asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will consider increasing the margin of preference for Empire wines and reducing the duty, particularly on Australian heavy wines, so as to absorb some of the surplus production which was based upon the much greater pre-war imports into this country.
Any increase in the present margins of preference in the rates of duty on wine would be contrary to the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. So far as the question of reducing the rates of wine duty is concerned, I am afraid that I cannot anticipate the Budget statement.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that before the war we took something like four-fifths of the Australian wine production, thus encouraging expansion in that industry, but that many small growers are now faced with ruin by the change of policy? Will the hon. Gentleman further bear in mind that we should really make Empire trade a two-way traffic and do the best we can to help these people in the Dominions and Colonies, who have always done so much to help us?
I assure the hon. Member that we are fully aware of the circumstances, but I do not think that either he or anyone else would suggest that we could break the conditions of this general agreement.
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that owing to the general rise in duty, the preference rate is now infinitely smaller in proportion to the general duty than it was before the war, and that it is almost true to say that there is no useful preferential rate at all?