HC Deb 12 December 1963 vol 686 cc567-9
Q7. Mr. Millan

asked the Prime Minister what action he is taking to co-ordinate the work of Ministers to ensure that public authorities and nationalised industries do not place insurance business with any insurance company which practises discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, or religion.

The Prime Minister

It is not the practice of Government Departments to insure; the Government have no power to direct local authorities in this matter. This would not be an appropriate subject for Ministerial directions where the nationalised industries are concerned.

Mr. Millan

Is the Prime Minister aware that, while we welcome statements that have so far been made by the Government about the Norwich Union affair, there is still need for the Government both to give clearer guidance to firms on whom pressure may be put and to express their displeasure at those firms which have given in to pressure? On the latter point, would it not be worth reminding those firms that most of them get a great deal of business from Government Departments and public authorities?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of the question, the whole country must be aware of the attitude of the Government to this matter. On the second part, if any firm wants assistance from the Government, the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade are at its disposal.

Q8. Mr. Gordon Walker

asked the Prime Minister what steps he has taken to co-ordinate the actions of the necessary Departments of State to counter attempts by Governments of Arab countries to influence the composition of boards of commercial undertakings in this country.

The Prime Minister

There is close and constant contact between all the Departments of State concerned on the implications in this country of the Arab boycott of Israel.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Whereas we all welcome, as no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the recent developments and the Government's statement on this matter, will he not agree that it is still necessary that the Government, through their various Departments, should do more than simply be ready to assist concerns which ask for advice on this matter and that they should make much more clear that it is against their will and desire that questionaires and so on should be answered at all?

The Prime Minister

I am not quite sure that I follow what the right hon. Member is after in the latter part of that question. It is for firms to follow their own policy, but, if they are in difficulty, both the Foreign Office and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development and President of the Board of Trade are ready to help them.

Mr. Gordon Walker

While appreciating the right of firms to decide their own policy, do not firms normally take into account the clear policies of the Government in matters of this kind? Should it not be the policy of the Government to say that when foreign countries send in questionnaires to be answered about trading practices and so on with a view to influencing the internal affairs of those companies, they should not answer such questionnaires?

The Prime Minister

I should like to consider that part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. I am glad that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are beginning to understand the dangers involved in economic boycotts and sanctions.

Mr. W. Yates

Is the Prime Minister aware that the services offered and the advice tendered by all the commercial secretaries in embassies in the Middle East show that they are fully aware of this problem and that every business exporter who consults them is told not to pay any attention to them? Is he also aware that until this case nobody has paid the slightest attention to any pieces of paper coming from anybody in the boycott?

Mr. H. Wilson

When the right hon. Gentleman threw out his gratuitous remark about economic sanctions following a situation in which both Front Benches have been agreed on this Arab-Jewish question, will he say to what he was referring? Was he referring to South Africa where we, as a party, have opposed an economic boycott but have strongly pressed for an arms embargo which his Government refused but for which his Government have now voted in the United Nations? Is that what the right hon. Gentleman was saying, or did he have something else in mind?

The Prime Minister

I think that I was just giving a little friendly warning to the right hon. Gentleman. I would refer him to some of the speeches of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Wilson

If the Prime Minister wants to widen this question, will he be a little more specific and not try to score cheap points of that kind?—[Interruption.] If he is talking about other kinds of boycotts, will he tell us why his Government for all these years have applied these very strict embargo conditions on trade with Eastern Europe when he is now posing as the saviour of Anglo-Soviet agreement?

The Prime Minister

Certainly. I am perfectly prepared to answer the question. We do not apply an economic boycott at all. All we do is, with our allies, to have a military list of goods which we do not supply.