HC Deb 22 October 1953 vol 518 cc2141-2
32. Mr. Erroll

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the progress which is being made in the easing of restrictions on East-West trade.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I welcome this opportunity of making a statement on the subject of East-West trade. It is important to see this problem in its right proportions. Even before the war our total trade with the Soviet bloc was only about 6 per cent. of our total world trade and since the war it has averaged only about 2 per cent. An expansion in East-West trade would, however, undoubtedly be in our economic interests, provided that it was not made at the expense of the security either of ourselves or of our friends.

Although the security controls are not inflexible, it would not be in our interests to vary them substantially unless or until we are sure that the circumstances which gave them rise have changed. We shall continue to review the controls and, in consultation and agreement with the other countries who are associated with us in this matter, we shall introduce such modifications as may be justified by changing circumstances.

Mr. Enroll

While thanking the Minister for this satisfactory reply in the present circumstances, may I ask him whether he can give an assurance that he will not overlook the importance of enabling the export of those goods, particularly heavy engineering goods, which were traditionally sent to Russia before the war?

Mr. Thorneycroft

We bear in mind all these considerations, but I am sure my hon. Friend will recognise that in these matters we must move in consultation and co-operation with our friends.

Mr. Bottomley

Can the President say what action Her Majesty's Government have taken as a result of the meeting of the European Economic Commission, held at Geneva? Can he also give a further answer to a previous question which I put to him when I asked him when he last met the Russian trade delegation and he said that he had not met them for some time? Has there been any meeting since then?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Consultations are always in progress on these matters with the Soviet trade delegation and such consultations will continue. So far as the general policy of trade with the Soviet bloc is concerned, I do not think I would be justified in going beyond the terms of the answer I have just given to the House.

Mr. Bottomley

On an earlier occasion the President told me that Her Majesty's Government were considering proposals made by the Soviet Union at a meeting in Geneva. We ought to be told what has been decided. Should not the right hon. Gentleman occasionally meet the Soviet trade delegation?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that it has never been the practice of this or of previous Governments to make announcements on the lists of strategic goods or any amendments to them.