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Import Controls

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what consideration has been given to import controls in the light of Great Britain's current and prospective trade deficit.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement regarding his Department's policy on import controls.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in the House on 4th March, we reject the general policy of import controls since we do not believe that they would lead to an improvement in our balance of payments.

Last Monday, speaking from the Dispatch Box, the Under-Secretary of State said—these were his precise words—that the Government were dedicated to the principle of free trade. May we be assured that that dedication will be able to withstand the powerful influences of the Department of Industry, which, we suspect, harbours quite a number of those who would be much in favour of import controls?

The general policy of this Government and of succeeding Governments has been in favour of a progressively freer international trade regime. But that has been based upon the premise that we are dealing with a long-term expansion and growth in world trade as a whole, and the problem which the whole world is facing now is that that expansion of world trade is coming to a stop and we are all confronted with particular problems of deficit on our balance of payments. Although one or two countries are now exceptionally in surplus, this is a grave problem. My approach, and my view on the matter, is that in this special post-oil crisis situation, when there are only one or two countries in surplus, it would be a great folly if we were to impose restrictions on each other's trade, because this would lead, as sure as anything, to retaliation and a snowball effect. Therefore, we must find alternative ways of financing these deficits rather than turn in upon ourselves and rend the expanding world trade system from which we have all derived such benefit in the past quarter of a century.

In this context will my right hon. Friend look into the position of the steel industry, bearing in mind that for every ton of steel which we export to Western Europe we are importing no less than 17 tons from Western Europe into this country and that as a result of that sort of development some of my con stituents are now going on short-time working? Does that not indicate that an over-concentration on the Western European market is not exactly in British interests, and does it not show also that the Common Market countries have a substantial vested interest in retaining our market?

The answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's question is that that is of course so, but my general remarks about our trade policy and the difficulties which we face at present do not exclude separate and special consideration of particular commodities where a case can be made legitimately, as I said in reply to an earlier Question, that they are causing market disruption, that goods are being dumped, and that material injury is being caused.