LONDON (Dec. 10)
The Norwich Union Insurance Companies declared today in a formal statement that it had invited Lord Mancroft, the Jewish business leader who was forced to resign from the company’s London advisory board under Arab pressure, to return to his board position. The Jewish baron said he was undecided about accepting the offer.
The company denied, in the statement, that it had given encouragement or aid to the Arab boycott. A spokesman for the Arab Information Office in London promptly said that if Lord Mancroft were reinstated, “presumably” the insurance company would be placed on the Arab blacklist.
The incident was the center of a lengthy debate today in both Houses of Parliament, with all parties participating and with the Conservative Government under sharp attack over its position.
In the House, Peter Thomas, Joint Minister of State and Foreign Office, told Sir Barnett Janner, Member of Parliament and president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, that the British Government “strongly disapproves of pressure from any source on British firms to discriminate between British subjects on any grounds.”
“We have made our views known to representatives of the Arab embassies in London and in doing so, we have expressed our disapproval of actions by these embassies designed to bring pressure on British firms to comply with the Arab boycott of Israel and we have said we hope this practice will not continue,” the government spokesman said.
Sir Barnett had asked if the Foreign Secretary would take steps to prevent countries from using their representatives in Britain to coerce firms in Britain to dismiss officers or employes connected with trade with friendly nations.
GOVERNMENT STATEMENT AGAINST ARAB PRESSURE WELCOMED IN COMMONS
Following Mr. Thomas’ statement, Sir Barnett thanked him for “this important, gratifying step forward” and said that the deepest interest would be taken abroad in the reply, “particularly in the European countries.” Sir Barnett then asked whether “you will continue to make it part of the Government policy to encourage/British merchants and industrialists to expose and resist any of these vicious pressures in the future.” Mr. Thomas replied that “I think what I said makes our views on this matter perfectly clear.”
Harold Wilson, leader of the opposition Labor party, said that the statement by Mr. Thomas was “wholeheartedly welcomed on the side of the House” and added: “Will you equally join us in condemning the action of the Norwich Union company in giving into pressure at this time, which must make our task a great deal harder?”
Mr. Thomas replied: “No, I do not think it would be appropriate for the British Government to condemn the action of any individual firm. All I would say is the best action we could take in this difficult matter is to express our disapproval of certain actions by the governments concerned.”
Gilbert Longden, a Conservative MP, declared that “great neutral organizations like the Norwich Union do not need help and advice of the Government–all they need are a few more guts. But small firms which do ask for the advice of the Government are not getting it in very firm terms, such as those you have now announced.”
He asked: “Would you inject into replies that come from the Board of Trade advice that they should ignore the boycott–such as the United States and West German governments are giving their citizens?” Mr. Thomas replied that “if any individual firm asks advice or assistance, we will consider the request.”
John Paton, a Labor MP, said that “this condemnation should stiffen the backs of some of the boneless wonders who seem to be running some of the big commercial firms of this country.” He added that since the Arabs were not likely to cease their boycott activities, he wanted to know whether Mr. Thomas would consider seeking legal action to make discrimination in international trade illegal.
The Minister answered that the Government deplored all racial discrimination but, he added, “I think I should say in all fairness that the representatives of the Arab Embassies who came to the Foreign Office yesterday emphasized that the boycott was not discrimination on racial grounds. They explained that the boycott derives from what they maintain is a state of war between Israel and the Arab countries.” This was a reference to a meeting between a group of Arab Embassy representatives and Lord Carrington, Deputy Foreign Secretary, at the Foreign Office at which the official condemned boycott activities as outside interference in British domestic affairs.
GOVERNMENT REPEATS STATEMENT IN HOUSE OF LORDS DURING DEBATE
Lord Carington repeated in the House of Lords the statement of the Government’s position given by Minister Thomas in Commons. The Earl of Alexander, opposition a leader, asked whether all of the Arab countries had been represented.
The Earl then asked if the Arab representatives had mentioned the fact that they had stated on a British television program that they considered their countries to be in a state of war with Israel. The Deputy Foreign Secretary replied: “I think that has always been the position of the Arab countries and we have always said we will not take sides in the matter.”
Commenting that Britain had “good friendships with the Arab countries,” the Earl then urged that they be told that “our trade and commerce cannot be interfered with in this matter when there is an armistice agreed upon under the influence of the United Nations.”
Lord Silken asked for a “more positive lead” from the Government for 88 British firms which had been asked by the Arab boycott office for details about their business. He said they should be encouraged by the Government to refuse such information and that such encouragement would be a great help to them.
Lord Carrington replied that the Government’s position had been made “perfectly clear” and that it was up to the individual firm to decide in the light of its own interests what it should do.
Lord Mortison urged pressure on Egypt to restore the freedom of the right of all traffic going through the Suez Canal, whether destined for Israel or not. Lord Carrington ruled that this was a different question.