HC Deb 13 March 1952 vol 497 cc1555-61
30. Mr. W. A. Burke

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he proposes to take in order to mitigate the drastic effects on the Lancashire cotton trade of the import cuts proposed by the Australian Government.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

For balance of payments reasons which Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom fully understand, the Australian Government have found it necessary to restrict imports of cotton textiles and many other goods to the level of 20 per cent. of the imports during the year July, 1950, to June, 1951. These restrictions must, I regret to say, increase very seriously the difficulties with which the cotton industry in Lancashire is already faced. I am confident that the cotton industry will do its utmost to offset the effect of these restrictions by increasing their exports to other markets. I know the difficulties of doing this at the present time, and I am in constant touch with the Cotton Board on the subject.

Mr. Burke

Does the Minister's reply mean that the Government have really done nothing and do not intend to do anything? Does not the Minister realise that this was our best Dominion market, that we have lost £26 million, and that on top of the Japanese menace this is a staggering blow to Lancashire? Markets once lost cannot be recovered.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I have not sought in my reply to under-estimate the effect of this particular Australian cut upon the textile industry of Lancashire.

Mr. Walter Fletcher

Will not my right hon. Friend undertake to make representations to the Government of Australia who may not have been fully aware of the crippling blow which this represents not only to Lancashire textiles, but to many other industries as well? Does he realise that everybody concerned believes that if he made firm representations to Australia it would have some effect?

Mr. Thorneycroft

We are in discussion with the Australian Government about some aspects of the administration of these cuts, into which I cannot go in full detail in question and answer, but I hope to have an opportunity of saying something about it a little later on.

Mr. Douglas Jay

Though we well realise the necessity for the Australian Government to cut down their balance of payments deficit, did not the British Government at the Commonwealth Conference in January try to arrange that imports from outside the sterling area should be the ones selected for the cuts rather than those doing most harm to this country?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Clearly, from the United Kingdom's point of view, it would be much more satisfactory if cuts could be imposed on goods other than those from the United Kingdom. But as the hon. Gentleman is aware, the situation in Australia was such that some sharp decline in United Kingdom exports to that country was inevitable.

Mr. Jay

But did not we make that point in January to the Australian Government?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The arrangement with the Australian Government was set out fully in the communiqué issued at the time which set out the objective of each country in the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth as a whole as regards balancing its account, and left it to the individual countries to decide the best way in which to achieve that end.

Mr. Shepherd

Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that the industry in Lancashire really requires representations in respect of a much wider field than merely on the administrative machinery involved, and will he reconsider his attitude on this question?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am in contact with the Cotton Board on this matter.

Mr. Burke

I beg to give notice that in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment. [Laughter.]

Mr. Sydney Silverman

I note the general amusement in the House. It will not be shared in Lancashire. The other day—

Mr. Speaker

I take it that the hon. Member is speaking to a point of order?

Mr. Silverman

Yes, Sir. The other day I asked your leave to ask a Question about this subject by Private Notice. I was refused leave on the ground that Questions would be asked about it today, that I ought not to anticipate them, and that I should have my opportunity today. Am I entitled to have an opportunity now? My constituency is more closely affected than anybody else's in the House.

Mr. Speaker

I had the hon. Member in mind and I remembered his efforts to ask a Question. I should have called him but for the fact that notice has now been given that the matter will be raised on the Adjournment, and therefore we cannot pursue it further at Question time.

31. Mr. Nabarro

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many motor vehicles of all descriptions, and what percentage of United Kingdom vehicles exports, were exported to Australia during the 12 months ended 29th February, 1952: what is the anticipated reduction in such exports during the next 12 months consequential upon the decision of the Australian Government to curtail drastically their imports from the United Kingdom; and how far these changed arrangements will influence supplies of vehicles for the home market.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

In the twelve months ended January, 1952, 171,000 motor vehicles, including tractors, were exported to Australia. This was 27 per cent. of United Kingdom exports to all countries. Details of exports in February are not yet available.

Until we have further information, we cannot estimate the probable reduction in exports over the next twelve months as a result of the import restrictions imposed by the Australian Government. It will, however, be substantial.

As regards the last part of the Question, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.

Mr. Nabarro

In the light of my right hon. Friend's figures, is it correct to assume that the reduction in the number of vehicles going to Australia in 1952 will be no fewer than 130,000? Can he say what special measures are in hand to place this very large number of vehicles either in overseas markets or on the home market, and what the policy will be in that regard?

Mr. Thorneycroft

My hon. Friend, of course, will appreciate that conversations are at present going on between my right hon. Friend and the motor car industry on these matters.

Mr. Maurice Edelman

During these balance of payments difficulties will the right hon. Gentleman concentrate upon improving export facilities rather than taking the easy way out of encouraging manufacturers of motorcars to release their cars to the home markets?

