§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It is not easy to resume the thread of one's argument after an interruption which the forms of our Constitution permit, such as we have just experienced. I was not going to detain the House much longer, but was about to ask information from my right hon. Friend in reference to one or two illustrations of the difficulties which surround the administration of this Act, of which I am certain he must be fully conscious. Take the question which comes before the Referee in these various appeals, whether or not an article included in the Board of Trade list comes within the general scope of the Schedule. That is a question 467 which is always presented to the Referee. I have not the least doubt that the Referee, a man of very great capacity and experience, applies his mind with skill, and with an absolutely judicial temper, to the determination of this question whenever it comes before him, and I am not quarrelling with any of the decisions which he has given, but I do point out to the House—and I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade will agree—that experience has shown in) cases which have been before the Referee, particularly in regard to what are called fine chemicals and synthetic organic chemicals, the difficulty, which has been referred to over and over again in the judgments of the Referee himself, of giving any intelligent or consistent meaning to the term was very pronounced. In the very important case of cream of tartar and analogous substances, the Referee tells us, speaking of the evidence which was before him, that five chemists, men of considerable eminence, gave evidence, and they all defined the word "chemical" differently. When it came to the definition of what is a fine chemical, the difference of opinion was equally great. These eminent chemists are most expensive luxuries. They seem to have excelled even their traditional reputation in this particular instance by the variety and discrepancy of the views which they gave as to the meaning of what one would have assumed to be elementary scientific terms. Precisely the same set of difficulties arose, as the Referee points out, as to what is a synthetic organic chemical. That occurred in one of the most important cases that have been tried, the case of calcium carbide. I could give other instances, but it is not necessary. I would like the President of the Board of Trade to say whether he sees his way to introduce something in the nature of greater lucidity.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
On a point of Order. Is it in order to discuss on the Adjournment matters which require legislation?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No, we can discuss only administration, and not legislation or the repeal of legislation on these occasions. There are at least ten rulings of Mr. Speaker Lowther and Mr. Speaker Gully on that point.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am confining myself to the administration of the Act. I made the assumption that the Act was to continue. These things do not require legislation.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to ask whether it would be possible to bring in something which would alter the Act.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
That is not the suggestion. I was speaking of the administrative powers of the President of the Board of Trade and of nothing else. Exactly the same considerations arise, and here with greater force, in regard to Part II of the Act. Under Part II, as the House is aware, the Board of Trade has no initiative. The initiative comes from some complaining body outside. If the Board of Trade thinks it not a frivolous case, it sends it to one of these Committees, and the right hon. Gentleman has discretion whether or not he will adopt the findings of the Committee. How do we stand in relation to the cases that have arisen under Part II? I shall be corrected if I am not up to date with my information. I am informed that three cases of complaint by people who allege that their goods have been improperly interfered with by competition of the character of dumping, have been dismissed by the Committees with the assent of the Board of Trade, one being the case of the toy industry, about which a great fuss was made in the newspapers and elsewhere. What is more important for the purposes of this discussion and perhaps more interesting, is that four reports of Committees have been sent in, but no decision has yet been given on any of them by the Board of Trade. I need not impress upon the President of the Board of Trade the importance of giving an early decision in these cases. One of them, a case which excites very great interest in Lancashire, that of fabric gloves, has been before the Board of Trade for over two months. It is a very good illustration of the difficulty of working an Act of this kind. I went to Bolton a short time ago and was presented there with a pair of fabric gloves, which I have since preserved and even occasionally worn.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I have the gloves off to-day. The ease is a very peculiar case. These gloves come from Germany and the English glove manufacturer does not like them; they are a very inconvenient competitive factor in the home market. On the other hand, these gloves are made entirely, or practically entirely, of cotton of a particular kind, Egyptian cotton, spun into fine yarn in the town of Bolton, which has a specialty in that particular branch of textile manufacture, and the cotton, having been imported from Egypt into Great Britain, has been spun at Bolton, is exported to Germany in the shape of yarn, and comes back woven in the shape of the finished fabric glove. There are obviously two sides to that question. I find that at Bolton, which is not pervaded by glove manufacturers but is largely or almost wholly given to the spinning of fine cotton yarn, the exclusion of these gloves was regarded as a serious blow to their most flourishing industry. I do not know what Report the Committee have made upon that subject or what, if any, decision the Government have come to. I rather think that, in answer to a question the other day, the President of the Board of Trade promised to announce a decision before Easter.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
With regard to that case and the three others on which reports have been sent in and no action taken, there is very great uncertainty in the trades concerned, which is a serious hardship to producers, distributors and the public. There are other points in regard to the administration of the Act on which I should like to hear some reassuring statement from the President of the Board of Trade. The first is as to the refunding of duties that have been paid on articles which have subsequently been held by the tribunal not to come within the purview of the Act. There is for instance the case of lactose. It would seem only fair and equitable that people who have paid the duty under duress and have subsequently established the fact that the goods were not liable to the duty, should have a refund. The second point, which is also of importance, is as to the costs of these inquiries. They are very heavy. I am afraid that from the taxpayer's point of view any change in the 470 present rule—which is not to give costs to either side—would be more injurious than otherwise, because if costs were given against the Board of Trade in a particular case where the commodity is improperly included or improperly excluded, the costs would come out of the pockets of the taxpayers of the country. On the other hand it is very serious that in such cases as that of calcium carbide the persons concerned, who have established the correctness and the equity of their case, should spend, as they had to spend, probably some thousands of pounds in instructing solicitors, expert witnesses, counsel, and in generally preparing their case, and not be able to recover any of that although they are successful in their contention. We are precluded, Sir, by the ruling you have just given, from drawing the natural inference which follows from what I have said. You, Mr. Speaker, will call me to order if I transgress the thin boundary line which separates administration from legislation. When one points out, as I have been endeavouring to do, that the Act is so framed that, even under the most able and well-intentioned administration of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, it is found in many respects impracticable, inconvenient and productive of hardship; when one has pointed all that out, one must, according to the rules of our procedure, leave it to the Members of the House, in the serene seclusion of their own consciences, to draw the natural conclusion. I am perfectly content to leave it there.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I should like, before replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), to say how I regret the absence of one of my keenest opponents to-day, the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Wedgwood Benn) and to say how profoundly the whole House regrets the reason for his absence. A sorrow such as his can only be assuaged by time, and the sense of it will abide while life lasts.
