§ (1) The Board of Trade shall obtain from all available sources information as to the nature, extent, and development of trusts, companies, firms, combinations, agreements, and arrangements connected with mining, manufactures, trade, commerce, finance, or transport, having for their purpose or effect the regulation of the prices or output of commodities or services produced or rendered in the United Kingdom or imported into the United Kingdom, or the de limitation of markets in respect thereof, or the regulation of transport rates and services, in so far as they tend to the creation of monopolies or to the restraint of trade.
§ (2) If, in the opinion of the Board, as the result of investigations undertaken on its own initiative or on complaints made to it, there is prima facie evidence that the public interest is adversely affected, by the operation of any monopoly, combination, or agreement, the Board of Trade shall refer the whole matter to the tribunal hereinafter mentioned for investigation and report.
§ (3) There shall be established a tribunal consisting of a person of legal qualifications, as permanent chairman, and not less than two, or more than seven, other members selected by him from time to time from a panel appointed for the purpose by the President of the Board of Trade, after considering nominations made by representative trade organisations, including the co-operative movement and trade unions, which tribunal shall have power on reference from the Board of Trade to investigate the operation of any organisation specified in Sub-section (1) of this Section, and for that purpose to call for all books and papers, to take evidence upon oath, and to adopt such other measures of inquiry as it may deem necessary to elicit the facts; and when it shall be proved that acts injurious to the public interest have been committed, such facts as are relevant to the particular offence shall be published immediately on the conclusion of each inquiry.
§ (4) The Board of Trade shall make an Order for the remedying of any grievances which the tribunal may find to be established, and such Order may include provisions suspending the operations of the organisation which has been the subject of inquiry and imposing penalties.—[Mr. Tyson Wilson.]
§ Brought up, and read the first time.
Mr. T. WILSON
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
We believe that if the question of profiteering is to be effectively dealt with it should be done as is proposed in Sub-Section (1) of this proposed new Clause. Sub-section (2) then gives power to the Board of Trade to refer the matter to a tribunal for investigation and report. The suggested tribunal is detailed in Sub- 1680 section (3), and we are of the opinion that tribunals so constituted would command public confidence. The Clause is, practically speaking, the recommendation of the Committee of Inquiry into the question of trusts. If this Clause is inserted in the Bill, we believe that the Bill will be considerably strengthened, and will be administered in such a way that it will give general satisfaction throughout the country; and, unless it is accepted, the Bill will not operate as the Government expect it will operate. I therefore appeal to the Government to accept the new Clause. We are prepared to accept alteration in the wording, so long as the principle is not affected. If the Bill is not strengthened in this way it will not be satisfactory.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Auckland Geddes)
I could have no objection to the spirit and intention of this Clause, because the spirit and intention of this Clause are precisely the same as the spirit and intention of the Clauses which stand in the Bill as amended in Committee, with one exception, to which I shall refer. I have studied this Clause very carefully, and I find that it confers no powers, with the exception to which I shall refer, which do not already exist in the Bill. There is complete power for the Board of Trade "to obtain from all available sources information as to the nature, extent, and development of trusts, companies, firms, combinations, agreements, and arrangements." Sub-section (2) of the proposed new Clause gives power to refer the whole matter to a tribunal, and Sub-section (3) deals with the constitution of the tribunal. Let us take the Bill as it stands now There is under it power of investigation, power to refer examination to a tribunal, power to appoint the tribunal, and power to deal with the situation as it is found to exist, and the Board of Trade may, as the result of such investigation, fix maximum prices, or by Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 the Board of Trade may take the case before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and penalties may be imposed. The only point not taken in the Bill, and the only difference of the Bill from this Clause, is that contained in Sub-section (4) of the new Clause. The power suggested there is really an extraordinary power. It is proposed that the Board of 1681 Trade shall make an Order for the remedying of any grievances which the tribunal may find to be established, and such Order may include provisions sus-pending the operations of the organisation which has been the subject of inquiry, and imposing penalties. So the Board of Trade might suspend under this Clause the action of the business without any reference to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and might impose penalties equally without any reference to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction. These would be far too great powers for a Government Department to possess—perfectly unprecedented powers.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
