HL Deb 24 June 1931 vol 81 cc320-52

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it may not be a very inspiriting thought but I am afraid there is very little that can be said to be new under the sun. There is certainly very little that is new about the battle of human liberty. There is certainly very little new about slavery. There is even very little that is new about that form of slavery which is now conveniently known as forced labour. There is even very little new in these evils finding defenders. And I hereby most solemnly aver that I am no pioneer striking out a new line, but a very humble follower in the steps of many who have already blazed the trail. I am anxious from the very outset to show that this Bill, whatever its minor defects may be, is in principle a Bill which carries out the avowed policy of this country. It is primarily in my opinion a Bill for the suppression of forced labour and only secondarily a Bill for the protection of our own standards of civilisation, important though that factor may be. It is, in the words of the Socialist Committee appointed to consider the sweated goods problem, a Bill in which there is no question of a tariff, but a Bill for the rigorous prohibition of imports; and it will perhaps mitigate any feelings your Lordships may have that I am over-bold in my bringing forward a Bill of such first-rate importance, if I go very briefly through the recent history of our country on this subject.

It is hardly necessary to remind your Lordships that ever since the days of Wilberforce we have put ourselves in the forefront of resistance to slavery. I need not, therefore, go back beyond the year 1913, when many of your Lordships will remember that a strong Committee was set up to consider the question of the Putumayo atrocities. That was a comparatively minor affair, but it did lead to Sir Edward Grey laying down in a circular Despatch a principle which is certainly applicable to my Bill. Sir Edward Grey said: It is certainly desirable that sufficient information should be supplied to the Foreign Office to enable His Majesty's Government to take what action is necessary in order to expose or prosecute British employers responsible for oppressive or inhuman labour conditions. And the Despatch went on to call for annual reports from consular officers to this end.

Perhaps the next step of importance to which I need refer your Lordships is the adoption by the greater part of the whole world of the Covenant of the League of Nations. It is too little remembered that Article 23 (a) of the Covenant lays down that the Members of the League: Will endeavour to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labour for men, women and children, both in their own countries and in all countries to which their commercial and industrial relations extend. Here, as far as I know, it is laid down and accepted by this country for the first time, quite definitely, that we should use our external commercial relations in order to obtain not in this country only but also abroad fair and humane conditions of labour. Your Lordships will not dispute that forced labour cannot be considered a fair or humane condition of labour; so that in this Covenant there is a principle of vital importance to my Bill. I venture to say that it does not lie in the mouth of anyone to accept the principle of the Covenant of the League of Nations and to refuse the principle of my Bill. The Article in the Covenant goes on to say: and for that purpose will establish and maintain the necessary international organisations. Now, so far am I from decrying international organisation and international action in these affairs, that, after pointing out that what is a duty for one is necessarily a duty for all, I am going to bring up as my strongest reinforcement the action of that international organisation. The appropriate organisation in this case is the International Labour Conference, and the International Labour Conference, as your Lordships all know, appointed a Committee in 1929, and in 1930 adopted a Draft Convention for the suppression of forced labour. There was complete agreement in that Committee that it was desirable to lay down the principle of the prohibition of forced labour in all its forms. A Convention was drawn up defining forced labour—it is the definition of that Convention that is employed in my Bill—and imposing on each Member of the Conference who ratified the Convention an undertaking to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest period.

The Convention was finally adopted by the Conference by 93 votes to 0, and, what is more, throughout all the discussions the British representative played the principal part, and it was largely due to British advocacy that the Convention was finally adopted. I think we may be proud of that, and I think, further, that we may be glad that His Majesty's Government did not rest content until they had announced their intention to ratify that Convention. They only waited for Liberia and Southern Ireland to give them a lead, and, first among the great Powers, they have announced their intention of ratifying that Convention. Nay, more, the Government propose to apply the Convention without any modification in all the non-self-governing Colonies, Protectorates, and Mandated Territories. There is a formidable list of these put out with the Command Paper, a list of 63 different, States. The only curious omission is that of the name of Great Britain, for how His Majesty's present Government could contend that the word "non-self-governing" was inapplicable to this country I cannot understand. Be that as it may, this short retrospect of our attitude towards the question of forced labour shows this country still in the forefront of resistance.

If I were here and now to put it to your Lordships that you were in favour of the suppression of forced labour at once without any modification, noble Lords of either Party would have to say: "We are." Yet, the evil persists. Nay, more, it grows. It has lately taken to itself a great extension. It has cloaked itself with a new authority. In at least one great nation it has taken on the sanction of the law. Now what is our attitude? It is no longer a question of challenging the obsolete customs of some barbarous prince-let. It is a question now of resisting the policy of a powerful oligarchy in control of a great white people. John Stuart Mill, whom, perhaps, some noble Lords will still regard as a great thinker, in his introductory chapter on Liberty says on this question of freedom: In the stage of progress into which the more civilised portions of the species have now entered this question presents itself under new conditions. He goes on to say that under new conditions different treatment is required. It is in my belief that no compromise with slavery is possible that I venture to bring forward this Bill.

The Bill attempts to provide machinery by which this country shall use its commercial relations, in the words of the Covenant, if not to secure "fair and humane conditions of labour," at least to suppress forced labour in the countries with which we deal. Again, I claim that in this I am clearly and indisputably in line with the avowed policy of my country. The Bill includes in its scope the question of convict labour, and it does so mainly for the reason so recently and so cogently expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. I hope he will forgive me for quoting his words. He said: People can be exiled from their homes or sentenced to work in penal labour camps through the medium of a conviction prefaced by nothing that we should recognise in the nature of a trial. In short, where there is the will, there is no difficulty in disguising forced labour as convict labour and the two, therefore, must receive the same treatment.

