Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Wednesday 2 December 1987



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Knox

Amos, Mr. Alan (Hexham)

Ashton, Mr. Joseph (Bassetlaw)

Atkins, Mr. Robert (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry)

Bennett, Mr. Nicholas (Pembroke)

Bruce, Mr. Malcolm (Gordon)

Callaghan, Mr. Jim (Heywood and Middleton)

Cryer, Mr. Bob (Bradford, South)

Cummings, Mr. John (Easington)

Faulds, Mr. Andrew (Warley, East)

Lennox-Boyd, Mr. Mark (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

Marek, Dr. John (Wrexham)

Sayeed, Mr. Jonathan (Bristol, East)

Skeet, Sir Trevor (Bedfordshire, North)

Tapsell, Sir Peter (East Lindsey)

Tracey, Mr. Richard (Surbiton)

Twinn, Dr. Ian (Edmonton)

Warren, Mr. Kenneth (Hastings and Rye)

Winterton, Mrs. Ann (Congleton)

Mr. J. R. Rose, Committee Clerk

3 Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday, 2 December 1987

[MR. DAVID KNOX in the Chair]

Customs Duties (ECSC) (No. 2) (Amendment No. 11) Order 1987

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Robert Atkins): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Customs Duties (ECSC) (No. 2) (Amendment No. 11) Order 1987. The order reimposes the Community's normal third-country duty rates on imports of two ECSC categories from Yugoslavia until the end of the year. Under the ECSC—Yugoslavia agreement of 1983 these products enter the Community free of duty subject to tariff ceilings of 33,572 tonnes for iron and steel coils and 3,157 tonnes for angles and shapes in 1987. When imports into the Community of these Yugoslavian products exceeded the limits, the European Commission requested the reimposition of full Customs duties. For most industrial products, the Community's external duty can be altered by a Council regulation which is directly applicable in all member states. However, for technical reasons, changes in duty relating to products covered by the European Coal and Steel Community have to be incorporated in United Kingdom law by means of a statutory instrument through the affirmative resolution procedure; hence the need for the order.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South): I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words in what is usually a perfunctory performance. We ought not to let these measures pass without making a comment. Why was the order brought forward in such a laggardly fashion? It was made on 6 November, but was not placed before the House until 9 November. It is usual for a period to elapse between the making of an order and its coming into operation, and this is generally known as the 21-day rule. I appreciate the fact that orders may be difficult to make in those circumstances, because something sudden may occur. For example, a wreck in a sea may shift, so that an order providing for a restricted area for movement of ships has to be made very rapidly. Can the Minister explain why there was not more anticipation of the need for the order? After all, the original decision to place quotas on the import of steel products from Yugoslavia said: "The Decision would also require statistical surveillance on imports of these and certain other ECSC products. Member States would be required to provide the Commission with regular statements of imports." That was contained in the explanation provided by the Department of Trade and Industry. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. The Government Whip must not stand on his feet continuously.