We are dealing in an unprecedented way already with this subject, but this proposal is more unprecedented. If a situation were found to exist, as it might well be, and as I believe on investigation it will be—for I have seen much of the evidence laid before the Committee on Trusts which was not published, and that information shows one that such organisations in restraint of trade do exist, or at least there is very strong evidence for believing that they exist—at the same time I am quite sure that the proper way to deal with it is after full investigation, when the facts are all before us. If the powers existing are not sufficient to cope with the situation, then the Board of Trade could come to this House and ask for specific powers from Parliament, and one of the purposes of this Bill to check profiteering is to allow us to get under way this preliminary investigation which this Clause provides for in its first Subsection. There are certain powers to deal with the lesser evils; there are powers actually in the Bill to get prosecution, and if the Court finds the individuals guilty of making unreasonable profit, to get punishment; but these great evils, if they exist in any way similar to that foreshadowed in the evidence laid before the Committee on Trusts, cannot be dealt with so simply as a Court of Summary Jurisdiction can deal with an offence. If some of these great combinations have to be dealt with, if their beneficial results are not to ho lost to the country because they have also results which are the opposite of beneficial, then, surely, the procedure must be quite different from that indicated in the Amendment. It must be thought out, studied by Parliament itself, and decided by Parliament, and so I 1682 would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that, although I am in full sympathy with the Clause that he has moved, I am able to assure him also that the powers, in so far as they can be used when used properly, are already contained in the Bill, and, in view of that, I hope he will not press his Clause
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am very astonished to have heard the extraordinary speech of the President of the Board of Trade, and I hope my right hon. and hon. Friends who support this Clause will press it. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Report of the Committee on Trusts, and to certain evidence which is not laid before Parliament. I am open to correction, but I believe in that case it is. incumbent on the Minister to lay that evidence before Parliament, if it affects the whole case of such a very vital Bill as this, affecting every man, woman, and child in the country. The Amendment is accepted in principle by my right hon. Friend, with the exception of Sub-clause (4), and if that is the case I think it is very essential that it should be embodied in the Bill, first, because this Bill has been criticised outside on the ground that it is attacking the small man by the system of little local councils and is leaving the big trust untouched. The Minister declares—I am sure sincerely—that that is not the case. Then why not put this in the Bill and meet that criticism half-way? If later on legal quibbles by very rich corporations are brought up in the Courts, and carried, possibly, up to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, it would be possible for skilled lawyers to point to dates and to the Bill itself, and to the grave fact that the words "trusts, combines, and monopolies," and so on, are never mentioned in the Bill. During the last hours of this morning's sitting we tried hard to get these words put into the Bill, and we got a sort of half-hearted concession from the Attorney-General finally, and after tremendous difficulties.
As regards Sub-section (4), this is absolutely crucial. Let us look at it from a world-wide point of view. We are not informed what the Supreme Economic Council is doing, but we hope it is taking international action to deal with these big trusts, and, if anyone has studied the Report of the Committee on Trusts or followed the Debates and the legislation in America to deal with these trusts, he will have been impressed with the tremendous 1683 difficulty of dealing with their international ramifications. The only way in which the democracies of the world can meet the big combinations which have become international is by international action through the Supreme Economic Council of the League of Nations. We will suppose that that Council is really getting ahead with this matter. I do not know that it is, and I get very elusive answers to my questions in this House, but we will hope that it is. It may then request each member of each country represented on the Council to represent to his Government that immediate and simultaneous steps may be taken—a kind of unity of front—to deal with some big international combine that may be holding up wheat, or meat, or some other staple commodity. In that case it is most necessary that the Board of Trade should have the power to make an Order for remedying any grievance that the tribunal may find to be established on evidence supplied by the Supreme Economic Council, and such Order should include power to suspend the organisation. Surely that is most reasonable and necessary, if only we take a world-wide view of this great and pressing problem, and not the miserable parochial view that has been so far taken by the Government. We are faced with a great and unprecedented situation, and I appeal to my hon. Friends on these benches to be firm in their views, especially in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), who, I think, knows as much about this subject as anyone in this House. Look with vision now, once and for all, at this matter. This little Bill is not going to bring down the price of living. The only way we can do that is by international control of raw materials and food at their source, and it is the great world-wide measures which will be the international legislation of the future that this Clause will apply to. I hope that this will be carried to a Division.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
I will not follow the hon. and gallant Member through his picture of world-wide legislation. I am afraid it is likely to prove as inadequate as his statement about the liability of a Ministry to produce documents.
