peace of the world, but I think it is worth while drawing the moral. I wish hon. Members when they are making speeches about bringing the nations of the world into amity would remember that they are continually bringing in these import duties and harassing conditions on trade and industry, which do not make for peace.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Will the hon. Member tell me whether he prefers tomatoes grown in this country or those grown abroad? Would he not prefer to have tomatoes produced by some working gardener in this country rather than in any European country, assuming that they are presented at the same price?
§ Mr. MacLaren
I would far rather have a Scotch tomato than any other tomato. But what are the reasons for the inflated price of the Scottish commodity as against the Dutch tomato? That is what the Parliamentary Secretary should tell us. We are just given figures of 14s. 3d. for the British tomato as against 10s. 3d. for the Dutch. Why is there that difference in the price? We are not told the reason. If we were I think it would be illuminating to the women of Scotland and to the women of England.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I want to protest against this Order. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to a figure of 69,000 cwts. I submit that these Canary tomatoes do not enter into competition with English tomatoes at that particular season of the year. When you have tomatoes at about 4d. per lb. for Canary tomatoes as compared with 1s. 2¾d. for English, to talk of competition with English at that price is absolutely ridiculous. The reason why working people do not buy English tomatoes in May is because there are not enough coming on to the market, and the price 120 is prohibitive as far as they are concerned. They cannot afford to buy them, and it is only when English tomatoes some into the market in quantities that the price comes down to 8d. or 10d. per lb. Then a big volume of English tomatoes is consumed. I object to this Order because it is clearly a tax on the working people. They would buy English tomatoes every time, but these tomatoes come in at a time when there are few supplies of English tomatoes. In other words, you are going to put a tax of 2d. per lb. on the poorest of our people. The Government, if they pursue this policy, are going to goad the poorest people of this country with these continuous duties and the extraction of money from their pockets, until the people sweep them out at the next election. It is a very great penalty the Government are inflicting on people who can least afford to pay it.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
I want to protest against this increased 2d. per lb. on tomatoes for a very special reason. I have been home this week-end. There was a snowstorm, which I believe was also experienced in the South of England. I was talking to the district nurse in my own town. She told me that she had a case of a workman's wife who is supposed to spend 16s. 9d. per week on insulin. The husband gets £2 15s. per week for his wife and himself and cannot afford to spend much in the purchase of insulin. Besides that, she must have tomatoes. Any doctor who is treating diabetes will tell you that you must have so-and-so—tomatoes, lettuce, watercress and half-a-dozen other things. Tomatoes enter largely into the diet of that woman and myself, but I can afford to buy tomatoes now better than I could before I entered this House. For 10 months before I came here I drew 110 days' unemployment benefit at 3s. 10½d. per day. I could not afford to buy English tomatoes; I had to buy cheap tomatoes, as would anybody else if he was getting only 3s. 10½d. for his wife and himself.
I protest against this 2d. being put on tomatoes because of the 250,000 people in this country who are diabetics. It is true that some of them can afford to buy them, but while there may be a few who are in this position, I should say that there are 150,000 who are unable to afford it, and to cut off their 121 supplies of tomatoes may mean death very soon. I know that if I talk about insulin to-night I shall be out of order, but there are scores in the same class as I am, and those people, because they are not able to get the insulin and the diet prescribed for them, pass out like flies. I raised this matter with the Ministry of Health 12 months ago. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, in asking the House to put 2d. per lb. on tomatoes, which are part of the diet of the 250,000 people to whom I have referred, has thought about it. If he has not thought about it so far, I hope he will do so from now onwards and, instead of putting 2d. per lb. on, will say that it shall be left off, so that these people will have a chance of getting a little sunshine in their lives. I protest against this tariff being put on this food. There is a tariff on lettuces as well. If I go on to talk about that, Sir, you will say that lettuces have nothing to do with this Order, but there is a tariff on lettuces and they are not as cheap as they used to be. When I was in Leeds hospital 3o years ago, when my breakfast was brought to me, I could hardly see the nurse who was bringing it, because I had to have four ounces of lettuce, and the nurse was behind the lettuce.
There is one other point I wish to bring to the attention of the Minister. If the wife, for instance, is a diabetic, she cannot be served with the same food as her husband, who is not a diabetic. When the man comes home from the pit, he finds his dinner prepared, but the wife has to have a separate diet, and the point to which I wish to direct the Minister's attention is that it costs far more to prepare these two lots of food than it would cost to prepare the same food for both. On top of that, there is to be imposed this 2d. a lb. on tomatoes. It is time the Government opened their eyes and understood these things from the workmen's standpoint as well as from the capitalists' standpoint of getting a profit on English tomatoes.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
I wish to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). At the present time, there is a vigorous appeal being made for cancer research and cancer dietetics. Not long ago I went to an exhibition, and, in going round it. I saw a tomato on a plate 122 in splendid isolation. I asked the doctor in charge, "Why do you put that tomato in that position?" and he said, "So that you will ask why it is put there." He then went on to tell me that tomatoes are one of the most valuable foods for cancer patients and that, as far as they had gone in cancer research, the eating of tomatoes is a good preventive of a cancer growth. I rise to express the point of view of those folk who cannot pay the price which the Government, by their legislation, are practically fixing on tomatoes; that is to say, anything from is. 4d. to is. 8d. a lb. from the end of March into May. The only way in which the textile workers in Yorkshire or Lancashire, or the dockside workers in Hull, can enjoy this precious food, which has been immortalised even by Dickens, and which even brings love into the household, for it is known as the "love apple," is to buy the tomato which comes from a warmer climate than the North of England—they buy the Canary tomato. It is, without exaggeration, a godsend to them to be able to buy the Canary tomato, or shortly afterwards the Dutch tomato, at anything from 5d. to 7d. or 9d. a lb.