As your Lordships know, there is already on the Statute Book an Act known as the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act of 1897 under which the importation of prison-made goods is prohibited. Unfortunately, this Act has proved unworkable in practice, laying as it does the whole burden of proof—and this is a very important point—not on the Customs, not on the importer, not on any one in particular, but on the general citizen who, prima facie, is dealing with a country foreign to him- self, is giving evidence with relation to goods produced in a foreign country and, what is more, in a country naturally anxious for concealment. The Act having failed of its purpose it is in this Bill repealed. It is a very great testimony to the acuteness of the late Mr. Labouchere that I think the only remark he made when that Bill was debated was: This Bill will have no practical effect whatever. Let us, therefore, vote upon it as soon as we may. However, the principle of it remains and has been re-stated so lately as November 20 last in words which I could not better; that is to say, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord President of the Council, who will remember that he said in your Lordships' House: If you ask me for my opinion for what it is worth, I think that to allow prison-made goods to be imported so as to compete with free-made goods would be to permit unfair competition, and in a case of that kind I for one would rejoice in prohibition. With those weighty words echoing in our ears I think I should deal, with your Lordships' leave, with the clauses of the Bill, and I think it will conduce to clearness if I begin with Clause 5. Clause 5 is the clause which defines "forced labour" and "convict labour." It is unnecessary for me to say more than that I have adopted the definition of the International Labour Conference used in the Draft Convention which has been approved by His Majesty's Government. With regard to the definition of "convict labour" I have also followed the lines of the same Conference, merely adding a few words to show that stone walls alone will not a prison make.

Clause 4 follows established practice. I have already quoted to your Lordships the Report of the Putumayo Committee in this connection as to laying on consular officers the duty of transmitting the intelligence required "for the purpose of giving effect to this Act," and I venture to think it will be a useful provision. The Putumayo Report said, amongst other things: There is already a specific instruction to consuls to keep the Secretary of State and the diplomatic representatives fully informed on matters of interest in connection with slavery and the slave trade. Again, Sir Harry Johnston testified to the value of visits in Siberia of British consuls equipped with a liberal travelling allowance. I venture to lay emphasis upon that because it shows an obvious method. Further, given the means of obtaining disinterested information, the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office would be the natural channel through which it would come home. The Department, it is understood, does not regard itself as more than a channel of information for other Government Departments or for the services of the public. It is not an administrative Department. But if its information disclosed a serious state of affairs the matter would be passed on to the Board of Trade. I think those statements show a certain amount of machinery already available to our hands.

Reserving for the moment consideration of Clause 3, I pass to Clause 1, which follows the Act of 1897 in prohibiting the tainted imports and prohibiting them with reference to the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876. Incidentally, I think I should mention here that the Customs Act of 1876, which is a very long Act, provides a whole quantity of useful machinery and a great many precedents which it is useful to consider with reference to this particular subject. The clause in this Bill I am now venturing to bring before you does not, however, contain the words "goods proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Customs by evidence tendered to them." That was the clause on which the Act of 1897 broke down. On the other hand, this Bill retains two of the three exceptions, though they are not important. "Goods not imported for the purpose of trade" were thought too trifling to invoke any machinery. "Goods of a description not produced or manufactured in the British Empire" are, and were presumably, excepted, because we might have debarred ourselves from the import of some essential product in war or peace, such as radium might have been.

Clauses 2 and 3 are, I venture to say, the most important clauses in the Bill, and both use the phrase "which the Commissioners of Customs and Excise have cause to believe." They both deal with the burden of proof, and in this respect there is an important change from the Act of 1897. I shall undoubtedly be asked: What will give the Commissioners of Customs cause to believe? The answer is, of course, information from any credible source and inter alia information from the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office. At this juncture it is well to bear in mind that under the Customs Act of 1876 the Commissioners of Customs have already many semi-judicial duties. They are called upon constantly to form judgments based on prima facie evidence. There is, of course, attached to this power a balancing right of any one aggrieved to have recourse to the law—for example, in the case of certain things to a Judge in Chambers. It may be objected in this connection that the Act of 1876 deals with goods by categories and not by origin. That is a very important difference, but, important though that may be, the case of the Commissioners having to exercise their own judgment is very far from excluded. For instance, the Commissioners are brought in connection with obscene books, and have to exercise their judgment as to whether or not a book is obscene. I can think of nothing more arguable than the obscenity or otherwise of a book. As a fact, all through the Customs Regulations runs this right to take Parliamentary action based on prima facie evidence, and it is that right we are extending by this Bill.

It should also be noted—and I apologise for spending some time on this point, but this question of machinery will, I am sure, prove of importance—that the Customs have every facility given to them for obtaining the information they require. For example, Section 43 says: The master of every ship arriving from ports beyond the seas shall at the time of making report answer also all such questions relating to the ship, cargo, crew and voyage as shall be put to him by the collector or other proper officer. That power already exists.

I pass on now to Clause 3 (1) of my Bill. This for the first time introduces the presumption that goods imported from a tainted country are themselves tainted. In other words, goods imported from a country where the Commissioners, in the words of the Bill, "have cause to believe forced labour is exacted" are prohibited entry unless evidence can be tendered that they are of innocent origin. That clause adopts a theory put forward by Sir Harry Johnston, who was, of course, a man of great experience, and adopted again by the Putumayo Committee—a theory of special areas of pro- tection, which he suggested should be set up. It is, alas, only too clear now that there are many special areas and one great one where protection should be exercised. It is only too clear that there are now countries where the Commissioners would undoubtedly have cause to believe that forced labour was exacted. That is beyond dispute. In such a case the burden of proof under this Bill falls quite definitely on the importer. It is for him to prove that, though his consignment emanates from a tainted country—a country where forced labour is known to exist—yet that that particular consignment is free from taint.

It would take too long, and I should weary your Lordships to follow out all the workings of this clause. Suffice it to say that it is quite obvious to anyone at any rate who has had any commercial training, that any tainted country would speedily find it to its advantage to provide its exporters with such proofs or certificates of purity of origin as would satisfy the importing country. Further, it would very soon be quite clear to that country that it would be to its own advantage to allow our consular officers to visit places of manufacture of a suspicious character. Your Lordships will remember that our Foreign Secretary has had to repeat on many occasions that that permission has lately been refused to us. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, is not here to-day, because he was instrumental in bringing about some part of the arrangement I am going to mention. You will remember that no great difficulty was found when we were at death grapple with Germany in arranging for visits by friendly official representatives to the prison camps in Germany, and that at a crisis in the world's history such as we may never see again. To Clause 3 (1) I attach the greatest importance. Before I leave it I should perhaps point out that the difficulty as to the source of origin has fairly recently been dealt with by the Revenue Act of 1909.

