asked the President of the Board of Trade what reply has been made to the request by the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community that, in accordance with the terms of the agreement on commercial relations concluded in 1957 between the Community and the United Kingdom, they should be granted retroactively 30 days' delay in the imposition of the 15 per cent. surcharge.
Our reply to the aide mémoire, which was handed to the High Authority's representative in London on 22nd April, explained that Her Majesty's Government had concluded with the utmost reluctance that they were unable to agree to the High Authority's request that imports from the European Coal and Steel Community should be retrospectively exempted from the British import surcharge for a period of 30 days.
Does not this whole miserable story prove once again how incompetently the surcharge was imposed; that it was clearly in breach of the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community, and that Her Majesty's Government, by their actions at that time and by their delay in answering the request of the Coal and Steel Community, have now once again shown how little they care for our relations with Europe and how much they have damaged them?
That is not a conclusion in which I would concur. In any case, the High Authority has been well assured of our desire to maintain close links with the European Coal and Steel Community.
Does not the Minister think that in this case some form of compensatory action by Her Majesty's Government is called for, particularly in view of the incredible time it has taken the Government to answer this request? Was not this, even for this Government, a record in international discourtesy?
Members of the High Authority did not themselves complain of the delay. They accepted the view that it was sensible to await the discussion which took place at a meeting of the High Authority on 5th March before the Government finally gave their answer.
Will the hon. Gentleman press upon his right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Government the necessity, in the interests of good relations with our trade partners abroad, of abandoning altogether, at the earliest possible moment, the surcharge, which has done untold harm?
Without concurring in the right hon. Gentleman's conclusion, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is already aware that the Government are committed to reducing, and abandoning, the surcharge just as soon as the balance of payments position permits.