§ Motion made, and Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £238,923, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments."—[NOTE.—£180,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The CHAIRMAN
I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman had, 1168 been long enough in the House to recollect that no reduction is carried over in Committee of Supply.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Albert Stanley)
First of all, I should like to give an explanation on a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, in connection with the figures that I gave him in my previous statement, as to the staff employed by the Board of Trade. I think, perhaps, I did not make it quite clear that the figures which I gave at that time, that the staff at present employed by the Board of Trade showed an increase of some 800 over the normal staff before, did not include the staff transferred from the Board of Trade, since the outbreak of war, to other Departments. As a matter of fact the new work that has been taken over by the Board of Trade, the new work of a temporary nature for war purposes, really engages a staff considerably in excess of the 800 referred to. In the case of the Commission Internationale de Ravitaillement, although not directly under the Board of Trade, still the staff employed by that Commission are supplied by the Board of Trade—and therefore included in the figures which I submitted. In that Department some 430 are employed. The War Risks Insurance Office, established by the Board of Trade, employs somewhere about 170, and the Department of Import Restrictions roundly about 100, the Petrol Control Committee 290, the Coal Mines Control Department 80, the Imperial War Inquiries Branch 86, and altogether those make a total of 1,156. It will be observed from those figures that really the Board of Trade, instead of increasing their staff in proportion to their increased activities, have really increased their activities out of proportion to the number of men employed. I hope that that explanation will be satisfactory to my right hon. Friend the Member for the City. With respect to the criticisms which were made against the British Trade Corporation on the last occasion, I have given very careful thought to all the points of criticism which wore raised at that time. I have felt that those criticisms were not intended with the object of completely destroying the scheme, but rather to make quite clear that the powers conferred upon this corporation by the charter 1169 were not those really which the criticisms raised by the hon. Members would appear to convey. I have felt that the criticisms were intended really in a friendly spirit with a view to making the scheme better, if it could possibly be done, and of removing any possible ambiguity and making quite clear to those who are responsible for the conduct of this corporation in the years to come just what their obligations are, and also making it quite clear to those who are engaged in trade and industry in this country just exactly what they may be entitled to expect and receive from this corporation.
The outstanding points as I understood them were, first of all, that what we were really doing was to set up a great corporation, a great trading corporation, which would operate in competition with existing interests, and that we were not setting up a great financial corporation which would give financial assistance to trade and industry in this country. And, furthermore, that we were placing this corporation in an unduly favourable position when compared with existing interests, both in respect of the establishment of agencies abroad and also for obtaining information about our trade interests abroad from the various Government Departments. There was also some criticism about clause 135 of the deed of settlement, which made provision for the payment of certain portions of the profit to the directors and management of the undertaking. As regards these particular criticisms, a White Paper has been circulated, of which I trust each Member has obtained a copy. This White Paper contains the declarations that the corporation is prepared to give, and also an extract from the minutes of one of its recent meetings which has to do with clause 135. This form of declaration, I think, makes it quite clear just what obligations are put upon the corporation by the charter, and that the object of the corporation is the giving of financal assistance to British trade and industry, and that it will not operate, as is suggested, as a competing contractor, merchant or trader. It is also intended to make quite clear that those particular powers intended and conferred by the charter, which have been referred to, are merely the machinery by which the corporation will effect its fundamental objects. For illustration, supposing the corporation made certain advances, certain loans, and the 1170 borrower failed. I think it is quite clear that it is necessary that the corporation should be in the position to carry on that undertaking, whatever it may be, so that they may be able to recoup themselves for the loan that had been made. This declaration is also intended to make quite clear that no specal privileges are conferred upon the corporation as regards access to Government information, or of placing it in any preferential position as regards representation of British trade or finance, or of having the right of acting as agent of the Government, except upon appointment in each case, or of in any way excluding the Government from selecting other agents to act on their behalf in places abroad. As regards clause 135, hon. Members will observe there that the corporation propose by resolution of the Board that that particular clause shall not operate until it has been approved by the shareholders of the corporation at a general meeting. I am advised by the Law Officers that this declaration, given under the seal of the corporation, is absolutely bindng on the corporation during the whole of its life, and that it does not lie within the powers of the corporation to in any way modify or alter this statement by any subsequent resolution of the Board. I am advised that failure on the part of the corporation to observe the conditions which have been imposed upon it would place the charter in jeopardy, and might result in its being withdrawn.
I hope the Committee will be satisfied with what we have done to meet these criticisms, and that those who had any misgivings of any possible evils arising out of the powers conferred by this charter will have this misgiving allayed by this declaration. I trust I am right in assuming that the Committee generally are in agreement with me that there is imperative need for some such institution as this in this country. I can hardly feel that it is necessary for me to emphasise again, as I did during the last Debate, the pressure which has been constantly brought to bear on the Board of Trade, not only since the War began, but before that, to take active steps to bring into being some such institution as this. I am perfectly sure that there are many hon. Members who, like myself, have had the opportunity of acquiring information about what is being done not only in Germany, but in other countries as well to meet trade conditions after the War. 1171 I am quite sure the Committee will agree with me that those who are engaged in trade and industry in this country will have to meet entirely altered circumstances when this War comes to an end. And if that be the case, it seems to me we are bound to recognise these facts and to take whatever steps we can to help those who are engaged in trade and industry in this country in meeting their foreign competitors upon equal terms. It has been repeatedly pointed out to the Board of Trade that time and again our traders have failed to meet their creditors because they were able through their banks to secure more liberal financial assistance, and because of long credits they were able to get through their own banks in this country. I am not pretending that joint stock banks and private banks in this country have not in the past done a great deal to help our trade. But I think we have got to recognise that the joint stock banks and private banks work under great difficulty. They require to keep their funds liquid if called on at any time to meet a sudden emergency, and they cannot tie up their cash as would be possible if a corporation or organisation, such as we are discussing now, was in existence. But it is not only with the object of meeting our merchants and traders that I think there is an imperative need for some such organisation as this. It has another importance, an equal importance, to that of financing our merchants and traders. There is the need of having an organisation with great financial resources. More than that, there is the need for having associated with it men who are experts in various industries, who have a profound knowledge of what is required to establish a new business upon a sound basis, an institution to which the struggling manufacturer can go, and not only obtain financial assistance, but also expert advice, so that he may be able to carry on his undertaking in a manner far better probably than he could do if he had not the advice and assistance of men who are best qualified to help him.
In that particular regard, as I have said, an institution of this kind which will attract to it men who could command high salaries, men with great experience and ability, men with ideas, but who were little known to the banking world, men of the kind who are able to 1172 give assistance in the establishment of new industries in this country, will be invaluable. There is a real need in this country for an institution of that kind. I feel that this corporation will be able to fulfil this very long-felt want in this country. As I have intimated, at the Board of Trade before the War, and more particularly since the War began, our attention has been frequently called to the need of an institution similar to this. We have had resolutions from chambers of commerce. We have had reports from numerous committees, all in the same direction. In order to meet this situation my predecessor appointed a Committee at the end of 1915. That Committee was appointed with the object of investigating the whole trade question after the War. One particular question the Committee was asked to investigate and report upon was that of improved banking facilities to merchants and manufacturers. The chairman of this Committee was Mr. Huth Jackson. Professor Ashley, whose work in economic theory and history has lately been rewarded by a well-earned knighthood, was a member of this Committee. Other members were the hon. Member for the Bewdley Division of Worcestershire (Mr. S. Baldwin) who is a distinguished captain of industry, and Sir Alfred Booth, the chairman of the Cunard Company. That Committee, after very careful investigation, reported that there was a real need for some such institution as is now proposed, and they recommended that a Committee should be set up to consider the details of its organisation and working.
A second Committee was appointed in the summer of last year. I do not think it is necessary for me to tell the Committee the composition of that Committee, as I think it is already well known. The chairman was Lord Faringdon. I think it was a very representative and able Committee. That Committee reported. The Report was published, and is public. In their Report they confirmed the views of the previous Committee, and recommended the formation, under Royal Charter, of an institution to be called the British Trade Bank. I would ask the Committee whether the Board of Trade was to ignore these recommendations? The Board of Trade had to determine whether or not they should give heed to the recommendations of these Committees, or whether they should do nothing. 1173 I know what I should have done under the circumstances. I am quite sure I should have approved. I am quite sure that I should have had the approval of the Committee in making up my mind to do something. There were three ways open to the Board of Trade for dealing with this problem. They could have asked some individual or group of individuals to form a private company under the Companies Act. It is quite clear that without the encouragement of the Board of Trade, or some other Government Department, no steps could have been taken to set up some such institution. I am, I think, justified in saying that, for this reason: It has not been any secret that there is a real need for an institution of this kind. It has not been a secret that the matter has been in the mind of the Board of Trade for several years. It is common knowledge that there was a real demand by the merchants and traders of this country that; they should be afforded these additional financial facilities.
In the time before the War, when money was easy and the minds of business men were more free to consider these problems than is certainly the case to-day, why is it they did not take in hand, work out a scheme and set up an organisation of this kind? Why is it that the joint stock banks did not get together and form a company, supported by them, which would secure this particular object? Whatever the cause may be, the business men of the country had made up their minds that such an institution was not a business proposition, and therefore they were not prepared to go into it. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that each year the demand has increased for an institution of this kind, and that the business men of this country have not taken steps to bring it into being. It was, therefore, for the Board of Trade to take action. This they did. The Board of Trade could have done this thing in more than one way. They could have asked a group of business men to form a private company. That private company could have acted on its own, quite free and independent of the Board of Trade, and quite free to compete with existing interests to which so much objection has been taken on behalf of this corporation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Is there any assurance that the Board of Trade would have succeeded in getting any group of business 1174 men to take the matter up as a private undertaking, free from any subsidy or any agreement with the Government? I do not think there was any chance of it being done.
§ Sir A. STANLEY
None whatever. I am convinced that it would not have been possible for my predecessor to have secured the right business men to form the private company without any subsidy or agreement to do the particular things it is proposed that this corporation shall do.
§ Sir A. STANLEY
I will answer that just now. The alternative for him was to accept the recommendations of this Committee, and to take steps to see that the undertaking was established under Royal Charter as recommended by the Committee. There is no subsidy attached to this corporation. There was no agreement, no arrangement of any kind, nothing but what has been disclosed by the papers which have been placed on the Table of this House. For myself I think that was a very wise and prudent course to adopt. I think that by this charter those who are interested in this corporation are put under an obligation to do the particular things for those who are engaged in the trade and industry of the country which the Board of Trade have for so long been asked to do. There is a certain cachet, or advantage, attached to the undertaking having a charter of this kind; and in return it does put them under an obligation to be of financial assistance to those who are engaged in the trade and industry of this country. For that reason there is a particular advantage that this matter should be done by Royal Charter rather than that it should be left to a private company without any restraint whatever. My predecessor, having made up his mind to take this step, it only remained to see what could be done towards establishing the undertaking as recommended by the Committee. There is no truth whatever in the suggestion that either Lord Faringdon or anybody else who served on that Committee, either directly or indirectly, approached the Government with the object of setting up this corporation. Lord Faringdon was very loth to take upon himself the respon 1175 sibility of forming this corporation. I think that he, and those associated with him, are really entitled to the thanks of the House for the splendid manner in which they have approached this problem.
Very shortly after I had the honour of being appointed President of the Board of Trade, the draft of the charter and deed of settlement was placed before me for my consideration. You have seen the result. I made one change from that recommended by the Committee, and that was, that instead of calling it British Trade Bank, I suggested that it should fee called British Trade Corporation, and my reason for doing it was that I wanted it made quite clear that we were not setting up an ordinary bank to do ordinary business such as a bank does; we have quite enough of those institutions. I thought we should make it perfectly clear that we were setting up an organisation which would do business on different lines to an ordinary joint stock bank. Whether I was right or wrong for asking that that change should be made, the responsibility for that change lies with me and nobody else. It has been suggested that the House should have had knowledge of what we were doing before it was finally decided. I can only say this, that certainly there was no desire on my part to carry this scheme through without the House knowing anything about it. If there is any remissness from the time I joined the Government to the present time in that particular connection, I can only say, as I have already done, that it was not intentional on my part—very far from it indeed. It is certainly my wish that the House should have a knowledge of all we are doing at the Board of Trade. We need your advice and assistance, and I should be the very last person who would withhold from this House information which I feel they are entitled to have.
Clause 67 of the deed of settlement has also been the subject of some criticism. I have carefully investigated that clause, and I fail to see anything in that clause which really entitles it to any special criticism. It has been described in the Debate as unusual and dangerous. Now I can assure the Committee that it is a very common clause. A clause very similar to this can be found in memoranda and articles of association 1176 of some of the most important banks, stock companies and trust companies in the City. If hon. Members would like to have a list of some of the companies which have this particular clause in their articles of association, I shall be very glad to give it to them. Experience has taught that it is necessary to secure men of the right type to act on the boards of undertakings such as I have described— undertakings similar to this particular corporation. It is necessary that you should have men who are engaged in various enterprises. If that clause is excluded from the articles of association, or from the deed of settlement, it would mean that you would not be able to secure the services of men of experience who are absolutely necessary if an enterprise of this kind is to be carried on successfully.
I have only one other point to raise, of which I think the Committee should have a knowledge, and that is the resolutions which have been passed, not only by the Association of Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, but also by other chambers of commerce since the Debate. The Association of Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom "unanimously adopted at a meeting of the Council held on the 6th June, the following:The Council of the Association of Chambers of Commerce appreciate the steps taken by the Government towards the formation of a British Trade Corporation, as they consider that a financial institution of this nature would be in the highest degree calculated to further the interests of British manufacturers and traders.The London Chamber of Commerce passed the following resolution on the 5th:That the Council, being in full accord with the general objects set forth in the report of Lord Faringdon's Committee on Financial Facilities for Trade, and warmly welcoming the intention of the Government to establish a Corporation for the purpose of stimulating and financing British enterprise, desire, however, to express their view that certain of the provisions of the general scheme appear to have a tendency to confer a monopoly: and that it should be clearly provided that the Corporation shall safeguard the interests of merchants and traders and not engage in direct trade in competition with them.I suggest that this declaration contained in the White Paper which the corporation are prepared to give under a seal meets the objections raised by the London Chamber of Commerce. The Incorporated Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool passed the following resolution on the 11th:Resolved, that the Council of the Incorporated Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool, desire to reaffirm the following resolution passed by them on 28th January 1177 1916, and subsequently adopted in that form by the Association of Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom in March, 1916, namely,Resolved, that it is important that the Government should consider the desirability of facilitating the establishment of a large credit bank or banks for the purpose of developing trade abroad.'They maintain that the formation of a British Trade Corporation is in the highest degree necessary in the interest of British trade, and would meet a long-felt want. The Council strongly support the formation of the corporation in question, and regret that opposition to the same has been raised in the House of Commons, and request their Members of Parliament to use their influence to hare the scheme carried through.The following was passed by the Leeds Chamber of Commerce:The Council of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce place on record their appreciation of the efforts of Lord Faringdon to bring into being the British Trade Corporation as, in the opinion of the Council, such an institution will do much to further the interests of British manufacturers and traders.The Sheffield Chamber of Commerce passed the following:The Sheffield Chamber of Commerce consider that the recent criticisms upon the British Trade Corporation are unwarranted and ill-founded, and that in the interests of British trade it is of vital importance that this corporation, which has been established by Royal Charter in exact accordance with the recommendations of Lord Faringdon's Committee, should commence its work without a moment's delay.I hope I have fairly met all reasonable criticisms. I hope that the declaration makes it quite clear beyond a shadow of doubt that nothing like a monopoly is conferred by the charter; that it is no privileged body sheltering under the Government's wing, but an institution devised to work in a fair field, open to all, for the benefit of the great trading and manufacturing interests of this country. I hope that what we have done will not only remove all hostility, but that the corporation will now be able to start upon its career with the goodwill and encouragement of the House. I should be very happy to feel that our first attempt to meet trade conditions after the War was inaugurated under favourable circumstances. We at the Board of Trade have a big task before us in dealing with these great trade problems. We need all the advice and assistance that we can obtain, and, above all, we must have the confidence of the House if we are to have any measure of success. I hope the House will believe in the sincerity of our efforts and of our desire to keep the House in close touch with all that we are trying to accomplish.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £ 100 in respect of the salary of the President of the Board of Trade.
1178 There is one remark which I desire to make, and with which I am sure everybody on both sides of the House will absolutely agree, and it is that we regret very much that on the first occasion we have had to deal with proposals laid before us by my right hon. Friend opposite it has been necessary for us, or at least some of us, to take up such a hostile point of view. I believe we feel unanimously in the House that my right hon. Friend is not responsible for these proposals. He came in upon them when the matter had developed a very long, stage, and he 'has defended the proposals, with a loyalty which deserves our highest admiration. In the speech my right hon. Friend has just delivered he made an appeal to us which we find it extremely difficult to resist, and I would ask him, if we offer some criticism of the institution, to draw a broad line between himself and the institution. We do not blame him. We look to others as the responsible gentlemen, with whom we have been long acquainted in this House. With regard to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, I cannot think quite so much of him. He is an old Parliamentary hand. He should have seen a long time ago that difficulties would have arisen in this matter if it were pursued in the way the Board of Trade pursued it. What did the Board of Trade do? What is our complaint against them—really the only complaint? The Board of Trade hatched up this scheme, be it good or bad, in secret. Whoever else was consulted— and the right hon. Gentleman may tell us about the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and the other chambers of commerce throughout the country—the Board of Trade concealed it from the House of Commons, and through all its early stages the Board of Trade prevented this House from realising in any way the serious step that would be taken. That is one of the complaints we make. There are many complaints about this matter which are more or less detailed, but that is a very grave complaint. If this matter is allowed to proceed, what will happen? A great new step of vital interest will be inaugurated in this country with regard to trade and commerce, while Parliament has been sitting all the time but has never been allowed to utter an effective word of criticism when that criticism was of any use. I say that any Ministers who were responsible for that have 1179 undertaken a very serious responsibility, and that this House is well within its duty in calling them to account. My right hon. Friend described the difficulty of the task, and he defended what others have done in a very charming way. But when he gave us the history of this proceeding he told us of a Committee appointed under Mr. Huth Jackson in 1915. I then put in the question, "Where is the Report?" Where is the evidence? "Why was it not published? The whole thing has been concealed.
§ Mr. LOUGH
By the Government of the day when the Committee reported. That brings me to one of the most grievous parts of my task, and that is that I have to find some fault with my right hon. Friend who sits beside me (Mr. Runciman). He was President of the Board of Trade when all these initial proceedings were carried through. He is a right hon. Gentleman whom I have known so long and whom I respect so much that it lascerates my feelings to utter a single word of criticism with regard to him, but really I feel that he is the man mainly responsible for that of which we are complaining. Another difficulty about him is that he has such power over the House. He talks in such a candid and delightful way to us, and you can only really describe him by the use of an Irish word, by saying that he puts the "comether" on us. He will always put the "comether" on the House, and the House will agree to everything he says. He is so charming. He took on his own shoulders these proceedings. He made one or two observations in which he said that constant complaints had been made by traders in various parts that the financial facilities given by the foreign banks were far greater than their own. I question that entirely. I am a trader engaged in a small way of business, and in some of the companies I am connected with my complaint is that our own banks give us too much credit. It applies to all the London banks. I Have expostulated "with them one after another. It would be invidious to mention any names, but let me state what they do. The banks in London, instead of discounting foreign bills as they do home bills, make an advance on them of 90 per cent., and then they do not care when the bills are paid.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I do not merely want the hon. Gentleman to believe half of this, but to believe the whole of it. It is the way in which foreign bills are discounted in London. I say there is no complaint of that sort, and that the House should have the evidence. No statement like this should be made unless the evidence is to be laid before us. I am only saying that our banks treat us too liberally. Is that any reflection on the bank? My right hon. Friend also asked whether it was not the duty of the Government to take some steps to solve this problem. Not without the consent of the House of Commons. The thing should have been laid before the House, the means devised, the Report of the Committee, and the evidence on which it is based. The thing is far too important to be dealt with in a hole-and-corner way. To look at the foundation of this corporation one would think that this country is doing no foreign trade at all. It is doing a gigantic foreign trade. Talk of Germany! We always gave Germany a long start, and can still. I say that capital has been found more liberally and on a more gigantic scale than anywhere else, and therefore if a violent change was going to be made in the institutions which have worked so well, this House, the sovereign assembly, should have had all the evidence on which the change was based before it was made. The main argument of my right hon. Friend was that in New York after the War there would be a gigantic financial institution such as the world had never seen, and he appeared to think that we ought to found an institution of that kind. He said a representative of that institution had come over to see hint and had asked for an introduction to some of our ambassadors, which, of course, he did not give. But he was evidently influenced in what he did with the two Committees by the American example, and I want to make this point. There is a very great statesman in America, named President Wilson. He has fought a great campaign in that country, and in the course of that campaign has touched upon this matter. With regard to these institutions, to which he alluded in one of his great speeches, he said:The great monopoly in this country is the monopoly of big credits. The financial resources of a country are 1181 not at the command of those who do not submit to the direction and domination of a small group of capitalists. When a small group of men approach Congress—we might here use our own term and say "approach Parliament"—in order to induce the Committee to concur in certain legislation, nobody knows the ramifications of the interests which those men represent. I merely say that there has come about an extraordinary and very sinister concentration in the control of business in the country.That is President Wilson in the United States. The truth is that he is using his mighty influence, which also I am glad to see he is bringing to our help in this country, in the United States to stamp out these very institutions which my right hon. Friend wants to set up in this country. So far as the justification from the example of the United States is concerned, therefore, there is no reason at all for proceeding with this scheme. The right hon Gentleman has admitted that there are defects in the scheme, and he has said that the defects are cured by the White Paper which has been laid before us. I do not like the White Paper at all. What is it? A directors' resolution. A directors' resolution that is made to-day may be altered this day month.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Certainly. It rests on no solid foundation at all. With regard to to the point that one of my right hon. Friends made, and for which he obtained the sympathy of the House, as to the extravagant remuneration of the promoters of this scheme, what is the position? We have nothing but a statement that it will be laid before a meeting of the shareholders. I think, therefore, that the House cannot be satisfied with the step taken to meet this difficulty. The real objection to this scheme is that it is a fundamental alteration in the system which this House and this country has pursued for many generations. Let us look at it. There was a secret Committee formed. We know nothing of the evidence or the Report. We are simply told that it said so-and-so. Then, after that, the Board of Trade choose to appoint another Committee. We have seen its Report, I admit; but in the first paragraph it is said that it is not necessary to furnish any evidence. I think it very necessary. I dispute any conclusion on which this is based, and I will give my reasons in a moment. The Committee says, in effect: Let us go on and form a great in- 1182 stitution which will earn huge salaries, and let us, the members of the Committee, be the institution.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Yes, and draw the salaries. If that is to be the attitude of the Board of Trade, and if it is to give its sanction to these gentlemen saying they will form a great corporation and make themselves members of it, a new precedent is being established in this country from which this House ought to shrink, and which it should regard with a great deal of caution. Then I come to another rather difficult matter. The gentlemen who are to form this syndicate are all mentioned in the charter. I have not the slightest reflection to make on any of them. The only one known to me is Lord Faringdon, whom we all knew as a most charming Member of this House for many years. In regard to him I will only say what is notorious, namely, that he is a member of four great companies, one of them a great railway company and another the Humber Docks, which must make the greatest encroachment possible on his time. Besides that, he is a busy member of a great, enterprising firm on the Stock Exchange. How, then, can there be the concentration of thought necessary for an institution of that kind? Then Mr. Huth Jackson is a member of eight companies.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I thought it was eight. He is a director of the Bank of England. Surely that ought to be sufficient, out there is the Clay Cross Company, Limited, the Eastern Telegraph Company, and the London and South-Western Railway Company. There are eight companies. Then Mr. Frank Dudley Docker is a member of six companies, Mr. William Henry N. Goschen is a member of three, and Mr. John H. B. Noble a member of six, including W. G. Armstrong, Limited. I am not making the slightest reflection on these gentlemen. I wish them and their companies all success, but I say that gentlemen so doubly engaged in different and conflicting business enterprises of that sort will not have the time or the leisure to evolve a broad, straight path along which the foreign business of this country can safely proceed. I desire to question, not without some reason, the foundation on which this whole enter- 1183 prise has been undertaken. I have had some experience of German business and German methods of business. I was in Germany a month before the War, and I suffered from my connection with some of its institutions. Since then I have had experiences which have made me understand them better. There is no single indication in this charter, or anywhere that I have read, showing that you comprehend what is the German method. The charter devotes itself to the extension of credit. You would think that credit was the grand solution of all business difficulties. That is a gigantic mistake. My right hon. Friend said that the company will have the right to take over some enterprises which had failed abroad. When it takes over two or three of those enterprises I think the operations of the company will very soon come to an end. This is not the way of promoting German business methods throughout the world. It will take far more capital and far less credit. It is the correctness of the argument for this House to adopt, that this splendid record of trade the country has maintained throughout the War, and for two or three generations past, was a fit evidence not to copy what we suppose to be those methods of German business. That was not the method. Why our methods were not successful was that the political institutions of the country were always to the fore. They were always helping the Germans in a foreign country on business lines. When I have been in a foreign country I had to get an introduction to the German Consul because our own Consul was no use. It was Ambassadors the Government wanted in various parts of the world, not credit. I do not think this thing is what ought to be done, and I do not think the men who are doing it are the men who ought to be entrusted with it. I have nothing to say against them, but they have not been carefully selected. They are too busy to carry a thing like this to a successful conclusion. The whole thing is one which could better be left to voluntary enterprise.