Now I have dealt with the clauses of the Bill. It may well be that the machinery I have put before you is defective for the purpose, and I wish to state with all the emphasis in my power that I welcome any attempt and any assistance towards improving that machinery, with this proviso only, that that attempt is not an attempt to put sand into the machinery solely with a view to avoid having to deal with the great issue which this Bill brings up. It may have been remarked by your Lordships that I have said nothing so far as to the other side of this question. I have said nothing as to the effect which the prohibition will have upon conditions in our own country. It would be hypocritical in me not to say that I set a very high value indeed on the aid which will be given to our distressed labour conditions and commercial conditions in this country if this Bill should reach the Statute Book. In that I find myself in complete sympathy with the Socialist Party who, in their Conference in 1928, laid it down that where there were glaring examples of sweated goods produced under conditions against which British people could not compete without lowering their standard of life, the remedy was not safeguarding but prohibiting the entry of those goods.

A few years ago—say three years ago—I suppose no British statesman, no British industrialist, no British labourer would have admitted for one moment that a system based on conscript labour could possibly succeed, still less that it could succeed against a system based on free labour. But would they all say so to-day? I see reiterated again and again, and by no one more than by members of the Labour Party—is it not dinned into our ears?—that we must take the five-year plan of Russia seriously and that it is likely to succeed. And on what is that system based? But whether or not conditions in this country would benefit, I venture to suggest to your Lordships that you should pass this Bill even if it involves this country in loss. I at any rate would recommend this Bill to your Lordships as our bounden duty to hundreds of thousands of people who are now condemned to misery. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Phillimore.)


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord paid the compliment to me of recognising that there has been no more consistent opponent of forced labour for many years than I have been. In fact, often I think when his father was present in this House he and I expressed our very strong agreement with Lord Cromer—I mean the great Lord Cromer who was Governor of Egypt—who laid it down that in his view forced labour could not really be differentiated from slave labour although slavery imported a change in status whereas forced labour only denoted the terms under which any actual labour was carried on. I say at once that I certainly have not altered my opinion, and I believe it is in accordance with the view held by all my noble colleagues here; and also by the Party to which I belong, which I rejoice to know is designated by the name Socialist, for that denotes a strong sense of social duty as against a mere claim of national or individual right.

Although I hold that view in the very strongest way, I think that the noble Lord foresaw what the nature of our objections to this Bill is likely to be. It is not in the principles that he has indicated, but it is in the formal way which he thinks could be conveniently and properly adopted for carrying out the objects which he has in view. As he has agreed with me in other matters, perhaps he will agree with mo in this: that if in seeking a solution of difficulties of this kind you propose a remedy which is not effective, instead of furthering the cause you have at heart you almost essentially and necessarily defer it for a, considerable time. The particular method which the noble Lord has suggested is the amendment of one of the clauses of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876. That Act has of course already been amended, in 1897, and made applicable to prison-made goods. There is no difference between us about that. The clause in the original Act has been amended to include prison-made goods. What does he go on to propose? He wants to include these words: Goods wholly or in part produced, manufactured or transported by convict labour or by forced labour. He knows that in subsequent clauses of this Bill a distinction is drawn between convict labour and forced labour—I do not mean to say in the principle involved, but in the method of dealing with the principle which he has indicated.

Goods referred to there must mean particular goods, the particular parcel or lot of goods which is under the con- sideration of the Commissioners at the time of import. I am obliged to say upon this point that in my opinion it would be perfectly futile to introduce words of this kind because they could not be made effective by the action of the Commissioners. I say that advisedly because on more than one occasion lately in another place the same point has been raised in terms, as the noble Lord, of course, knows. Usually Russia has been pointed to, but I do not wish to refer to any particular country. The question has been asked whether these difficulties which exist—perhaps I ought to say which are said to exist—and to which the noble Lord referred, cannot be met by an amendment, as the noble Lord proposes, of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876. That question has been answered by three very competent expert members of the Government in the other House. The President of the Board of Trade has said more than once that the Government could not undertake to make this amendment of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876. Not only has the President of the Board of Trade made that statement, but the Foreign Secretary has also made it, and, as I shall have to point out in order to show what our position is, the objections raised by the Foreign Secretary and by the President of the Board of Trade involve matters which cannot be overlooked if you desire to make an amendment of this kind effective in order to carry out the ends aimed at by the noble Lord who has proposed the Second Reading of this Bill.

Perhaps I may say at this stage that there has been experience in this matter, but only as regards convict labour, for reasons I will state in a moment, in the United States of America. In Section 307 of the United States Tariff Act, 1930, is a provision undoubtedly dealing with convict labour and forced labour, and I do not think I shall go very far wrong—it is a matter of drafting—in suggesting that the noble Lord must almost have adopted his wording from the clause of the American Statute. What has been the effect? For a long time there have been attempts to provide the Secretary of State in America with a practical method by which the general principle accepted by the United States Government could be enforced. The noble Lord is, no doubt, well aware of that. So far as convict labour is concerned, there were cases of ships from Russia being held up on the ground that the goods in them were imported under conditions of manufacture by convict labour. The attempts to deal with the question in these cases failed. I think the last ship was released not very long ago. A number of ships were detained for inquiry in order that a provision of this kind might be enforced, but it was found to be impossible—and no country is more anxious than the United States to make this method a success—to enforce a condition of this kind. The provision speaks of the import of goods either manufactured, produced or mined by convict labour.

That being so, there has been a constant attempt in the United States to enforce the other part of the provision, directed against forced labour. The present position is that no prohibition regarding forced labour is to be attempted before February, 1932. It has been considered, and various objections have been raised, and at present it is postponed until that date. Let me read the words. I do not think any noble Lord will accept such words for a moment, but they show the trend of this legislation. The words are: In no case shall such provisions"— that is, the prohibition— be applicable to goods, wares, articles or merchandise so mined, produced, or manufactured"— that is, by forced labour— which are not mined, produced or manufactured in such quantities in the United States as to meet the consumptive demands of the United States. That is not a proclamation against the principle of forced labour. I agree with what the noble Lord said as to the question of unfair competition arising, but that is not the matter with which we are dealing here. That is not the view of the United States, and I shall point out in a moment that it is not the view which the noble Lord takes in his proposed Bill.

What the United States say is that they wish to get rid of forced labour only where the products of it come into competition with goods produced in the United States. I understand that point, because we have so often argued it, but I am not arguing it at the present moment. That is not a declaration against forced labour. It is an acceptance of the principle of forced labour in all cases where the goods produced or manufactured are produced or manufactured in such quantities in the United States as not to meet the consumptive demand of the United States. In other words, given that the United States and those who live there desire these manufactured goods—although they are produced by forced labour—because there is not a sufficient production in the United States, they are to be admitted. That is not at all the principle which I understood the noble Lord to advocate.

