HC Deb 21 March 1910 vol 15 cc883-95

I desire to call attention to a matter of vital importance to that part of the country which I have the honour to represent—and to the country as a whole—that is, the question of cotton growing within the British Empire. In order to consider what is the position today we must make a comparison with the position of the cotton growing industry some thirty or forty years ago. As it stands now, we do not occupy the same position in the world that we did. We only consume something like one-fifth of the total amount of cotton instead of three-fifths as was the case in the Forties. In those days we were pre-eminent in the cotton trade of the world, but since then other industries have grown up. Germany. America, and other countries, behind their tariff walls, are now making great calls upon the cotton supply of the world, and there is no longer the same amount available for the Lancashire spindles and looms. First, take the case of America. Forty years ago we in this country had double the supply of cotton that America used. In the last decade America has passed us. She has first developed her cotton industry to meet the demands of her own markets, and now she is building up an export trade, a trade which eventually will cut into our own, and for which she demands an increasing supply of raw material in order to meet the demands of her own spindles and looms.

There can be no question that the ultimate goal of America is to wrest from this country our pre-eminence in the supply and manufacture of cotton goods. Moreover, cotton is used in America for other purposes than that of weaving cloth. It is used for woollen blankets; it is used for motor-car tyres, and I believe it is used in the manufacture of leather to cover the hoods and cushions of cars. Altogether something like 6,000,000 bales of cotton are required for America alone, and she is continually wanting more. There can be no doubt the time will come—it may not be very far distant— when America will require the bulk of her own cotton for her own mills. If we turn to the Continent and make a comparison in the number of spindles, we find that in France the number of spindles in the last thirty years has increased by 75 per cent, and in Germany by 100 per cent. The consumption of raw material on the Continent in the same period has increased from 857 million lbs. to nearly three thousand million lbs., and another 5,000,000 bales are required for mills on the Continent. Turn to this country. Lancashire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire require something like 5,000,000 bales. You have, therefore, a total of some 15,000,000 or 16,000,000 bales required for the world's-consumption of raw cotton. In connections with the supply, and this is the point I am going to make, you must remember that this country is dependent for its cotton supply, and the world is dependent for its cotton supply, upon one country alone. I think that seven-eighths of the raw cotton consumed in this country comes from America. It must be remembered that America is our most powerful rival in the cotton trade, and that she is ever absorbing a greater quantity of the cotton which she herself produces. Therefore this fact that we are dependent upon one country is a fact which ever becomes more acute, and which will continue to affect our position more and more. Last year the total crop of America was 11,000,000 bales. The result is that there is not enough cotton to go round. We have looms stopped in Lancashire; we have spindles running half-time; we have privation and distress among the operatives, and we have great loss of capital among the employers. The black cloud that hangs over Lancashire to-day is simply this—that the manufacturers cannot obtain raw material at such prices as to enable them to manufacture their cloth at a profit. Nor does the cloud show any signs of lifting. Experts tell us that probably the cotton crop in America in the coming year will be no better than in the past year. I should like to read to the House, if I may, words that were spoken the other day by Mr. Patten, the great cotton king, and who is supposed to be very largely responsible at the present moment for having cornered the cotton market. He said:— Lancashire spinners do not seem to realise when the demand of America is fourteen million bales, and when there are only ten million bales in sight cotton is going to go up to panic prices. There is drought and drought, and drought in the great cotton growing areas, and cotton is going to rise sky high. No wonder in Lancashire that the cotton trade looks with fear to the future when at the present day cotton stands at 8d. per lb., and if it goes to 10d. it means the stoppage of all the looms and spindles in Lancashire. There is another aspect of the question without going so far as the stoppage in the trade. This is a point which is very well known to Lancashire Members, though perhaps not so well to others. That is the controversy known as steaming in weaving sheds. I am very sorry the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton) is not here to-night, because this is a matter upon which he is a great expert. What it amounts to is that a certain amount of humidity has to be used in spinning in the mills and in the weaving sheds in order to work the cotton. When that humidity is used in excess it is detrimental to the health of the operatives. This means that they have to go into a warm damp atmosphere, that they get their clothes wringing wet, and when they go out into the cold and chill of a Lancashire winter they run very grave risks of rheumatism, of catching chill, and of laying the seeds of permanent disease. Cotton manufacturers are only human, and when cotton stands at £15 per bale, in order to keep their looms going, and in order to manufacture their cloth at any price approximating to that which shows a profit they are compelled to mix their higher grade cotton with a grade of a less good quality. The result is that when you get this high-priced cotton you have a less good quality cotton mixed with it, and more steam has to be used; consequently there is more moisture in the atmosphere and more risk to the health of the operatives. The question whether steam is good or bad, whether it is necessary or unnecessary, is not one that need be discussed at this moment; it is, in any case, in the hands of a committee of inquiry. But one thing is certain. Whatever may be the findings of that committee, if you have cotton at high prices, so that manufacturers are compelled to mix with it cotton of less high quality in order to make a raw material which will enable them to manufacture their cloth at prices at which they can sell it at a profit, you must have more steam used, and therefore, from the point of view of the health of the operatives, the high price of cotton is a matter of serious importance.

