HC Deb 08 May 1952 vol 500 cc523-5
2. Mr. William Shepherd

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that the imports of shoes from Eire are running at an annual figure of about 700,000 pairs, whereas Great Britain is restricted by quota to less than 20,000 pairs in her exports to Eire; and whether he will put Eire exports on quota until such times as that country will reciprocate.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to leather footwear. Imports of leather footwear from the Irish Republic in the first quarter of this year were running at an annual rate of under 350,000 pairs. The quota for imports of leather shoes into the Irish Republic from all sources this year is 20,000 pairs, as it has been in the previous two years.

The answer to the second part of the Question is, "No, Sir." As I indicated to my hon. Friend in reply to his supplementary question on 13th March, our exports of leather footwear to the Irish Republic take a bigger share of that market than the imports from the Irish Republic take of ours. And I would remind him that our policy is to impose quota restrictions on imports not for protective purposes but for balance of payments reasons.

Mr. Shepherd

Is not my right hon. Friend aware, first, that Eire is a foreign country now, and that, therefore, it does affect our balance of payments; and, second, that the figures for the first quarter of this year are lower than last year only because the footwear trade is in such a bad state? The figure last year probably represents the norm in this case. In those circumstances, ought my right hon. Friend not to do something to stop the dumping into the British market of Irish shoes which are produced under conditions vastly inferior to those in this country?

Mr. Thorneycroft

These imports represent less than a half of 1 per cent. of our consumption.

Mr. Cahir Healy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Irish Republic, having regard to population, is Britain's best customer in the world, and that she imported last year £92 million worth of British goods, exporting to this country only £57 million worth?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am aware that the Irish Republic is in balance of payments difficulties, and that that is one of the reasons that have impelled her to this course.

3. Mr. Norman Dodds

asked the President of the Board of Trade what were the total quantity and value of boots and shoes imported into the United Kingdom from Eire in 1951; and how it compares with 1950.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Imports of boots and shoes from the Irish Republic in 1951 were 469,000 pairs, valued at £547,000 compared with 170,000 pairs valued at £170,000 in 1950.

Mr. Dodds

Is that not a remarkable rise in a very short time? Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the considerable activity further to increase it substantially by making use of cheap labour? In view of the difficulties of the boot and shoe trade, will he not have a look at this again, and keep his attention fixed on it, because it is serious?

Mr. Healy

It is not true to say cheap labour is employed in Eire.

Mr. Dodds

My information is that it is.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, even though these imports from Eire may amount to a very small percentage of the total of the goods consumed in this country, there have been short-time working and pockets of unemployment in the boot and shoe manufacturing trades at home and that there is some apprehension that, if these imports increase, unemployment may increase. too?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I shall certainly watch this situation, but, as I pointed out in answer to a previous question, though there may have been some increase in these imports, they still represent a very small proportion indeed of our total consumption