HC Deb 17 December 1952 vol 509 cc1395-7
Mr. Gaitskell (by Private Notice)

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the vagueness and ambiguity of much of the communiqué issued at the end of the Commonwealth Conference, he will now make a statement indicating what decisions were reached at the Conference?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for postponing his Question till today.

The decisions reached at the Conference were embodied in the published communiqué which was produced by the Conference itself. I do not think I can or should try to improve upon a statement agreed by Commonwealth Prime Ministers and Ministers. The object of the communiqué was to set out the principles which will animate the internal and external financial and economic policies of Commonwealth countries in the future. Details of such policies have now to be worked out by the several Governments, as have also the plans for seeking the co-operation of other countries in the wider international action spoken of in the communiqué. These matters are now engaging our active attention, and in due course further statements on behalf of Her Majesty's Government will be made.

Mr. Gaitskell

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks, but does he recall that "The Times," in commenting on this communiqué, described it in these terms: But for the most part it is an agreement on platitudes without explanation, on aims without methods and on principles without practice"? Would he be so kind as to try to elucidate some of the problems with which we are still left, and in particular is there yet an investment plan for the Commonwealth? If so, how is it to be implemented, and in particular, does the right hon. Gentleman and the Government propose to introduce control over the export of capital from the United Kingdom to the rest of the sterling area? Secondly, will he tell us, since we are committed to a very large export surplus in order to play our part in this design, how much he thinks that export surplus must now be, and how he proposes to set about obtaining it?

Mr. Butler

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has had to resort to obtaining his views from a newspaper, and I should have thought that his own record and knowledge of these matters would have enabled him to furnish his own mind with his own ideas. I do not accept the gloss which the right hon. Gentleman, with the aid of a newspaper, is attempting to put upon the Commonwealth communiqué. I should have thought that the Ministers and Prime Ministers attending the Conference, including the United Kingdom Ministers, have found in this experience one which gives great cause for hope in the future of the Commonwealth and great satisfaction that through this Conference we can consolidate the immense gain we have already made since we took office and since the January Conference, which the right hon. Gentleman did his best to deride but which has resulted in a substantial improvement in our balance of payments system.

In answer to the two detailed items, it is clearly impossible to deal satisfactorily by way of question and answer with many of the points which the right hon. Gentleman quite reasonably wants to know. No doubt a future opportunity will be offered for this matter to be discussed further as it should be. But as these policies are long-term I do not believe that the House of Commons has lost anything by giving us a little more time in which to explain the whole of the great and, I believe, important issues to the House and to the country.

Mr. Gaitskell

How does the right hon. Gentleman expect me, in the absence of any information from the Government, to obtain knowledge of what went on at the Conference except from the newspapers, and will he not reconsider his decision to say nothing and give us some further statement on this subject, perhaps tomorrow? After all, I gave him fair notice of this in a list of questions I put to him over the weekend, and will he not make a statement answering some of those questions and enlightening the House, the country and, indeed, the Commonwealth as a whole?

Mr. Butler

I do not think that it would serve any useful purpose to give out information in driblets on these important matters. If the right hon. Gentleman had read the communiqué with his usual skill he would have observed the answers to his question and information on many other matters, and he would have been able to see the line of progress which it is intended to follow. As I have said, when we have developed these matters in full Her Majesty's Government will make a statement to this House.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that after the talks in January this year an equally encouraging communiqué was issued, but in that communiqué we were not told about the regrettable decision seriously to restrict the export trade to various parts of the Commonwealth? Will he give us an assurance that no equally important information is on this occasion withheld from the House and from the country?

Mr. Butler

That, of course, involves the action of another Commonwealth Government, and I do not wish to comment on that action. No misleading impression was given after the January Conference, and if the hon. Gentleman had read this communiqué he would have seen that there is a definite paragraph in it referring to the undertaking given that, as balance of payments conditions permit, relaxation will be brought in for those unfortunate restrictions that have had to take place.