Senior Economic Officials (Meeting)

Oral Answers to Questions — Commonwealth Relations – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30 April 1959.

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Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North 12:00, 30 April 1959

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations if he will instruct the United Kingdom delegation to the forthcoming Commonwealth Economic Conference to invite the Conference to study plans for the joint Commonwealth approach to the European Common Market.

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

The meeting of senior economic officials representing Commonwealth Governments, to be held in London starting on 5th May, will exchange views on general trade and economic subjects. They will have available the views of the United Kingdom Government set out by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General in his speech on 12th February when he outlined the problems attendant on such an approach.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

Would my hon. Friend agree that if we are not able to work out some kind of co-ordinated plan for a Commonwealth approach to the Common Market, there is every reason to think that the Common Market countries will then work out individual deals with the individual members of the Commonwealth, and that the United Kingdom will be left with the worst of all possible worlds? Will he please give this most serious attention?

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

I do not think that will necessarily happen. When my right hon. Friend pointed out the difficulties to which I referred in my Answer, he also said that he was not ruling out a discussion with the Commonwealth on this matter, and continued: The Government do not rule out any suggestions in these circumstances, but they are concerned that the real difficulties involved should be well known "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 1383 and 1384.] I can assure my hon. Friend that we are in close contact with Commonwealth Governments on this subject.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Will these consultations provide an opportunity for discussing the question of hides, and ascertain whether the Commonwealth countries are prepared either to let us have hides or to do without a preference? There is a great shortage.

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

The agenda of this conference, which takes place normally each year, is not published, but I have no doubt that many aspects, such as the one the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to, will be considered at it. I cannot, however, give an undertaking that this subject will be on the agenda.

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester and Chatham

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations if he has any statement to make about a meeting of high-ranking Commonwealth officials to discuss trade and economic questions.

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

This meeting will be held in London for three or four days starting on 5th May and will be attended by senior officials representing all Commonwealth Governments. The meeting is part of the continuing process of Commonwealth economic consultation and will provide an occasion for an exchange of views on general trade and economic subjects. The range of subjects discussed will be broadly similar to that covered at the Montreal Conference last year.

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester and Chatham

Can the Under-Secretary of State say whether, in addition to the discussions arising from the Montreal Conference, an opportunity will be provided to brief the President of the Board of Trade before his forthcoming tour to the Soviet Union?

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

As I have said in answer to a previous supplementary question, the nature of the agenda for these discussions is never divulged, but the question of trade between the West and the Soviet Union is constantly under consideration.

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester and Chatham

But the Under-Secretary particularised and said that the discussions would be concerned with matters arising from the Montreal Conference. Since then the Prime Minister has been on a special trip to the Soviet Union and has emphasised the importance of Anglo-Soviet trade. The Commonwealth has a right to express its opinion on this matter and surely this meeting of Commonwealth officials is the right occasion for doing so?

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

There would be an absolute right on the part of those representing all Commonwealth Governments to raise any subject they wished. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out the importance of this subject, and it is reasonable to suppose that, if any Commonwealth Government wishes to raise the matter, it will be discussed at that meeting.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations if he will instruct the United Kingdom delegation to the forthcoming Commonwealth Economic Conference to invite the conference to study the plans of Mr. St. Clare Grondona for commodity price stabilisation, details of which have been supplied to him.

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

Commodity problems were fully discussed at Montreal and Commonwealth policy was set out in the Report of the Conference. United Kingdom officials had available on that occasion some of the material published by Mr. St. Clare Grondona in support of his ideas.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

While in no way minimising the immense difficulties of this problem, may I ask my hon. Friend if he would agree that if we could find such a scheme to stabilise commodity prices it would be one of the most effective ways in which this country could aid the Colonial Territories, and that Mr. St. Clare Grondona's ideas are, at the very least, worthy of the most serious study by the Conference?

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

I can assure my hon. Friend that the views of Mr. St. Clare Grondona were brought to the attention of the Department some months ago and they were given serious study, as indeed have his views which have been set out at intervals over earlier years, but there are very grave difficulties with regard to the application in practice of the proposition to which I think my hon. Friend referred. However, I fully agree that it is of the greatest importance to the primary producing countries of the Commonwealth that we should find some means, if it is possible, of achieving stability. It was agreed at the Montreal Conference that the problems of each commodity in turn would be examined by the countries concerned.

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester and Chatham

While I appreciate that the Commonwealth Relations Office officials have examined this matter most carefully, may I ask the Under-Secretary if he would agree that there would be advantages in the Commonwealth officials and Ministers as a whole examining Mr. Grondona's proposals?

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

When my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury was asked about this he made it very clear that the views had been considered by the Treasury as well. If any official representing any Commonwealth Government at the Conference wishes to raise these points, it is perfectly open to him to do so.

Mr. Dugdale:

While I have every sympathy with this gentleman's ideas, may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Labour Party's schemes for bulk purchase achieved much of what is desired in the Question and that if they were reintroduced it would be a very great contribution to the solution of the problem?

Photo of Mr Cuthbert Alport Mr Cuthbert Alport , Colchester

If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there is an analogy between the Labour Party's schemes and the ideas of Mr. St. Clare Grondona, I do not think he is suggesting that they would be easily acceptable to the Government of this country.