§ 2. Captain CROOKSHANK
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has received from the British Commercial Counsellor in Washington any report regarding the grounds on which an embargo has been placed on Russian timber entering the United States; and, if so, whether he will consider the advisability of taking similar action on these grounds?
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the replies which were given to questions on this subject by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St Marylebone (Sir R. Rodd) on the 14th July, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) on the 21st July.
§ 47. Mr. DOUGLAS HACKING
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the fact that forced labour, including that of prisoners, is employed in the timber industry in the Soviet Union, he will exercise the powers conferred upon him by the Foreign Prison Made Goods Act and forbid the importation into this country of timber produced within the Soviet Union?
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Philip Snowden)
I am advised that the provisions of the Foreign Prison Made Goods Act give no such general power as is suggested in the question. I would point out that before the provisions of the Act can be put into operation it is necessary that evidence be produced to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise that any particular consignment of goods has been made or produced wholly or in part in a foreign prison, gaol, house of correction or penitentiary. If any such evidence is forthcoming with regard to specific consignments of timber from the Soviet Union it should, in accordance with the Act, be submitted to the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, but I would point out that such evidence must be sufficiently detailed and conclusive to satisfy the Commissioners that any action taken by them would be sustainable if challenged in a Court of Law.
§ Mr. HACKING
In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman said that he has powers under this Act to prevent the importation of timber or other goods produced in any foreign penitentiary, does he assume, by stating that he cannot take action, that these prisoners in Russia are not doing penance?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not assume anything of the sort. When the hon. Member sees the answer, he will find that goods must have been produced or made in a penitentiary. As far as I know anything of the facts of the case referred to by the hon. Member, these goods are neither made nor produced in a penitentiary.
§ Mr. HACKING
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has admitted that these goods are produced by prison labour, and that, therefore, the prisoners must be doing penance, and, if they are doing penance, they must be in a penitentiary?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
If the goods referred to are made or produced wholly or in part in a penitentiary, then, if the case be laid before the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, they will take action under the Act, but, as I pointed out in the latter part of my reply, the circumstances must be conclusive, so conclusive that if any action is taken it can be sustained in a Court of Law.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the answer that he gave in the first part of his substantive reply is based upon a decision of the Law Officers? Has the matter been put to the Law Officers as to whether or not the Act applies?
§ 50. Mr. MARJORIBANKS
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will amend the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act, 1897, so as to empower the Revenue to forbid the importation of forced labour by persons other than convicts?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by the Secretary, Overseas Trade Department, on the 18th March last to a similar question by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs).
§ Mr. MARJORIBANKS
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since that date new circumstances have arisen, and that the embargo upon Russian timber, preventing it from going into America, is bound to react upon British labour and to prevent British workmen from doing their work?