asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (1) what decline in imports from Commonwealth countries he expects as a result of the imposition of import surcharges; and
(2) what studies he is making of the effect of the import surcharges on the economies of Commonwealth countries.
The purpose of the charge is, of course, to reduce imports, but it leaves consumer choice free. Its effect on any particular category of imports and particular supplying countries will depend on the decisions of importers and consumers. The Government will keep a careful watch on the effect.
Is not the Minister rather ashamed of having to give that reply when very little consideration has been given to the effect on the Commonwealth'? Have any talks been carried on between the Minister and the Minister for Overseas Development about special aid to offset this severe blow to Commonwealth trade?
Other Commonwealth Governments have already in some cases indicated their confidential views on how import charges will affect them. They will probably give more detailed accounts when they have had time to consider the matter more carefully. I cannot go further than that at the moment.
Could my hon. Friend tell us for how much longer exporters in the Commonwealth countries would be prepared to export to us if we were not in a position to pay for their exports?
Can the hon. Gentleman now clarify once and for all that no advance notification whatever was given to the Commonwealth, but was given to the United States of America? Can we have a straight answer to that, as it is a question which we have found it difficult to get answered?
All Governments were notified. There was no consultation. I can assure the House that any difference in timing of the messages to Commonwealth and other Governments was not significant.
Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) on the honour which he has just had bestowed upon him for political services? At the same time, will he reject the patronising attitude which we are now witnessing day by day from hon. Members opposite and in plain language reject it? If he does not have a sufficient supply of plain language, let him come to me and I will lend it to him.