HL Deb 20 May 1952 vol 176 cc1161-3

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to intervene at this moment to make a Statement on British business interests in China which has just been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. It is as follows:

"The House will be aware that British firms in China have for reasons beyond heir control been facing for some time past increasing difficulties so far as trade and industry inside China are concerned. These difficulties are partly due to the increasing extent to which many of the functions formerly handled in China by private merchants and industrialists are being taken over by organisations operating on a State basis. There are, however, other difficulties, for example the increasing restrictions on the entry and exit of foreign staffs, arbitrary taxation demands and compulsion to retain and pay redundant labour. In these circumstances many firms have been operating at a loss for a considerable period.

"For these reasons roost of the British companies have reluctantly come to the conclusion that they can no longer operate satisfactorily inside China, and that the time has come to arrange for the disposal of their businesses. Many have already decided to apply for closure, custody, transfer, or lease of their various interests, as may be appropriate in each case. There are likely to be many problems involved and, at the request of the China Association, acting on behalf of the firms them- selves, Her Majesty's Government have presented a Note to the Central People's Government of China requesting that all the necessary facilities be made available to ensure that these problems are dealt with expeditiously. Both Her Majesty's Government and the firms themselves remain convinced of the need and desirability for British trade with China to be continued.

"The suggestion has been conveyed to the Central People's Government that the requirements of this trade under the changed conditions in China might perhaps be fret by setting up a new form of organisation. The firms feel that this could take the form of an association of representatives of manufacturers and overseas buyers, who would maintain direct contact with the appropriate Chinese authorities. This body could, in fact, act as a permanent trade organization.

"I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the skill, tenacity and courage of the British community in the Far East. In the course of their long arid honourable connection with China they have contributed greatly to the prosperity of both countries, and much of the traditional good will and mutual understanding which has existed between our two countries is also due to them. The firms concerned have recently had to face increasingly heavy losses, as I have explained, and have, been, in many cases, unable to replace their foreign staffs in China who, as may be imagined, have been working under conditions of great strain and anxiety. In these circumstances it is difficult to see how the firms could have made any other decision. Her Majesty's Government for their part fully realise the gravity of this step, but: they feel that, having regard to the, factors which I have outlined, they can only endorse the decision which the firms have taken."

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for making this Statement. This House always likes to have Statements which are made in another place repeated here as nearly contemporaneously as possible. My Lords, what a melancholy business this is! Here is a trade which, I think I am right in saying, has been existing for centuries. It has redounded to the advantage of both countries. Our traders have brought great benefits to China, and from China we in turn have received benefits I should like to identify myself and those who sit with me on this side of the House with what the noble Marquess has said in paying a tribute to the courage, tenacity and wisdom with which our traders have carried on their business for so long. Now, I confess, I see no option but to take the course which is indicated in this Statement. I think it is a wise attempt to save what we can from the wreckage: to see whether we cannot construct some kind of consortium of traders to see whether we can carry on and, to some extent, keep the old trade going. I sincerely hope that the efforts which the Government may make in that direction will be attended with success. That is all I wanted to say. I should like to identify myself with what the noble Marquess has said.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, with great diffidence I support what my noble friend and Leader has just said, but may I ask a question of the noble Marquess which I hope it will be convenient for him to answer—namely, will this change of policy and procedure have any effect on our policy with regard to the stationing of consular officers in China? Is the noble Marquess of my opinion, that it is more necessary than ever that we should have proper consular representation in the Chinese ports and centres of industry? Because there are bound to be a considerable number of British subjects and subjects of countries under our protection who will either be remaining or be resident from time to time in China.


If I may say so, that is altogether a different question from the one with which we have been dealing. I should prefer to say no more at the moment. There are difficulties attaching to the position of consulates.