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Armaments (Raw Materials)

Volume 345: debated on Thursday 30 March 1939

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." — [ Sir J. Edmondson.]

9.45 p.m.

Last week I asked the Prime Minister

"to what extent the manufacture of armaments in Germany, Italy and Japan is dependent on supplies of materials from the British Empire and the United States of America, respectively; and whether he is now prepared to advocate a limitation of armaments throughout the world by a limitation of supplies of raw materials from the British Empire and the United States of America?"
The reply that I received was as follows:
"It is impossible to give a reliable estimate such as the hon. Member desires, and I doubt whether the particular proposal of the hon. Member would have the effect he desires."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1939; col. 896, Vol. 345.]
This is a matter of very grave importance and one which there seems to be a desire not to face up to. I believe that unless we face up to this problem there will arise much greater difficulties in the future through the distrust that will be created in the country. I want to draw attention to the fact that in 1935 the present Home Secretary at Geneva promised a full investigation into this matter of raw materials with a view to establishing, to the satisfaction of all countries concerned, a fair distribution of these raw materials. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech since Munich, said that this matter had to be thoroughly investigated and that there must be a vigorous, complete, remorseless and urgent inquiry. I want to know whether that inquiry will include the question of raw materials.

I would also draw attention to a statement by the Prime Minister after he came back, I think it was from the Godesberg conference, when I believe he said that it was unfortunate that we had not long ago invoked Article 19 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which deals with the adjustment of boundaries and of existing agreements. That is very true. It is a great pity that many of these things have not been done, and undoubtedly a great deal of discontent has been caused throughout the world because we, who control most of the raw materials, have not been willing to face up to these problems in time of peace. It is because I feel that this is at the root of all the world's troubles to-day that I think we should get sufficient information from the Board of Trade so that the country may be satisfied as to what the position really is. I think it would not have been possible for either Germany, Italy, or Japan to be possessed of the arms which they have to-day, and of which we are so terrified, had it not been that the British Empire and the United States of America had supplied the raw materials with which to manufacture them.

I must point out to the hon. Member that we have no control over the British Dominions or the United States.

No, Sir, but my question asked whether the Prime Minister was now prepared to advocate the limitation of armaments by a limitation of the supplies of raw materials.

The hon. Member must not advocate anything which will involve legislation.

The hon. Member cannot advocate anything on the Motion for the Adjournment which would mean legislation.

Then may I deal with something which will not involve legislation, and that is the measure of control which has existed with regard to raw materials for a considerable time, with regard to rubber and tin, for instance? We have had a major control of these commodities for some time to satisfy the regulation of profits, and it seems to me that it would be possible to use those same restrictions for the purposes of peace. It is true that during the crisis last September 100,000 tons of British pig iron were sold to Germany at a time when we were expecting to be in very great difficulties. I do not know whether that would have involved legislation, but certainly that pig iron could not have been sent to Germany without the Government's permission, and I want to know whether the Board of Trade can tell us to what extent Germany, Italy, and Japan have to draw their raw materials from the British Empire. I believe it is a fact that 75 per cent. of all the essential raw materials required for manufacturing armaments are controlled by Great Britain, the British Empire, and the United States of America.

We have nothing to do here with the United States of America or with the control exercised by the British Dominions.

I want to be sure that the Board of Trade will give to this House particulars, before the important Debate on Monday, as to the extent—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present

The House was adjourned at Four Minutes before Ten of the Clock until To-morrow.