HC Deb 31 January 1952 vol 495 cc333-5
1 and 2. Mr. Ronald Russell

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) in view of the gravity of the economic situation what steps he proposes to take to remove the restrictions imposed by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade on the development of Imperial Preference;

(2) if he will examine the effect of the most-favoured-nation principle and the rule of non-discrimination on the unity of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom's balance of trade and of payments, and her foreign relations.

8. Mr. Gerald Nabarro

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will facilitate expansion of Imperial preferences by giving 60 days' notice of withdrawal by the United Kingdom from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

18. Mr. Bernard Braine

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to remove the restrictions imposed by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade upon our sovereign right to adjust existing Imperial preferences or to offer new preferences.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

The question of His Majesty's Government's future attitude to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as a whole is under consideration. In the course of this examination full weight will be given to the views which have been expressed in this House on the provisions of the Agreement bearing on Imperial Preference and on the principles of commercial policy referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell).

On all these matters we shall, of course, work in the closest consultation with other Commonwealth Governments. The House will, therefore, appreciate that I am not in a position at present to make a statement on particular aspects of this subject.

Mr. Russell

Can my right hon. Friend say when he will be able to make a statement? Is it not a fact that the Council of Europe have recommended that the extension of preference between European countries and their Colonies should be considered and does not this therefore mean that the General Agreement is already dead in spirit if not in letter?

Mr. Thorneycroft

We should consider in any examination the whole broad question of preferential systems, but I should not like to tie myself to a date upon which to make an announcement because this is a matter which touches fundamentally on trading policy and merits close examination in which many people besides ourselves are involved.

Mr. Nabarro

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the logical concomitant of the Chancellor's measures for strengthening sterling is a great expansion of Imperial Preference within our Empire trade?

Mr. G. R. Howard

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind also when considering this matter the foreign dumping of such things as broccoli in this country?

7. Mr. Nabarro

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, following abatement of the conditions of Article 9 of the American Loan Agreement, he will open negotiations with the Dominions for increases in Imperial preferences.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Section 9 of the United Kingdom/United States Financial Agreement of 1945 dealt only with quantitative restrictions on imports, and the fact that this Section expired on 31st December last does not, therefore, affect the position concerning Imperial Preference. As my hon. Friend is aware, the obligations which we and the other Commonwealth Governments have assumed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade preclude us from increasing preferences.

Mr. Braine

Is it not a fact that without a restoration of the right to exchange preferences with Commonwealth countries the expansion of Commonwealth trade and production, envisaged by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is well-nigh impossible?

Mr. Thorneycroft

That is a separate point. The Question related to Article 9 of the Financial Agreement, which does cover a separate matter to the preferential one. The point dealing with preferences will be discussed in connection with the general examination to which I referred in answer to an earlier Question.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that, despite restrictions, we did in the last five years get the bigget expansion in inter-Imperial trade that we have ever had? Will he now, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, make a public endorsement of the statement I made to the Leader of the American Delegation at Torquay, that if the General Agreement comes up for permanent ratification we must insist upon being free from the commitment about not increasing Imperial Preference?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are certainly not less jealous than he about inter-Imperial trade, but if we are to discuss these matters, as we must, with other Imperial Governments it is better to await the result of these discussions before we start making pronouncements upon the subject.

Mr. Nabarro

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, following the abrogation of Article 9 of the American Loan Agreement, which is quantitative, the sole remaining restriction on the expansion of inter-Imperial trade is the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, and should not that lead to urgent reconsideration of this problem, with a view to getting rid of it?

Mr. Thorneycroft

That is what is the subject of the examination.