Just let me put this to him. Look at his own Bill, which, as I say, seems to be largely copied from the Act of the United States. In subsection (2) of Clause 1 it says: This Act shall not apply to goods not imported for the purpose of trade"— that is, if they are not imported for the purpose of trade and trade competition, the Act is not to come into operation, and yet they may be made by forced labour— or to goods of a description not produced or manufactured in the British Empire. Suppose certain goods are not produced or manufactured in the British Empire. Docs that palliate the evil of forced labour? Of course he will not say that it does. I would suggest that the real motive here, at any rate so far as these words are concerned, is not the abolition or prohibition of forced labour but quite another point of view. It says in effect: "Do not let us have these goods introduced here unless they are goods of a description not produced or manufactured in the British Empire." That means that it is a trade consideration, and what you are to have in mind is the trade consumer, if I may use that expression, as you do in other economic conditions.


I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord will allow me to answer that point—


If you want to answer it, perhaps you will wait until presently. If you think I am saying anything wrong, I will give way in a moment, but I want to get my argument consecutive if I can. Let me follow it a little further. I do not want to quote Russia particularly to-day, because it is known that Russia, is a large factor in discussions of this kind and always has been. I accept entirely, as regards Russia, the various evidence from the Report of Sir Alan Pim, and the late Judge of the Egyptian Mixed Tribunals, Mr. Edward Bateson, which has been made to the association against slavery and forced labour and matters of that kind. Lord Buckmaster—I do not think it is necessary to go further than that—very ably summarises, in the preface to that Report, just what he thinks the conditions are. I will not read any more than I need, because on a future occasion we may have to consider this and it is only as an illustration that I mention it now, but lie says: That some of the labour in the timber camps is not voluntary is clearly established"— I think that is quite true— but the greater part of it is drawn from people accustomed to the work"— that is local seasonal work, as it is called— who work freely and at wages and under conditions fixed after consultation with their trade unions. He goes on to say that those conditions are certainly not worse than the conditions of voluntary labour under the old Tsarist days. I should have thought from the evidence contained in the book that they were better, but I do not care to consider that now. Nor do I use the word "timber" at the moment, because it always seems to raise difficulty and prejudice.

If you have commodities imported from a district where the work is carried on "largely by voluntary labour"—those are the words used in the Report itself—but to some extent by convict labour, how are the Commission to deal with a matter of that kind? It is all very well to say that these things are easy to determine. They are exceedingly difficult, and that was found out by the United States in their attempt to prohibit, in very similar words, imports on the ground that they were made by convict labour. We also have, to consider this. Of course you cannot make a rule of this kind—the noble Lord did not argue for it, I admit—unless it is made general. You have special protective arrangements, for instance, in the Anglo-German Treaty, where in a Note given at the time by Lord D'Abernon, the only exception in matters of this kind was the Customs Act as it then operated.

It is well known what were the terms of the Russian Agreement with us. The Agreement provides, generally, for mutual accord of most-favoured-nation treatment, and in particular stipulates that the natural produce and manufactures of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall enjoy in the United Kingdom all the facilities, rights and privileges which are at present, or may be hereafter, accorded to the natural produce and manufactures of any other foreign country in all that relates to the prohibition and restriction of imports. It is quite clear, therefore, that you could not impose a condition of this kind with regard to Russia without at the same time imposing a similar condition upon all other foreign countries. It is a difficult matter. I am told that the ruling opinion is that this provision, unless it is imposed generally, is inconsistent with what is called the most-favoured-nation clause, because there you have it stated that like commodities should be treated in a like way. It does not refer to the way in which they are produced, but to the commodities themselves.

I am not going to attempt to lay down any general principle with regard to the interpretation of these difficult matters, but it has been pointed out to me by those who are experts—by the Foreign Office—that they do not see how the difficulty in this way could be got over satisfactorily, either in the form of the Bill or of the special provision which the noble Lord proposes to introduce. He knows, as well as I do, and I think he has stated it, that the imports from Russia, so far as timber is concerned, are of the greatest importance. They are bartered, if I may use the expression, for machinery produced here, and in the great business which we now have in the building of houses for the working classes cheap timber is of enormous importance. Mr. Meyer, head of what is called the Consortium, illustrated that in a letter to The Times. We are dealing not with a small matter but with a big matter, because the value of soft timber and pit timber amounts to £9,500,000 a year—for which we get a market for our manufactured goods—as nearly as possible to the same level as existed in the old Tsarist days.

Your Lordships will recollect that in the Tsarist days the commodities from Russia included timber from Latvia, Esthonia and Finland, and parts of Poland. Figures show that Soviet Russia, with regard to her importations, has just reached the level of pre-War days, and beyond that there does not seem any immediate progress in amount; but it is quite certain, as pointed out by Mr. Meyer in a letter to The Times, that if you excluded by a stroke of the pen, as is suggested, imports of that kind, you would very seriously increase the cost of manufactured timber, that is, doors and windows and things of that kind, to the detriment of cheap building, and the cost of building would be considerably enhanced. I do not want to go too far into this to-day but only to indicate some of the difficulties.

Let me take the next part of the noble Lord's Bill. I think Clause 2 I have dealt with sufficiently, because that is a question of convict labour. In Clause 3 we come to the question of forced labour. Up to recently—I am not sure what it is now—there was a considerable amount of forced labour, particularly in backward countries, where forced labour was said to be required for public utility puposes, and was used for other purposes too. I am not quite certain, that all forced labour has been stopped entirely wherever we are in authority, but I recollect very well that in the old discussions at Geneva, when we were represented by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, not only was forced labour not ruled out entirely but it was argued that when dealing with backward people, especially in tropical countries, some form of forced labour could not be avoided. I think myself that all forced labour ought to be avoided, but you would find a very large area where what is called "forced labour" is still in operation, because forced labour includes, according to the noble Lord's definition, I think, what we call indentured labour.




The definition is: all work or service exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its non-performance and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.


Hear, hear!


Noble Lords say "Hear, hear." I find no fault with those "Hear, hears." If you ask me, I would make forced labour even wider than that, but even if you take the definition in the Bill it means to say that compulsory labour is what the noble Lord calls "forced labour." Well, it has been often argued that in backward districts and territories, particularly in tropical regions, some form of forced labour is almost essential if you are to press on what are called civilised methods and civilised principles.

