HC Deb 31 July 1951 vol 491 cc1359-82

12.32 a.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

One of the fundamental democratic rights which the people of this country have secured is that our legitimate grievances should be remedied or reflected in the House before we support Supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) and I have a grievance with regard to what may be the effects of the draft Japanese Peace Treaty, and before that is finally drawn up we want to place on record our views about the Treaty.

Anyone who knows anything about Labour's real policy knows that for 30 years the Labour movement, at conference after conference, has raised this issue. If there is anyone who has any doubts about that, all he need do is to read the "Labour Magazine" of 1922, the "Daily Herald," when it was a real Labour paper in 1932, the Trades Union Congress Report of 1950, and finally, the very fine document, which can be obtained in the Vote Office—it is surprising how very few seem to have seen it—published in 1948 by the Board of Trade on the future development of the Japanese economy.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

In view of all this, why did the Labour Party oppose the Silk Duties in 1925, which were designed largely to deal with Japanese competition?

Mr. Smith

Perhaps the hon. Member, who, I think, was in the House at that time—I was not—and probably is familiar with that, will give us the benefit of his advice on that matter. What we are concerned about now is the future effects of the draft Peace Treaty if it is allowed to be signed in the way that is proposed.

When I was preparing a few notes on this question, I went to my locker and was surprised to find the evidence, which I now have, which shows where the world is going because of the military domination of the world by the American military staff. I am quoting from the "Manchester Guardian," which, judging by its recent leading articles, seems to have forgotten its own reports. A report from Washington of 30th March contains the following: Mr. Dulles believes strongly that Japan must be allowed to rebuild her economic strength with the least restraint or interference from outside. It goes on to point out the danger of the rebuilding of the shipbuilding activities of Japan.

It then deals with the question my hon. Friend raised last week, when he spoke on behalf of Lancashire. It states: … In the State Department there is a feeling of surprise at the readiness with which the main principles of a Japanese peace settlement have been accepted by other countries. … I would ask if that applies to our own country because this is one of our grievances.

For months and months in America, this matter has been discussed publicly, privately, in the Senate, and in separate committees. Yet this House has not devoted even a day to considering this very serious Treaty, with its inevitable effects upon our industrial position. As the result of reading an American document, I find that it is proposed they should supply Japan with cotton, oil, iron-ore, and coking coal for a considerable time. No wonder the people of our industrial areas are uneasy about this proposed Treaty.

Even the Japanese themselves are opposed to the re-armament of Japan. The Chairman of the Japanese Social Democratic Party, in a statement published in the "Manchester Guardian," points out the dangers of rearming Japan. He states that the Japanese people are heartily sick of war and do not want re-armament. We would have been lacking in our duty tonight, those of us who speak on behalf of the pottery, textile and silk industries, if we did not reflect the growing uneasiness about the proposed United States industrial colonisation by financial penetration of Japan.

In my view, the Government should seriously consider this before they put their signature to the proposed Peace Treaty in September. The Government should insist on safeguards or refuse to be a party to this proposed Treaty. Japan was, before the war, and still is, a terrible menace to the standards which we have built up in our country. I find, according to an American publication published by the State Department of Commerce, that the industrial production of Japan is going up month by month, and that it will not be a very long before Japan reaches her pre-war output in many respects. Japan's production of electric power—and people in our own country should take note of this—as the result of harnessing increased supplies from hydro-electrification, has already been enormously increased over her pre-war output; and electric power is the basis of modern industrial activity.

Those of us who represented Stoke-on-Trent in Parliament before the war are uneasy about this proposed Treaty. Some may think that this is not serious, but, as sure as I am standing here, they will realise it is serious if they live another five years. Ninety per cent. of the British pottery output is produced in the city which my hon. Friends and I have the honour to represent, and we mean to represent it, no matter what other people may be thinking.

The finest pottery in the world is produced in the city and area we have the honour to represent. Unfortunately, due to the neglect of the past, our own people are not seeing that pottery. Some people, many of them in high places, are now living on the hard work of the engineering industry, the pottery industry and the cotton industry. Were it not for the ever-increasing output of these three industries our economic position, serious as it is, would be far more serious.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Who is stopping the British people from having a look at these articles? The Government.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The hon. Gentleman has far too great an understanding to make an interjection like that. [An HON. MEMBER: "He knows more about herrings."] No, I would not insult him like that. I have too much regard for the books he has written and which can be found on the shelves of the Library. One has only to read his books to find an indictment of his political philosophy and of the failure of past Conservative Governments.

