HC Deb 21 March 1939 vol 345 cc1103-9
25. Mr. T. Smith

asked the Secretary for Mines the quantity and f.o.b. price per ton of coal exported from the Humber ports, respectively, during the last six months and the comparative figures for 1930?

Mr. Cross

As the reply involves a number of figures, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the Official Report.

Mr. Smith

Do the figures for the last six months show any prosperity compared with 1930?

Mr. Cross

Perhaps the hon. Member will wait and look at the figures.

The information is as follows:

Federation of British Industries and of the German industry group includes coal; and, if so, can he state the terms of the agreement, including prices and quantities?

Mr. Cross

Coal was not specifically dealt with as parallel discussions about the coal export trades are proceeding.

Mr. A. Bevan

Are the Board of Trade represented in these parallel discussions; and when are we likely to have a report?

Mr. Cross

I am afraid that the hon. Member will have to give me notice of that question.

Mr. Bevan

In the discussions proceeding between British coalowners and German coalowners, are the Government represented?

Mr. Cross

I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. There were discussions between this country and Germany under which a provisional arrange- ment was concluded. The discussions to which I refer in my reply are parallel discussions about coal exports with other countries, particularly with other coal-producing countries in Europe.

Mr. Bevan

Were the Board of Trade represented in those discussions between the British coalowners and the German coalowners?

Mr. Cross

No, Sir. They were not directly represented, but they were kept closely in touch with the negotiations.

Mr. Mander

Is it not proposed now to cancel this provisional arrangement, in view of all that has happened? Are not the Government considering the situation in the light of what has happened?

Mr. Cross

There is another question on that point on the Order Paper.

39. Mr. Arthur Henderson

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can make a statement on the trade negotiations recently concluded between representatives of British and German industries?

43. Mr. Shinwell

asked the President of the Board of Trade what are the results of the conversations between the representatives of British and German trade interests on the subject of Anglo-German trade?

58. Mr. Jenkins

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he proposes to make a statement to the House with regard to the agreement recently signed by representatives of the Federation of British Industries and of the German industry group; what industries are included in the agreement; and when will it come into operation?

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

I will circulate in the Official Report a copy of the agreement recently concluded between the Federation of British Industries and the Reichsgruppe-Industrie. The agreement includes among its objects the promotion of negotiations between individual industries, but it does not include any provision relating specifically to any particular industry. This agreement, of course, has no operative effect by itself, but is meant as a guide to the negotiations between individual industries, which were intended to follow. It is clear, however, that the whole position needs examination in the light of the events of last week, and I have asked the Federation of British Industries to discuss the matter with me.

Mr. Shinwell

May we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that no part of this agreement will become operative until hon. Members have been fully supplied with the details and have had an opportunity of expressing their feelings upon it?

Mr. Stanley

I have tried to make it plain, not only on this question but on many previous occasions, that this agreement, in a sense, never becomes operative. It is only a guide to subsequent negotiations between the undertakings by the individual industries.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of present circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Government will not allow the representatives of British industry to resume these negotiations?

Mr. Stanley

I have said that I have asked the Federation of British Industries to come to discuss the matter with me.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman also say that in no circumstances will the Government be called upon to honour the terms of any portion of the agreement come to between the two bodies?

Mr. Stanley

This agreement is one in which the Government were never going to have a part.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it not a fact that the negotiations were conducted on entirely wrong lines and caused great resentment in other countries?

Mr. Stanley

I do not agree that they have been on wrong lines, up to the events of last week, and I do not think that is the general opinion of the House. Nor do I think they caused great resentment in other countries. I know that there have been reports appearing in the newspapers, but if hon. Members will study the full text of the agreement, which I shall circulate, they will see that those reports were largely based either on misinterpretation or misquotation of the actual text of the agreement.

Mr. Neil Maclean

Arising out of the replies of the right hon. Gentleman, is it not the case that this is not an agreement between any particular industries, but between the Federation of British Industries and a similar group in Germany, and that the agreement arrived at is, in actual fact, in contradiction with the agreement already arrived at between America and this country; and will he, therefore, take steps to see that this later agreement, in view of what took place last week, is cancelled?