§ Sir WILLIAM BARTON
I am rather at a disadvantage in following such a picturesque orator, but I approach this proposition solely from a business point of view. My right hon. Friend said that the President of the Board of Trade was in 1184 the unfortunate position of suggesting something which has been imposed upon him by his successor.
§ Sir W. BARTON
If the President of the Board of Trade is in that position he is a very much better actor than I would have given him credit for. The impression he left on my mind is that he himself believes in this as a necessary measure. I have heard various opinions to-day on this subject, and able and necessary criticisms. I do not want it to be thought that in supporting this measure I cast any reflection on the banking system of the country—far from it—but this proposition that they should keep their money in a liquid state, that they should keep these more or less in a postion to meet the obligations implied, is a serious consideration. What are our proposals? What is the scheme to meet what has to be done? Something has to be done. We must contemplate the period after this War. Our brave lads are slowly but surely winning the War, and we have to take care that when they come back they shall come back to a condition of things prepared for them under which they may have a reasonable chance of enjoying the comforts of civilisation which they have fought for and defended. We have been short of an institution of this kind in this country. I recall well the time when a great Lancashire inventor brought out his patents for dealing with coal-tar products. These patents and the ideas associated with them were sought to be financed all over the country, but nobody was willing to do it. Germany took up the idea and financed it, and to-day the great chemical industry of Germany is, or was before the War, the envy of the world. This is one of the kind of things this proposal would deal with. I believe the President of the Board of Trade has in mind that there are many suggestions and proposals about the ultimate success of which managers would hesitate. This is a corporation to entertain such proposals, and around the one to which I have referred centres all the colours for dyeing and printing, and out of those useful products and by-products, something like 200 or 300 in number, 10,000 people have been employed and they have made Germany the centre of the world for this great industry. We must have some organisations of that kind to which propositions can be submitted, 1185 and, if approved, sustained and supported. I set the greatest store on a scheme of this kind. I do not pretend to say that there are some things to which one may not offer minor criticism. That is not my business. I think the scheme is a good one, something that is necessary, something that we mut have, and I believe that whatever little Amendment the President of the Board of Trade and the House may agree upon that it is necessary and right that this step should be taken.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I should like to bring this subject on a somewhat higher plane in the few moments that I may address the Committee. The hon. Member wants a lot of things which will take the place of everything that is promised. There are any amount already. It has been said that there might be trouble with the banks, and that you could go to this corporation and ask them to do something which it is believed would be for the benefit of trade. Can they do it? Not at all. What is really wanted is not this corporation at all; it is something bigger; and the Board of Trade in the last Government and this are shirking the issue when they try to set up this corporation. Why has Germany succeeded? The German Foreign Office was remarkable. She has made more of her Consuls, who are all Germans, while our British Consuls are nearly all foreigners. Take the Deutscher Bank, which has been spoken of. Do you think it did not make heavy losses? Of course it did. It had a scheme to help colonies in another part, and there was worked in with the scheme the domination of the German Government. They went to the German Government and got a guarantee. Do you suppose that this company is going about not to be guaranteed? The fact is, you have to change your foreign staff. Hitherto our staff have been recruited from men who look askance at business, who despise business. You have to change all that.
Then you have to see that you teach foreign languages in your schools. In our public schools the foreign master has not always had full scope. We have not seriously gone in for the subject of foreign languages. What have Germans been doing here and in Switzerland? Learning Spanish, almost every one of them. What is the meaning of that? They are going to South America. If you want to encourage commerce—and Heaven knows it wants encouraging—you must attend to these 1186 matters, the importance of which we have not grasped. What are we up against? What has become of all our American securities, the income from which used to pay for a great quantity of our imports? They are all gone, and you want your Foreign Office and your Consuls to be in a position to give information and render assistance and help to develop business in the very best way and as economically and successfully as they can. We must help them as the Germans have always done. That is the root branch of the whole thing.
What is this corporation going to do, and what is the use of £10,000,000 to it? Of course they will make this declaration, but how are you going to compel them to help anyone. What can you say to them? My right hon. Friend says this corporation is going to get no cash and there is no agreement and all they are going to get is what is contained in the Royal Charter. Why not let them start business like any other ordinary company I Let them by their own enterprise secure their success. There are any number of companies who will help in the flotation of any sound undertaking. If I see my way with advantage to a shipment of anything, I can go to my own bank. Are there no banks in these foreign countries 1 I have seen shipments of £70,000 or £80,000 of cheese all drawn by bills. In the same way, if you do any trade in South Africa, or South America there is no difficulty in dong it. In starting new businesses there are plenty of trust, floating, and issuing companies to help them through. This is supposed to have been a banking corporation, and I have heard a good deal about banking, and afterwards it began to take the form of a trade corporation. I can assure my right hon. Friend that if he would take a walk through the banks of the City to-morrow, he would find that they were all very cold upon this scheme, and they look upon it practically as a dead concern already. I know at least one most eminent director who would not be sorry to see the whole thing blow up. This business can only be done successfully by a reorganisation of the Foreign Office, and you must have men there who intend to help commercial people. In the Consular service you must see that every Consul is a Briton and has British interests at heart, and when you have cleared your Foreign Office, of all the high faluting gentlemen who do not think trading is worth looking 1187 at, when you get men interested in commerce there, you need not bother about this corporation.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I have listened carefully to the speeches, and I have formed the conclusion that the attitude which has been taken up is much less a criticism of the particular scheme before the Committee than a very proper and legitimate protest against the methods adopted by the Government. It is perfectly true that the promotion of this particular corporation will not cover the ground which, by common agreement amongst those who have been careful students of the trend of business and commercial affairs in prewar years, is required by this country in order to be fully equipped for the new and more difficult conditions of trade hereafter. Speaking to-day as one who took some part in the criticism of this particular project upon an earlier occasion, I wish to say at once that I associate myself with the feeling that has already been expressed of appreciation of the manner and spirit in which the President of the Board of Trade has met the drift and force of that criticism. That volume of criticism, almost widespread and universal in its character, may possibly have been unexpected by the President of the Board of Trade. Speaking for myself, I may say that I was not actuated in what I said on a previous occasion by any sort of hostility to the fundamental principle and the ultimate aim of this scheme. I think it will be perfectly impossible for anybody to take a survey of competitive trade conditions prior to the War without having reached the conclusion that some organisation of a responsible kind was absolutely essential if we were to hold our own.
Some of my hon. Friends have criticised this scheme from a point of view which I think is not quite complete, and I thought I detected in some of the speeches an underlying impression that because we may exult in the strength and triumph of some of our great businesses and corporations in times past, that therefore all is well with trade and the methods of trade in this country. In my observation and examination of this problem I have concluded that the real need to be met is not so much the requirements of successful concerns, which by years of labour have placed themselves in a position of Strength that is almost unassailable. Any 1188 one who has studied the industrial and commercial development of the nation knows that the best measure of progress-is the extent to which you encourage and stimulate the growth of new and vigorous firms. The result of my observation and knowledge is that our supreme need for after-war years is some machinery or arrangement which will give the necessary stimulus to these young and vigorous firms, whish have new ideas and enthusiasm and fresh schemes in their mind, but which hitherto, because of the comparative youthfulness of their concerns, have not received the assistance which other businesses have received at the hands of financial corporations.
As far as I recollect the previous discussion, the criticism was in part due to the manner in which this scheme had been, I will not say engineered, but organised and arranged. In my experience the House of Commons is notoriously careless in the exercise of its powers of control, but at the same time it is extremely sensitive in regard to any ignoring of its powers of supervision and control. On the previous occasion much feeling was aroused—and as a House of Commons man myself I associate myself with it—by the unfortunate fact, due to no intention I have no doubt on the part of the Government, that this was a scheme introduced to the notice of the House of Commons after the entire arrangements had been completed. In the interests of those larger schemes, which I am prepared to back solidly so long as they seem to be on sound lines, for the stimulation of our commerce and trade after the War, and in the interests of any further schemes the Government have in view. I appeal to the Leader of the House to see to it that this ignoring of the control we are supposed to possess in the House of Commons will not be repeated in the precept case.
My criticism on a former occasion took two forms, of quite different degrees of value and importance. I do not like the proposal, which remains unchanged, that the directors of this corporation should have power to trade with themselves; in other words, to trade in the interests of their own companies. I am fully aware that this is a common provision in registered liability compares, but I would prefer to have seen that power outside the scope of this scheme. However, I quite recognise, from a point of view of relative importance, that that is a comparatively minor matter, and I am not prepared to 1189 wreck the scheme merely on that. With reference to the other point, of the remuneration of the directors, the arrangement made by the President of the Board of Trade fully meets that danger, so far as I am concerned. I am not concerned to check shareholders giving what remuneration they like, so long as the authority lies with them, and while it is not a matter of sole appointment by the directors themselves. The real ground of my criticism on a former occasion of this scheme was the pretty plain evidence that at least there was scope for preferential treatment.
In the second place there is the right of competitive trading. There was a certain unfortunate coincidence which rather encouraged the idea that there was to be competitive trading. Speaking for myself, and I may say that I took privately legal advice on the point, I am bound to say quite frankly and fully that in the declaration which appears in the White Paper I feel that we have a complete safeguard against the very real danger of competitive trading, and I am fully prepared to support this scheme with that alteration. I only want to say, in conclusion, what I hope already is apparent, that in the criticisms I have made, or which I may make in reference to these schemes, they are not directed against any scientific and rational effort to organise the resources and prestige and strength of the nation, but they are in the direction of stimulating commerce and trade, and so long as ordinary rational principles are observed, and no preferential treatment is allowed, I shall support these schemes.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
I have listened with great interest and pleasure to the speech of the last speaker, who, like myself, listened most carefully to the Debate on a previous occasion, although my hon. Friend had the privilege of taking part in it and I had not. I must confess on that occasion I was struck by the extent of the criticism that was directed to what I regarded as technicalities, and it seems to me that the whole of this undertaking must be looked at from a different point of view. We must have confidence in the people to whom this great work is being entrusted, and I think the perusal of the names of the board which is going to undertake this work will inspire us with confidence. If we have that confidence I do not think we need have any 1190 fear in regard to the future conduct of this undertaking. If that fear existed, and no doubt it did exist in the minds of many in this House, I submit that it should have been entirely removed by the explanation which has been given this afternoon by the President of the Board of Trade, after no doubt full consultation with the legal advisers of the Crown. It appears, to me to be idle to question that the Resolution of the Board will be binding upon the company. If it is not, then I think one can only say that the legal advisers of the Crown have singularly failed in their duty. We cannot, therefore, proceed upon any other assumption than that it is binding upon the company.
I noticed on the last occasion when this matter was debated that the President of the Board of Trade, like myself, appeared to be amazed at some of the criticisms, because no doubt they dealt with matters with which he was so familiar. This House, if I may say so, is singularly fortunate in having at this crisis of the Empire's career at its disposal at the head of that most important office a man of great experience like the gentleman who now occupies that position, and who is; familiar not only with the conditions of trade and finance and development in this country, but has had himself keen and personal experience of those conditions in other countries overseas. He is, therefore, peculiarly fitted to guide the House and to guide the Board of Trade in these very important matters. I do not think it is necessary this afternoon to discuss these questions of pure machinery which the President of the Board of Trade has explained. If the people to whom the conduct of this undertaking is to be entrusted are not people whom you can trust, or if they are likely to wish to do things which this House and the country would not wish them to do, there is no machinery and no checks which you can impose short of revoking the charter that will keep them in the right course. The great thing is to be sure that you have the right men, and, having found them, to trust them, and as one who has had some business experience, though not so extended as the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lough) who criticised the personnel of the directorate, I should like to say that the very fact that the Gentlemen in question have evidently from the undertakings with which they are connected had a very wide financial and com 1191 mercial experience, convinces me that they are eminently competent to conduct the affairs of this great corporation.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the fact that they were connected with so many undertakings was a danger. I regard it as a point which gives me great confidence, because one can rest assured that the Gentlemen in question would not risk their great reputation by undertaking these duties if they could not find sufficient time to perform them. That is one of the greatest guarantees for the success of this undertaking. A great deal has been said about the work which the chartered company is to undertake in connection with foreign trade. Personally, I attach even greater importance to the work which this corporation will undertake in the Dominions of the Crown overseas. I attach even greater importance to the development of our own Empire than to the development of our trade and industry in foreign countries, and, from that point of view, I attach very great importance indeed to the establishment on a sound basis of this institution. It may interest the House to know that in South Africa, with which I have greater personal acquaintance than with other parts of the Empire, the necessity for such a step as this has lately been so apparent that a trade bank of a modest character has already been established under the ægis of the National Bank there. I have no doubt that in time this corporation will get into touch with that corporation and that the two will work together in harmony. It has been rather difficult to disentangle the criticisms directed against this institution. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. J. M. Henderson) took us to such a high plane that we lost sight completely of the subject that we were discussing. He told us that, if we would only put the Foreign Office and the organisation of the Foreign Office right, all would be well. I cannot agree with that view. It does not hold good, of course, with regard to the Dominions of the Crown overseas with which I am particularly concerned. No reformation of the Consular services will help the conditions in those territories.
Personal experience is sometimes useful, and I have had considerable personal experience of the value of the work which 1192 the Deutsche and Dresdner banks were doing before the War in the interests of German trade. I was myself principally concerned with the formation and bringing out of a company with which the House is probably familiar, called the Victoria Falls Power Company, which is the classic instance of a great enterprise in a British colony which was launched by the aid of German capital at a time when it was impossible to obtain any money for the purpose in this country. This was a case in which there was a vast field for the distribution of power. Certain contracts had been obtained to take that power if capital were found to supply the plant. I must make one admission so that the House may quite understand the position. The first proposal was to supply that power from the Victoria Falls on the Zambesi, which was from 600 to 700 miles distant from the point at which it was to be used. The proposals in that enterprise were discussed by myself and my friends with all the leading firms in this country who were concerned with the manufacture of electrical machinery. Several of them were attracted by it, because very valuable contracts were to be obtained if it could be carried out, but it is only fair to say that they had not that great experience in the development of electricity from water power and its distribution over great distances which at that time was possessed in the greatest degree by American manufacturers and in a lesser degree by German manufacturers. It is therefore quite possible that the practical aspects of the project could not appeal with such force to the English manufacturers as it did to foreign manufacturers, much as they would have desired to have had a contract which extended to many hundreds of thousands of pounds. But the real difficulty was the question of finance. There was no such promoting house as that to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen said that it was always possible for people to go, and there were no contracting firms connected with promoting banks or supporting houses who could take up large blocks of debentures, with the result that we completely failed to obtain any financial support in this country.
We went to Germany, and the great Allgeuneine Electricitaets Gesellschaft approved of the scheme after having had it investigated by experts in precisely the same way as it is proposed that experts shall examine schemes here. They said 1193 they liked the scheme and wished to carry it out, and if we would give them the contract for the plant they would introduce us to their financial friends and see what could be done. We met a syndicate of all the great banks in Germany, in which the Deutsche and Dresdner banks took the leading part, and we left Germany with the control still in our hands and £2,000,000 debentures taken up by the German banks on the undertaking that we succeeded in placing a certain number of preference shares. It is true that the first contract for the supply of plant went to Germany, but the result was that we succeeded in establishing in an English colony, by the aid of German money, a very great enterprise which is now paying most handsomely on a much higher capital than at that time we were discussing. It now employs no one but British workmen, and for some time past the whole of the orders have been free to come to this country. The alternative, if that had not been successfully carried through, would have been that a German undertaking, which at that time was supplying power in a small way, would have carried out its plan of expanding and of dominating the whole position, and it would have taken this War to have put the position right.
It is surely right that there should be in this country some institution equipped with the necessary technical staff and with sufficient financial strength to deal in the proper way with projects such as I have outlined. That is necessary on every ground, and on that ground alone I strongly support the action which has been taken—and I think quite rightly taken— by the Board of Trade in this matter. It is not necessary for me to say that in every particular the Board of Trade have been wholly wise. Possibly it might have been better, either for the right hon. Gentleman or his predecessor, to have taken the House into his confidence at some earlier stage, but it is always difficult to decide upon these points without knowing the whole of the facts. There is no doubt that it is impossible to launch a great undertaking of this character without negotiating with a very large number of interests, and until those negotiations are completed it is often almost impossible without prejudicing them to disclose the whole of the facts. The House should, therefore, make allowances for the difficulties of the situation, and should be prepared to accept what has been done in the 1194 most generous spirit, believing that this action will result in great benefit to British trade and British development.
This, I believe, is the first and a most important step in that policy of reconstructive development which has to come after the War, and, feeling strongly upon that point, I must confess that I was disappointed with the tone and temper of the Debate which took place upon the last occasion. I felt that the course of that Debate furnished the strongest argument in favour of the Representation of the People Bill to which I had listened, but I am glad to find that this afternoon the subject has been approached in a somewhat different manner, and I hope that this House is not going to leave it to the next House of Commons to express its approval of what has been done. I have no desire to detain the House longer beyond again expressing my cordial sympathy with the President of the Board of Trade in the difficult position in which he has been placed, my approval of the manner in which he has carried out this difficult task, and my satisfaction with the reputation and character of the persons to whom the conduct of this great enterprise has been entrusted.
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
I am sure the Committee has listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. It enables the Committee to realise that upon the important points at issue there is really substantial agreement on the part of the entire Committee—that is to say, the important points being that we will do all we possibly can to support British trade and enterprise and to assist the scheme of reconstruction after the War. I think that practically formed the text from which the hon. Member preached his most excellent sermon. Then we come to what is altogether another issue: Does this particular scheme now before the Committee form the best way of carrying out those most desirable objects? It is upon that issue that some of us part company with the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to roam over the subject of the last Debate or to engage in any general abstract discussion as to what might have been the best way of approaching this question right away from the dawn of history. The point I am concerned with now is, what can we do under the special conditions in which we find ourselves at this moment? We had a scheme submitted to us on the occasion of our last 1195 discussion which excited a great deal of criticism and heart-searching among many of us. We were perturbed, in the first place, because we thought that the wrong method of procedure was adopted. We thought that, the Government, instead of realising that they were the servants of the House, had come to the conclusion that they were the masters of the House and that the permanent officials, whose work we admire so much, were beginning to get a little bit out of perspective in their conception of their own importance as compared with the House of Commons. All these things excited a good deal of antagonism and suspicion. When we came to look at the terms of the charter— quite apart from the question of our not having been consulted previously—we found them so vague, so ill-defined, and so open to misconception of one kind or another, that we felt it was quite impossible for us, without further information and a careful and detailed investigation, to give out assent to proposals submitted to us with such little notice.
The Government have evidently now realised that there was substance in those criticisms. The speech the President of the Board of Trade has made to-day and the White Paper he has submitted entirely jusitfy the attitude which the House of Commons adopted when this matter was first introduced to it. The question I have to ask myself now is whether this White Paper and the speech that has been made do meet and answer the criticisms levelled against the scheme on the last occasion, and whether, at this stage, those of us who opposed the granting of this Charter feel that we are able to support it? On that point I confess that my feelings are very mixed. The conclusion I draw from this White Paper that when this matter was handed to the Law Officers of the Crown, in view of the criticisms that had been made, they realised that the form of the charter had been entirely wrongly drafted and that they had to devise some set of words which, without being put in express antagonism to the terms of the charter, would form some sort of drag on the wheel and would mitigate the evils contained essentially in the charter itself. I have one or two questions to ask the Law Officers of the Crown upon this matter. I am not a lawyer, but, to my sorrow, I have had a great many dealings with lawyers in times past and I have come to know something of their ways. I am 1196 advised that when objects are definitely stated in a charter as being the objects and purposes for which that charter is granted, there is a legal obligation imposed upon the people who receive the charter to carry out those objects, and that no subsequent contract that may be entered into by the directors who are empowered under that charter can entitle them to evade the original terms of the charter. Whatever legal form this particular declaration may take, whether or not it is passed under the seal of the company, it does not override or effectively restrain or limit the powers contained in the original charter. It is simply a pious opinion.