I think I ought to say one word about the League of Nations, and one word on the question of consuls. Great Britain desires that the conditions of Russia should, if possible, be considered, in order that we might get a thoroughly impartial expert view of what the conditions are. But the League of Nations could not investigate conditions of that kind in a country which is not a Member of the League. It is only through membership of the League that the League as a whole has authority to make investigations of that sort, and I suppose that such a proposal would probably be met with what we met with. As the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Henderson, stated, some suggestions were made that we might make independent investigations, but I think ho was quite right in saying that unless he had a clear field and a clear opportunity of ascertaining the whole truth it would be unwise for him to enter upon this matter at all.

Then as regards consuls in these timber districts, I do not think we have any consular representatives at the present time. We have, I believe, two or three consuls in Russia—one in Leningrad, one in Moscow and also a vice-consul. It is not impossible, I presume, to make arrangements for more consuls and consular services, but that is the condition now. I do not in the least take any adverse view to the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, of Falloden, but if we are to have this consular investigation—that is, if we could arrange it, because I do not know—large changes would have to be made as compared with things as they are at the present time. I want to say quite frankly, as I have often said, that we cannot take this action in regard to forced labour in other countries. It cannot be done in this way. This has been considered and carefully considered by the Foreign Office, by Mr. Gillett of the Department of Overseas Trade and by the President of the Board of Trade. And therefore the attitude I am going to advise my noble friends here to take is this. I think it would very likely be misunderstood if we voted against the Second Heading of this Bill.


Hear, hear.


Well, do you want us to? It is very funny how merriment arises in an unexpected way in this House. It seems as though numbers gave force to merriment. But that, I think, is the right thing to do. At the same time, we state—I do not say we warn the noble Lord, but we state—that it is, of course, quite impossible that this Bill can go forward in the present Parliament. It is quite impossible for us to give any facilities. In our opinion there are a number of very important and difficult points which would have to be thrashed out, and therefore so far as we are concerned, although there may be value in discussion, particularly such kindly discussion as the noble Lord has suggested, we think there can be no use whatever in going beyond discussion; and if the Bill goes to a Committee we shall leave the matter to be discussed by your Lordships, but the Government will not be able to give any assistance.


My Lords, if anything coming from the Bench opposite could astonish me, it would be the speech of the noble and learned Lord to which we have just listened. The attitude of the Government on this Bill appears to me absolutely indefensible, all the more so because of the noble and learned Lord's opening words. He told us he was against forced labour and that he had no objection in principle to this Bill. If that is his real attitude, in the name of common sense, why did not he say: "I agree to the Second Reading of this Bill, and I shall help to make it a good one"? It appears to me that what the noble and learned Lord had in his mind when he spoke was not to help to make this Bill effective, not to amend it so as to make it enforceable, but to put forward a certain number of objections, which appear to me for the most part largely frivolous, suggesting why the Bill is useless. There may be some undisclosed reasons, owing to the composition of his Party or other domestic reasons, why he thought it desirable to throw discredit upon this Bill. If there are such reasons, he was probably very wise not to disclose them. At any rate, the reasons that he gave why this Bill is likely to be useless, and why if he had had the courage to do it, he would have opposed the Second Reading, appear to me to be perfectly flimsy, unsubstantial and unconvincing.

I propose first to say why the Government cannot possibly, as I think, with any decency or reason, oppose the passage of this Bill. In order to justify the Second Reading you must be prepared to show, first of all, that there is forced labour in Russia or elsewhere, and that large imports are coming into this country which are the product of forced labour or convict labour. The second point you would have to show in order to justify the Second Reading would be that the proper remedy is by prohibition. On both those points I have the advantage of quoting the actual opinions of members of the Government. We had a debate in your Lordships' House on February 5, in the course of which striking and deplorable evidence was produced by Lord Newton, Lord Phillimore, and Lord Brentford as to the appalling conditions of forced and convict labour in Russia. And what did the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, say in winding up the debate for the Government? He said: I do not dispute the evidence for one moment. I think he was quite right in that. He went on to emphasise it further. He said: We have heard a great deal said by the noble Viscount"— that is Lord Brentford— with regard to these horrors. They may be true. I am not disputing the fact. They are very horrible. In the face of that strong and deliberate declaration—because the noble Lord knew what was going to be brought forward—is it possible for anyone to say that the conditions of forced and convict labour in Russia do not exist, or is it possible for them to say that they are not of a most horrible kind? That is the first point, as to the existence of forced labour.

The second point is as to the propriety of the remedy which the Bill proposes for prohibition. There again we have statements by very prominent and important Ministers; I have them here. The first important statement, which I think was referred to shortly by the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, is a quotation from the Socialist Party Committee on Sweated Imports set up in 1925, of which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. Johnston, the Lord Privy Seal, Mr. Tom Shaw, the Secretary of State for War, and a very important person whom we rejoice to see here, Lord Passfield, and Mr. Arthur Greenwood, who is Minister of Health, were members. They stated: We do not suggest that cheap goods should be excluded because they are cheap. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Pass-field, recognises these words as his own. He was on the Committee, and I will read them so that he may confirm them if necessary presently— But we suggest that goods, whether cheap or not, should be excluded if they are made under conditions which violate the world standard. I presume that the noble Lord opposite agrees with that statement made by himself and his colleagues in 1925. The conditions of humanity and morality I do not suppose have altered greatly since 1925 and, therefore, he would accept the views which he most properly laid down in that year.

When I speak of cheap goods may I say that I was surprised to hear some suggestion from the noble and learned Lord opposite that we should let in timber or other goods because they were cheap. If Lord Passfield and those other prominent members of the Government are right there is no reason whatever for letting these goods in if they are made under conditions which violate the world standard. So that, on both those points—the existence of this forced and horrible labour in Soviet Russia and the necessity for prohibiting the import of goods made under those conditions into this country—the declarations of Ministerialists appear to me to be absolutely conclusive.