Ninety per cent. of the raw materials for the industry for which we are pleading is obtained in this country. The industry is one of our best economic propositions. It is our best dollar earner, and because of that we are raising the matter tonight. In 1939, 300 factories employed 60,000 people in our area. Since the war, £6 million has been spent modernising porcelain factories in North Staffordshire. The world will take all the porcelain we can manufacture, and this is further evidence for the case we are raising now. We do not mind fair competition, provided it is on conditions that will compare with our own. What we are concerned about is the unfair competition which we were subjected to before the war.

Competition in the pottery industry came from the Japanese, who could make little inroads into the home market, except through chain stores, but who made enormous inroads into the Commonwealth. In Canada, 50 per cent. of the imports of pottery were Japanese, in Australia it was 70 per cent., and in South Africa 40 per cent. By 1940, the Japanese claimed to be the cheapest producer of domestic pottery in the world. The Americans bought 500,000 dollars worth of pottery from Germany and 3,111,000 dollars worth from Japan. One will readily see why we are asking for action to prevent this occurring again.

One of my hon. Friends raised this question recently and produced specimens of pottery, produced by the Japanese, which copied our ideas and designs. In five years' time, if this is allowed to continue, it will be too late to prevent our export industry from being affected. Now is the time to safeguard it. This country has spilled its blood on two occasions to safeguard democracy and to deal with military aggression, and the Government should now come to our aid to deal with potential economic aggression. Unless this Peace Treaty is radically changed, as sure as I am standing here we shall be faced with this economic aggression again in another five years.

Many of my hon. Friends, for whom I have a great respect, say, "We agree with you, but it is up to the Japanese workers to organise themselves in their trade unions." I support that, but, unfortunately, the Americans are preventing the Japanese workers from organising like we have done. If any hon. Member has any doubt about that he need only refer to the 1940 T.U.C. report, in which Mr. Terence Thornton, one of the most respected men in Lancashire, a trade unions official who is always on the workers' side, who therefore retains the respect of the men and women he represents, and who was one of a delegation which went to investigate conditions in Japan, has written a terrible indictment of conditions there and of big industrialists from America preventing the Japanese organising as we have done.

We ask that the representatives of the Government who go to Washington should point out that these matters have been raised in the House of Commons. We ask that the Treaty should be held up for a short time until the industrial representatives of all sections of the pottery industry, and of the cotton and silk industries, get a fair wages and conditions clause written into the Peace Treaty to safeguard our standards as far as possible.

12.47 a.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has put his case so well that I need not detain the House for very long. I remember the day before Sir Stafford Cripps left us, when, speaking with me on this matter, he said he was sure that the pottery industry would have to take great care in looking into the future, for it was more than likely that the severest competition would be brought to bear by the Japanese. All of us who knew him will agree with me when I say that I at once took that to heart and realised that we would indeed have to take care.

When we note that in 1946 and the first four months of 1947 Japanese exports, nearly all of pottery, were valued at seven million dollars, and when we recognise that Japanese exports of pottery compete at prices approximately one quarter of ours or even less, we can see that the volume of pottery being exported by Japan begins to approach our own in volume, and last year the value of our own export was £12,500,000. We have suffered from unfair practices and what we think is unfair competition. Everyone knows who has to come into contact with Japanese competition that there has been unfair imitation of our patterns and designs and trade stamps.

We still get complaints from manufacturers that our classical types of pottery are exactly copied and sold as products of ours. We may get some redress from that in the future, but the unfair competition we fear is a combination of American capital applied to the cheap labour of nearly 80 million people. This is something which can be very frightening and should be looked upon seriously.

We recognise that the Japanese people must live. They have been shorn of their empire. It is doubtful if their islands can feed them, without the import of food. We wish them well. Their craftsmen are not as good as the Chinese or as our own people in North Staffordshire, but we do not want to see their standard of life pushed down beyond subsistence level. On the contrary, we are saying that steps should be taken to safeguard their standard of living and that it should be brought up to a state comparable with our own, so that competition may be fair.

We would ask our American friends and allies to forget for a moment some of their own concepts of what is good business, and to think in terms of an alliance, rather than in those of strict business. It is obviously very tempting to have 80 million people to comply with everything one wants, and to do everything one asks them for little in return, with a threat always over their heads, but alliances are brittle things when unfair trading practices have to be experienced by other Powers.

I do not think I need say much more than that, except to endorse what my hon. Friend has said already. There is the fear that these 80 million people may be turned by a great, wealthy imperial Power like the United States into a colony, not only for the intimidation of Japan's neighbours, but possibly for the intimidation economically of the United States' allies. That is a dreadful thing to contemplate, and it is not right, and it is not going to help relations between ourselves and America.