There is another reason why it is inopportune for the Minister to ask us to-night to tax the people's food by another 2d. Unfortunately, there is a war going on in Spain, one of the sources of supply. If one goes round the mining districts in Yorkshire, one will find that the householder until quite recently was able to buy what was called a quarter-kilo tin of tomatoes for 2½d., but that tin of tomatoes has now gone off the market altogether owing to the dreadful catastrophe in Spain. The same thing happened when we applied sanctions against Italy. The Italian tomato was a godsend to working-class people, who were able to buy a 3 lb. tin of tomatoes for 5½ and very fine tomatoes they were. Those tomatoes are beginning to come in again, but the price is increased. At the present time, the standby of the person with moderate means is the Canary tomato or the Dutch tomato, which comes shortly afterwards.
I regret that the policy of the Government should be to impose these duties bit by bit, or, to use a scriptural phrase, "line upon line, precept upon precept." But they have forgotten the precepts. The principles of some of the right hon. 123 Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench have also been forgotten. The food of the people is being taxed, bit by bit, while there is no increase in wages. My own constituency is a distressed area, and there is no relief for the people there in the form of advances in wages. Their spending power is being decreased, and the Minister comes along now with a proposal to impose what is almost a cruel tax upon the very poor. I know that I shall appeal in vain to hon. Members opposite if I ask them to withdraw this Duty. I remember as a youngster reading of the proceedings in Parliament and sometimes being present at them when I was able to get a ticket of admission to the gallery. In those days the place where the Parliamentary Secretary is sitting was occupied by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and when Members of the Opposition brought forward pernicious proposals of this kind he always said, "Send for the sledge-hammer, and we shall soon finish off these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite." Then Mr. Asquith would come along. [An HON. MEMBER: "With a hammer?"] No, but with such powers of argument and debate as acted almost like a sledgehammer. I sigh sometimes for those days, and for a Press which would show up, as it were by a spotlight, the proposals of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in their efforts to make the food of the people dearer by these taxes. I believe if we could get a Press which would—
§ Mr. Muff
I come back to tomatoes, and my chief point is that while 2d. may seem a little sum it is—as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) once said to a Tory Member who objected to the 5s. pension—a fairly big sum of money if you have not got it in your pocket. I do not suppose I can melt the hard hearts of hon. Members opposite, but I say to them that there will be a day of reckoning. When the people of this country realise that this and similar imposts prevent them getting at reasonable prices, the beneficent gifts of nature, they will in the near future change the occupants of that Front Bench.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
The districts in my constituency where tomatoes are grown, and where there are many smallholders and market gardeners engaged in that branch of industry, will undoubtedly benefit by this increase of 2d. I am grateful to the two hon. Members who have just spoken, because they have supplied additional arguments in favour of growing tomatoes. The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) mentioned tomatoes in connection with the cure or prevention of cancer, and that is certainly a powerful reason in favour of their increased cultivation. If it can be shown, as we hope it will be, that this form of food is a cure or a partial cure of cancer we should do everything possible to encourage its growth in this country. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) mentioned the use of tomatoes in connection with diabetes, and that is a further strong argument in favour of developing tomato-growing in this country. I hope that what they have said in respect will be spread abroad in the country, and will provide a propaganda which has perhaps been lacking to some extent up to the present. The last speaker mentioned Mr. Asquith and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, but what hon. Members opposite do not appreciate is that we are no longer living in those days, but in a time when conditions have become entirely different, and when our small industries, agricultural and otherwise, cannot succeed without protection in a world which is governed by tariffs to an extent of which those right hon. Gentlemen had no idea. I welcome this additional duty.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Paling
I do not disagree with the hon. and gallant Member about the necessity for growing more tomatoes in his district or any other district in England, and helping to find work in that industry for British workers. But from the figures which have been given here I understand that the price of British tomatoes in the fortnight to which reference has been made, is 14s. 6d. per 12 lbs., while the cheapest tomatoes in the same period are in or about 4s. or 5s. per 12 lbs. There is the trouble. An addition of 2d. per lb. will not make the people of this country buy any more British tomatoes than they are buying 125 now. They do not buy the cheap tomato because they like it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
The hon. Member appears to be falling into the fallacy that 2d. on the import duty necessarily means a rise of 2d. in the price, but that is not always the case.
§ Mr. Paling
I leave it to the Parliamentary Secretary to say, but I am pretty sure that it will mean an increase in price. That is one of the reasons why it is put on at all. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer hopes that it will bring in something. That, however, is not my main point. The reason why hundreds of thousands of people in this country buy foreign tomatoes, particularly during the first fortnight, is because the foreign tomatoes are the only tomatoes they can afford. We were discussing recently the price of English beef as compared with imported chilled beef. The same thing applies in both cases. People buy the cheaper article because it is all they can afford to buy, and by putting 2d. on the Import Duty in this case you will not make people who cannot afford to do so, buy British tomatoes during the fortnight under consideration. All you can succeed in doing is in making them pay, probably, 2d. per lb. more for the relatively cheap tomato, and if there is any result at all it will probably be that people will consume fewer tomatoes. They certainly will not buy more British tomatoes. This appears to me to be what I would call for want of a better term a "cock-eyed" method of increasing the use of British tomatoes. The way to do that is to increase the purchasing power of the people, and not to decrease it. Hon. Members opposite have never approached the subject from that angle.
