HC Deb 28 March 1928 vol 215 cc1141-4

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the fact that the continuance of civil strife in China is prolonged by the ease with which the contesting parties can obtain arms from Europe, he can state if there is any prospect that the League of Nations Convention on the control of international traffic in arms, which was concluded in Geneva three years ago and has until now been ratified only by two countries, will soon be ratified by the other members of the League Assembly?

7. Mr. RILEY

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has drawn the attention of His Majesty's Government to the stress laid by the representative of France on the Council of the League of Nations on the desirability of ratifying the Arms Traffic Convention; and whether it is proposed to present the Convention to this House with a view to ratification?

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Austen Chamberlain)

The only operative instrument for controlling the supply of arms to China for civil war purposes is the China Arms Embargo Agreement of 1919. The effectiveness of this Agreement has been largely impaired by the fact that some of the principal arms supplying States, notably Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, are not parties to it. The possibility of making the embargo more fully effective was considered at a meeting of the Diplomatic Body in Peking on the 21st of February last, when the German Minister declared the readiness of his Government to accede to the Agreement. The meeting decided that an identic telegram should he sent by all the representatives to their respective Governments drawing attention to the importance of the Agreement and to the necessity for preventing the exportation of arms and munitions of war to China, and expressing the conviction that those Powers who have not yet taken any measures in this respect should be induced to do so as soon as possible.

On the 1st of March the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs handed a Note to the Soviet Ambassador urging that his Government should refrain from allowing the importation of arms into China by their nationals. Representations have also been made to the Czechoslovak Government by His Majesty's Minister at Prague. Dr. Benes replied that Czechoslovakia could not become party to an Agreement prohibiting the export of arms to China unless it were really an international one equally binding on all States.

As regards the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925, His Majesty's Government are prepared to ratify at any moment when they can secure simultaneous ratification by the principal arms producing Powers. As stated by me on the 24th of November, 1926, His Majesty's Government made this suggestion to the Governments of Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United States of America, but the replies which have been received indicate that there is no immediate prospect of simultaneous ratification by all these Governmeats.


Does opposition come particularly from the United States of America to the signing of a Convention of this character?


It comes from more quarters than one, but as to the United States of America such indication as we have of their policy is that they are not prepared to sign.


Has any of the Governments signified willingness to ratify?


I must ask for notice of that question.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many of the replies received from the various States were to the effect that they were willing to ratify?


I should require notice of that question.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Would it not, be better if we followed the spirit of the prohibition of arms to China ourselves by prohibiting our nationals, such as Captain Sutton from engaging in munition making?


That is another matter altogether.


We are discharging all our obligations.

33. Mr. HARRIS

asked the President of the Board of Trade the policy of the Government in relation to the purchase of armaments in this country by foreign Powers; and whether they discourage the purchase of guns, rifles, and ammunition by other nations in this country that might be possibly used against this country at a future date?

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Herbert Williams)

In the interest of British trade, His Majesty's Government are not prepared to prevent altogether the export of arms and ammunition from this country to all destinations. Such goods can, however, only be exported by virtue of a licence, and in cases where there is reason to fear improper use a licence is refused.


Is it the policy of the Government to discourage trade of this character as likely to be hostile to the interests of this country


Clearly; that is why a licensing system is in operation.


What inquiries are made to see if arms are to be improperly used?


Every proper inquiry according to the nature of the circumstances.


What guarantee have you that, though they may go to a friendly Government, they will not be used by an unfriendly Government later?


Is it not the case that you only take action when it is a case of arms for the Republicans in Ireland, but not for your own friends abroad?