Lastly, we, who may be accused of being parochial in bringing up this subject at this late hour, are, in fact, speaking not only for North Staffordshire but for Britain at large.

12.53 a.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

I have made inquiries and I find that, so far as I can trace, no notice was given by either of my hon. Friends to the Foreign Secretary that this matter was to be raised tonight. Had notice been given I should have arranged for a spokesman of the Foreign Office to be here and, after listening to the debate, to make a reply to the various points raised by my hon. Friends. However, I will undertake that the views that they have expressed shall be brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend. I know that he takes the very keenest interest in the issues that they have raised.

We have debated a variety of topics on this Bill, and I would hope that now the House would feel that it could give the Bill a Second Reading. I hope it may be agreed that that course may be followed.

12.54 a.m.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

We are much obliged to my right hon. Friend for the promise he has given. We were not quite sure whether it would be convenient to raise this matter tonight, or we should have given notice of it. When we speak on this subject we are concerned not only with the pottery trade. We recognise the difficulties in which the Government are in in having to go to San Francisco and, with other countries, to deal with this problem of signing the Treaty.

The position as we see it is this, that America, unwilling to develop trade between Japan and China, unwilling to encourage capital goods development in Japan, will make it possible for the Japanese to develop consumer goods in textiles and potteries to constitute unfair competition with our own industries. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) for pointing out that there is no desire to clamp down on that great people of 80 millions. That is not a policy of Socialism. They should have their chance. We know from past experience what the Japanese will do. We noted the remarks of the President of the Board of Trade recently, that the most-favoured-nation clause was not to be extended to Japan, that if there were any evidence of their not honouring the usual codes of production and trade agreements not only should they be hindered in some way by tariffs but that their goods should be proscribed from all civilised countries.

12.56 a.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

Whilst thanking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the promise he gave that what is said in this debate will be noted—

Mr. Ede

I went further than that. I promised that the views expressed would be conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Davies

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that assurance, but I believe that some of us should take this opportunity, if only for one or two moments, to re-emphasise the effect of the possible repercussions of the economic implications of this Treaty. In my constituency of Leek we suffered, in the past, in the silk and rayon industries, because of Japanese competition, and my hon. Friends from shipbuilding constituencies know how they suffered, too, from that competition.

For the British Government to say, "Yes" to the United States without detailed economic analysis of this Treaty might be fatal to the European economy. We shall never solve this economic problem unless we are prepared to open up the Chinese market to the Japanese. No less than 45 per cent. of the exports from Japan went to China before the war, and no amount of moving about in swivel chairs and no number of graphs with statistics will solve the human problem of the movement of goods from an advancing Japan to a China that needs these textile goods.

If the British Government agrees to the maintenance of this embargo on the movement of goods into China this problem will not be solved. It will not be solved by speeches in the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am only re-emphasising that many make pious speeches, but do not do very much else in this matter. In a world in which the Atlantic Powers are very powerful something should be done to maintain our economic position.

One thing we must do is to point out to the United States that we can destroy the possibilities of a Colombo Plan or prevent the upliftment of the Asian people if the Chinese market is not open to the flood of goods which will ultimately come from Japan. Despite the effulgent leading articles that may be written about the possibilities of this Peace Treaty, Australia is the toolshop of Asia and she wants to move towards further development. We are pushing Japanese trade right down into the south of the Pacific and into Western and Eastern Africa.

I therefore sincerely hope that when Britain goes to the talks in San Francisco she will make her voice heard and will re-emphasise the need of the textile, cotton and shipbuilding industries in Britian. There are times when we have to tell our friends that we cannot concede every economic argument that they may bring up for the purpose of building up a world strategy to contain Communism. That is not the way to contain Communism in Asia; it will expand it.

1.0 a.m.

Mr. Mikardo (Reading, South)

One is always hesitant about detaining the House at this hour of the morning, when there is mass hostility by the overwhelming proportion of those who are present in the Chamber to any speaker. Even more potent is the unheard mass hostility of Members who are in the building but not in the Chamber, and who are waiting for the ticker tape to announce that the House has adjourned.

It seems to me that a House of Commons which can stay up nearly all of one night debating what appeared to me to be somewhat trivial matters affecting the personal position of one or two of its Members, has a duty to stay up for another half an hour or so to consider a fundamental matter gravely affecting not only two or three of the major industries of this country, because that is the only plane upon which the matter has been discussed up to now—its effect on the pottery and textile industries—but the peace of the world. However much we think of ourselves, we ought to be prepared to give half as much time to considering the peace of the world. That being so, my apology for detaining the House is a little abated by these considerations.

