My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government if it is true that upon classes of commodities for which import licences are being issued by the Board of Trade the quantities authorised for import into the United Kingdom during the current year are based upon quantities imported in war years, and has the Government considered whether or not this basis discriminates against the export trade of the British Dominions who entered the war at the same time as the Mother Country, and sacrificed their commercial connections to their war effort.
§ LORD SOMERLEYTON
My Lords, the noble Viscount raises in this Question a most important issue. It is the earnest desire of His Majesty's Government and of the Board of Trade, now that tonnage is becoming available, to stimulate the recovery and expansion of the volume of trade not only of this country but of the whole Empire. Every endeavour will be and is being made to carry out this object at the earliest possible date. In answer to the earlier part of the noble Viscount's Question, it is the fact that for the purposes of rationing imports a standard year is selected as a basis, and traders are given permission to import a certain quota of what they imported in the standard year. It is also true that in the majority of cases the standard year is 1916, but in other cases another year or an average of three years has been adopted for this purpose.
The advantage of taking the year 1916, which I may remind the noble Viscount was the year before that in which rations first operated, was that importers were more likely to be able to give a true and complete statutory declaration of their transactions in that year than they could in regard to trade done in a year more remote. It goes without saying that for one commodity the basis of calculation should preferably be uniform in respect of all countries of origin; otherwise, the restrictions, already sufficiently irksome, would become intolerable by reason of the inequalities of treatment as between one importer and another which would be the natural result of adopting a different basis for each exporting country. In 1916 practically every country except the United States was exporting to this country on a war basis, but I think it will be found on examination that in regard to those articles in which the United States is in competition with the British Dominions there has been little or no disadvantage in practice to the trade of the Dominions.
Finally, I would remind the noble Viscount that if the Dominions appear in the past to have lost trade that usually passed through private commercial channels, they have more than accounted for such loss by the substantial trade done directly with or on behalf of the Imperial Government. So far as the future is concerned, the policy to be adopted in regard to import restrictions on goods from places within the Empire is now engaging the attention of His Majesty's Government.
553 The Government are considering how best, in the reconstruction of trade, they can assist those parts of the Empire which lie outside the British Islands and to which we all owe so deep a debt of gratitude. It is the earnest desire and intention of His Majesty's Government to give to British Dominions outside the Mother Country the fullest possible outlet and market for their exports and to foster trade within the Empire for those commodities which each part of the Empire is, by its own natural resources, best fitted to produce.
If I may refer to the Dominion of Canada, which is the most prominent factor in the points raised by the noble Viscount, I would add that conferences have lately taken place between representatives of the Canadian Mission and His Majesty's Government, and in particular the Board of Trade, in which the views of the Dominion have been fully and carefully put forward and considered; and it is earnestly hoped that the results of these conferences will produce good fruit not only to the Mother Country but to Canada.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Naturally, I agree with him that the subject raised is very important. I cannot on the spur of the moment deal with all the answers he has been good enough to give me, but perhaps he will allow me to say that, after consideration, I may refer to the matter again.