In other words, the people who framed this charter have had it pointed out to them by the House of Commons that too much power is being given under the charter, that something in the nature of a monopoly is being granted, that extended powers of trading are being given to it by the House of Commons, and that opportunities of preferential treatment of different trades will be possible under the charter to which the House of Commons objects. Then the Law Officers of the Crown put into the mouth's of the directors a pious declaration. It is as if a man walking along a street carrying a kit of burglars' tools also bore a placard stating, "I do not propose to make any use of these tools," and therefore it is supposed to be quite safe for him to carry those tools about. I do not use that illustration in any offensive sense, because I am thoroughly convinced that all the directors of this corporation are honest men and men of high character and great financial and trade status. But I do say that when you give people extended powers of this kind it is not enough for them to make a pious declaration that they do not propose to use them. What you ought to do is to take back your charter and give them the powers you mean them to have. We should say, "We have given you a charter which makes you an issuing house, which makes you a general trader, which makes you a company promoter, and which gives you all sorts of powers, and yet we ask you to enter into a pious declaration that you are not going to use some of them, and only others if they be necessary. Now we have found out, after public discussion and after traders have had an opportunity of considering the proposals, that that is not what we want. Therefore— 1197 it will not take a very long time to do it— we are going to withdraw the charter, take it back, and, in the light of the criticism that has been made and of the information that has been obtained, we are going to draw a fresh charter that will give you only those powers which it is proposed you should exercise.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
The Government is doing that. I want to support the Government in carrying out a sound policy. I do not think you should start a reconstruction scheme after the War by beginning with a mangled and mutilated charter of the description that will now be granted. This is a very important matter. A few weeks or months are of no moment in a matter of this description, because the charter cannot come into operation until after the War. Without casting any reflection upon anybody— there is nothing further from my thoughts, and I do not suggest the smallest bad faith on the part of the Committee or of the Board of Trade or anyone else, because the3' have honestly done their best, although they have made certain mistakes—but when indicating certain directions in which assistance should be given to trade they have not hit upon the right lines. I believe that all chambers of commerce and all the members of this Committee are in substantial agreement as to what is wanted. When these chambers of commerce passed resolutions they were not passing resolutions in favour of the particular phrasing of this charter, but resolutions in favour of substantial assistance being given to the export trade of this country. It may be that some of us who spoke on the last occasion took too narrow a view. It may be that something is wanted beyond the mere banking facilities which we believed were suggested. We want to put all the wisdom of the House into the common stock in this matter. It maybe that in addition to facilities for banking there will have to be some facilities for the promotion of now trade companies, and that facilities should be given for extending the trading departments that are to be undertaken by this corporation. I do not want to prejudice those matters one way or the other, but I am quite certain that this charter, in its original form, does not carry out the intentions either 1198 of Parliament or of the great traders of this country. This pious declaration is a most unfortunate method of attempting to alter the original mistakes made in the charter.
I do not want to vote in any Division which may seem to reflect upon the Government or upon the President of the Board of Trade. I believe that this House and the country is to be congratulated upon having at its disposal in this great crisis a man of such wide business and financial knowledge as the President of the Board of Trade. Therefore I do not want to do anything which seems to reflect upon him. So far as the officials, of the Board of Trade are concerned, they are men of remarkable capacity, and where they err it is in their excessive zeal for the public service, for which this House is not going to blame them. Lord Faringdon's Committee has done splendid service in dealing with this matter, and the gentlemen nominated as directors of this corporation have rendered, and will render when opportunity offers, great assistance to British credit. But let us put this thing on right lines, and let us give the scheme a fair chance. Do not let us have a set of articles we do not mean to carry out. Do not let us have a charter that can only be useful to us if we violate it. Do not let us have a rule in which it is only the exception that is effective. Do not let us begin to build a house by putting on the chimney-stack first. Let us have the thing done in a -reasonable and rational way. If we come to draw a new charter, there are two other things about which we must be careful. Do not let us have such an absurd method as the payment of these directors by a certain proportion of the profits. I know that the President of the Board of Trade has had a very wide experience on the other side of the water, and I know that the argument there always is that unless you put it into a man's hands to make enormous profits you cannot get good men to put their brains into the work. I do not think that doctrine applies to this country. When I think of the men who sit on the boards of our great banks, of the men who sit on the boards of our great railway companies, and of the modest remuneration they receive, I am not prepared to say that, in order to promote the advantage of British trade abroad, you ought to put it in the way of the directors to make personal private fortunes in order to induce them to do 1199 their work. If you take men of standing, and the right type of men, and give them an adequate salary, that, coupled with the dignity of the office they hold and the opportunity of serving the Empire, will be quite sufficient, without throwing out the bait of a share of enormous profits. Do not create the impression that the corporation will make such enormous profits. How on earth can you assist trade when you fleece it by making such enormous profits? You want to get the assistance of men on reasonable and fair terms. You should take a reasonable dividend for your capital and a reasonable remuneration for your directors.
I should like to go a step further, and see the corporation called a chartered corporation; and if it is to be identified with the name of this country, and to have the services of our Consuls, and so on, I should like to see them made definitely responsible to one of the great Departments of the State for the work they do. I should then like to see some official representative of one of the great Departments on the board. I do not believe in a half-hearted sort of relationship with the Grown. If, in fact, they are to have the right to use our name, and by their reputation to add lustre to our reputation, we should go a step further and take some sort of actual official responsibility and exercise some definite control. The question of directors trading themselves is a very difficult one. I do not want to make any personal reference, but one of these gentlemen made a most unfortunate speech one day this week at a meeting of his own company. He made a reference to this House which I thought most unseemly, and I dislike it most because it indicates a wrong point of view. We do not want directors of the British Trade Corporation to make use of that position in connection with their other companies to give them official prestige or to add to the share capital value of the companies with which they are concerned. I am not casting any imputation upon anyone, but it is worth while taking a little more time and exercising a little more care to prevent things of this description. There is no use in locking the stable door after the horse is gone. We are alive to the importance of all these matters. There is substantial agreement as to what we want, and these two discussions in the House of Commons have, I think, indi 1200 cated substantial agreement on method. Therefore, with every respect to the President of the Board of Trade, I would suggest that he should take this charter back and get the Law Officers of the Crown to draw a charter with a set of rules and regulations that mean what they profess to mean and can be carried out without pious declarations at the end. I believe that in the long run it will do more good to British trade and I believe that it will solidify the support of the President of the; Board of Trade by the House in a way that will relieve him very much. I hope that I shall not be considered hostile to the President of the Board of Trade or as doing anything to hamper the work of His Majesty's Government in this most difficult time by making that suggestion. But I make it most emphatically and earnestly. I think that it would be a great calamity for our future scheme of reconstruction if this now admittedly ill-worded and incomplete charter were adopted and put into practice.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir G. Hewart)
I think it may be said without exaggeration that there is to be observed this afternoon a change in the atmosphere of the House in comparison with that which was exhibited on the 17th May, and perhaps that change is a little due to the efforts that have been made in the meantime on the part of everybody concerned to meet, and I hope to meet frankly and fairly, the criticism which came from various quarters of this House. The result of those efforts is seen in the form of declaration which the British Trade Corporation is prepared to make. And I observe not without interest that in the course of this Debate there has not been from any hon. Member any criticism in detail of that declaration or any part of it. My hon. Friend who spoke last put an interpretation upon the declaration to which I will refer without a moment's delay. I do not wish to misquote or misrepresent the effect of his observations. But he said that those long suffering persons, the law officers of the Crown, had devised a form of words which they put into the mouth of these directors, and which in their mouth was no more than a pious opinion. That is a complete misunderstanding, both of the purpose and of the effect of this declaration. More than that my hon. Friend's argument was that this declaration, if it were seriously meant, 'was really a redrafting of the 1201 charter, and that the mere suggestion of this declaration was tantamount to an admission, I think he said; that the charter was ill-drafted and expressed something which was not intended to be expressed. In (both those respects my hon. Friend is labouring under a complete misapprehension.
In the first place this declaration is not a pious opinion. It is what it purports to be, a serious declaration not as to something collateral and subsidiary, but as to the very basis of the whole matter. The preamble says:The British Trade Corporation hereby declares that it has sought and accepted the charter on the footing that according to the true intent and meaning of the charter the following are the provisions thereof; namely.It is a declaration as to the foundation and footing and tee true intent and meaning of the charter. Then my hon. Friend says that this declaration is in effect a variation of the charter, and that while the charter is one thing the declaration is another. That is a complete reversal of the truth. This declaration says that the true intent and meaning of the charter is what is contained in the declaration, for the reason that that is the true intent and meaning of the charter, and for no other reason. It is a clear explanation of that which it was shown was capable in some quarters at any rate of being misunderstood. My hon. Friend picks out particular provisions of the charter, and says, "Is it not intended that effect should be given to this in the charter?" It is quite true that where a charter aims at certain objects the corporation is bound to give effect to those objects, but in dealing with the objects of a chartered corporation it is apparent that some are primary objects and others are ancillary. It may not be easy to express those objects in a way which would make it perfectly plain what is ancillary and what is not. but may I remind the House of what is the first recital in the charter?Whereas it has been made to appear to us to be desirable that an Institution should be forthwith formed with the objects of assisting the development of British trade and industries and of procuring for British manufacturers orders in connection with new overseas undertakings and the financing of contracts in connection therewith and otherwise as hereinafter appearing.That is a statement of the primary object. It is an object which is inconsistent with the position of a rival trader. It is quite true that when one comes to deal with Article II., there is set out, among the 1202 powers which the corporation exercise with due regard to the interest of our Government, the following:—to enter into any partnership or other arrangements for sharing profits or on joint account.and there is power to carry on business as contractors or merchants or traders on their own account. But those powers are-quite obviously ancillary to the main purpose of the corporation.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
May I draw attention; to the fact that in the fourth line it is stated that the charter is for the purpose of carrying on the businesses of trading and banking in any part of the world, so that it would appear that trading took precedence of banking.
§ Sir G. HEWART
My hon. Friend is-in error in assuming because the word "trading" happens to appear before "banking" that the capacity of the corporation as traders is more important than their capacity as bankers. The point that I was about to make was that this declaration, which is one as to the true intent and meaning of the charter, is not a variation of the charter, but is a clearing up of that which debate showed was, at any rate, regarded as doubtful. It is said that this is a pious declaration, and it seems to be suggested that if effect had to be givens to it a new charter would be needed. There is no need for a new charter, and I am quite certain that there is no intention of making a new charter. If my hon. Friend will recall the words which I have just read, he will remember that this is a declaration as to the basis upon which this charter is obtained. There is a Clause 12 of the charter which gives power, in certain events, to revoke the charter, but that power is expressly said to be not by way of excluding other ways of putting an end to the charter. The effect is this, that if the corporation were to behave in a way which is contrary to this declaration that would be a ground either, on the one hand, for revoking the charter, as provided by Clause 12, or, on the other hand, for going to the Court in such proceedings, for example, as scire facias, to put an end to it. The statements contained in the-declaration are no more to be put aside than the charter itself. They are binding and conclusive against the corporation, and there is no possibility of contrast or comparison between the two. One is on the same footing with the other, so that if a Question were raised as to what is the true interpretation of a particular clause- 1203 in the charter it would be possible to go to the declaration and to say that that is what the corporation say is the true intent and meaning
That being so, I submit that if this declaration—as I believe it does—meets satisfactorily the substance of the criticisms that were urged on the 17th of May in this House, nothing further remains to be done. The corporation remains. The powers which the corporation has do not change with the change of directors. The interpretation which can be given to those powers is constant. There was a phrase in the Report of the Committee which has perhaps been a little forgotten. It was recommended in this Report that the institution should be a commercial concern, enjoying the full confidence and approval of the Government. That, at any rate, is the spirit in which the Government desire to regard it. You cannot treat a man with perfect confidence and yet with profound suspicion.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman did not understand my interruption. He said that he would not be a party to putting words into the charter, or into any document dealing with the charter, which would show any doubt or want of confidence in people in whom he had confidence. My point was that that might be all very well with these present directors, but the charter is for all time, and they may be succeeded by other directors in whom neither the hon. Gentleman nor anyone else has confidence.
§ Sir G. HEWART
Quite unintentionally the right hon. Baronet has put a little less strongly than I did the remark which I made. I quite agree that reasonable precaution must be taken, and I do not think I have used a word against the taking of reasonable precautions. That must be done. What I said was that it is impossible to combine at one and the same time, and in one and the same document, the extreme of confidence and the extreme of suspicion. It is one thing to take reasonable precautions, but it is another thing to treat these gentlemen or their possible successors as rogues. Now I come back to the phrase to which I was referring in this Report, namely, that the institution should be a commercial concern enjoying the full confidence and approval of the Government. That is the spirit, and I think the only spirit, in which an institution of that kind can usefully be set up or 1204 maintained. I hope after the explanation which has been made, not by way of variation and not by way of supplement, but by way of explanation of what was already done, that the position will be satisfactory and clear. With regard to the criticisms which have been made, I do not want to launch upon a general discussion, but I am bound to make this observation on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough), that he seemed to me to go this length, not only to allege that the Report of the Committee was wrong, but he thought, if his view of the matter were indeed right, there was no need to appoint a Committee at all, and that the kind of remedy which was necessary was a remedy totally different from that which the Committee recommended, or that which the Committee was appointed to inquire into. That is a kind of criticism with which at this time of day it is a little late to deal. This Committee was appointed in July of last year. It reported on the 31st August last year, and I understand that within a very short time after the date of that report, two or three weeks, or some such period, that report was published and in the hands of Members. It was after a lapse of several months from that date, namely, in April of this year, that the charter was drawn up. It is said that there was no opportunity for discussing the matter. The report of the Committee, perfectly clearly expressed, was in the hands of Members, and I should have thought that if an opportunity had been desired, there would have been no difficulty in getting it. Whatever other criticisms may be made, it is impossible to say that this is a charter which has been hastily granted, or granted upon insufficient grounds. I do not desire to enter upon a general discussion of that character, nor upon the question how far this institution is likely to meet the totality of all the difficulties which trade and finance will have to deal with after the War. No doubt what has been said about the qualification of consuls and about the attitude of the Foreign Office and other matters of that kind is of great importance. But within its own sphere, and to perform the work which it is intended it should perform, I do submit that this corporation is well equipped and that its powers, after any reasonable uncertainty as to the meaning of the charter, has been removed by this declaration, are such as this House will approve.
Sir H. DALZIEL
On the rare occasions on which the hon. and learned Gentleman addresses the House we always listen to him with satisfaction and delight, but I confess I should have liked that he had delayed his intervention in the Debate until many of us who are anxious to address questions to him had had that opportunity. I cannot understand the eagerness to anticipate questions which we have been trying to put all the afternoon, and which many hon. Members will certainly put before the Debate closes. I resent the little lecture my hon. Friend gave us before he sat down. He said this report was issued about a year ago, and that only in April was the charter drawn up, and that surely we might have had an opportunity of considering the matter and of raising it before. Does he know that day after day we pressed for an opportunity and were unable to obtain it? Does he know that it was only after we had raised the matter on the Adjournment that this charter ever came before the House at all? It was after the first question had been asked of the Government, pressing for an opportunity to discuss it, that the charter was actually issued, so that the very effort that was made to obtain an opportunity for discussion hastened the action of the Government, and the charter was issued before we had any opportunity of discussing it. I am glad in one respect that I have the opportunity of following and not preceding the Solicitor-General, because it allows me to ask him one or two questions to which he can reply later, when he replies to questions from other hon. Members. The first question I want to ask is this—let us have a straight answer—whether this declaration that is issued as a White Paper, alters the position, or does it not, from what it was before the last Debate? Is it mere eyewash, or is it a declaration which means something? I am glad to see the Leader of the House here, and I am sure he will courteously give us an answer to that question. Does this declaration mean that it is an explanation, or does it mean that it is a modification? That is a very simple question which the House ought to have answered.
The spokesmen of this declaration outside the House tell us that it is only issued to give information to the dull-headed members of the House of Commons who do not understand the charter. 1206 That is the polite way they have of increasing their opportunity of obtaining the charter. Is that true? Is it that we in the last Debate misunderstood the charter and that this declaration is simply an explanation? If that is the position, the Government have not heard the last word about this charter. As I understand the White Paper, it is a modification of the charter as it originally stood at the time of the last Debate. Here let me say that I express my gratitude to the Leader of the House and the President of the Board of Trade for their action in the matter. They recognised— because they really had no alternative course, in view of the expressions of opinion in the last Debate—that something must be done, and the courteous way in which they have tried to meet the opinions of the House of Commons deserves our gratitude. So far as I am concerned, if this declaration is a real modification of the position, I think the main objections which we had during the last Debate have been removed. I say that frankly and freely, provided they adhere to the terms of the declaration. Of course, it is difficult to understand how certain things can be reconciled, because you have in the charter itself the statement which has been read by the Solicitor-General that the corporation are to have the power to trade for and on their own account, while, on the other hand, you have the statement in the declaration that they are not going to undertake that. Which is the easel The House ought to know the facts. Is the corporation going to be allowed to trade on its own account or is it not? The declaration says, "We do not and will not operate on our own account," while the charter says they have power to do so. Let us know if that is a change. If there is not a change, the House is labouring under a misunderstanding. I accept the declaration, but do cot let us be told that we get nothing when we think we are getting something. In my opinion it was necessary that that limitation should be made.
With regard to another point on the White Paper, namely, the payment of remuneration to directors, I did not attach, nor do I attach, a great deal of importance to that. I think if people are putting their clients' deposits into what is after all a speculative company, they aught to pay whatever terms they agree to pay when they pay their subscriptions 1207 in. I do not think it is the duty of the House of Commons to look after the interests of clients and the rights of clients who put money deliberately into a concern knowing what the remuneration of the directors is to be, and I think it is rather humiliating to the House of Commons that we are put in a position where we have to discuss the directors' fees in a company outside over which we have no real control. Therefore, this reference to directors' fees means nothing. The minute has been put in, I suppose, at the suggestion of the Government in order to meet criticism in the House of Commons. A board meeting has been called, and they have said, "We will not deal with the question of salaries and dividends, and so forth, until the annual meeting of the shareholders, and with their approval." In effect that really means nothing. The board will represent the company all the time, and the bankers who are going to be on the board will represent their clients, and the managing directors and chairmen of the big industrial concerns, who hope to make fortunes out of being on this board, will be able to control the money that has been invested in the corporation. The result will be that the board will, in fact, be in absolute control and will represent the shareholders, and this minute, to the effect that they are not going to act upon it until after the financial year, is really of no importance and has no bearing on the points raised in the last discussion. I have no doubt that the depositors who are going to be indirectly identified with the concern, because their manager or chairman is going to be there, will make due inquiries and ascertain what the real benefits are.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I mean depositors and not shareholders. As I understand it, the bankers to be represented on the corporation will in fact be placing the deposits of their customers in this concern. They are not going to put the profits of the bank there. They are going to put in the deposits that is in their charge.
Sir H. DALZIEL
They have full power to do so. There is nothing to 1208 prevent them doing so. If the right hon. Baronet considers that they are only going to put in the accumulated profits which they themselves have made as bankers, over which they have control, that is quite a different thing; but I maintain that the bankers who are associated with this enterprise, when they are making large subscriptions, are free to place in the concern deposits that are in their hands, if they so desire.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Perhaps the right hon. Baronet will show me where I am wrong. I have searched from end to end of the charter and I can find nothing to prevent that. The bank can subscribe whatever money it pleases. I do not consider that the House of Commons ought really to concern itself with remuneration in this case. I think there has been a material alteration in the whole position in regard to this charter. I confess I do not like it. I have no prejudice against it, but I think the House of Commons is wrong to sanction a charter of this kind for the benefit of trade even for the future of the House of Commons itself. I think there are other ways which I should like to bring before the House for dealing with this matter, and to say that the granting of a charter to a company with £10,000,000 capital is going to be the great solution of the problem of British trade expansion in future, is really to put the thing for too high. It may assist. I hope it will, although I have grave doubt. I am not one of those who think that nothing ought to be done. A great deal remains to be done, and the one consoling thing about the corporation is that I hope it will spur up some of the more conservative banks of the country to assist British trade even more than they have, done in the past.
But what we have to consider at this moment is this: Is there a monopoly being created? Is there an exclusive privilege being granted? I think the House may fairly come to the conclusion now that we need not be anxious on that score if the declaration stands. They declare that they are not to have any special privilege. That is the opinion of the Government. They are not automatically to represent the Government at all. They are to represent the Government nowhere unless they are specially appointed by the Government itself, and the Government itself is free to appoint any 1209 other agenecy if it so desires. The President of the Board of Trade said he had only made one alteration. If he reads the Committee's Report again he will find that he has made several. They asked that they should finance the key industries of the country, and that all the money that comes from the Government should go through this corporation. He did not grant that. Then it is provided here that they were to be the instrument alone which was to deal with the finance of all foreign nations. That does not exist any longer. With the exception of the fact that they have what is called a charter, they have no real special privileges. That is a great deal to have accomplished. That is, in fact, to be a private company plus the word charter. That is worth a good deal of money, but, in view of the declaration of the Government that the company is to have no special privileges whatever, I think its position is not that of a great monopoly which we thought it was when the question was last before the House. I wish to ask this question, because it governs my view of the whole situation. Am I right or wrong in thinking that if this is not a monoply any other group of financiers in the City who like to put their money on the table—not £1,000,000, but £10,000,000—are to have the privilege of a charter just the same as this special group? I think if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to say that it is not a monopoly, that there is no special privilege, that it is only part of the great ramification of our efforts in the future in order to assist British trade, and that any other group which is prepared to take the same risks may have the same privileges, the whole situation will be improved. I hope he will be good enough to answer these points.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I had not intended, after listening to the Debate so far, to get up, but I think perhaps the simplest way to answer the questions which have been put to me will be to say a few words on the general subject. On the occasion of the last Debate I was unfortunately prevented from being present, but I read with the utmost care all the speeches which were delivered, and having read them it was my desire as far as possible to meet the objections of Members of the House of Commons, not only because that in itself is the duty of any Government Department which is carry 1210 ing through any proposal of this kind, but because this corporation itself will not start with anything like the same chance of success unless it starts with the goodwill of the House of Commons. On reading that Debate I was reminded of my earliest experiences in office in this House. I was the Under-Secretary in the Department presided over by my right hon. Friend, and I enjoyed that office more than any I have held since. One of the duties which was given me by the President of the Board of Trade was to speak for the Department in connection with private bills and again and again I had the experience of listening to speeches entirely against the course which the Board of Trade had decided on and never a speech on the other side at all. After a little time I found the explanation. Those who were opposed to it got their friends to come and state their views. The rest of the House knew nothing about it and were very little interested in it. I am sure the House will realise that I am not saying anything offensive. The result was that I myself got the impression that the whole House of Commons was against our proposal but I found very often when the House was fairly full and the other side of the case was presented an entirely different attitude.
After reading these speeches and reading the charter, I came to the conclusion that the charter was at least open to an ambiguous meaning and that there was some justification for the kind of criticism which was directed against it on the last occasion. I started with this idea clearly in my mind, and I know it is the view of my right hon. Friend, as I believe it was the view of the late President of the Board of Trade. New institutions for giving financial assistance, and if possible institutions with to some extent new methods, were distinctly needed in the future development of the trade of this country. I started also with the distinct belief that it would be utterly unfair, in order to get these new institutions, for the Government to give to it or them any privilege which gave them an advantage over existing institutions which were trying to carry on the same kind of business for the benefit of the country. It was from that point of view that I looked at the charter. My right hon. Friend asks me, is the declaration an explanation or a modification? Is that an important question? I put it to the Solicitor-General when this declaration was presented, "Is 1211 that as binding upon the company as though this interpretation was placed in the charter itself?" and I got the answer that it was. So that for all practical purposes the declaration is binding, and puts the undertaking in this position, that if they chose to interpret the charter in any other way they render themselves liable to have it taken away from them, That is the meaning of the declaration, and it may be accepted by the House of Commons that that is the condition on which the charter is granted
I wish to put to the House exactly the reasons which have induced the Government to grant that charter. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Lough) made a speech which I clearly understood, and which he would probably not have made when he was beginning business and before he had secured his present strong financial position. My hon. Friend (Mr. Sherwell) put the case as I understand it, and exactly so. It is that old-established firms whose wealth is known to everyone can get credit to almost any extent from any bank, but what is needed for the development of the trade of this country is that there should be some method where character should be regarded as an asset and as security, and there should be some means by which young men without the capital of their older competitors should have a chance of getting credit which will enable them to establish new lines of business and in that way to help the development of the trade of this country. Surely that in itself is a desirable thing. Further, when the War is over, is there anyone who tries to picture to himself what the conditions will be who doubt that the one thing which will be needed more than anything, and which will be more difficult to get, will be credit, without which it is as certain as we are in the House of Commons this afternoon that trade and industry will become paralysed and there will be an immense amount of unemployment and distress in this country. For that reason I say for myself that if this were a case of raising £10,000,000 even on the ordinary lines of a joint stock bank to give greater facilities I should have said that was a good thing for the country, and that I should have been glad to see it done, and as regards the question of my right hon. Friend it so happens that though, of course, this is a business which primarily concerns the Board of Trade, the Chan- 1212 cellor of the Exchequer has actually signed the charter on behalf of the Crown and I give the answer to that question at once. If another group of gentlemen, equally reputable came to me and asked for a charter on precisely the same lines for the same purpose I would give it tomorrow, so far as I am concerned, without a moment's hesitation.
