§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The Profiteering Act, which was passed in August of last year, expires on the 19th May. This Bill is designed to continue that Act in operation for another twelve months. There are also certain provisions for amending the previous Act in order to make its operations more efficacious. I had hoped that the Motion which I am now moving would be regarded as entirely non-controversial in character, but I learn from the notice Paper that there are at least three hon. Gentlemen who desire that the provisions of the Profiteering Act should now lapse, and that after the 19th May this year there shall no longer be any check whatever on profiteering.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Gentleman wants to misrepresent my action in putting down a Motion for rejection. I do not want the Profiteering Act to lapse or any checks withdrawn, but I want the whole thing strengthened.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I should gather that the strengthening of the Act would be done by Amendments of this Bill in Committee. The hon. Gentleman's Motion is:That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, while providing no sure means for the prevention of profiteering, encourages the formation of trusts and trade combines and the artificial stereotyping of high prices.If he declines to give the Bill a Second Reading, then automatically the Profiteering Act will come to an end. I wish, accordingly, that the House should consider for a moment precisely what are the powers which exist in the Profiteering Act of 1919, and how we should be left if those powers disappeared. Under the Act the Board of Trade has power to schedule articles in common use, to conduct investigations into their manufacture, and to ascertain costs and prices and profits at all stages of that manufacture. It may also fix maximum prices for any of these articles in the schedule. It may, if it thinks that the profit taken on the manufacture of these articles is exorbitant or unreasonable, prosecute the person who 1535 is exacting the profit. If complaints are made to it by any citizen that he has been charged an unreasonable price for one of the articles in the schedule it may institute an investigation, and, upon it being ascertained that the price is unreasonable, it may have the excess returned to the purchaser. Further, the Board of Trade may delegate all its powers to subsidiary tribunals, which may do everything that the Board of Trade can do, except fix maximum prices. Finally, it may investigate all cases of trusts or combinations or arrangements for carrying on trade having for either their purpose or effect the regulation of prices or output or distribution of the article manufactured.
The conditions under which we find ourselves to-day are not less easy to profiteer in than they were when the Act was passed. The shortage of commodities with which we were faced then is perhaps intensified now. Prices have gone even further than they had gone in August, 1919, and if anyone to-day desires to profiteer he has got just as adequate opportunities if not more than he had in August last. I could scarcely believe that my hon. and gallant Friend really desired to have all these powers taken away, for they are to-day the only check upon those who desire to profiteer at the expense of the public. We have at least this to guide us. No other country in the world has been able to devise a better plan than we have in existence in the Act. None has instituted more stringent regulations. None has conducted more efficacious investigations, and our experience is that other countries are copying, so far as their circumstances allow, the system we have laid down. It may be asked, what use have you been able to make of your Act? I would ask the House for a moment to consider that question. We have made the greatest possible use of the Act and it has performed very useful functions during the last few months.
I will take first the question of the investigation of costs and prices and profits. Under the Profiteering Act there was set up a Central Committee for the purpose of conducting such investigations. That Central Committee elected a large number of sub-committees, and between August and the present time there have been 296 meetings of committees and sub-committees, 104 1536 commodities have been investigated or are now in course of investigation, and 16 reports embodying the result of many weeks' investigation and the examination of a great many witnesses have now been completed and sent to the Board of Trade. I need not elaborate those reports, because some of them have been made public. Not all of them are yet complete. Some have been sent back for further investigation, but one thing I think I am able now to claim without contradiction, and that is that these investigations have been of very great value to this country, in that they have done much to inform the public mind. With regard to all matters in which the mass of the people are moved by suspicion, publicity is always very valuable. I would go so far as to say that you cannot for long keep up charges which are essentially unfair and unjust if you have the light of day cast upon them by investigation through committees in which the public has confidence. I claim that in this respect the Act has performed a very great service.
Let me turn to another aspect of the work. I have stated that under the provisions of the Act the Board of Trade may set up local tribunals for the investigation of complaints. There have been set up under that scheme something like 1,800 Committees, which have been conducting investigations. Four thousand complaints have been heard. In 934 cases it was held that the charges made were unreasonable, and in over 200 cases prosecutions were conducted in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction. It may be said that that represents a comparatively small result for the examination of complaints with regard to profiteering prices, but I beg the House not to believe that the whole efficacy of this work is shown by the number of prosecutions you have to conduct or the complaints you actually receive. You must recollect what the deterrent effect is of such legislation as this. It would be just as unfair to test the value of the work of those Committees by the number of prosecutions which have been conducted as a result of the inquiries as it would be to test the value of a policeman's, work by the number of criminals he succeeded in arresting, or to test the value of a Judge's work by the number of people he succeeded in having convicted. Accordingly we have got to look at the matter in a much wider aspect 1537 than the mere result of prosecutions. From all the evidence I can get—and I have endeavoured to acquire all the information possible from those who have been conducting these Committees—I am assured in my own mind, and I venture to give this to the House, that the deterrent effect of this Act has been very great indeed, and that the menace of publicity and the threat of having transactions exposed in public before Committees, has had the very greatest possible effect in preventing a rise of prices in many cases where people would have been tempted to take the utmost advantage from the public. It is sometimes said—and I see this criticism from time to time—that, while something has been done affecting the small retailer, very little has been done really to tackle the case of the large manufacturers or trusts. I should like to examine that for a moment. I have referred already to the investigations that have been conducted in the case of these great combinations. Those have included combinations dealing in such commodities as chocolate, sewing cotton, electric lamps, petrol, building materials, tobacco, uniform clothing, dyes, iron and steel products, fish, soap, wallpaper, cocoa, meat, milk, oils and fats, and even that does not exhaust the whole list. We have not got to the end of the results of those inquiries. Certain reports have been given, but the majority of them are still in the form of interim reports, or have been sent back for further information. Therefore, we have not been in a position up till now really to take action upon any of those reports, even if the occasion for action were disclosed.
I should like also to say that one of the results of those investigations has been that it may be safely said in general that monopolies or combinations having a substantial control in this country have up till now not really abused their position. I think we are entitled to say that our country has been particularly free from the abuse of such monopoly power. It may be that there will be such abuses in the future, and I think that every country is bound to take means to guard against the possibility of such abuse. Accordingly, the Government has turned its attention to the type of legislation which would be required in order to deal with cases of monopolies and combinations having substantial control of any particular in- 1538 dustry or any particular commodity required by the public. Such legislation would have been proposed at the present time, and a scheme has been thought out and prepared, which would have been incorporated in the present Bill but for the fact that we have got to get the present Bill through before the 19th May if we are to preserve the powers which we have under the Profiteering Act on the Statute Book. Accordingly legislation in a permanent form, not in the temporary form of this present Profiteering Act, dealing with trusts and combinations, must for the moment be postponed. I am sure that the House will readily understand that in the present condition of public business in this House there would have been a very poor chance of our being able to pass any such legislation in the course of this Session, considering the fact that the Irish Bill is going to be taken in Committee on the Floor of this House. But in the meantime we are not left without protection against such trusts if their power is abused, because we have still got the power which is temporarily given to us in the Profiteering Act. That power amounts to this, that wherever you find a trust or combination extracting unreasonable prices from the public on an article which is one of the scheduled articles in common use under the Statute, then that trust or combination may be prosecuted by the Board of Trade, and on conviction is liable to the penalties set forth in the Statute.
We have now come to the position in which an amendment of the Act of last year is necessary. In the first place, its renewal is necessary, and it is necessary also to amend it in certain particulars in order to make its operation more effective. What then do we ask the House to do in the present Bill? The first feature, and it is the substantially novel feature, of the Bill is the provision of Clause one, that where you have got an association of traders in any particular trade, or any collection of persons in any particular trade, who put up a scheme to the Board of Trade, setting forth arrangements by which the cost of the article which they produce may be tested at each point in the process of manufacture and the profit ascertained, if the Board of Trade, after investigation by its officers, is able to endorse that scheme and say that the profit is reasonable, then that should be 1539 regarded as a profit which is not unreasonable, having regard to the provisions of the principal Act of last year. There are two reasons why this proposal, as it seems to us, is valuable. The first is, you can always do far better work if you co-operate with the people in the trade itself than if you are working against them. Secondly, unless you work with the people in the trade, the investigations you have got to make, and the regulations you may afterwards have to impose on the trade, will cost the country far more to operate than if you operated with the industry itself. Those are the two main reasons why we seek to have the powers given in Clause one. We have got a precedent for this. During the War the War Office was controlling the boot trade, and it embarked upon a system very like what is attempted in this Clause. It had the cost of the material and of the labour producing pairs of boots investigated at each stage of the manufacture, and it fixed a profit which was regarded as reasonable upon boots of certain prices. The prices were stamped upon the soles of the boots, and they came to be known as "standard boots," but it did not mean that there was only one variety. There was a great range of types in these boots, and in the course of the two years while the War Office was controlling this trade, between 1917 and 1919, they sold 25,000,000 pairs of these standard boots at a price which was much less than they could ordinarily have been obtained for in the market. After the Armistice, and after the War Office control ceased, the Federated Bootmakers of this country approached the Central Committee and offered to do voluntarily what previously they had done under the War Office. They had by this time ascertained that not merely the manufacturers and the retailers of boots would come into the scheme, but they had got also the goodwill and cooperation of the tanners, people who were engaged in selling the leather, and they came to the Committee with this scheme. The whole arrangements were worked out with the manufacturers, the operatives, the consumers, and the retailers, and for two months negotiations went on, and a scheme was arrived at. It provided for a testing at each stage of the manufacture from the leather upwards, a testing of the price, the cost, and the profit, and 1540 it fixed the profit to the manufacturer at 5 per cent. All these costings were submitted to the Accountant of the Central Committee, who verified them from the books that were put before him. He had also available all the records which the Costings Department of the War Office had acquired during the two years while they were operating the scheme.
The very same objection was put up to that scheme which is set forth in the reasoned Amendment of my hon. Friends opposite to-night, but it was found to have absolutely no substance. There is no question of forming any ring whatever, there is no attempt to make a combination which will keep up prices. The attempt is to get an agreement amongst the traders in a particular trade to keep prices down, and it is all subjected to the supervision of the responsible officers of the Committee. The result was that when the Committee reported upon this scheme in connection with the boot trade, what they said was this:We find the scheme to be considered in the public interest and likely to be of benefit, not only in providing the public with standard boots of recognised quality and at reasonable prices, but also in stabilising the market as a whole.What does that last phrase mean? It means this, that if you have got a commodity tested, known to be sold at a reasonable price, every other article in that range comes to be compared with the tested article, and that puts the public in a position to judge whether they are being charged a reasonable or an unreasonable price for the other article, and to make complaints accordingly if necessary. I should like the House to know that this Federated Bootmakers' Association have undertaken to give a third of their whole output to the production of these standard boots and shoes. They are now on the market and are being sold, and they would have been sold in very much larger quantities except for this, that the scheme was not prepared in time to allow of advantage being taken of the orders which are ordinarily given in the autumn of the year, but there is no doubt in the minds of anybody connected with the scheme that they will have a very good development of these orders in the course of the present year. Now that is the model which we have sought to follow in connection with what is proposed in Clause 1 of the present Bill, and I think I am not in error 1541 when I say that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Holmes) had something to do with the boot scheme, and that he knows what its merits are and what its weaknesses are, if it has any; but we are convinced that it is a method by which we can more readily get for the public reliable goods at a reasonable price than by any system of prosecution.
