Orders of the Day — East German Businessmen (Visits to Britain)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th November 1960.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

10.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Drayson Mr George Drayson , Skipton

The subject I wish to raise tonight is that of the restrictions now being placed on East German businessmen and technicians wishing to visit this country. However, the first thing I wish to do is congratulate my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State on his new appointment. I believe that this will be his first speech at the Dispatch Box in his new office. I feel sure that, coming as he does from the Ministry of Agriculture, he will bring a breath of fresh air and sound common sense to his new office. Secondly, I must declare my own personal interest in this matter, because I am associated with businesses which are actively engaged in the import and export business with many countries throughout the world, including East Germany.

I always thought that it was our policy to remove travel restrictions wherever possible, but I now find that, since September, and even before then, travel between this country and East Germany has been restricted for businessmen who wish to come to this country. East Germany, of course—otherwise known to many as the Soviet Zone of Germany—after the arrangements made at Yalta and Potsdam, has been known by some during the last ten years as the German Democratic Republic. It is a State under Soviet protection and patronage, not recognised by the Western Allies, although it is recognised by some countries of the world.

The East German territory has a population of 17 million people, larger than the populations of Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway or Sweden. In fact, it is the fifth industrial Power in Europe. It is a country with a planned economy and, this being so, business is difficult though by no means impossible. I am told that East Germany's total exports amount to £800 million a year, of which the United Kingdom share is only £7 million. I should say that it is £7 million each way, making a total of £14 million. To my mind, that is far too little and it should be increased. Great efforts are being made by many people to increase trade with East Germany, but their efforts do not meet very much encouragement.

There is now a new factor adding to the difficulties, namely, the inability of East German businessmen and technicians to come to this country. I understand that this arises because the East Germans are placing certain restrictions on West Germans going into East Berlin. The trouble arose, of course, out of meetings of various organisations which took place in September in West Berlin. The House may remember that at that time there were rallies of ex-prisoners of war associations Which caused a certain amount of concern in this country. In a leading article at the time, the Daily Mail said: To hold the gatherings now is perhaps a little provocative. It also stated: So was the demand made by Professor Erhard, a few days ago, for the return of Upper Silesia". The Daily Telegraph, in a leader, referred to the unnecessarily frank speeches about frontiers by Western German politicians". It thought that this might be testing the air for next year's elections". The Daily Express said that Britain must have misgiving about these rallies", which were certainly not intended to lower tension in the city.

The Potsdam Agreement—not that anyone pays much heed to that document now, although some of us think that the sentiments which it expressed were the things for which we had been fighting—clearly lays down what was to be the situation after the war: All German land, naval and air forces, the S.S. and Gestapo with all their organisations, staffs and institutions, including the General Staff, Officers Corps, Reserve Corps, Military Schools, War Veterans organisations together with all clubs and associations which serve to keep alive the military tradition of Germany shall be completely and finally abolished in such a manner as permanently to prevent the revival or reorganisation of German militarism". I have a suspicion that it may well have been some of these clubs or associations holding these rallies in September this year which gave rise to our present difficulties.

What we find is this. Although restrictions are placed on East German businessmen and technicians coming to this country, they are perfectly free to travel at will in and out of West Berlin, as are the West Berliners, and into West Germany itself to place their orders. All that I am asking tonight is that British business firms should be placed in precisely the same position as West German firms. As East Germans can travel freely to West Germany to discuss their business problems, and vice versa, they should be equally free to travel to Great Britain to place their orders with our companies if they so wish.

We must always remember that West Germany is our biggest trade rival. According to reports from Washington, she has just pushed us out of third place of exporters to the United States. I am told that great pressure was brought by Dr. Adenauer or the Bonn Government on the British Government to impose these restrictions. I would ask: since when have we been subject to pressure from Bonn as to how we are to conduct our business affairs? Meanwhile, we are losing business which is going to Western Germany.

In June this year I visited an agricultural fair in Leipzig. A great deal of interest was shown in two Aberdeen Angus cattle, a bull and a heifer, which were being exhibited there. Following this an invitation was received from the Royal Agricultural Society to visit the Royal Agricultural Show at Cambridge, and I was told that the West Germans intended to spend at least £250,000 on British livestock, seeds and agricultural equipment. But no visas were forthcoming.

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , Rotherham

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham) rose——

Photo of Mr George Drayson Mr George Drayson , Skipton

I have very little time.

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , Rotherham

I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman. Will he tell us how he managed about the currency and exchange rates?

Photo of Mr George Drayson Mr George Drayson , Skipton

I will deal with that in a few moments.

