HC Deb 22 March 1956 vol 550 cc1447-8
19. Mr. Fisher

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the adverse trade balance with the United States of America, he will institute a careful examination of our imports there-from, with a view to encouraging more imports from the British Empire and Commonwealth and less from the United States of America.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Much the greater part of our current imports from the United States consist of basic foodstuffs, raw materials and goods for industry. It is part of the policy of working towards a system of freer trade and payments, to which all Commonwealth Governments have subscribed, that traders and manufacturers should have as free access to all sources of supply as the balance of payments will permit.

Mr. Fisher

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our adverse trade balance with the United States of America last year was no less than £222 million in value, and that our imports from the United States increased, as compared with 1954, by nearly 50 per cent., whereas our exports to the United States increased by only about 20 per cent.? Does he regard that as satisfactory?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, but our balance of payments problem is primarily due to excessive internal demand and excessive imports over exports, not only from the United States but from other countries.

Mr. Bottomley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this did not happen under the Labour Government—indeed the reverse? May I ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will give any consideration to the proposition made from this side of the House in the debate on unemployment for considering the establishment of a Commonwealth development corporation?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think it would be too provocative if I started saying what happened under the Labour Government.

Mr. Stokes

May I ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will once more examine the price at which we are selling whisky to the United States? The United States pays only 10 cents. a bottle more than it paid before the war, at 1 dollar and 10 cents., but everything from the United States costs three times as much as it did. The whole thing is a complete swindle and racket, and the President of the Board of Trade ought to look into it.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am always happy to look into the price of whisky, but whisky sellers in this country have some incentive to get the best price they can.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the basic foodstuffs which he mentioned are obtainable from other countries which are prepared, willing and anxious to trade with us?

Mr. Thorneycroft

My hon. Friend will recognise that Commonwealth Governments, including Canada and Australia, have subscribed to the general principle of allowing the freest access to world markets, subject to the balance of payments position.

Mr. Jay

Is it no longer the policy of the present Government, as it was of the previous Government, to substitute non-dollar for dollar imports wherever possible?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The policy of the previous Government was indicated by their signature to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, to which we have freely subscribed.