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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]