It is all very well to say that the word charter in itself implies something which ought not to be given. I really do not take that view, and I should like the House of Commons to consider this, that if a charter is an advantage to a company it is also a disadvantage. If this same body were formed under the Companies Act it would be free from many of the obligations which are imposed upon it morrow so far as I am concerned without a moment's hesitation.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
They would come under the liability of losing their charter and their business the moment the Government said they were not acting up to the terms on which the charter was given. [Interruption.] It would certainly be a very serious disadvantage. This is the reason why we gave the charter. In the first place, the committee recommended that the charter should be given. That naturally made the President of the Board of Trade inclined to take that course. But there is something more. The need of a bank of this kind has been known for a long time. It has never been established. Do not let the House go away with the idea that these gentlemen who have become directors came to the Government and pressed them to be allowed to form such a company. It was the other way. My right hon. Friend went to them and said, "I wish to carry out the recommendations of the Committee, and I want you to help us by starting to form a company of that kind." That is the origin of it. We do not intend to give, and certainly now, with this explanation of what the charter means, we do not give, any preference to this company over existing bodies which are prepared to do the same thing, but the charter is a mark of the goodwill with which the Government sees it undertake this work. That is the meaning of the charter, and when the Government asks gentlemen to undertake work of this kind it is not a big thing to give them that mark 1213 of goodwill on the part of the Government when they undertake it.
I happen to have had, like many other Members of the House, some experience of these matters, and I found that the German banks, as pointed out by my hon. Friend near me, did undoubtedly give greater facilities, and that at was easier to obtain assistance, not to put it higher than that, than was the case with English banks. I found, for instance, at the Colonial Office, when it came to the winding-up of one of the enemy firms, that it was a regular practice for the German banks to give people credit for six, nine, and even twelve months, while our people could not get anything like the same credit from our banks. That, of course, gave them facilities which were of enormous advantage to them. It does not follow that the directors of this bank will give facilities of that kind to everyone who asks for them. But this is the fact, that there is need for help of this kind, and that this institution has been formed for the purpose of giving help of this kind, and, as my hon. Friend says, if we have not confidence in the men who are going to be directors in the carrying out of this project then the country would have nothing to do with it at all. But I have that confidence. I have looked carefully at the names of the men who are to be directors of this bank, and I know them to some extent. Of course, men in business try to make money. That is perfectly true. I find also, especially during the. War, that if the Government go to any business men and ask them to do a service to the State, it can absolutely trust them not only to deal with their own peculiar interests, but to try and help the Government that trusts them. That is the view I take of this matter, and that is the object with which this Government has given the charter to the bank. I am not going to detain the House at any length, but I do wish that the House and the country would keep this in mind, that when the War comes to an end the German banks, which were doing great business in this country, as we know, gave some of the same kind, of facilities, in particular cases, to our own traders, as shown in the instance to which I have referred, and the credit which was obtained from those banks has gone. It has got to be replaced, and, not to consider it on any higher ground, we would be extremely foolish to turn down any effort to place greater credit at the service of traders and manufacturers of this country.
1214 One point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield which seemed to be perfectly true. He said the-House of Commons has not shown itself as zealous as he would like to see it in exercising its power, but the moment it has a suspicion that power is being exercised, then that is resented, and the hon. Member pointed out we would have-to be careful not to cause dissension. Certainly, so far as I am concerned, I shall try to act up to that—that is very good advice. I put to the House of Commons at what precise stage it is suggested that we should have brought this to the notice of the House. It is quite obvious you cannot carry through a transaction of this kind until negotiations have been gone through and almost completed. No one will suggest, for example, or would have told the House of Commons, that at the time my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade arranged this conference anything-of that Kind could have been done, with the ground more or less uncovered. We could only have given information when the measure was more or less near completion. Probably our right course would have been to come to the House before the charter was signed, and I would ask the House to remember that the Report of this Committee was made as a White Paper in the House of Commons eight or nine months ago—in August of last year. That was put by the late President of the Board of Trade before the House of Commons, as I understand, with the express purpose of letting the House know what was proposed, and on the assumption that it was going to be acted upon. I say again that I am sorry we did not take the course which was suggested, but the answer is that it did not occur to the President of the Board of Trade or myself that there would be objections to carrying out this arrangement. Let the House clearly understand there is no preference over existing institutions. The Government are ready to give the same facilities-to any similar body of men who will undertake to do the same kind of work; and if there is one thing more than another, after the War, that is necessary, it is financial credit, and I am. sure the Government does not mean to stop that. Let me say this, further: The problems of reconstruction that face the Government, not this Government, but some other Government, I hope—I am speaking about 1215 myself—after the War comes to an end, are problems that will be even greater than the carrying out of the War itself. Here we have a demand which I know has been put forward for ten, fifteen or twenty years, at meetings of chambers of commerce in this country, and a definite proposal was made by the late President of the Board of Trade, which his successors are trying to carry out, and I think it would be a very bad hope for the future policy of reconstruction in this country if the House of Commons were now to do anything that turned down the first serious effort we have made to carry out the project.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I was very pleased to hear the reference made by the Leader of the House to the part played in this matter by the chamber of commerce to which I have the honour to belong. A remark was recently made by the hon. Member for Brightside, suggesting that the resolutions which have been passed in favour of a trade corporation by the chambers of commerce had been made in ignorance of the charter. That I can definitely deny, because I have in my hands resolutions from various chambers of commerce, including the central body in London, which have been passed in favour of this trade corporation with a full knowledge of the charter. The Leader of the House, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), has given the assurance that there is to be no monopoly, mid indeed that is merely a repetition of the assurance which he gave to me on the 16th May, when I put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, which was answered by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom my question was addressed. The question was,If the charter granted to the British Trade Corporation will give to it anything like monopoly in any part of the world, or if other reputable banks or trading corporations having similar objects and complying with the same conditions will also be granted similar charters, if they so desire, either for the whole world or for this or other specified country or countries?The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade replied:The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. As regards the second part of the question, any applications for Royal charters which may be received from other banks or trading corporations will be dealt with on their merits."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1917, col. 1592, Vol. XCIII]That has been corroborated by the Leader -of the House to-day, and I think in view 1216 of this definite assurance we can dismiss from our minds any fear of a monopoly. The hon. Member for Brightside expressed his fear as to the wide powers conferred upon the corporation by this charter. May I respectfully remind the Committee that every company, whether incorporated or not, takes, under its articles of association, full rights and powers. Although the company may be formed for one purpose, it also takes the precaution of putting a clause in the articles of association to enable the company to do other things should it be necessary. Therefore I do not in the least share the fear which has been expressed by some, that because the charter confers certain rights on the corporation that it is the intention of the corporation to exercise those rights unnecessarily. A great deal of the criticism in connection with the Trade Corporation has been directed to the question of the payment of directors. To the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy I would point out that this is not a matter for the House of Commons; it is a matter for the shareholders. If the men who put their money into the corporation are willing that a certain amount of the profits shall be divided in one direction, or into certain pockets, I do not see how we in the House of Commons are to raise any objection to it; I cannot think that it interests anybody except the shareholders.
I would like to refer to the part the chambers of commerce have played in the establishment of the trade corporation. I was one of those who was responsible for at a great meeting in the City of London of the chambers of commerce more than a year ago, in supporting the resolution I asked for the creation of a trade bank or banks to grant facilities to traders. Some people have expressed the view that these greater facilities are not needed, but when 400 traders, merchants, and manufacturers from all parts of the country gathered together here in London, and all implored the Government to create such an organisation, what use is there in people getting up to say that the merchants and traders of the country do not require it? Surely those men who are conducting businesses have a right to say whether facilities are or are not needed; and they have stated, year after year, both before the War and after the War, with no uncertain voice, that if they have to go out to the four corners of the world, to meet the enemy in the gates and to. compete with our rivals, they must 1217 have greater facilities given to them, and therefore it is that the chambers of commerce are pleased and glad that this corporation has been founded. The chambers of commerce have passed resolutions in favour of the charter being granted, and the corporation being allowed to begin what they believe will be a beneficent work at the earliest possibble moment.
I think that nearly all the troubles which have been created in regard to this matter have been "caused by the change of the name from trade bank to trade corporation. There may have been good reason for the change, but undoubtedly it was rather suspicious, and I am free to confess that I was one of those who was rendered somewhat doubtful by the change of name, especially when the change did not appear to be accompanied by any adequate explanation. With a view to clearing up the matter I put several friendly questions in the House, not in a critical spirit, but with a view to giving the Government an opportunity of making an emphatic and clear statement which would remove doubt. I am sorry to say that in some cases what I might call the Departmental answer was given to some of my questions, the answers being given in a somewhat hostile manner, or at all events in an evasive manner, and giving as little information as possible. I am afraid that the result of some of the answers which were given to me to friendly questions were to increase the suspicions of Members of this House and of other people. But, fortunately, Lord Faringdon gave a much better reply on the 19th of May, than any official answer in this House, because he made a full and frank statement that it was not the intention, and never had been the intention, of this corporation to embark upon trade, but that it was to be primarily a concern for financial assistance to traders. If an answer as full and frank as that had been given in the House on the 10th of May a good deal of the criticism of the 17th of May would not have been spoken. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City asks me a question which I do not think I am called upon to answer.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
As a private Member I do not think I am called upon to answer that question, particularly as I think it has already been answered by the 1218 President of the Board of Trade and by the Solicitor-General to a large extent. It is answered also, I believe, in this White Paper which we have before us, which also distinctly specifies that this is primarily a financial concern and not a trading concern. My doubts were gradually allayed as I received very satisfactory answers from the Government, and by dint of somewhat diligent questioning I arrived at the following information: That the Government as a whole is responsible for the action taken in regard to the British Corporation and that it is not merely a departmentary responsibility. I think that is an important point. And secondly, I learned that the charter before being issued was submitted to, and approved by, the Foreign Office. That I again suggest is very important, because the scheme is largely in connection with foreign trade, and the fact that the charter had been submitted and passed by the Foreign Office is, I think, decidedly reassuring. Then, again, I received an assurance from the Foreign Office that the relationship which would exist between the Trade Corporation and our Diplomatic and Consular service will not differ from the relationship existing between those services and other British concerns with regard to whose standing, objects, and methods the Government are equally satisfied. That I regard also as an entirely reassuring statement. Taking all these together, coupled with the White Paper and the statements we had from the President of the Board of Trade, the Leader of the House, and the Solicitor-General, I must say that I, for one, am quite prepared to abandon the critical attitude which I at one time took up, and that I am in complete agreement with the chambers of commerce and the Federation of British Industry in desiring that this corporation should go on and flourish. I am in complete sympathy with the objects of the corporation as now defined, and I, for one, hope that it will, at the earliest possible moment, enter on the further stages of its career, which, I trust, will be long and prosperous.
§ Sir J. D. REES
This Debate—and particularly the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—will, I think, ensure the smooth passage of this charter, and although it is not essential, I think it is most desirable, that it should have the absolute and express approval of the House of Commons. One of the newest— and certainly one of the ablest—hon. 1219 Members, the hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Wilson-Fox) has so exactly expressed the views which I hold as regards the whole question that I would not venture to trouble the House at all were it not that I think it is right that something should be said as regards the effect of this charter upon the only part of the British Empire which is an Empire—I mean the Empire of India. I do think that it is a most regrettable circumstance that when this matter was before the House on a previous occasion those who like myself, were anxious to defend this charter, were not fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chairman. The consequence was that there was merely a stream of adverse criticism and not a word was said as regards the obvious merits of the charter and conditions which I think should have been placed before the House. It has been my fortune to spend a great many years of my life in India, and I should like to reinforce what was very well said by the hon. Member for Warwickshire as regards his experience in Africa from what I have seen in India. I was once British Resident in a native State in India which possessed deposits of monazite sand of a particularly valuable character. I believe it was of no use to the Germans for making bombs, but it was very useful for making gas lamps. It may also have been used for bombs; I do not know. There was nobody to support a British company in exploiting this substance which passed entirely into German hands, so that in a native State under the protection of the Government of India, which is under the protection of the British Parliament, you have German financiers absolutely in possession of the whole of the deposits of this character, or almost the whole, that exist in the world. I thought that a very striking instance of the absolute necessity there is for some such institution as the House has now before it.
I remember another occasion when I was a representative of one of the great provinces of India on the Governor-General's Council. There was a Consul-General at Calcutta. He was a very important person, able to entertain the whole world, and he was so rich that he acquired an extremely great position in the Indian capital of Calcutta. He was, I believe, one of the chief members of Krupp's company during that time, and it was certainly supposed that his 1220 activities were not entirely confined to diplomatic business. There he was, possessed of diplomatic position and of great wealth and with all that desire to further the interests of his own country, which I myself respect in the Germans and think should animate our own Consular and Diplomatic Services. During the whole of that time German banks and German institutions were engaged in a long, cool calculated process of crushing out the native Indian indigo industry and substituting the analine products of Germany. After producing at a loss for many years they managed to beat out the native industry. What was the attitude of the public and of the Houses of Parliament when the Government proposed to establish a company to take up the aniline dye industry in this country? It was one of opposition, or at any rate of suspicion. Now when this bank comes forward we find a strong disposition to adversely criticise it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) denounced this great corporation on the ground that the directors are men who are so busy in great enterprises that they could not possibly attend to this enterprise. If that were the case we might say of the right hon. Gentleman that, being a great figure in the City, he either must neglect his business there or he has not time to attend to his business here, and therefore he should not address this House. I do not say that, but that is the conclusion which may fairly be drawn from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Then there is my right hon. Friend the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury). I am surprised to find myself differing from him. I believe I agree with him as often as any other hon. Member of the House. The other day, in criticising this bank, he called attention to the fact, as many other hon. Members did, that there was to be remuneration to the directors by way of percentage of profits. He instanced two unfortunate commercial enterprises in which in the articles of the company similar provisions were made. I raised no objection to that. He went on to suggest that it was not in itself a proper provision. I can tell my right hon. Friend, and I am sure he knows it much better than I do, that there are in the City of London some of the most prosperous, most respectable, and greatest enterprises in it, and I could give him the name of one in India and one in Australia, though it is not usual to mention names in the House, in which the 1221 directors are paid in this manner, and which not only have not become bankrupt, and have not experienced the same fate as the London and Globe and the other institution which he instanced, but which are most flourishing, most respected, and most respectable concerns.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I point out that my objection to this method of procedure was that it was being done under Royal Charter? My hon. Friend, I presume, is alluding to limited liability companies. I should have no objection whatever in that case, but I submit that with the Royal Charter the position is different.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Upon that point it is, of course, true that a corporation under Royal Charter, like any other business, must have articles, or what correspond to articles. I see the force of the right hon. Gentleman's criticism, but it is not really at all conclusive, and at any rate the provision is not open to the objection instanced by the right hon. Gentleman, I suggest, as similar provision appears in the case of a great many other companies. As regards the point about the name being changed from Trade Bank to Trade Corporation, the President of the Board of Trade in his speech said that he alone was responsible for hat. I have no doubt he did it, but did he mean that it was his suggestion? I understood that the suggestion proceeded from the joint stock banks themselves, and that it was their desire that this institution, founded by Royal Charter, should be differentiated from ordinary banks by this change in title. Whether he meant that it was done at his instance, or that he was responsible, I do not quite know, but I believe the fact to be that if it was not on the initiative of the joint stock banks at any rate the change was extremely acceptable to them. The hon. Member for Wandsworth (Mr. S. Samuel), when he spoke on the last occasion, referred to the effect of this charter, whose special advantages are now explained away because there is no Government subvention and no Government help, and said it would be able to give long credits. It is by giving long credits that the Germans captured trade, and unless we are prepared to give long credits we shall never make that change after the War or move forward and reconstruct our commerce in the manner in which we all think it should be reconstructed. To give long credits is absolutely essential to people like the Russians, who, after all, are half Oriental in their 1222 methods and outlook, and do not understand punctuality and fixed dates in their payments. They must have long credit; and this not only applies to the Russian Empire, but to other Empires, the trade of which I hope we shall have in future, instead of its being in the hands of emissaries of the German Empire. One or two critical remarks were made as to the value of charters in general. I submit that those remarks were not justified. I got up to speak on behalf of the necessity of an institution like this in the cause of Indian trade and of the Indian Empire. I would recall the great East Indian Charter which founded the great Indian Empire, and which represented the credit and honour of this country. I would also recall the charter of the South African Company, which was of the same character, and, I believe, founded an almost equally great Empire, or one that promises to be as great, as the Indian Empire. I also believe that this charter will lead to an increase of British trade to an extent which will make it of equal value and equal importance with the two great charters which I have just instanced. For that reason I wish it everything good, and God-speed to it. I hope there will be no further objection to it to-day.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
As one of those who on the last occasion when this matter was debated ventured to criticise the Government as strongly as I was able to do, I venture now to say just a word or two of acknowledgment of the course which the Government has taken. It was very unfortunate that the first appearance of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in this House should have been signalised by, and associated with, a matter which aroused so much hostile criticism. But, after all, it is a question of method, of carrying out an object which the Board of Trade desired to carry out. It was what everyone in the House believes to be a necessary object, namely, the fostering of British trade out of funds which may be lent to those who require them over a longer period than usual. The very best justification of the criticisms of a month ago has appeared to-day in the course which the Government has taken. After the White Paper, after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the Solicitor-General, and particularly after the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the' Exchequer that this 1223 would not be a monopoly in the sense that no other group of business men would receive the same treatment from the Government—after all these explanations and assurances, I venture to think that, although the manner of doing it has not been quite so clear and so satisfactory as it might have been from the beginning, yet the ultimate result has been to place this subject upon a platform which should be accepted, and, I believe, will be unanimously accepted, by the whole House. That is the position. I am very glad, indeed, that I have the opportunity of acknowledging in the presence of the President of the Board of Trade the manner in which he has dealt with the criticisms, and the successful answers that he has given to them. It seems to me that, as the matter now stands, there is not the least necessity for proceeding with the opposition. I hope that the Trading Corporation will agree with me and in the spirit and in the letter carry out the undertakings which have been given on its behalf; and I am sure the Government, and successive Governments, if necessary, will grant to similar businesses similar assurances to that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given. I, for one, very cordially support the position as it now stands, having regard to the changes which have been made.
§ Mr. HOLT
I want, as one who is heartily opposed to the whole transaction, to say a few words on the subject of this charter. What is the history of this affair? A large number of persons go to the Board of Trade and make representations, first of all, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dews-bury (Mr. Runciman), telling of the magnificent businesses they could carry on if only they could get credit from somebody or the other. My right hon. Friend has been in business. He has been on the Quayside, Newcastle, and on the Baltic Exchange, and I cannot believe that in either of these he was taught that it was a good plan to lend money to anybody who openly admitted that they could not borrow from anybody else. That appears to me to be the most crazy reason I ever heard of for financing a business. Apparently, however, the Board of Trade generally, including my right hon. Friend, were impressed with the force of the arguments put forward, and this corporation, therefore, is to be 1224 brought forward in order to lend money to people who cannot possibly borrow it from any responsible moneylender. Having done all this, the Government issue a charter. I cannot for the life of me understand why the charter was ever issued at all, or why it was necessary! What is the advantage to any of the promoters of this scheme in having a Government charter? Could they not have formed a limited liability company for themselves? I can only find out three advantages in the charter. The first in that, having got the charter, they appear to be under Government patronage. I think that is more shadow than reality. Undoubtedly it gives an appearance of Government patronage. Secondly, there is a substantial advantage, though not a very large one, for, by getting a Royal Charter they escape Stamp Duty on the issue of shares—so I am informed. The third advantage was that originally there was a promise of something like a monopoly, and the representing of the Government in transactions with foreign countries.
The first of these objects have been met. The second of these advantages?, we understand, is gone. As to the second declaration issued by the company, I am sure I was not astonished to hear the Solicitor-General say that the words in the declaration in regard to this qualified monopoly were the same as in the original charter. The original charter distinctly stated that this corporation was the representative of the Government, except in special cases; whereas in the declaration they are to have no preference. How can anybody maintain that to have no preference is the same thing as being entitled to represent the Government except in special cases I really do not understand. The reason the company could not be formed, I think, was pretty plainly admitted by the President of the Board of Trade. Nobody believed the company would pay if it was formed as an ordinary trading company. They believed that unless it had some special support as a Government transaction it was an unsound one, and they could not carry it through. We were told so. There was also another reason for taking up this matter, and that was that none of the ordinary traders would take it up. I want to-object in the strongest possible manner to the Board of Trade taking up a trading transaction, because the ordinary 1225 trader will not take it up. What does it mean? That the country, through the Board of Trade, is going to promote' all the rotten propositions that anybody can put forward. The next step will be this: That the Government will have time to promote only rotten propositions because they will get nothing else. They will do that, and take business, and there they will demand a monopoly so as to be sure of getting a fair proportion of the good with the bad.
We are told that it is the business of the Board of Trade to organise British commerce after the War. I want altogether to dispute that proposition. I strongly object to the idea, or ideal, of the Board of Trade setting itself up as an organiser of half-baked socialism mixed up with company-promoting. That is not what we want from the Board of Trade in this country. If the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade really wants to promote British trade I believe the best thing he can do is to take the majority of the officials of the Board of Trade on an exploring expedition to the North Pole, to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay off the country's debts, and to leave the traders alone. I am quite certain that he would promote British commerce far more by leaving people to manage their commerce alone than by the use of senates or corporations, however well intended these desires may be. We have heard a great deal during the War as to the German system of credit. Really, is it such a wonderful thing as it has been represented to be in its effect on German trade? The object of trade is not to increase its volume, but to make a profit. When I first went into business an old friend of mine, one of my teachers in business, told me—and I think told me very wisely—he was one of the wisest men I ever knew—"You can always have a monopoly of any business so long as you like to carry it on at a loss." What you want is not a monopoly of business, but to make a good profit."
Have German trade and commerce been such a great success as sometimes it is represented to have been? Let me tell the Committee of another conference. A few years ago I was at a meeting of the China Association. There was a good deal of talk about the expansion of German trade and German influence in China a part of the world of which I 1226 know something. We were talking after the meeting, I think around the fire. When the talk had gone on for some time ones of the very shrewdest men in the company, next to whom I was sitting, and who had said nothing till then, turned to the other people in the company and said. "You have talked a good deal about the way of German trade in China, but can anyone of you tell me of a single German who has come back from China with what anyone of us Englishmen would consider a good fortune?" Nobody answered that challenge. The fact is that German trade pretty mainly consisted in doing all that sort of work that most capable Englishman would not do because they were doing something far more profitable.