There is a good deal of talk nowadays about nutrition, and it is admitted that hundreds of thousands of people in this country, among the poorest of the poor, are suffering from malnutrition. It is said, among other things, that one of the things to be deplored is the dreadful monotony of diet. In tens of thousands of poverty-stricken homes in this country the importation of cheap foods has helped to vary this diet, and in so far as people are getting this variety, I think they ought to be encouraged rather than discouraged, but I do not think anybody would disagree with the proposition that 126 the imposition of this 2d. a pound on tomatoes will discourage rather than encourage it. The present Government are interested in improving the physique of the people. We hear a lot about it and that we are a C3 nation once again. We are approaching, as some people think, a war in the future, and great efforts are to be made to improve our physique. I do not know much about vitamins, but I am told that tomatoes contain a tremendous lot of vitamins and that in that respect they are an excellent food. This increased duty does not seem to me to be the way to go about improving the physique of the nation, for if tomatoes contain a large number of vitamins, the people ought to be encouraged to eat them by having them made cheaper to buy. From every angle that I can see, this 2d. a pound is to be deplored, except for the fact that it will bring more grist to the mills of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We hear a lot about: Germans preferring guns to butter. They say it boldly. They say, "You want big armaments, you want guns, and so you cannot have butter." We in this country are a bit more subtle. We also want big armaments, and we have to raise about £220,000,000 out of revenue and another £80,000,000 by loan. We want all the money we can get, but it would not be policy to tell the people of this country, "You can have guns, but you cannot have butter," nor would it do to tell them, "You can have guns, but you cannot have tomatoes." That would be bad electioneering, and the last thing of which hon. Members opposite, or some of them, can be accused is of being stupid at electioneering. They certainly know something about that, and so they are more subtle in this matter, and they find these devious ways of putting this money on and stopping the consumption, on the ground, presumably, of helping British industry. I am very doubtful whether it will help British industry, but the idea is, in the main, to get more and more revenue by indirect taxation on the poorest of the poor, in order to provide the guns which the Chancellor is providing. For all these reasons, we shall vote against this Motion.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Griffith
Appeals have been made to the names of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Mr. Asquith, 127 and I cannot resist the challenge. At the same time the reason why I have not risen before is that I have suspected that perhaps rather too big a thing has been hung on rather a small hook. I am ready at all time to resist taxes on food, and I shall do so to-night, but it is only fair to point out that this 2d. per lb. affects only one fortnight in the year.
§ Dr. Burgin
It is not 2d. The duty is 10 per cent. until 31st May, and at the date of 1st June the duty becomes 2d. The proposal in this Order is that, instead of To per cent., there shall be a duty of 2d. in the fortnight immediately preceding 1st June.
§ Mr. Griffith
I do not think I was misunderstanding the hon. Gentleman, because all that we are concerned with is the 2d. duty, which is spread over a fortnight; and though I agree on the question of principle that has been raised, I am not prepared to risk my whole fiscal life on this particular Measure. But I was more concerned with the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), who really did raise a point of principle. He gets up to cast doubts as to whether there will be any increase in price as the result of an increased duty. That is a challenge, and—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
I spoke about the exact sum of 2d. An hon. Member opposite assumed that the duty of 2d. would cause a rise of 2d. per lb., and with that I did not agree.
§ Mr. Griffith
The hon. and gallant Member discreetly cast doubts by his speech—that was the impression which it left on me—as to whether we were getting an increase of price. If he amends that speech now and says that perhaps the increase may be only 1¾d., that may be correct. But really this is put forward on every occasion. What is the object of this duty if it is not to raise the price? Some growers say that English tomatoes are being undersold from abroad; they go to the Treasury, and they say, "Please give us some help in this matter." If the kind of help given does not raise the price, then the hon. and gallant Member and his friends are not getting the advantage which they want. It is the confusion of thought that we always get in this House, of people trying to get it both ways, believing that they can get protection without any increase of price to the con- 128 sumer, which is, of course, a delusion. On a falling market in the world, you may possibly find that the effect of a tariff is merely to prevent your benefiting by that fall, but under normal circumstances a tariff fails entirely in its object unless it produces the increase in price which it is always liable to show. I rise really for the purpose of answering the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, in order that we may make this point of principle, and although this duty is not a very large peg to hang it on, it does raise the principle. We object at all times to tariffs on food, and I shall certainly, if a Division is challenged, vote against the duty.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Broad
I have listened to a good many of these Debates, and I have never heard one in which less attempt has been made really to justify the imposition of a duty. It amounts to taxation for the sake of taxation, it seems to me, and the Government are nibbling away like rats in a pantry at the foundations of the building. No consideration is given to the consumers or to the poor people in any way. If there be any English tomatoes on the market at the end of May, they are a luxury article grown under glass, at great expense and with a great deal of risk, and the only competition will be that of tomatoes grown under similar conditions perhaps in Holland. Any housewife or any expert will know quite easily which is a cheap open-air tomato from the Canary Islands and which is a hot-house production from Holland or from this country, and if there had been any concern at all for the poorer people, the Minister would have made that restriction and allowed the cheaper tomato to come in free for the poorer people. Apparently, however, there is no consideration whatever for them.
The hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) represents an area of smallholders and allotment holders, but he did not seem to me to understand what he was talking about. Anyone knows that the smallholder or the allotment holder is not interested in marketing tomatoes in May or June, or even until the end of July. These are the productions of the particular area of the Lea Valley about which the Minister spoke, which I know so well, having lived in it. The workings 129 of the markets, and the care and system required in growing these tomatoes so as to put them on the market at that time of the year, are such that you must be either big or nothing in that business. I have seen those who get away with it and have backing, become very rich. Under Free Trade they became very rich indeed, probably millionaires some of them, and this is still the business of the big man with big capital. There is no need why he should be given this extra protection for the extra fortnight. He deals only with the luxury article, but the tomato in which we are particularly interested, from the point of view of the housewife, is the tomato grown in the open air in sunnier climes than this. It is not only a question of diabetes or cancer patients. A great many of our people have to take "packed" foods to work upon, and for them it is meat at the beginning of the week and bread and cheese at the end, and the one little appetiser they have with their food is the cheap tomato which is to be taxed 2d. a lb. The Minister ought to be ashamed of himself for bringing forward such a proposal. Perhaps the reason why he did not seek in the least to justify it was the economic position of the industry which is thriving so well on the luxury tomato, which is the only one with which he ought to have dealt.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Dr. Burgin
The way of a junior Minister is hard. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Broad) has told me that I ought to be ashamed of myself and criticised me for the paucity of the information with which this matter was introduced. His Front Bench Leader, the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), in making his moderate and courteous speech, was kind enough to congratulate me on having given so much more than the usual ration of information. Whether special food ought to be given to those suffering from incurable diseases such as diabetes or cancer is not a matter which it would be in order for me to discuss to-night. The House has been moved by the contribution of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), who has spoken with force and special knowledge on this subject, and were it in my power to accede to his request I would willingly do so, but it is not a matter which concerns my Department.
130 The House has heard very forcibly put the plea of the consumer. Nobody can take exception to that plea being put in this House as plainly and as clearly as Members can put it, but bear in mind that when our great problem is to absorb the enormous number of unemployed industrial workers, it is not from the consumer that we obtain help. It is the producer who has to be helped if the unemployment numbers are to be reduced. It is a very interesting study, which some hon. Members opposite may make, to see the way in which the large figures of unemployed have steadily been reduced by the policy of assistance to the producers, bearing in mind that it is not in the consumers' interest that the producer should be impoverished. That cannot be argued at length to-night, but it is essential that it should be stated. An hon. Member asked, Why not increase the purchasing power of the masses? Does he know that during 1936 wage increases for 4,000,000 insured workpeople amounting to £500,000 a week were granted? If that is not increasing the consuming power, I do not know what is. These increases were granted to 4,000,000 insured workers out of a total of only just over 12,000,000.
§ Dr. Burgin
That is another matter. No doubt it was my own fault, but in introducing this Order I assumed on the part of the House some understanding of the tomato trade. I ought, perhaps, to have been more elementary and to have explained what happened during this fortnight of the second half of May in each year. Of course, tomatoes selling at something like 14s. per 12 lbs. are not going to have an enormously increased market because there is a duty of 2d. per lb. put upon tomatoes that come from abroad and are sold at 7s. per 12 lbs. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right when he asked how that gap can be bridged. The difference in price during that fortnight is only one of the parts of the story. The right hon. Gentleman knows the industry perfectly well, and he will bear me out when I tell the House that what has happened is this: Realising that the duty of 2d. per lb. only applies from 1st June, and realising that 1st June is a time when the great English bulk supply comes on to the market, Continental countries have been sending 131 in green unripe tomatoes in the fortnight that precedes the 1st June, thus unloading them on to the market and damaging the prices of the British producers for the whole of their main crop. That is a very serious thing.
If we are to help employment and help the producers we must consider other things besides cheapness. The doctrine that cheapness is the only consideration will never absorb the large numbers of unemployed with which the Government have to deal. Let me make it clear that unripe tomatoes can come in and be stored for a relatively small period. By altering this duty and applying the 2d. duty instead of the 10 per cent. from 15th May instead of 1st June, we forestall that idea of the Continent to send in their green unripe tomatoes. Such an industry as this is not as simple a matter as some hon. Members seem to think. The truth is that in the production of many foods we have lagged behind in the home industry. One of the most encouraging features about tomato growing has been the increased area under glass, the extent to which employment under glass has increased, and the extent to which new plant has been erected for the growing of tomatoes. That erection of new plant, these new glasshouses, that increased consumption of fuel at rising prices, have all added to the cost of the production of the home grown article. It is a rising industry employing more and more operatives and it is an industry that should be encouraged at the hands of this House. One of the ways of discouraging it is when expenditure on plant has been made, when the harvest is about to be gathered, suddenly to allow an inflow of foreign tomatoes at a time when the growers are about to reap their reward.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am quite sure that every hon. Member sitting on these benches and below the Gangway will be pleased to hear the hon. Member's admission that he is a political prisoner. He very frankly told the House that if he could have his way he would withdraw this Order. The hon. Member, referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), declared that if he had it in his power he would readily withdraw this Order.
