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Safeguarding And Import Duties

Volume 236: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1930

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Silk Industry

56.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he has received a communication from the joint industrial council for the silk trade, representing both employers and employed in that industry; if so, will he state the nature of that communication; and whether he proposes now to make any statement?

I have received a resolution from the council referred to advocating the retention of the existing Silk Duties. As I have repeatedly said I am not prepared to anticipate the Budget statement in this or any other matter.

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer aware that eight out of 11 trade union members of that council voted in favour of that resolution?

I am not aware of that fact, but I am aware of the fact that there was strong opposition to it by certain trade union members.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the present moment there is very serious disturbance in the silk industry owing to his persistency in not disclosing his intentions?

Does the right hon. Gentleman say that he is not prepared to anticipate his Budget speech on this occasion?

I have some recollection of the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) stating that he has had some experience at the Treasury, and I am very much surprised that, out of his own knowledge, he is not able to give to himself an answer to that question.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to give [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"]—I am putting "surely" in an interrogative form—Is it not, surely, the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to give to the House and to the country some better reason than he has given to-day for persisting in an attitude of spiteful contumely?

If I were guilty of spiteful contumely, I should find a precedent for that in the action of the right hon. Gentleman in spitefully reimposing the McKenna Duties, an action which has given rise to whatever troubles the silk industry finds itself in to-day.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement with regard to what I was supposed to have said, and I wish to say that I never said it.

60.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the fact that if the duties on silk and artificial silk are removed there will be a flood of imports from the Continent, and that there is not even a possibility of improvement in the silk and artificial silk industries whilst the present uncertainty remains, he will receive a deputation from the trade so that he may be in possession of the full facts of the situation?

I have already received representations from the silk trade, and several deputations have discussed various aspects of the question with the Commissioners of Customs and Excise on my behalf. In these circumstances I do not think there is any necessity to trouble the trade to send a deputation to me.

Surely, it has long been the custom for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the weeks preceding the introduction of the Budget, to receive freely, 10, 12 or 15 deputations from different trades and interests in the country that are anxious about possible financial legislation, and that wish to put their case before him—

Why does the right hon. Gentleman depart from a practice which is so respectable and so long established?

One reason for that is that I do not find so much enjoyment as the right hon. Gentleman did in airing his views before these deputations —[Interruption].

On a point of Order. May the House not have serious answers to serious questions, instead of this continual flow of petty irrelevancies?

I had not finished my reply. If my answer was vulgar, I am sorry that I had fallen into the precedent just set up. [Interruption.] I will complete my reply by saying that last week I received a most representative deputation from the Association of Chambers of Commerce, who raised this matter, and I am to meet another from the Federation of British Industries in the course of a day or two. They, no doubt, will raise this matter, and they, too, will get my views.

Having regard to the great technicality of the Silk Duties, and the special position which this trade occupies, will not the right hon. Gentleman, bearing in mind the fact that he is a public servant, receive a deputation from the silk industry himself, as Chancellor of the Exchequer? [Interruption.] Will he not, in the course of his duty, receive a deputation from a trade who wish to put the facts before him?

I have already said that deputations representing the silk trade have already been received on my behalf by the Board of Customs and Excise, and all the knowledge in the possession of these industries has been placed before the Board. Therefore, they can add nothing to the information that they have already placed before me.

Is it not the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Interruption.]

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, may I say that very important points of departmental and even constitutional usage are raised by the refusal of a Minister to discharge in the ordinary manner the duties of his Department, and to be accessible to the various interests concerned?

May I not, surely, be permitted to press the Chancellor of the Exchequer to act with reasonable courtesy and good feeling in this matter?

I understand that that question of the right hon. Gentleman is addressed to me, and I would say, as regards the continuance of these supplementary questions on this particular question, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to me to have given a very definite answer, and I doubt whether any further pressure will induce him to say more.

On a point of Order. May I ask whether it is in accordance with the custom of the House at Question Time for a Minister, when answering questions, to preface his answer to a question by endeavouring to give a rebuke to a right hon. Gentleman on a matter which arose on a previous question?

I think it would be very much better at Question Time to confine ourselves to questions and answers.

May I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), having been advised to desist from questioning by you, then proceeded to hurl objectionable remarks across the Table?

I need not specify any individual, but would re-state what I said, that it would be better for hon. Members simply to put their questions and for Ministers to answer them.

New Import Duties

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that British motor car manufacturers and traders would welcome an impartial committee of inquiry into the operation of the McKenna Duties and in relation to Empire trade, and are ready to place information respecting costs and methods at the disposal of such a committee; and whether, in view of these circumstances, he will favourably consider the initiation of an inquiry?

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has considered the offer made on 24th February, 1930, by the British section of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders offering to pay the whole of the costs of an inquiry to investigate every aspect of the question in relation to the motor industry, whether by the Economic Advisory Council or by a special commission; and whether he intends to take advantage of this offer?

No such offer has been submitted to me, and I have no information on the matter beyond references to it in the Press.

If such an offer were submitted, would not His Majesty's Government fortify themselves by the advice and opinion of an impartial committee on a matter which, apart from party controversy, is of great consequence to a large number of people?

This alleged statement by this Society has not been submitted to me, and, therefore, I am not called upon to offer any observations upon it. The right hon. Gentleman knows that these duties were imposed, not in the interests of trade, but purely as revenue duties, and, therefore, it is the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider them from that point of view.

Is that the only point of view from which the right hon. Gentleman is going to consider them?

Manchester Chambers Of Commerce

61.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the fact that the letter written to him by the president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, dated 24th December, 1929, had concern with the treatment of stocks and had nothing to do with the question of retention or repeal of the silk and artificial silk duties, and in view of the January resolution of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce which stated that the fear of disturbance of the existing duties was hampering progress and development of the trades concerned, he will reconsider his refusal to make an early pronouncement on the subject?