HC Deb 17 June 1953 vol 516 cc957-8
22. Major Beamish

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a full statement on the subject of British trade with China and other Communist countries; and how far such trade has been within the United Nation's resolutions on the subject.

23. Mr. T. Reid

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what official representations have been made to Her Majesty's Government in respect of the detailed charges made in the United States of America by the Senate Investigating Committee about British ships carrying Chinese troops and strategic materials to China; and if he will make a statement on the subject.

Mr. Nutting

Since the answer is long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the answer: I welcome this opportunity of making our position clear on the question of British trade with China. We stand by the United Nations Resolution of 18th May, 1951, which called for an embargo on the supply of strategic goods to China and we are carrying it out with rigour. Export licences for strategic goods to China had in fact been refused by the United Kingdom for nearly a year before the United Nations Resolution. Lists of strategic materials are co-ordinated by a group of nations of which the United States is one. We have recently still further tightened up our controls. Ships on United Kingdom or Colonial registers require licences for any voyage to a Chinese port or between Chinese ports. If any of our ships were to contravene these regulations they would be liable to be hunted down on the high seas by British naval vessels and their managers and masters would become liable to severe penalties. We have no power to apply these measures to ships flying other flags, but we have taken steps to ensure that no ship of any nation can be bunkered in ports under our control unless we are satisfied that it is not carrying strategic materials to China. So long as the United Nations Resolution of 18th May, 1951, is in force, we shall continue these policies. With regard to goods which are not the subject to these security controls, it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to develop trade with the countries of the Soviet bloc and with China. We cannot live without trade and we consider that this trade in non-strategic goods is to the advantage of the free world. I repeat that the goods which we allow to be exported or carried to China by ships flying our flag are all goods which are not on the lists of strategic materials to which I have referred. It has been alleged that Chinese Communist troops have been carried in British ships since the Central People's Government of China undertook operations in Korea in the autumn of 1950. So far as ships flying the British flag and therefore subject to British authority are concerned, all information available to Her Majesty's Government indicates that these allegations are completely unfounded. References have been made to two ships called the "Perico" and the "Miramar." These were under the Panamanian flag at the time of the incidents in question in 1951 and 1952. They were neither flying nor entitled to fly the British flag and therefore were not subject to British law. So far as ships flying foreign flags are concerned, the fact that a British national or company may own shares or have an interest in a foreign company owning the vessel does not give Her Majesty's Government any legal control over the vessel, or entitle that vessel to fly the British flag. In such cases the control rests with the country whose flag the vessel is entitled to fly. This principle has long been internationally accepted. On one occasion, in June, 1951, the Master of the "Perico" was forced by the threat of violence if he did not comply, to carry a number of unarmed and guarded Chinese a short distance along the coast of South China, namely from Kwang Chau Wan to Canton. The Master, who was a Norwegian, reported the incident to the authorities on his return to Hong Kong. (This information was also made available to the United States Government). The Panamanian Government is reported to have cancelled the registration of the ship in 1951. It has been suggested that the "Miramar" arrived at Shanghai during June, 1952, with Communist troops on board. From August, 1951, this vessel was under the effective control of the Chinese Communists and had been prevented by them from returning to Hong Kong. The Panamanian registry of the "Miramar" was cancelled in July, 1952. At the time of both these incidents, the beneficial ownership of these ships did not rest with British concerns. The answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Swindon is that no official representations have been received from the United States Government about these allegations.