It might seem, on the face of it, to be a far cry from a debate on a couple of tankers for Poland and the Japanese Peace Treaty; but, in fact, they are the same subject. They are facets of the same topic: of the question whether Britain, the greatest trading nation of the world, is to be allowed to go on making its trading arrangements with other countries solely on the basis of trading considerations, or whether she is to have her trade rubbed out by strategic considerations dictated purely by another nation.

That is the real question which lies before us, and I cannot understand why this justly proud House of Commons does not feel more affected by this than it appears to be': by the fact that there are our Allies, the United States of America, busy developing an economic colony in Japan along lines which she knows are detrimental to our own interests, and not caring twopence about that. Let us have the facts.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs says that we are being induced by consultation to cut off our trade with Eastern Europe, upon which we depend for timber for our pits, timber for our housing, for the coarse grains for our feeding-stuffs for our poultry industry. I do not understand how it is that we can take it so calmly that this, the greatest trading nation in the world, can now be told, "You muck up your own trade while we"—one of this nation's Allies—"develop our own economic dependence on Japan along our own way, irrespective of its effect upon the British textile and pottery industries."

With the greatest respect, I must say that I take with a little scepticism the view of the Under-Secretary that in this matter of trade with Eastern Europe there is no American influence brought to bear, and no connection between it and the development of American-Japanese trade. He says that we are under no pressure from America, and that, of course, we consult with all the other nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

If it is not America which has used its influence in respect of trade with Eastern Europe, which of the other North Atlantic Powers is it? Have we stopped delivery of these tankers to Poland on the representations of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg? I do not believe that. I am not persuaded to believe it by anything which the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has said.

My hon. Friend from the potteries has spoken of this Japanese Treaty purely from its relation to effects on the industry of that part of Britain. That is serious enough, and I think that the case was under-stated; the very valid case which exists in this regard. Yet we are appealed to by the Leader of the House to shut up and behave like good little boys by all going home. Is it not realised that this Treaty will be signed after we have gone away; after the House has risen for the recess, so that, when we come back, we shall be presented with a fait accompli and the matter cannot then be discussed?

There was great pressure from both sides of the House for us to be allowed one day—just one day—to debate this matter; and that would have meant, after the Front Benches had blown their heads off, that we should have had about four hours in which to consider this most important Treaty. We were refused that day, and told, at the same time, that the matter could be included in the debate on foreign affairs last Wednesday. But it was then virtually not discussed at all. I suggest that, having passed the stage where the House can decide treaties, we have now reached the stage where the House cannot even discuss them. We are told, in these circumstances that we should go home to bed.

This just will not do. It is not only the effects of this on the pottery industry, or the textile industry, but the effects of this on the peace of the world. The encouragement by the Americans of the industrial build-up of Japan is of a piece with their discouragement of trade between Eastern and Western Europe; and, I do wish that the Government would make up their mind what they want to do. If they go sitting on the fence, their posterior will be permanently scarred with the marks of the fence. Do we want to encourage trade with the East, or is it putting strategic considerations first and saying that the "cold war" is becoming a "hot war" and, therefore, we shall supply nothing to the Eastern Europeans and ask for nothing from them?

If the Government take that view, I can understand it, although I might not agree with it. But the Government are wobbling about, entering into trade treaties with Eastern Europe and then honouring them only to the extent that it pleases Washington for us to do. That, to me, seems to be getting the worst of both worlds, and I am staggered when right hon. and hon. Members opposite talk of raising the housing target to 300,000 houses a year—which would mean another 130,000 or 140,000 standards of timber—while asking us to cut off trade with Eastern Europe, which is the only place from which we could get those extra 130,000 or 140,000 standards.

There is the inconsequential, verbose, and parrot-like hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who pleads that we want more eggs and feedingstuffs, and more coarse grains, while advocating that we cut off all trade with Eastern Europe. Where then, should we get the grain? Then there is his hon. Friend, the still more amusing, if more inconsequential hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) who says, when told that there is a drop in feedingstuffs for farmers, that it is "thoroughly unsatisfactory." They come along here and support the Government in cutting off trade with countries from whom we get those feedings tuffs.

Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument about timber very closely, but I am sure he would not wish to mislead the House. Would he—

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman addressing the House?

Mr. Nabarro

I was intervening, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has intervened a very great many times during the evening.

Mr. Nabarro

As I understood it, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman gave way to me. I was saying that the hon. Gentleman should put this in its correct perspec- tive. The amount of softwood we get from Russia and Poland today is approximately 18 per cent. of our total exports.

Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Quite a lot.

Mr. Nabarro

It is a large amount. But we are not by any means wholly reliant upon it, and the principal source for increasing imports would be from Scandinavia.

Mr. Mikardo

Sir, I forgive the hon. Gentleman even if you do not. I am sure he is quite wrong in that intervention. The fact is that we are not able—and we have tried for a long time—to get any large increase in our supplies of softwoods from Scandinavia. I think it is generally agreed, and is not in dispute, that anything in the nature of the amount of softwoods required to get even one-third of the extra houses that emanate from the flights of fancy of Conservative Party annual conferences could be got only from the countries of Eastern Europe. The hon. Gentleman, like the Government, really cannot eat his coarse grains and have them, and he has got to make up his mind one way or the other.

Quite apart from these questions of trade there is this point that I want to make. Even if there were no bad trading effects, no bad economic effects, out of this new slant in world politics in which the Americans decide our trading relationships and we do not decide them for ourselves, let us consider for a moment the political implications of the Japanese Peace Treaty. We have had for a long time a difference of opinion, and an honest difference of opinion, with the United States about which Government of China ought to be recognised. Thanks to the wisdom of prudence and foresight of the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, we early recognised that the People's Republican Government of China was the only Government whose rule ran in China, and that, therefore, that was the sensible Government of China to recognise.

The Americans—and I cast no doubt on their sincerity—for what they doubtless believed to be good reasons, thought that it was a good idea to continue to recognise as the Government of China the regime of Chiang Kai-shek on Formosa—just as though some other Government in the 17th century had recognised the Jacobite exiles in France as being the proper rulers of this country.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)

The 18th century.

Mr. Mikardo

My right hon. Friend makes a purely Scottish "crack," but without allowing myself to be diverted by these Caledonian sidetracks, I was making the point that there is this difference of opinion—no doubt a genuine difference of opinion, with sincerity on both sides—between ourselves and the Americans on which Government should be recognised as the Government of China. What are we now proposing? What sort of compromise are we now proposing? We are proposing that, as we cannot agree with the Americans and as they cannot agree with us we should allow our defeated enemies in Japan to make the decision for both of us. Really, that does not make sense in any terms at all.

It does not make sense because allowing the Japanese to make the decision is virtually allowing the Americans to make the decision; and we might as well recognise it and say, "We have given in. We have given you your point of view. We have abandoned it." It does not make sense because it is stretching things a long way when, a short time after the end of the war, we allow the vanquished to decide who are the victors they will recognise. This is really putting an enormous premium on being defeated. I am wondering whether, if this is to be a precedent, it will not pay us hand over fist to get licked in the next war, instead of winning it because, five years afterwards, the vanquished then decide who are to be the masters of the world.

So, as I said when I began, I mitigate my apology for detaining the House. I do not feel a bit shamefaced about it. I hope that other hon. Members will continue the debate, and I hope it will not go out that this House, having spent several hours worrying about its own privileges, did not have the time or the energy to spend a couple of hours giving its view on the Japanese Peace Treaty before it went into Recess, but let the Government, when it returned, present the House with a fait accompli.

1.17 a.m.

Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to detain you, but I cannot say that I am sorry to detain the House. I have sat here for four years and I have never complained about being kept here all night; so I cannot see why hon. Members should complain if I keep them out of their beds a little longer.

I want to return to the question of the Polish tankers because I am vitally interested in the question of shipbuilding. My constituency was murdered in the inter-war years, and because one of these tankers was built in my Division, and because the greatest fear of the men in the shipyards there is that the bad old days of the inter-war years may return, any policy which tends to stand in the way of this country getting orders for shipbuilding in the future is something about which I must protest.

My hon. Friends have been discussing the Japanese Peace Treaty. In this Peace Treaty the Japanese are given carte blanche as far as shipbuilding is concerned. What is the position today with regard to British shipbuilding? The figures for British shipbuilding, as part of the total world tonnage, are less today than six months ago, whilst the figures for Japanese and German shipbuilding have increased as a percentage of tonnage now being built.

I want to know whether the tankers which the Poles ordered in this country, and which we shall not now deliver, will be built by the Germans or Japanese. I know that in the shipbuilding yards there is grave fear about the competition of Japanese and German shipbuilding. Eighteen months ago every hon. Member in this House representing shipbuilding interests had deputation after deputation from the men in the yards wanting to know what we were going to do about their future. It appeared, before the big re-armament programme was introduced, that shipbuilding would enter once more on a lean time.