§ Sir C. WARNER
That liability to produce documents is only in respect of documents they have quoted, and the President of the Board of Trade has not quoted any documents. I would appeal to the Government to accept the first paragraph of this new Clause. Those who listened to the Debate yesterday will realise, I think, that the Bill is a Bill aimed against the small trader. It is quite true, we know, that it is not meant to have that object, and I am confident the Government does not wish it to, but it looks like it, and it is not enough for the Government to say that they mean to deal with the big trusts. I think there ought to be an Instruction in the Bill as to how the Bill is to be worked, and as to what is to be done by the Department, and the first paragraph of this Clause is, I think, very important. It is an important instruction to work the Bill so as to get information, and, exactly as the Minister said, prepare the way for bringing these trusts to book and making some impression in preventing their nefarious work. I do not think it very much matters whether we put the penal Clauses in now or whether we have to wait till the Ministry has decided that they have got proof of such a thing, when this House will not be slow in giving them powers. You have only got to have a strong case of some serious criminal work going on, and this House is only too ready to support the Government in putting it down. But I think it is necessary to have this first Subsection, and as it is only a six months' Bill, I think that is another reason for leaving out the Sub-sections exacting punishment, because these things will be growing more and more in the future. Trusts are things that require more Government attention from year to year, and I think the punishment for the nefarious dealings of trusts is one that ought to be permanent, one that ought to be founded on thorough knowledge of what they do wrong, and not drawn up in a six months' Bill before we know what is really going on. Let us have it as an Instruction in the Bill that the Department shall go into this matter, shall investigate and find out what is wrong, and then, if the powers already contained in the Bill are insufficient, there will be very little difficulty in getting further powers. I do not think anything you put in here, such as appealing to a tribunal of this sort, would be really sufficient. It may be that the public is being robbed of millions in some cases. Would such a tribunal as is set up 1685 in this Clause be sufficient to deal with a case of that sort? Should we not want the highest judges in the land to try such cases? I think it is the case that, though we want to find out the trouble and sec it distinctly laid down in the Bill that the Government shall go into the matter and find it out, the rest of the Clause is unimportant at the present moment.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
The hon. Baronet argued his point of view with great force, as he always does, but I am not quite sure he has sufficiently kept in mind the effect on opinion in the country of adopting the suggestion he has made. With regard to the whole subject-matter of this Bill, it is, I presume, sufficiently evident to every Member of the House that there has not been full and detailed inquiry before deciding upon the offences and the punishment. I do not say that entirely by way of criticism. The Government, perhaps, feel it necessary to proceed with the Bill without that inquiry, and to leave this matter entirely untouched. But without that additional inquiry, you impose penalties upon every small trader who is found guilty of an offence which is by no means clearly defined, and I do suggest that when you are dealing with great trusts and great combinations, and confine your action merely to asking for information and laying down no penalty, it will leave a bad impression upon the community.