I might stop there, but may I be allowed in very few words to give some reasons why, apart from these Ministerial declarations, I think your Lordships would be very well advised to give a Second Reading to this Bill? The evidence as to the nature of labour in Russia is twofold. In the first place, there is the evidence afforded by that remarkable set of documents representing labour legislation in Soviet Russia published in a Blue-book, Command Paper No. 2775, showing what the Russian Government have laid down as to the conditions under which labour should be and could be recruited and made compulsory. That is one class of evidence. The second class of evidence is the evidence of eye witnesses who saw these things for themselves in Russia and made affidavits and wrote accounts which appear in many public documents. Put shortly the effect of that evidence is, I venture to submit, that Russia is a country of almost universal forced or compulsory labour. If anyone takes the trouble to look at those documents he will see that is not an overstatement. If anyone takes the trouble, as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and others did the other day, to quote some of the conditions under which labour is exercised in Russia he will find—again, I do not think Lord Ponsonby would dispute it—that men and many women and even children of 15 or 16 are compulsorily deported from their homes in Russia day by day in many, many thousands. As regards men, they are deported to timber camps in Northern Russia, to mines on the Don, to oilfields in Baku, and to State farms—agricultural farms they are called, slavery farms practically—in the Ukraine. They are there forced to work with no alternative except that of death or starvation.

I think I should be occupying your Lordships' attention unnecessarily if I were to quote from what was to me the most heartrending report or rather series of articles by a correspondent of the Chicago Tribune. Those articles appeared in that paper not so long ago—between March 8 and 31, 1931—as the result of his experiences while on a visit to Russia. I can only say that if there is anyone who doubts the horrors of that forced labour let him read those letters. The writer deals specially with the tim- ber camps in Northern Russia and with the treatment of that unfortunate section of the community the kulaks, the better to-do peasants, who are subject not merely to the most horrible indignities but to cruelties and are sent to work with the alternative of being starved.

I will not go into the question of the amount of these products of forced labour which are imported into this, country day by day and year by year. It is sufficient to say that last year there were something like £24,000,000 of imports of Russian goods and products—timber, wheat, china, glass-ware, fruit, pulp, and many other articles. One can guess, at any rate, under what conditions they were produced, and not merely guess but affirm. If that is so, surely there are two reasons why this Bill should be carried and made effective with the help (and I hope we shall get it) of the Front Government Bench. In the first place, there is the economic question and there I cannot do better than quote the words of the Bishop of Durham in his speech in your Lordships' House on February 5 of this year. He said this: … when this five-year plan is carried through"— we all know what that means; it is for the destruction of our industries here and the setting up if possible, by means of discontent and starvation, the world revolution here and elsewhere— this country will be subjected to a strain of unfair competition against which no modern organised industrial community could hold out. There is a worse thing than economic menace; there is the moral disgrace which would fall upon this country if we did not take measures to stop bringing into this country, and to discourage bringing into this country, the fruits of these abominable horrors which are being carried out in Russia. If we do not take steps for that purpose we shall be guilty to a large extent of condoning the horrors under which these goods are made. More than that, we may be justly accused of being wholly indifferent to the appalling misery and degradation to which these unfortunate defenceless men and women of Russia are subject. Why? For the sake of getting some cheap goods and saving an awkward moment for the councils of the Socialist Party.


My Lords, I think this question is a much more serious one than many of your Lordships yet realise. This is a question which has been taken up by a large number of the wage-earning classes of this country. They are beginning to get information as to what is going on in Russia, and depend upon it, whatever Government may be in power, I feel sure that the principle contained in this Bill will have to be dealt with in some way or other by a Government which has the power to do it. We know what is going on at the present time. There is no doubt that the Russian Central Government has complete control of the whole of the labour conditions in Russia. It fixes the wages, it fixes the hours, it fixes the quantity that has to be produced, and if the quantity is not produced, most serious claims are made against those who fail to produce what they have to produce. I realise the difficulty of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, who spoke with regard to this matter, that if you deal with this principle you might have to deal with various other countries where possibly conditions do not exist such as exist in Russia, but in my judgment this is a Russian question, and unless something is done you will find that competition from Russia will be such as this country has not had to face, in my time certainly.

Timber has been mentioned. Russia supplies timber cheap, and merchants who have to make their Jiving do not object to it. It is not only timber. We are beginning to feel it all round. I read not long ago that in Turkey the Turks even were complaining of the import of coal from Russia below cost price, because it was taking away their trade. I need not go further than last week. There was an important contract of about 35,000 or 40,000 tons of gas coal, which has belonged to this country for years, captured by Russia selling at shillings a ton below the cost at which we can produce the coal in this country. How is that done? It is not done by fair conditions such as we have. It is done by conditions imposed upon the workmen by a central Government which is determined to injure us as much as possible. This question will have to be dealt with. The Government may put it off now, but I feel sure it will not be long before the wage-earning classes of this country will see that it is absolutely necessary to put some check upon this competition, so that at all events competition may be on fair grounds. With competition on fair grounds I am sure this country has nothing to fear.


My Lords, I confess that I have listened to this debate with some feeling of disappointment. The mover of the Second Reading in a speech which, if he will allow me to say so, seemed to me of the utmost cogency and to present most impartially and most forcibly the case for his measure, stated in terms that he was not wedded to any particular form of words provided the principles underlying this Bill were accepted and were made effective. On a Second Reading debate, as I have always understood it, the rule is that the House comes to its decision as to whether or not it approves the principle of a Bill. If it does approve the principle it votes in favour of the Second Reading and leaves Committee points to the Committee stage. If it believes the principle is a wrong principle, then naturally enough it votes against it. What are the principles which underlie this Bill? As I understand them there are two principles, one economic, one moral. The economic principle, I think, may be stated, perhaps not with precision but sufficiently accurately, as being this, that it is not right or reasonable to erect standards of living for our own people and then to allow those standards to be destroyed by competition of goods produced under conditions of forced or convict labour. The moral principle, I think, may be enunciated somewhat in these terms. It is not right for a country that calls itself a Christian country to make itself an accessory after the fact to the enslavement of populations less happily situated than our own by profiting from the cheapness of goods produced under slave conditions.

Are those principles to which this House gives its adhesion? Both of them have been recognised over and over again, both by legislation and by the voluntary action of people in this country. The argument in favour of the economic proposition I think is an overwhelming one. As has been pointed out, in the Socialist Party's own Committee it was explicitly stated that there was here no question of tariff or of free trade. If we in this country insist on a standard of living for our workpeople and if we then allow the goods produced by those people to be driven out of our own markets by goods produced under slave or forced labour conditions, that must involve that our own people are either driven out of work altogether or else are compelled to lower their own standard so as to compete with slave conditions. The only remedy, as the Socialist Committee itself pointed out, is to prohibit the entry into this country of goods produced under those conditions. Now that principle has been recognised; we do not allow in this country goods produced in our own prisons to be sold in competition with goods produced under trade union free labour. Why not? Because we recognise that it is an impossibility to maintain cur standards of living if they have to face competition of that kind, and, as has been pointed out, as long ago as 1897 a similar prohibition was enacted with regard to goods produced in foreign prisons. It is true enough that that enactment has not in practice proved effective, because the condition necessary to bring is into operation—the condition that you must prove that the particular parcel of goods which you are challenging was produced in a prison by prison labour—is so difficult that it can never be complied with. But if the condition has proved difficult of application, the remedy is not to abandon your principles but to make your legislation effective.

