Wood Wool (Duty)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1955.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester and Chatham 12:00 am, 2nd November 1955

Before the war there was the Import Duties Advisory Committee which was a body for suggesting adjustments in the tariff. For war-time purposes that procedure was not followed and subsequently the Board of Trade took upon itself, with Parliamentary approval, the opportunity of adjusting the tariff. I think that the horticultural tariff increase was the first that was carried through under the new procedure, and I believe that the one before the House tonight is the first of an industrial character which has been presented.

Would it be possible for the Minister to tell us what machinery is used and how one proceeds to bring about this increase in tariff? He has explained that the various interests were interviewed, but to some extent this is a quasi-judicial procedure and the House ought to be told more clearly about how it is possible, by the Board of Trade machinery, to adjust a tariff. Would he further tell us, if the tariff is adjusted and price controls are abolished, whether there is any way of being sure that there are no controls by rings? It would be wrong to give an increased tariff to an undertaking that was to have a monopoly. If other firms are interested, it would be more reasonable, because there could be fair competition.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us how this adjusted tariff squares up with G.A.T.T. He indicated that we did not want to impose too high an increase for fear of reprisals from other quarters. What are our powers under G.A.T.T.? Are we clearly within the rules and regulations, and not likely to incur greater pressure upon us in due course by tariffs in other countries being adjusted against us?

My last point is whether the Government are using this increase only in the way in which the past Government did. We heard references earlier to a past Prime Minister, Mr. Stanley Baldwin, and I was then reminded of the words which he used upon an occasion when an economic crisis was confronting the country. He said that the best and shortest way of dealing with the adverse balance of trade, the restriction of imports and the stimulation of exports, was to put on a tariff. I think the Minister now agrees that this would be wrong procedure in trying to correct our present balance of payments difficulties. I accept what he says, that it is right to restrict imports made for balance of payments reasons, and that when a tariff is increased it is right that those restrictions should be removed.

If this change goes beyond that, the Minister ought to tell us that a new policy is being introduced and that he is not merely, as the Order says, following the practice adopted by Governments since the end of the war.