The penalties in the Bill are there, and it is making a special tribunal and a special penalty in this particular case.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
Yes, but may I remind the hon. Baronet that the result of the inquiries asked for in the first Sub-section of my hon. Friend's Clause will be to disclose facts that the public have been robbed to the extent of millions? What penalty is imposed by the Bill? Those who conduct these nefarious operations-robbing the community to the extent of millions—if brought up, can only be penalised to the extent of £200.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
Yes, but I do suggest that the Court will find it very, very difficult indeed to secure that the people who have really benefited to the extent of these millions are the people to be sentenced to terms of imprisonment. At any rate, I do not suggest that my hon. Friend has found in every respect absolutely the best solution, 1686 but I do suggest that if you have to take provisional action during the six months, it is right you should adopt, not merely his first suggestion, as the hon. Baronet suggests, but experiment with the whole of the suggestion. If, during the six months, experience teaches us it is necessary to adopt other provisions, I am quite sure we should have the amending legislation ; but I do hope that, unless the Government meet my hon. Friend more fully than they have done, my hon. Friend will take the sense of the House upon this question, because I am quite sure the country will not think the Government or the House of Commons are in earnest in their attempt to deal with profiteering if you only provide penalties which will catch the small men and leave the main offenders entirely untouched. I must say— and I am sure my right hon. Friend will excuse me for saying—that I do feel he spoke with undue modesty when ho, suggested these powers were too great to confer on his Department. With reference to that matter, I do suggest that, at any rate, the power of suspending the operation of a trust or combination, which is found to be working injuriously against the interest of the community, is at least the power ho ought to have himself, and I suggest that if he does not take steps to arm himself with that power, it will be impossible for him to strike at the real causes of the, evil. For these reasons, I support the Clause of my hon. Friend, and if he goes to a Division I shall certainly vote for the Clause.
Mr. T. THOMSON
I wish to join in the appeal to the President of the Board of Trade that he should give more consideration to the Clause—if not the whole, at least down to Sub-section (3). He said he was absolutely in sympathy with the desire, and he suggested that the powers there conferred were already to a large extent in the Bill. I think he will agree that the Clause, as tabled, is decidedly more explicit, and covers rather wider ground than anything in the Bill. I think he will find some difficulty in absolutely resisting this Clause, because it is taken word for word, so far as the first three Sub-sections are concerned, from the Report of the Committee on Trusts, which was a very representative Committee appointed by the Government, and, unlike many Committees, it submitted a unanimous Report. I quite agree with the criticism which has been made of the fourth Sub-section, and the hon. and gallant 1687 Member for Newcastle (Major Barnes) and myself tabled an Amendment which would alter the new Clause, so that, instead of the Board of Trade having arbitrary power, Parliament itself should be the final tribunal on this matter. I think that is in general keeping with the desire of the House. At any rate, let us have the first three Sub-sections of this Clause. The Committee who reported realised the growing evil of these trusts, and unanimously desired that this full investigation should be undertaken, so that the truth of the fears could be ascertained, and, if the evil were there, the necessary legislation should be made by Parliament.
§ Captain BOWYER
In the hope that perhaps one more voice joining in the appeal may influence the right hon. Gentleman, I would like to say that I would go further than the hon. Baronet, who, I think, would have liked the first Subsection included. I think the first three Sub-sections might well be included, as the words "monopolies" and "trusts" are not included in the Bill as it is before the House. I think it eminently important they should be in the Bill, if only for the purpose of direction. Sub-section (1) of the proposed new Clause saysThe Board of Trade shall obtain from all available sources information as to the nature, extent, and development of trusts, companies," etc.I think that information, if obtained by the Board of Trade, would be very useful, not only for the six months, which perhaps would not give them time to deal with it, but would be information very useful for them and for future action as well.