From whatever point of view you look at this cotton Question, it is a problem of the gravest nature to manufacturers, to operatives, and to all concerned. The problem which Lancashire has to meet at the present time is how to escape from the clutches of America, how to make herself independent of this one country upon which she is dependent at the present time for her supply of raw material. That it may be done has been shown by the work carried on by the British Cotton Growing Association. It has been shown most conclusively that long staple cotton suitable for Lancashire mills can be grown in Egypt, the West Indies, India, the Soudan, East Africa, Nyassaland, and Uganda; while in West Africa there are almost unlimited fields. I believe that Nigeria, properly developed, would supply almost a sufficient amount of cotton for the whole of the looms of Lancashire, Derbyshire, and Cheshire. I am not raising this question in any political spirit. I desire, first of all, to call attention to a matter which all Lancashire believes to be of the greatest importance; and, in the second place, to give the Government an opportunity of stating their views in a better way than can be done at question time.

I should like to recognise, in the name of all political parties in Lancashire, the action of the Government in making a grant to the British Cotton Growing Association, and in meeting the demands made upon them in a generous and, if I might say so, a statesmanlike manner. Not only has it been demonstrated that cotton can be grown, but areas are being developed. The British Cotton Growing Association during the last few years has marketed some two million pounds' worth of cotton. But the process is very slow; there are many difficulties, and the problem is very urgent. The operatives in Lancashire are asking themselves two questions. The first is whether, in view of the enormous interests involved in the fact that you have a trade of £150,000,000 a year, upon which 10,000,000 people are dependent for their bread and butter; whether, in view of the difficulties which exist in the development of cotton areas solely by private enterprise, the time has not arrived when the Government, recognising their responsibilities, should step in and hasten the development of these areas, which we think would mitigate the evils at present existing in connection with the shortage of the cotton supply? The second question is, if these areas are to be developed, if the Government are going to step in and give such assistance as they can, if they are going to give grants for experimental or other purposes, should not the cotton which is obtained as the result of this expenditure be used for the home market?

The right hon. Gentleman the Undersecretary for the Colonies said to-day, at Question-time, in answer to a question which I put to him, that there was no proviso whatever in the grant which ensured or necessitated that the cotton which is grown as the result of this grant should be supplied to the British Empire. He said there was no necessity for it, because, as a matter of fact, cotton grown in the British Empire always came to the British markets. I think the right hon. Gentleman forgets the case of Egyptian cotton. I find from the figures—which I had not at the time—out of every 120 tons of Egyptian cotton England gets fifty-seven tons and the American Continent sixty-three tons. What the Lancashire cotton trade wants to know is: In these areas, to be developed in the British Empire, can we really be sure that the cotton which is going to be grown will be used for the relief of the pressure upon the Lancashire industry? Will there be any guarantee that those who are engaged in it will be relieved at some future date from the nightmare which hangs over employers and operatives at the present time, namely, the shortage of cotton which exists, partly because of the increased demand that arises in different parts of the world, and partly from failures of the American cotton crop? I shall be grateful—and I venture to think that Lancashire will be grateful—if the right hon. Gentleman would communicate briefly what are the views of the Government upon these two aspects of the problem. Firstly, will he tell us what the Government have done and what they are doing; what they think they can do and what they are prepared to do? Secondly, will he say whether they will make it a condition of anything they do in the future that cotton which is grown in the British Empire as the result of the aid that is given to it by the British Government shall be used to supply the Lancashire spindles and the Lancashire looms?