The men who had that experience in the inter-war years know well that the present re-armament programme cannot go on for ever and that then British shipyards will once more be looking for foreign orders. If we treat the Poles, or anyone else, in this fashion and they go to Germany and Japan now, when the lean years come, they will still go there and our people in the shipbuilding industry will again suffer as much unemployment as in their bitter inter-war years. In view of the fact that, roughly, 50 per cent. of the shipping now being built in this country is tankers, I cannot understand why these two particular tankers should have been seized upon. Tankers are being built by our shipyards for many countries. Why pick on these two? I cannot help feeling that, as my hon. Friends have suggested, there has been some outside pressure in this matter. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts upon it.

It is obvious that, because of what two World Wars have cost this nation, if we are to give our people a decent standard of living in the future, exports, and more exports, will have to be the order of the day. We cannot build up an export trade by doing tricks of this kind. I want to feel that this Labour Government, which have done so much to remove the fear of unemployment from the lives of the ordinary people, whenever they go to the country can give that same guarantee. They will be able to do that easier if they reverse this policy and decide that once they have come to an agreement they will keep that agreement, and in keeping the agreement make it possible to maintain full employment in the years that lie ahead.

Mr. Speaker

I wonder if it is possible for the House to come to a decision now? There is to be no reply from the Government, and we have discussed this matter at some length. I appeal to the House. I think that at this hour of the morning we might come to a decision.

1.22 a.m.

Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)

I cannot feel, Mr. Speaker, that on this Bill the Private Member's right to continue speaking while there are things to say should be denied us, because some of us take the subject of the tankers and the problem of exports to Eastern Europe very seriously indeed. This is our only opportunity to raise this subject. We have waited throughout the evening to raise it. We tried to speak an hour and a half before, and I feel that we must prosecute this matter because we want to change the Government's mind.

It is only fair, after the astonishing reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to say one or two things about that reply, in particular in view of the Liberal and the Tory attitude in the previous debate on Tshekedi Khama. On that, we were told that the Liberal and Tory parties stood for principle; that whenever principle was violated, even in the case of a single man, those parties would rally united.

Now, those of us who were present have heard from the Under-Secretary of State a defence in the case of the two tankers, as follows: that any trade agreement can be violated by the British Government when defence requirements make it necessary. It is a very striking fact that that definition that expediency, in the view of the Under-Secretary, can override a solemn covenant and contract whenever military expediency requires it—that we will tear up our contracts and treaties—was greeted with at least silent approval by the Tory Party; and, of course, the Liberals had gone home, to bed.

Mr. Boothby

It is no part of my business to defend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but it seemed to me that the greater part of his speech was devoted to the proposition that it was the Poles who had broken this Agreement.

Mr. Crossman

I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member is so keenly concerned about herrings that he did not pay the closest attention to the argument. The Under-Secretary was particularly careful to tell us that the action was not a reprisal for anything done by the Poles, but was taken as a matter of principle. However unwise I thought it was for him to deny the reprisal, he did deny it. He solemnly asserted to the House that it was a principle of His Majesty's Government to have the right, for defence requirements, to override any contract, however solemnly entered into.

I suggest that it is the duty of the House, having had this astonishing doctrine laid down by a Member from the Front Bench, at least to take notice of it, even if it is 25 minutes past one in the morning, and to consider how it comes that a man as able, as shrewd, as diplomatic, and as experienced as the Under- Secretary, could have made such a statement to the House. He also added that we all want to continue trade across the Iron Curtain and that we wanted to do all the trade we could with Russia and Poland. How does he imagine we can do trade with Russia and Poland when we have laid down the principle that we can tear up any treaty we like when it is convenient to us? Supposing a Russian or a Pole had announced that principle in public, I should have been told that this is what we are fighting against and that we want to maintain the rule of law. The very objection we have to Communism is totalitarian disregard for the rule of law and preference for military expediency over principle and justice.

Yet we have a solemn announcement from the Front Bench that we are prepared, on any and every occasion, in any trade treaty, to tear up that treaty when military expediency requires it. The hon. Gentleman emphasised it even further. It was a very remarkable statement which will be noted in the Press of the world. He stated that this was because re-armament today is an overriding priority. I should like right hon. and hon. Members to notice the consequence of our foreign policy on our rearmament. It is not only that we have to re-arm but that we have to break all our treaties for the purpose. This is what it comes to, and I say that this is the way one is led when one gives defence an over-riding priority.