§ Mr. RENDALL
I do not quite understand the position which the right hon. Gentleman takes up. As I understand, he has no objection to the first two Subsections of this new Clause, but he has not said definitely whether he is going to accept them, and, therefore, we are in the difficult position of not knowing the final view he is going to take on this matter. It seems to me that Sub-section (3) is certainly a valuable one, and the same applies to Sub-section (4). If he feels that, passed in its present form, it would go too far, at least he might accept some Amendment to Sub-section (4), and make that Sub-section, instead of absolutely prohibiting the operation of any company, syndicate or trust, give power to the tri- 1688 bunal established by Sub-section (3) to lay down the conditions on which a company, syndicate, or trust shall operate in future. The power to propose limitation might be fairly put in the hands of the tribunal, because primâ facie the tribunal would have already decided that the syndicate or trust had done what was wrong, and against the interests of the community, and, consequently, it is not reasonable that that tribunal, which has probably taken a great deal of trouble in coming to their decision, should only be allowed to inflict a fine. We all know you cannot imprison the secretary of a company or all the directors, or all the shareholders, and the imprisonment is therefore what is called a "wash-out." There certainly cannot be any imprisonment in this Clause against a syndicate or trust and you can only fine them £200. It is quite true, under the Act, they can be made to repay all their ill-gotten gains, but that is extremely difficult, for primâ facie they have been carrying on business for weeks, months, or years. I do suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might accept the whole Clause, which would go along way to satisfy public opinion, and make the public understand that the Government is sincere in really trying to go for the big syndicate, and not merely for the small shopkeeper. If he would accept Sub-section (4) in an amended form, to allow the tribunal to make an Order limiting the methods of the defaulting or miscreant trust, and give the tribunal power to lay down conditions on which it should trade in the future, I think something valuable would be done.
I should like to join in the appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to modify the attitude he has taken up with regard to this Clause. If I understood what he said, it was that he thought this Clause did not extend either his duties or his powers in the direction in which he thought they ought to be extended, although the latter part of the Clause gave him powers he ought not to have. I think he is hardly taking the right view there, because if one looks at the Bill as it stands, I do not think it gives him at the present time power to inquire into the large matters referred to in this Clause. Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 gives the Board of Trade power to investigate prices, costs, and profit, but only in respect of.any article. He has no power 1689 under the Bill to go into the large question of the nature, extent, and development of trusts, companies, etc., such as is suggested in this new Clause. I think if he intends to go into that at all, it would be wise to take these explicitly declared larger powers, and I am quite sure the sense of the House is with me when I say the insertion of a Clause of this kind in the Bill would give to the country a feeling that the Government had visualised the whole extent of this problem, and that they really saw it as a big thing, and not as a little thing, and that is what we do want the country to realise.
There are two Amendments down in my name, and in that of my hon. Friend (Mr. Thomson), and these, I think, will somewhat remove the objection of the right hon. Gentleman, because they would place upon him a duty which he has certainly not got under the Bill. I propose to add after the word "firms" the words "trade unions," so that the right hon. Gentleman may inquire into the effect of combinations of labour as well as combinations of capital upon the regulation of prices and outputs. Then in the following Amendment I propose to take away from this Clause the large powers which it is thought he ought not to be entrusted with. If I correctly interpret the feelings of the House by my own hon. Members do not want now to listen to long speeches, and I am not going to inflict one; but I just want to say a word or two on what is the problem before us. We are in an extraordinary situation. We have got an extraordinary profiteering Bill. Some people do not think so; but I think it is a good Bill. I think—if I may say so—it is a Bill which reflects the very greatest credit on the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has introduced it, and met this emergency.
