HC Deb 08 May 1952 vol 500 cc528-30
9. Mr. Beresford Craddock

asked the President of the Board of Trade what approaches have been made to the Governments of the Commonwealth countries, with a view to concerted action in regard to the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade bearing on the subject of tariff preference; when these approaches were made: and with what result.

10. Mr. Bernard Braine

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps have been taken to ascertain the views of Her Majesty's Government overseas and of Governments of foreign countries which operate preferential systems on changes which might now be desirable in the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which restrict preferences.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I would refer my hon. Friends to the answer I gave on 1st May in reply to Questions by my hon. Friends the Members for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) and Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). We intend to consult other Commonwealth Governments when we have completed the examination at present in progress of our future external commercial policy. We shall also consider at that time the action we should take to convey our views to the foreign Governments particularly concerned.

Mr. Craddock

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask if it is his intention to come to a decision on these matters at an early date in order to restore as quickly as possible our own freedom of action regarding our own trade and commercial policy?

Mr. Braine

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that we have sat on the fence far too long on this subject? While I do not expect him to give an answer off the cuff this afternoon, may I ask if consideration could be given to this country taking action to restore our freedom in this matter and to give preferences to the Commonwealth countries, whether they are reciprocated or not?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think it would be unwise to announce in advance the possible date on which I can make a statement; but I think that the right order would be that we should consider first the policy, then consult the Commonwealth, and finish by informing the foreign Governments concerned.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that it is in the highest degree ludicrous that our people in the textile industry, for instance, should be unemployed while we are straining every nerve to export our products to those countries which do not want them, do not need them, and make every effort to keep them out, while we neglect other countries which are only too anxious to get them?

Mr. Thorneycroft

That is rather an over-simplification of the problem at the present time.

Mr. Harold Wilson

As the President seems to be taking an extraordinary long time to make up his mind on this question of preferences, will he not at least endorse the statement I made to the American delegation at Torquay last year, which has already been the subject of discussion in this House, and make quite clear that he supports the declaration we made on that occasion?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The right hon. Gentleman may say that I am taking a long time; but I have only been in office six months, and he and his hon. and right hon. Friends were in power for six years.

Mr. Bottomley

As we are an exporting country, and must increase our exports to live, is it wise now to consider putting up new trade barriers?