§ The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:
§ 63. Sir B. JANNER
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will take steps to prevent states from using their representatives in Great Britain for the purpose of coercing business firms in this country to dismiss officers or employees who are connected with trade with friendly states; and if he will make a statement
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)
With your leave, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Question No. 63.
224 Her Majesty's Government strongly disapprove of pressure from any source on British firms to discriminate between British subjects on any grounds. We have made our views known to representatives of the Arab embassies in London. In doing so, we have expressed our disapproval of action by these embassies designed to bring pressure on British firms to comply with the Arab boycott of Israel, and we have said that we hope these practices will not continue.
§ Sir B. Janner
May I thank the Minister for that important and gratifying step forward? May I ask whether he is aware that the deepest interest will be taken abroad, and, in particular, in European countries, in the reply that he has given? May I also ask whether he will make it a part of the policy of the Government, or continue to make it part of the Government's policy, to encourage British merchants and industrialists to expose and resist any of these vicious pressures in the future?
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
May I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that all those who want the friendliest relations with the Arab States, on a basis of mutual respect, warmly welcome the attitude which the Government have taken and my hon. Friend's statement?
Mr. H. Wilson
As my right hon. Friend who deals with foreign affairs is away on work of national importance—in Dumfries—may I be allowed to ask the Minister whether he is aware that the statement he made is wholeheartedly supported from this side of the House? Will the Minister join us in condemning the action of the Norwich Union Company in giving in to pressure of this kind, which must make his task in what he is trying to do a great deal harder?
§ Mr. Thomas
I do not think that it would be appropriate for Her Majesty's Government to condemn the action of any individual firm. I think that the best course that we can take in this very difficult matter is to express our disapproval of certain actions which have been taken by the Governments concerned.
§ Mr. Longden
May I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that great mutual organisations like the Norwich Union do not need the help and advice of Her Majesty's Government? All they need are a few more guts. But individuals and smaller firms who do ask for the advice of Her Majesty's Government are not getting it in very firm terms; not in the terms such as my hon. Friend has now announced. Will the Minister inject into the replies that go out from the Board of Trade a little more strength and advice that they should ignore this boycott—advice such as the American and West German Governments are giving to their citizens?
§ Mr. Thomas
I think that it is for a firm to decide for itself, in the light of its own interests, whether it wishes assistance from Her Majesty's Government. Our feelings about this boycott have been made clear, and if any individual firm wishes advice or assistance, we shall, of course, consider the request.
§ Mr. Paton
May I ask the Minister whether he will accept that this condemnation, although a little belated, is none the less welcome? I hope that this condemnation by the Government will stiffen the backs of some of these boneless wonders who seem to be running some of the greatest commercial institutions in the country.
As the Arabs are not likely to cease these activities, will the Minister consider going a little further and taking legal action to prevent discrimination in international trade by industrial and commercial organisations in this country? We want all trade discrimination to be made illegal. [Hon. Members: "Speech."] It is a very good speech.
In addition to making trade discrimination illegal, we should also make discrimination on racial and religious grounds illegal. Will the Minister examine this further?
§ Mr. Thomas
I do not think I can add to what I have said on the question of trade discrimination. As the House knows, Her Majesty's Government deplore all racial discrimination. But, in fairness, I think that I ought to say that the Arab embassies, representatives of whom came to the Foreign Office yesterday, emphasised that this boycott is not discrimination on racial grounds. They 226 explained that the boycott derives from what they maintain is a state of war between Israel and the Arab countries.
§ Mr. Speaker
We cannot discuss this further without a Question before the House, and we have so much to do.