HC Deb 18 June 1953 vol 516 cc1152-5
6. Dr. Stross

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a further statement on the export to China of antibiotic drugs, including the results of recent official conversations with other European countries which are supplying these drugs since British exporters were refused licences.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) on 30th April, when I informed the House that those Western European Governments which had hitherto permitted the export of Pharmaceuticals to China without restriction had now agreed to impose similar restrictions to ours.

Dr. Stross

Does the President's answer mean, in effect, that we have lost the £2 million order which was offered to manufacturers in this country and that there is no further hope of securing any increase in the trade?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If the hon. Member wants to put down a Question about a specific order perhaps he will do so. My answer means that we and other European countries are having controls similar to one another instead of different ones.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the answer to which he referred in his answer today is now wholly out of date in the new circumstances and that the new agreement with the European countries is not likely to mean much in view of what we all hope is the rapidly approaching end of hostilities with China? Does he realise that, in any case, to regard these drugs as strategic material has always been offensive to the consciences of many people?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I would agree with the hon. Member at least in this—that of all the controls that were forced upon us by aggression in Korea the control of drugs which can be used for the relief of suffering is among the most distasteful. But the circumstances with which I have to deal are as they are today and not what they might be at a future date. On that we and the rest of the European nations are acting in conformity with the United Nations Resolution of May, 1951.

7. Dr. Stross

asked the President of the Board of Trade how much streptomycin has been exported to China since 1st July, 1951; and whether, in view of its value in the treatment of tuberculosis, he will permit a substantial increase in the amount.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Exports of streptomycin are not separately recorded. As regards the second half of the Question, we would be prepared, as my hon. Friend the Secretary for Overseas Trade stated in the Adjournment debate on 15th May, to permit within the quota any reasonable increase in the supply of any drugs primarily required for the civilian population.

Dr. Stross

While thanking the President for his answer, which I think is helpful, may I ask whether he is aware that it is said that in China there may be up to 40 million people suffering from tuberculosis and that the term "normal civilian requirements," which is often used, is rather a mockery? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear this in mind in future?

8. Mr. Hamilton

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will begin negotiations with representatives of the Chinese Government with a view to increasing trade between the United Kingdom and China as quickly as possible after the securing of a truce in Korea.

9. Mr. Swingler

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will now initiate discussions with the Government of China for the extension of trade between Britain and China.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a full statement yesterday on the question of British trade with China in answer to Questions on this subject. Our policy, as he explained, is to develop trade with China, provided that this does not involve the supply to China of strategic goods. I do not, however, consider that any useful purpose would be served by initiating discussions in present circumstances with the Chinese Government.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the Minister realise that some of our competitors in Europe are already well ahead of us in this field? Would he agree with the estimate made recently by a well-known body on this question, that Anglo-Chinese trade could be increased very quickly to the extent of about £100 million a year?

Mr. Thorneycroft

As I said, we are quite ready to seek to expand our trade with China in non-strategic goods. As to strategic goods, our position is that we are moving in close accord with other countries in Europe and with the United States.

Mr. Swingler

If the right hon. Gentleman is moving in close accord with other European countries, has his attention been drawn to the £10 million trade agreement signed between France and China relating to the exports of articles including machinery, drugs, and other things which have been forbidden from this country? Would he, therefore, reconsider this question in view of what my hon Friend has said about the action of other European countries?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I will certainly consider the point which the hon. Gentleman raises. As I say, we have worked very closely with other countries in Europe with the object of seeking to get as closely agreed lists of strategic goods as possible.

Sir H. Williams

Would it not be a good idea if the Chinese stopped shooting at our soldiers?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If these major matters could be dealt with it would certainly encourage the trade position.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity of expressing appreciation of the efforts of the delegation of business men who have just arrived in China?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The question of business men's visits to China has been dealt with in a number of Questions and answers in the House, to which I would not wish to add anything at the moment.