HC Deb 09 February 1965 vol 706 cc197-201
04. Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan

asked the Prime Minister what proposals he has for entering into long-term contracts and commodity agreements providing guaranteed markets for Commonwealth primary produce at stable prices.

Q14. Mr. Dodds

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the considerable benefits that accrued to the people of this and Commonwealth countries by the action of previous Governments in 1945–51 in negotiating long-term contracts and commodity agreements providing guaranteed markets for Commonwealth primary produce at stable prices, what consideration has been given to doing so again on as large a scale as possible.

Q15. Mr. Murray

asked the Prime Minister what consideration has been given or will be given to entering into long-term contracts and commodity agreements with a view to guaranteed markets for Commonwealth primary produce at stable prices.

Q21. Mr. Ensor

asked the Prime Minister whether he will discuss with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers the questions of long-term contracts and commodity agreements, which could provide for sound Commonwealth markets for primary produce at fair and stable prices.

Q23. Mr. Hamling

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement about negotiating long-term contracts with Commonwealth countries.

The Prime Minister

I am anxious to explore such arrangements with Commonwealth countries, and I hope that the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meeting will provide a suitable opportunity.

Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan

What particular commodities had the right hon. Gentleman in mind when he approved this passage in his party manifesto, and, if he is so anxious to obtain agreement, why have not conversations already started?

The Prime Minister

I did not approve that passage in the party manifesto. I wrote it. It has been the policy of this party for many years, both when we were in Government before and when we put it forward from that bench year after year as we saw the then Government dismantling our arrangements for trade with the Commonwealth. It will not be easy in the case of every commodity to revive this, but I feel that, provided that we are prepared to give a market for more Commonwealth primary produce and provided that we are prepared to do whatever is necessary in British industry to meet the requirements of Commonwealth countries for the goods which they want, this will be of mutual benefit to both Commonwealth countries and our export trade.

Mr. Murray

In view of the undoubted success of this system during the last Labour Government and its undoubted value not only to the Commonwealth but to the British housewife, will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to its reintroduction?

The Prime Minister

It is not as easy now to revert to a system once it has been scrapped and speculative markets have been set up, but I agree with my hon. Friend in that as a result of the—speaking from memory—52 long-term contracts which we had for Commonwealth primary commodities, including foodstuffs, our trade with the Commonwealth, export and import, was higher, as a proportion of our total trade, than at any time in our history, whether before or since.

Mr. Dodds

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the wretched record of the party opposite, it is a source of amazement that anyone should rise from the ranks opposite to raise this matter except in the spirit of abject repentance? Is it not a fact that the benefits which we received not only while the Labour Government were in office but for many years afterwards were maintained despite the fact that, on every conceivable occasion, the party opposite, while in Opposition, attacked them and, when in power, tried to wreck them?

Mr. Prior

Is the Prime Minister aware that long-term commodity agreements resulted in the British public having little consumer choice in the years just after the war, and will he give an undertaking that no agreement entered into with Commonwealth countries will prejudice the future of British agriculture?

The Prime Minister

The lack of consumer choice during and after the war was due to the lack of supply of essential foodstuffs and raw materials, and one result of developing long-term contracts which gave assurance to Commonwealth producers was to increase supplies above the level of what they would otherwise have been, and this continued for many years afterwards. As regards competition by Commonwealth imports with British agriculture, I give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman. What we had to fight for two or three years was not the Commonwealth versus British agriculture but proposals by right hon. Members opposite which would have destroyed the whole basis of our Commonwealth trade and British agriculture at the same time.

Mr. Ensor

In view of the agricultural agreements which have just been concluded among the Common Market countries, is not the need for discussions with the Commonwealth now urgent?

The Prime Minister

I think that the whole House wants to do everything within its power to break down the growing and dangerous economic division of Europe, but I think that the House would equally agree that the agricultural policy recently agreed in Brussels would mean that, if we were to adhere to that kind of policy, on the lines which some right hon. Members opposite then advocated and still advocate, the result would be total disruption of our trade with the Commonwealth due to the fact that we should now have to impose a levy approaching 100 per cent. on all imports of Commonwealth agricultural products.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

If the Prime Minister wrote this sentence in the manifesto, is it not rather strange that he has done no preparatory work with the Commonwealth Governments on this matter up to now, as I understand to be the case? The right hon. Gentleman is always casting aspersions on our policy with respect to the Commonwealth, but was he not guilty of an inaccuracy only a few days ago when he said that, at the last Prime Ministers' Conference, we did not deal with these matters of trade? I have the communiqué here, and there is at least half a page of it which deals in detail with these matters.

The Prime Minister

In the first place, we have been getting on with the particular policy to which I have referred. I was not guilty of any inaccuracy. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the exchanges which we had across the Floor at the time when he presented the communiqufé to the House, he will find that on all the issues we proposed about trade matters—not about development, not about the quite valuable Commonwealth Foundation, but about measures to get Commonwealth countries to buy more from Britain and for us to buy more from the Commonwealth—in the communiqué, in what he said then in the House and in what happened at the conference itself, nothing was done at all.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I must not read out the communiqué, I suppose, but there are at least 30 lines here which deal with nothing else but the prospects of improving trade between the Commonwealth countries and this country.

The Prime Minister

I have read the communiqué very carefully. There were 30 lines of cliché about the desire to improve Commonwealth trade. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to tell me of a single proposal put forward by the Government then for improving our imports of Commonwealth goods or, for that matter, for working out any arrangements under which they would give preference to British exports to Commonwealth countries.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We have enough trouble getting through Questions to Ministers without having questions put by Ministers to the Opposition.

Mr. Sandys

The Prime Minister criticised the efforts made by the previous Government to try to get into the Common Market. Has he not become increasingly aware, especially with the aircraft industry, which we are to discuss this afternoon, of the absolute necessity for Britain to get closer to Europe?

The Prime Minister

What I criticised, as the whole of my party did in a vote recorded on 8th November, 1962, were the terms on which right hon. Gentlemen opposite proposed to go into the Common Market, terms which have meant the disruption of all our trade with the Commonwealth.