Timber Exports (Labour Conditions).

Oral Answers to Questions — Russia. – in the House of Commons on 21st January 1931.

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Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

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asked the Prime Minister if he will inform the House of the result of his inquiry with regard to the conditions obtaining in Russian timber camps as testified to in the sworn statement forwarded to him by the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young); whether any official British representative has visited the camps in question; and whether such representative has had full facilities for acquainting himself with the conditions under which timber exported into this country from Russia is produced and handled?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

My inquiry consisted in seeking advice as to whether the various statements submitted to me regarding conditions in Russian timber camps would warrant action against the imports of that timber, under the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act, and that advice has been in the negative. No official British representative has visited the camps in question. I desire to take this opportunity of saying that I fully realise the anxiety caused in this country by the allegations regarding the conditions under which timber imported into the United Kingdom from the Soviet Union is produced. The House will understand that it is hardly suitable for one sovereign and independent State to request permission to make an investigation into the internal affairs of another. His Majesty's Government have, however, felt it only right to make known to the Soviet Government, through His Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow, the statements that are being made and the extent of the interest on the subject felt in this country.

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

Does not the Prime Minister realise that this timber is being daily marketed in this country, and that British people are unwilling, as long as there is this allegation that it is made by slave labour, to have it put into their houses? Does he not recognise the responsibility of getting definite information, aye or no, whether these allegations are true or are false?

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

Is the Prime Minister aware that the timber produced in Finland and Sweden is produced under worse conditions than in Russia?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

I am perfectly aware of those statements and alleged statements, but I hope the House will remember that in this matter it is one sovereign State dealing with another, and it is not only regarding Russian timber but many other imports into this country, and similarly regarding exports from this country, that interested people in various countries tell similar stories.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Wilfrid Ashley Lieut-Colonel Wilfrid Ashley , New Forest and Christchurch

Does the Prime Minister intend to press for an answer from the Soviet Government to this communication?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

That question had better be addressed to the Foreign Office. In that respect, I am simply the vehicle of communication of what has been done through the proper channels.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Wilfrid Ashley Lieut-Colonel Wilfrid Ashley , New Forest and Christchurch

Ought not the right hon. Gentleman to answer so important a question himself and not refer us to some inferior Minister?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

I demur very much to that. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there is a certain order in these matters, that it is the duty of the Department named to make these communications and, when these communications have been made and an answer is received, then, if it is necessary, it comes under my notice, but not before.

Photo of Mr John McShane Mr John McShane , Walsall

Has any foreign nation made representations to Russia in respect of the allegations that are being made?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

Really, I must not make myself responsible for answering questions which it is not my business to answer.

Photo of Mr Oliver Locker-Lampson Mr Oliver Locker-Lampson , Birmingham Handsworth

May I ask one non-provocative question? As the right hon. Gentleman is unable to act, will he invite a representative of the League of Nations to visit Russia for this purpose?

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

That question should he put on the Paper.

Photo of Mr Jack Lees Mr Jack Lees , Belper

Is the Prime Minister prepared to give the pledge of the Government that they are prepared to prevent slave conditions for miners and railway-men in this country?

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

Is the Prime Minister aware that his action may result in weeks and weeks of delay? It is easy to investigate the question in this country.

At end of Questions

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, The failure of the Government to make adequate inquiry in regard to conditions obtaining in Russian timber camps, as testified to in the sworn statement forwarded to the Prime Minister by the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks and otherwise, whereby it, is alleged that Russian timber, which is daily being marketed in this country, is produced and handled by slave labour, thereby affronting the feelings and traditions of British citizens"—[Laughter]—it is not a matter for laughter— increasing unemployment, and infringing the provisions of the Prison Goods Act.

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that at the present time it is quite impossible for any Russian timber to come over on account of the Baltic being closed?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

Again, I am afraid that I cannot accept this Motion under Standing Order No. 10. It would not be in order.

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

On that point of Order. This is the earliest opportunity we have had of raising the matter. While it is true that Archangel may be closed by ice, the timber is daily being marketed in this country, and I submit that it is an urgent matter which should be dealt with by the House of Commons at the earliest possible moment.

Photo of Mr John McShane Mr John McShane , Walsall

On the point of Order, I submit that this matter cannot be said to be urgent inasmuch as it has been dealt with during the last 12 months; secondly, as the hon. Member said, there cannot be for four months yet any exportation of Russian timer, and thirdly—[Interruption.] With great respect—[Interruption.]

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

In giving my Ruling, I have fully considered the question and I cannot allow the Motion to be put under Standing Order No. 10.