Orders of the Day — Customs (Import Deposits) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1969.

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Photo of Mr George Darling Mr George Darling , Sheffield, Hillsborough 12:00 am, 17th November 1969

It was the combination of the two observations that led me astray, and I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said.

I am prepared to believe that the import deposits scheme has played a part in improving our trade balance and in bringing our balance of payments into surplus. For many years our national imports bill has been far too high, and unnecessarily too high. We have been importing far too many goods which should have been and could have been manufactured competitively here, and I agree with all those hon. Members who have said that it is only on a competitive basis that we can keep our imports. It is the backwardness cf many firms and of British management which has prevented us from competing effectively, and, consequently, imports have come in on too big a scale. It is my experience that the import deposits scheme has made many of the smaller firms look again at what they can do to save imports and to get things manufactured in this country, but there are many essential materials which must be obtained from abroad, and I mean not just the raw materials not found in this country but materials which are essential for British industry.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield mentioned one of them, calcium carbide. Curiously enough, I want to mention silicon carbide, which is of great importance to many of what are called the light trades in Sheffield, cutlery manufacture, hand tools and things made of the special steels which are manufactured in Sheffield. The abrasives industry, as it calls itself, has to produce grinding wheels and other abrasive equipment for modern grinding methods, and it has to use silicon carbide to do so. Silicon carbide might be made in this country, but if anyone were to set up a plant to manufacture it, he would have to be heavily subsidised, because its manufacture requires a great deal of cheap electricity. That is why the biggest manufacturer in Europe is Norway. I understand that there is surplus capacity in Europe for the manufacture of silicon carbide which we want here. Just because the classification of the various groups in the Schedule follows a sort of traditional pattern and the classes are fairly wide, silicon carbide is buried in one of the classes and is not exempt from import deposits although it is an essential material.

Here I come to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Macclesfield about small firms being affected by import deposits. It depends a great deal on the extent to which they are dependent on essential imports. The firms which I am mentioning which use silicon carbide have to obtain what is practically their main material from abroad. There may be other materials of this kind which are essential to the manufacture of goods in this country and which must be imported because they cannot be produced here economically and for which it would be impossible to start plants on the basis of import saving. I therefore think that the classifications in the Schedule should be looked at again and I make a special plea, admittedly on a constituency basis, for silicon carbide.

I am sure that there are many other marginal cases of this kind, marginal in the sense of the classification in which they appear, which should be looked at again. I sincerely hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends in the Treasury will undertake this exercise so that the Schedule may be amended before the Bill reaches the Statute Book.