HC Deb 01 August 1952 vol 504 cc1862-4
The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I should like to make a short statement on trade with Czechoslovakia.

I informed the House on 17th July, in answer to a Private Notice Question by the hon. Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever), that in accordance with the Trade and Financial Agreement concluded by the previous Administration with the Czechoslovak Government in 1949, negotiations were in progress in Prague to fix the level of quotas governing trade between the two countries for the coming year. These negotiations have now reached a final stage, and I expect that an agreed minute will he signed today.

The essential features of the Five Year Trade and Financial Agreement of 1949 were that we promised to admit certain less essential Czech goods to a total annual value of £5¿ million, while the Czechoslovak Government promised to send us certain essential commodities such as sugar and softwood, to license imports of United Kingdom goods up to £1½ million a year, and to pay not less than £15 million within the five-year term of the Agreement in respect of Czechoslovak financial obligations to the United Kingdom. This Agreement, therefore, is a valuable one to us, and I acknowledge the part played by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) in concluding it.

Our object, therefore, in this year's negotiations was to preserve the agreement, while doing our best to reduce the quotas for the import of certain less essential goods from Czechoslovakia in line with the reductions we have had to make in imports from Western European countries. In any negotiations of this kind, there has to be a certain amount of give and take; and we have had to take some commodities which we could have done without. I have been asked particularly about textiles. We have succeeded in reducing the quota for textile piece goods, which in 1950–51 was £1,330,000 and in 1951–52 £300,000, to only £100,000, or only one-half of one per cent. of our textile piece goods imports from Western Europe. The quota for apparel, which in 1951–52 was £775,000, has been reduced to £370,000. On our side, we have managed to increase the quota for our textile exports to Czechoslovakia from £165,000 in 1951–52 to £350,000, including an important new quota of £250,000 for rayon yarn.

Mr. Bottomley

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind reference to myself. Will he confirm that under the new quota arrangements there will in fact be a reduction in the export of piece goods and wearing apparel to Czechoslovakia? Ought we not, in view of the unemployment situation in the textile industry of this country, to refuse to allow an import quota for any textiles for this year?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. I think that we have done well to secure a reduction in the import quota and an important new quota for our own textile exports.

Mr. L. M. Lever

I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having given me notice that he proposed to make a statement today about this all important question. Whilst appreciating that the proposed imports of textile goods into this country in the coming year will be only £100,000 instead of £300,000 as last Year, I feel that probably the fact that I raised the question is responsible for the great reduction of imports in this field. But will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Lancashire cotton workers will not be satisfied at all with the importation of unprinted textiles so long as there is widespread unemployment in that field today?

Mr. Thorneycroft

While not wishing in any way to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, I would say that his influence on this point has been no greater and no less than the efforts of other hon. Members on all sides of the House who have taken an interest in the matter. The figure of £100,000 is only one-fiftieth of one per cent. of production in this country. I would say that we have an interest in exporting textiles and if we are to do that it is in our interest not to intensify quotas or have quotas put up against us in all these fields.