I do not know "whether the Committee are aware of this fact, that a Swiss professor, who I understand is a man of some authority, wrote a book in which he indicated that one of the reasons why the Germans were not averse to the War. was that their financial operations, their banking operations, and so on, have been so unsound, and so near to coming to the end—by this giving of credit to people who did not deserve it—that they were beginning to think that, after all, a war and a large indemnity might be the way out of their difficulties. British trade has remained good. You hear very little about it because the people who have good businesses take jolly good care to say nothing about it, so as not to excite the envy of their friends. I want to know something about these people who cannot carry on business unless they get credit. Why have we not had some definite and concrete cases given to us in this matter as to why these people have not been able to do business because they have not been able to get credit? For the first time to-day we did have one or two cases. The hon. Member for Oldham asserted that the dyeing trade had been lost to this country because of the difficulty of getting money. That is the first time I have heard that reason given for the manufacture of dyes being lost to this country. It has generally been understood that the two reasons why that very important industry was lost to us were: first, that the Treasury refused to allow alcohol free of duty—that it was the impossibility of getting the raw material at the same price the Germans got theirs; secondly, it was because of the German system of 1227 education which turned out capable and cheap chemists such as were not to be found in this country. I believe that those are, in fact, the two real reasons why the dye manufacture has been lost to this country.
Then we had the question raised by the hon. Member for Warwickshire, who gave the example of the Victoria Falls, and who was very candid about it. It appeared from this that the English manufacturers were not as capable as either the American manufacturers or the German manufacturers, and very naturally the English financiers were not so ready to put their money on the third best horse. Is it desirable that we should have the national Exchequer financing the third best horse? I wish to protest against the whole conception that it is the business and the duty of the State to try to promote trade. It is not. It is the duty of the State to try to bring about social conditions under which trade can be carried on with advantage to all. I want to say another word about this question of concessions abroad. I do not wish to see the State, either for trade corporations or anyone else, with the assistance of the diplomatic service, trying to get concessions abroad. I believe it is quite wrong. I believe one of the principal causes of war and ill-feeling between nations is the attempt of States to use the power of the State as a means of obtaining trading privileges for their citizens abroad. I think it is wrong. I want to see the British citizen who goes abroad get a fair field and no favour, and I am quite certain under those conditions he will build up the best trade.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I would rather like to say that I agree to a very great extent with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. There can be no question that the Debate which took place on the 17th May has resulted in material modifications of the proposals then made. That is the justification of the attitude which we took up, but I am not at all sure that the alterations which have been made are 1228 sufficient or are binding. I do not want to dispute the statement of the learned Solicitor-General—probably he is right and I am wrong—but I still hesitate to believe that the declaration in the form in which it is made can supersede the charter which has been given. However, if the learned Solicitor-General says so, as I understood him. I will not dispute it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I will not press the matter further than to say I think the hon. and learned Member was quite certain in his own mind whether or not it did in fact supersede that part of the charter which we thought it would supersede. With regard to the remuneration of the directors, that, of course, is absolutely farcical, because it is merely a resolution which has been passed at a particular board meeting, and can be overridden and cancelled at the next board meeting. Then it has been said that it is not our business to ascertain what the remuneration of the directors is, and I quite agree that if this were an ordinary limited liability company it would be the business of the shareholders. But it is quite a different thing in this case. This is a very unusual Act. I do not remember such a charter since the one given to Mr. Cecil Rhodes for the British South Africa Company, and that was under very exceptional circumstances. But if a charter is given, and the House of Commons is to be consulted, then I do think it is the duty of the House of Commons to see that nothing is done which in any kind of way can hereafter be said to have led to any financial abuse. And there can be no question about it, that though in certain cases this sort of thing has been done, in the majority of cases it is not the right thing to do, and it is certainly not the English way of carrying on business of this sort. Then there comes the third question, which has not been touched upon. I think, by any speaker, and that is the authorising of dealings between the directors and the company. There was a case in the Law Courts only the day before yesterday on that very point, and that shows the difficulties which arise if this sort of thing is sanctioned. Nothing has been said about that at all. That has been completely-ignored.
The Leader of the House has told us that this will not be a monopoly, and that 1229 in the future they will be willing to consider the granting of charters to other companies. That, of course, in one way is good, because it does away with the fear that this company will have a monopoly. I think in that sense it is good, but it opens up a vista which I do not like at all, and it is because of that that I have got up to speak. I should not have spoken if that had not been said. I want to know this: Are we in the future going to allow the Board of Trade to give charters to all sorts of companies under the protection of the Board of Trade in order to run the business of the country? Because that is what I am afraid it may lead to. I personally say that I should view anything of that sort with the greatest fear. What we have seen during the last two or three years has been that whenever the Government has interfered or set up a Committee or some similar body to carry on business and arrange financial matters, they have failed irretrievably, and I view with great dismay the idea that after the War the Board of Trade is to become, as one hon. Member remarked, a company-promoting body mixed up with a body for carrying on the trade of the country. Though I admit that the promise to grant charters to other people does away with the monopoly to this particular company, it emphasises my opinion which I held at the beginning— and which I hold more strongly after having heard this Debate—that the whole granting of the charter was a mistake. If this company is necessary, as it may be, and if the different chambers of commerce desire a company of this sort, they should have shown their confidence in it by putting their own money in it, and they should have brought it out in the ordinary way as a limited liability company, and then no one, least of all myself, would have had a word to say against it.
§ Mr. SAMUEL SAMUEL
I do not wish to say very much, because I know that anything we may say is absolutely useless. We cannot have a Division on this question. The Government have sent out a three-line whip, which means that a commercial transaction of this kind is turned into a party vote, and nobody has any wish to inflict on the President of the Board of Trade again the experience that he went through a short time ago. But I do protest very strongly indeed against the action of the Board of Trade in the granting of this charter. It is granted to a company to be formed to carry on business in every part of the world. This 1230 White Paper that we have had does not alter, in my opinion, the conditions very much, because there is nobody whose business it may be to question the actions of the company, and what I would warn the House against is that the trading community have been expecting great assistance from this bank or corporation. It was originally to be called a bank, but when Lord Faringdon's Committee made their report it was found that the bankers had done everything they possibly could in the interest of British trade, and the consequence was they altered the name to Trade Corporation. The particular clause which I am afraid is not covered by this White Paper, although the President of the Board of Trade says it is, is clause 4 in the charter. That clause grants, in my opinion, a monopoly to ting corporation, not for the Government business, but whenever anybody wants the assistance of the Government to get any concessions for the construction of water works or gas works, or anything abroad, where it is necessary to have the assistance of the Government, they can always have thrust upon them this British Trade Corporation, and I am afraid in practice we shall find that we shall have a great many complaints that the assistance has been refused where it has been granted to this corporation. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be found to be correct when he states that that is covered by this White Paper.
We have heard some remarks as to the necessity of this corporation for the purpose of creating new industries in this country. We heard of the extract of coal tar in the aniline dyes. There is, in my opinion, only one reason why this and other industries that were spoken about —for instance, the electrical industry— have not been able to be established in this country, and that reason is that they have no protection. What the Germans did before they established their industries was to protect those industries against foreign competition, and I undertake to say that if the British Government would give the manufacturers in this country adequate protection, you would find an enormous number of new industries would spring up, and there would be no lack of capital from the investing public if they knew that they were to be protected. So far as the- aniline dyes are concerned. I know perfectly-well that a company could be formed to-morrow with any amount of capital. It is not necessary to have a special charter 1231 for the company to provide the capital. You could get any amount of capital without this institution if the manufacturers were certain they would not be crushed by foreign competition as soon as they had got started. That really has more to do with the development of new industries in this country than the creation of a trading corporation to find the capital. The capital is here, but you cannot find people to put it into a new industry that is destroyed immediately it is created. Clause 4 of this charter is one that must be looked upon with great suspicion. That clause is the principal, I might say the only, clause in the charter that has any value to a corporation, because by it, in my opinion, the new corporation, or company—whichever it likes to be called—will have the opportunity of promoting British companies to operate all over the world with the almost exclusive right to trade against the people who are already established in those countries and have been carrying on great industries to the benefit of this country for generations past. People seem to forget that many years ago, before almost the German banks existed, a great British firm, Messrs. John Aird and Company, were able to build and finance the great dam at Assouan, on the Nile, and other works of the kind, and that hundreds of millions of British capital have been invested in railways and tramways and all kinds of enterprises without the intervention of this new corporation which is to be granted this charter. The great developments that have taken place in British trade are shown by the figures of the trade of the country.
I speak in defence of that class who have for generations carried on the trade of the country, in defence of the merchant class who are, I believe, unknown at the Board of Trade. As I told the former President of the Board of Trade, in all the Committees that have been appointed to investigate this thing the only people who know anything about it have never been represented and have never been suffered to give evidence before any of these bodies. I need not mention names; they are legion; but if you take the great merchant houses like Patterson, Simons and Company, Boustead and Company, Graham and Company, Jardine Matheson and Company, Butterfield and Swire, Ker Bolton and Company and others, they are never consulted where the foreign 1232 trade of this country is concerned. What is the consequence? You have a lot of theorists who know absolutely nothing of the conditions of foreign trade and who make recommendations absolutely at variance with those conditions. Take the facts of the trade of this country and I appeal to anybody, after looking at them, to state whether, on those facts, there is very much wrong with the conditions of that trade. In 1865 there was no German figure. The British exports in that year were £165,000,000. In 1875 the British exports had gone up to £223,000,000, and the German to £122,000,000. The German figures I have taken for 1875 are really for 1880, because there were no statistics then taken. In 1885 the British figures had gone up to £213,000,000 and the German to £140,000,000. In 1895 the British figures were £226,000,000 and the German' £163,000,000. In 1905 the British were £324,000,000 and the German £281,000,000. In 1913, just before the War, the British figures had gone up to £514,000,000 and the German to £496,000,000. I ask anybody, on those figures, if they can think we are very much behind our German competitors.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The reason they were catching us up was that they had the active support of their representatives in every country of the world. They had a free market in this country, whilst we were virtually prohibited from shipping to Germany. I say that where we were competing in those neutral countries we had every reason to be satisfied with the trade which the British bulldog tenacity had obtained for our advantage. I do not say for one moment that an institution to help the small traders of this country is not necessary, but what I do say is that the institution we have will not help the small traders. It is not necessary in order to help the small traders to say that this institution is to be appointed agents in all parts of the world where any British capital is to be invested. It is not helping the small trader or the small manufacturer if this great institution is to promote companies which require the supply of material and where the directors have the prior right to supply the material for the contract which is taken. That is not going to help the small trader in this country. Although this question cannot be settled by a vote, I am afraid I must say that I 1233 am not satisfied with the small concessions that are supposed to be contained in that White Paper.
§ Sir W. BEALE
I am not addicted to asking the House to listen to remarks from me, and whenever I do so I endeavour to make them as short as possible. All I want to do now is in a few words to direct attention to something that fell from the learned Solicitor-General which I think requires qualification, if not reconsideration. I am not at all hostile to the proposition itself, though I sympathise with a great deal that has been said by commercial men about it. I do not address it from that point of view, but I do think that we rely on a rather false security if it is supposed that this declaration, which has been made to cure the difficulties mentioned when this was last debated, is absolutely effective. I could, if I were to go deeply into this thing and take time, make remarks about the probable genesis of the clauses of this charter and deed of settlement. They savour to my mind very much too much of an omnium gatherum of law precedents, where length was often considered of more importance than actual adhesion to the matter to be provided for. Putting that aside, they had got into a difficulty, and, following a practice which I think has unfortunately become too frequent, the Government have put into this charter a whole lot of things which raise the question as to whether you are not going to compete with and get an advantage over other traders. In order to get out of that this declaration has been prepared. I did not understand, and I cannot understand, what importance can be attached to that declaration beyond a mere document binding upon the present directors. I have great faith in the present directors. I know most of them. I have no doubt they will abide by this declaration, but I ask the learned Solicitor-General how far this is binding. Whether the company's seal is attached to it or not, what is it but an act of the present directors and what powers do the present directors possess? They only have those powers which the charter gives them.
Let us look at the deed of settlement. It only gives the ordinary powers of management, and it is an entirely new doctrine to me that directors whose duty is to manage can by a declaration of their own, even if they put the seal of the company to it, say that notwithstanding what is in the charter or what is in the 1234 memorandum of association they will bind the company not to do this and not to do the other That may be binding on them, and I think the reply of the Solicitor-General has cleared away a great deal of misapprehension which existed among gentlemen who feel very strongly on this subject. I do not think any hon. Member is entitled to describe the declaration as being an attempt to interfere with the charter, or to mangle it, as some hon. Gentlemen said. I do not think it goes that far. I think it is the honest intention of the present directors to carry out what they regard as the meaning of the powers given by the charter, but I must express an entire difference of opinion to the observations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his otherwise very convincing speech when he said that he was persuaded that this would have the same effect as if it had been in the charter. I do not, however, want to make difficulties on this subject. I have no doubt that the undertaking will be binding on the present gentlemen, and that this does away with the great difficulty that has been raised by the original frame of the charter. I do not want this to be looked upon as binding for all time. Whether it is binding or not, the President of the Board of Trade for the time being, whoever he is, will probably have great power over the doings of this company. He can take care, probably, that the directors do abide by this declaration, or, to use a colloquial expression, he can make a great row and disturbance if they do not do so. I do not agree that will be a case for a scire, facias, but I think he can make it so uncomfortable for any board of directors who depart from what has been solemnly said of the intention at the time of forming this company that we may practically rest comfortable in allowing the matter to start as it is. I felt it necessary to enter one word of caution on what I conceive to be a little misapprehension as to the actual binding nature of the declaration.
§ 8.0 P.M.
I should not have risen after the long and interesting—illuminating I think I may call it—Debate we have had on this question, but that I think there are two points that have not been cleared up which it is extremely important should be cleared up. This charter, in the form in which it is, is alleged to contain two objectionable clauses, one of them allowing this corporation to trade in competition with other merchants and traders, and t he other granting a virtual 1235 monoply for all Government business overseas to the corporation. Those were not put into that charter at the request, or might I say with the knowledge of their effects, of Lord Faring-don or any of his colleagues. How the mistake occurred, I do not know. We have Lord Faring-don's letter to the "Times" in which he said it was never the intention of his colleagues that this corporation should have these powers. He has also told me personally that that is the case, and I have no doubt he has told the hon. Member for York and other Members that it was never their intention. I think that before this Debate is ended that should be made clear to the House and to the commercial world outside. Just take the matter as it stands. First of all we have had, ever since the beginning of the War—aye, and before the War—a very strong agitation for a corporation of this kind. Chambers of commerce all over the country were absolutely agreed upon it. Then came the appointment of the Committee over which Lord Faring-don presided. When that Report was published the whole commercial world agreed. They were delighted with it. I understand that the Board of Trade was bombarded by merchants, manufacturers, and others, to do their best to carry out the re-commendations in that Report, and they did immediately. As the hon. Member for Islington said, Lord Faring-don is too busy a man—and so are some of the others—to be entrusted with it, and Lord Faring-don was unwilling at first to undertake it. But at his time of life when men rather seek more leisure than more work, patriotically in the national interest, he sacrificed himself to undertake the chairmanship of this very important corporation.
This charter was not the idea of Lord Faring-don at all. So far as I understand, he never asked for it. He originally suggested, I believe, that there should be some kind of Government notice, of Government recognition, of this corporation. It was originally to be formed as a limited liability company, and he suggested to the Government, or somebody suggested to the Government, that the precedent of what was done in Italy by our own Government should be followed—that was, giving subsidies to such corporations. The Government did not agree, I am told, to subsidise this corporation, but it was the Government themselves, the right hon. 1236 Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade or the late President, who absolutely proposed that this company should be granted the Royal Charter. A limited company, registered with articles of associaton on the lines of the charter, would not be bound by the declarations of the directors, so that there would be nothing to prevent the new directors from repudiating them and excercising all the powers under their incorporation. When you come to the real charter the matter is quite different. It may be revoked at any time. If the conduct of the corporation were brought before the House and a vote taken, the Crown, no doubt acting on the advice of the President of the Board of Trade or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would revoke the charter at once. The charter, which has given the company a certain status, was pressed upon the company, and when the petition was drawn asking for a charter, that petition, I believe, met with the entire approval of Lord Faring-don and his colleagues, and they probably drafted it themselves, for all I know. I am only going to quote two paragraphs from the petition. That is all that is necessary. The first paragraph is this:The object of the corporation is to afford advice and financial assistance to British commercial and industrial undertakings from their inception and generally to further the development of all British trade, industry and commerce.That was put first—advice and finance to further British commerce.
Clause (d) says:To assist in obtaining orders from abroad for British manufactures, trades, etc.All the other matters except the last were ancillary to those two things. When you come to the last (j), it says:To undertake trading operations and business on their own account or jointly with others, either through the medium of syndicates or otherwise.That shows plainly the object in the minds of the petitioners was that the charter should be granted to them, and that the first object was to give advice and finance the industries of this country; secondly, to obtain orders abroad for British subjects for British industrial concerns. The last thing they wanted was trade, and that, being put last under the sub-head (j), was to be absolutely ancillary to the principal objects of (a) and (d) as they did not know whether it might not become necessary to trade in competition with British subjects or the subjects of any other country.
But when the charter came to be drawn the condition was absolutely reversed, (j) 1237 was put first and (a) afterwards, and that is where the whole trouble has arisen. Lord Faring-don and his colleagues had nothing whatever to do with the drafting of the Royal Charter. They did not draft it. When the petition was received the Government official drafted the Royal Charter and some gentleman, whoever it was, did not pay sufficient attention to the foundation of the Royal Charter, namely, the petition. He ought to have taken the words of the petition in the order they appear and put them into the Royal Charter. If he had done that, this discussion would never have arisen and these two days would never have been wasted. Look at the words of the Royal Charter. They are exactly opposite to those of the petition, because Clause 2 says:The institution hereby incorporated for the purpose of carrying on the businesses of trading and banking.Trading is put first and banking and finance are put afterwards. That is the origin of the whole of the trouble we have had in this matter. It was a very reasonable thing indeed for Members of this House, when they read the Royal Charter, to say, "Well, trading must be the principal object of this corporation, because it is put first. Banking is to be a subsidiary thing." We know very well they are not going to do real banking, only financing and company promoting; but not banking, taking money on current account and deposit, so that the draftsman who drafted the Royal Charter entirely mistook the principles on which it ought to have been drafted. He ought to have followed the petition; but he turned it upside down, hence all this trouble. Undoubtedly the White Paper has put that absolutely right, and that is very satisfactory to all of us, except the Member for Wandsworth (Mr. S. Samuel), who is so great an individualist and so very successful himself in business that he absolutely resents any interference whatever by any Government office, however benevolent their intentions may be, or the interference of the Government in any way with "business" with which he is so intimately concerned. He is far too substantial and distinguished a person in the commercial world to be personally interested, but he stands up for what he conceives to be an infringement of the rights of all other merchants not so situated as he is. That well-founded objection was taken on the last occasion, and is raised again to-day, and has been met by the White Paper.
1238 The only other resonable objection arises under clause 4. I am sorry that the first speech I have to make concerning, the Solicitor-General should be to criticise him. I do not think he seemed to appreciate what is in the minds of Members of the House. Clause 4 states that in all arrangements between our Government and other Governments regarding transactions, in which the British Government is interested this corporation shall have the right in such cases of being the agent of our Government, except in any special case in which it should appear to our Government that it is necessary, or expedient, they should do. So that the general agent of the Government acts in all these Overseas transactions, unless in some special case the Government think fit that he shall not have the power. The Solicitor-General also asked the House to believe— I do not think he appreciated quite what was in our mind—that those words have not been altered by the White Paper. If they have not been altered by the White-Paper, I say to the Solicitor-General they ought to be. It is quite clear. Clause 4 does confer a practical monopoly upon this corporation and, as I read the White Paper, it deprives them of that monopoly, and it is perfectly satisfactory. What I am complaining of is that, the Solicitor-General seemed to mystify the House when he told them that the White Paper does not really modify the charter at all. If that is not satisfactory to the House we should have to go to a Division. The monopoly in Clause 4 of the charter, certainly as far as I can see, is taken away, and why the Solicitor-General does not see it in the same light as we do I do not know. This White Paper is a modification; it is an absolute reversal as regards Clause 4. The words of the charter, and the declaration of the intention of the promoters of this corporation, apply to the powers they wish to have conferred upon them, and whatever judge comes to try the issue under the charter must construe it in the light of the intention under which it is granted, and that intention under which it was granted is the intention stated so specifically now in the White Paper. That must govern the construction of the words in the charter. I want to clear away an idea which is very common outside this House, and which seems to prevail in some quarters in this House, that this corporation is a bank. In no sense of the word is it a bank, although in the newspapers it has been called a trade bank. It is the 1239 settled purpose of Lord Faring-don and his colleagues that this corporation shall not carry on the ordinary business of banking, and, therefore, it is not a bank at all. It is really a promoting corporation. It assists small businesses as well as large, and consolidates business also for the purpose of reducing establishment expenses and producing more cheaply, thus enabling them to compete with our foreign competitors, especially the Germans. The only way in this corporation in which banking comes in is financing, which is not necessarily banking. The ordinary bank takes money on current account and deposit, but it is not intended to take money on current account by this corporation, and that is not going to be done. I know it is going to do some of the things that a bank does, and it is to a certain extent coming in competition with banks. It is going to finance industries and commercial undertakings, but on different lines to those adopted by banks.
There is a very great gap in our banking system which this corporation will fill. Whereas an ordinary bank insists upon keeping most of its assets perfectly liquid, and consequently are not able to advance their money for long periods of time, this corporation is ready to advance its money and leave it for one, two, or three years, whereas in the case of ordinary banks it is only a question of months and nothing more. That is the distinction between the two. Therefore, what this trade corporation has to do is absolutely different to the business of ordinary banks, and in no sense of the word is this corporation a bank. Its object is to push British trade as far as possible, and, with regard to our overseas trade, to take care when British money goes abroad to institute great undertakings in foreign countries that the money spent shall be spent as much as possible here at home, and not spent as it often is now, when banks in England advance the money, upon purchasing materials in Germany and other foreign countries, because they are a little cheaper, to the detriment of this country and our working classes. I wish to make it clear to the House that Lord Faring-don and his colleagues have nothing to do with this dispute, and it was never intended that they should have these powers which were given by the drafting of the charter. They adhere to the words of the petition, and but for 1240 the words which have been inserted in this charter this dispute would never have arisen.
§ Sir C. CORY
The hon. Member (Mr. Peto) is passing on to the discussion of another subject, and I would like to know if I could be allowed to say a few words on the subject which has been under discussion this afternoon.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Mac-lean)
There is nothing to prevent the hon. Baronet referring later on to the subject which has been under discussion.
§ Sir C. CORY
But would it not be more convenient for the Committee to conclude the discussion on the British Trade Corporation first?
