HC Deb 02 February 1945 vol 407 cc1745-9W
Mr. A. Edwards

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs what machinery exists at present for economic inter-Commonwealth consultation and co-operation; which of these agencies are of pre-war and which of war-time origin; and what are the plans for widening that machinery in future.

Mr. Emrys-Evans

Before the war, in addition to the constant inter-Commonwealth consultation on economic matters which took place between the Governments through the normal channels, certain standing machinery had been established with specific functions. Chief among these may be mentioned the Imperial Economic Committee, which was established in 1925, its membership comprising representatives of all parts of the Commonwealth and Empire. Its functions, which have been temporarily suspended through the war, were expanded by the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and 1930 and again as a result of the Report of the Imperial Committee on Economic Consultation and Co-operation, 1933 (Cmd. 4335). For information on other standing bodies for the carrying out of special studies and the exchange of information, such as the Imperial Shipping Committee and the Executive Council of the Imperial Agricultural Bureaux, I cannot do better than refer the hon. Member to that Report.

The special conditions created by the war have led to the setting up of new machinery to facilitate the discussion of supply and other problems arising, out of the dislocation of normal trade. The most important of the bodies established for this purpose are the Commonwealth Supply Council and the London Food Council. The Commonwealth Supply Council was established to co-ordinate, within the framework of the combined war planning of the United Nations, problems arising within the British Commonwealth in regard to the production and requirements of raw materials (other than fuel and foodstuffs) and of finished goods, including plans, components and other things necessary for their manufacture. The London Food Council was set up, as a parallel body, to formulate in conjunction with the appropriate authorities plans of common concern to its members regarding the production, supply, movement, allocation and utilisation of foodstuffs and related products and of agricultural materials used for the production of such foodstuffs. Canada, because of her special position in relation to North American production and supply problems does not take a direct part in the proceedings of these Councils, which are otherwise fully representative of the Commonwealth and Empire. The Commonwealth Supply Council and London Food Council carry out their detailed work mainly through Committees, dealing in the case of the former with broad categories such as raw materials, machine tools, railway equipment and non-munition supplies and in the case of the London Food Council with each of the principal foodstuffs in short supply, e.g. meat, oils and fats and cereals. Joint Committees of the two Councils have been established to consider questions relating to such matters as fertilisers and food and farm machinery.

A Committee known as the Principal Commonwealth Supply Committee has been set up in Washington to deal with supply problems of concern both to the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth and Empire Supply Missions. The Committee, under the chairmanship of the United Kingdom Resident Minister for Supply, includes the heads of other Commonwealth and Empire Missions. It works in close conjunction with the Commonwealth Supply Committee in London. In addition consultation on various wartime supply questions has been facilitated by bodies such as the Eastern Group Supply Council at Delhi (which does not however deal with supplies for civilians). Moreover certain supply departments here have had permanent Missions in some of the Dominions, such as the British Food Missions in Ottawa and Canberra, while Dominion Supply Departments have also arranged for special representatives in London.

In war-time, too, as in peace-time, the normal methods of consultation on economic matters have been continuously employed. These include communications between Governments by telegram and mail and through, for example, United Kingdom High Commissioners and Trade Commissioners in the Dominions and Dominion High Commissioners and Trade Commissioners in London. Particular problems as they arise may also be dealt with in ad hoc meetings of Ministers or officials from the various parts of the Commonwealth or by visits of special technical Missions between one part of the Commonwealth and another. The improvement in means of transport has done much to facilitate the employment of these latter methods.

It is difficult to say at present what further special machinery may be required after the war to deal with economic co-operation in the British Commonwealth. It will, of course, be for all the Commonwealth Governments in consultation to determine when the conditions which gave rise to the existing special war-time arrangements have come to an end, and whether further machinery to supplement the normal channels of consultation would then be required.