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Australian Import Restrictions

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 24 April 1952

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asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will now make a statement on the progress of discussions with Her Majesty's Government in Australia on proposals for modifying the cut in Australian imports of United Kingdom manufactures, particularly textiles, during the present year.


asked the President of the Board of Trade what results he has achieved from consultation with the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia about the cancellation or refusal of licences for the import of British textiles in general, and Scottish chenille in particular.

The attention of the Australian Government has been drawn to the serious effects of their recently imposed import restrictions for many United Kingdom industries. The difficulties of our textile industries have been particularly stressed. The Australian authorities have not so far found it possible, within the ceiling which they have had to impose on their total imports in order to correct their balance of payments, to do anything to alleviate these difficulties. But I look forward to the opportunity of discussing the whole position with Mr. Menzies when he visits the United Kingdom next month.

May the House take it that Her Majesty's Government will have proposals for arrangements mutually advantageous to Australia and ourselves by the time that Mr. Menzies arrives in this country?

I will certainly raise all the major issues of principle with Mr. Menzies when he comes here.

As the Government have now admitted that they failed to safeguard the interests of the United Kingdom in this matter at the conference, will the right hon. Gentleman now review the whole matter with all the Commonwealth countries concerned at an early date?

I think the right hon. Gentleman is well aware that Her Majesty's Government have admitted nothing of the kind.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to take particular care of the rather small, but none the less important, industry of chenille making in Scotland?

This is a very serious matter, as I am sure the President of the Board of Trade realises. May I ask him whether Her Majesty's Government will now call a new Commonwealth economic conference to discuss the whole situation arising as a result of these cuts?

That is quite a different question, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will put it down on the Order Paper.

In regard to those portions of imports into Australia which are the subject of existing contracts, has my right hon. Friend taken legal advice whether the action of the Australian Government is legal or not? Will he note that the highest legal opinion taken in Australia is that it was an illegal act by the Australian Government to cancel the existing contracts unilaterally?

My attention has been called to the report to which my hon. Friend refers. Naturally, the question of these contracts is one which is uppermost in our minds, and will be dealt with in the discussions with Mr. Menzies when he comes to this country.

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, is he aware that his hon. Friend the Secretary for Overseas Trade told me in answer to a Question that Her Majesty's Government had made no representations to the Australian Government on this point at all?

If the right hon. Gentleman will look at that matter, he will find that my hon. Friend did not refer to the period of the Finance Ministers' Conference. It was a different occasion in respect of a different point.


asked the President of the Board of Trade which industries are affected by the recent Australian import restrictions; and to what extent by volume and value in each case.

A wide range of industries are affected by the import restrictions. Full details of the restrictions were given in the Board of Trade Journal of 22nd March, and from that list it will be clear which are the industries affected. As the Australian import quotas in the 20 per cent. category are available for any goods within that quota category, and as licences may be used for imports from any source other than the dollar area and

To all AreasTo AustraliaExports to Australia as percentage of Total Exports
£m.£m.Per cent.
United Kingdom total exports2,580·0323·913
Cotton yarns and manufactures209·239·419
Woollen and worsted yarns and manufactures176·815·79
Motor cars108·223·026
Motor car vehicle chassis11·08·4
Motor cycles9·32·527
Rubber manufactures (excluding tyres and tubes)12·72·117
Rayon and silk yarns and manufactures64·319·330
Linen Piece Goods14·31·510
Carpets, woollen22·510·748
Lino and felt base8·83·135
Hard Haberdashery4·81·123

Note.—The Australian quotas are based on Australian imports during the period July, 1950-June, 1951.


asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will call a conference of the Export Credits Guarantee Department and representatives of all industries affected by Australian action in order to formulate joint proposals for presentation to Mr. Menzies when he visits this country.

Japan, it is impossible to forecast precisely the effect of the restrictions on particular industries. I will, however, as a general guide and indication of the industries most seriously affected, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a table of selected United Kingdom exports in 1951, showing the proportion which went to Australia.

Is the Minister aware of the special difficulties that have been created in these industries which have made goods specially for the Australian market and which bear, for example, the imprint of an Australian firm and cannot therefore be re-sold elsewhere? Will he give special consideration to that aspect of the matter?

I am aware of this difficulty, which is one of those which we have impressed upon the Australian Government.

Following is the table:

Since the proportion of our exports to Australia insured with the Export Credits Guarantee Department was very small, I doubt whether a conference between the industries affected and that Department would be very useful. But the purpose which the hon. Member has in mind is, I think, already being served by the frequent discussions which my Department and the Ministry of Supply have had, and are having, with representatives of the interests most seriously affected by the Australian import restrictions. And I can assure him that I am quite clear about the main issues and am looking forward to this opportunity of discussing them with Mr. Menzies.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a widespread desire among exporters to have such a conference and to receive clear guidance as to what their attitude should be?

If there is any body of manufacturers who are affected by this and who would like to consult with me and my Department, I am always available and at their disposal.

Will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to give us a report as a result of the discussions that are going on between the industry and his Department and the Ministry of Supply?

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the real solution for this problem is to have Customs and currency so close that individual balance of payments problems never arise? Will he keep that solution clearly in mind in any discussions he may have?

The point raised by the hon. Member is really very much wider than the Question on the Order Paper.