Mr. J. D. REES

May I beg the right hon. Gentleman in his reply not to forget Nyassaland. May I remind him that the Governor has just reported that in the uplands the American variety there is one of the finest specimens of cotton in the world. The hon. Gentleman preceding me will bear me out in that, when I say that it fetches 1s. 2d. per pound. Egyptian varieties grown on the lowlands of the same Protectorate fetched as. much as 1s., so that this small country is entitled to most sympathetic consideration of the Colonial Office. I hope they will not forget to extend that consideration to the private individuals and merchants who are engaged in an endeavour to develop the Protectorate.

The UNDER-SECRETARY for the COLONIES (Colonel Seely)

I will not forget what my hon. Friend has just said, and I will refer to it before I sit down. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Arbuthnot) on the very excellent speech he has made, and what I understand is his first. If so, I am sure it is the first of a series, all of which will be equally helpful and to the point. I will divide my reply into two parts: the controversial and the non-controversial. In regard to the controversial parts, the hon. Gentleman tried to make the House believe in one sentence at the commencement of his speech that here was an argument for Tariff Reform in regard to the cotton industry. That seems to me to be an argument which must immediately be met whenever anyone who is interested in the industries of his country speaks from this side of the House—or, indeed, from any side of the House—because whatever views we may entertain as to the merits or demerits of Tariff Reform, it is as well to look at facts in the face. It is a fact that however much Tariff Reform may benefit any other industry—and those on this side of the House do not admit the thesis—to cotton it would be fatal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I put it as bluntly as I can. Before I come to the non-controversial points I was anxious to clear away the controversial points. The reason I say it would be fatal if you try and mix up British cotton growing within the Empire with any scheme of Tariff Reform you will ruin the industry is this. Speaking from recollection, approximately the product of cotton from Lancashire is about £102,000,000. Of that the enormous proportion, the amazing proportion of £80,000,000 worth is exported to other countries. On the other hand the imports of cotton were almost negligible, amounting to only a few hundred thousand pounds a year. I do ask hon. Members opposite, setting aside the abstract merits of Tariff Reform altogether, to realise that it would be fatal to the cotton growing industry to attempt to mix up this scheme of growing cotton with a scheme of Tariff Reform, because by so doing all those who know the figures I have just given will say: "If this is going to be a scheme which implies Tariff Reform for cotton then we will not subscribe any more money to the Cotton Growing Association," and then the whole springs of private enterprise upon which the cotton growing depends, even though the Government assists, will be dried up. How can any scheme of protection in this respect be otherwise than fatal to an industry which has practically no imports and which exports the enormous proportion of nearly four-fifths of its total to foreign countries. I need not say a word more. I think it is sufficiently well known in all parts of the House that, whatever you may say of other industries, cotton is the creation of our Free Trade system and is maintained by it and would fall by interference with it.


I think I tried to steer clear of the question of Tariff Reform, and I tried to raise this question in a purely non-political manner.

Colonel SEELY

I quite appreciate that, but the hon. Member will remember that in his opening sentences—and I listened to the whole of his speech with very great care—he did say that under tariff walls the tariff countries were overtaking us. The House will remember that he developed that argument at some length, and although in his concluding observations he dwelt upon the non-controversial matters, yet, in the first part he did dwell upon the fact that America was overtaking us on account of her tariff walls, and I think it my duty, as the Minister responsible, to state the views His Majesty's Government hold in this matter.

The only other matter of controversy is the question whether we should restrict trade, and see that the cotton grown within the British Empire shall be consumed in Lancashire. The hon. Member referred to the answer I gave to a supplementary question of his at Question Time. I then referred to the cotton grown in the Colonies with which I am personally concerned, and have intimate knowledge of. Of course my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary speaks for Egypt, but I was aware of the figures he gave. So much to justify the statement I made, and which I think the hon. Member will find was accurate. But with regard to the question as to whether we can divert this cotton once it is grown within the Empire to Lancashire, I say no. That is not the policy of His Majesty's Government. What we set out to do is to try by every means in our power to increase the total production of cotton in the world, and since we find that within the British Empire there are many places where cotton can be grown to the advantage of the Colonies and to the advantage of the industry as a whole, we will support it by every means in our power. It would be a great mistake—and I am sure many persons conversant with the cotton industry on both sides of the House will agree with me—to earmark the cotton grown within the British Empire for any particular country, although it happens that practically the whole of our cotton grown in our Colonies goes to Lancashire. I now come to the more non-contrversial part of the Debate. The hon. Member for Burnley knows very well that there are a great many different kinds of cotton. He referred to long staple cotton. It may be that in future that while the proportion of cotton grown in certain Colonies will go to other countries, other qualities will come here. That has been the tendency up to the present time. If we were to lay down that the cotton grown within the British Empire shall go to Great Britain, and that grown in America and adjacent countries go to other places, we might divert the great cotton industry in Lancashire—which is probably one of the most extraordinary industries we have known—from its normal development to an abnormal development, and that probably would be unwise, because no one can see the end of the artificial development of any industry.