We have been told, in debate after debate, that we are re-arming in order to negotiate from strength. That is the phrase. But do right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench believe that we shall strengthen our power of negotiation by announcing that we have a principle of breaking every treaty whenever military expedience demands? Is that rearmament to negotiate or is that re-arming and saying that negotiation does not matter in this sort of world and that the sacredness of treaties does not matter much in a "cold war"? That is the logic of what the Under-Secretary said.

I will, at least, have the courtesy to believe that I should not take it seriously and that there must be some other explanation of our action in forbidding these two tankers to go, other than this astonishing doctrine which the Under-Secretary has laid down. We all know what it is, just as we all know what was the real reason for the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations to Tshekedi Khama. It is one of the things we do not mention because we are too polite. It was not, of course, any order or instruction from Washington. Things are not as simple as that. It was the feeling among certain right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench that if they let the two tankers go to Poland, there might be a row in Parliament, and the anxiety to anticipate and avoid a hostile American reaction.

At least, we have an awkward choice, for either we must accept the Under-Secretary's statement, which tears up the principle for which we fight, or we must take the most probable explanation that once again somebody on the Front Bench said it was better to placate hon. Members before they made a row. We had an instance of that the other day on the subject of rubber being sent to Hong Kong. We announced a British policy. We cut the rubber exports to China through Hong Kong to 2,000 tons a month and then somebody got cold feet. Two days later, having announced one policy, we cancelled all our exports to China to publicise to the world that we were afraid of Congress. I believe the Polish tankers have gone the same way as our rubber exports to China.

It is not fair to blame the Americans for this. It is fair, however, to blame the lack of courage of certain people here in standing up for what we think to be right, and for taking for granted that if they stand up for something, they will get a hostile reaction. On the contrary, in my view, if we had had the courage to keep our obligations in relation to these two tankers or the rubber exports to Hongkong, there would have been millions of Americans and many Americans in the State Department who would have said, "How good it is that the British Government are assisting us in the fight against the hysterical MacArthurite forces."

A great many would like to see this country doing something on matters like the Polish tankers, the exports of rubber, the re-armament of Germany and Spain, and all that long list of items in which we know we are doing wrong but excuse it by saying, "Well, after all, what could we do?" There is no excuse for saying someone wants it when one has not tried to fight against it and risk something in doing so.

I look forward to this Recess with some apprehension as to how much is going to be granted bit by bit in our absence. At least while we are here we can keep the House up all night trying to prevent these things from happening. In the last Summer Recess we went away with the Government pledged at all costs to prevent the re-armament of Germany and came back with them pledged to support it. In between somebody had been to New York and had been told there would be no American division in Europe unless we toed the line. All that was done without any discussion in this House.

Somebody has referred to the Battle Bill which will probably be passed by the American Congress before we reassemble. The Under-Secretary made a magnificent statement by saying that we ought to wait until they have passed it. It has been the habit of some Ministers to wait for a long time for the Americans to do something and then come to this House and say "Well, gentlemen, it is too late now, but we have made our protests." It is time the Front Bench took a small item like the two tankers seriously and realised that if the Battle Bill is successfully passed through Congress and this move does not register in Washington, we shall be faced with the choice of having our exports determined by the Pentagon in Washington. We shall be subordinated to the reckless control of Washington by a Bill which the Administration does not want.

The Administration are embarrassed by the Kern amendment as it was by the Cash and Carry proposals and the embargoes which President Roosevelt found carried against him in 1938, 1939 and 1940. We could help the Administration to fight the insanities of Congress if our protests were reasonable. But protests could not be made against the Battle Bill in the same week as, against a solemn contract, we refuse to send two tankers to Poland. Whatever may be said by hon. Gentlemen, Washington will believe they know the reason we are not doing so; they will think it is because they want it.

I do beg the Front Bench, if none of them can answer now, at least to impart to those outside that this is a matter of first-rate importance. We cannot maintain the independence of this country without trade across the Iron Curtain. We cannot maintain it if our trade is dictated by strategic requirements laid down by law in Washington. This is almost as crucial an issue as the re-arming of Spain bilaterally by America. These are issues which should determine whether we are a partnership, or something a good deal more ignominious.

If we are partners, there should be no dictation. The Battle Bill will mean dictation by Congress to this country of the goods we are permitted to export to a large section of the world, just as the re-arming of Franco bilaterally is dictation of the form European defence will take in the American defence plan. It is that form of dictatorship which ruins a partnership, and which all good Americans want to avoid.