Mr. Cryer: I am grateful to you, Mr. Knox. Government Whips should be put in their place, and you are absolutely right to do so. Import surveillance is an essential part of the order. There may well have been a sudden clip in the imports, which caused the need for the hasty implementation of the order. But the Department should anticipate more accurately than it has done, so that an order can be laid before the House in plenty of time. The order has a strange ring of irony, since it deals with the imposition of quotas. It says, in effect, that a quota has been reached; therefore duties are to be reimposed to curtail imports of certain categories of steel products from Yugoslavia. That is a sensible arrangement, and I do not dispute the order. I do, however, dispute the curious way in which a group of Conservative Members of Parliament, who are brought up on free market economics, are here discussing an order which is the very reverse of free market economics. They are interfering in the marketplace. They are arranging for quotas to be agreed, and are now intervening to say that a quota has been reached and that we should cut off all further imports. They are regulating trade. That is a sensible arrangement, but it is not the philosophy which the Prime Minister is constantly forcing down the throats of every television commentator, radio commentator and member of the press whom she can reach. This is an example of planning our trade, and it has a useful relationship. I am pleased to see Conservative Members of Parliament here to vote for planning. This is an application of Community legislation, through an affirmative order. It is not unique to the United Kingdom, but applies to almost all member states of the Community. I point out to the Minister that we have a deficit in our balance of trade in manufactured goods with the Common Market of about £10 billion—a massive balance of trade deficit in our manufactured goods sector. That is, at least in part, where the 2 million jobs in our manufacturing industry have gone, since the Conservatives came to office in 1979, nearly 130,000 of them in Yorkshire and Humberside, from where I come. A basic component of our manufacturing industry has been sadly dented by their policy. If that is good enough for the Government in our relations with Yugoslavia, they ought to look at our relations with the other 11 states in the Common Market. Indeed, of the 12 states, two are excluded from the terms of the order—in other words there is individual exemption for two member states. We had better look at individual exemption for the United Kingdom, so that we can put in quotas for manufactured goods from the Common Market and we, too, can have sea links to allow some of our manufacturing industry to survive. It is not Japanese cars that swamp our market. The Japanese behave much like the Yugoslavians, in that they agree a quota, on a voluntary basis, for many years, and by and large do not exceed it. Cars from the Common Market are coming here in large numbers. If we ever have a genuinely expanding economy—not one reaching back to the level which the Government inherited in 1979 from the trough into which it had sunk through previous policies, we shall find, as we 5 have in the past, an expansion for imports. I believe—as do the Government on this occasion—in planning trade. I do not want to delay this interesting Committee for long. If Conservative Members want me to continue in some detail, I shall be happy to oblige. In case they are a little reluctant, I shall conclude by raising the points again. The first is the formal point, of notice to Parliament. Parliament should take statutory instruments much more seriously than it does. We allow far too much power to Ministers. I am talking about primary legislation which applies to both Governments. We do not have adequate scrutiny and supervision of statutory instruments. These Committees are often a fairly perfunctory affair, and I do not agree with that. The second and important political point, as opposed to the constitutional one, is that this represents a degree of planning. The Minister, by the fluke of an identical name, once represented a textile constituency, and argued vehemently for the multi-fibre arrangement, which is another form of planning. No doubt, his Department is busy planning to replace the multi-fibre arrangement in due course. This represents an understandable and acceptable degree of planning. I commend the order to the Committee, and I look forward to hearing all those Conservative voices in approval.


Dr. John Marek (Wrexham): I should like to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). It would be useful to the Opposition if the Minister would tell us a little of the history as to why the statutory instrument is here, with some details of the past three or fours years.

10.39 am

Mr. Atkins: These discussions tend to be perfunctory, and rightly so in my opinion for what is a routine procedure. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), on his re-start here, is making a meal of what is simply a routine procedure. This 6 is not a time to rehearse the hon. Gentleman's well-known anti-EEC prejudices, since order is adhering to an ECSC procedure. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's experience of the European Commission would lead him to understand more closely what is involved. I am somewhat disappointed that he was not able to do that. I am sorry that he has been dragging up my murky past. When I represented Preston, North many years ago it was not a textile constituency in the accepted sense of the word. Aerospace is now a much larger employer, and has been for many years, than the textile industry. I shall be more than happy to let the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), who is representing the Opposition Front Bench, have details of the background, although it would be invidious to do so now. I had the indusputable privilege of taking an order through Committee in about 15 seconds, when the Opposition Front Bench was not represented. I will willingly make arrangements for the hon. Gentleman to have that information.

Mr. Cryer: On a point of order, Mr. Knox. The Minister has said that he will make arrangements for information to be made available. One of the virtues of the Committee is that the debate is on the record and can be used as reference in future. Will you guide us, Mr. Knox? The Minister apparently has a certain contempt for Committees such as this in open, public debate, but he has promised to make this information available. Is there any way in which that information can be placed on the record?

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that is not a matter for the Chair. It is a matter between the Minister and members of the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Customs Duties (ECSC) (No. 2) (Amendment No. 11) Order 1987.

Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.



Knox, Mr. David Chairman

Amos, Mr.

Atkins, Mr.

Bennett, Mr. Nicholas

Callaghan, Mr.

Cryer, Mr.

Cummings, Mr.

Lennox-Boyd, Mr.

Marek, Dr.

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Tracey, Mr.

Warren, Mr.

Winterton, Mrs. Ann