Mr. Thorneycroft

That is a question that should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it will be practically impossible for the motorcar industry to export a similar number of cars to any other part of the world during the coming year?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I would not underestimate the difficulties of this cut, caused by balance of payment difficulties, and its impact upon the motorcar industry.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not underestimate the feeling in all parts of the country in connection with the actions of the Australian Government. Will he assure the House that these questions are not taken up piecemeal but that representations are made on the highest level to the Australian Government on the harm they are doing to this country and to the whole structure of inter-Commonwealth trade?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I, of course, do not answer here for the Australian Government; but my hon. Friend will appreciate that in the balance of payments position in which they found themselves very considerable action in the way of reducing imports was inevitable.

Mr. Jay

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British Government made any specific protest to the Australian Government about the detailed nature of these cuts before they were made?

Mr. Thorneycroft

It is not a question of protests being made. At the present moment discussions are in progress between us and the Australian Government as to the details of the cut and the administration of their application.

Mr. Jay

But were representations made before these cuts were announced?

Mr. S. Silverman

Is not the House to understand from the whole trend of the right hon. Gentleman's answer that the representations he has made to the Australian Government are concerned only with the details and the administration of an 80 per cent. cut which in principle he apparently accepts? Will the Minister tell the House quite frankly what advantage he anticipates the sterling area as a whole will derive if Australia manages to balance its overseas account by driving the whole of Midland heavy industry and the Lancashire cotton industry into permanent bankruptcy?

Mr. Thorneycroft

These are large issues with which I hope to have an opportunity of dealing this afternoon.

34. Mr. W. Fletcher

asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent exports authorised under existing contracts are affected by the import restrictions announced by the Australian Government on Saturday.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I recognise that the sudden imposition of import restrictions must cause difficulties for traders with firm orders, but I understand that goods already in transit or covered by irrevocable letters of credit will be allowed in and debited against a future quota. I am sure that the Australian authorities are fully conscious of the desirability of allowing bona fide contracts to be carried out. But evidently the Australian Government consider that to do so would frustrate the purpose of the import restrictions. I understand, however, that the Australian authorities will examine sympathetically cases of special hardship which may arise from the cancellation of contracts.

Mr. Fletcher

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this unilateral cancellation of existing contracts, entirely against the example set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has undertaken to issue licences for existing contracts, is the greatest possible blow at the whole export drive of this country, as it leaves the exporter in complete uncertainty whether the contract is good or not?

Will he remember that when similar action was taken in regard to Canadian contracts by the party opposite, we as a party made the strongest possible protest? Will he, therefore, go even further than he has done already and represent to the Australian Government that unilateral cancellation of contracts must not be allowed to go through without the strongest possible protest?

Mrs. Castle

Is it not ludicrous that individual members of the Commonwealth should be trying to solve balance of payments difficulties by cutting each others' throats? Is it not clear that we are in danger of entering on a world-wide recession of trade if this kind of unplanned trade anarchy goes on? Would it not be possible—I suggest it seriously to the right hon. Gentleman—to recall the Commonwealth Conference to work out a constructive and sensible economic policy?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think the hon. Lady will do well to study—as I am sure she has studied in the past—what exactly was the balance of payments situation of the Australian Government when they decided on these cuts.

Dr. Barnett Stross

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that there is a geographical area called North Staffordshire where from time immemorial the manufacture of pottery has been a specifically specialised field? Would he bear in mind the type of hardship that may ensue there as a result of these decisions, and look specially into the difficulties on that area?

Sir Ian Fraser

Is my right hon. Friend aware that unhappily in Australia, as in some other Commonwealth countries, they are in fact over-bought in many lines and that therefore if their Government had not found it necessary to place these painful restrictions on trade there would have been a natural falling-off of trade due to their being over-bought?

Mr. Speaker

That is another question.

35. Miss Burton

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether Her Majesty's Government will make arrangements for obtaining alternative markets for such British cars as were formerly exported to Australia.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I will certainly do my best to help the motor industry to find outlets in other countries for the trade affected.

Miss Burton

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in the Midlands, and certainly in Coventry, we shall have skilled engineers thrown out of work as a result of this import cut? Will he therefore impress upon motorcar manufacturers that, as export is second only to defence, something must be done about the matter?

Sir H. Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week the hon. Lady was trying to stop people from buying motorcars?

Mr. S. Silverman

Having regard to the numerous questions asked him from both sides of the House, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that what has taken place, and the Government's acquiescence in it, is what the Conservative Party has always meant by "Imperial Preference"?

Miss Burton

On a point of order. Might I ask if the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), is in order? I am sure that he said it quite honestly; but he alleged that I said something which I did not say. Last week I did not, as the hon. Member declares, try to stop people from buying motorcars. I tried to stop them from buying one car a year when other people could not buy a car at all.

Mr. Speaker

That is what I understood the hon. Lady to say. I did not take the hon. Member's remark very seriously.

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