HC Deb 02 March 1954 vol 524 cc979-83
1. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the President of the Board of Trade what further steps Her Majesty's Government has taken during the last six months to restore and develop bilateral trade between Britain and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and between Britain and China, respectively.

14. Mr. Osborne

asked the President of the Board of Trade why diesel engines may be exported to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics only at a slower rate of delivery than production would other wise permit.

22. Dr. Stress

asked the President of the Board of Trade what consideration he is now giving to the question of an Anglo-Soviet trading agreement.

25. Mr. Swingler

asked the President of the Board of Trade what proposals he has now made to the United States Government for a substantial relaxation of the regulations governing the export of raw materials, manufactures and shipping to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

29 and 31. Mr. Grimond

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) if he will make a statement on the negotiations to revise the list of goods of which the export to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is forbidden;

(2) what are the principal categories of goods the removal of which from the list of those forbidden for export to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics the Government are proposing to negotiate.

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

I would refer hon. Members to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 25th February during the course of the debate on the Berlin Conference, to which I have at the moment nothing to add.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the Minister realise that this East-West trade is fundamental for the promotion of peace between East and West, and will he press it forward with energy and speed?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think the Prime Minister made a fairly forthcoming statement on this subject the other day.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister's statement specifically excepted China from the hopes which he expressed to increase trade between East and West? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether we would be right in interpreting the statement of the Prime Minister as meaning that Her Majesty's Government are now going to propose to the inter national committee concerned with these questions a fairly sweeping reduction of these strategic restrictions?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The Prime Minister said that a substantial relaxation, affecting manufactured goods, raw materials and shipping was in view, and those are the proposals we wish to make.

Mr. Osborne

Has my right hon. Friend any hope that these improvements will be announced soon? Whilst I appreciate the difficulties he must have with the Americans over this, can he give the House any hope that the proposals put forward by the Prime Minister last Thurs day will be receiving consideration before long?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The House will realise that these proposals do cover a wide field and will require consultation with our friends. I think that the Government should be given an opportunity of carrying through that consultation.

Mr. Swingler

Question No. 25 asks what proposals the President of the Board of Trade is making towards "a substantial relaxation" to which the Prime Minister referred. Could the President say why he is unable to describe to the House the character of the proposals which we understand he has already made to the United States Government, or is it a fact that he has not made any proposals and that the proposals are still under consideration by the Government?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think that the House will appreciate that it would hardly help these discussions if I were to start to debate these proposals at the moment.

Mr. S. Silverman

In view of what the Prime Minister said the other day, and the efforts which some of us have been making in this direction for two years past, will the right hon. Gentleman make perfectly clear now that he does accept that the Russians seriously wish to trade with this country and that their moves in that direction were not merely political propaganda, which they were once described as being?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do not think it would help if I were to comment on the intentions of either side.

Mr. Bottomley

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that I continually pressed him and the Minister of State, Board of Trade, to meet the leader of the Soviet trade delegation. Can he say whether he has had an opportunity of doing so?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I certainly have met the leader of the Soviet trade delegation.

6. Mr. Fienburgh

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is prepared to open negotiations for the importation of industrial raw material from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a counterpart of recent Soviet orders for the products of British heavy industry.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Almost all important industrial raw materials may. be imported as freely from the U.S.S.R. as from other foreign sources, and any negotiations necessary for the purchase of these goods are a matter primarily for private importers.

Mr. Fienburgh

Is the Minister aware that the Soviet Government have recently been exporting quite significant amounts of manganese, tungsten and chrome to Western European countries, which is a departure from their normal trading policy, and does not he think that a show of initiative from his Department would be helpful in extending reasonable trade on these lines?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Very large purchases of raw material from the U.S.S.R. take place in the normal course of business without any Government interference.

Sir H. Williams

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last year we imported from the Soviet Union £39,900,000 worth of goods and that they bought from us £3,300,000 worth? In those circumstances, should not the Question have been addressed to the Supreme Soviet?

Mr. H. Wilson

Would the right hon. Gentleman attempt to educate his hon. Friend about the nature of the sterling area, and in so doing would he point out that for many years past there has been a deficit on trade between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, made possible by their purchases from the sterling area?

8. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the President of the Board of Trade the value of the trade contracts recently concluded by British businessmen in Moscow; and the value of the contracts for which export licences are likely to be granted.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given to similar Questions by the hon. Members for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) on 23rd February.

33. Mr. Sorensen

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will now indicate the value and the nature of those British goods for which orders were placed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China, but which are on the proscribed list.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

So far as concerns the orders recently placed by the U.S.S.R., I have nothing to add to the answer given to similar Questions on 23rd February. As to China, if the hon. Member will let me know which orders he has in mind, I shall write to him.

Mr. Sorensen

In regard to the first part of my Question, what percentage of goods is included on the proscribed list?

Mr. Thorneycroft

As we are in the middle of discussing these matters, any figure I mentioned would be rather misleading.

Mr. Fernyhough

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind, when considering the proscribed list, that if the Soviet Union do not get our goods they will not go without them but will get goods from other sources, as they have done for the last two or three years. In view of the danger of a trade recession in this country, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the need to obtain as many orders as possible and so obviate the possibility of mass unemployment?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I shall bear all those relevant considerations in mind.