And similarly with the moral argument. Have we forgotten how in the days of Wilberforce for many years large numbers of our people voluntarily refused to partake of sugar at all because they would not lend themselves to the production of sugar by slave labour in the West Indies, and that their action and voluntary sacrifice was a very potent factor in awakening the conscience of this country and in abolishing slave conditions in our own Dominions? Have we changed so much since the War? Have our consciences been so deadened that we do not care now under what conditions goods are produced so long only as they are cheap? Russian timber, said the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, cannot be shut out as it might be under this Bill because, remember, Russian timber is cheap and it will possibly raise the cost of building working-class houses if you refuse to allow the use of timber produced in Russia under slave conditions. A magnificent exhibition of high moral standing!

But what were the arguments of the noble and learned Lord? I hope I shall not do him an injustice when I try to summarise them. He began by telling us that an Act was passed in the United States prohibiting the importation of goods produced by convict labour, and he said that in fact that had not proved effective in practice. No more has our own of 1897. The result is that in the United States, as the noble and learned Lord knows, they are now introducing legislation very like the legislation which my noble friend Lord Phillimore has introduced to-day, which it is hoped will be effective. Then, he said, the exemption in subsection (2) of Clause 1 of the Bill was too wide because it lets in goods which are not produced or manufactured in the British Empire. Well, it may be that it would be advisable to tighten up the exemption. I am quite sure my noble friend would be willing to consider an amendment for that purpose. But that is not against the principle of the Bill.

"Then," says the noble and learned Lord, "we, the Socialist Government, have negotiated a Treaty with Russia and that Treaty has in it a most-favoured-nation clause and I think it is very doubtful," said he—or rather he did not say that, but "I am advised by some people that it is very doubtful whether or not this legislation would not infringe the most-favoured-nation clause in that Treaty." If that was true it would seem to me a most scathing indictment of the Government of which he is a member, but I think he is doing his colleagues and himself an injustice. I should not like to say of any argument of the noble and learned Lord that it is a quibble, but I would remind him that at the time he negotiated that Treaty, there was in existence the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act of 1897, which is to-day the law of the land and which is just as much an infringement of the most-favoured-nation clause as the Bill which my noble friend Lord Philli- more has introduced. The difference between the two is one of machinery and of application to forced labour as well as to convict labour. If this is an infringement of the most-favoured-nation clause, how then could they have negotiated that Treaty two years ago when there was that legislation in existence which, if the present argument is right, prevented them making that Treaty?

Of course, in truth, it does nothing of the kind. It would be an infringement of the most-favoured-nation clause to introduce prohibition of the goods of one country only, but this Bill does not do that. It is not an infringement if it applies to every other country. This Bill does not differentiate between countries. It says with regard to any foreign country that if their goods are produced under what I may call for shortness slave conditions, those goods shall not come in, and it does not matter whether they are Russian goods or the goods of any other country in the world. Therefore there is no differentiation between countries. The only differentiation is between classes of commodities. The noble and learned Lord also said—in fact he said it twice—that there were difficulties seen by the President of the Board of Trade, by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade. He told us that in the early part of his speech, and I waited anxiously to hear what they were; but we never heard. All that happened was that towards the end of his speech the noble and learned Lord told us that difficulties were foreseen by these colleagues of his (distinguished colleagues, no doubt) and that therefore—therefore what? One would have thought, that therefore the Government would be anxious to co-operate in removing them, but the answer he makes is that therefore the Government will take no part in the Committee stage of the Bill.

The noble and learned Lord, in an eloquent peroration, said that the principles of this Bill had been dear to his heart for twenty years. He has for twenty years been anxious to carry out the objects which this Bill purports to enact. But (he sees in the particular machinery which this Bill proposes some difficulties. Therefore, he says, so dear is this principle to him that he will not support it in the Division Lobby and will do nothing to help to bring it into practice. It is difficult within the limits of language which is approved in this House adequately to characterise an attitude of that kind. The truth is—and I think everyone in this House who has listened to the debate must appreciate it—that the Government are not afraid of passing this Bill because it will not be effective. The truth is that they are afraid it will be effective.

The truth is not that the Government have doubts whether or not slave labour and forced labour is in existence in Russia. They have repeatedly admitted in this House and in the other place that they know that the evidence cannot be controverted of the conditions which exist. The noble and learned Lord himself said this evening that they accepted the Report of the Anti-Slavery Society which actually found that such labour was being used in the timber trade. They know, therefore, that if this Bill becomes an Act the result will be to prevent goods produced under forced labour conditions being introduced from Russia. But unfortunately they have a considerable section of their Party which is passionately wedded to Russia. Therefore, the real difficulty which the Government see is not in bringing this Bill into operation, but in the conflict which will inevitably arise in their own Party if they try to give it effect.

I venture to submit to your Lordships that the attitude which the noble and learned Lord adopts as the representative of the Government is an attitude which does not commend itself to any impartial tribunal and will not receive the support of your Lordships' House. If it be true that the Government do not wish to make this Bill as good a Bill as it can be made, then let us do it without them. For myself, I congratulate the introducer of this Bill on the courage he has shown in bringing it forward. I hope he will press it through all its stages. I believe we on this side of the House will do all in our power to make it effective, and I hope very much, in spite of the prophecies of the noble and learned Lord, that those in another place will be given an opportunity of registering themselves either in favour of or against the im- portation of goods produced under forced labour conditions to the detriment of the conditions of our own people.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down referred to the limits of language allowed in this House. I am afraid I have not been long enough in your Lordships' House really to know what those limits are, but they seem always to me to be stretched a little further whenever I hear the noble and learned Viscount speak. I want to keep very well within the limits of any heated language and to copy the noble Lord who introduced this Bill in such an admirable, clear and persuasive speech. I can assure him that in spite of what the noble and learned Viscount said with regard to the attitude of His Majesty's Government and of my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House, we are absolutely in sympathy with the underlying principle of this Bill. The noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down described these two principles—he economic principle and the moral principle—ith great lucidity and I subscribe to the definitions which he gave of both. There is no difference of opinion in that respect. We should like to see forced labour and convict labour abolished, but we cannot sit here and give our assistance and blessing to a measure which quite obviously will not carry out that purpose.

