HC Deb 10 April 1935 vol 300 cc1291-4

10.43 p.m.


I beg to move in page 243, line 22, at the end, to add: Provided that the rate of duty imposed on goods imported from Great Britain shall not exceed the rate of duty imposed on similar goods imported from any other country. Quite apart from the merits of this Amendment I feel sure that from the high speed at which we have been getting through the Bill you must, Mr. Chairman, feel that you should have a few moments rest. The Amendment needs no elaborate explanation to make its meaning clear, nor will it require prolonged argument I hope to commend it to the Committee. The Clause proposes that His Majesty by Order in Council shall give directions in respect of the imposition of customs duties, and the Amendment is to ensure that import duties levied on goods from Great Britain should not be any greater rate than the import duties on similar goods imported from any other country. It in fact means that we are seeking to insist that whatever is done in respect of the import duties in Burma we should have what is in effect the most favoured nation treatment for Great Britain. The Amendment does not in any way seek to interfere with any arrangement which may be made between India arid Burma in respect of the special conditions which exist, but it says that whatever special facilities Burma gives to India the same facilities shall be given to this country. It indicates that it is the duty of the new senate of Burma to fix its own import duties in accordance with its own needs and not accept at the dictation of India, a rate of duty which is required entirely for the needs of the people of India and which has no relation to the needs of the people of Burma. I feel sure that the principle is one which must commend itself to the Committee. The Amendment will do one simple thing It will prevent discrimination against the United Kingdom.

10.46 p.m.


I had hoped that we had dealt with this question in an earlier Debate. I am afraid that if we accepted the Amendment we should make it quite impossible for this interim agreement to be made at all. The basis of the agreement is the status quo between India and Burma. If we attempted to make a change of this kind, and a very substantial change, in the Burma tariff on imported goods, the effect would be inevitably that India would refuse to make this agreement. I must, therefore, regretfully tell my hon. Friend that we cannot accept the Amendment. That does not mean at all that we are not most anxious to take the fullest possible facilities for British trade in the Burma market. We shall succeed much better in achieving that object, however, if we allow this interim agreement to remain between Burma and India for a limited period, and if we do not prejudice the position by attempting to impose upon Burma and India a new condition that inevitably will have the result of making it much more difficult for us to obtain good terms for British imports when we come, as I hope we shall come at no distant date, to negotiate a trade treaty between Burma and Great Britain.

10.48 p.m.


I think the argument of the Secretary of State is perfectly valid as regards the period of the interim arrangement between India and Burma. But let me say a few words about the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) as a general principle applied to inter-Imperial relations. What he has in fact advocated is the most-favoured-nation principle applied to inter-Imperial trade. Our experience in recent years of the most-favoured-nation clause in relation to foreign countries and as among foreign countries, is that, so far from promoting freer trade, it has been a very serious obstacle to the promotion of freer trade. It means that when you concede something you are conceding far more than you realise, and you are getting far less in return, and the whole tendency between the nations is to sit back in the hope that someone else will give a concession and that they will get an advantage for nothing. We have very wisely, in inter-Imperial relations so far, definitely refused to accept the most-favoured-nation principle. There was no such principle at Ottawa. There is nothing to prevent this country from making a special arrangement with any one Dominion, giving greater favour to that Dominion than to another; and indeed among themselves the Dominions give to one Dominion greater preference than to another, and in one or two cases greater preference than they give to this country. I believe that, on the whole, the principle of strictly bilateral bargaining makes for greater advances in inter-Imperial trade, and, therefore, on general grounds as well as on specific grounds, I hope the Secretary of State will stick to his decision not to accept this Amendment.

10.50 p.m.


It is the first time I have spoken on this Bill, though I have sat here for hours, but on so vital a matter to the county from which I come, I cannot sit silent. I think no one has rendered more faithful service in support of this Bill than the representatives from Lancashire, though there have been great temptations—in fact provocations—to do otherwise, and in a matter of this sort they ought to have consideration. I have always been one who thought that the Dominions and Colonies must be governed in the interests of the governed, though we seem to be governed in this country in the interests of far-off Colonies and Dominions. I do think that charity should begin at home, and that we should have some consideration in matters of this sort. Ever since the Ottawa Agreement we have been giving enormous advantages to these States and appear to have been receiving very little in return. It may not be statesmanship to put this into operation during the interregnum, but we should have a right to say something after the interim period has expired. I do hope that the interim period will not be extended to five years, because Lancashire can very little afford to wait five months, much less five years. I do wish the Cabinet could meet, in Lancashire to see the real conditions for themselves, for then we might have a Minister attending to the sole needs of Lancashire, and we should be much better off than we are to-day. I do not want to delay the proceedings, but I do appeal to the Secretary of State to grant whatever powers he can in this direction, to ensure that British trade gets fair treatment whenever the interim period expires, and to use whatever powers he has to see that that period is not unduly prolonged.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 427 ordered to stand part of the Bill.