§ Dr. Burgin
I do not want to be misquoted and it does not matter a rap, of course, what my personal opinions are on anything. What I was doing was this. I was, in common with other Members of the House, profoundly moved, as I always am, by the hon. Member for Hemsworth talking on the subject of diabetes. He was giving an instance of a coke-oven worker and his wife where a large sum had to be paid for insulin every week and under some rule they got no contribution. If I had my way I would have made that a different story.
§ Mr. Williams
I should be sorry to misquote the hon. Gentleman. He is so eloquent that he can make out just as good a case for Protection as he used to make out for Free Trade. He waxed eloquent about the wonderful effect which this slight increase in the duty will have on those who grow tomatoes in this country, and he rather hinted that if hon. Members on this side could see all the facts they would readily concede, from the point of view of price, employment and so forth, that they were entirely wrong and would accept the Orders. I want to submit to the hon. Gentleman that the development of tomato growing in this country was as rapid before the imposition of a duty as it has been since. The output of tomatoes between 1925 and 1931 increased by 7,000 tons per annum as against an increase between 1931, after the imposition of the duty, and 1935, of 5,000 tons per annum. The question of employment does not come in. The tomato industry was growing before the National Government came into office. The tomato industry would have continued to grow if the National Government had not come into office.
§ Mr. T. Williams
If the hon. Member wants the figures I can give them to him. In 1925 the output was 47,000 tons. By 1931 it was 54,000 tons, an increase of 7,000 tons. The output in 1935 was 59,000 tons, an increase of 5,000 tons. My point is that the increase between 1925 and 1931 without a duty was actually greater than the increase since 1935 as a result of the imposition of the duty.
§ Dr. Burgin
When we quote statistics we are always anxious that the House 133 should have all the information. The hon. Member knows, of course, that the production of tomatoes in the open air has gone down while the production under glass has so much increased.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman is probably quite correct, but my basic argument remains the same. Before the imposition of a duty, late in 1931 or early in 1932, output was increasing annually. Since then there has been a duty on tomatoes for various months in the year. If we take the figures supplied by the appropriate Government Department we find that in 1931 before the imposition of the duty the price per 12 lbs. of English tomatoes received by the grower was 4s. 4½d. After four years of National Government and nearly four years of duty the price in 1935 was 4s. 6¾d. So that the total effect of all these duties has been that the price of English tomatoes received by the growers has increased by 2¼d. per 12 lbs.
§ Mr. Williams
My point is that almost everything which the Parliamentary Secretary has argued has not been borne out by the facts and that almost everything my hon. Friends have declared is the truth. I think that this is easily demonstrated. Most of my hon. Friends have argued that if you impose a duty of 2d. per lb. on tomatoes which are being sold at 4s. 8d. per 12 lbs., raising the price to 6s. 8d., that will not of necessity compel the would-be buyer to purchase the tomatoes which are sold at 14s. 7d. per 12 lbs. The whole point of my hon. Friends has been that to impose a duty of 2d. a lb. on tomatoes sold for 5s. per 12 lbs. will not persuade them to buy tomatoes which are being sold at 14s. 9d. per 12 lbs. It therefore resolves itself into inflicting a burden on those who can only afford the cheapest kind of tomatoes.
This Order is worse than it seems at first sight. At the moment, for the two weeks in question the price is 10s. per 12 lbs. for Dutch tomatoes. At the moment the duty is 10 per cent. or 1s. per 12 lbs. The new duty is to be 2d. per 134 lb. or 2s., an increase from Is. to 2S. But on the tomatoes from the Canary Isles, the price of which is about 4s. 8d., the duty at the moment is 10 per cent. or 5½d. per 12 lbs. But that 5½d. is now to be increased to 2S., an increase from 10 per cent. on the cheapest tomatoes to 40 per cent. The cheaper the article the higher the duty, and yet it has been demonstrated over and over again that to increase the duty on the cheapest tomatoes imported into this country, since there are no tomatoes grown here at a comparable price, is simply to impose the duty on the buyer and to augment the funds in the Treasury. I suggest that not even the eloquence of the Parliamentary Secretary can justify an Order of this description. The case submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth can be multiplied by the thousand throughout the country.
The Parliamentary Secretary talked about forestalling the Dutchman or forestalling tomatoes sent from the Canary Islands. At one period in this country there was a law—perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) will tell me whether I am correct—under which a person who forestalled committed a crime and was hung up by the thumbs for his trouble. If the Parliamentary Secretary is now forestalling I would not hang him up by the thumbs, but I would inflict such punishment upon him as would deter him from introducing any Order similar to this. The question of a fortnight may not mean much, but for people who are unemployed, or living on old age pensions or with small wages, who for health reasons must purchase the cheaper kind of tomato, this 2d. duty is really a burden, and I have no compunction about walking into the Lobby against this Order, as we have so frequently done in the case of other Orders since 1932.
