HC Deb 12 May 1964 vol 695 cc216-8
Q1. Mr. Fernyhough

asked the Prime Minister what conversations he has now had with British shipping lines about their refusal to carry British exports to Cuba.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

None, Sir.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does the Prime Minister recall that in a recent Answer to me he said that, if necessary, he would consult with the British shipping lines about difficulties which certain exporters in this country are having in getting British ships to convey their exports to Cuba? Does his Answer today mean that he is not interested, or does it mean that he is now beginning to break under pressure from across the Atlantic? Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman made perfectly clear to the Americans that, just as they feel that they are entitled to trade with Russia without consulting us—next week they are sending a trade mission to Rumania—we are entitled to carry on legal and legitimate trade with anyone we like without causing any offence to them and without their standing in our way?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, and, of course, we have made this clear to the United States of America. There is another Question on the Order Paper dealing with that.

I said that I would have consultations, if necessary, but no shipping company has asked me for consultations. I must allow the shipping companies to decide whether or not they wish to trade with Cuba. If they have difficulties, of course, they can come to see me at any time.

Mr. P. Williams

Is not this simply a straightforward commercial decision by British shipping lines? Will my right hon. Friend make clear that this is exactly what the situation is but that, if British shipping lines run into difficulties, he will do his best to help them?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is another way of saying exactly what I said just now.

Mr. Mayhew

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity of denying the reports that the Government have agreed with the Americans to discourage our trade with Cuba?

The Prime Minister

I thought that I had made that clear to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough).

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have repeatedly to point out that one cannot ask Ministers to contradict rumours for which they are not responsible.

Q8. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister what reply he proposes to make to the recent representations made to him by President Johnson regarding Her Majesty's Government's policy on trading with Cuba.

The Prime Minister

I have stated Her Majesty's Government's policy on trade with Cuba in the House. The details of any exchanges of view I may have with President Johnson would be confidential.

Mr. Hughes

Can the Prime Minister give us a definite assurance that he will not retreat on this question of Cuba? Public opinion in this country wishes trade with Cuba to be continued. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that, in view of the attacks on this country in the United States, it would be a good thing for him as Prime Minister to broadcast and explain Britain's position?

The Prime Minister

I think that Britain's position is absolutely clear. We follow our ordinary commercial practice, which is to trade with other countries unless we happen to be at war with them or in the case of the COCOM list in which, as the hon. Member knows, we have some reservations on strategic materials.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that we on this side fully support that proposition about British policy in relation to trade with Cuba and other countries? [Interruption.] In view of the right hon. Gentleman's reference to a strategic embargo, is he aware that we support him on that, too, and would like to see one applied to South Africa? I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for being diverted by hon. Members opposite. However, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while we support the line which he took in 1963 on Cuba, we should like from him an explanation of how the Government came to reduce our exports to Cuba from 42.6 million dollars worth in 1959 to 5.4 million dollars worth last years? Is it the fact that the Government had been discouraging trade with Cuba until 1963?

The Prime Minister

It has nothing at all to do with the Government. There has been a fall in exports to Cuba, but that is not really surprising in view of what has been going on in Cuba. The exports are now rising again. As I have said time and again, this must be a matter of commercial judgment for British firms and for shipping firms, and we do nothing to interfere with their ordinary commercial practice.