This amount of money, £250,000, was to be spent on British livestock. A number of eminent agriculturalists in East Germany proposed to make a visit, but no visas were forthcoming. While no East German agriculturalists are permitted to come to the Royal Agricultural Show in Cambridge, all the time the West German Government are carrying on negotiations. I have a Reuter's report of 1st September which states: A new trade agreement has now been concluded between West Germany and East Germany for the year 1961 in which at least £4 million of livestock and animal products are to be purchased by the East Germans in Western Germany. All the time they were preventing the East Germans from coming here to place their orders with British agriculturalists they were signing an agreement behind our backs to export those very items to the East Germans themselves. When it is said that this trade agreement which was concluded on 1st September has now been suspended, few people attach any importance to that. What we have heard is that the old agreement, on which there is quite a lot of leeway to be made up, has been extended to the end of March next year and, in some instances, to the end of the year.

Again, in the Sunday Times, we read from that journal's Bonn correspondent that For the first time, Dr. Adenauer also has optimistic things to say about the chances of negotiating a new trade treaty with East Germany … Dr. Adenauer said he has given the West German officials concerned in talks for a new treaty instructions to 'negotiate elastically'. Thus, while we are put in a straitjacket, West German officials are given instructions by Dr. Adenauer to negotiate elastically with the East Germans for a new trade agreement. The report goes on to say that Unexpectedly friendly words for Mr. Khrushchev have come from the Federal German Chancellor. Having cooked the British goose, the West German Chancellor goes cooing like a dove to Moscow. If his officials are to negotiate elastically with the East Germans for a new trade agreement, I should like to know whether our officials at the Board of Trade have been given any similar instructions.

As the Germans did not come to the Royal Agricultural Show, I hoped that they might come to the Dairy Show. Again, no visas were available. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal whether visas will be available for the Smithfield Fatstock Show in December, but he tells me that he can give no assurance that they will be available. Why should the British farmers and livestock industry be penalised in this way while the West Germans do not have these same disadvantages?

It was reported the other day that Czechoslovakia was buying 2,600 head of cattle—heifers, bulls and cows—from Denmark as a result of cattle that were sent for trial in 1957. No doubt, that was precisely the purpose of the Aberdeen Angus at Leipzig this year. It is now on trial in East Germany, and I hope that as a result substantial orders will be placed. The farmers and their representatives must, however, be allowed to come to this country and see the cattle for themselves; and they must be treated well, because that has a lot to do with whether they form a favourable view of what they come to see.

The same thing applies to steel, and in this I know that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) will be interested. I understand that over the past year our machine tool exports to East Germany have trebled from £600,000 to £1,800,000. That is attributed entirely to the fact that a large number of East German technicians and professors have been able to visit our machine tool industry and see for themselves the quality of British machine tools. They have bought our machines whereas previously they bought from West Germany. I was told, however, that they needed a lot of convincing. People in the Communist countries are somewhat conservative. They took a great deal of trouble to discover whether our machines would do the job. Finally, they increased their orders threefold compared with the previous year.

The other day, I happened to be in East Berlin. I did not notice any restrictions on the movement of people going in and out. I met the head of the East German steel organisation, Deutsche Stahl, and Mr. Samisch. He is well known in England and has been over here during the past year and has met all our steel people. There is hardly a major steel company which he has not visited. Now, he cannot get a visa. He told me that he was therefore going to Japan and would place his order for steel there if he could not come to the United Kingdom. What is more, he was going via Paris, where he thought that he would have no difficulty in having business consultations while he was there in transit.

Hon. Members may have noticed that on Saturday the Economist referred to this as "embargo by passport" and said that it stops trade visits and that it may well stop orders being placed. It does not, however, stop the East Germans from getting the goods, because they will give the orders to our rivals. As a result, we lose the business. I understand that there was a visit some time ago from Eastern Germany by the Minister for Chemical Industry, Professor Dr. Winkler, who came over with six top technicians. As a result of that visit he placed an order for £4 million worth of chemical plant in this country. We were then in competition with Lurgi of West Germany. Of course, Lurgi of West Germany does not want East German technicians coming to this country to place orders of that nature here. No wonder they wish the restrictions to be continued.

I find that this ban is not confined only to trade but extends to sport as well. That, I think, is most distasteful to any Englishman. Recently, in the European Amateur Football Union Cup the East German team, Wismut, were to play Glenavon in Belfast, but no visas were available. The Football Association intervened. I understand, but without success. The Glenavon team considered themselves victims of politics and sent a telegram saying that against their own wishes they had to retire from the event, so that the match went to the East Germans by default.