That the Additional Import Duties (No. 1) Order, 1937, dated the tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven be approved.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 16o; Noes, 84.137
|Division No. 96.]||AYES.||[9.37 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Fildes, Sir H.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Findlay, Sir E.||Penny, Sir G.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Fleming, E. L.||Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.|
|Allan, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Apsley, Lord||Furness, S. N.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Aske, Sir R, W.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Pilkington, R.|
|Assheton, R.||Ganzoni, Sir J.||Porritt, R. W.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Gluckstein, L. H.||Radford, E. A.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Goldie, N. B.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Gower, Sir R. V.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Granville, E. L.||Remer, J. R.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Grimston, R. V.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hanbury, Sir C.||Rowlands, G.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hannah, I. C.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Salt, E. W.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Harbord, A.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Bull, B. B.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Cary, R. A.||Holmes, J. S.||Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Spens. W. P.|
|Channon, H.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Hunter, T.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Crooke, J. S.||Keeling, E. H.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Cress, R. H.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Touche, G. C.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Leckie, J. A.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Levy, T.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Dawson, Sir P.||Liddall, W. S.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Denville, Alfred||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Donner, P. W.||MoCorquodale, M. S.||Watt, G. S. H.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||MacDonald. Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Wells, S. R.|
|Dower, Capt. A. V. G.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Drewe, C.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Duckworth, w. R. (Moss Side)||Markham, S. F.||Wise, A. R.|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Wragg, H.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Munre, P.||Commander Southby and Sir Henry|
|Errington, E.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Morris-Jones.|
|Everard, W. L.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Gardner, B. W.||Leonard, W.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Garro Jones, G. M.||Logan, D. G.|
|Adamson, W. M.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Gibbins, J.||MacLaren, A.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Maclean, N.|
|Barr, J.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbre, W.)||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)|
|Benson, G.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Mathers, G.|
|Bromfield, W.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Milner, Major|
|Brooke, W,||Hardie, G. D.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Buchanan, G.||Hayday, A.||Muff, G.|
|Burke, W. A.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Cape, T.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Parker, J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hollins, A.||Potts, J.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Jagger, J.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Dobbie, W.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Rowson, G.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Ede, J. C.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Kirby, B. V.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Leach, W.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Foot, D. M.||Lee, F.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Thurtle, E.||Watkins, F. C.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Tinker, J. J.||Watson, W. McL.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Viant, S. P.||Westwood, J.|
|Walkden, A. G.||White, H. Graham||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Walker, J.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)||Mr. Charleton and Mr. Paling.|
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Dr. Burgin
I beg to move,That the Additional Import Duties (No. 2) Order, 1937, dated the seveneenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said seventeenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, be approved.I start with the observation that this is not a duty on food. This Order imposes, as from 19th February, a specific duty of 1s. per thousand needles, or part of a thousand, as alternative to the present 20 per cent. ad valorem duty, and the goods concerned are hand sewing needles, including darning needles and bodkins. The industry is mainly at Redditch and the number of workpeople about 1,100. The imports are chiefly from Germany and Japan. This specific duty will, broadly speaking, apply to needles that are valued up to 5s. per thousand, but it will not affect needles for special purposes and particular trades which are of a higher value.
Needles, as the House probably knows, are normally sold in packets of about 19. I have here a specimen packet in which are bodkins, darners, and straw and sharps. These packets of 19, which come from Japan, are marked "3d." and sold at 1d. I believe that is a peculiarity of the needle trade and is not confined to the imports from any one country. The relative value of needles may interest the House. In 1933–34 the census of production of needles showed about 500,000 lbs., at roughly 10s. per lb. The importations which have come in in very large quantities from Germany, have had an average value of something like 2s. a lb. Imports of needles from Japan, which have shown a particular rise since 1934, have fallen as low in value as 9d. per lb. The House will, therefore, see that we are dealing with the question of the British production of an article. We are dealing with an industry which has catered hitherto for the cheaper kind of needle up to the most expensive. The industry has an export trade and expects to cater for all classes of consumer.
Broadly speaking, it is the object of those who are surveying industry to see that the needs of the whole range of 138 consumers are catered for. I do not want an industry to grow up to cater merely for luxury articles and to find that the whole of the cheaper kind of article is supplied by foreign countries. The price of the cheaper article in this case has been knocked down below the level at which British industry can afford to produce it, and to such an extent that the makers of the cheaper product are going out of existence. It is no longer possible for them to make the cheaper needles. The maintenance of a substantial export trade in the better quality indicates that the needle industry as a whole is efficient and able to compete in the markets of the world. What this House is being asked to do now is to say that the very cheap importations coming from Japan, where none of the criteria that go to the making up of the export price of the needle compare with industrial prices in this country, should have attached to them a specific duty which will raise the price sufficiently to enable the British manufacturers of the cheaper needle to continue to produce.
Assurances have been received from the manufacturers that the prices to the wholesaler will be maintained at levels which will permit the continuance of the usual retail prices. The House must understand that you can have the price of a foreign article brought so low that there is no British production at all, and that if you increase the price of the foreign article a very little above what it is, to a level which will enable British production to compete, you may have your British production maintained and yet bring about no increase in price. That is the object with which I am moving this Order.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I want to ask a question, because I am interested in needles. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the price of these articles would not be raised. A duty was put on needles not long ago and the needles in which I am interested, which were 4½d. each before the duty, were 6d. each when I went to buy one after the duty was put on. Is the Parliamentary Secretary sure that the price of these needles will not be 139 raised? Will this duty bring in the insulin needle? The tariff which is put on here looks small and, according to the theory which the Parliamentary Secretary has propounded, the duty will not be passed on to the user. This time it is not the consumer who is affected, but in the other case it was the consumer. I had to consume those needles twice a day. Now that the Minister has given an assurance that the duty will not bring in this needle I feel a little easier, and I will sit down on it.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
I rise because of one statement which the hon. Gentleman made at the end of his speech, when he said that this duty was not going to fall upon the consumer. I understand that to mean that the consumer is not going to pay more as the result of this duty. The hon. Gentleman tells us that German needles were being imported at 2s. per lb., while the Japanese have fallen as low as 9d.—he did not say whether they were 9d. per lb. now—and I think he said that the price of the corresponding British needles was 5s. per lb. The object of this additional duty is, I take it, to cut off the source of supply at 2s. per lb. from Germany, or 9d. per lb. from Japan, and, if the duty is successful in that, how is it possible that the price should not be raised?