The next novelty in connection with the present Bill is that it applies not merely to sales, but also to the hiring of articles. It has been found, in the course of the experience of the last few months, that many articles of necessary equipment in houses have been hired at unreasonable rates, and we wish to bring hiring within the scope of the Bill. The next point with which I wish to deal quite shortly is that it is to apply also to repairing and dyeing, cleaning and washing. That brings in the laundry trade, of which many complaints have been made in the past, and we hope that this Bill will be able to render service also in connection with these matters. There are some very minor Amendments to which I need only refer for a moment in passing. There is an Amendment providing that the rate of profit shall not be unreasonable if not greater than the average rate of net profit before the War. I seem to have a recollection that while the last Bill was before the Committee this question was raised, I think, upon an Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire, who at that time argued for the Amendment which I am asking shall be made now in connection with this Bill. Secondly, there is a provision which we have found to be necessary in the working of the Statute, that a member of a co-operative society, unless he takes part in the management of the society, shall not be regarded as excluded from membership of a tribunal. The reason why we propose that is this. We found that in many parts of the country you were not in a position to man your committee unless you could take on members of co-operative societies, and I do not think there is any reason to believe that, where a man is an ordinary member of a co-operative society and takes no part in the management and acts in no way as an official of the society, he should be a partisan in any way, and so we make this proposal. We provide as an Amendment that investigations may be held by 1542 an officer authorised by the Board of Trade in writing, because we found it very difficult with the ordinary staff to make the necessary investigations. We provide, in the last place, what, I think, is a necessary Amendment, in order to clear up a difficulty with which we have been faced several times, that the Board of Trade may publish the reports that it takes if it thinks it is in the public service that these reports, or parts of them, should be published. Generally, that covers everything that is in this Bill. The powers, as I have already said, in the old Act are very great powers and very stringent powers. Any criticisms which have been made of the Profiteering Act in the past as being of a trifling nature are entirely erroneous.
It may be said, if you like, that sufficient use has not been made of these powers. But I do not think that would be any reason, if it were true, for refusing a Second Reading to this Bill. Profiteering certainly, where it exists, ought to be dealt with and dealt with severely. The country has gone through the vicissitudes of the War with great courage, and our people have gone through part of the time of reconstruction with very wise patience, and it would be intolerable if any person were to have the opportunity to further burden our people by taking advantage of their necessities to extort an unreasonable profit for his own selfish end. But we ought to view this in proper perspective. In many cases people suspect profiteering where there is none. It has been said that the study of metaphysics is like looking in a dark room for a black hat which is not there. A certain number of those who have been trying to discover profiteering have been taking action of that character. People to a certain extent are deceived and misled by the inference that they draw when seeing the returns of very large profits in any particular business. They do not recollect that these profits are expressed in the terms of the same currency which they find inadequate to pay for the things they want. They also forget that every business man has to carry stock to-day which require three times as much to finance as they used to do. They forget that the business man has to spend, in order to get those profits, three or four times as much in providing for depreciation and charges of that kind. They forget that in the development of his trade 1543 he requires an enormously increased capital, as compared with what was sufficient before the War. We have got to keep these things in mind when we look at these profits. We must not forget that a dividend of 10 per cent. is now actually only a little better than five per cent. before the War.
Every wage-earner is entitled to say when he is told that he is now getting a certain wage, "Yes, but looking to the worth of what I am getting it is not more than it was before the war." Exactly the same reply may be made, with truth, in the case of the man who is drawing the higher dividend. We must scrutinise these matters and keep these considerations in view. The real factor in high prices is not profiteering. It is the shortage of commodities, and that is a world-wide experience. I gave an illustration of this in what I said to the House about a month ago with regard to Cuban sugar. The price of sugar f.o.b. in Cuba before the War was 2¾ cents a pound. A month ago it had risen to 12 cents a pound. To-day it is 18 cents a pound. These are conditions which we can do nothing to alter. But there are other conditions which should go to modify our opinion when we look at these profits and these high prices. One of these conditions is the fact that America has given up drink and has taken to eating more sugar. There are, however, other elements over which we have more control. There is our credit. The raising of our credit is one of the most important questions that has to be dealt with if we are to bring about a reduction in prices. An increase of our credit and efforts to deal with the depreciation of our currency are things that we can do, and incidentally the Budget which has been recently introduced is a very important factor in the problem. If we tax our people in order to pay off our debt we shall do one of the biggest services that we can do to the country in the way of reducing prices.
Taxation has this first result at the present time, that it will lessen the inflated purchasing power of the people generally. It will reduce consumption and bring the supply of commodities more near to the demand. In addition to that, the effect of this attempt to pay off the debt will increase our credit and cheapen 1544 everything that we import. And accordingly the elements that we most require are the decrease of consumption, the increase of production, and the reduction of our debt. If we take these large factors into account, the element of profiteering really assumes a comparatively minor importance. I remember a story which was once related of a village fool who put his hand across one of the springs which make up the River Thames so as to stop the supply to a rivulet, and then remarked, "I wonder what the people in London will say." Anyone who imagined that by stopping profiteering he was going to stop the flow of the great subterranean channels which create the tide of high prices on which we are swept along to-day would be just as great a fool as the person mentioned in the story. Profiteering is undoubtedly an element in the increase of prices, and is perhaps the most irritating among them, because it is unfair and unjust. I recommend the Second Reading of this Bill to the House, because I believe that it supplies the best and most practical means which you can find for coping with this evil without creating greater troubles than those which you seek to avoid. The Bill enforces the lesson that to seek undue profits at the present time is the greatest possible offence against the community. I believe that this Bill and the Act from which it has sprung give us a most valuable means of discovering and dealing with the evil.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Will the right hon. Gentleman, if he has not already done so, tell us what is to be done in cases of victimisation.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Yes, that is the case in which a person making a complaint fears that he may be punished by the wholesaler refusing to supply him with goods. In such a case he would be able to bring his complaint. We think we should provide that there should be no opportunity for that kind of thing being done without there being a remedy.
§ Mr. HOLMES
The mere fact that this Bill has been introduced is evidence that the Bill which was introduced last year was ill-thought-out, and, as it finally passed through the House, was undigested legislation. The House appointed, in the middle of July, a Select Committee to inquire into the whole question of profiteering. That Committee met, and held 1545 one public sitting, when the witness who occupied the chair the whole sitting was the right hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts), who was then Food Controller. On the following morning the then President of the Board of Trade, Sir Auckland Geddes, appeared before the Committee and announced that there was no necessity for the Committee to do any further work, as the Government proposed to introduce a Bill. Accordingly, seven or eight days later, that Bill was introduced, and even then evidence that that Bill was quickly thought out was forthcoming, because Sir Auckland Geddes went before the Select Committee and outlined the Bill to the Committee and when the Bill was in draft it was something quite different. After the Second Reading, the House was asked to take the Committee stage, and, starting at a quarter to four on 13th August, the Committee stage was finished about 6 o'clock the next morning. Then the following afternoon we started on the Report stage, and the Third Reading was through by 7 or 8 o'clock at night. It was obvious that, although Members of the House endeavoured to improve the Bill as it went through, rushing the thing in that way could not provide a satisfactory Act. The President has been good enough to refer to one Amendment which I moved, which was refused, and which is now part of the Amending Bill, and there are other Amendments which he is proposing which were also proposed by other hon. Members last year.
The people of the country generally feel that the Profiteering Act has been of no real effect. They regard it as having been one merely for the sake of harrying and harassing small shopkeepers, who have been brought up before tribunals all over the country, and have been made to return 1½d., 2d. and 4d. Beyond that, nothing has been done. The President said that there had been a large number of investigations, and that those investigations have informed the public mind. That may be very true. He was doubtless correct in saying that there is often supposed to be profiteering when such a thing does not exist, and to the extent the investigations may have done good; but these investigations have not brought down prices. The object of the Bill was to check profiteering, and there is no evidence that those investigations have, in fact, done so. The shopkeeper, as I say, 1546 has been fined these small amounts, but what has been discovered by these tribunals has been that where the shopkeeper profiteered, he has merely done so in pennies and sixpences, and the man everyone has desired to get at is the man who has profiteered in thousands. The manufacturer, the speculator, the wholesaler—it does not matter in what article he is dealing, the big man has not been touched, and has not been affected in any way by the Act passed last year.
This new Bill is a Bill further to check profiteering, and is a further attempt to reduce prices. The President has very truly said that there are many contributory causes of high prices, and that profiteering is merely one of them, and he referred a moment ago to the large profits which many industrial undertakings were making at the present time. He accounted for them in various ways, but there was one reason he might have given he did not give, which we ought to take into account, and that is that a considerable amount of profit is being made by various firms in this country at the present time, owing to the high profits they are getting on exports. To that there is no objection. We want to sell abroad at the best prices we can possibly get, but, at the same time, we want to sell at reasonable prices at home, and that, to my mind, is the whole difficulty of stopping profiteering so far as manufacturers are concerned. That is why I, for one, welcome Clause 1 of the new Bill. The ideal to arrive at is to allow every manufacturer, distributor, or exporter of goods to obtain the highest prices from abroad and to have merely a reasonable profit for goods he sells at home; but there is only one article, so far as I know, with which we are doing that at the present time, and that is coal.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I do not think that is at all pertinent to what I am saying. With regard to coal, we have got an elaborate Coal Control Department, which fixes certain prices for coal in this country, and allows a certain amount of coal to be exported at any price that can be obtained. I do not believe any Member of the House would be willing that every industry should have a Control Department set up for the purpose of arranging prices that should be 1547 charged at home and abroad. It is too absurd to contemplate for a moment. It would mean a new hoard of Government officials, and large Government Departments which would be rejected, I think, unanimously by this House. The only thing, therefore, to do, if we are to obtain something of that kind, if we are to get the prices at home down to a reasonable level, giving merely a reasonable profit through all stages of manufacture and distribution, while allowing the manufacturer to sell at any price he likes abroad, is to get every trade itself to settle its own affairs.
That is the only alternative to Government control, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman on the Committee stage will go a little further than Clause 1. Clause 1 enables him, if any association of persons comes forward with a scheme, to investigate that scheme and to allow them to pass outside the Profiteering Act. But he has no power under the Bill, as it stands, to call upon any trade or persons dealing in any class of article to prepare a scheme and bring it to him for approval, so that the only schemes he is going to get are those put together by a voluntary association of persons. The difficulty is that if he calls upon an association to do so, and they fail, it is difficult to find any penalty; but I venture to think that, with the general wisdom of his advisers, he might be able to see a way to put some penalty upon any trade that refuses to do so. After all, the Board of Trade have not so far got at the big profiteer. They have not got at the manufacturer; they have not touched the speculator or the wholesaler. The only way to do it is to get each trade to look after its own affairs on the principle that the old poacher makes the best gamekeeper. While I have no intention of voting against the Second Reading of this Bill, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider further whether he can extend Clause 1 so that in the wholesale or manufacturing section of any trade in which he thinks profiteering occurs, he can call upon the trade to prepare a scheme, and to exact a penalty, if on unreasonable grounds, they fail to do so.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
My hon. Friend has directed our attention to the circumstances which attended the introduction of the original Bill. I think it is no secret with many hon. Members 1548 of this House that when the proposals of the Profiteering Bill first came before the House I had my own opinion on the subject; but, as my hon. Friend has said, I was instructed to attend before the Committee of which he was a distinguished member in order to give evidence as to State policy on behalf of the Government. Certainly it is not for me to say anything as to the appearance in the course of a day or two of an entirely new policy, which argument the hon. Member was perfectly entitled to use, when he said that the policy gave the apparance of not having been very well thought out. But my objection at the time was this: I was and am as strongly opposed as anybody as to what is popularly understood as profiteering, but I felt that every section of the community was entitled to know what the Government understood by "profiteering". For, after all, it might very well be that perfectly honest persons might urge that, unless they were informed as to what was the interpretation of profiteering entertained by the Government, they would be in a quandary. Moreover, I felt at that time that, apart from the operations of the Ministry of Food, we were not in possession of sufficient data to administer a Bill of this character. I think that such shortcomings as are complained of in this discussion are attributable to the fact that we had not this data at our disposal, and were not able to make that rapid approach to the problem that is contemplated in the introduction of a Bill.