That has been gone into very carefully by my noble friend the Lord President. If I may have the attention of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading, I should like to put a specific case to him. I do not want to enter into a heated argument with regard to Russia, but we know perfectly well that it is against Russia that this measure is directed. Judging by all the reports that have come in from various quarters, with a bias one way or the other, there is no question that forced labour and convict labour exist in the timber trade in Russia.


And in other trades.


On the other hand, we have been informed by the Soviet Government that, so far as the export of timber is concerned, no convict labour or forced labour is used. Say that this is not true, that they are not speaking the truth. After all, it is a perfectly credible, statement, because the amount of timber that is used for export is a very small percentage of the total trade, since there is a very large consumption of timber in Russia itself. Therefore, although noble Lords may say that the Soviet Government are not speaking the truth, it is a perfectly credible statement. It may be that the export of timber is carried on by convict labour or forced labour, but how are we to find out under the noble Lord's Bill? How are the Commissioners of Customs and Excise to be satisfied? How are they going to have "cause to believe"? By investigation? By report? Well, we cannot make investigations and reports in a foreign country that will not submit to have the reports made. I do not think any sovereign State would allow another sovereign State to conduct an investigation within their boundaries; and they are perfectly within their powers and rights in refusing. We cannot ascertain, under the noble Lord's Bill, whether convict labour or forced labour is used in the production of the timber that comes over here.

The general principles that were laid down by the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down are very far-reaching and very interesting, and are worthy of very careful debate in both Houses of Parliament, but it is impossible to nibble at a great principle by an entirely inadequate measure which cannot effect its purpose and which, although it may be supported by moral indignation and by economic considerations, must not leave out of account further considerations of a diplomatic nature. We have to consider that, if any extreme measures of this sort could be taken against Russia, not only would it mean a rupture of our Agreement with Russia, but it would very likely lead to the breaking off of our diplomatic relations. The diplomatic side of the question must be borne in mind. I rose only because I thought it was not quite fair on the part of the noble and learned Viscount to taunt my noble friend the Leader of the House with insincerity in his declaration of adherence to the principle which underlies this Bill, as presented and advocated by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading, because that principle must be sincerely held by all the inhabitants of the British Isles, without any differentiation, and it is not because of a difference of principle, it is because we see that the method adopted by the noble Lord is impracticable, that we can allow the Second Reading but cannot take any part in further stages of the Bill.


My Lords, I will not detain you for more than a few moments, but I think I am entitled to say that this debate has been of some use. We have, at any rate, and I welcome it with all my heart, common ground between all Parties that it is the policy of this country to suppress forced labour wherever we find it. By that I do not mean that this commits the Party opposite to take any definite action. I am not trying to twist their words in any way. But that is the object to be gained, and I have to thank the noble Lord who has just sat down for the very kind way in which he has treated my speech and for putting questions to which I can give a definite answer. I think he asked me two questions. The first was: How can I expect any sovereign State to allow an investigation that Russia, has refused? I thought I had already given that answer when I made my speech. It was that Germany, a far greater State, if I may say so, allowed such an investigation to a foreign country in the interests of a foreign country, during the heat of the War, and that we did the same. I think that is a very valuable precedent, and one which even Russia need not be ashamed to follow.

Then he asked me—I think this was his second question—how, in the case of a given parcel of timber, it was to be known whether that parcel was produced by convict labour, by forced labour or by free labour. No one is certain of that in the case of a country which is suspect. It can only be ascertained by investigation and, to be quite frank and open about, it, if a country openly practises forced labour it is the intention of my Bill that the goods from that country should not be imported into this country unless that country can see its way to prove that those goods are free from the taint. I do not think there can be anything clearer than that, and I cannot for the life of me see how it is an unworkable principle.

I was greatly honoured by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House venturing to pay so much atten- tion to my few remarks, but it was rather, as I had anticipated, the sand that the noble and learned Lord managed to find to put into the machinery that was sought far and wide, and I cannot help thinking that, in one or two cases, he shut his eyes when he reached out for the bucket. For instance, one of his objections was that this Bill would apply to countries administered by Great Britain herself. How can he bring up that objection when he knows perfectly well that his own Government has just agreed in terms that all forced labour in all our mandated territories and non-self-governing Colonies, and so on, for which we are responsible should be immediately and forthwith suppressed—or, at any rate, suppressed in the shortest possible time? How can that be a valid objection?. Then the noble and learned Lord took, I venture to say, another handful of sand out of the bucket on the subject of indentured labour. I expect he knows very well and has followed the debate that took place at Geneva on the question of the Draft Convention. If he has, be will know perfectly well that the definition that is incorporated in the Bill was expressly arrived at in order to exclude the question of indentured labour. The question of indentured labour was very carefully considered by the Committee, and the Committee decided not to deal with it.

Again, the noble and learned Lord adduced an Act—I could not quite catch the date, but I believe it was 1837—of the United States of America, which he said failed. I would like to remind the noble and learned Lord that whatever was the action of the United States in 1837, the present position is that the United States' imports from Soviet Russia are less than any of the other great Powers. The noble and learned Lord even went so far as to produce Mr. Meyer as another bit of sand. That point, as to whether the noble and learned Lord wants cheapness at the expense of forced labour, has already been very ably dealt with by those who sit below me.

I would like, if I may, just to put this consideration to noble Lords opposite. Are they really anxious—have they really at heart the question of the suppression of forced labour? If they have, and do not like the machinery of this Bill, where is their Bill? Is it an unimportant question to-day, or is it an important question? Are there many greater questions which trouble the world at the present moment? To pass to a very homely illustration, which may perhaps appeal in a different way to the noble and learned Lord opposite, in Victorian times, when children used to make objection to a course which seemed otherwise desirable and which was advocated by their parents, the answer of the parents was: "Well, if you do not like to do it, still you can truly try." I would recommend to the noble and learned Lord that he should truly try to find a remedy for this great evil.


May I ask whether, if this Bill goes to another place, the Government will give an opportunity for its Second Reading to be discussed?


I cannot answer that, but I should say that in the present state of business it would be quite impossible.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.