HL Deb 31 March 1954 vol 186 cc899-902

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to make a statement on the discussions which have taken place this week with Mr. Stassen, representing the United States Government, and M. Maurice Schuman, representing the French Government, on the subject of East- West Trade. We discussed questions affecting both the scope and the enforcement of the controls over the export of strategic goods to the countries of the Soviet bloc We found ourselves in full agreement that, while controls must be maintained on exports of goods which would add directly and significantly to the Soviet bloc's military capabilities, especially of course in unconventional weapons, we should seek a substantial relaxation of the controls in other goods and an expansion of civilian trade. I emphasise that such a relaxation is fully compatible with security requirements.

On this agreed basis, we shall now proceed to discuss with other friendly Governments the detailed application of this policy. Our proposal to them will be that we should examine the scope and effect of the controls category by category, the whole operation taking two or three months. But it is our hope to introduce agreed changes by stages, and the House may be assured that we shall avoid needless delay. At the same time, the House will appreciate that there can be no question of relaxing any controls except after full discussion with other friendly Governments who are equally concerned.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Marquess for making that statement, which seems eminently satisfactory, so far as it goes, and plainly indicates that measure of good will which we all hope to receive from two such valued Allies. I say "so far as it goes." The difficulty arises when you come down to details, and I should very much like to be assured that the House will have an opportunity of being informed from time to time as and when detailed application of these provisions have been agreed upon. Perhaps the noble Marquess will consider what steps he can take to inform the House when details are worked out. The second question I would ask is this. Assuming that at Geneva a satisfactory result is come to and that the state of war in Korea is declared at an end, should I be right in thinking that the same principle would then apply to China as is now being applied to the Soviet bloc countries?


My Lords, as regards the noble and learned Earl's first question, I will consider whether we can meet him in any way, and if so how, on the points which he has put. As regards the question on China, Geneva has not yet begun, and I think we shall have to see whether real progress is made there. I certainly cannot commit myself to any decision or any statement of policy at this stage.


My Lords, I would emphasise this point. We on these Benches are anxious that relaxation of controls should be extended to East-West trade in the Far East as soon as possible. I can understand the noble Marquess saying that the Geneva Conference has not yet begun, and that there is no result as yet as a guide but should I be right in assuming that the Government have considered in advance what they would do in the event of agreement? Surely it is not going to be left until after the Conference to decide whether, in principle, there should be an extension of the relaxation of controls to East-West trade with China.


The noble Lord has been a Minister in the Foreign Office and I really cannot believe that he would expect me to say now that the Government have come to a decision as to what steps they would take at some future time in a situation which has not yet begun to develop.


My Lords, may I from these Benches heartily welcome these discussions, which I hope will lead to an improvement in East-West trade and, in its turn, to an improvement in the tension in the political sphere. I was going to ask the noble Marquess the question which was asked by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt—that was, whether he could keep the House informed from time to time both as to any changes in the scope of these controls and also, particularly and just as important, with regard to their enforcement. As the noble Marquess knows, there is an international body known as COCOM sitting in Paris and which reports to the Government from time to time. Parliament and the British public as a whole have no cognisance whatever of what goes on behind its closed doors. Therefore it seems to me all the more important that Parliament, as suggested by the noble and learned Earl, should be kept informed, and it may be that questions may from time to time be addressed to the noble Marquess in that respect, As regards China, is the noble Marquess aware of what I have said in this House frequently on the subject of China? I only mention it to- day and hope that I may perhaps be permitted to reinforce everything that has come from the Front Opposition Bench on this particular subject.


My Lords, I find myself in some difficulty in disentangling the questions from what the noble Viscount has put. On the point he has made with regard to giving the House as much information as possible, as I have told the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, I will consider with the others concerned in these matters whether we can give any, and if so what, information from time to time. The noble Viscount is quite right in thinking that I am already aware of his views on the subject of China trade.