I turn now to the question put to me by the hon. Member for Montgomery Boroughs (Mr. Rees). In a paper which lies before me I see it is provided that £10,000 a year shall be paid to the British Cotton Growing Association. I see that there is a condition laid down that seed is to be provided by the association free of charge for Nyassaland. I trust that will show the hon. Member that we have a watchful eye upon that country in which he is so interested, and which he never fails to bring before the House when Colonial matters are under discussion. The Government have endeavoured to assist the British Cotton Growing Association in the growth of cotton in every way. This work began in 1902, and has progressed since then by stages which, although they have not been rapid, have, nevertheless, been sure.

It would not be proper to make this very short review without referring to the great services rendered to this country in this matter by the late Sir Alfred Jones. Many other men who are now with us have helped very greatly in this matter. Lancashire has determined to subscribe a very large sum of money to forward the work of cotton growing within the Empire, but I think it is fair to say that if Sir Alfred Jones had not taken up this matter it would not have been so far forward as it is to-day; and, irrespective of politics, we are all grateful to his memory for what he did in this respect. I think the future is bright with regard to the production of cotton within the Empire. The hon. Gentleman opposite is wrong in supposing that within a measurable space of time the amount of cotton grown within the Empire will form the full supply for Lancashire or for a large portion of Lancashire. For many years to come the amount of cotton produced within the Empire will form but a small percentage of the total requirements of Lancashire. It is a step in the right direction, and, with regard to some sorts of cotton especially, it has been of immense value, but it has helped the Colonies as much as it has helped Lancashire. In the West Indian Islands many of them have been saved from great financial embarrassment by the planting of sea island cotton. It is by far and away the most valuable cotton, and it has brought back to these islands the cotton which was originally indigenous to them. It is found you can produce this cotton there with a finer staple than in any other country, and I believe higher prices have recently been obtained for West Indian cotton than have ever been obtained for that type of cotton in the history of the industry. So that both in the West Indies and in West Africa the prospects are favourable, and it is possible in Nyassaland and in East Africa cotton growing may also advance. We have had disappointments, and we shall continue to have disappointments, but in our efforts, which are solely devoted to increasing the world's supply of cotton for the good of the world as well as for the British Empire, I can promise the hon. Gentleman that we will not faint nor fail. We see that it is good to devote scientific thought and enterprise to give further help to those who will grow this raw material of almost the greatest industry in this or any other country, and, whilst I cannot subscribe to all the propositions the hon. Gentleman put forward in the first part of his speech, I am sure we are all glad he raised this important matter, and I can assure him the Government will not lose sight of it, and will do all they can to help cotton growing throughout the Empire.


Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us the amount of the actual subsidy which the Government give to the Cotton Growing Association? Is there any agreement?

Colonel SEELY

I wish I had not understood that it was essential for the convenience of both sides of the House that we should conclude our business so very soon; otherwise I have here, as the Noble Lord will see, a very large quantity of material of general interest to all those interested in the cotton industry. The amount the Treasury now agree to subscribe is £10,000 a year to the British Cotton Growing Association for three years. That will be expended in various ways, but principally in scientific directions.