Nevertheless, I agree with the President of the Board of Trade that the Profiteering Act has had a deterrent effect I have always been fearful that profiteering would be placed out of its proper perspective. I have felt that there was just a danger that we should divert the whole of popular opinion and attention against individuals rather than against the primary causes of high prices. There was a real danger there. We know how easy it is in these times to inflame opinion against traders and others. I was very much afraid that this original Act might have the effect of turning attention away from the fundamental fact that these high prices are due to world shortage. It is quite true that there is the contributory cause of profiteering. It is the desire of the Government, through legislation of this character, to eliminate 1549 that which was correctly described by my right hon. Friend as an irritant rather than as a contributor to high prices. I think that so far as the Act has gone it has had an effect of steadying public opinion. On the other hand, of course, the Act has caused a great deal of disappointment.
It is quite true that many small shopkeepers have been proceeded against, but we still have to find out whether much progress is being made in dealing with the larger exploiters to whom my hon. Friend alluded. I know the difficulties of the case. I know it was often charged when I was at the Ministry of Food that we allowed profiteering to go on. We had various interests before us. We questioned them and honestly sought to ascertain what there was in any charge. When one views the effect of this procedure I think it was the best possible on any of those engaged in this iniquitous profiteering. Still, we have had some experience of the measure now, and I am going to confess that I think that, taking it as a whole, it is deserving of extension in the form of this Bill. At the same time we do not desire that the public should be misled into thinking that the mere enactment of a Bill of this character is going substantially to lower prices. After all, until we are able to increase supplies in our own country and encourage an increase of production in every other country in the world, we will never get away from the present-day phenomena of high prices, which, I am free to repeat, is in the main due to a world scarcity. At the Ministry of Food we had a good deal of experience in dealing with traders. I think that my right hon. Friend himself must very largely have been influenced by that in Clause 1 by the operations of the Ministry of Food. I there found a difficulty of carying on a large business through a State department. We were never sufficiently elastic. We never were able to adapt ourselves rapidly to changing markets. My hon. Friends, I observe, have put down amendments protesting against the proposal of Clause 1 as tending artificially to stereotype high prices. I have to tell them that my experience at the Ministry of Food was that our operations, whilst we desired otherwise, tended just to this effect: that it did stereotype high prices. After all, when you are fixing the prices for any par- 1550 ticular commodity you have to fix them with due regard to the cost of production and reasonable profits for the average producer. That means that the mere efficient producer is safeguarded by your very schedule of prices, where, under agreed competitive conditions, there would be an anxiety to get out those who were less able to produce. It tends thereby to stereotype artificial prices because the prices are adjusted to the least efficient producer in the community. I thought that my hon. Friend would like to know what my experience at the Board of Trade suggested it just had the effect which my hon. Friend is apprehensive of in Clause 1. We cast about for a more elastic elastic method of administration. I gave a good deal of consideration to the problem, and resorted very largely to this method—arrangement with trade organisations. I appreciated the fact that we would lay ourselves open to the charge of encouraging trusts and combines. That was not our experience. I have often myself undertaken to go about different parts of the country inviting traders to enter into this organisation, and we were able to put our Costings Department on and to ascertain the cost, and thereby able, so far as I can judge, to exercise effective control over these trades. It is owing to the operations of that method that prices are being kept down in respect of certain essential commodities. I am certain it is this form of trade organisation which has kept down the price of margarine, although margarine appears to have a free market to-day, I am quite certain that but for this arrangement with the manufacturers in various trades prices would have been much larger. In fact, they are lower than they would have been under a rigid system of control under the Ministry of Food. So it is in respect of other commodities. I remember one problem which confronted me throughout the whole of my occupancy of the position of Minister of Food, and that was dealing with prices in respect of perishable commodities. Many questions were put to me respecting the price of fish, and it was often shown that there was a great disparity between the price of fish at the ports and in the retail shops in various parts of the country. We had to fix a schedule of prices which was fair and which realised a reasonable profit to the various parties in the trade, but when 1551 periods of glut arrived the small shopkeeper, or the shopkeepers in general, refused to handle their supplies of fish because, under the schedule of the Ministry of Food, they were assured their profit on a particularly small turnover. This was one of the factors with which we were constantly faced.
I remember that one of the last things I did before I left the Ministry of Food was to endeavour to get all sections of the fish trade together, from the owners of the fleets to the wholesalers in the markets and the retailers, including the men who were engaged in the various operations, in an endeavour to get them to come to an understanding whereby it would be possible to ensure that during periods of small catches all concerned would be assured of a reasonable profit, and during periods of large catches it would be possible to direct those supplies to the various channels of distribution so as to allow the consuming public to get the full benefit of large supplies. This can best be done by some such method as that which is set forth in Clause I of this Bill. I wish to say to those hon. Members who propose to submit an Amendment that the experience of the Ministry of Food is worth consideration in this matter. I am at one with them in their anxiety to protect the general public against the manipulations of trusts and combines, but I think that under the supervision of the Board of Trade, as we conducted it at the Ministry of Food, this policy gives full freedom to the consumer, and therefore the apprehension which has prompted this Amendment has not a very substantial foundation.
It appears to me that the real fundamental of all this problem is the necessity for an efficient Costings Department in the State. This has been an ambition of mine during the whole of my public career. In the various administrations I have been engaged in, it was a point which I constantly kept in view. We have a fairly efficient Department of this kind at the Ministry of Food, but what I think is more desirable is a Central Costings Department which would be able to investigate the cost of production and the rates of profits, not only in respect of articles of food, but other commodities which enter into our daily life. I know there are others who desire to speak, but 1552 I thought that the experience I had derived might be of interest, and whilst I do not expect, or at least hope, that the public will look to the Profiteering Act or any Amendment of that Act to lower prices, I hope they will recognise that it is but one factor, and not the primary factor, but the real cause is world shortage. Nevertheless, I am prepared to associate myself with anyone and everybody to eliminate what appears to me to be a criminal in our midst when we are able to describe and deal with him.
§ Mr. A. SHORT
I think the House is indebted to my right hon. Friend for the very lucid way in which he has introduced this amending Bill, and brought to the notice of the House as well as he could the material advantages accruing from the operations of the principal Act. I think, when one recalls the prospects held out to us by Sir Auckland Geddes when he introduced the principal Act, and foreshadowed the material advantages which were expected to accrue from its operations, I think, judging from our experience to-day, we are driven to the conclusion that the Bill has generally failed to cope with some of the worst evils arising from the peculiar and abnormal conditions associated with our everyday social life. Despite the operations of the Act, I think there is a larger measure of discontent abroad, and there is a growing feeling that, in spite of all that may be said with regard to a world shortage and factors of that kind, as a result of high prices and an increase in the cost of living, the people are being swindled and robbed in consequence of the nefarious practices of the profiteer as an individual or as a result of the practices of trusts and combines.
The present Minister of Food likened the profiteer to a most irritating small insect on the human body, but he did not tell us what usually happened to that insect. There is only one policy, and that is to exterminate the insect, and destroy it entirely. Despite all the investigations and reports and all the great powers of the principal Act, the fact that the Government has failed even to use those powers effectively and wisely has led to this insect finding fertile ground on which it could procreate its species. I do not suggest that high prices are entirely due to profiteering. I do not think that position could be defended in its entirety. I am not unmindful of the 1553 state of Europe. I remember that Europe has been the cock-pit of the conflict of military forces, and that great nations, once powerful and strong, and supplying to some extent the requisite needs of the world and civilisation, have become physically exhausted, and shall I say, the will to restore their economic life of usefulness has become impaired.
These, however, are only contributing factors to high prices. I might reasonably ask whether the Government itself, in connection with its own trading, has not contributed to high prices. I might also ask whether it is not true that the policy of decontrol adopted by the Ministry of Food has also led to high prices and an increase in the cost of living. My right hon. Friend who recently occupied the office of Minister of Food referred to the cutting out of competition. Owing to the exceptional circumstances of the world shortage and the operations of trusts and combines, we find that competition has been largely eliminated. I would like to remind the House of what the present Minister of Food said when the original Bill was introduced. He said:Prices are no longer fixed by the operation of the law of supply and demand or by the anxiety of rival traders to see who can sell the cheapest, but they are fixed by a combination of traders deciding who can sell in the dearest market.It is because of the operations of these trusts and combines, and the failure of the House to deal adequately and effectively with them, that we have seen a greater increase in the cost of living and of commodities than we should have done had action of a suitable character been taken. Quite recently I called the attention of the President of the Board of Trade, to a case in which the London County Council sought quotations for a quantity of cast iron piping in connection with the erection of a pumping station at Woolwich. When the quotations came to hand they were found to be from four firms in different parts of the country with works situated in different towns and cities, and they were for exactly the same amount of money in every case. I do not suggest that in this particular transaction the prices were excessive, or that there was anything in the nature of profiteering; but I do suggest that the different contractors had put their heads together and formed a ring or combine to regulate the supply and fix prices, and had thereby 1554 eliminated any benefits which might be derived from the policy of competition advocated and enunciated by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Roberts). When the original Bill was introduced, Sir Auckland Geddes quoted the case of some cottage property for which an estimate had been received equal to the sum of £3,500, but when the whole matter was investigated by experts it was found that the work could be done at a reasonable and just profit for £2,500.
I want to ask whether in the course of the operations under the principal Act the Government have broken the rings or combines which control and regulate the supply and fix the prices of building materials, which are after all a mighty factor in these days in connection with our housing problem. We were told by Sir Auckland Geddes that these were the sort of things we know about and the sort of things we ought to take steps to prevent. In view of all our experience, however, these things have not been stopped. I admit that there are difficulties in the way, but it should be with the possibilities of a capable Government to overcome such difficulties. I would like to see a limit put upon the profits of trusts—not merely on articles manufactured, but on the profits of trusts in the same sense as we put a limit on the dividends of gas companies and companies of that kind. Further, I would like to see some action taken to prevent gambling and speculation in ships. When I read of ships that a few years ago cost £35,000 being sold for £200,000 or £225,000 I ask myself if such speculations are not serious contrubuting factors to the high cost of living. Action should be taken to prevent this sort of thing in these days, in view of the sacrifices made by the people of this country. The same argument applies to the abnormal transactions that have taken place in connection with the cotton and similar industries. I should like to see further powers given in this amending Bill. I welcome the proposals embodied in the first Clause, although I share the opinion of the Member for North-East Derbyshire regarding the necessity for drastic Amendments in the direction he indicated, but I should like to see in this amending Bill still greater powers given to the local tribunals, as it would be an encouragement for them to take more action. Reference has been made to the 1555 representation of co-operative societies on the tribunals. I am not quite clear that I understood accurately what was stated with regard to representation on these tribunals. I understand that traders are entitled to be represented, and, if so, I should like to know why an official or manager of a co-operative society is to be excluded. Perhaps my right hon. Friend who introduced this Bill will give me further information on this point. Speaking on behalf of the Labour party, I have to say we shall offer no opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill, but we are not satisfied that it goes far enough or that it will give us the results which we are entitled to look for, and we shall therefore seek, in the Committee stage, to bring forward Amendments which we think will strengthen and make better the provisions incorporated in it.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Sir ERNEST WILD
The speech of the President of the Board of Trade took me back to that long August night when we spent 14 hours endeavouring to discuss 250 Amendments to the Recess manifesto introduced in order to apease the " Daily Mail." We were told then it was a temporary measure to be given a six months' trial. Then it was extended for another six months, and now I am alarmed to find the Government propose to extend it to the 19th May, 1921. I should be very sorry to accept the description of himself given by the President of the Board of Trade as a village fool, but I think that Bill was a piece of rural folly, and I ventured to say, in common with those who opposed it, that it was an iniquitous piece of legislation which was brought in in order to satisfy popular clamour. I also venture to think that the experience of the operation of the Bill has shown that that prophecy was true. I entirely agree with the hon. Member who said, with regard to any effort that might be made by this or any other Government to get at the real profiteers, that if you could get at the trusts and combines, if you could get at the people who may or may no be making undue profits—I am not making any allegations which I cannot prove—if you could get at them, the Government would be doing something good. But unfortunately the Government has said that, owing to lack of time, this very necessary 1556 legislation must be deferred to a more convenient season, and I suppose, as has been said by a former Prime Minister, that will be another debt of honour that will brook a little delay. We have in the present Act which we are asked to prolong power given to the Central Committee to deal with those evils and to investigate them. I understand that the Central Committee, upon which there are many trade union representatives, has been doing very good work, and has been collecting a vast amount of information. I think it a great pity that the time of the House is. not to be occupied in trying to deal with the real evil, instead of trying to stop this leak in the river Thames, as the Board of Trade metaphorically put it. What I object to in this legislation is, first of all, that it ranks every retailer in the country as a potential criminal. That is not a form of rhetoric; it is a fact. Every retailer, big or small, may be made, at all events, into an accused person by any customer, however unimportant, and that is going on all over the country. Then the retailer is brought before a Committee, generally by a lady, who has not all the information that the President of the Board of Trade enumerated in his peroration. I thought he was rather like the converse of Balaam: he was sent to bless-his Bill, but he finished by cursing it, because in his peroration he told us, as a man of business and affairs should, the things that the public forget. He mentioned the price of stock, the value of repairs and what they cost, and the money that is necessary to pay a reasonable dividend. My hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. A. Short) said that he had regard to the state of Europe. The lady who thinks she is paying too much for her stockings or her gloves does not care a straw for the state of Europe. She does not think of any of these matters, but goes and makes a complaint.
As I prophesied to the House when speaking on the last Bill, I have had a great number of cases under this Act, and they have not all been unsuccessful. This is what happens. The lady takes a pair of stockings that she bought from A, goes and gets another similar pair from B, and another from C, and she says that the one cost so much, the other so much less, and the third so much less. She puts that before the local committee, 1557 and they say: "Here is primâ facie evidence," and they summon the tradesman before them. The tradesman goes, and he may think it wise to instruct a solicitor or brief counsel. The House may ask, why should he go to that expense? The tradesman is spending a good deal of money on advertisement, and it is a very bad advertisement to go before a local tribunal at all, and a still worse advertisement to be told to return 2½d. or 5s. 6d., or whatever it may be. I was engaged in the very first case that came before the City Tribunal, and it was against one of the biggest firms in the City. The article was a pair of gloves or something of that sort, and the customer had sent the matter to the Committee, and they summoned the firm before them. These people did not want to have a bad advertisement, or to have it said that they were profiteering, so they instructed solicitors and briefed counsel, and we went, at a cost to them of a good deal of money. It also cost them what was more than money; it cost them time. They had to bring their buyer, their forewoman, their traveller, and one or two experts in the trade, to show that the price was not unreasonable. They came there, but the complainant did not; she did not turn up. I was told, "You can have this case dismissed if you like." I said, "Oh, no; we are not going to have the case dismissed; we desire to put the facts and figures before you," and we did. The next case was of a similar kind, but in that case the figure did look large; it may have been 12s. 6d. for a pair of gloves, or something of that sort, and of course the customer said it was more than she was accustomed to pay and more than she thought she ought to pay. We went into the figures in the books, again at great expense, and, when the customer saw how small the profit really was, she was the first to apologise. That, however, did not make up to the tradesman for the indignity, inconvenience and annoyance that he had to go through.
I remember one case where people had gone to buy grease paint and the price seemed high. They went to two other shops and got them at less than half the price. They came along and said: This is profiteering. But it happened that this was old stock and we were selling the old stock at a price which was only a reasonable profit on what we gave for it, whereas the other people were buying in a cheaper market because prices had 1558 gone down. These things are put by this village fool legislation upon the unfortunate shopkeeper. I entirely refute the phrase used by the President of the Board of Trade. They are not tried by Committees in whom the public have confidence at all. They are tried generally by a parcel of supercilious amateurs. There are very rarely tradesmen on the tribunal at all, and you have nice respectable people who know nothing about trade and they are going peddling about in people's books, putting them to this indignity, and the consequence is that shopkeepers are very much annoyed at the way in which they have been treated by Parliament. If they win they have no redress. They cannot get any costs or any remedy whatever. The offence is a nebulous one. It is not defined at all. This Act, which we are continuing for another year, says: "If you charge a price which is unreasonable in all the circumstances." That means a price which the particular tribunal thinks to be unreasonable. For these reasons I objected to the original legislation and I object still. I was interested in my right hon. Friend's summary of the operations of the Act. He says since it has been law, which is a matter now, I suppose, of some 10 months, there has been 4,000 complaints, and in 934 cases money has had to be returned. When we remember that the money which has had to be returned has very often been only so many farthings it does not show that the Act has been very fruitful in effect. I listened in vain for an admission on his part which was quite nobly made by my hon. Friend the new Food Controller. Speaking to the retailers of London he said the net result of the Profiteering Act has been to show that substantially amongst retailers there has been no profiteering at all. The responsible Minister said, "There may not have been convictions, but think of the deterrent effect." It would have been much better if he had said, as the Food Controller said last year, the result is that qua the retailer the thing has been practically a dead letter.
With regard to the new Bill I recognise that there in an improvement in Clause 1, because it will assist in stabilising the offence. If the trade put their heads together and fix upon a figure which the Board of Trade accepts, the consumer cannot find that goods sold at that 1559 price are sold in excess of the proper price. The President said you can do far better work if you co-operate with the people than if you work against them. It is certain that retailers of the country would willingly respond to that offer if it had to be made. But Clause 8 I do not like at all. It introduces the jargon of the trade unions. It begins with a word which is not English at all—" profiteering "—and then talks about "victimisation," which is as bad English. It does not merely mean that the retailer is to have resources against the wholesaler. Supposing a customer has made a frivolous complaint. The customer need not even buy. He need only offer to buy. The customer may put the tradesman to any amount of annoyance, indignity, and bother in bringing him before tribunals, and putting him to expense. Supposing the tradesman says, "I do not want to have anything more to do with you." Then, if I read the Clause aright, the customer is entitled to take the tradesman before a magistrate. I think the customer has a redress against the retailer, just as the retailer has against the wholesaler. The complainant may be the customer, and the complainant under the Act generally is the customer. Therefore, if the complainant's action is frivolous and vexatious and the tradesman says, "I will not have anything more to do with you," the result seems to be that the tradesman is taken before the magistrate and is subject to penalties for:
"Failure to comply with an order," assuming that he has beenin the habit of selling articles of the class in question to the complainantbefore the Act was passed. He is liable to a fine of £50, or to imprisonment for three months, or both. That is the sort of light and airy way in which we are treating the retailers. What you really want to do, if you insist upon this legislation at all—and if this Bill goes to Second Beading I shall vote against it if anyone will go in the Lobby with me—is to stabilise the offence. It is an offence, and it is a thing for which you can bring a man before a local committee, and, if the committee is satisfied, you can bring that man before the magistrate, and he may get three months for the first offence. It is altogether wrong to deal with the matter on the basis of an article. You 1560 cannot judge a man's business by a specific article. Everybody who knows anything about trade knows that you may have had certain goods in stock for years, and perhaps it is a line which is going out of fashion. You have your swings and your roundabouts in trade, and you may have to sell that particular part of the stock at a loss. On the rest of your stock are you not entitled, as everybody else is entitled, to make up on your roundabouts what you lose on your swings?
§ Sir E. WILD
I should be sorry to make up at the expense of my hon. Friend. The next point is the question of replacement of value. This goes to the root of the matter, and the tribunal ought to take into consideration the replacement of the value of the article. That ought to be embodied in the Bill. It ought to be laid down that the tribunal, in judging what a proper profit is to be, should be told whether they are to reckon it upon cost or upon returns. Then there ought to be a reasonable standard of profits fixed. Here is a case which is symbolic of the whole operation of the Act. It is a case which I took from the "Drapers' Record" on the 17th April this year. It says that at Aylesbury a police officer complained of a charge of 8¾d. for a pair of ladies' cotton shoe laces bought from a certain draper. They did in that case what they always do, went to two other drapers and bought laces from one at 4d. and from the other at 6½d. When they looked into the question of profits they found that a comparison with articles bought in other shops was useless unless all shops bought the same article at the same time. The rival tradesman who was selling laces at 4d. had bought the laces so long ago that he could not remember when he bought them. It says that on 17th December Egyptian cotton was 50d. and on 17th February it was 99d., and after all the investigations it was found that the nett profit was 1/16d. which the tradesman did not have to return.
It is very funny, but it is persecution of the tradesman, and it is simply an illustration of what takes place. The retailer is being persecuted because very often he belongs to the middle class and he has no trade union to protect him. If he had, he could take advantage of 1561 people's necessities and he would not be persecuted in this way. The public is not protected. Perhaps the House does not realise how this Act has put up prices, because it does not matter a straw to the retailer what he gives for the goods. It pays him better to pay a good price than a small price. Suppose he pays £1 and he charges 30s. to the customer, that pays him better than paying 10s. and charging 15s. to the customer. It does not matter what he pays, because he can put it on to the customer and he can charge a bigger price to the customer when he pays a large sum to the wholesaler.
§ Sir E. WILD
I am very glad to say that my profession does not play the game as my hon. Friend played it. But his remark that there is no competition in the law seems to show his ignorance of the law. There is competition in the law, as there should be in everything. All that I am asking the House to do is to consider carefully before reading this Bill a Second time. I still think that it is unjust to the vast body of retailers in this country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WILLEY
The outstanding feature in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Home) was the stress which he laid on Clause 1. I think that his persuasive, sympathetic manner in inviting co-operation on the part of the trader will do very much to spread among traders, anyhow in the larger industries which are at present being subject to the Clauses of this Bill, a greater inclination to co-operate on those lines than is being stimulated at present as a result of the action taken by the various committees sitting under the Act and investigating different trades throughout the country. I think there is need of a clear perspective as to what is aimed at under the 1562 original Act. In many trades there is proceeding now an investigation which seems to be actuated less by the prospect of accomplishing anything substantial than by an attempt to extract information about that trade to the satisfaction of certain individuals sitting on the Committee. I am not objecting to the principles underlying the Act, because it is obvious that, with the present temper in the country, something is unquestionably needed either to limit profits or to give some satisfaction to the sense of irritation which exists. But, with regard to particular trades, I make a plea for a clear perspective. To deal with one article in particular is not effective and rational. When you have raw material passing through different stages of an industry, each one highly specialised and highly organised, to attack any particular section of that industry for excess profits is a pure waste of time. It means that a great deal of expense is incurred and an incredible amount of irritation introduced with no effective result. It cannot have any result; it is impossible that you can assist the consumer one fraction. If an investigation which has no object is persisted in, it becomes an inquisition. In trades where you have different sections so constituted, there is a further element of difficulty introduced. Of their total output perhaps a small portion is used in this country and the larger portion is exported. Surely if they are making unreasonable profits, a large part of it is going; to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That portion of their output which does ultimately go into something consumed in this country, is entirely out of their power, and the ultimate price to the consumer is not in any way affected. They may get the materials in a semi-manufactured state from another section of the trade which is highly specialised, and it may go in turn to another branch of the trade which is also highly specialised, and so on. Many manufacturers have to spend days and days wrestling with the questionnaires presented to them by the various Committees and is this a moment to fritter away time of large employers and producers of commodities which are largely exported, and who are helping the exchange enormously and providing taxes which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will welcome? The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Clause as to the net profits obtained under pre-War conditions but 1563 what exactly was the relationship between pre-War profit and present profit? Take the textile trade, and you will find that the machinery costs about three times pre-War price, and the mill from one and a half to twice as much. Surely you have there a substantial difference in estimating the basis of profit. Another Clause deals with the publication of information which is obtained, but is it realised what effect that may have, and is likely to have, on our export trade in foreign? countries? Some of the reports, such as that on the electric lamps, are far too loosely constructed. Following the publication of reports making allegations of excessive profits, I have seen letters from foreign countries saying, "We do not want to do any more business with you, as were are not going to contribute towards the extravagant and tremendous profits disclosed by the Report of the Government Committee." How are we going to make profits from foreign trade if that goes on? Take the great textile trades of the Continent of Europe, where their mills are intact, their machinery is practically ready to run, and the employers themselves are wishing to employ the workpeople and let the mills run; yet what is the picture? You see gaunt workpeople stalking through the streets of those cities, out of employment, and the population in those countries worse than in rags and almost without clothing. Why? Because of the misfortune of the delay of concerted action by the Allies in arriving at some system whereby you can get some semi-manufactured materials on a long credit basis to employ those people, who are perishing from cold because they have not got coal. How are you going to remedy that unless you encourage exports from those countries where the machinery is functioning. So I put in that plea for trades which, acting upon the request of the Government, have deliberately taken their courage in both hands and sold to those countries on long term credits, willing to risk their all, and which are being subjected to inquisition at the present moment because they have ventured to make substantial profits, on which, too, they are paying Excess Profits Duty to the Government. They are not real profits; they are profits held in trust by men who have acted with -that courage which has traditionally 1564 built up our trade. It is only individual traders who will do it, and because they are doing it these traders are being persecuted with a persistent questionnaire and investigations by all sorts of committees, their time being frittered away, and nothing being accomplished. We want to get all the profit we can from our foreign trade, or how shall we provide the money to meet the housing and other schemes which want putting into effect? I think, therefore, it is right to draw attention to the risk there is of losing the sense of respect with regard to some of the investigations that are now being made.
I had the pleasure of being present at a conference the other day, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and I regretted that the earnestness with which he put forward his views could not reach a far wider audience. If his persuasive words could reach more people, there would be a greater readiness on the part of employers to fall in with the appeal which he has made to-day, that trades will themselves volunteer to come forward with a scheme, which, if put forward successfully, may enable him to see that trade does not unreasonably exploit the public. There is this one difficulty. How is it possible for certain sections of a trade, proceeding individually, to meet the charge being made against them unless other sections of the trade with whom they have no connections themselves fall into line?Unless they do, it is a little difficult for individuals in sectional trades readily to avoid feeling a sense of grievance, and I put in this plea, that information and work done under a sense of injustice never brings forth good results.
§ Mr. WALLACE
We all desire to prevent profiteering, but there is no necessary connection between high prices as they exist to-day and profiteering. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food has told us in one of those many illuminating pamphlets that high prices exist, first of all, because of the wastage of War and, secondly, on account of the inflation of currency and lack of increased production. I only wish that pamphlet which he wrote on this particular subject was scattered broadcast throughout the country, because I feel that there would be much less dissatisfaction on the question of prices if the real facts as he has published them 1565 were made known. I am very glad that the President of the Board of Trade has admitted here to-night that profiteering has played only a very small and minor part in the present high prices. I want to say a word about the administration of the Profiteering Act which we passed about a year ago in the early hours of a very weary morning. I do not know whether it was on account of the jaded condition of the House, but my complaint is not that the Profiteering Act does not go far enough, but that in some respects it goes too far. I do not at all object to the strengthening of it, as outlined by my right hon. Friend, but I feel that the Profiteering Act put into the hands of his Department, possibly a useful but certainly a very dangerous instrument as has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down (Lieut.-Colonel Willey), has been used in a very dangerous way. It seems to me that the operations of the Profiteering Act ought to be confined to trades about which a definite complaint has been made of profiteering, and where a primâ facie case has been made out. Now that is not the case today. We find the right hon. Gentleman's accountancy department has got a roving commission. It can say to any trade in this country that it wishes to examine its books, its costings, and its profits, although no complaints may have been alleged against that trade.
It seems to me that is a very dangerous procedure and requires very strong justification. What is the justification for it? I have inquired on various occasions, and I am told that the object of inquiries of that nature are for economic purposes. We are still in this country a nation of shopkeepers, and we like to conduct our business in a reasonable and straightforward way, but it has been the practice in all manufacturing industries in this country to be careful about divulging too much of our private affairs. Now our books have to be open to gentlemen who represent the Board of Trade, and in some cases the Ministry of Food, and, personally, I rather object to that method of investigation. Clause 5 means that the area of the Civil Service in this particular regard is being extended, and men who have not necessarily had the ordinary Civil Service training may be let loose on any particular business. That is keenly resented by the manufacturers in 1566 this country, and rightly resented, unless there is a definite complaint of profiteering on the part of that particular trade. I want to know for whom this information is being got, and what use is being made of it. Who are the people who consider a report upon prices? There are various Standing Committees—one upon prices, one upon trusts, and one upon complaints. I understand that the last meeting of the Prices Committee consisted of Mr. Sidney Webb in the Chair, four officials of the Profiteering Department, two other officials, members of the Committee one employer, one Labour man, and one consumer. Is that seriously regarded as a competent Committee to sit upon manufacturers' prices or, indeed, anyone's prices? I have regard for the qualifications of Mr. Sidney Webb, but I am extremely doubtful about the advisability of having four officials of the Profiteering Committee who, I understand, have power to vote, and who can decide the complexion of the report. My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but I am informed that these men have power to vote on the Committee, and it is not unlikely that the information obtained will be used in time for political purposes in a way which will possibly be most unfair, and will not serve the end which the Government have in view.
Certain reports have been published by these Committies after inquiry, and some have been published very unwisely. My hon. Friend spoke about the electric lamps Report. The investigating Committee promised, according to my information, that highly confidential information, which was to be divulged to them, would not be published on account of the benefit it might be to foreign competitors, but the information was published by this Committee, and, as my hon. Friend suggests, the action of the Committee in that particular case does great damage to the trade of this country. While I realise how necessary it is to retain control in several Departments, and how very anxious we all are, especially to have the prices of food reduced, we are also extremely anxious not to have unnecessary and undue interference on the part of every Government Department with the natural flow of business. Manufacturers suffered a good deal during the War. They patriotically bore with every kind of interference 1567 with their business, and it was right that they should do so. Now that the War is over they want, if possible, to get off their hands this oppressive bureaucracy. Whilst they are willing to co-operate in any reasonable suggestion such as that mentioned in the first Clause of the Bill, they do resent, in the strongest possible way, interference with their business, and those totally unnecessary investigations which are taken up by the Accountancy Department of the Board of Trade in particular industries in which no complaint of profiteering has been made.
§ Sir JOHN BUTCHER
The speeches of some hon. Members leave me under considerable doubt on two points—as to whether they think there is such a thing as profiteering at all, and secondly, if so, do they or do they not desire to see it remedied? The existence of profiteering, by which I mean the making of an unreasonable profit, is an undoubted fact. You have only to look at the published balance sheets of some of the limited companies, which show enormous dividends since the War, where before the War many of them showed few or no profits. The Excess Profits Duty brings in between £300,000,000 and £400,000,000 a year. Where do these come from, unless those who make them are charging higher prices to the consumer? Nobody seriously disputes the existence of high prices, or that every means in our power should be taken to reduce them; though I agree that they are mainly caused by the world shortage. The remedy for this is more production, less extravagance, less wasteful luxuries, less luxurious imports—by which you bring down the rate of exchange—greater exports—all these are methods by which high prices will undoubtedly be brought down in time, but the Act and this Amending Bill is a legitimate way of helping. There is no cause of greater unrest or greater dissatisfaction, and—I will add— upon which people are practically ignorant, than upon this question of high prices. I get postcards—doubtless, like other hon. Members—saying it is the fault of the Government; that "the women have their eye upon you." Very pleasant, especially at election time! But though I am prepared to be punished for my faults, I am not prepared for ignorant criticism of my good actions, and 1568 when I do my best to reduce prices. I trust that I shall not be criticised by women when I support a Profiteering Bill, which, at any rate, will do something to bring down prices. My hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Wild) made a most ingenious speech. Does he dispute the existence of profiteering? His large experience proved, I doubt not, that there is profiteering. The hon. Member gave instances of people who had been wrongfully prosecuted under the Act, or at any rate who were successful in getting off. Supposing they were wrongfully prosecuted, is that any argument against the law? Is there any law in this country under which actions are not brought wrongfully? As a rule they get off and I think the complainants have to pay the costs in order to discourage such prosecutions. The remedy for that is not to vote against the Bill, but help to amend it and strengthen the Clauses so as to bring down high prices. Hon. Members should introduce effective Amendments for remedying the injustices which have been complained of, and so strengthen the Bill as to bring the real criminals to justice. Our experience of the last Act dealing with this subject is hardly long enough to enable us to form a sound opinion. I have been greatly impressed by the description of his experience given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. Roberts) and he urges us to continue and amend this Bill. I shall certainly act on that advice and when this Bill is strengthened by giving more powers of investigation to be used under proper conditions and by having cases published to act on prices I think we shall have done something to bring down these extravagantly high prices which are a fruitful breeding ground of unrest and discontent, and we on our part shall have done something to remove those legitimate causes of complaint.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I am not very enthusiastic about this Bill. The fact that during the past year something like £800 was raised by way of fines shows, at any rate, that the people who were operating that particular measure were not very enthusiastic about it. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill that this is not necessarily any inherent fault in the Bill itself. It may be the fault of the agents acting under the Government in operating it. 1569 I believe that the Bill has to some extent acted as a deterrent. When we have said that I think we have said pretty well all we need say about it. The main observation I want to make is in regard to the definition of profiteering—a question which was burked last year, but which the right hon. Gentleman has the courage to tackle this year. The definition goes to the very root of the Bill, but I suggest that it is not the true definition of profiteering. What is the definition given in this Bill? It is contained in Subsection (a) of Clause 2, and it reads:(a) in the case of a seller who was in the same way of business before the War, if the rate of net profit obtained does not exceed the rate of net profit obtained by him upon the sale of similar articles under pre-War conditions.In other words, if the small retailer found it necessary in order to live to make £100 a year before the War, he or she is to be liable to prosecution to-day for making more than that, although prices have gone up over 100 per cent. We may be most anxious, as I am for one, to prevent profiteering in this country, but we must be reasonable, and I venture to assert that no tribunal in the country would work out definite prices. In every country where prices are high the rate of legitimate profit is conceded to be higher. For instance, if 15 per cent. is considered high in this country, 35 per cent. is not deemed to be too high in South Africa. The right hon. Gentleman rather assisted my argument when he said that 10 per cent. to-day was not better than 5 per cent. in 1914, and therefore I suggest it would be wrong for him to prosecute the retailer for making a profit of 10 per cent. in 1919, if he only made 5 per cent. in 1914. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will keep this point in mind during the Committee stage. No legislation in the world can stop profiteering: it is due to world shortage and that alone, and I feel that everything humanly possible is being done by the right hon. Gentleman to put an end to it.
§ Mr. BILLING
On many occasions when I have listened to Debates in this House, I have thanked my Maker that I had a sense of humour, and that has possibly never been the case more than during the last two hours. When I heard an hon. and learned Gentleman inform this House that, although he felt quite 1570 sure his words would rob him of a considerable increase in income, the would still persist, I knew how futile were most of the alleged speeches which the supporters of the Government make in opposition to Government Bills. The hon. and learned Member knows as well as I do that there is no more chance of this Bill being defeated, or of any of the Amendments being carried, than there is of profiteering being stopped in this country, yet he tells us he feels it to be his duty to protest against the futility of the Bill. I do not say this in any offensive sense, but simply because I feel that to-night I must speak the truth. He tells us he does it because he feels that something must be said for these poor and penalised persons, and those poor and penalised persons go to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and to other hon. and learned Members of this House, and pay large sums of money, to save what they fastidiously call their honour before these committees who have summoned them to appear.
The trouble with profiteering is example, and who is the example? It is the Government itself. Times without number, when we have traced the origin of various forced and inflated prices, we have found that behind it all is the Government, either with its control or its hoarded supplies, in which, owing to the emergencies of war, they have seen fit, by legislative measures, to create a trust. Carelessness in the administration of business causes high prices as well. When a man feels that he does not mind what the administration of his business costs so long as it pays him so much per cent., naturally it forces up prices. The Government, again, are responsible, with their 60 per cent. I heard of a case only last night, in which the managing director of a firm desired a picture, for which the artist required £4,000. He purchased the picture, and had some 500 lithographs made from it, which he circulated as calendars for his firm; and then he took the original picture home, and took the £4,000 out of the advertising account against excess profits. That is certainly an extreme case, but who eventually pays? It is the bottom dog that always pays, and that is why the bottom dog squeals to-day. He, unfortunately, is not represented in this House. I do not want to touch a lighter note to-night, because this 1571 is really a serious matter. The main reason for high prices to-day is that the average business man does not mind how inefficient his business is, nor how much he spends, so long as he can make the maximum which the Government permit him to make. So long as that is made it does not matter what things cost him. Admittedly the supply is less than the demand, but that should not excuse inefficient administration. If a firm has been making £100,000 a year profit before the war, they know that they are allowed to make approximately £100,000 now, after 60 per cent, has been absorbed by the Government. All they do is to so adjust their prices that they can still make the same amount, and the man in the street pays. Therefore the Government is really more responsible for profiteering than even a little grocer who gets convicted of 2d. on margarine. The Bills they introduce are replies to popular clamour over fair measures, although I do not suppose one would be justified, having regard to the extraordinarily solid and uncriticising majority they possess, in suggesting that anything they did was based on panic. But in reference to newspaper opinion they rush down here and introduce a Bill. There is an hon. and gallant Gentleman who graces the Opposition bench on all occasions when anything in the interest of the public is debated, but he is alone. I sat by his side half-an-hour ago for five minutes simply to give him a little company. It is really a scandal when you think here is a Bill which is of the utmost interest to the public at large, and a matter almost of life and death to thousands of families, and to find that the reorganised Opposition is represented by one hon. and gallant Gentleman on the Front Bench, and approximately 10 per cent. of the Labour party. These are all Gentlemen who came into the House on the sensational wave of a coupon election.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The number of the hon. Member's audience is really not very relevant to the subject matter.
§ Mr. BILLING
My remarks were applied to the lack of critical opposition to the Bill, and it was my way of expressing my regret. The hon. Member (Lieut.-Colonel Willey) became almost pathetic at the desire of the Government in any way to control the 1572 profits in what I thought was the cotton trade. When I referred to Vacher, I found it was wool. The hon. Member was Assistant-Director of Equipment to the Ordnance Service and Controller of Wool Supplies for the Ministry of Munitions. I read a little further and found that he was partner in the firm of Messrs. Woolley and Company, wool merchants, of Bradford and Boston, and that he was elected at the General Election in December, 1918. That, in the opinion of the few independent Members of this House, accounts for a great many of the impassioned speeches which we hear. It is all very well to say, " Do not stop the overseas profits; do not stop Messrs. Coats' profits; do not stop all these various profits. They are all helping to adjust the rate of exchange." That is no reason why they should penalise the people of this country. Surely the burden that we are carrying is quite enough, seeing that we are carrying the bulk of the burden of the cost of the War, without our being penalised further as individuals to keep up the rate of exchange. That is another form of direct taxation. The Government not only taxes us in every way, but in placing Excess Profits tax on the various businesses they are forcing the proprietors of those businesses—and this is what I want the Labour party to appreciate—and all the large combines to force up prices and tax the bottom dog again. It is no good forcing up prices with one hand and introducing Bills of this description with the other. I told the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Profiteering Bill a year ago what would be the result, and it has proved to be substantially true. The various Committees which have been set up to administer the Profiteering Act have not even paid their stamp duties with their fines. They have not paid their postage with the fines they have inflicted. I do not know of any case where imprisonment has been imposed.
I wonder how many hon. members really take the Profiteering Act seriously, or really take this measure seriously. I expressed the hope when the present Profiteering Act was introduced that by catching the small man you might eventually catch the large man; but no small man was sufficiently penalised to make him give away the man immediately above him. Therefore, on no occasion have we caught a really nice, big, fat profiteer in the twelve months that the 1573 Act has been in operation. Let us remember the various questions which have been put, particularly from the bench below me, on the question of the price of cotton. It has all been explained away. No action has been taken. Look at the price of petrol. A great many of the Directors of the petrol concerns in this country are actually sitting in this House as Coalition members. We can do nothing with that matter. When members complain that the price of petrol is soaring through profiteering what happens? The Government say, "Very well, we will take the tax off, and put it somewhere else; we will put it on the engines—always leaving the profiteer scot free." The public are beginning to realise that in each case the big fat profiteer, the thing you would have some satisfaction in catching, goes free, while the little fellow who endeavours to make two ends meet, as pathetically described by the hon. Member on the other side, gets fined sundry shillings.
There is another reason. That is the share gambling. The right hon. Gentleman has never taken that into consideration. The hon. Member behind me asks for consideration for a particular trade. All these various members say, "We are not really profiteering," but the test of whether a firm is making big profits or not is its share list. Find out what its shares are quoted at, and compare it with the price of the shares before the war. That is the surest indication as to whether it is making vast profits or not. The whole question is naturally one of supply and demand. But the unfortunate thing is that since this War there has grown up a multitude of middlemen, all of whom are plundering, and these middlemen are neither producers nor distributors. They are simply men who gamble in the price of things between the men who produce things and the public who desire to consume them, and they continue to fatten on the last man to pay.
I may give an example, and I will come as near home as possible. Take our own Kitchen Committee. On the night the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his Budget, and suggested—he did not carry it—50 per cent. ad valorem on cigars, the 2s. cigar in the smoking room went up to 2s. 6d. I know because I bought it. Is that a good example to set people throughout the country? Then wine and whiskey were put up. [HON. MEMBERS: "Down."] They were put 1574 down, but I submit in smaller quantities than they would have been if they had not been put up. Even the Kitchen Committee of this House forced up the prices of what a number of hon. Members regard as essentials simply because an indication was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he proposed to raise the tax. That is unfair. These articles could not possibly have been bought at an increased price between the time the Chancellor sat down at twenty minutes past six and half-past seven when we sat down. But that is an illustration of what is taking place over the whole country, a desire not to get the value of a thing but to get the maximum price which they think a deluded public can be forced to pay.
Would the right hon. Gentleman see that at least the essentials of this country are dealt with? I mean not only food, but all those necessities the price of which affects not so much the Members of this House as the members of the public who can least afford to pay for them. Directly the supply is less than the demand, certain adventurous persons, who probably are not associated with a particular trade at all, take advantage of the situation by jumping in and forming a corner or trust in an article. Surely it should not be very difficult to control them. It would at least save us from the reading of postcards and extracts from popular papers, and even from threats that at the next general election we shall lose certain support. We know there is this injustice, and that the sufferers are a class of people who are inarticulate in this House because they have no trade union and no organisation behind them—the lower middle class, who are the most penalised class in this country to-day.
§ The MINISTER OF FOOD (Mr. McCurdy)
I hope my right hon. Friend may now get the Second Reading of his Bill. It has been a very interesting debate, and those of us who were present when the present Profiteering Act was introduced eight months ago cannot fail to have been struck by the difference of tone in this Debate compared with the Debate then. One cannot fail to draw from that contrast some indication that the extravagant fears with regard to what the Profiteering Act would effect and the extravagant objections expressed eight months ago have proved to be unfounded. The criticisms heard to-night require only to be 1575 stated to answer one another. The main criticism is that of which we heard a great deal when the Act was introduced—that this is really an Act for the purpose of harassing the retail traders of the country, while leaving the great businesses and trusts and combines untouched. The figures which were quoted by my right hon. Friend show conclusively that whatever else the Act may be it has certainly not, as administered, proved to be an influence for harassing the retail traders of the country. On the contrary, while it has, I am convinced, deterrent and salutary effects upon retailers, so far as harassing the local trader is concerned what are the facts? Eighteen hundred local committees have been set up and 4,000 complaints have been heard in the course of seven or eight months, or an average of two retailers "harassed" by each committee. The fact is, as anyone knows who is familiar with what happened, the retail trades from the moment the Act was passed were extremely interested in the provisions. Trade conferences were summoned of the great retail trades in order that the traders might discuss it, and a great amount of attention was focussed upon what was and what was not a fair and reasonable profit, and upon what view the tribunal might take of the profit charged. The result was that there was a searching of conscience, and, to a certain extent, a revision of prices, and, as a matter of cold fact, there were few cases indeed for the local tribunal to try. On the other hand, it was suggested by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Lieut.-Colonel Willey), who spoke almost in pathetic terms and described the Act as an engine of most cruel oppression to the great trading industries of this country, and a waste of time, and he regarded it as a positive outrage that anybody should even venture to inquire what rate of profit was being made or by whom it was being made in some of the textile industries, the fruits of whose efforts we all know to our cost when we enter a shop to buy. I am quite sure the views expressed by the hon. Member are not shared by the people of this country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WILLEY
I did not wish to convey that there was any objection to investigation. That was not the point I desired to make. I said I saw no object 1576 in prosecuting investigations in sectional trades, and that that could not obviously assist the consumer. On the contrary I agree with you and I support the Bill. Something is necessary, but I do object to waste of time when nothing can be accomplished, not that I object to investigation, I welcome it.
§ Mr. McCURDY
I am glad to hear the representative of the great textile trade in Bradford welcoming investigation. I can assure him he shall have it. There are people who say, you are harrassing the retail traders and not seriously investigating what the great businesses and combines are doing; even though they rise in their place and ask you to do so. Both these cannot be true. I venture to suggest as a matter of fact what my right hon. Friend's predecessor and my right hon. Friend at the Board of Trade in their administration of the last eight months have done, and what my right hon. Friend seeks by this Bill to do is to steer a middle course, which is open to neither of these objections. It was said by my hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Wild) that this Bill made every retailer a potential criminal. As a matter of fact in administering this Act and in the Amendments in this Bill, we have not regarded this matter in that spirit at all. The Bill seeks to treat this matter not upon the footing of a criminal offence, but on the footing that we are passing through a difficult economic time, a time when it is easy to take advantage of the abnormal trade conditions in order unduly to inflate prices, and on the belief that in dealing with abnormal economic conditions it lies within the power of the trades themselves, if they are willing to do so, to deal with the matter more effectively and more satisfactorily, from the point of view of the consumer and of the public, as well as of the trades, than could any body of officials which might be set up for that purpose.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Short) said, "Have you broken the combines yet?" I would remind him that the problem of dealing with profiteering by trusts and combines is not one which arose yesterday, but one which has taxed the ingenuity of lawyers and statesmen in the United States of America for a quarter of a century. We have been happy in this country that we have SO long been spared the necessity of devoting time and attention to that problem. It is 1577 not reasonable to ask, "Have you broken the trusts and combines in six months?" No; but I do believe that in this Bill lies the germ of what may prove to be the ultimate and satisfactory solution not merely of this temporary evil of profiteering arising out of war-time conditions, and which we believe, with the disappearance of war-time conditions, will itself disappear, but may prove to afford a solution of profiteering as arising out of great trusts and combines. That is the principle, that if it is possible for the trades to form themselves into combinations in the interests of trade, to stabilise prices and delimit profits, it must also be possible for the traders, if they are willing, to combine for the purpose of stabilising prices and regulating profits not merely in their own selfish interests, but having regard to the general interests of the public and of the consumer. I should like to express my gratification, as the Member for the capital of the great boot and shoe trade, that the boot and shoe trade have given to the country the example and the object lesson upon which this amending Bill is based. I venture to suggest that this House does pursue a sane and common-sense business method of endeavouring to grapple with these evils in consultation and cooperation with trades, without any drastic disturbance to the fabric of our commercial prosperity, and it is because it is neither on the one hand an Act which does nothing nor, on the other hand, a harsh, oppressive measure, that I venture to ask this House, without much further delay, to give us the Second Beading of the Bill.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
This Bill has been brought forward for Second Reading at a very late hour owing to the unexpected collapse—it was partly my fault, because I went out for a moment—of a most important discussion. If hon. Members were not, I will not say caught napping but caught out, or had they done their duty, the last most important discussion would have lasted till 11 o'clock, and I consider it were effrontery on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to have had the intention to introduce a Bill of this immense importance to the trade and industry and people of the country, and force it through by his coupon majority after 11 o'clock at night. The President of the Board of Trade has been a member of this House a little longer than I have, but he has only spent 1578 in it about a fifteenth of the time that I have, and I do not think that it is quite fair of him to treat lightly reasoned amendments put down for the rejection of a Bill. He is not such an experienced member that he should treat other hon. Members, one of whom has been in this House for twelve years, lightly. We did not put down our Amendment for parade, but for a useful purpose. I am extremely grateful that I did not, Mr. Speaker, catch your eye earlier in the evening, because I had hoped that some hon. Members would have had the courage of their convictions, and have supported us in moving the rejection, but with the exception of the hon. and learned Member for Upton (Sir E. Wild) and the last speaker before the untimely and premature interruption of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. McCurdy) we have had no support, and yet in the smoke room this Bill has been roundly condemned. Then we have had the usual spectacle of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. A. Short) condemning the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party, and then declaring that they would vote for it. In introducing the Bill the President of the Board of Trade told us a story of the village idot who blocked a little stream up in the Cotswold Hills. I will repeat the story for the benefit of those hon. Members who were not present.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not think that I repeat my own stories as a rule, and I apologise at once. I was repeating the story of the President of the Board of Trade, and I was going to compare this Bill with the village idiot who thought that he could stop the Thames by blocking a little trickling stream in the hills. This Bill affects many millions of poor people in the country, and they want to know what we are going to do to bring prices down. Our objection to the Bill is set out in our reasoned Amendments. We consider Clause 1 is thoroughly mischievous, and that it will encourage and make almost compulsory the formation of rings and trusts.
I have spoken to a good many business men about high prices lately, and they have always got one remedy—competition. If you insist that the rings and trusts 1579 shall themselves fix prices, you are going to prevent competition. Take blankets. A friend of mine is a blanket manufacturer. He has patent rights for manufacturing blankets more cheaply and quickly than at present, but he cannot introduce it because he is prevented by the blanket-making combine. They have threatened him with boycott and other forms of pressure. Trusts for a time may reduce prices, and may be more efficient, but sooner or later they become stereotyped and conservative. Suppose at this moment someone invented a process of manufacturing sewing-cotton more cheaply than Messrs. Coats, he would be opposed by Messrs Coats in every possible way, and he would be a bold man to introduce his new patent in face of the combine. That is our objection to trusts and rings, and I believe the instinct which condemns them is correct. The Minister of Food referred to the fight of a quarter of a century in the United States to break the trusts, and they had not succeeded. They have broken up one of the big oil combines, and I believe they are going to break up the big private control of meat and some other articles of food. We must not condemn at once the efforts of the Americans. We may learn much from them. I am going to tell the President of the Board of Trade what I told a very indignant lady in my constituency, and that is the cure for high prices. She was indignant with what she called the profiteers. I have mentioned one way of bringing down prices, and that is competition, and I object to this Bill because it prevents competition. Then there is the method which has been adopted in America of combining together. If only housewives in this country will form a society, have a paid staff, examine prices, then, by mutual consent, when they are being fleeced they can boycott the article. Boots were mentioned by the Food Minister. He says there is no profiteering in boots. He is ill-informed. The profiteering in children's boots is most indefensible. I have four children of my own, and know what I am talking about. After all, this affects the health of the children, because if they do not have decent boots they cannot have decent health. This matter of children's boots is a very patent case of profiteering. Children have to have boots, and are always wearing them out, and so the price 1580 has been raised to a ridiculously high point, out of proportion to the boots of adults. That could be checked at once if people would boycott children's boots, and, by a convention, buy no boots for their children at all, but—in the summer, of course—let them run about barefooted. That is an extreme case, but, just as in America they are boycotting tailors by wearing overalls, so housewives in this country could do without coffee, for example, and possibly without tea. If they would do this it would very soon bring the prices down. The consumer really has the whip hand, if he likes to combine for his own protection.
There is a third method, which is that of many very sincere people, who say you will not get rid of profiteering until you get rid of the profiteer; in other words, they want to nationalise everything. Undoubtedly collectivism would have stopped profiteering, but it is not a practical proposition in this country. I am afraid human nature is against it at the present moment. We shall have to go through a good deal more suffering before we adopt it, and it will be many years before the bulk of the people of this country will be converted to it. I mention it, however, because it is a way of stopping profiteering. There is another practical method which I put to the Government with great sincerity. Control, as at present exercised, is useless. Suppose that in this country you control blankets at a price which does not induce people in this country to sell them—say 5s. a pair. If the price of blankets in Europe is £l a pair, naturally you get no blankets in this country; they would all go to Europe.
May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether this has any relevance to the Bill before the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member is going to show whether the Bill will control blankets or will not control them.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am giving a reason for rejecting the Bill, Mr. Speaker, and I think you will rule that I am in order if I am allowed to make my point. If you control only in this country, and there is a very high price in Europe, or in the world generally, the goods are exported. Business men are not philanthropists, and they sell their goods in the best markets. The only way 1581 really to tackle the problem is by international control, and that will have to come. I see that the President of the Board of Trade shakes his head, and at the moment the Presidents of the Boards of Trade in all the countries of Europe will shake their heads; but they are going to be forced into it. We shall have to have some international convention for the control of prices. The supplies of wool in the world are limited, and if there is free play of competition between buyers, with a limited article and a limited number of sellers, prices will soar, as they are doing now. The only way in which the price of wool can be kept down is by international action. Practically the whole of the world's wool at present comes from South America and Australia, and we have got to get the Governments of those countries into consultation, and to educate the democracies of all the countries concerned. If they can sell us wool cheaply, we can sell to them cheaply the articles they want from us. It is on these lines, I am quite convinced, that this matter of high world prices will have to be tackled. Take the question of coal. We could be accused by our French and Belgian allies, as well as by neutral countries, of profiteering in coal. We are selling them coal at about six times the price it is retailed in this country. We ought not, the French would say, to subsidise ourselves at their expense unless we are prepared to enter into an arrangement for a joint price to be charged on both sides of the Channel. We must have world prices arranged by international action. There is no reason why we should not sell our coal under cost price on the understanding that wheat, hides and wool which we require from other countries should be sold by them to us also under cost price. The right. hon. Gentleman opposite treats that suggestion lightly, but it is a question which was examined into by Sir Auckland Geddes, who only turned it down after very careful investigation. I believe that is the way in which only we can hope to break the vicious circle of rising prices, which, unless it is stopped, will lead to such terrible unrest as will result in practical revolution. It is only by international action that this problem can be tackled.
There is another measure often used, which I hope may be embodied in this Bill, and that is the introduction of a national costings system. Without such a 1582 system how can we break down the trusts and rings, etc., of manufacturers? The costings system adopted by the War Office during the War and by the Ministry of Munitions saved this country scores of millions of pounds by bringing down the fundamental prices of articles produced on a great scale. Such a system would be a check on the prices of all articles in common use. I do not suggest general control at every stage of manufacture, but I do urge we should have a costing system in addition to international control for raw material. The Profiteering Bill is a symptom of what is going to be our great trouble in the next year or two. The question will arise as to which classes are to pay for the War—is it to be paid for by a reduction in the standard of living of the lower middle classes, or by a reduction in the profits of the capitalist class. There will be many more Bills like this, and the present Bill, I think, will be quite useless for the purpose for which it is intended, but I fear that few Members will have the moral courage to vote against it on that account. The Labour party know that the Bill is useless, but they will vote for the Government, and under these circumstances I do not propose to put the House to the trouble of a Division.
I know it is unpopular to speak at this time of the night and I apologise to the House for detaining it, but—
§ Sir J. FORTESCUE FLANNERY
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
I feel it my duty to enter my protest against this weak and ridiculous Bill, and I know that honestly in that I have the support of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Labour and of the Food Controller, who have recently been returned at bye-elections, and know that during their electoral campaign they found that what the people really cared about was not the state of Europe or the condition of Ireland, but what most affected them in their own homes—the cost of living. One of the hon. Members who spoke just now referred to the price of boots. That sounded humorously to some hon. Members, but really it is the bed rock of things to-day. I have come to this House particularly pledged to do 1583 12 P. M. what I can to deal with the big profiteer and to see that the little man is not harassed out of existence. An hon. Mem ber just now made an earnest plea to be let alone. The Minister for Food looked at him rather curiously, and shook his head cynically. I have had the curiosity to look up the name of that hon Member in Dod, and find that he is largely interested in the Bradford wool industry. Some of us feel that the Government in dealing with the wholesaler are not in earnest. I think it was the present Food Controller who on one occasion suggested that it would disturb trade if they got at the wholesaler, but surely it would be better to do that than to disturb the country. A special plea has been put in for the little man, but it was rather suggested that if the little man makes a bad deal in ribands, he should be allowed to make it up on silk stockings. I do not agree with that. I think that in all these matters there should be a reasonable standard of profit, and it is the duty of the Government to see that such a reasonable profit should alone be made. I noticed the 12 P.M. other day that in a long letter to the " Times " Dr. Morris tried to make out that the cost of living was only 30 per cent. above the pre-war level. I ask the Minister of Labour if he would have dared to talk like that at his recent bye-election? The feeling on this subject is very great, and there is no indication whatever in this Bill that it is a genuine and serious attempt to deal with the evils of profiteering. I heard the Food Controller say very much the same as was said when the original Bill was before us—that here was the germ of an ultimate solution. We have heard that before. It does not wash! It is no germ of an ultimate solution: it is a sop—a very little sop—to public opinion. This will not satisfy the discontent and heartburning, I can assure the Treasury Bench, that, exists amongst the lower and middle classes. The late Food Controller (Mr. G. Roberts) said this evening that high prices were due to world scarcity. That up to a point, we admit, is true. But there has been, with that, gross profiteering. The fact of the world scarcity has been used by all classes of traders and merchants to exploit the people, and especially the middle classes, and those whom we call the " new poor." Why, the Leader of the House actually on 1584 one occasion apologised here, before we had the Act, for the shipping dividends he had received! But, like other right hon. Gentlemen who regret the profits they receive, we had no indication that he gave back the profits to the Treasury.
There is to-day a determination on the part of the public to see that the Government bring in a genuine Bill to deal with profiteering. We had a Committee appointed to inquire into cotton—to in quire why a reel of cotton that before the war cost 2d. now costs 10½d. But it is no satisfaction to the poor women of the country that Messrs. Coats say they are making the bulk of their profits out of their export trade! So it is with petrol and electric lamps. When these reports are brought before the public, what happens? The Government say, as I think they said yesterday: " We have just received the rejoinder." Surely if there was any sincerity in the matter of these Committees you would not want a re joinder; you would ask the people at the heads of the firms to come before the Committee, and give their evidence in answer—
§ Sir R. HORNE
In fairness it should be said in regard to Messrs. Coats that they appeared before the Committee, gave their views to the Committee, and the Committee has not yet reported upon what they said.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I will refer him particularly to the electric lamp industry. I think it was referred to yesterday. The Government were asked: " What are you doing in the matter? " The answer was: " We have only received the rejoinder of the trade; we want to consider the rejoinder before we take action." I am not expressing any opinion on the merits of any of these matters; but I am saying that the public get the idea that there is deliberate and consistent delay in dealing with the charges that are made. I apologise for detaining the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO! "] Yes; 1585 I apologise, although the Government is to blame for bringing forward a Bill of this enormous importance at so late an hour. The country is watching this Debate. [Laughter.] It may sound humorous, but if hon. Members would spend a little less time in this House and a little more time in their constituencies they would realise how deep and sincere is the feeling in the country on this question of high prices. The Government are not responsible for the high prices. It is ridiculous to charge them with it, and I have never done so in any speech I have delivered. But the country wants from the Government a little more indication of the spirit of sincerity in dealing with this matter. The Prime Minister to-day twitted certain hon. Members on the results of bye-elections. If the Government would bring one or two profiteers to justice, and give three months to Coats' cotton or to Bradford wool, they need never fear the bye-elections for the next three years. The public are sincere on this subject, and they are very angry. This Bill is not a real and sincere attempt to deal with the fundamentals of this question, and when it gets to the Committee stage I hope, in association with some of my friends, to be able to do something to strengthen it. I am sorry that we cannot rely upon the Labour party in this matter. If there was one question on which I should have thought the Labour benches would have been crowded with men who pretend to represent the lower and the working classes it is this question. One would have expected them to be here to-night to stand by the few men who are jeered at because they think it their duty to keep the House sitting fifteen minutes after midnight to enter their protest against the weakness and futility of this Bill. I am proud to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and any man who will stand up for the poor and the middle classes. We have entered our protest, and in the Committee stage we shall do our best to improve what I regard as a weak-kneed and jejune measure.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
I do not intend to detain the House with any useless words. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not apologise. It is rather the Government Whips who should apologise 1586 for bringing on this Bill at this late hour. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull has raised a point of very great interest in regard to the Government's trade policy. Clause I of this Bill provides that the fairness of the price is to be decided by the persons in the trade who deal in the particular articles.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Surely my hon. and gallant Friend cannot have read the Clause! Let him read the Clause before he attempts to use such criticism.
§ Captain BENN
Any persons or associations of persons who are manufacturers or distributors can submit a scheme to be approved by the Board of Trade.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The hon. Member has stated in the House that it rests with the manufacturers and distributors in question to determine what is to be their own price. That is not so at all.
§ Captain BENN
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has interrupted me, because he has assisted me to make my point. My point is this, that the scheme is prepared by the manufacturers or distributors and approved by the Board of Trade. At this moment the Board of Trade has a Bill before the House which will permit them to put an embargo upon foreign imports. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that? Perhaps he has not read this Bill. There is a Bill called the Indemnity Bill which confers upon the Board of Trade power to reimpose embargoes upon any imports into this country. That, as my hon. and gallant Friend says, may have the effect of forcing up prices of necessary articles in this country. He is right, because on the one hand the Board of Trade has power to approve a scheme drafted by the profiteers themselves, and on the other hand they have the power to prevent anyone from competing with the profiteers by sending goods into the country. Although I understand my hon. and gallant Friend does not intend to divide. it is well that the point should be made, and that the public should understand that we are drifting back into an era of high prices through—I do not want to be offensive—what we regard as the ignorant control of trade by the Board of Trade.
§ Question put "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 126; Noes, 5.1425
|Division No. 97.]||AYES.||3.57 p.m.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S.||Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South)||Hallwood, Augustine|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Courthope, Major George L.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. Leopold C. M. S.||Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Hamilton, Major C. G. C.|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||Hanna, George Boyle|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, Mid)||Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Atkey, A. R.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Haslam, Lewis|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Croft, Brigadier-General Henry Page||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Curzon, Commander Viscount||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Hoare, Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. J. G.|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Davies, Major D. (Montgomery)||Hohier, Gerald Fitzroy|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Davies, Sir David Sanders (Denbigh)||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)|
|Barrand, A. R.||Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan)||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)|
|Barrie, Charles Coupar||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington)|
|Barrie, Hugh Thorn. (Lon'derry, N.)||Dawes, James Arthur||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Houston, Robert P.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Dixon, Captain Herbert||Howard, Major S. G.|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Doyle, N. Grattan||Hudson, R. M.|
|Bennett, Thomas Jewell||Duncannon, Viscount||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Hunter-Weston, Lieut. Gen. Sir A. G.|
|Blrchall, Major J. Dearman||Edge, Captain William||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Bird, Sir A. (Wolverhampton, West)||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Edwards, John H. (Glam., Neath)||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. A. H.|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-||Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.|
|Boles, Lieut.-Colonel D. F.||Falcon, Captain Michael||Jameson, J. Gordon|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Falle, Major Sir Bertram G.||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Fell, Sir Arthur||Jesson, C.|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Fildes, Henry||Jodrell, Neville Paul|
|Briggs, Harold||FitzRoy, Captain Hon. E. A.||Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Ford, Patrick Johnston||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly)|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Forestier-Walker, L.||Jones, William Kennedy (Hornsey)|
|Burdon, Colonel Rowland||Forrest, Walter||Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Kerr|
|Burdett-Coutts, William||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||King, Commander Henry Douglas|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel A. H.||Ganzoni, Captain Francis John C.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Gardiner, James||Knights, Capt. H. N. (C'berwell, N.)|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Gardner, Ernest||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George|
|Campbell, J. D. G.||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Camb'dge)||Lane-Fox, G. R.|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Gilbert, James Daniel||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)|
|Carter, R. A. D. (Man., Withington)||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)|
|Casey, T. W.||Glyn, Major Ralph||Lindsay, William Arthur|
|Cayzer, Major Herbert Robin||Goff, Sir R. Park||Lister, Sir R. Ashton|
|Chamberlain, N.(Birm., Ladywood)||Grant, James A.||Lloyd, George Butler|
|Churchill. Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Green, Albert (Derby)||Lloyd-Greame, Major P.|
|Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Greene, Lieut.-Col. W. (Hackney, N.)||Lonsdale, James Rolston|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Lorden, John William|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Greer, Harry||Loseby, Captain C. E.|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Greig, Colonel James William||Lynn, R. J.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Gritten, W. G. Howard||M'Curdy, Charles Albert|
|Coote, William (Tyrone, South)||Guest, Major O. (Leic, Loughboro')||M'Donald, Dr. Bouverle F. P.|
|Cope, Major Wm.||Gwynne, Rupert S.||McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)|
|M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Macleod, J. Mackintosh||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Macmaster, Donald||Prescott, Major W. H.||Taylor, J.|
|M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Terrell, George (Wilts, Chippenham)|
|Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Raeburn, Sir William H.||Thomas, Sir Robert J. (Wrexham)|
|McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|Mallalieu, F. w.||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)||Turton, E. R.|
|Matthews, David||Rodger, A. K.||Wallace, J.|
|Moles, Thomas||Rogers, Sir Hallewell||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Molson, Major John Elsdale||Roundell, Colonel R. F.||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred M.||Royds, Lieut.-Colonel Edmund||Warren, Lieut.-Col. Sir Alfred H.|
|Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Wason, John Cathcart|
|Morison, Thomas Brash||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Norwood)||White, Lieut.-Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Morrison, Hugh||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.||Whitla, Sir William|
|Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Sessoon, Sir Phillip Albert Gustave D.||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Mount, William Arthur||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C.(Tavistock)|
|Murchison, C. K.||Seager, Sir William||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. (Aberdeen)||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)||Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Shortt, Rt. Hon E. (N'castle-on-T.)||Wilson, Lieut.-Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Murray, Major William (Dumfries)||Simm, M. T.||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Nail, Major Joseph||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Neal, Arthur||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Stanier, Captain Sir Beville||Wood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Nicholl, Commander Sir Edward||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.||Woolcock, William James U.|
|Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Stanton, Charles B.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Oman, Charles William C.||Starkey, Captain John R.||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|O'Neill, Major Hon. Robert W. H.||Steel, Major S. Strang||Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Palmer, Major Godfrey Mark||Stephenson, Colonel H. K.||Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)|
|Palmer, Brigadier-General G. L.||Stevens, Marshall|
|Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||Stewart, Gershom||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Strauss, Edward Anthony||Lord E. Talbot and Mr. James Parker.|
|Peel, Col. Hn. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Percy, Charles||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. F. D.||Harbison, Thomas James S.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Hartshorn, Vernon||Rose, Frank H.|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hills, Major John Waller||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hirst, G. H.||Sexton, James|
|Billing, Noel Pemberton-||Irving, Dan||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Bottomley, Horatio W.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Spencer, George A.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Spoor, B. C.|
|Briant, Frank||Kenyon, Barnet||Swan, J. E.|
|Bromfield, William||Lawson, John J.||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Cape, Thomas||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Walton, J. (York, W. R., Don Valley)|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Lunn, William||Waterson, A. E.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(Midlothian)||Wedgwood, Colonel J. C.|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Wignall, James|
|Devlin, Joseph||Malone, Lieut.-Col. C. L.(Leyton, E.)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Finney, Samuel||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness and Ross)||Winterton, Major Earl|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Myers, Thomas||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||O'Connor, Thomas P.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Palmer, Charles Frederick (Wrekin)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grundy, T. W.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy and Mr. Mills.|
|Hallas, Eldred||Redmond, Captain William Archer|
|Division No. 98.]||AYES.||[12.12 a.m.|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Balrd, John Lawrence||Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Pulley, Charles Thornton|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Hamilton, Major C. G. C.||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Rodger, A. K.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Brldgeman, William Clive||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Royden, Sir Thomas|
|Brlttaln, Sir Harry||Holmes, J. Stanley||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Bromfield, William||Hope, Lt.-Col.Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Buckley, Lieut-Colonel A.||Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hlllhead)||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Hotchkin, Captain Stafford Vere||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John|
|Carter, R. A. D. (Man., Withington)||Hurd, Percy A.||Sexton, James|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Jameson, J. Gordon||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Casey, T. W.||Johnson, L. S.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Chamberlain, N. (Blrm., Ladywood)||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly)||Stanier, Captain Sir Beville|
|Cockerlll, Brigadier-General G. K.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lane-Fox, G. R.||Stanton, Charles B.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, Mid)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Lort-Williams, J.||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Lunn, William||Thomas, Sir Robert J. (Wrexham)|
|Dawes, James Arthur||Lynn, R. J.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Edge, Captain William||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Vickers, Douglas|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Falcon, Captain Michael||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Flannery, Sir James Fortescue||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Whitla, Sir William|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Morison, Thomas Brash||Willey, Lieut.-Colonel F. V.|
|Foreman, Henry||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Forrest, Walter||Murray, Major William (Dumfries)||Wills, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert|
|Foxcrolt, Captain Charles Talbot||Nail, Major Joseph||Wilson, Colonel Leslie 0. (Reading)|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Neal, Arthur||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Ganzoni, Captain Francis John C.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Worthlngton-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Palmer, Brigadier-General G. L.|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Gould, James C.||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr.|
|Billing, Noel Pemberton-||Wedgwood, Colonel J. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward||Lieutenant-Commander Kenworthy|
|Malone, Lieut.-Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||and Mr. Charles Palmer.|
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question put, " That1588
§ the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House."—[Mr. A. Short.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 21; Noes, 1151589
|Division No. 99.]||AYES.||[12.18 a.m.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Billing, Noel Pemberton-||Lunn, William||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Bromfield, William||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Wedgwood, Colonel J. C.|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Malone, Lieut.-Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Palmer, Charles Frederick (Wrekin)|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Holmes, J. Stanley||Sexton, James||Major Barnes and Mr. Alfred|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Carter, R. A. D. (Man., Withington)||Edge, Captain William|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Casey, T. W.||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Falcon, Captain Michael|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Flannery, Sir James Fortescue|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Ford, Patrick Johnston|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Foreman, Henry|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, Mid)||Forrest, Walter|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Foxcrolt, Captain Charles Talbot|
|Bridgeman, William Ciive||Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Ganzoni, Captain Francis John C.|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Dawes, James Arthur||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Doyle, N. Grattan||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Gould, James C.||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.|
|Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Stanler, Captain Sir Beville|
|Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.|
|Hamilton, Major C. G. C.||Morison, Thomas Brash||Stanton, Charles B.|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Murray, Major William (Dumfries)||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Nail, Major Joseph||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Neal, Arthur||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Thomas, Sir Robert J. (Wrexham)|
|Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Palmer, Brigadier-General G. L.||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead)||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Hotchkin, Captain Stafford Vere||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Vickers, Douglas|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Jameson, J. Gordon||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.||Whitla, Sir William|
|Johnson, L. S.||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.||Willey, Lieut.-Colonel F. V.|
|Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Rodger, A. K.||Wills, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert|
|Lane-Fox, G. R.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.||Wilson, Colonel Leslie 0. (Reading)|
|Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Royce, William Stapleton||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Lindsay, William Arthur||Royden, Sir Thomas|
|Lort-Williams, J.||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Loseby, Captain C. E.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Parker.|
|Lynn, R. J.||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John|
Bill committed to a Standing Committee.