At question time I asked the Lord Privy Seal if he would 1601 defer the Second Reading of the Dyestuffs (Import Regulation) Bill until after the Report had been made by the Special Committee on Dyes appointed by the Central Profiteering Committee, and the answer I got from the Lord Privy Seal was that the Report would be as valuable after the Bill is passed as it would be before. This was rather a cryptic utterance which might mean that the Report is not regarded as being of any value at all. It that were the meaning I think it would be unfortunate that it should come from the Leader of the House to a body of men who have been giving a considerable amount of time on this work. But I take it that is not the meaning—
The other meaning may be that however valuable the Report may be the Government will not take any notice of it.
I want to assure the Lord Privy Seal that this question is being asked not with any desire to delay the introduction of this measure. It is something that has to be settled sooner or later, and we may as well have it out soon as late. But what I do think is important is that when the House is discussing this measure, which is an extremely important one, it should have at its command all the information that is possible. My question is simply directed to obtaining for this House the information it ought to have in coming to a decision on this question of dyestuffs. It would not be in order for me to discuss the Bill. It would not be possible, because I do not know what it is—it is not printed—but we do know that it is a Bill which arises out of the condition of the dyestuffs industry, and, that being so, it is material and germane that the House should know what the condition of that industry is. On that point the Committee appointed by the President of the Board of Trade has been sitting for over eight months. It was a Committee that was promised in October, 1919; it was appointed in December, 1919; its first sitting was not held till 10th March, 1920. It was not held because of reasons best known to the Board of Trade, but between 1602 October, 1919, and 10th March, 1920, the Board of Trade had fully satisfied itself that the personnel of the Committee was one that might be entrusted to go into this matter and report. Since March there have been fifteen meetings held, and at those meetings evidence has been taken from manufacturers of dyestuffs. from the owners and users, the textile associations, the calico printers, and the tannery and leather trades, so that there is in existence at the present time a great body of evidence on the conditions of the dyestuff industry. The Lord Privy Seal at question time said the Committee had only to do with profiteering. Let me read to him the terms of reference: "To ascertain to what extent supplies, prices and cost of dyes and dyestuffs in this country and the profits thereon were affected by any trade combination." That was a very much wider reference than the question of profiteering. It involved an inquiry into the whole state of the dye industry with regard to supplies, prices and costs, both before the combination of the British Dyestuffs Corporation and since. There is the position. The Government has at its disposal, and it might be at the disposal of the House, a whole body of evidence on the conditions of the dystuffs industry. What I am going to say now is evidence of the fact that it is not my desire to delay the introduction of this measure. I want to make this suggestion that the Government should not wait for the Report—I quite agree that the Report may be, and no doubt will be, affected by the opinion of the various people who were on the Committee, but to let the House have the evidence that has been taken upon which the Committee will have to base their Report. Do not wait for the Report, which may be coloured and biassed, but simply let the House have the benefit of the evidence which has been put before the Committee. There is no need for any real delay. We are not going to adjourn for a week or two. Only to-day two measures have been taken which have to be taken on the Floor of the House: the Roads Bill and the Official Secrets Bill. If these Bills were taken during next week, that would give ample time for the evidence to be printed and circulated with respect to the Dyestuffs Committee. The Lord Privy Seal is bound to recognise that this is a very real and 1603 substantial suggestion. It is not actuated by a desire to place any kind of coloured opinion before the House, but simply a desire that the whole body of Members of the House should have before them what that Committee has done, and the evidence that has been taken both as to the making and the using of dyes. I hope the President of the Board of Trade, if he is going to reply, will see that this is a reasonable and substantial suggestion and will not deprive the House of such valuable material upon which they can make up their minds on this exceedingly important matter.