§ 9.56 p.m.
We have an opportunity to-night which we do not often get, but I do not want, now that we have had a good discussion on the other duty, to take up much of the time of the House on this one. I am anxious, however, that the Parliamentary Secretary, because of the nature of this commodity, should tell us really what the Government are going to do to meet the kind of situation which he put before the House arising from German and Japanese competition. A duty of this kind is quite incapable of meeting the kind of sweated competition which has been mentioned. Of what use is it to put a duty of 20 per cent. ad valorem—for that is what it amounts to—on needles at 9d. per lb. from Japan, in order to protect a British industry whose average price I understand would be about 5s. per lb.?
What I am concerned about, and what I am sure many of my hon. Friends on 140 the Labour benches will be concerned about, is what we are really doing to get in touch effectively with the people who are responsible for German and Japanese industries of this kind, with a view to coming to a really sound understanding on the matter. Recently, at the International Conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations, which took place in California, I met representatives of the Japanese delegation, one of them a former Foreign Secretary of Japan, and we discussed at considerable length the difficulties entailed upon industrial countries of the type of this country by the enormous competition which is taking place from Japan—and in a lesser degree, because of the difference in the price of the commodity, the same thing applies to Germany—on account of great armament proposals which they are financing to a large extent by exporting goods of this kind in order to buy raw materials for their armaments programme.
I understood quite clearly from those Japanese representatives, and also from some Americans, that already separate commodity trade agreements had been made between the United States of America and Japan, and that it would be quite possible for a similar commodity agreement to be made direct between this country and Japan if the two parties could be got together. I am aware that in regard to the cotton textile industry such agreements have been made, and that in consequence certain steps have been taken with regard to the Colonial Empire in relation to Japanese goods, but there can be no possible protection for the workers in the needle industry in this country as a result of a 20 per cent. duty on an article costing 9d. per lb. as against an English average price of 5s. If they are in such dire need as they are said to be in Japan, that they follow—I am not admitting it—the kind of procedure which is always outlined by hon. Members opposite, that they will get in and will cut their price until they do get in, such a duty will not help.
For the year 1936, our visible adverse balance of trade was £347,000,000, and, according to the Board of Trade Journal of last week, the actual adverse balance of payments was, as I prophesied in the House, £19,000,000; so that there is no cure for the situation caused by the competition of sweated industries in one country with less sweated industries in this 141 country by the imposition of increasingly high protective duties. When one comes up against the kind of illustration that the Parliamentary Secretary has put forward to-night, one sees the hopelessness of proceeding along this line and continuing to tax the consumer in a way that brings no relief. When the Import Duties Advisory Committee continually ask the Government to come forward with duties of this kind to meet the situation, the Government ought not to be merely an Edison Bell record of what the Import Duties Advisory Committee, which sits in camera, says, and put before the House just what the committee says without our getting to know anything about the real facts of the situation. The Government of this country ought to get into touch directly with the other Governments concerned, and, if necessary, with the chief industrialists of those countries, and try to get a real understanding and agreement between the two sides. It has been done in the case of one industry, and it can be done in more.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Dr. Burgin
The right hon. Gentleman in the last few minutes has raised the whole question of the importation of Asiatic manufactured goods into Western European countries; he has raised the question of the adverse balance of trade and the balance of payments; and he has raised the whole question of the value of our invisible exports. There must be some limit, I suppose, to the extent to which one can follow this punching-ball operation in moving that an Order of this kind be approved. Let me, however, say that the policy of the Government with regard to these very cheap articles is this: While negotiations may quite possibly go on between groups of industries in two countries, and I am all in favour of it, there must be something done in the interval. You cannot allow a British industry to be steadily undermined by importations that bear no reference whatever to cost, such as needles falling as low as 9d. per lb. when imported, the effect being to put our English industry out of business altogether.
There is a level at which British needles can be made and supplied to the housewife, who is the consumer, and at which the housewife is eager and prepared to buy. There is that level as a condition of obtaining this extra duty. It is 142 not capriciously fixed at is., but it is fixed at 1s. after evidence and calculation. As a condition of obtaining that duty, the manufacturers enter into an obligation with the Import Duties Advisory Committee under which they agree to maintain their prices to their wholesalers at reasonable levels, so that the wholesalers in turn will permit the continuance of the usual retail prices. That means that the price which the British housewife has been prepared to pay for a packet of 19 needles will be maintained as the retail price, and the market of the British manufacturer of these needles will not be undermined and completely cut from under his feet by an importation from Japan at some wholly derisory price. That is the general policy.
