HL Deb 27 July 1921 vol 43 cc40-3

EARL BEAUCHAMP rose to ask His Majesty's Government the dates of the termination of any Commercial Treaties, notice to determine which has already been given; whether His Majesty's Government proposes to give notice to terminate any others, and if so, which.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is fortunately not necessary for me to detain your Lordships at any great length in putting this Question. Your Lordships will readily understand the reason why it appears on the Paper. It is in order that we may obtain some information before the Safeguarding of Industries Bill reaches this House. Your Lordships have already heard some reference made to that Bill in the course of this afternoon's discussion, and, if I had been in order, I should have wished to have warned the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that his hopes with regard to an easy passage for that Bill are not very likely to be fulfilled.

On my own part and, I hope, on the part of all Free Traders, it will meet with a considerable amount of opposition in this House and demand several sittings; and I feel no doubt at all that the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, and who has always shown himself so keen a Free Trader, will be one of the first to assist us in doing what we can to amend the Bill, if it is impossible for us to persuade your Lordships to refuse to give it a Second Reading. The fact that a number of matters, including, I think, this which is specially covered by the Question that I have put down on the Paper for to-day, have not been fully discussed in another place, but were, owing to the guillotine, not brought under the full light of public discussion, will Drake it the more imperative upon your Lordships' House to give a long and careful study to the provisions of this Bill.

I confess that I hope to hear from the noble Lord who represents His Majesty's Government in this matter that there are no Commercial Treaties, notice to determine which has been given, and that it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to give notice to terminate any. If that is so, we shall be provided, as I hope we may be able to show on a later occasion, with a considerable amount of ammunition for our speeches when the Bill conies before your Lordships' House. I may perhaps be allowed, in conclusion, to quote a short extract from the Report of the Committee on Industrial Policy which was presided over by the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh. That Committee carefully considered the suggestion that existing Commercial Treaties should be denounced in order to clear the way for new economic arrangements, and the Committee, which commands a great deal of support among noble Lords in every part of this House, reported that, in their opinion, there appeared to be grave objections to the course proposed. They said:— It must be borne in mind that the denunciation of Treaties establishing our right to most-favoured-nation treatment—a right which is not limited to Customs Duties, but extends to many other matters affecting trade and commerce, and also to navigation—might is some cases deprive this country of valuable rights which it might not be easy to recover in every instance. The wisdom of these remarks is, I think, borne out by the present position of the tariff controversy in Italy.


My Lords, the noble Earl's Question raises a matter of very great interest to many of the leading lights of the commercial world, which is so ably represented in your Lordships' House, and although the noble Earl has promised us a great deal of discussion on this matter, I hope that, so far as concerns the Question appearing on the Paper, the reply I can give will be, as far as possible, satisfactory to him.

As regards the first part of the Question, His Majesty's Government have not given notice to terminate any of the Commercial Treaties to which this country is a party. In view of the revision of their tariff legislation certain countries have given notice to terminate Treaties having Specific provisions as to the rates of duty which are to be charged. Such notice has been given by Greece and by Rumania. France also has denounced her Convention of 1882 with this country, on grounds of general policy, but it should be remarked that Customs Duties are specifically excluded from the operation of this Convention. I might remind your Lordships that, by a French law promulgated on February 27, 1882, it was declared that from that date goods of English origin or manufacture should be liable, on their entry into France, to the same treatment as those of the most favoured nations, with the exception of Colonial produce, which it was declared would remain subject to the general Customs Tariff.

As regards the second part of the noble Earl's Question, I am glad to be able to reassure him that it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to denounce any Commercial Treaties at the present time. If the inquiries provided for in the Safeguarding of Industries Bill disclose cases of dumping, due to the depreciation of Exchange where an order would be at variance with the terms of a Commercial Treaty, the desirability of denouncing such Treaty will be considered. I may, perhaps, be allowed to add, in further reference to this part of the noble Earl's Question, that the President of the Board of Trade stated on June 18 in another place that— In making orders under Part II of the Safeguarding of Industries Bill it would be necessary to consider any Treaty provisions which may be held to limit our action in respect of the duties leviable on goods on importation into the United Kingdom. I have before me a list of the countries with which Treaties, Conventions or engagements are in force, which would have to be considered in this connection.

This list has been supplemented by the insertion of a column showing the date when each Treaty is terminable. This revised statement may interest your Lordships, especially the noble Earl who raised the Question, and I am prepared to state the substance of it, if it be the wish of the House. There are twenty-six countries named in the list. In respect of five, the Treaties contain no provision for termination of any sort or kind; they are Argentina, Costa Rica, Liberia, Venezuela and Denmark. Sixteen stand at twelve months' notice, but as four of the Treaties are of recent date the period during which they would, in any case, be operative, has not yet expired; they are Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras (which will not be terminable before May 5, 1925), Italy, Japan (which is not terminable before July 16, 1923), Mexico, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Persia (which is not terminable before March 21, 1926), Portugal (not before September 23, 1926), the Serb-Croat-Slovene State, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. With two countries—namely, Esthonia and Spain—we stand at six months' notice; and with two (Belgium and Greece) at three months' notice. As I have already stated, in the case of Rumania the Treaty has already been denounced; so that I trust your Lordships will see that there is no intention at present of acting in the direction which gives the noble Earl such great concern.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving me such a full answer. It is no doubt due to my own carelessness, but I could not quite follow what was said in regard to the denunciation of a Treaty by France. I understand it is in two sections. Have they also denounced the part which deals with Customs Duties?


I shall be glad to explain that to the noble Earl afterwards, if I may.