HC Deb 12 July 1962 vol 662 cc1667-70

10.25 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Sir Keith Joseph)

I beg to move, That the Commonwealth Preference (West Cameroon) Order 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved. Before I begin to justify the laying of this Statutory Instrument, I should make sure that we are all up to date with the latest changes in name in this part of West Africa. The House will remember that, after the plebiscite early in 1961, the former Southern Cameroons, which Her Majesty's Government were administering under United Nations agreement, decided to join the then Republic of Cameroon instead of remaining a permanent part of Nigeria. The territory became part of the Republic in October, 1961, and thus left the Commonwealth.

Subsequently, the Republic was transformed into a federation, consisting of two parts—the Federated State of West Cameroon, with which this Order deals, and which is the former Southern Cameroons, and the Federated State of East Cameroon, which is the former Republic of Cameroon. The two federated States together are now known as the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

Although, by its own option, the former Southern Cameroons, now West Cameroon, has ceased to belong to the Commonwealth, Her Majesty's Government, with the approval of the House, thought it necessary to give the people concerned time to adjust their trading conditions to the new situation and, therefore, it was arranged, under Section 10 of the Finance Act, 1961, that the former Southern Cameroons should remain within the Commonwealth preference area until 1st October, 1962. We proposed this successfully to the House, because, of course, this is an underdeveloped territory for Which the Government have had responsibility for a number of years.

We had been the largest market for its major produce and had encouraged its people to produce goods for which we were the main market. Moreover, considerable British interests were invested in the territory and we also have a reasonable export trade to it. The main produce of the territory consists of bananas—of which we take by far the larger share, West Cameroon bananas accounting for one-fifth of the total banana consumption of the United Kingdom—cocoa, coffee, hardwoods, rubber and palm oil. We therefore took this decision for all those reasons.

But it so happens that because of the negotiations now going on in Brussels and, in particular, because of the discussions now in progress about the treatment by any extended Common Market of tropical produce, together with the discussions about the relationship between the associated territories of the present members of the Community and the associated territories of any new member that may adhere, it has become by no means so clear as to what shall be the future relations of West Cameroon. It is therefore proposed, by the draft Order, to maintain the Commonwealth preferences enjoyed by this area for a further period.

If the House approves this draft Order it will be, I hope, because it agrees with the Government that it is only sensible to maintain the present position until we see the results of the Brussels negotiations.

There have been several precedents for maintaining Commonwealth preference for areas which have become independent and have left the Commonwealth, like Burma, the Republic of Ireland, and South Africa. But I must tell the House frankly that there is no precedent for maintaining Commonwealth preference for pant only of an independent non-Commonwealth country, and that is what we seek to do by this Statutory Instrument.

There are certain difficulties. Her Majesty's Customs are naturally anxious to be sure that the Commonwealth preference is only available to West Cameroon and not to East Cameroon bananas, and to the other produce that comes from the East Cameroon. We discussed this problem with M. Betayene, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic who was in this country at the end of June, and he assured us that he did not see any serious problem here. It is evidently illegal to move bananas, which are the main export crop with which we are dealing, from West Cameroon across the border into East Cameroon. This could happen if the relative prices were different, because it would be a temptation to do so, but I understand that East Cameroon bananas already find a very handsome and better price market in France so there is no incentive for a move across the border into West Cameroon to take advantage of the preference that we propose to maintain.

On balance, therefore, we think it right to extend the period during which this preference is maintained for the former Southern Cameroons. Our present intention is that the period shall be extended to 30th September, 1963, and not beyond this date, but we propose, and have made it clear to our friends in West Cameroon, that we shall be reviewing the whole position not later than April next year, by which time we shall know far more clearly our position in relation to the Common Market. I hope that with that explanation the House will approve this draft Order.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Do I understand correctly that the territory has changed its name, but that what we are doing is to continue the same preference for the same area as it had before?

Sir K. Joseph indicated assent.

Mr. Jay

If that is so, and it is really practical to make this division, I see no objection.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, t the Commonwealth Preference (West Cameroon) Order 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved