HC Deb 26 May 1919 vol 116 cc801-2
6. Colonel BURN

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the manufacturing costs in all classes of machinery have risen in this country since the Armistice owing to the following main causes, namely, an advance of 5s. per week to all classes of labour in the engineering trade given by the Committee on Production as from 1st December last, a reduction in working hours from fifty-three to forty-seven Which became operative on the 1st January this year, the increased cost of coal owing to a 20 per cent. advance in wages and a reduction in working hours, and the removal of the Government subsidy on iron, the result of which is an increase of £3 per ton in the cost of pig iron and from £4 to £5 a ton in the cost of semi-manufactured steel; whether he is aware that since the Armistice there has been no increase in wages in the United States but a reduction of 10 per cent. in some cases and that further reductions are contemplated, and that in consequence of these facts American competitors in certain branches of the engineering trade are now able to undersell British manufacturers in British markets by fully 10 per cent.; and whether, in view of these considerations and the position at the moment of British competitive export trade, His Majesty's Government will fully and clearly declare the policy which it is proposed to adopt to safeguard the industrial vitality of the nation and ensure continuity of employment to the wage earning classes?


Apart from the point made about coal I believe that the statements embodied in my hon. and gallant Friend's question are substantially correct. Under the transitional trade policy of the Government industry is showing signs of substantial revival. The situation is being most carefully watched and any steps that the Government can take which hold promise of being helpful are being taken from time to time in accordance with the policy announced in March. I hope that it will be possible soon after Peace is signed to announce the line of policy which will be followed by the Government after the end of the transitional period on 1st September.

Colonel BURN

Does not my right hon. Friend think it is absolutely necessary that a policy should be laid down, that it brooks no delay, and that the country must know what the policy of the Government is in this matter?


I absolutely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that it is of the greatest possible interest to the country to know what the policy is, but it is of even greater interest to the country to know that the policy is right, and it is not possible at the present moment, with so many uncertain factors, to be quite sure what is the best series of steps to take.


May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman can explain what relation the Peace terms and the signing of Peace have to the question of restricting imports?


The very greatest possible connection. Absolutely, the two are bound together. The whole question of the future trade policy of this country is bound up with the question of the exchanges and the amount of trade which different countries are going to be in a position to do, and it is not possible for us now to say, with so many factors uncertain, what is the best policy for the Government to recommend to this House.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

Does not my right hon. Friend think it best to——


That is a matter suitable for Debate.