In September, I understand, East German Olympic athletes were prevented from appearing art the White City because there were no visas available for them to this land of sportsmen. Only last week there was a figure skating competition at Richmond Ice Rink, and the East German skaters were not allowed to come because there were no visas. There was a film festival at the National Film Theatre, where an East German film, "The Confusion of Love", which has no politics in it, was shown, but the producer and the leading lady, and an East German film executive, who wanted to come here to buy British films, were refused visas. Again, this week at the Motor Cycle Show at Earls Court the East Germans are exhibiting their machines which, I am told, are attracting a certain amount of interest, but the champion riders of East Germany are not allowed to be present to meet riders of this country or to explain their machines to them.

I was attracted by a reference in the Yorkshire Post the other day to some remarks of Mr. Mustill, Chairman of Leeds Productivity Committee, who has returned from Scandinavia, and who said that he was convinced that British industry must go out and sell to challenge growing German domination of European markets. If the Germans are to dominate markets by this means, it is far from satisfactory. He went on to say: But there is no substitute for personal visits. He was told quite frankly that the Germans are gaining ground because their top level management is more prepared to travel. Catalogues are no substitute for personal visits, and buyers must be able to see what is available and go into these matters as thoroughly as possible.

I could say a great deal more about this subject, but there is not time. All I am asking tonight is that British business firms should be placed on the same basis in relation to East Germany as firms in Western Germany or any other country. I am told that these matters do not unduly worry the East Germans, even if the trade agreements are not continued, because they are now having discussions as to how they can continue to do the trade through third countries, but I want to demand equality with Western Germany for British firms, and fair play for British business firms, firms who are responding to the Prime Minister's exhortations to increase our exports overseas.

10.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson), first, for his kind words to me, which I very much appreciate, and also for raising this matter tonight, because I know the particular interest and concern which he has in this matter. Of course, I also recognise the interest which the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) has in the matter, and I am sorry that I could not give him time to speak in this debate. I am sure that he will appreciate my difficulty. This is a matter, I know, of concern to various Members of the House.

It is important, however, to remember that any steps which we with our allies have taken have followed from the action of the East German authorities in restricting the freedom of movement of German civilians within Berlin. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal referred to these matters in his speech in the House on 4th November and I do not think that I need to repeat what he then said, other than to remind the House that the Western alliance is not prepared simply to acquiesce in illegal actions, whether taken by the Soviet or the East German authorities. Important principles have been infringed, principles which are the responsibility in the first place of the three Powers, who, consequently, could not simply leave it to the Federal German Government to take counter-measures. In the view of Her Majesty's Government it was essential to make clear at this stage the seriousness of the situation that would arise if the Soviet or East German authorities were to make further attempts to alter the situation in Berlin unilaterally to their own advantage.

My hon. Friend made the point about the meetings in Berlin which had led to this particular ban. I should remind him, in the first place, that these meetings constituted no kind of threat to order in the city, nor could they be regarded as a provocation.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Is it not the fact that they demanded back their Eastern territories? Surely that is provocation.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

If the hon. Member will wait, I am trying to develop this point.

Of the two meetings which the East Germans used as an excuse, one, the "Day of the Homeland", had been held in Berlin for the last eleven years, and the other, a Congress of the "Associa- tion of Returnees, Prisoners of War and Relatives of Missing Persons", which was perfectly innocuous, was simply held in Berlin in accordance with the association's practice of holding its annual meetings at different places in Germany. Both meetings were conducted with marked moderation. The truth is that the East German régime finds every kind of democratic meeting in West Berlin objectionable, just as it finds the very existence of a free way of life in West Berlin objectionable; and to isolate West Berlin and sever its natural links with the Federal Republic, the East Germans attack particularly meetings in West Berlin which are attended by persons from the Federal Republic. I should like to develop that further, but I must go on to deal with other points and I ask hon. Members to view this matter from an objective point of view.

The Allied Travel Office in West Berlin, which is administered jointly by Her Majesty's Government and the United States and French Governments, has taken steps to withhold from East Germans the "temporary travel documents in lieu of passports" which they require to be able to visit Western countries whose Governments do not recognise the passports issued by the East German régime. This action has been taken by the three Powers since the Allied Travel Office is a tripartite office, but the other N.A.T.O. countries are supporting the practical application of these restrictions so as to prevent evasion of them.

In joining in imposing these restrictions, Her Majesty's Government recognised that they were bound to have an effect upon trade and other contacts, such as sport, which my hon. Friend has mentioned, between this country and East Germany. At the same time, they considered that this form of restriction was the best means to hand, both as a counter-measure and as a demonstration that the Western Allies would not acquiesce in further Soviet or East German illegal actions. I cannot give any undertaking as to the ending or alteration of these restrictions, although, clearly, it would be different if the illegal restrictions imposed by the East German authorities were annulled.