§ Sir R. HORNE
. I appreciate the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Barnes), but I am not sure that I realise his view as to the importance of the evidence taken by the Committee. This Committee was set up under the Profiteering Act, and the inquiry, it is true, was limited strictly to the narrow question of profiteering; and to the question of the effect of a trade combination upon the prices at which dyes are sold to the people of this country. It has nothing to do with the import trade; the only question was the effect of the trade combination constituted in the dye industry known as the British Dye Stuffs Corporation on the keeping up of the prices in this country. That is undoubtedly a very important question in relation to the domestic consumer of dyes in Britain. If the Committee has stuck to its work it has little to do with the question with which the country is faced, namely, the effect to be produced on the dye-making industry in this country by German competition. We found it absolutely necessary, as the House knows, to promote the dye-making industry of this country during the War, to provide for chemical research in the more recondite branches of the chemical industry, etc. There was also the question of an organisation that could be readily used for the purpose of making these dyes here. It was under these circumstances that a pledge was given, by both Governments—that of which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) was Leader, and that of which the present Prime Minister was Leader—both taking the same attitude to this question; and the pledge given was that the dye industry of the country should be 1604 protected for ten years and controlled by a system of licences. It is on this that the Government proposes to bring forward a Bill. But the Report of the Committee will be just as valuable after as before the Bill, for the purpose for which the Committee was set up. It is perfectly clear that it has no application to the question which we have in hand. Much as I would like to accept the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend, I feel certain that the matter is not worth the delay. In the second place, even if the House had the evidence before it, I do not think it could affect the proceedings on the Bill. Therefore I do not think that it would serve any good purpose to have this evidence printed. We have to get on with this Bill. We have to put it through, not merely this House, but it has to get through adventures in another place. Accordingly, I am afraid that I cannot accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My right hon. Friend says that he has not seen the evidence. Therefore, all the remarks addressed to him as to the importance of the evidence cannot be very valuable. As a matter of fact, the Leader of the House has put down this Bill for Tuesday of next week. There is, therefore, a full week and weekend available. My right hon. Friend knows that if on Tuesday the Bill gets its Second Reading he will not get his first Committee on the Wednesday. It cannot possibly be before Monday or Tuesday, and the question of delay cannot, therefore, arise.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what is the proportionate majority of the dye users who have agreed to the scheme of this Bill?
§ Sir R. HORNE
I have been in touch with the dye users in this matter. Therefore I am in possession of all such evidence as I can get. The position is, according to my information, that about 90 per cent, of the dye users are in the 1605 organisation which have agreed to the suggested scheme.
When the right hon. Gentleman says 90 per cent., does he mean 90 per cent, of the dye users as settled numerically? I happen to know that the largest consumers of dyes are not in agreement with him. If it has been represented to him that 90 per cent, of the users of dyes, reckoned by their consumption, are in favour, whoever made that representation deliberately conveyed a false impression to the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Report of this Committee is not germane to the Bill. If British Dyes, Limited, were a personal undertaking in all senses, the the right hon. Gentleman's argument would apply, but it is a combination of certain individuals with a Government Department, and therefore the Report of the Committee which has been investigating whether profiteering has taken place by that particular combination between the Government and private dye-makers, is extremely germane to the discussion of the whole question.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The hon. Member is quite mistaken. No Government Department takes any part in the management of the business. It is true that the Government has representatives on the Board, but no Government Department takes any part in its management, and it is in fact worked as an ordinary business concern.
With the exception that a very large amount of public money has been put into the business and therefore the Government is extremely interested in maintaining high prices for the productions of that particular firm. I wish to bring before the notice of the House this most vicious principle, that an interested party, being in a position to impose a tariff which will be destructive of one of the greatest of our industries, may make a thoroughly bad invest- 1606 ment on its part appear to be a good one. We know what has happened in other cases. There are grave suspicions. Three instances have occurred in which the Government has dealt in this manner with its business affairs. The Phosphate Company and the Cellulose Company are two of them, and, in the case of the Cellulose Company, the Government knows already that the net result of that transaction has been that the taxpayer has been, to use a city expression, "left carrying the baby." I have not the slightest doubt, from my own knowledge of the Phosphate Company and its actions in this matter, that we shall find eventually that in regard to Nauru we shall also be left "carrying the baby." Neither have I the least doubt that the officials of the Government are aware that in the case of British Dyes, Ltd., we shall be in the same lamentable position. The result of such a combination between a Government Department and a trading institution is that permanent officials who are negotiating in matters of this kind, with public money behind them, with some of the shrewdest persons in the business world, are absolutely as children in their hands, and in each case the interests of the taxpayers of this country go by the board. The public outside often think that that is because there is corruption. The public cannot conceive of such a lamentable lack of business ability on the part of the people who negotiate these things with trade interests outside. That is one of the greatest dangers to the political life of this country at present. The Government does things which bring it under suspicion of corruption. It is not that it is corrupt—I do not suggest or think any such thing—but in matters of business it is so infernally stupid, that it gets twisted every way by anyone with broad-minded views on commercial ethics.
§ Adjourned accordingly, at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'clock.