The right hon. Gentleman is at liberty to say that Japan will ultimately give the articles away, so that the cost will be only a shilling. If and when that time comes application can be made to the Import Duties Advisory Committee, but the Committee has made a recommendation that a shilling in this case will be adequate, and I have no evidence before me to suggest the contrary. On the other hand, I am told that behind this duty of a shilling it will be possible to maintain a wide and extensive British industry in needle-making, which goes back a very long way in the history of our country, which is a skilled craft, which uses steel, the product of one of our great industries, and that this industry will still supply these packets of bodkins to housewives at a normal price. Surely in the circumstances there cannot be any substantial complaint. On the broader question of what we are going to do with Japanese goods if the price continues to fall and the Japanese Government give an export subsidy, that is a wide question of politics which does not arise now.
§ Mr. Attlee
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the point that his figures do not seem to bear out his contention—the range of prices between 9d. and 5s.?
§ Dr. Burgin
I thought in these days of Test Matches we understood something about averages. I used averages all the way through. You have here an industry making all kinds of needles, from very expensive to very cheap. It is not possible to give an enormous number of statistics. I took the total production of the whole manufacture of needles, lumped 143 it together in weight and value and divided one by the other and arrived at an average figure of British manufacture of something like ios.—not 5s.— a lb. The cheaper end of the trade is, of course, very much cheaper, just as the more expensive is very much dearer. The Germans, concentrating on the cheaper end of the trade, brought the invoice landed prices down to a figure of about 2s. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman did not make it clear that that was the figure. He asks what is the comparative price for the cheapest British needles. I will make the inquiry at once and get that piece of information. The price in Germany gradually came down so that the landed price was about 2s. a lb. Then I mentioned that in Japan, from 1934 onwards to 1936, the price gradually fell and in December, 1936, the lowest price ever recorded was 9d. per lb. That 9d. per lb. is comparable to the German 2S. The average price of imports on Japan, of course, was much higher than 9d. For the whole year of 1936, taking all qualities of needles, it was something like 2s. 4d.
I should like this made quite clear. I may have been wrong, but I made some notes while the Parliamentary Secretary was speaking and, whilst I understood that for 500,000 lbs. of English production the average value was 10s., I took down immediately afterwards the average German price, 2s., and the Japanese, 9d. The Parliamentary Secretary also said this range of duties would apply only to those classes of needles up to about is.; therefore, he still has to explain the point as between 9d. and 5s.
§ Dr. Burgin
The figure of 5s. a 1,000 is arrived at in this way: This Order is putting a specific duty of a 1s. a 1,000 needles as an alternative to the present 20 per cent. ad valorem. The new duty will apply to all needles imported at any value from nothing up to 5s. a 1,000. I mention that because the trade in the highest grade of articles is possessed by our own country. The object of the duty is to affect needles coming in at low prices—and by low prices I mean 5s. and under. As to whether the figure of 2s. a lb. for Germany was an average or the lowest, the price varies month by month, and the average value of imports from 144 Germany was as low as 2s. a lb. in a particular month. The importation from Japan fell in December, 1936, to the lowest figure of 9d., which is an average of all the importations from that country taken together. In that month there were 3,060 lbs. of needles imported from Japan and the average value during that month was 9d. During the same month any needles that came in from the United States were something like £5 a lb. because they were special machinery needles. The equivalent price per lb. from Germany in December was something like 25s.—that is, all different kinds of needles. They are imported in different periods of the year and they are imported from a number of different countries.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps
What was the price of the comparable quality of English needles to the average price of 9d. from Japan or 2s. from Germany?
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I think that the House is entitled to complain at the way these matters are brought before us by the Board of Trade. Whether it is the President of the Board of Trade or the Parliamentary Secretary, we get this kind of sloppy statement, a general kind of paralysis. The Ministers do not seem to study them at all. They receive briefs from their Department, and sometimes they can read them and sometimes they cannot, and when any question comes along they are unable to give the relative information. The hon. Member tonight has given the House an entirely false impression. He attempted to cover the higher grade and the lower grade goods, and then compared them for a single instance with the lowest grade, and drew a distinction between 5s. and 9d. He said that they were no doubt the average. The Parliamentary Secretary said that he did not know that he was going to have this kind of question asked. But if he had had the information ready, he ought to have been able to give all relevant figures. Merely to discuss averages like that gives a false impression, and it is no way in which to bring these matters before the House. Where he gives a specific figure, it is given as an example of a low-priced article. He ought to be able to give the comparable 145 figures for this country and Germany, not for one month, but for a whole number of months, so that we can obtain a proper view. I complain that this House is being constantly treated in this way by the President and the Parliamentary Secretary serving up a brief without knowing all that is in it.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The Parliamentary Secretary will find out that the 5s. he spoke of has no relationship to the 4s. 6d. whatever. The 5s. is arrived at in this way: It was a 20 per cent. duty. Twenty per cent. of 5s. is one shilling and therefore if 20 per cent. of 5s. is one shilling, it is only under 5s. value that the is. applies, because 20 per cent. of a sum under 5s. is less than 1s.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Dr. Burgin
I want only to apologise to the House. My own preparation in these cases, and I hope that the House will agree with me, is usually adequate. It was not the lack of study but the failure to appreciate the questions of hon. Members on his particular question, and I am very sorry. There is no desire on the part of the Board of Trade in the least to shirk discussion, but to have to review an entire industry or trade in a speech of 10 minutes is not an easy task, as hon. Members will admit if they attempt to do it. If the roles were reversed there are more questions that I could ask myself than anybody could ask me.
That the Additional Import Duties (No. 2) Order, 1937, dated the seventeenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said seventeenth day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, be approved.