What is the situation? What is the Bill? It is a situation in which high prices and a scarcity of commodities are the outstanding features. The Bill is to deal with those things. When we ask ourselves how is it prices are high and commodities scarce, we find two answers given, and these depend upon the quarter of the House whence they come. If you inquire from quarters on this side of the House you are told that high prices and scarcity of commodities are because of combinations of capital; that these combinations restrict output, and so raise prices. If you ask for an answer from other quarters of the House you are told 1690 that the conditions I have mentioned are caused by combinations of labour; that they are owing to trade union rules, and the policy known as "ca' canny," by which you have restriction of output. But we have not got the practical knowledge we should have. A great many people in the country are outside those two points of dispute. They want to know the truth. They desire to know what is the real situation. They want to know whether it is the fact that trusts, rings, and combines do restrict output, and do send up prices. They ask: Is it a fact that the policy of trade unions, working through their branches and through their members, decreases production? The country wants to be satisfied on these points. The right hon. Gentleman has that opportunity. He has not only the opportunity but the responsibility laid upon him at this time to make this inquiry, and so satisfy this House and the country as to where the truth is. For my own part, I believe the whole truth does not lie on either side. There are some people who believe that combinations of capital are an unmixed evil. I do not believe that. I believe we owe a great deal of the prosperity of this country, and of the world, to the great combinations of capital which have taken place. On the other hand, there are people who think that combinations of labour are an unmixed blessing. I do not think that either. I think that in the great combinations of labour we do get at times there is evidence that they work against the general efficiency of the country. All I want to say now—because I do not want to speak again, but merely formally to move my Amendments which are put down in the friendliest spirit—is that since I have been in the House—and I have not been here long—I have over and over again had more sympathy with the line taken by hon. Members above the Gangway on this side of the House than by any other section. I have voted with them often. But here is a chance for the House to take a big, impartial survey of this question, to investigate all sides, and endeavour to place the country in possession of the real truth—as to whether the operations of rings, combines, great trade trusts, and corners are evil in the way suggested by this Amendment, and whether, on the other hand, from the operation of great combinations of labour, we are suffering in a way that many hon. Members of the House think.
1691 I hope the right hon. Gentleman will feel that the sense of the House and the sense of the country demand that he shall take up the work we are trying to place upon him, through his great Department, and by the means at his disposal, and that he will conduct his great investigation, and give us what we want more than anything else—that is knowledge !
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I would just add one word to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the appeal to him to reconsider his decision comes from every section of the House. Everyone who has spoken has supported the appeal, and I desire to associate myself with it very heartily indeed. I sincerely trust the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider it.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
By permission of the House I should like to speak again. When I appeared before the Select Committee upstairs as a witness I took as my basis in explaining what we proposed to do the Committee on Trusts. I described the central tribunals set out in this Amendment as the sort of tribunal which we intended to set up. On the Second Reading of the Bill I again explained that this was precisely what we wanted to do. Yesterday, as hon. Members will remember, on the very first Amendment I again referred to this Amendment and to this tribunal. These are the steps we propose to take, in so far as it is possible to take steps of this nature, and on this scale, within the six months. When we were dealing with the Patents and Designs Bill in this House I informed the House that it was our intention after the Recess to introduce legislation as comprehensive as we could make it to deal with this evil. I said, if I recollect aright, that we were going to base that legislation on the Report of the Committee on Trusts. As a matter of fact, in the preliminary draft we have such Clauses almost absolutely verbatim, because they are taken from exactly the same source as my right hon. Friend opposite has taken his proposed Amendment.
Therefore, I cannot say that I dislike the Clauses, or that I disapprove of them; because four times publicly I have said that that is what we want to do. But really in a Bill of this nature, and drafted as it is, I do not think it would be reasonable to insert the whole of these provisions, because they would really mean nothing; 1692 permanent legislation must come on to replace this measure. If we are to have permanent machinery, well, this is certainly not permanent machinery. So I would be prepared to accept the first part of this Amendment, which will, as it were, be putting a poster out to show what we are doing—a sort of manifesto which does not add anything to the powers; something in this form—"Without prejudice to the general powers under this Act"; subsequently—" the Board of Trade shall use their available resources so to appoint "—and then to say laterAnd the Board of Trade shall, for the purposes of this Section, utilise the powers of investigation and of appointing committees conferred upon them by this Act.This is not an intimation that I do not agree with the various speakers. But we do really not want this in a temporary Act. This Act will enable us to put up the scaffolding on which the permanent structure can be erected, and it would be a mistake to burden it with the whole of these long provisions. If my right hon. Friend will accept what I offer I shall be glad. There is great force in the points very forcibly put from different parts of the House, and I confess the Act itself does not appear to meet them. If we accept an Amendment of this sort it will meet them.
