New Clause. — (Excise duties on homegrown tobacco to cease.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill. – in the House of Commons on 28th June 1922.

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Photo of Viscount  Wolmer Viscount Wolmer , Aldershot

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

What we are asking for is the protection of the industry of tobacco growing in this country until such time as it shall be able to establish itself. The reasons upon which this is put forward are, briefly, as follows: Tobacco was once grown on a very large scale in this country. It was once grown in no fewer than 31 different counties. In the year 1660 it was prohibited by Act of Parliament. In 1910 a Liberal Government made the growing again permissible, but the Government not only did that, but on 1st January, 1911, they granted a protective rebate of 30 per cent. to English-grown tobacco in order to establish the tobacco-growing industry, thereby following out the well-known maxims of Adam Smith and Cobden that an infant industry can be protected consistently with Free Trade principles. In 1913 the contribution was altered by a grant of 820,000 from the Development Commission for English-grown tobacco. That was not nearly so successful. The acreage under tobacco, which had reached 140 acres, declined in two years to about 40 acres, and the great bulk of the money of the Development Commission was spent on administrative expenses and unprofitable expenditure. But what has really put the English tobacco industry in such a ruinous condition—and this is the point I wish to bring before the Chancellor of the Exchequer—was not only the events of the War when all acreage was devoted to growing food that could possibly be devoted to it, but the policy of the Government themselves in regard to Imperial Preference. In 1919, the Lord Privy Seal, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, granted a preference to Empire-grown tobacco of one-sixth of the duty, and that preference was extended to English-grown tobacco as well. For all practical purposes English-grown tobacco and Empire-grown tobacco was put on an absolute equality, whereas under the Liberal Government English-grown tobacco had been given a rebate of 30 per cent. over Empire-grown tobacco. The vast bulk, more than 90 per cent. of the tobacco imported into this country, comes from America, and the utmost that either the English or any other growers who are trying to get the English market can hope to achieve is to get a very small share which can be blended with the American tobacco.

Tobaccos coming from warmer countries, and chiefly because they belong to a longer established industry, are able to compete successfully at present with English-grown tobacco on level terms. The point is that if you want to establish an English tobacco growing industry you have to protect it in its initial stages, not only against American but also against Colonial tobacco. I would like to point out that that is perfectly consistent with the policy of Imperial Preference. That is what the Colonies have done themselves. They have given a preference to British goods over the foreigner, and a preference to their own goods over British goods. I, therefore, move that English-grown tobacco should be treated as the Government are treating English-grown sugar and exempt it- from Excise Duty, and give it a preference over Colonial imported tobacco. Unless the Government do that, it is impossible to establish the English tobacco growing industry. It is worth while establishing.

It is an industry which was destroyed by Act of Parliament. It is an industry which gives a-n enormous amount of employment in countries in Europe. In France at this moment there are over 32,000 acres under tobacco, and they are all farmed by very small men. Indeed there are over 40,000 growers. [An HON. MEMBER "Divide!"] If the hon. Member does not wish to listen, he can go home. In Germany at the present moment there are over 25,000 acres under tobacco: in Hungary over 50,000 acres, and tobacco is even grown in countries like Norway and Sweden. It is a complete fallacy to think that tobacco-cannot be successfully grown in this country. At the present moment it is grown in my constituency. I have cigarettes here which were grown in my constituency, which I shall be delighted to offer to any hon. Member. The tobacco is very much like Rhodesian tobacco of a light sort.