Mr. Stanley

That is entirely incorrect. As one who may, perhaps, have been responsible for the negotiation of the Anglo-American Agreement, I can assure the House that I should never have permitted anything which I thought would have been in conflict with that. I can give the House an assurance that neither was this agreement intended to be, nor would it be, in conflict with the interests of American industry.

Mr. Shinwell

While there are advantages in concluding trade agreements with foreign countries, is it desirable that such agreements of a private character should be arrived at without the closest supervision on the part of the Government?

Mr. Stanley

I was kept very closely in touch. The hon. Gentleman is aware that for many years it has been the practice of various industries to conclude arrangements with similar Industries in other countries, and, as a matter of fact, hon. Gentlemen opposite have given as much support to that policy as hon. Gentlemen on this side.

Mr. Mander

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that in present circumstances the German Government are likely to take this seriously?

Following is a copy of the agreement:

16th March, 1939.

Joint Declaration by the Reichsgruppe Industrie and the Federation of British Industries on the results of the Convention held at Duesseldorf, 15th and 16th March, 1939.

The Reichsgruppe Industrie and the Federation of British Industries, having concluded a general discussion on Anglo-German trade relations, issue the following agreed statement:

  1. 1. The two organisations welcome the opportunity which these discussions have given of developing still further the friendly relations which have existed between the two bodies for so many years.
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  3. 2. The two organisations recognise that both for Germany and for Great Britain a substantial and profitable export trade is vital to their economic life.
  4. 3. The two organisations recognize that the object of this export trade must be to give employment to their people, to improve their standard of living, and to provide a volume of foreign currency sufficient for their economic needs.
  5. 4. The two bodies are agreed that the objective to be attained is that the export of all countries should be conducted in such a way as to ensure a fair return for the producers of those countries. Hence it is agreed that it is essential to replace destructive competition wherever it may be found by constructive co operation, designed to foster the expansion of world trade, to the mutual benefit of Great Britain, Germany and all other countries.
  6. 5. The two organisations are agreed that it is desirable that individual industries in both countries should endeavour to arrive at industrial agreements which will eliminate destructive competition, wherever occurring, but prices must be fixed at such a level as not to diminish the buying power of the consumers.
  7. 6. The two organisations realise that agreements upon prices or other factors between Germany and Great Britain are only a step, although a most important step, towards a more ordered system of world trade. They would welcome the participation of other nations in such agreements.
  8. 7. The two organisations are of opinion that negotiations should be started immediately between those industries which are already organised for the purpose. They are further agreed that he wider the area of such agreements, both as to industries and countries, the more rapidly will international trade be established on a permanently progressive and profitable basis.
  9. 8. The two organisations realise that in certain cases the advantages of agreements between the industries of two countries or of a group of countries may be nullified by competition from the industry in some other country that refuses to become a party to the agreement. In such circumstances it may be necessary for the organisations to obtain the help of their Governments and the two organisations agree to collaborate in seeking that help.
  10. 9. The two organisations agree that it is their objective to ensure that as a result of an agreement between their industries unhealthy competition shall be removed. Their aim is to secure as complete co-operation as possible throughout the industrial structure of their respective countries.
  11. 10. The two organisations have agreed to use their best endeavours to promote and foster negotiations between individual industries in their respective countries. They are encouraged in this task owing to the fact that a considerable number of agreements between individual German and British industrial groups are already in existence. There is thus available a large body of experience which inspires confidence that an immediate extension of this policy is both practicable and advantageous.
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  13. 11. In conclusion, the Reichsgruppe Industrie and the Federation of British Industries feel that the problem is not merely one of eliminating undesirable competition, but of taking concrete steps to increase world consumption of the products in which German and British industry are interested. They have, therefore, decided to maintain closer and more active relations with regard to this matter. They also recommend to individual industries that an effort should be made in any agreements that may be concluded for joint action to increase world consumption of the products in which they are interested. Again, this joint action should be considered as the precursor to a wider international collaboration between industries designed with a view to increasing world consumption and consequently production, to the benefit of all concerned.
  14. 12. The ultimate objective must be to in crease world prosperity. The Reichsgruppe Industrie and the Federation of British Indus tries believe that the result of their discussions has been to lay a sound foundation upon which individual industries can usefully begin with mutual advantage.