Mr. T. WILSON
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his offer. At the same time I am rather sorry he has not gone the whole way. My proposed Sub-section (1) would have inspired confidence in the minds of the people of the country who are grumbling in regard to the prices they have to pay for everything they eat and wear. It would also tend to allay a lot of the unrest among, what I call, the great demobilised army. They feel very strongly on some of these matters. Only in the newspapers this morning you find the general opinion is apparently expressed that the Bill, as it left the House of Commons early this. morning, is really only tinkering with the subject. I fully recognise the difficulty of getting into a Bill of this kind, which is only a temporary measure, the whole of this proposed new Clause, and if my Seconder agrees, I am prepared to accept the offer of the right hon. Gentleman. May I also, if I am in order, appeal to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway that if they persist in their Amendment to bring trade unions into this proposed Amendment it will also mean the addition of employers federations, associations, industrial 1693 leagues, and similar bodies, I would suggest they do not press their Amendments at the present time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Amendments made:
In Sub-section (1), after (1), insert the words
Without prejudice to the generality of the powers under this Act."—[Sir A. Geddes.]
In Sub-section (1), after the word "trade"["or to the restraint of trade"], add the words
and the Hoard of Trade shall, for the purposes of this Section, utilise the powers of investigation and of appointing committees conferred upon them by this Act. —[Sir A. Geddes.]
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The Government have gone some way to meet the situation. 1 am not quite satisfied. I was, unfortunately, called out of the House, and I did not hear the whole of the discussion, of what my right hon. Friend the President said, though 1 dare say he has given excellent reasons for the action he has taken. I am not quite satisfied that the Government are right in striking out, at any rate, Sub-sections (2) and (3). I am rather inclined to think that the machinery there provided is more effective, and will be more pointed, than anything contained so far in the machinery of the Bill. I am afraid I do not think very much of the Bill. In its practical aspect I do not think it will do. Its merit is this: It is what was described by an hon. Member on the Front Bench last night as a manifesto. There is something, after all, in a manifesto. It is not very much, but there is something, and if we are going to treat the Bill mainly as a manifesto, then since all of us feel profoundly that there is an evil infinitely greater and more dangerous than casual profiteering by the local retailer, and that is the evil of trusts as they exist in some other countries and to some extent I am afraid in this country. I do think there is something to be said for making your manifesto pretty definite and emphatic when dealing with trusts. I agree with the President of the Board of Trade that Sub-section (4) is unworkable and tries to do too much. I was rather attracted by what the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) said about international action, which I think it is important should be kept in view, 1694 and with the existence of the League of Nations should always be remembered as one of the factors that has to govern our outlook on all these things. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member opposite for having called attention to it, but he must recognise that the League is not in existence until the Treaties are ratified, and therefore an argument for the existence of Sub-section (4), and what the League of Nations may do when it comes into existence in connection with the general economic organisation of the world is, I think, a little premature.
It may be that legislation in all the countries will be required to carry out the policy of the League of Nations, but surely we ought to see the policy first before we provide machinery to carry it out, otherwise that machinery may prove altogether inappropriate. I thank the hon. and gallant Member for having made that reference, although I agree with the course suggested by the President of the Board of Trade. I ask the right hon. Gentleman even at this stage to consider whether he could not do something to make this rather more emphatic as a manifesto. We are merely having Sub-section (1) with a slight addition, and I am not sure that the people outside will realise that this House is in earnest when it says that it regards trusts rings, and combinations for the benefit of individuals and to the prejudice of the whole community as among the most dangerous economic developments of the present day. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able, if not here at least elsewhere, to insert Something striking in his manifesto as far as this part of the question is concerned.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I wish to reinforce the arguments of my right hon. Friend opposite. The Government have been forced by popular clamour to bring in these proposals, and when that same popular clamour has become well informed it will demand a policy of worldwide international action, and the Government should have its powers ready in case some grave emergency may happen during the long looked for holidays. I beg-the right hon. Gentleman to see whether some form of words cannot be devised giving us a little more power to deal with this extraordinary world-wide situation in case the League of Nations is brought into being more quickly than we anticipate.
