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Timber Exports (Prison Labour)

Volume 236: debated on Monday 17 March 1930

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the prohibition of the imports of goods that are the results of prison labour, whether he will call for a Report from the British Ambassador in Moscow as to the extent prison labour is entering into the export timber trade of Soviet Russia?

The import of goods made by prison labour is governed by the terms of the Act of 1897, which prohibits the import of goods proved to the satisfaction of the Customs by evidence tendered to them, to have been made or produced in any foreign prison, gaol, house of correction, or penitentiary. It is, I think, obvious that the provisions of this Act do not apply to the export timber trade of the Soviet Union.

Will my right hon. Friend also notify the Government of India that we disapprove of convict labour?

Is it not a fact that in the question there is a reference to forced labour, and in the circumstances will the right hon. Gentleman instruct the Customs to make inquiries into the matter?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether the Act covers forced labour as well as prison labour?

The right hon. Gentleman did not understand my question. I asked him courteously whether the Act covers forced labour as well as prison labour.

I did understand the question, and I again reply that I have given from the Act itself what the Act covers.

In view of the difficulty of obtaining information from Russia and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman will not accept the affidavits that I have got for him, is it not a matter of public interest whether we are importing the results of prison labour and labour in vast detention camps?

Is it not a fact that we import large quantities of prison goods made by prison labour in India?