HL Deb 07 December 1961 vol 236 cc165-8

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the White Paper issued by the Irish Government on November 28 last, they will remove the prohibitive duty on imports of butter from the Republic, and enter into new discussions with the Irish Government to determine an equitable quota for the six months ending March 31, 1962, substantially in excess of the figure previously proposed.]


My Lords, the only answer I can give to the noble Earl is, No. Perhaps I might take this opportunity of giving the background to the situation. Her Majesty's Government, having examined an application made by the New Zealand Government, found, under the terms of the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act, 1957, that the New Zealand dairy industry was threatened with material injury from dumped and subsidised butter imports into the United Kingdom and decided that action was necessary. Voluntary restraint by countries supplying clumped or subsidised butter appeared the most appropriate solution. The Governments of these countries were approached by Her Majesty's Government. The Government of the Irish Republic alone felt unable to limit shipments during the six months ending March 31, 1962, to the amount which we proposed to them in accordance with a programme impartially drawn up by the Executive Secretary of the G.A.T.T. Other countries which accepted the programme did so conditionally upon anti-dumping duties being imposed on butter from any country which did not. With regret, we therefore had to impose an anti-dumping duty on butter from the Republic of Ireland.

Having regard to the Irish White Paper to which the noble Lord referred, I think I should tell your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government consider the figure of 4,000 tons, to which the Government of the Irish Republic were asked to limit shipments, to be fair and reasonable. It is certainly less than the Republic sent in the corresponding period of 1960–61. But it is more than the average of imports from the Republic during the corresponding period of four previous years, which was under 3,300 tons. The programme took account of past butter exports, among other relevant factors, but it did not take account of imports in 1960-61, since it was those imports at that time which were largely responsible for the subsequent depressed condition of the British butter market. The programme of restraint now in operation provides a breathing space during which the search for a longer-term solution to the problem of surplus butter supplies on the British market can be continued by all the Governments concerned, including that of the Irish Republic.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Duke for his very full reply, may I put two supplementaries to him arising out of it? So far as the New Zealand allegations on dumping are concerned, can it be denied that the New Zealand Government themselves are guilty of exactly the same practice when New Zealand butter has been selling on the British market for as little as 206s. a hundredweight and is fetching very little more at the present time? Is this not a question of the pot calling the kettle black? Is the noble Duke not also aware that in the ten years preceding the war Irish exports averaged 20,000 metric tons a year, and that in the 1948 trade agreement with the United Kingdom. the United Kingdom agreed—and I quote: to import butter from Ireland at the annual pre-war rate of 20,000 tons, or more if available, as soon as the possibility of export arises"?


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord's first question, while I would agree that an analysis of who is and who is not dumping is a matter of great intricacy, the British Government are satisfied that the New Zealand butter exports are not being dumped in the United Kingdom. As regards the second question, it is really a matter of how far you put back your point of reference, and I think the noble Lord must accept that to consider the four previous years is as far back as is reasonable for us to go in assessing what current exports should be fixed at.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that some of us would be very reluctant not to see that there was fair treatment of New Zealand, which is a highly loyal part of the British Commonwealth? We also want to be friends with the Irish Republic, but, after all, they have taken themselves outside the United Kingdom and outside the Commonwealth and they can hardly expect to be treated on a basis of equality with a Dominion like New Zealand. [Interruption.]


My Lords, is the noble Duke aware that, irrespective of whether butter imports come from the Commonwealth or Ireland, it is so difficult to establish a case of dumping that everyone in this House, I should have thought, would support the Government firmly in the kind of action they have taken to show we will not tolerate dumping in this country?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Duke whether he could give us an assurance that Her Majesty's Government have in mind and in hand the question of exploring the possibilities of a long-term scheme for the regulation of butter supplies, from all the butter producing countries, through the London market to the whole world, because this is the only long-term solution of the problem?


My Lords, I am happy to give the noble Lord an assurance that such considerations are being actively pursued at the moment.


My Lords, may I inform the noble Duke that I myself have very close family ties with New Zealand and am very sympathetic about the New Zealand position? But if their butter is being sold wholesale in this country at under 2s. a pound, and it takes two and a half gallons of milk to make a pound of butter, may I ask him whether this is not clear evidence, when it is transported half way round the world, that it is being sold at approximately one-third the cost of production? Is this not dumping?


My Lords, I can only reply that, as I said before, on close analysis and examination from the legal point of view it is our view that butter from New Zealand is not being dumped in this country. I cannot say more.