LONDON (Dec. 12)
Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, taking part for the first time in Parliamentary debate on Arab League boycott practices against British firms, made it plain today that the British Government did not intend to go beyond its rebuke of Arab representatives in London for those practices.
At the same time, government spokesmen re-emphasized the government’s opposition to Arab boycott practices, as the debate continued. Several deputies asked for additional steps by the government to prevent the recurrence of incidents such as the forced resignation of Lord Mancroft, a Jewish business leader, from the London advisory Board of Norwich Union Insurance Companies, under Arab pressure. All such proposals were rejected.
The Prime Minister was asked what action he was taking to coordinate the work of his Ministers to ensure that public officials and nationalized industries did not place any insurance business with any companies discriminating on grounds of race, color or religion. He replied that “it is not the practice of government departments to insure.” He added he had no power “to direct local authorities in this matter” and that this would “not be an appropriate subject” for his Ministers where nationalized industries were concerned.
Bruce Millan, a Labor deputy, said that while “we welcome the statements made so far by the Government about the Norwich Union affair, there is still a need for the Government to give clear guidance to firms on whom pressure may be put and to express its displeasure against firms which have given into these practices.”
The Prime Minister said that he was sure “the whole country” was aware of the Government’s attitude and that if any firm wanted help from the Government in such situations, “the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade’ were “at its disposal.”
GOVERNMENT REJECTS REQUEST TO PREVENT BIAS BY INSURANCE FIRMS
Earlier, the government rejected a request to seek an amendment of the Insurance Act of 1959 to provide that no insurance firm could do business in Britain if it practiced religious or racial discrimination against its employes. The request was made by Labor deputy Leo Abse to the Secretary for Industry, Trade and Regional Development.
Edward Duecann replied that the government strongly disapproved pressure from any source leading to discrimination between British subjects on any grounds whatever. He added that “if those affected and concerned about the boycott will consult us, we will be ready to give any support we can.” He rejected suggestions for legislation to make boycott practices illegal, arguing that he did not think it would be enforceable.
A written comment on the issues was made by Edward Heath, Secretary of State for Industry, in reply to a query as to whether there had been any impact on British trade because of the boycott of Israel. He said that “while the boycott has interfered with the trade of individual firms, it seems to have had little effect on our trade with any of the countries in the area.”
Sir Barnett Janner, MP and president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, asked Secretary Heath if he was “aware there was interference from foreign countries designed to coerce British firms into suspending their dealings with a friendly power.” He also asked what steps Heath would take to “obviate this interference.” Mr. Heath replied that the Government was “strongly opposed to interference and had made known repeatedly its views on the subject.”
(The Arab League’s economic council announced today in Cairo that any interference by the British Government or any other country with Arab anti-Israel boycott regulations would cause the Arab countries to reconsider their economic relations with such countries.)
Minister of State Lord Drumbalbyn, speaking last night at a dinner of the Institute of Exports, expressed the hope that British firms “will not hesitate to bring to the attention of the Board of Trade immediately any examples of discrimination against British exports or unfair practices.”