§ Major Earl WINTERTON
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman 1695 (Lord R. Cecil), although I do not quite understand what has been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who has spoken of world-wide action and other sonorous phrases of that kind. I think this question should be taken into consideration by the Government. I imagine the view of the right hon. Gentleman is much the same as my own in regard to this Bill as a whole. I regard it as being so weak that it does not deal with what is, after all, the principle cause of complaint of the ordinary member of the public, which is not so much in regard to the small tradesmen in the country districts, but what is at the back of the mind of the ordinary member of the public is the impression that somewhere in this country people on a large scale are speculating in regard to the necessities of life. On a former occasion when I said that it was a scandal that a man should be richer as the result of this War. some hon. Member asked, "Why?" I then said I hoped nobody ought to be richer by the War, and I hope there is no hon. Member of this House who is richer on that account.
There is a widespread impression which may be absolutely wrong that people who are not agitators but who are described in America as good citizens have been indulging in hanky-panky speculations in the form of combines. I think the Government would have shown their sincere desire to deal with the real causes of this discontent better had they adopted the Amendment which has been moved from the benches opposite. My Noble Friend said that this really was a manifesto against profiteering, and to use a military phrase it is their operation orders. The Government, however, seem to have left out what ought to be the ultimate object of their attack. The small trader is, after all, not the real profiteer, because the real profiteers are entrenched behind barbed wire and honours, and they are difficult to get at. The President is a far cleverer man than I am, or those who have addressed him, and he knows in his own mind that the real people he ought to get at are not small traders but the big monopolists. I support the principle of this Amendment, and I hope the Government will accept it.
§ Mr. NEAL
The particular Amendment before the House is the omission of the three Sub-sections, which will leave only 1696 one, which declares the duty of the Board of Trade for the terms of this Act, which is six months. Surely it is the perpetual duty of the Board of Trade to keep itself informed and make the inquiries. It says that the Board of Trade shall obtain information from all available sources. I should have thought it was the obvious duty of the Board of Trade, in charge of the administration of commerce, to be always making such inquiries and keeping such things up to date as far as possible. What I fear is the possibility of there being some misconception if this proposal stands alone. Might it not be logically said that there was this duty upon the Board of Trade, for six months only, to make those inquiries? I apprehend that very little indeed will be done in that six months. There will be Departmental inquiries. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there will be nothing in this Bill that would enable him to make such inquiries with greater powers than he has at this moment. If he looks at the powers conferred by Clause 1 of this Bill, he will see that he has power in respect of any article to make further investigations as to price, cost, and profit, and to receive and investigate complaints. Surely those powers would not assist him in the least in an inquiry as to whether a particular combination of trade was or was not for the benefit of the State or contrary to the interests of the community !
Similarly, if you look at the power given under the Bill without the whole of this Clause, there is given to the right hon. Gentleman the right to establish or call on local authorities to establish a certain committee, to whom the Board of Trade may delegate any of their powers under this Act in respect of articles or classes of articles. I suggest that this proposal would not help in the least in an inquiry as to whether a combine was beneficial or prejudicial to the interests of the State. The word manifesto has been used, but this is not even a manifesto. It is simply a statement that during the period the Act is in force the Board of Trade may conduct certain investigations within its own Department which I should have thought it had already the right and power of conducting. Personally I would rather this proposal went out altogether than it should be allowed to stand alone. If anything is to be done I should have thought it was desirable to establish a tribunal 1697 ad hoc, and it should be given very adequate and full powers to make the investigations necessary. If the President was able to assure the House that by the time we meet again he will be in a position to bring forward some comprehensive measure dealing with this evil, which is too big to be dealt with in a few lines by an emasculated new Clause brought in on the Report stage, that would be a manifesto of value to the country.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I have already told the House twice what I intend to do on this matter. I referred to the question on the Patents and Designs Bill, and I mentioned it about a quarter of an hour ago.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. NEAL
I am sorry that by my absence I missed the right hon. Gentleman's statement. If what he says is true, what is the value of putting in this Clause? If we are to have a fuller measure dealing with this subject later on, I suggest that there is no object to be served by inserting in the Bill this bit of a new Clause.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.