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Imperial Preference

Volume 245: debated on Thursday 20 November 1930

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49.

asked the Prime Minister whether the undertaking given by the Government to the Imperial Conference to continue the existing imperial preferences for three years includes both the McKenna and Safeguarding Duties?

51.

asked the Prime Minister whether the pledge given at the Imperial Conference to maintain all existing preferences intact for three years applies to the preferences enjoyed by other parts of the Empire in respect of the McKenna and Safeguarding Duties, the Silk Duty, and Key Industries Duties?

I have been asked to reply. Paragraph 3 of the Declaration made by the United Kingdom Government at the Imperial Conference applies to all existing duties. This application is, of course, governed by any provisions, e.g. as to duration, in the existing law relating to those duties, and is subject to the rights of the United Kingdom Parliament to fix the Budget from year to year.

Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up this point in regard to the McKenna Duties: seeing that the margin of preference at present is 11 per cent., if he decided to reduce the McKenna Duties, would he be precluded by his pledge from reducing them below 10 per cent.?

Certainly not. It will work out like this. Take the case of the McKenna Duties. If we reduced a duty upon foreign imports from 33½ per cent. to 11 per cent. and brought in imports from the Empire free, the existing margin would still be maintained.

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider himself entitled to reduce the McKenna Duties altogether?

Does not the pledge to maintain the existing preferential margin mean a pledge so far as the Government are concerned, unless it is over-ridden by Parliament, to maintain every duty that carries preference with it at the present moment?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows if he has read it carefully—there is snore than one condition—this Declaration to maintain the existing preferential margins is subject to what may be done at the Conference at Ottawa, and it is governed by the maintenance of the right of Parliament to deal with these duties; but apart from that, there is, of course, an obligation that the existing duties—using the word existing in the sense I explained in reply to the question—would maintain the preference.

I want to ask, apart from any equivocation about the rights of Parliament—

That shows how unsuitable it is to try to debate this kind of subject at Question Time.