§ Mr. PETO
I was calling attention to the fact that throughout the War, from the very beginning, we have had really a plethora of speeches in which the most appreciative and eloquent tributes have been paid to the services of our mercantile marine in this time of war. There are certain practical detailed matters about which they feel very deeply, which have been raised again and again by questions in this House, but to which we have never been able to get any satisfactory reply at all. I want to call the President of the Board of Trade's attention to a matter on which I put a question as lately as Monday last, when I asked him whether he would not see that there was a complete and full inquiry made into those essential matters dealing with the handling of goods particularly at terminal points. There is no one in the whole country who is more aware than the right hon. Gentleman himself of the enormous utility which the underground system in London has been to this country in the relief of surface and superfluous traffic. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that the congestion of traffic will be resumed in an aggravated form after the War, if it is not dealt with now, owing to the pressure of the trade of the country on the streets of London, and the slow, cumbrous 1241 and antiquated method of collecting goods will prove an incubus to the trade of the country. I understand that the Chairman of the Road Board is in favour of a full inquiry into the whole of this matter, including the scheme of the New Transport Company being pushed forward. I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider this matter from two or three points of view. The Government have set up the Reconstruction Committee, and a great many sub-committees are sitting dealing with various branches of trade. Our primary necessity after the War will be to have works of national utility to absorb the labour as fast as it is discharged from the Colours, and give employment to the vast engineering plant which is now being used in this country for the manufacture of munitions. There is nothing that would fulfil those objects better than the working out of a scheme now by a full inquiry into this problem of placing goods behind locomotives and developing more fully the canal system of this country.
The Report of the Royal Commission on Canal and Inland Navigation is dated 1909, and that subject alone ought to form a matter for inquiry. Just to give the Committee a brief idea of the seriousness of this problem and that there really is a problem to solve, I may mention that just before the War 37 per cent. of the life of all the locomotives in the country was absorbed in shunting and marshalling trains, that the area of the goods stations within eight miles of Charing Cross over twenty years ago was 2,955 acres—I think that would hardly be necessary if modern ideas and science were brought to bear upon the question—and that out of the total number of goods trains which started within the Metropolitan area, some 1,200 in 24 hours, 800, or 66 per cent., were for inter-terminal journeys only. I need not say that the bill the country has to pay every year, directly or indirectly, for the destruction of trucks is something gigantic and is a great incubus upon trade. It cannot be right that the method of collecting and making up the trains, so far as goods traffic is concerned, is precisely the same as it was in the early stages of the railways of 1840. We still have the slow, crawling horse vans stopping up the small, congested thoroughfares of the City to collect every single parcel. When it gets to the station it has still to be handled by hand. When it gets upon the truck there is still all this terrific business before it 1242 finally starts behind the locomotive upon its journey. That is reflected in the life of the goods wagon, and so forth.
We have got the Railway Executive Committee at the present time exercising, a very considerable control over the whole of the railway system of the country. For the first time we have got some kind of co-ordination and some kind of common control over all the railway companies. Surely advantage should be taken of that fact, because the independent control of all the different railway systems has been the greatest obstacle to any big system of reform which would really bring relief to the traders in a decrease of freight rates. It cannot be right in this country, which is not very mountainous and which is provided with coal, water, and every facility for railway traffic, that our railway rates before the War should have been higher than in any other country in the world. I have received an extract to-day from the very latest work on railway transport, published in New York last year. The rates per ton per mile are; For the long ton, that is our British ton, United Kingdom, 2.3 cents; for the Prussian short ton, 2,000 lbs., 1.19 cents; and for France, 1.18 cents. Those countries are fairly comparable with this country, even in the length of haul, which is the most important factor. In the United States, where the long haul comes in, it is only 74 or under one-third of the cost of moving a ton of goods in this country.
The wages of railway servants during the War have increased enormously by war bonuses and the like. It has been worked out that the increase in the wages bill of the railway companies of this country, if maintained after the War at the present rate, and I hope we shall be able to do it, will absorb the whole of the ordinary dividends that were paid upon all the ordinary stock of all the railway companies before the War. If we are going to deal with this very difficult question in the reconstruction period there are only three ways in which that increase in the wages bill can be met. One, as I have indicated, is by throwing it upon the shareholders of the railway companies, and practically neutralising the whole of their investments in the ordinary stock of the railway companies of this country. Secondly, it can be met by an increase in freight rates. I have just succeeded to the position of President of the Mansion House Association of Railway and Canal 1243 Traffic, following the Chief Commissioner of Works (Sir A. Mond), and I have an opportunity of gauging the feeling of the traders of the country on this question, and I say it is the universal opinion that it would be perfectly intolerable and perfectly impossible to bear a great increase in freight rates after the War to meet this wages bill. Before the War we saw a tendency for heavy goods in hundreds of thousands of tons to be thrown upon the roads, because the roads without any railed tracks and despite the various gradients were cheaper for the transit of many goods than any railway. The third and only other way of providing the funds to pay these higher wages is to effect economy in this great question of the handling of the goods traffic of the country. I do not think that there is any subject connected with reconstruction after the War that more demands an immediate inquiry. Let us by all means have experts to sit and to investigate these questions. Here is a problem in which millions a year are concerned, and it ought to be worked out now, so that we shall not have a continuation and even an increase of this incubus from which the trade of the country has suffered for the last fifty years.
The other question which I want to raise concerns the mercantile marine. From all the testimonies to the gallantry of our seamen I take one quotation from a recent speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (Dr. Macnamara), who said that after the War all these deeds of heroism would be known. How is that going to be effected if it has taken over a year for the Board of Trade to make up their minds—I hope to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that they have done so now—to grant what the merchant service regard as a roll of honour, namely, the admission of the officers and men in the merchant service who die as a consequence of enemy action to the published lists of those who fall in the service of their country. The Board of Trade early in the War set up the War Risks Association, to which the ship-owners, of course, contribute by the payment of insurance premiums, in order to safeguard our shipping and to ensure that the ships still go to sea. Under that scheme they make provision for a maximum allowance of £1 per week to the dependants of officers and seamen in 1244 terned by the enemy. These men, over 200 officers and 2,000 altogether, have now been interned in nearly every case for something approaching three years, and I have been asking the Board of Trade for considerably more than a year to reconsider this question of the maximum allowance. I have pointed out that it was not reasonable, after the Germans decided to take prisoners captains of any merchant vessels which their submarines might sink, to expect our merchant captains and officers to go to sea if so miserable a provision as a maximum of £l per week was made for their dependants.
The Board of Trade saw the point. It was a matter of vital necessity, and so they settled that the dependants of these captains taken prisoners—it very often applies to the chief engineer officers as well—should be put upon the same scale as to pensions as those killed in war, but they have not yet made up their minds that these unfortunate officers and men who have been interned in Ruhleben Camp for nearly three years should have this grinding anxiety removed from their minds, although a special petition has been sent from Kuhleben, actually signed by these men, begging the Government to properly look after their wives and other dependants at home. It is an absolute scandal that we should have right hon. Gentlemen getting up from the Treasury Bench and the then First Lord of the Admiralty, now the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, making speeches at the Guildhall and other places, and everybody connected with the Admiralty and the Board of Trade singing the praises of these men and yet leaving these officers there for two years and a half eating their hearts out and knowing that although they were formerly in receipt of £30 a month, the most their wives and families here at home can get is £1 a week. No protest was ever made by the Board of Trade. I am not dealing with the case of any class. I am sure hon. Members will agree that the wives and families who have been in the habit of spending their fair share of the salary paid to the captain of a high-class merchantman, say, £30 a month, find it a greater hardship to come down to £l a week, or £4 a month, than it would be for the wife and family, say, of a stoker who was in receipt of £6 or £8 a month. You have to consider the terrible drop there is between the condition of comfort while that man was still able to exercise his profession and what he has at present. One of the 1245 local war risks associations—the North of England War Risks Indemnity Association—has met and said that this payment is anomalous and inadequate and has raised it in that particular association to £2 10s. a week for the master and £l 10s. for the first officer and chief engineer. If that can be done in one case, why cannot the Board of Trade, instead of taking months—it is almost getting into years now—to settle this question, settle at once that the allowance made to wives and dependants of these officers and men shall be adequate and uniform? I will give the Committee just one case as an idea of what the hardship is at present. There is the case of W. Jenkins, who was master of one of the Bristol Steam Navigation Company's vessels. He has been interned since the beginning of the War and has a wife and six children here. So far as the Board of Trade scheme is concerned, they have nothing but £1 a week with which to keep themselves. That does not compare for a moment with the separation allowance of a private soldier. This man was the captain of one of our merchant ships. It seems to be an absolute scandal.
Then there is the question of the officers released on parole. Another hon. Member is going to deal with that more in detail. I have raised the point by way of question. These men cannot serve upon any of our armed merchantmen without breaking their parole, but so far the Board of Trade have refused absolutely to meet the case. They have told me that there is no case whatever. I have put forward a detailed case of a man taken prisoner so far back as the raiding of Karlsruhe in 1914. In that case only six and a half months' employment of any sort has been found possible for one of these captains during the whole period of the War, yet the Board of Trade tell me there is no case for finding employment for these men unless they are forced to break their parole. There is also the question of railway warrants. The officers and men of the Navy have special facilities for railway travelling. All our trade routes are entirely diverted and altered by the War. An officer or captain of one of our merchant vessels whose ordinary port would be Liverpool, and whose wife naturally lives there—I have given the actual case to the right hon. Gentleman— was engaged upon transport work for eighteen months, and finally came to his first port of call in this country—in this 1246 case to Plymouth—but he had only four days available for leave, and he had to get his wife from Liverpool down to Plymouth or go to Liverpool himself. He was met with a 50 per cent. increase in the railway fare, and has received not the slightest consideration of any kind. I claim that the Board of Trade could have met the case perfectly simply under their executive powers. At the present moment there is a committee sitting considering the details of a standard uniform for the merchant service. I only ask the right hon. Gentleman one question about that. There was a meeting at the Admiralty to consider this question. Representatives of the ship-owners, the mercantile marine societies, the engineers' societies, and everyone concerned, met there under the presidency of the Fourth Lord, and these two resolutions were adopted:(1) Resolved to agree to the adoption of a standard uniform for the Mercantile Marine provided it includes the right to use the distinctive emblem of the owners.(2) Resolved that the wearing of the uniform be not legally compulsory, but that the owners may require their officers to wear the uniform, and, if so, it shall be the standard uniform.It is quite clear from that the principle that there is to be a standard uniform for the mercantile marine—which is one of the things about which they feel very strongly as being a small official recognition of the wholly altered status to which their services to the country in this War entitled them—is entirely agreed and settled. There is a committee appointed by the Board of Trade to settle the details of this uniform, and I am told that there is the strongest disposition on the part of the ship-owners' representatives on that committee to try and claim that the whole question of principle is open. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make it quite clear that the committee which is now sitting has nothing to do with the principle, which is already settled, and that it is only their business to settle the details; of the uniform which is to be adopted. I have only two small points upon which I wish to touch, one of which I haves brought to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman on several occasions. Recently, under a small Bill which passed through this House, the Board of Trade assumed, so far as they had not previously exercised it, the appointment of superintendents of mercantile marine offices. The Liverpool Local Marine Board for sixty years has always 1247 appointed men with experience of the sea —old sea captains. The men who exercised the functions of superintendents of mercantile marine offices have, in emergency, to act as examiners for the different grades in the merchant service. Therefore it seems obvious to me that you must have men with practical sea service to carry out these duties. When I am asking for these local shore appointments for men who have served their country and been torpedoed by the enemy, or have been taken prisoner under the earlier conditions of above-water warfare, surely the officers and captains of our merchant vessels are entitled to them. The Board of Trade says it cannot make any such rules. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that, for the Liverpool Local Marine Board, which has as much experience as anybody, has said that actual sea experience is essential for these appointments.
Lastly, I want the right hon. Gentleman to bear this in mind. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butcher) has taken great interest in the fact that men who are discharged from the merchant service wounded, injured, unable to carry on their duties in future should be entitled, if it is by the action of the enemy, to exactly the same recognition, and it is only a trifling question of the silver badge which is given to men who are discharged from the Army or the Navy. It does not confer any equality. They do not ask for that, but they say their services to the country are precisely the same. They are unable to carry on their duty, they have to assume ordinary civilian clothes like everyone else, and surely they are entitled to that little mark, which does not cost the Government much, to show that they have risked their lives, and that they are no longer able to carry on their calling. I ask the right hon. Gentleman when we put this sort of question to him in future not to think whether he can accept any sort of answer from the permanent officials of the Board of Trade and put them off from month to month until it grows into years, and until, please God, we are coming near the end of the War, and these simple requests are still unsatisfied, but to realise that the mercantile marine, by the services they have rendered to the country during this War have entirely altered their position, and they are really one of the most effective services of the country, and in time of 1248 war we have to fall back upon them to feed us, supply us with everything for munitions, transport our troops all over the world, and exercise every kind of function auxiliary and essential to our naval forces if they are to have any striking power at all. Therefore, these men, who are risking their lives exactly the same as men in the Army or Navy, are entitled to have any question of this kind which is raised not only considered sympathetically but settled promptly and at once in their favour. Nearly all these questions I have mentioned can be dealt with by a trifling increase—I doubt whether it will be necessary to make any appreciable increase—in the rate of insurance paid by the ship-owners, who have not done badly out of the War. For eighteen months the right hon. Gentleman and his Department have not been able to make up their minds. I hope he will make up his mind promptly after tonight's Debate.
§ Sir C. CORY
As one who is intimately connected with the trade and commerce of this country and is closely in touch with the exporters of the country, I feel that I am entitled to make some criticism on such an important charter as that of the British Trading Corporation, which is supposed to affect so materially the interests of the trade and commerce of the country after the War is over, unless, indeed, those are qualifications which are considered to be such as to disqualify one from criticising a charter of that sort, and unless there is any desire on the part of the Chair or of the House to freeze out further criticism. The objection that one had when this subject was discussed has to a very considerable extent been removed by the statement made this after-noon by the Leader of the House and also by the form of the declaration, if we can consider that declaration as really of any value. With regard to the Solicitor-General's explanation of it, it seemed to me rather involved. On the one hand, he told us the declaration in no way took away from any powers of the charter, but, on the other hand, the directors of the corporation were bound, if they were asked if they were entitled to evade the powers and responsibilities of the charter, to answer that they were not entitled to do so. If that be so, it is difficult for my lay mind to understand what value there is in the declaration.
There are one or two criticisms I should like to make in regard to the 1249 charter. One is with regard to the board of directors. They are in the position of being hereditary directors and it is practically impossible to remove them or their nominees or successors from the board. One of the clauses in the charter say that no person, not being an original director, or a retiring director, or a person nominated by the board, shall be eligible for election as a director unless he shall have deposited at the offices of the company a notification expressing his willingness to accept office as a director at least fourteen days before the meeting and not more than thirty days before the meeting. Another article provides that notices convening the general meeting must be sent out not less than seven days before the meeting, the seven days to run exclusive of the day of the meeting itself. The effect of that is that the date and time when the seven days' notice is given are entirely in the hands of the directors. They can issue it when they like, and if a man who desires to become a director has to give fourteen days notice before the meeting, when he does not know when the meeting is to be called, if it only has to be called seven days before the meeting, that makes it practically impossible for anyone to got on the board except the directors or their nominees.
With regard to the Resolution on the White Paper, which was passed by the corporation on the 8th instant, it provides thatClause 135 of the deed of settlement shall not be acted upon until it shall first have been confirmed by a majority of the votes of the shareholders in general meeting, subsequently to the first issue of capital to the public.The board had to provide £1,000,000 capital in the first place. There is no provision whatever as to the amount of the first issue of capital to the public. It might be only £250,000, or less. Supposing it was £250,000. It is very certain that the directors could vote down all the shareholders. Therefore that Resolution is absolutely valueless. We are told that the fundamental object of the charter is in order to give financial facilities to trade after the War. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell) said that the object principally was not to help those firms who by hard labour and sacrifice had built up large resources and were not in want and would not require financial facilities, but to help young, new firms who had nothing but their character as security. I think there may be a great danger under this charter 1250 if these facilities are given in the way of encouraging reckless trading. If, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield says, these firms who have by hard labour and self-sacrifice succeeded in building up large resources are going to see young and irresponsible firms, who have nothing whatever to lose, being financed by this corporation in order to take the business from these substantial and solid firms, it is clear that these young firms would have nothing to lose if the contracts they might make or the business they might acquire turned out badly, whereas if they turned out well they would have large profits. That might do nothing but tend to reckless trading. I do not believe that this corporation, which no doubt is formed primarily as a business concern, and not as a philanthropic organisation, is going to finance these young firms who have nothing but their character to offer as security. So far as helping these young firms goes, I doubt very much whether this corporation will afford any greater facilities for the increase of business in the future. Reference has been made by several speakers to the action of the German banks which have afforded financial assistance very largely to German traders in the past. But so far as the information I have received goes, if it is accurate, these German banks have had enormous losses in affording these facilities to firms to whom an ordinary banker would never dream of affording facilities. Therefore, if these German banks are held up as an example of what this corporation can do, I am afraid the chance of dividends to shareholders in the corporation will be very remote. The hon. Member for the Tam-worth Division referred to the Victoria Falls, and said that the Victoria Falls Company had got financial assistance from Germany because they failed to get financial facilities from this country. That may be well for the Victoria Falls Company, but if it is held up as an example of what this British corporation could do, it is rather interesting because I presume the very large amount which these German banks have loaned to the Victoria Falls Company will now have been lost; I suppose it will have been confiscated. I wished to make these few criticisms of this charter because I do not believe that it is going to be of very great value, and I think if the corporation are going to afford facilities in the way that 1251 has been suggested it may possibly do a great deal more harm than good to the commercial interests of this country.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I desire to support most cordially the appeal that has been made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) for sympathetic consideration of the claims of the officers and men of the mercantile marine. Before the War these men had already established a strong claim to the gratitude of the nation for the great services they had rendered to the nation, but since the War that claim has been intensified, and the nation owes them not merely gratitude in words, but gratitude in some practical form for the enormous services which they have rendered during this War. Let us remember one fact which, in my opinion, amply justifies the most generous treatment of these officers and men. But for the officers and men of the mercantile marine, this country would have been starved out and starved into submission. Since the War the whole status and condition of the mercantile marine has altered. They are now not merely called upon to face the ordinary perils of the sea, but they are now in substance a combatant force, subject to the enormous and appalling dangers caused by the submarine campaign, and the way in which these officers and men have faced these appalling dangers and difficulties has earned a new and irresistible claim upon the gratitude and admiration of the nation. I should like to show a few ways in which without any undue call upon the resources of the nation, we can show in some small way our gratitude to these men. There is the question of the roll of honour. Day by day a sad and melancholy list of those who have fallen in our combatant forces is given. Why should it not be right that these men who though not nominally soldiers or sailors, but who face danger and render service to the nation just as great in their own way as the dangers which are incurred and the service which is rendered by our combatant forces, should have a list published daily so that we may see a record of those men of the mercantile marine who have suffered and fallen in the discharge of their national duties, and we shall be able, as a nation, to honour those of the mercantile marine who have suffered and died in this dangerous service just as we honour and mourn for the sailors and soldiers who fall?
1252 I turn next to the question of a badge— a silver badge or some other recognition which might be issued to those men of the mercantile marine who are no longer fit for service and who have been discharged from their duties by reason of their sufferings owing to the War. For some time a badge was not even given to the soldiers and sailors, but the Government justly and properly saw that some recognition, some small badge should be given so that when the soldiers and sailors go into private life they should be able to wear the badge issued to them. Can there be any conceivable reason why the men of the mercantile marine who have had to go into civil life for exactly the same reason, namely, incapacity owing to their sufferings in the War, should not be given some badge of honour, some distinction, which they might wear and show the public what they have been doing.
This question was brought up in this House as long ago as the 27th of July last year. It was said then to be under consideration. It was brought up on the 30th of March this year, but it is still under consideration. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is sympathetic in this matter. What he said then was:The question as to whether a war badge can be used in the cases suggested is now being considered by the Board of Trade and the Admiralty, and I hope to be able to inform the House of the decision very shortly.A year is ample time to consider a relatively small question of this sort, but a question of real importance for those concerned, and I would beg my hon. Friend to see that no further time is lost in deciding this matter. I may read a letter received from the Board of Trade Marine Department by a member of the mercantile marine. It is dated the 15th of February, this year:In reply to your letter of the 12th instant asking whether you are entitled to a silver war badge in respect, of wounds received during an attack by an enemy submarine on the steamship 'Darling,' I am directed by the Board of Trade to state that they understand that the silver war badge is only issued to seamen if they have been wounded while serving on His Majesty's commissioned ships.Is that a fair and reasonable attitude to adopt? What difference does it make to the man's claim for recognition whether he is on a commissioned ship, and why should the getting of a silver badge depend on whether he is on a commissioned ship or whether he has been fighting for his country in carrying out the essential duties for this country for which according to the present Regulations no 1253 recognition is given at all? If he is deserving of it in one case, then undoubtedly it should be given in the other case. This is a matter which should not be delayed any longer, and I would beg the President to come to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion upon it.
Another important question is the giving of more facilities by railway passes to officers and men of the mercantile marine for the purposes of leave. As everyone knows, passes are properly granted to officers and men of our strictly combatant services to go home to see their families. As I have endeavoured to show, and my hon. Friend has shown, the mercantile marine now are in substance and in fact a combatant service risking their lives in similar degree to the men in the trenches. The Government ought to give them facilities for going on leave just as they give facilities to our combatant forces. All the more so because owing to the diversion of traffic men of the mercantile marine have constantly to land at ports and leave ports at long distances from where their families reside and from the ports to which they usually would go, and it is not right to ask them, not merely to pay their ordinary fare to go home, but to pay 50 per cent, in addition. In regard to this question of the 50 per cent., there are other classes as well to whom this additional impost is a very serious burden, men who are not travelling for pleasure, but because their duty compels them to travel, men such as commercial travellers, and I would urge the hon. Gentleman to appeal strongly to the Railway Executive Committee, who, by a single stroke of the pen can do so, to relieve these classes, the men of the mercantile marine and such persons as commercial travellers, from this 50 per cent, additional fare. It would be a just thing to do, and I hope that my hon. Friend will favourably consider the matter. The last matter which I have to raise is this: Eloquent panegyrics have been and are being pronounced constantly upon these officers and men of our mercantile marine, panegyrics of the First Lord of the Admiralty and Members of this House here, there, and everywhere, words of praise which are no more than their just due—possibly not as much as they are justly entitled to. What is the use of these words of praise and glory unless some practical effect is given to them? I do urge the Government to follow up the actions of the chief members of the Gov- 1254 eminent, who have rightly distributed their meed of praise to these men, by taking practical action, and in these matters, which have been referred to to-day, giving these men what they are justly, fairly, and honourably entitled to, and to which I think the nation as a whole, in gratitude for the services which they have rendered, does feel that they are justly entitled.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
I am confident that everyone in this Committee and in the country is justly proud of the magnificent manner in which our merchant service officers and men have performed their duty. They have shown that they are descendants of the old British sea dogs, ready and willing at all times to do their duty. If they had fallen short of our expectations we should not to-day be able to say with absolute assurance that the Germans expected domination of the world is absolutely doomed. I wonder if we as a country really recognise what we owe to our merchant service. I doubt it, and I think that the reason why we do not recognise it properly is simply because we look upon it very casually, and we say that they are all British and doing their duty. But surely it is our duty to see that they are properly recognised and recompensed for what they did in this War. Every officer and sailor in our merchant service, if sailing the seas today, ought to be recognised as men who are working for the country, who are taking risks and not afraid to take them, and ought to be looked after by the country in case of disaster. I do not intend to go into many of these cases, but I want to refer to one case of the way in which the merchant service is being treated by the Board of Trade as an instance of the feeling which exists, not an unkindly feeling, but a feeling of absolute lack of recognition of what the merchant service is doing.
