HC Deb 22 November 1956 vol 560 cc1905-7
2 and 3. Mr. Thornton

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) the rates of duty levied by the Government of India on cotton textile fabrics imported from the United Kingdom, and the rates levied by the United Kingdom on imports of cotton textile fabrics from India;

(2) in view of the revision of the 1932 Australian Trade Agreement at the request of the Australian Government, if he will seek a revision of the 1939 Indian trade agreement which works unfairly against the cotton industry of the United Kingdom.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The Indian duty on our cotton textiles is 25 per cent. ad valorem, which gives us a preferential margin over foreign suppliers of between 20 per cent. and 40 per cent. There is also a small excise duty. Indian cotton textiles are admitted on our side free of duty. But the trade agreement has to be judged as a whole, and I do not think that it would be in the best interests of this country to seek in present circumstances to revise it.

Mr. Thornton

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Lancashire textile industry has "carried the can" for long enough in the interests of the rest of British manufacturing industry in the Indian trade? Has not the time come when Her Majesty's Government should seek the initiative in altering this agreement, conditions having changed very much since 1939, and will not the President of the Board of Trade give further consideration to this question and please not hold the view that to leave the initiative to the other party is necessarily to the advantage of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The Question asked me for the facts and figures, which I have given. They disclose that we enjoy a preference of between 20 per cent. and 40 per cent. in the market, which is favourable from our point of view; but I know that there are wider issues involved and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, talks are in contemplation between the cotton textile industry in this country and that in India. I think that they should take place and we should see what the results are.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain this to the House; he said that there was a duty on our goods going into India, and no duty on Indian goods coming here. That obviously is to the disadvantage of the Lancashire trade, but he said that if we take the agreement as a whole, this country benefits by it. Does that mean that the country is benefiting at the expense of Lancashire, and does the right hon. Gentleman think that is fair?

Mr. Thorneycroft

It means that, taking Lancashire industry as a whole—let me restrict it to a county which has great engineering industries in it as well—it would probably be to our disadvantage to try to renegotiate that agreement at present.