Where we are sacrificing our natural honour as a trading nation to placate American forces, we should stand up and end it. I say to the Leader of the House, "Let him not be too angry with us." [Interruption.] He says he is amused. Let him not be amused either on this issue. But I am not going to take that seriously. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman meant what he said. He is not amused by it. He knows this is a serious issue. The country's future is at stake, not only his and mine. This is an issue on which we ought to have the courage to stand up for this country. If we can get across to the Government the strength of feeling on this side, then this debate will have done a power of good.

1.39 a.m.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

The temptation to make a long-ranging speech on foreign affairs, the opportunity having been so thoughtfully provided by hon. Members opposite, is very great. I do not want to do that, but I do not think the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), should pass, even at this hour of the night, entirely unnoticed by the Opposition. It was certainly the fiercest and most sustained attack on a Government from one of their own nominal supporters I have ever heard [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the hon. Gentleman's own Front Bench?"] There is a fine galaxy on this Front Bench. I am a whole bench in myself.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

If I am not mistaken the hon. Gentleman has already spoken in this debate, and, therefore, has exhausted his right to speak.

Mr. Boothby

Not on this subject, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We are still debating the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Mr. Boothby

Yes, of course, I beg your pardon.

1.41 a.m.

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

I want to deal with the Japanese Peace Treaty. I remember, a matter of 15 years ago, a Tory Member from a back bench pointed out to the House what the competition of Japan meant to the Lancashire mills. He brought here 12 patterns, and pointed out that we had at last captured the market, and that there was nothing in the world to compete with British manufacture. He showed us 12 different shades of silkings for ladies' dresses at 1s. 8½d. a yard. He said it was a wonderful achievement that had never been accomplished before. He gloried in it. On that occasion we had full benches of Tories interested in the cotton trade of Lancashire—not just nine Tories, as are here now.

Six months after, that same Member came again to the House and brought patterns of his own firm and also Japanese patterns. He handed them round the House for hon. Members to inspect, and asked hon. Members on both sides of the House if they could find any difference in the patterns, or in their quality. No one in the trade knew which were the Japanese. They could not tell the Japanese patterns from the British. But they were made in Japan, and the pattern books were issued here in Britain and sent round to the trade in England. What was produced in England as a masterpiece at 1s. 8½d. a yard was produced in Japan at 6½d. a yard.

I have some knowledge of the mills. I have many good friends Preston way. The automatic looms are in Japan, and I am very much afraid of that. I do not want to condemn the Government, but I and others have seen the terrible poverty, not only in Yorkshire but in Lancashire, caused amongst our workers by Japanese unfair competition. I want to see Japan raised to a proper standard of life. I want to see her people—I was about to say, eating steak and onions, but, of course, they prefer rice; but I want to see them with plenty of their favourite food. They live on a lower standard than any we have had in this country or on which we would ever live, so they are competitive in the market.

I am at a loss to understand why we have to pay compensation of any sort to a people who spilled the life blood of our people and did their damnedest to beat us in war. History has a wonderful way of repeating itself. That is why I view with concern the trend of events in Japan. Moreover, on the political and military side, if one man goes down another conqueror arises. Japanese competition took the bread and butter from men and women who bore sons who went out to make the supreme sacrifice in the war against the Japanese.

I do not want to condemn or hurt the Government—especially as I do not know that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite could do any better in this matter. I feel that what is left of them belong to an obsolete age. They have not even the stamina to stop here when questions of our country's trade are being discussed. There are only nine of them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Eight."] Yes, the number has gone down.

Mr. Boothby

The hon. Gentleman is here only because he got a three-line Whip by mistake.

Mr. Logan

I am the oldest Member in the House, and when the hon. Member has been asleep I have been here. I am justified in making that retort. It is discourteous to speak out of turn, but when an hon. Member forgets his position I think it right to retort.

I have seen weavers walking from the mills into the town wondering where they were going to get their next bread and butter from or going along for Public Assistance. Do we want those days back again? I do not want to see them because I vividly recollect those sad times. I hope the Government will give this matter their undivided attention. The Lancashire markets are important to the people of Lancashire, and if we wish to remain in the realm of commerce we should see that proper, protective clauses are included in the Peace Treaty.

When we return here after the Summer Recess the Treaty will have been approved, and but for our discussion tonight everyone would take it for granted that everything in the garden was lovely and that we whole-heartedly approved of its provisions. We do nothing of the kind. It may be all right looking at the willow pattern plates. I have handled many of them in my time, but we must not lose sight of the important issues behind the Treaty. We are under a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) for raising this subject tonight. Japanese competition is important to the pottery towns, because I can see those towns becoming derelict and their people destitute unless steps are taken, by way of protective clauses in the Treaty, to provide against the worst dangers of this competition.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House for this day.