I think that it will be shown that in the case of the Royal Navy and of vessels in the control of the Admiralty, where officers and men lose their effects in the course of their duties, they are given sufficient to obtain a new kit. In the case of the merchant service the Board of Trade recognised that something had to be done, and they have provided for a comparatively low rate of insurance to give protection to the officers and men against the loss of their effects, but we find that the insurance is only paid in cases where the 1255 effects are lost through what they call war risks. We all know that merchant ships coming to our ports to-day have got to take the course laid out by the Admiralty whether they think it wise or unwise, and at night they have got to sail or steam their ships without lights. I find that in cases of collision occurring through steamers proceeding without lights, if there is a loss the insurance is not paid. I have a case in my hand of one vessel only a short time ago, when sailing at night-time without lights, unfortunately collided with another steamer. Of the three officers, two were saved and one lost. The two men who were saved tried to obtain the money for which they had paid their premium against their effects, but they were told no, that the company could not pay it, because it was not a war risk. The man who was lost left a widow and three small babies, and she tried to obtain the £50 insured by her husband against his effects. She failed to obtain it. Surely this is a case where the Government should step in and should say: "These men are taking risks; they are working for their country; they are bringing in our foodstuffs and the things that we require, and we will see that if a man loses his effects after he has paid for them, and leaves dependants, those dependants will be looked after by the country."
This is only one instance of many that have taken place, and I do urge upon the Board of Trade that they should get the Government to say that every sailor who is lost can rely upon it that the country will look after his widow and children, knowing that he is not going on pleasure voyages, or for some pecuniary gain, but that he goes because it is his profession and his duty to his country, and therefore he takes the risk —and takes it willingly. There are a great many other points in connection with the merchant service that I trust the Board of Trade will look into very carefully. Regarding what the Member for York said, that the vessels to-day were ordered, as a rule, to the Port of Southampton, to Plymouth, and plates like that, and are now sent by the Admiralty to other ports, surely the men have a right, when in a British port, to go and see their families, if they can get leave; and if they cannot get down to see their families, surely tickets at a reduced rate ought to be given to the wife 1256 of the captain and the wives of the men to go to the port in which the ship lies. I beg the Admiralty, and the Board of Trade, which is especially concerned in the Vote before us to-night, that they will realise that these marine sailors are working for their country and taking risks in doing so, and that they therefore have a right to be regarded by the country as men who are fighting for it.
Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX: The hon. Member who has just sat down, and the hon. Member for Devizes, have gone very thoroughly into the subject, and there is very little left for me to add. I thoroughly support every word they have said. We very often read in the morning papers praise on the part of the Board of Trade of merchant sailors, but the men of the mercantile marine feel that they cannot be content merely with praise, and that it would be better if that praise was accompanied by pay at a rate which, at all events, would enable them to pay their butcher, baker and tailor. As I have said, the merchant sailor is rather tired of all praise and no pay. I am perfectly aware that the Board of Trade have very much to engage their attention, but, at the same time, I think they could devote a little more time than they do to the case of the merchant seamen, and show that they have their cause at heart. I am convinced that such a course would be attended with good results. I am well aware of the difficulties of the question of pay, but surely it cannot be forgotten that the Government have obtained very large sums from the excess profits of the ship owners, who have been making large profits—it is perfectly right that they should, if they take the risks—but it does seem to me that some of these profits should be ear-marked for the dependants of the men who lose their lives in the service of their country, and who at present are very inadequately paid.
Reference has been made to the allowances for the men of the mercantile marine, in the case of each child, and to the scale of pension. The pension is paid on the rate of pay received when in a similar position six months before the outbreak of the War; that is to say, the man is to be given a very great deal less pension than if he was rated, as he ought to be rated, on the rate of pay he received at the time of his death. 1257 In other industries pay has gone up, and why should not men of the mercantile marine receive an increase of pay like other people? I think the Government should try to deal with that point. The question which the hon. Member raised about insurance is, I think, a very simple one. The vessels are ordered to steam without lights, and when a ship is lost, under these circumstances, I think it is perfectly fair that the insurance companies should say, "We should not have given the insurance under those rates if we had known that this provision was going to be put in, and therefore the people who ought to pay are the Government." Surely, when a man loses his ship or his life, or both, it is very hard that he should also lose what he otherwise would have received. I spoke recently on these questions in Liverpool, where there are a great many men not only in the marine service, but also fishing people and men employed in small craft, and doing exceedingly dangerous work, in which at any moment they might be blown up, and nobody would be any the wiser, except their immediate relations, and I do not think it is too much to ask that these men should be on the roll as far as possible. I am told that captains of trawlers frequently do not know the names of the men of their crew, or where they come from, and I therefore think that the Government ought to do what they promised to do, to take some steps whereby men who lose their lives in the War, at any rate, shall have their names included in the roll of their parish.
§ Mr. CARADOC REES
I join with Members who have raised these points, not by way of complaint, but because I think the reasons on which they are based are just. The men on whose behalf we are speaking to-night are frequently away from home for a very long time, and if they visit their homes it is only for a short time, and in that short time they are kept busy. I think in regard to this question of men being allowed to visit their homes there is a very just grievance which ought not to be overlooked. Captains and officers when captured by a submarine have to give their parole not to take any part in the War against the enemy, and the result is that neither officer nor men can go on any ship without breaking their parole, and, if they do go, and 1258 take the risk of recapture, then, as men who have broken their parole, there is a very short way of dealing with them. I had a number of these cases and a number of letters on this subject. It is difficult for these men to get employment. They ought, as far as possible, I should say, to be employed on shore; and if the owners of the ships on which they sail failed to find employment for them, I suggest that some steps should be taken either to nudge their elbows and make them do so or that something should be done by the Government to see that some particular employment is mapped out for them. Another difficulty—though I am not going to say that this ought to be met altogether by the Government—is that having regard to the fact that excess profits are great, something might be done with regard to the wages of these men. As soon as a vessel is sunk the decision of this country has been that that moment the wages cease, and not even from the time they arrive in port. I think the people of the country should see that men running these war risks should have their wages continued for a reasonable time after they reach the shore.
With regard to collisions, it does seem ridiculous when vessels are compelled to run without lights, and one sinks the other, or both sink each other, not to call that a war risk. It is a risk of war run because of war. I think it is contemptible that the insurance is not paid, or made up, to the captains and others who insure. While speaking of the officers, I am certain the House does not forget, and will not and ought not, the bravery of every man of the crew, from the highest to the lowest, during this War. It has been a great disappointment to the enemy and tremendous pride to this country the way in which the mercantile marine has carried on its work. I suppose the man who ventures along with a revolver, knowing that there is another man round the corner with a revolver ready to shoot him, would be regarded as a brave man; but far braver must be the man who, knowing that there is a man with a revolver, goes forward unarmed. That is what these men have been doing, braving the perils of this War. No wages could pay these men for such conduct, which cannot be measured in pounds, shillings, and pence. The Board of Trade being composed of men will, I am certain, deal generously with the people about whose grievances we are speaking, 1259 and I hope they will do so promptly and pay a tribute to men who have done so much for this country.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
Several hon. Members have dealt with the question of the merchant service, and I think probably they have gone into the subject as much in detail as it is necessary to go. I do not think there is much dispute about what the position is. There can be no doubt that the men of the merchant service at present are to all intents and purposes in a combatant service, because of the risks they run. They run all the risks that soldiers and sailors incur, and they incur them voluntarily. I do not believe that you could get any considerable body of men in this country to incur the risks which those men are incurring merely for the sake of gain and of wages. One has only got to look at a list of ships which are captured or sunk to know how high is the risk and how inadequate any monetary recompense would be to them. Those men are incurring those risks at present from a spirit of voluntary patriotism, because they know that their country depends on their carrying on that avocation just as much as it depends upon the exertions and sacrifices of soldiers and sailors. They are a combatant service, because of the risks they run and because our country is dependent upon them and on their running those risks. That being common ground, I think it also ought to be common ground that the provision to be made for those men, if they are injured, or for their dependants, their wives and children, if they perish shall be at least as adequate as the provision which is made for soldiers and sailors in the corresponding ranks. What I say applies not merely to officers of the merchant service, but to all ranks alike. There is one vital, all-important difference between the soldier and the sailor on the one hand and the men in the merchant service. The soldier or the sailor is serving his country directly, while the man in the merchant service is giving his services to employers for the purpose of private profit. That is a very distinct difference. Ship-owners at the present time and during the War have been making enormous profits. The cost of any provision made for these men and their dependants ought to be largely or mainly the first charge upon these profits. The method whereby it can be done has been suggested by my hon. Friend, The principle of insurance is the 1260 one which can be best applied to meet these risks. It is applied already to cargoes. When we insure cargoes we do not insure a portion and say that we will only be responsible for a, third part of their value. Let us insure not merely the cargoes but the lives which are being risked for the security of our country. Let the standard be the same standard of provision as for soldiers and sailors who are incurring the same risks.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
I desire to say how warmly I sympathise with the objects which have been raised by the previous speakers in regard to the mercantile marine. At an earlier date I put questions to the Board of Trade largely from the same point of view, and I am very glad that this matter has been voiced to-night, because I am quite certain that the country would support any results arising from this Debate in the direction suggested by the hon. Members who have preceded me. The country realises that the mercantile marine is our safeguard, along with, of course, His Majesty's Navy. But we are in a special sense dependent upon the mercantile marine because of our food and our raw material. I do not know what the country would be without the mercantile marine. I find myself lost in admiration for those men who are wrecked one day and the next day take another steamer. It is one of the most remarkable things in this War. If I do not proceed with this theme any longer it is not because I am out of sympathy with it, but because I want to refer to another matter, a matter which in a sense is closely connected with the mercantile marine. In Lancashire we are largely dependent upon the cotton supply, all of which has to be brought across the sea. At this time in Lancashire we are rather in a curious position owing to the present state of the world. I do not want to lodge my case on the present supply of cotton. I want, however, to ask the Board of Trade to be good enough to hurry up with their scheme, and to go into the question of increasing the growth of cotton within the Empire. For a long time past in Manchester there has been a body at work, the British Cotton Growing Association, whose activity has been on the whole quite successful in Africa. They have done a very large amount of pioneer work in Uganda and Nigeria. They have proved that cotton can be grown in those countries. They have spent money to the 1261 extent of several hundreds of thousands of pounds, not from the point of view of making a profit—because no profit has been made—but from the point of view of exploiting the whole question, of really experimenting and proving that cotton, suitable for use in Lancashire, can be grown in districts other than the Southern States of North America.
In Lancashire we are to-day a good deal alarmed by the shortage of the world's cotton supply. We are watching with a certain definite interest the fact that the United States herself is year by year taking a larger proportion of cotton grown in her own Southern States, and therefore necessarily there is a smaller number of bales available for the remainder of the world. In Lancashire one of the chief trades—I imagine the chief trade—is the cotton trade. Certainly it is one of the chief export trades of the country. We are very, very much interested in this question. Various associations have got together from time to time, and have approached the Board of Trade with a view to asking the Board of Trade to take this question in hand from a Government point of view, and really to put it on a footing by a definite inquiry, so that a scheme may be established, the result of which will be an increased growth of cotton within the borders of the Empire. I have in my hand a memorandum of a meeting which was held in Manchester on 30th December last. I will not trouble the House with the names of the different associations which were represented at that meeting, but I would like to draw, quite shortly, attention to one or two of the resolutions. All the important cotton associations were represented, and they agreed unanimously—That it is extremely desirable, as a national matter, that the growth of cotton in the Umpire should be proceeded with and developed quite quickly. We feel that if the trade of this country is to be maintained, it is undesirable to rely any longer upon the growth of cotton in the Southern States of America. We, therefore, feel that it is desirable, seeing that this is a national question, and having already the advantage of work which has been done by the British Cotton Association in mind, that it should become a national question to be dealt with by the Board of Trade.Following that meeting, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution and sent it to the Board of Trade to the effect that "they viewed with grave apprehension the rapidly increasing world shortage of cotton. They were of opinion that it was absolutely vital to the interests of Great Britain that new reliable sources within 1262 the Empire should be fostered … so that supplies may be obtained as soon as possible.…Therefore they called upon the Government to appoint forthwith a committee to investigate the whole question and report to the Government." I do not know that I want to speak at any greater length on this subject beyond adding quite a few sentences. I should like to pay a tribute to the work which has been done by the British Cotton Growing Association at their headquarters. The work done of recent years and within the limits of the capacity of the Association has been admirably successful, but it is no longer possible to go on in that particular line. The money is exhausted and it is now really the psychological moment, by their experience, plus the experience gained in other quarters of the development of the growth of cotton, to go forward. In this question of the development of the growth of cotton within the Empire I invite the Board of Trade to tell the Committee what they propose to do on this question. They have had deputations from Lancashire. A recent deputation came up to see the President, and, in his absence, saw the Parliamentary Secretary, who gave them a very friendly and favourable reply. I have put down questions from time to time since then asking what the Board of Trade were going to do. I am satisfied that they are anxious to proceed with this work. I am not offering any complaint, but I do beg of the Board of Trade to tell the Committee, the country, and Lancashire, what is in their minds on this very vital question. The sooner they tell us what they are going to do, the sooner they get on with this work, the sooner, I am satisfied, Lancashire and the country will be pleased.
I had intended to say a few words on the British Trading Corporation, but, unfortunately, that portion of the Debate was over before I could manage to get to the House. Therefore I do not, shall not, trespass on the Committee at any length. But I should like to ask the President, in view of the fact that it is most desirable that this corporation should be started with the utmost goodwill of all interests concerned, whether it is yet too late to bring into the directorate, and on to the board, a much larger proportion of the banking element than there is at the present time. I am not sure that the banking interest has been adequately consulted. The President the other day, I 1263 remember, when a question was on the paper, said that he had met the bankers and that they had blessed the scheme—as I understood him. But they have not been willing to put their hands into their pockets very far. I think that is a very great pity. So far as quite recent experience of mine goes, experience within the last few hours, I am not at all sure whether some, if not all of the banks, had the whole case put before them. At any rate, judging from my experience I imagine that there are still banks in the country who would quite gladly, if they had more particulars of the important interests concerned in this question, discuss them. It is important, I feel, because goodwill towards this corporation is of immense importance and value.
I object to Clause 4. The modification published in the White Paper to-day is an improvement; although after listening to two hon. and learned Gentlemen, and the advantage of the opinion of the learned Solicitor-General, I do not for the life of me know what is the actual legal value of that declaration. The matter as it at present stands simply goes to prove that in my humble opinion this is a very unfortunate clause, which should never have been inserted. I do not conceive that the corporation is in the least dependent for its success on that clause. I am not quite sure that Members of this House have before them the fact that other similar corporations have been started elsewhere, in New York, for instance, and the United States, and I should like to ask this question: have any of these corporations a clause similar to Clause 4? I do not think go. I have no knowledge on the point, but from my general information of American business. I cannot conceive that corporations there have any clause similar to Clause 4. I think that it has been fin unfortunate question in the birth of this organisation. It ought not to have been retained in the charter. I believe it would be far better for the success of this corporation if clause 4 had been dropped. Certainly the ability of the board of directors is great enough to carry the organisation to a success without Clause 4, and, although a great deal of the objection arising has been met because of what I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have said, that it is in no sense a monopoly, I still have a feeling that it is unfortunate that that clause has been retained.
1264 May I just offer one last word on the point of the desirability of getting more banking assistance? It is not from the point of view of competition. I am not one who criticises this corporation from the point of view that it must create a certain competition. I do not put any value on that at all. I agree it is unfortunate that clause 4 is in, and I agree it is unfortunate that the particular method which has been pursued has been pursued, but I am not going to argue anything on the basis of competition, nor am I going to argue anything on the basis of interfering with existing interests, but, taking the President of the Board of Trade on his own words, the last time he spoke on this question he said something to this effect— that his opinion was that this corporation would do well to work with existing institutions, and not work against them. It is exactly from that point of view that I have ventured to address the Committee, and, in support of that point of view, may I just read from the communication of a banking friend of mine of very wide experience, who has given this matter, amongst other matters, a great deal of thought? This is what he wrote:The banks have not, up to the present, given any very cordial reception to the suggestion that they should subscribe for shares in the corporation, taking up the ground that it is no part of their business to invest funds in commercial concerns. It is however, submitted that the corporation, possessed of the powers proposed.—being the wide powers of trading, and all the rest, to which I have not taken any objection, because a company to be successful must have wide powers—would be in a position to, render material assistance to the customers of the banks in certain important directions, and that the taking of shares in the corporation is, from this point of view, not only justified but expedient.That argument is from a banker who is not at the moment interested in the corporation at all, but who conceives that, taking a certain point of view, it is very desirable that the banks should become interested in this corporation.The existence on the Board of a large banking clement would tend to allay the apprehensions of those who see in the corporation nothing but a competitor in possession of special privileges.I have ventured to criticise Clause 4, and I am interested to hear from this correspondent thatThe provision in the charter giving to the corporation the right to act as the agent of the British Government abroad might well be eliminated.Here is a communication from a banking correspondent, who argues from a point of view the advantage of bankers coming 1265 in, and the advantage of Clause 4 being eliminated, and I venture to put myself on record, not as opposing this fundamental idea behind the corporation, but as being very disappointed with the way it was brought into being, and the way Clause 4 has been kept in the charter.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I want to raise for a few moments the action of the Board of Trade in dealing with enemy alien business. There is a very strong feeling in many parts of the country, particularly the City of London, that they have not been as prompt and as effective as they might have been in dealing with enemy alien businesses and winding them up. There have been no less than six emergency Acts of Parliament passed since the War began dealing with trading of the enemy. Every one of those Acts was passed in consequence of the pressure of public opinion, which was always in advance of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors in this matter, and the dealing by the Board of Trade with enemy businesses has always lagged behind public opinion. The London Chamber of Commerce, on whose behalf I am speaking this evening —the textile branch has recently sent a deputation to either the President or the Secretary of the Hoard of Trade with regard to this particular matter—are not satisfied with the Advisory Committee, and they feel that there should be more commercial men on that committee and fewer lawyers. It consists of, I think, four gentlemen, of whom three are barristers, although one, I believe, does not practise, and the chamber of commerce very rightly feel that there should be some real business men put on that committee—business men who know what the needs of the City are, and whether the City desires that enemy aliens should trade in our midst. I fear the Board of Trade approaches the question from one point of view and the traders approach it from another point of view. The Board of Trade approaches it from the point of view that an enemy should be allowed to continue trading unless there is some particular reason why he is a particularly hostile person, or for some other reasons his business should be shut up. People in the City approach it from an entirely different standpoint. Their view is that, certainly at this time of the War, no enemy business should be longer continued, and it is only in special or exceptional circumstances — circumstances 1266 in the interests of the country—that an enemy alien should any longer be allowed to keep on his business in this country.
There is still a very large number carrying on their business in the City, I believe, in the fur trade. My right hon. Friend who received a deputation will tell me if I am wrong. A list was given to him of enemy businesses in the fur trade still carrying on in the City, and a few weeks ago I asked a question in this House relating to no less than three fur businesses which had between them thirty and forty alien enemies, unnaturalised, as workers. Why should these men be allowed to continue to carry on their trade, keeping it going as a fortress of enemy trading in the City of London. The Military Service Acts have very considerably altered the position with regard to the views of people in this country. All the younger merchants of the City have gone, either voluntarily under Lord Derby's scheme or compulsorily under the provisions of the Military Service Acts. Their staffs have almost entirely gone. All the men of young military age have gone. They have given up their livelihood. Their families have been reduced in many cases, I will not say to poverty, but to a considerably lower state of comfort than that in which they used to live. Many of them have suffered death. Many have suffered from wounds, and they do feel very strongly that, while they have done all this, partly voluntarily, partly under compulsion, the Board of Trade allow these enemy businesses to go on eating into the trade which these British merchants and manufacturers used to do before the War, and that when the War is over, and they come back to the City of London, weakened, possibly wounded, to take up their career again, they will find not that a grateful country has done its best to preserve their businesses for them, but that a dilatory Board of Trade has not taken all the steps it might have taken if it had realised to the full the feeling of people in this country that enemy trade should be put an end to altogether.
Notice taken that forty Members were not present; Committee counted, and forty Members not being present, MR. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.
§ House counted, and forty Members being found present, the House again resolved itself into the Committee.
§ Original Question again proposed.1267
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am very sorry to have detained the Committee, but I will not do so much longer. I was just discussing with them the action of the Board of Trade with regard to enemy alien persons, and I was pressing for some announcement from the Under-Secretary, who I believe will reply in a few moments, that he will really use the powers of his Department to stamp out, so far as he possibly can, the continuance of enemy trade in the City of London. I mentioned just now that the London Chamber of Commerce had asked me to intervene in this Debate in order to call attention to this question. They feel very strongly that the representations that they have made from time to time to the Board of Trade have, I will not say been treated with contumely, but have not received that respect which attaches to the citizens and traders of the City of London. May I give two instances only of the manner in which the Board of Trade have treated this matter? One is with regard to the question of an enemy firm of the name of Wagner, in regard to which I asked questions a long time ago. This man—who I admit has been in England for thirty years—is trading as the representative of a German firm, not in Switzerland, as I was told in answer to my question, but in the German part of Alsace-Lorraine. He is the agent of the German firm of Koechlin, Baumgartner, and Company, and he acts for them, imports from them, exports to them, and is their representative in this country. And the London Chamber of Commerce presented a petition to the Board of Trade signed by fifty-two of the very first men in the City of London, asking that this enemy business should be shut up. There were firms like Wyse Sons and Company, Hitchcock Williams, Limited, Cook, Son and Company, I. and R. Morley, the Fore Street Warehouse Company, Limited, and Copes-take, Cramp-ton. These are well-known firms, and they sent the petition to the Board of Trade asking that enemies should no longer be allowed to carry on their business, and that that particular firm should be closed up. That is two and a-half years after War. The Board said that there were special reasons why this firm should be allowed to carry on, and in answer to a question by me, they said it was inexpedient to make an order under Section 1 of the Trading with the Enemy (Amendment) Act. The London Chamber of Commerce wrote on 25th April this year 1268 referring to their petition and previous correspondence, and the question I had asked, and asking that the Board of Trade would state what were the special reasons in connection with this business which rendered it inexpedient to make an order under Section 1 of the Trading with the Enemy (Amendment) Act, and the ground which had led the Advisory Committee to consider that this business is "beneficial to British industry." The reply of the Board of Trade on 3rd May stated:Sir Albert Stanley desires me to say that the reports made to the Board of Trade by their Advisory Committee are regarded as of a confidential nature, but the various reasons which weighed with them appear to be sufficiently indicative in the reply given to Mr. Joynson-Hicks' question in the House of Commons.There were no special reasons indicated in that reply.Sir Albert Stanley does not think he can add to that reply beyond saying that it should be understood that the Committee founded their recommendation upon a review of all the circumstances that appeared to them relevant and not solely upon the character of the business carried on.I ask the reasons why this particular firm was allowed to go on trading after a petition of this kind, when the business was of no particular importance, had been presented. They took it as a standard case, and the reply they got was most unsatisfactory. I wish to mention another case, the firm of Von der Heydt and Company, which was wound up by the Board of Trade after two and three-quarter years. I wonder whether the House realises that the firm was established in 1910, the partners being Baron von der Heydt and Waldemar von Boettenzer. In 1913 it was made a limited liability company, and Baron von der Heydt, of Elber-field and Berlin, put in £75,000 under a limited partnership. Towards the end of July Baron von der Heydt and Waldemar von Boettenzer left for Germany, and are fighting against us. Mr. Kurt von Andreas, an unnaturalised German, became a partner in July, 1914, the others knowing that war was coming, and he was joined in August, 1914, by Mr. P. F. Rann, who was on their staff, and is, I believe, an Englishman. The business was used largely before the War by wealthy Germans for gambling on the Stock Exchange. The business premises and the private residence of Baron von der Heydt, in Clarges Street, was a sort of rendezvous for wealthy young Germans, and Baron Kukluman was a frequent visitor at the office. These facts have been put before the police and the Board of Trade, and nearly three years after the War the 1269 Board of Trade make an order to wind up the business. I suggest they might have been a little more stringent and active in bringing enemy concerns to a close.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I do not intend to go into all the questions I desire to raise, but the grave importance of which has already justified a short statement. What I hope to get is a clear and definite statement of policy from the Board of Trade. On the 17th of last month the President of the Board of Trade said that another matter with which the Board of Trade was keenly pressed was that of coal. Here he admits the gravity and importance of the subject. We in London and the South-West of England have had practical experience since the opening of the War of the gravity of the subject. No sooner had war broken out than in the first winter we suffered very severely, and the subject was brought to the attention of the House by questions which were put by many of us. In the early part of 1915 the Board of Trade appointed a Departmental Committee on retail coal prices. I had the honour of sitting on that Committee. We sat every day, as we were requested to make a very speedy Report.
