Clause 3. — (Three-Year Extension of Key Industry Duty.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1951.

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Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Bristol North West 12:00 am, 6th June 1951

As you have indicated, Sir Charles, it is not possible for us to discuss the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), but I understand that it will be in order to invert the matter by asking the Chancellor what particular magic there is in this period of three years. My hon. Friend recapitulated very ably the history of this matter, and I think it is not only fortuitous, but rather fortunate that we should have reached this stage of the Bill on the very afternoon that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), endeavoured to raise as a matter of urgency just the kind of thing that brought about the Safeguarding of Industries Act, Part I, in 1921.

The Committee will recall that what caused Mr. Lloyd George and his friends to grope their way somewhat timorously, as we have been told, towards a protective system, were two cold winds blowing on British industry, the one depreciated currency, notably in Germany, and the other the lower standards of living in the Orient which were beginning to penetrate our markets, particularly Lancashire. Therefore, I think it fortunate that we can spend a few minutes on this matter today.

Following on that experience, we had the introduction of the Safeguarding of Industries Act, 1925, hedged about as it was with a great many gaps, and it was not until the financial crisis of 1931, which I will pass over rapidly, knowing what painful memories it has for hon. Members opposite, that we reached unity on this matter, not only on these benches, but among Liberal thought at that time, whatever prefix or suffix they carried in that period of their history, in favour of the Abnormal Importations Act, 1931, which was introduced to deal with the currency of that period. I always thought that the Abnormal Importations Act was a far more effective instrument than the Import Duties Act. Be that as it may, I submit to the Government that three years is a very short period of planning or security for those engaged in industry. I should have thought that this system had now successfully passed the test of time and might be placed in a permanent position on the Statute Book.

I anticipate one possible argument which may be adduced. I do not know whether we are to hear the President of the Board of Trade reply or which Minister is going to speak. If it is the President, I was going to anticipate what he may say, namely, that we are living in times of tremendous economic uncertainty, that there is a shortage of raw materials and that the Government may not be seeking restriction of imports but may wish to throw wide open the gates for some of the products this Measure sought to keep out. If that is the case, the three-year period is just as objectionable as anything else, because the next three years are going to be the critical period.

I feel that there is very great force in the argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, deployed to the Committee. After a period of 30 years' testing time, we ought to have got beyond these short steps and frequent renewals. It would create a much better feeling of confidence and certainty in the industrial world if the Government would say that there should be at any rate a 10 years' renewal. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman may feel this point to be worthy of examination between now and the Report stage.