It would appear that my hon. Friend is not so much disposed to disagree with the action that we have taken as to voice fears that it will result in discrimination against British trade as compared with the trade of other N.A.T.O. countries, and, in particular, the Federal German Republic. I assure my hon. Friend that this is not the result that I would expect at all from the measures that have been taken. As for other N.A.T.O. countries, they are supporting the application of the restriction on the issue of temporary travel documents in the same way as we are doing in this country.

In the Federal Republic the situation, of course, is different since, in accordance with the principle of freedom of movement in Germany, to which we attach so much importance, East Germans must be able to visit the Federal Republic. That must be so. However, the effect of the actions taken by the Federal Government in the field of inter-zonal trade is such that British trade certainly should not suffer unfairly; indeed, if anything, the resultant situation is more likely to be of detriment to West German trade with East Germany. Whereas no restrictions have been placed upon British trade with East Germany as such, the Federal Government have given notice to terminate the inter-zonal trade agreement at the end of this year. As a result, unless and until new arrangements are made, inter-zonal trade is limited to a continuance of deliveries contracted for and licensed under the 1960 list of goods so far as the quotas have not already been filled.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

What about trade in agricultural products?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I shall come to agriculture in a moment.

I would especially draw the attention of the House to my use of the word "quotas". In fact, as these quotas under the existing trade agreement are completed, no further deliveries in the category of goods concerned will be possible unless and until fresh agreements are entered into. I emphasise that as a very important restriction indeed. The fact is that this agreement has been cancelled as from the end of this year.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North asked me about the agricultural position. I think it is important to get this matter in its proper perspective. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for West Ham, North appear to believe that we have lost an opportunity for the export of British livestock to East Germany. I take it that the reference is to difficulties which arose over the visit of a German party to the Royal Agricultural Society's show at Cambridge last July. This was, of course—this is of importance—before the present restrictions were imposed. These difficulties arose for an entirely different reason.

The difficulties arose because the East German authorities proposed to send to the show an official delegation headed by their Minister of Agriculture or State Secretary, for which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary decided that visas should not be granted. This decision was taken—this is important, and I emphasise it to the House—having regard to Government policy in relation to visits to this country by people prominently concerned with the East German régime. As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, this particular difficulty over the issue of visas could have been avoided if the East Germans had put forward at the time, instead of an official delegation, the names of agricultural experts.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

But they were sending their Minister.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman; I want to develop what I have to say further. The hon. Gentleman is now suggesting that the right thing to do is to send a Minister. I suggest that if one wants to make a visit from an agricultural point of view—I speak with some experience of agricultural matters—one sends experienced people to look at livestock. One does not normally send Ministers.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I cannot give way The point is that had the East Germans wanted to send experts, the position would have been entirely different. However, I say that this point is not relevant to this particular problem.

No restriction, I would remind the House, has been placed on British trade with East Germany as such. There is no obstacle in the way of travel by British business men to East Germany. The Government, in fact, would like to see this trade developing normally. British exports to East Germany have increased from £2¼ million in 1958 to £5½ million in the first nine months of this year. British imports from East Germany have risen from £3,407,000 in 1958 to £4,689,000 in the first nine months of this year. This is the kind of normal development of trade which we should like to see. But it must be faced that there might well be repercussions on trade if the East German régime were to pursue further its present policies with regard to Berlin. Trade can be developed only if the right atmosphere exists; and it is the East German régime which is to blame for creating artificially the present uncertain political situation. I emphasise that most strongly.

I wish I had longer to deal with this matter, but perhaps I may conclude by saying that the present restrictions on the issue of travel documents to East Germans have been brought upon the East German régime by its own illegal actions. It was necessary for the Western allies to demonstrate their firmness in the face of actions of this kind, and the travel restrictions were imposed as the best means of doing this. The Government will continue to keep these restrictions under review and to see that no unfair detriment is done to British trade. At the same time, we must be ready to fulfil our commitments to the people of Berlin, and I ask the House to remember that. The cost in inconvenience of the present restrictions would surely be infinitely less than the price that might later have to be paid for weakness now.

That is the issue that I put to the House, and I ask hon. Members, whatever their interests in this matter are, to look at this objectively and to recognise that there is a problem here. We want this trade, and we want to encourage it in any way we can, but we cannot overlook the restrictions which have been imposed. It would be wrong to our allies, and it would be wrong to those in Western Germany.

I would suggest that we have adopted as fair a compromise as we can, and we are always willing to look at any special case which may be brought to our notice. So, while I sympathise with the difficulties of my hon. Friend and the hon. Member opposite, I regret that these are special circumstances, and I must ask the House to take note of them.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Ten o'clock.