We reported on the 25th March, and I am sorry to say that a good many of our recommendations were not at that time adopted by the Board of Trade. Perhaps they went too drastically into the question, but it is satisfactory to those who sat on the Committee and made the recommendations to know that the majority of them have had to be taken up one by one during the period that has since elapsed. That has done some good, but it is not meeting the emergency that existed in London and in the South-West of England. I am afraid that many Members of this House, and the Board of Trade itself, in spite of the number of times that attention has been called to the fact, are not really alive, or will not give their minds seriously, to the gravity of the situation. In 1915 I called the attention of the Board of Trade to the fact that if we could not get coal to the Dart-ford Urban Council for their generating works, some of the largest works which were entirely employed on Government work, but which supplied the electric power, the Dart-ford Urban Council would be without power or light. At Christmas of 1915 we had to get coal down there for the people to have their fires at Christmas, and during this winter we 1270 have had to do the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, speaking on the 17th May, indicated to us that some drastic action might have to be taken with regard to persons in their supply of coal. He used the words "the rationing of the people," but I can assure him that the term "rationing," as far as that part is concerned, meant that you would have to take the rations away from starving men. Our grievance is not that we objected to have a fair supply with other people, but that we had no supply at all, and we begged the Board of Trade to give us power to accumulate stock for the coming winter. Like the Bexley Urban Council, we have approached the Local Government Board, and have been told that it is outside the power of the urban council to accumulate stock. We are held up, and yet such was the state of things during the winter that in Bexley people were without coal. I do not mean the working classes only, but the whole locality, and the Bexley Urban Council had to release 40 tons of coal it had saved for generating purposes at their electricity works and let the merchants have it to distribute amongst the people. When we go to the Local Government Board and say: "Cannot the Bexley Urban Council accumulate something for the coming winter?" we are told: "No; it is illegal." What will be the position of the Bexley Urban Council when the Local Government Board auditor goes down? Will he surcharge the urban council for selling this 40 tons of coal to the merchants to supply the people of the locality? I should be pleased if he would do that, because it would draw such attention to this grievance that it could not possibly go on any longer. I should like to say what the position is. Before the War the Port of London received about 17,000,000 tons of coal, and 9,000,000 tons of that was sea-borne and 8,000,000 rail-borne, making 17,000,000. Since the War broke out sea-borne coal has been reduced, but amongst the 9,000,000 tons that were sea-borne, and not entirely household coal there was included bunker coal, but a great portion of household coal ceased to come round by sea into London and the districts around London. That position of matters still exists.
I cannot go into details, but we must have rail-borne coal if sea-borne coal cannot be got. I will give one case. Coal 1271 rose in price in Erith from 2s. 6d. to is. 9d. per cwt. last winter. At the suggestion of the Board of Trade itself I corresponded with the coal merchants' committee that organised the prices for the London area. The secretary wrote and said the reason why this high price was charged was because the merchants themselves had to pay 39s. and up to 42s. per ton, on account of the increased freightage. I know the freightage went up. Before the War sea-borne coal roughly was about 3s. 6d. per ton freightage, and I know it leaped up to 13s. 6d. and higher. That only shows the difficulty of depending upon sea-borne coal. What we want is that the Board of Trade shall take this question in hand at once because we cannot possibly go through another winter in the same manner as we did through the previous winter.
It is no good telling these people to fill their cellars. Many of the coal merchants have orders in hand in London which cannot be supplied. One thing the right hon. Gentleman could do is to reduce the maximum he allows to some people. To say that some people shall be allowed to have 20 tons while others cannot get even one ton or two tons, is putting the maximum much too high, and the Coal Controller should reduce it to at least 10 tons. I have roughly put this case before the Committee. It is of very serious moment. It is impossible for the poor people to go through again all the trials they have gone through during the last three winters. We have been continually knocking at the door of the Board of Trade and putting questions in this House, and I ask the President to take up this question seriously now, and deal with it before it is too late.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I wish to support strongly the appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Dart-ford Division (Mr. Row-lands). I have repeatedly asked questions, particularly from the point of view of the small consumer in London, for whom, during the coming winter, I am greatly concerned. The public authorities will be quite able to take care of themselves in view of the advice given by the President of the Board of Trade, but, in view of the unsatisfactory answers which we have received when questions have been asked, I do wish to make a special appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to arrange something to prevent hardship during the coming 1272 winter similar to that which was experienced during the very cold weeks of last winter. Everybody who knows anything about London knows that there are an enormous number of small consumers of coal who have not the money to buy coal to store or the accommodation for the purpose even if they had the money. Last year, when the very cold weather came, these people, who can only buy 1 cwt. or ½ cwt. at a time, were unable to get coal at the ordinary coal depots. Some of us who take an interest in this question, realise that this may happen again during the coming winter, and we have pressed the Board of Trade to have a conference with the London local authorities and to do something to prevent it. The Coal Committee in their report recommended that the Government should at once consider the question of inviting the London County Council to arrange that they themselves and any other public bodies which already possessed or which could procure the necessary facilities should, during the summer acquire, and as far as possible store within easy reach of London, large stocks of coal to be sold at reasonable prices. If that was urgent in 1916 it is much more urgent in 1917, and I am quite certain if the Board of Trade do not do something to arrange for the local authorities to store coal we shall have a very much worse position than we had last winter. Everybody knows that traffic on the railways is difficult now, and if the same shortage of trucks continues during next winter, the question of bringing coal to London will be much more difficult.
Something certainly ought to be done at once to provide stores in London so that the people may be able to obtain coal. Distribution is also a very difficult question, and I do not, believe that the Board of Trade will be able to ensure proper distribution unless they get the help, which I am sure they will receive, of all the local authorities in London. There is also the question of price, and I want to appeal to the board to see that the prices which they fix are observed by the men who sell the coal. It is all very well for the Board of Trade to fix prices, but they have no power at present to compel vendors of coal to sell at these prices. It is quite true that the County Council have a by-law under which they can prosecute a man for selling coal at a price higher than that which he exhibits at the place of sale, at his shop, or on his lorry. Last year, although the Board of Trade 1273 fixed the prices of coal, the small consumer when coal was short had to send out and get 7 lbs. and 14 lbs. and 28 lbs. of coal, and in a great many cases he was charged very excessive prices. These vendors of coal did not commit any offence against, the London County Council by-law, because they did not exhibit the price, and the poor person who was compelled to buy coal in this way was swindled in an awful manner. I believe that the Board of Trade has had various instances brought to their notice and have tried to deal with the matter through the voluntary committee of the wholesale coal dealers in London. I believe that committee did its best to prevent this being done, the method they adopted being to stop supplies to the people who charged excessive prices. Notwithstanding that, it is a well-known fact that in various parts of London the supply of coal was short and that only small quantities could be obtained by the people, who were charged very exorbitant prices. In view of the urgency of the matter, I beg the President to make an announcement as to what he intends to do. The answer he gave me yesterday was that special arrangements had now been made to deliver to London considerable additional supplies of household coal for stocking purposes. I do not think that stocking will be sufficient in itself and that he will have to allow the local authorities to provide for distribution.
§ Mr. WING
Following upon the question of the scarcity of coal in London, which has been raised by the two previous speakers, I wish to refer to the plentiful supply both of coal and of pitmen in the county of Durham. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to bring the plentiful supply of coal in Durham within the reach of the people of London. Certain movements have been made, but our pitmen have been working two and three shifts a week. In the county of Durham there has been a large amount of distress, so much so that appeals have been made to the public for funds to get over it. I am exceedingly sorry that the President's entry into the House has been associated with a Money Bill, which has taken up our time on two days, to the great neglect of important questions. The country will regard the two days as having been spent in talking of money, money, money, to the neglect of subjects that are far more vital to the welfare of the people. I hope I there will be some message sent to the 1274 pitmen of the North, and that in some way or other some transport will be provided. The question of transport applies not only to London but also to the North itself, even to places like Newcastle and Sunder-land, where there is almost as much difficulty in obtaining coal as in London. I hope that the problem will have the serious and prompt attention of the Board of Trade and that some solution will be found.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD Of TRADE (Mr. G. Roberts)
I will reply to the points which have been raised in the order in which they have been presented. The hon. Member (Mr. Peto) introduced the very interesting and important question of transport arrangements. I think he intended to address his observations particularly to the President, and I understand he does not expect me to-night to reply to that point. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend listened with keen interest to his observations, and they will have his consideration. Then the hon. Member turned to a question in which he has always exhibited a very keen interest. Everyone who speaks today about the mercantile marine feels inclined to launch tributes towards that service. I feel a measure of restraint in that respect, because the hon. Member and those who succeeded him have assured us that they have had plenty of words and require something more material now. Nevertheless I associate myself and everyone in the Department most, cordially with the tributes which have been paid to the mercantile marine here, as well as elsewhere. I have relatives in the service, and I know cases of men who have suffered shipwreck, and came ashore and immediately made declaration of their willingness to proceed again to sea; and when this is brought into one's own life one is naturally proud that tributes are paid to the Service with which one is connected. The hon. Member has asked that we shall announce something more than mere approbation towards this Service. He first of all introduced the question of the roll of honour. I do not suppose the reply I shall be able to make will give entire satisfaction to him and those who are associated with him, but I am hoping that out of the reply I shall have made to the points he has presented, some parts of it, at least, will be found fairly satisfactory. This question of the 1275 roll of honour has been urged on the Board of Trade repeatedly. The Board of Trade is in hearty sympathy with the underlying idea, and after consultation with the Admiralty a roll of honour has been decided upon, and from time to time a list showing the merchant seamen who have met their death through enemy action and those who have been taken prisoner by the enemy will be issued. I am hoping that on that point the hon. Member and others will feel that they have obtained some satisfaction.
The next point to which he directed our attention was the question of the allowance to dependants of interned officers and men. Of course, he will say again that it is a mere commonplace to express your sympathy, but I have to advance the case that the Board of Trade has to make. At a very early stage in the War the Board of Trade arranged with the War Risks Association that a weekly allowance should be paid to dependants of the officers and men of British ships interned in Germany, and, so far as I am able to ascertain—I was not associated with the Board of Trade at the time—the Board of Trade did not require much pressure, because very early in the War they recognised that something ought to be done in this regard. There was no legal claim on the Board or on the War Risks Association, but it appeared to the Board to be a fitting thing that some provision should be made for those cases in connection with the Government insurance scheme. The allowance made is a small one—£l a week or half wages, whichever in less. I have come out of the lower order of the working classes too recently to have lost sight of the fact that £l a week represents but a miserable pittance. In pre-war days £l a week would certainly not ensure any family anything like tolerable existence, and everybody is familiar with the fact that the purchasing powers of the sovereign has seriously diminished during the War. Therefore, if we admit that £1 was not adequate before the War we cannot defend it in the present state of affairs. If my hon. Friend had based his case not upon the principle of insurance, but as a State indemnity, I think as an individual I would have been prepared to go with him. Speaking apart from my official connection, I think that all persons who have suffered loss as a result of the War ought to be indemnified by the State. 1276 Nevertheless, Parliament is supreme, and we have not yet decided on that principle. It has been taken into account as an act of grace. It is not possible for me to deal exhaustively with all the points raised, but I can assure my hon. Friend and others who have addressed us on this question, that my right hon. Friend and myself recognise that a case has been made out for reconsideration on this point, and we have taken some steps which I hope my hon. Friend will not press me to divulge here to-night. I can assure him that those steps are animated with a real sympathy with the case, and we hope that some improvement may be established.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I will not argue with the hon. Gentleman. I am only endeavouring to state the policy of the Government. Personally, if I were not a junior Member of the Government, and in an unattached position like my hon. Friend, I would take a course similar to the one he has taken, but while I occupy an official position I have to play the game and make the best of it. Another question raised was that of officers released on parole. The hon. Member for Carnarvonshire associated himself with that. We understand, of course, that when these men have given their word of honour, they are running greater risk if they are again captured at sea. I want to assure my hon. Friend that he has not done fair justice to the Board of Trade when he charges us with a disregard of the interests of these men. It is quite time that our opportunities for placing them are not unlimited. Nevertheless, we have done what we can in conjunction with the professional classes register organisation of the Ministry of Labour in order to place these men in proper positions. That policy we shall pursue. I know the hon. Member will say that it is not very tangible satisfaction to assure him of our sympathy, but we do recognise the position of these men, and I repeat the assurances that their case does receive sympathetic consideration. With respect to standard uniforms, my hon. Friend wants me to give him a 1277 declaration as to the question of principle. I can do so unreservedly. The principle is settled and the matter is now the subject of arrangement, as he knows, by a Committee. I have read that this Committee has brought down upon itself some ridicule. It is said that if you have decided the principle what need is there for a Committee merely to agree upon a uniform. I must confess that I am not quite competent to deal with the matter, but I understand it is not so simple as the outsider might think. Other service uniforms have to be taken into consideration. I can assure the hon. Member that we are doing all we can to facilitate the conclusion of the matter, and that the principle is settled.
Then he directed our attention to the question of railway warrants, and pointed out how unfair it is that these men, who, under war conditions, have to make longer journeys than in normal times, are subject to an increase of 50 per cent, on their fares. This class of case has evoked my sympathy. The difficulty of the Railway Executive is in drawing the line when making concessions. The Executive have sympathy in this case, but, nevertheless, there are so many concessions pressed upon them that they feel that it is inexpedient for them to make one unless they can see how they can limit it to that one. Again, my right hon. Friend has taken note of the observations addressed to him on this point, and the question will be further considered, and we will in due course, in reply to questions put to us, convey to the House the decision of the Executive and my right hon. Friend. The next point was the appointment as superintendents of mercantile marine officers. Here I have not the intimate knowledge possessed by my hon. Friend, but I am aware of this fact, that it is not so simple as he represents it. The men in these positions start as marine officers recruited under Civil Service conditions, and where they are confronted with those conditions we know that men stay on in the expectation of the opportunity of having these positions, and the bringing in of outside men and placing them over the Civil servants, who have been trained, and who have years of service to their credit, is a problem that presents some little difficulty and requires very delicate handling. Nevertheless, I can assure my hon. Friend that, other things being equal, a man who has had a sea training is not to be overlooked in these appointments; but, if 1278 other things are equal, the fact that he has had actual training is a point that ought to be placed to his credit. But, of course, my hon. Friend will understand that I am not in a position to make a definite pledge upon this matter, because the question is very largely governed by Civil Service regulations and conditions. My hon. Friend pointed out that the Liverpool Marine Board does, I believe, what he is asking us to do.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
My hon. Friend is even better informed than I on that point. Nevertheless I will look into the matter and see precisely what the conditions are. Then my hon. Friend and also my hon. and gallant Friend opposite raised the question of silver badges on discharge from the merchant service for wounds or disablement caused by the War. On this point I am only able to say that we are in correspondence with the Admiralty and the War Office on the subject. No time is being lost in settling the conditions on which grants of the badge will be made, but it will be necessary to get a decision of the Government for extending to the merchant service a badge similar to that which is given at present to the Army and Navy. It is not possible for me at present to say definitely what will be decided. I admit that it is almost impossible under the present war conditions to differentiate as between combatant and non-combatant services. I agree with those who have urged the point that under prevailing conditions the men of the mercantile marine might reasonably be regarded as part of the combatant services of the nation. My right hon. Friend has been in hearty accord with me in that regulation, and he has charged me to say that the whole question of the mercantile marine service and the questions of compensation shall be brought under review in a sympathetic spirit. I think that those who have urged the case of the mercantile marine with such earnestness and energy in this House can congratulate themselves that they have impressed my right hon. Friend and, through him, the adamantine Board of Trade.
The Member for South-West Manchester called attention to the extreme importance of proper supplies of cotton. I find myself in entire agreement with him with respect to the importance of this question to the cotton industry of Lanca- 1279 shire, and the weakness caused it by its dependence on one source of supply. In the absence of my right hon. Friend, it was my duty and my pleasure to receive the very important deputation to which he made allusion. It was, of course, my business to prosecute some inquiry into the question, in order that I might make a fitting reply on behalf of the Department. I agree entirely that inquiry should be made with a view to ascertaining the probable sources of supplies within the Empire. I recognise that the industry will be placed in a position of greater security if it can be provided with the raw-material within the Empire, and on the general principle I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member. The hon. Member is aware of the fact that at that interview I promised, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, the appointment of a Committee. It is true that we have to admit that there has been some delay in setting up that Committee, but it is not entirely due to the Board of Trade; other Departments have had to be consulted. The question of selecting suitable persons for the Committee was attended with some difficulty, but we believe we have overcome those difficulties now, and we hope to address a communication to those gentlemen who are to become members in the course of a few days. With the expression of my personal appreciation of the purpose that my hon. Friend has in view, I hope he will be able to regard as fairly satisfactory my reply to the point he has raised.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
If my hon. Friend will put down a question, I promise to give the names. We have nothing to hide—
§ Mr. ROBERTS
And we hope that the Committee will be constituted in the course of a few days. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford turned to the question of trading with the enemy. A few days ago, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, I received a number of City men, and I have to admit that they were able to make out a case of great substance. Undoubtedly there is a great deal of feeling on this subject, and especially are we conscious of the fact that, following upon 1280 the raids which took place yesterday, the slaughter of little children in school, and of helpless men and women, is bound to aggravate the feeling which exists against the enemy. Therefore, we feel conscious of the feeling which does exist on this question. My hon. Friend reminded us that the passage of the Military Service Act has also served to aggravate the injustice which is felt by a number of people in respect of this question. I know—it has been represented to me too often, even if I had not the ability to visualise it—the lot of the men taken into the Army who have the knowledge that men of enemy origin may be left behind to profit by their absence. Naturally, of course, they are haunted with the dread that when they return to civil life their businesses may have been altogether destroyed. If it be then that they have any evidence that enemies have been able to take over their business or in the absence of the original proprietor have been able to profit by their absence, well then, of course, we can anticipate that when those men return they will evince their feeling against the Department or the Government which they apprehend has failed to properly protect their interests. Nevertheless, my hon. and learned Friend put the question rather beyond the province of the Board of Trade, and I think I will be able to adduce a few arguments to prove that. He says that the Board of Trade ought to wind up every enemy undertaking.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
To wind up every enemy business unless it needs to be kept alive in the national interest.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I think my hon. and learned Friend put it a little higher even than that. I was about to say that Parliament had determined otherwise, because in the Trading with the Enemy Act a certain discretion was left with the Board of Trade. My hon. and learned Friend is aware of the fact that the Board of Trade operates through an Advisory Committee. It is true it is represented to us that the composition of this Committee is not altogether satisfactory, and one is bound to take note of those criticisms. Until the deputation waited on me the other day I was not aware that any feeling existed against the Committee. All I had understood from representations made to me in the House was general satisfaction with the constitution and operations of that Committee. I repeat that until the 1281 City deputation waited on me the other day I was not aware that any dissatisfaction existed against the Committee. Of course, I took notice of it then. I understood that a statement on the lines of the statement which was made to me was to be forwarded in the course of a day or two. That is my understanding of it. When that statement comes to hand I will direct the attention of my right hon. Friend to the various points which were made to me. As I say, that was the first occasion on which this point was ever brought to my notice. I have not yet had the opportunity to direct the attention of the President of the Board to it. I have to ask my hon. and learned Friend to accept the assurance that any representation made in this House receives proper consideration at the hands of the Department. My hon. Friend directed attention to a case which has received a good deal of notoriety. That is the case of Wagner. I have had to reply, even during my short tenure of office, to many questions on the subject. I anticipate that, however long I remain in office, that case will continue to haunt me.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
This case has been twice considered by the Advisory Committee. On both occasions they have reported to the Board against the expediency of an order under Section 1 of the Trading with the Enemy Act, 1916, both on commercial and on personal grounds. Wagner has been 36 years in England. He married an English woman. His son is in the Officers' Training Corps. He has no interests or property in Germany, and the Committee were satisfied that his sympathies were fully British. It was specially on these personal grounds that the Board accepted the recommendations of the Committee. The business is under supervision on behalf of the Board of Trade. On both occasions the Advisory Committee have come to the same conclusion, following their consideration of this case. So far the Board have felt it expedient to accept the recommendations of the Committee. But I promise my hon. Friend to give this matter my personal attention. If it be that I find myself in agreement with the Advisory Committee, I still say so; if not, I will take appropriate action. In the other case I have no particulars, therefore my hon. Friend will excuse me for not dealing with it.
1282 As to the fuel supply, let me remove a misapprehension from the mind of my hon. Friend. It is inaccurate to say that any person can have twenty tons supplied to him. An extract from the Order I issued says—Merchants have been advised that deliveries should be made by instalments not exceeding four tons at one time, and that two or more instalments should not be delivered to one household until every other household haft been dealt with.…
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I hope it will be taken notice of by the Press; if not, I shall endeavour to see that it is properly displayed. The Coal Controller recognises that the problem of supply and distribution during the coming winter is one of very serious urgency. From what I know, I think it is quite competent for me to say that he is approaching the problem on real practical lines, that he has made substantial progress, and that he is very hopeful of the result. I shall be greatly surprised if the plans he is making for the supply and distribution of coal in London during the coming winter do not save us from the unfortunate experiences of the past one or two winters. With my hon. Friend I recognise that the problem is largely one of storage, and the Coal Controller is engaged with that aspect of the matter. He will keep in touch with the local authorities, and is prepared to operate through them very largely, regret that time prevents a more adequate dealing with the question.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
At any time, I think. But any questions my hon. Friend may put down I shall be glad to answer, or he may make the matter a subject of Debate, when I shall be very glad to go very fully into the question.
§ Major HUNT
I wish to associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford said about aliens. I desire to draw the attention of the Board of Trade to a meeting of the textile section of the London Chamber of Commerce. Members expressed their opinion very strongly that unnaturalised and enemy aliens should not be allowed to trade in this country during the War or for a considerable time afterwards.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.