HC Deb 04 May 1933 vol 277 cc1004-7
45. Mr. ATTLEE

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now able to make a statement in reference to the recent discussions which have taken place between the President of the United States of America, and himself?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

Yes, Sir. As, however, the statement is rather long, I propose, with the permission of Mr. Speaker, to make it at the close of Quesions.

At the end of Questions,


I should imagine the House would like a statement, as brief as I can make it, of what happened during my visit to Washington.

My conversations with President Roosevelt during the four days I was in Washington followed exactly on the lines which I indicated to this House during the Debate on the Adjournment on the 13th of last month. I was anxious first of all to ascertain the President's views upon the calling of the International Economic Conference, and finding that we were in agreement, and, subsequently, that M. Herriot shared our opinion, we communicated with the organising committee, and the 12th June has been fixed for the meeting of the Conference. We discussed in some detail, as I indicated in the speech to which I have referred, the subjects which were to be brought up at the Conference. These included questions of tariff, quotas, exchange controls and stability in national currencies. A tariff truce during the sittings of the Conference was also considered. Our purpose was to ascertain by intimate discussion what the prospects were of cooperation, not to come to definite agreements. We both shared the view that our respective countries should enter the Conference, which is now to meet so soon, with hands completely untied.

The result of these exchanges of view and examination of problems was most encouraging. In view of the controversy which has arisen with reference to the suggestion of a tariff truce, I had better say that I felt it to be my duty to point out how different is the position of a country like our own from that of those which are already high tariff countries, with policies of economic defence already fully worked out and in operation. Whilst I welcomed the idea of a truce during the period of the Conference, I made it plain that its application would have to be subject to the safeguards which this difference in our position requires. This was considered to be reasonable. I took an opportunity of putting before the President a full account of British policy on disarmament, and as the result of our discussions we reached common views which have been reflected in the effective co-operation between the British and the American delegates in support of the Draft Convention now before the Disarmament Conference at Geneva.

We also discussed the question of debts and frankly examined the problem in all its aspects. These exchanges of view were of particular importance as they brought out in well defined detail what differences had to be reconciled not only in a final settlement but in the immediate handling of the question. On this subject I can make no fuller statement at present, as the matter has necessarily not yet reached the stage of agreement.

As to the visit as a whole, while I wish to convey no exaggerated impressions, I would say with confidence that the mutual understanding between ourselves and the American Government has been materially improved by the discussions which I have had with the President, for whose friendly hospitality and unreserved helpfulness throughout all our deliberations the warmest thanks of the Government are due.


I think the House will agree that the Press, as usual, has been able to anticipate the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, but I wish to ask him whether Tuesday will be convenient for him to make a fuller statement and to take the House and the country into his confidence? I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is broadcasting to-morrow night, and I want to know whether it will be convenient for him to come down to the House next Tuesday and give us a full statement of the Government's policy generally in regard to the World Economic Conference. There are many questions that I would like to add, but obviously I have no right to try to raise them now. I am sure, however, that both the House and the country will expect to hear very much more from the Prime Minister than the very meagre statement that he has just made, and I hope we may be able to discuss that statement on Tuesday, on a Supply day.


That is why the Supply day has been put down for Tuesday. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will help me to understand what he means by certain things that he has said to-day, by making a statement and putting questions to me on Tuesday upon the further matters about which he wishes to have information. I shall be very glad indeed to give a full reply, as fas as I possibly can, to the questions that are put and the observations that are made.


This is an extraordinary way for a Government to conduct its business. We ask what the policy of the Government is, and the Prime Minister says, "Put some questions to me." What have I to put questions to him about? I will only say now that there is no one in this House or outside who has the least idea what the right hon. Gentle- man has in his mind for putting before the World Economic Conference. Our position is that the House and the country have a right to know, before the Government go into that Conference, what policy it is that the Government propose to put before the Conference and to ask the Conference to adopt. It is all very well to make a set of general statements like those we have just heard, and then for the Prime Minister to say, "Ask me questions about them." We want the right hon. Gentleman to set out the Government's policy, and then we will question him.


Will the question of War Debts come before the World Economic Conference?




The Prime Minister told the House that we were going into the Economic Conference with our hands untied. Does he realise that the trade agreements already before the House to some extent tie our hands before we go into the Conference?




It is irregular to have a Debate on the subject.


My question arises out of what has been said. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that it is quite useless to hold this Economic Conference until the question of War Debts has been settled?