I desire very briefly to call attention to a matter under the control of the Colonial Office. I allude to the recent action of His Excellency the Governor-General of Canada in taking an active and decided part in politics. I asked a question with regard to this matter early in the Session, and I was informed on behalf of the Colonial Office that the speech to which I referred had been misreported on account of no shorthand writers being present at the time of its delivery, but, from wherever the Colonial Office may have received the information, I am quite satisfied that it is entirely incorrect. There were three speeches delivered—one at Edmonton, one at Calgary, and one at Regina. The speech at Regina was delivered on the occasion of His Excellency the Governor-General laying the corner-stone of the new Government buildings for the Province of Saskatchewan. On 6th October last there appeared in "The Times" newspaper what purported to be a verbatim account of that speech. While many Members of this House perhaps do not agree very well with "The Times," I think it is fair to say that its reports, especially with regard to foreign and Colonial matters, are to be almost absolutely relied upon for accuracy. I am not going to read the speech at length, but just a line or two giving the portion which has been so seriously objected to in Canada. This was in answer to an address presented to His Excellency on that occasion:— You will, I know, be anxious to support the Federal Government in its endeavour to create a Canadian Navy, which will be able to guard your coasts and protect your oversea trade. The question of the assistance to be given by Canada to the Empire is surely a purely Canadian question—not only a purely Canadian question, but it is one with regard to which the people of Canada are divided into three camps. The Government, which is Liberal, has announced as its policy the creation of a Canadian Navy; the Conservative Opposition has taken very strong ground indeed in favour of a policy of direct contribution to the Admiralty for the purposes of Naval defence; and the third party in Canada opposes altogether any assistance to the Empire for naval defence. Therefore it is clear that His Excellency the Governor dealt with a matter of purely Canadian politics. There was last year a Colonial Conference in London in which Canada participated, and at that His Majesty's Government was extremely careful not to offer any suggestions of any kind or to give any advice to any Colony as to what stand they should take in regard to Imperial defence. That attitude of the Government was entirely correct, and was calculated to make matters smooth and easy for the Colonies in dealing with this great question. The Canadian Constitution is practically a replica of the Constitution of the United Kingdom; we have practically the same representative institutions and the same idea of responsible Government as obtain here. The Governor-General takes the place of the King, and I think it will be admitted that under no possible circumstance would His Majesty express any opinion whatsoever in regard to any question discussed in this House on which there was a difference of opinion. In Canada this question was a very heated one, and the matter has just been disposed of, the Government scheme having been adopted after a long Debate. Since Canada has had responsible Government we have had a long line of Governors-General appointed from the two great parties in this country, and this is the first instance in which a Governor-General has undertaken to express any opinion in public in regard to any debated question.


There is no money taken on this Bill for the Governor-General of Canada.


What I am trying to do is to point out that the Colonial Secretary has not done his duty in allowing conduct of this kind to occur in Canada by an officer and gentleman who is under his jurisdiction, and I am attacking not the Governor-General, but the Colonial Secretary for his failure to properly carry out the duties for which he is paid by the salary which is provided for by this Bill. This speech has created a great deal of discussion in Canada in nearly all the leading newspapers, both Liberal and Conservative. The people of Canada have no remedy; they cannot do anything; they have no control whatever over the Governor-General.


The hon. Member has a great deal to an y about the Governor-General, but nothing about the Colonial Secretary. He is only using the Colonial Secretary as a shield from behind which to attack the Governor-General. I do not think he is entitled to do that by the forms of the House. If he wishes to attack the Colonial Secretary, let him do it.


I do attack the Colonial Secretary. I say that the only remedy of the people of Canada for a matter of this kind is to look to the Government here. They are part of the Empire; Canada is one of the Colonies of the Empire, it is part of the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office to provide a Governor-General for Canada, and I submit that when the Governor-General of a Colony does not properly carry out his duties there are plenty of precedents—one a very prominent one in the history of Canada—where the Governor-General has been recalled. Again, I submit that from the attitude of the United Kingdom it is a very improper thing for a Colonial Secretary to allow a Governor-General to express any opinion at all, as that opinion would be assumed to be that of His Majesty's Government, and I submit to the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that if they were going to express an opinion by the mouth of the Governor-General it would not be one inducing the Canadian people to provide a Canadian navy as a part of the defences of the Empire.

Colonel SEELY

I have only got one moment to say that in this matter I am confident that although my hon. Friend represents St. Pancras, he does not represent Canada, because, although he told us that the speech he referred to by Lord Grey was not fully reported, we do know that he is deservedly popular with all classes of the community in Canada, and I am confident that nothing said by Lord Grey has forfeited that confidence of all classes in any degree whatever.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.