HL Deb 12 July 1954 vol 188 cc652-4

My Lords, I beg to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, prior to the forthcoming autumn review of the G.A.T.T., Her Majesty's Government will give notice to other signatories of Britain's wish to modify existing agreements so as to allow Britain (1) greater tariff freedom for the purpose of offering to negotiate mutually advantageous preferences within the Commonwealth and (2) freedom to protect agricultural and industrial home markets from damaging competition from foreign imports at times and on scales harmful to British producers.]


My Lords, the question of seeking a modification of the G.A.T.T. to allow extensions of Imperial Preference was, as my noble friend knows, fully discussed at the Commonwealth Economic Conference at the end of 1952. My noble friend is, of course, aware that the conclusions were recorded in the communiqué issued after the Conference. He will doubtless also have noted the Chancellor of the Exchequer's references to this subject in the statements made after the meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers at Sydney early this year. We are, however, examining all aspects of the G.A.T.T., including the provisions of Article I of the Agreement as they affect Imperial Preference, in preparation for the discussions with other Commonwealth Governments which, as arranged at Sydney, are to precede the G.A.T.T. review and at which all these complex problems will, of course, be discussed.

As regards the second part of my noble friend's Question, he will be aware that many of our tariff rates are the subject of commitments under the G.A.T.T. negotiated in return for commitments into which other countries have entered in respect of their tariffs on goods which we export. It has been a major aim of our policy hitherto, in regard to the G.A.T.T., to preserve the stability of the negotiated tariff concessions embodied in its schedules in the interests of the expansion of our own export trade.

I should also like to remind the House that at the last session of the Contracting Parties we were successful in securing a useful measure of freedom from the rigid application of the "no new-preference" rule, which we have been able to use to enable us to increase certain tariffs to assist the horticultural and allied industries.


While thanking my noble friend for his comprehensive Answer, do I understand from the first part of it, that Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to go to the Conference of the signatories of G.A.T.T. with their minds made up, and give a lead in the direction in which they have made up their minds? Is that the inference to be drawn from my noble friend's Answer?


No; I do not think that is quite a fair inference from my Answer. We are still considering what proposals we should put forward at the Commonwealth discussions, where the object will, of course, be to reach a common Commonwealth policy on all these issues.


My Lords, arising out of that reply, may I ask my noble friend whether he will make representations in the proper quarter that with regard to Commonwealth Preferences, to which he has referred in the first part of his Answer, a handicap at present exists owing to the rigidity of this agreement, as a result of which the Dominions find it more difficult to make modifications which would readily assist and increase the volume of British trade? With regard to the second part of his Answer, since he has limited his remarks to agricultural problems, will he ask that it should be borne in mind that other countries are disregarding their obligations under G.A.T.T., making it more difficult for this country to take retaliatory measures?


My Lords, in answer to Lord Barnby's first supplementary question, I would say that his views on this difficult subject are already well known, but I will make certain that his representations are conveyed in the spirit he desires. With regard to the second supplementary, the Question of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye was, of course, directed largely to agricultural and industrial home markets, and it was to that Question that I directed my Answer. I will, however, see that the point which the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, has made here is borne fully in mind at the right time.