Dumping of German Wheat.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 30th October 1929.

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Photo of Mr Noel Buxton Mr Noel Buxton , Norfolk Northern

I will get it. This question has been raised several times during the last few years. The late Minister of Agriculture, in February of this year, was questioned on the subject, and his answer was that he was aware of the complaints that have been made in regard to the importation of German wheat, but there was no action that he could usefully take in the matter. In that connection, I have observed with particular interest utterances from Convative and Liberal Members of this House urging that the peculiar position of this Parliament offers an opportunity for a kind of interregnum, during which things might be done which might not be possible when any one party is in a great majority in the House. I cordially welcome those utterances, and I hope that events will prove that there are opportunities for action being taken, because there is nothing more urgent than to take such action as is feasible, upon which we can all agree, without abating one jot of our principles in doing so. I think that the policy of the late Minister in this matter of German wheat was a perfectly sound policy. There was no other policy open to him. A Debate took place in the early part of this year in another place, and an authority whom we all venerate, Lord Ernie, spoke on the subject. He said very much what the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) has said this afternoon—that something must be done. But it was pointed out that he himself found it impossible to use any stronger phrase than the words "to do something." If Lord Ernie failed, who am I that I should succeed? Lord Stradbroke, who represented the Government, said: The only way of meeting this complaint would either be by putting a differential duty on German wheat or by the prohibition of imports of German wheat, but your Lordships will realise that neither of those steps is practicable. I had a very interesting discussion recently with a deputation from the National Farmers' Union, and from the Millers' Association, who came with them. I would like to mention the points that they put forward. They argued first, that the Treaty does not preclude a countervailing duty. But I am afraid the fact is that it does. You cannot discriminate against bounty-fed wheat from Germany, even if you discriminate against it in the case of all other countries at the same time, which of course you could not do. Secondly, they produced an argument from the wording of Article 8 of the Treaty, which gives Germany most-favoured-nation treatment in Customs duties, that articles such as wheat, which receive a bounty, were not like articles in the sense of the Clause with those that do not. Hon. Members might be interested to know how the wording runs: Articles produced or manufactured in the territories of one of the two Contracting Parties, imported into the territories of the other, from whatever place arriving, shall not be subjected to other or higher duties or charges than those paid on the like articles produced or manufactured in any other foreign country. In this Article "like article" means articles of the same intrinsic quality. It could not be argued that an article which had received a bounty was in any way thereby made of different intrinsic quality. That argument, therefore, fell to the ground. There was one other argument which was advanced. It was that there is a precedent for differential action in the fact that the Germans have a differential treatment in regard to potatoes. It is a fact that the Germans at a certain time of the year reduce their duty on what they call old potatoes on the production of a certificate from us as to date of harvesting and that we take advantage of it to export potatoes to Germany when occasion serves. But in this case the insistence on the production of such a certificate is really quite different from the discrimination which the Farmers' Union advocate. It does not offer any precedent such as we require. They further said, and I think the Mover of the Resolution said to-day, that we might very well allow the Treaty to lapse and make a new treaty. That assumes that the treaty is one which normally ceases and has to be renewed. It so happens that that is not the case; the Treaty is one which stands permanently till denounced by either party.

But these points in regard to the Treaty are really irrelevant to the main argument, as has been pointed out in recent years. It is not really a question of the terms of the Treaty, because we do not wish to denounce the Treaty. The Treaty was designed by the late Government in 1925 or 1926, and it is not a Treaty that we want to denounce or that any Government would denounce. It is a Treaty which is considered to be of extreme value. It gives us advantages which we would not sacrifice at any cost. The fact is that, quite apart from any question even of the value of this particular Anglo-German Treaty, the Government, like its predecessor, is entirely opposed to duties on food; they are not prepared to consider any such proposal. I had hoped that possibly I might get from the Farmers' Union, or from the Mover and Seconder of this Motion to-day, some new plan which would not conflict with the declarations of this Government and of the late Government, that no financial fiscal system will be tolerated if it increases the price of food. I can only say in conclusion that if such plans could be devised no one would welcome them more than I.