asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what consultations took place with colonial governments before His Majesty's Government entered into negotiations with the Cuban Government with regard to the purchase of sugar, tobacco or grapefruit.
There was no such prior consultation, because no one could foretell exactly what proposals might be brought forward in the course of trade negotiations covering a wide field. Discussions are still continuing, but His Majesty's Government have the interests of Commonwealth producers very much in mind.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the colonial Governments were not consulted because the Colonial Office did not think it necessary to consult them, or was it because the Colonial Office did not know the negotiations were going on and, therefore, could not consult?
The reason was the reason I have given in my reply.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give a definite assurance to the House that the Colonial Office were told by the President of the Board of Trade that negotiations with Cuba were imminent and would involve a new sugar contract? If so, what was the reply given by his right hon. Friend?
No, Sir. I think that all these matters will come out when my right hon. Friend makes his statement on the negotiations.
But does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that while Porto Rico, Haiti and other independent countries were represented at Torquay, the only representation of the British West Indian Colonies was through his right hon. Friend? Does this not make it all the more incumbent to protect their interests before negotiations start, and not afterwards?
I would remind the hon. Member that my right hon. Friend is a member of the Cabinet and that the Government act as one in these matters.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a large supply of sugar, and off the ration if possible, is the chief consideration?
To meet the very intense desire of the West Indies for consultation in these matters, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of sending out a delegation from his Department, or from his Department in collaboration with the Board of Trade, to consult with the West Indies on this after before an agreement is reached with Cuba?
Consultations are continuous. I do not think there is any need for a special delegation of that character.
Has the right hon. Gentleman taken the trouble to find out what an enormous volume of criticism there is in the West Indies today against the action that the Government have taken, and the fact that this action has been taken behind their backs without consultation at all?
Since there is no action that has been taken decisively in this matter, will not ray right hon. Friend consider the suggestion which I have made, and which, I assure him, would meet with great approval in the West Indies? It would meet with great gratification if a delegation could go from here to discuss the whole matter fully before an agreement is reached.
I will lay that suggestion before my right hon. Friend.