General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1956.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West 12:00 am, 26th January 1956

asked the President of the Board of Trade what United Kingdom tariffs he is proposing to reduce at the present session of the signatories of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to cut the cost of living in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I cannot anticipate the outcome of these negotiations. Any reductions which we may make in our tariff will depend on the extent to which other countries are willing to make concessions in favour of our exports.

Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West

Does not the President think that in the present state of G.A.T.T. it is most essential that that Agreement is not allowed to stagnate; it must either go backwards or forwards? Unless we make positive proposals for reductions of tariffs, is not the Agreement likely to fall down before long?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

If I were to state at this Box all the tariff reductions I was proposing to make, my bargaining position in Geneva would be a little embarrassed.

Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has any statement to make on the progress of the tariff negotiations at Geneva between participating Governments in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

No, Sir. The negotiations, which have only just begun, must be conducted in confidence, and no report can therefore be expected before their conclusion.

Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West

Can the Minister give us an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will not introduce any new or increased tariffs or other import restrictions which might not only wreck the Geneva Conference but have serious repercussions in countries to which we export, and so adversely affect our export trade?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

If we are to have successful negotiation, we ought to leave the hands of our negotiators free.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Preston North

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the fact that no fewer than five Commonwealth countries have not bothered—in my view rightly so—to send their delegations to the G.A.T.T. meeting? How does my right hon. Friend reconcile this fact with his own repeated assertions that the Commonwealth were enthusiastically in favour of this organisation?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

There are many activities in this organisation other than this particular round of tariff negotiation; which indeed is not being conducted over a very wide front owing to the fact that the United States are limited to reductions of about 15 per cent. in any event.

Photo of Mr Arthur Holt Mr Arthur Holt , Bolton West

While agreeing that negotiators should be left a free hand, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman does not agree that they should not be given a free hand to put G.A.T.T. into reverse?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I do not think there is any question of this Government having put G.A.T.T. into reverse.

Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West

asked the President of the Board of Trade what attitude was adopted by Her Majesty's Government towards the limitation of the tariff negotations at Geneva, whereby such negotiations may be conducted only on a selective product-by-product basis, and for what reasons.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Her Majesty's Government fully supported the decision of the contracting parties to conduct the present negotiations on the usual product-by-product basis. An alternative plan was at one stage presented which would not, in my view, have ensured equitable results for all participating countries.

Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the bilateral approach does not seem to offer very much hope for substantial reductions? Will he press for further negotiations with a view to all-round reductions in tariffs?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

This is not a bilateral approach. This is a multilateral tariff negotiation on exactly the same basis as those which took place at Annecy and Torquay.

Photo of Sir Archer Baldwin Sir Archer Baldwin , Leominster

Would my right hon. Friend take steps to oppose the policy of the Liberal Party, who want to return to free trade, the system which ruined agriculture in this country and very nearly brought us to starvation in two world wars?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

What I am concerned with in the context of this question is to conduct negotiations satisfactorily to the interest of this country.