A great deal has been said in disparagement of the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and I would like, in my opening remarks, to say something in praise of it. I regard the Safeguarding of Industries Act as the one link that binds the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley to this House and to the interests in it. To that Act we owe many a delightful and instructive speech, and none more enlight- 471 ening and more instructive than the one to which we have just listened. I hope for my part that, so long as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley is a Member of this House, so long this Act may remain on the Statute Book. I do not propose to deal with all the points he raised, but I think this is a convenient opportunity for saying something about what the Act has achieved. I will say, in passing, that I have been waiting for an opportunity of this kind and it has been no fault of mine that on one or two occasions when hon. Friends of mine have tried to raise a discussion, that the general interest of the House did not seem as keen as theirs and that there was difficulty in protracting the Debate. Hon. Members who cast their minds back to the Debates of last year may remember that I always took the line that Part I of this Act would be a useful piece of legislation. Under Part I, I hope to see substantial progress made in a number of very valuable industries—so substantial that, by the time the Act lapses, those industries may be able to face any competition that they might at that time have to meet.
There can be no worse time than the present for any industries to make progress. We know that, when this Act first began to have effect, the country was passing through a period of very profound depression of trade. We know that, in a great many industries concerned under Part I, large stocks were held partly by reason of accumulation that had occurred in the good times, and an accumulation which remained when the times became bad; partly owing to stocks that had been accumulated during the War and were not subsequently liquidated; and partly owing undoubtedly to the very free purchasing produced, partly by the hopes of good trade continuing and partly with a view to removing as far as possible the advantage that might accrue to English manufacturers under the Act. These were the circumstances in which the industries concerned had to function. When you have regard to all these circumstances, I do not think we have any cause to be dissatisfied with the progress made.
The reports reaching me from the fine chemical industries are of a distinctly cheering nature. I hear of firms of chemical manufacturers who, when the Act first became effective, were discharging men and working short time, and the 472 same firms now are fully employed and working full time. I hear of progress made in scientific work, in which a beginning has been made in what I have been always most anxious about, which was to see the creation in this country of a body of skilled investigators and skilled workers in these trades, a new department of work in which we have hitherto been inferior to Germany The manufacture of the latch needle is progressing, and the manufacture of optical and scientific instruments, and it will doubtless be a source of satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Dr. Murray) to know that one firm has a scheme for the production on a large scale of microscopes. I hope that, although the progress may be made under this Act, that it will be regarded as satisfactory. I would not like to regard my hon. Friend as one of those critics who objects to a man making an honest score because his methods are not orthodox. Scientific glassware is also being made on a larger scale in this country, and the quality, as I am advised, of the various articles is improving. The progress generally is such and the goodwill in these industries is such, that I feel that my most sanguine hopes in regard to these industries will be justified by the time the Act comes to an end.
With regard to the criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley on Part I, I should like to say a word or two. He spoke about the hearing of complaints before the Referee, and I would like to say on that subject that I am grateful to him for the testimony he paid to the skill and industry of those who work with me in my Department. I do think it is a very remarkable thing that, in producing a Schedule of this kind, with the complications incidental to such a Schedule, there should really have been so little dissatisfaction with it, and so few appeals. I think my right hon. Friend had the correct figures in regard to the commodities included in the list. There have been, so far, seven cases brought before the Referee, and of these, three were decided, if I may say so, in favour of the Board of Trade, and three against, and one has not yet been decided. In regard to complaints made as to the exclusion of articles, there were three complaints, and in each case the Referee held that they were properly excluded, thus justifying the original action 473 of the Board of Trade. It is quite true that a very large number of applications were sent in 48 hours before the time for the closing of those applications, but they were sent entirely by two trade associations who obviously wished to preserve their right, if they thought fit to make appeals; but from the information I have, a very small percentage of these will actually be brought to the Referee; and I should not be surprised if the total number of cases brought before him, in addition to those already taken, will be very few more than those already dealt with.
I agree with a great deal my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley said about the cost of applications; and the Board of Trade have done nothing to encourage the spending of money on these applications. After all, the spending of money must rest with the people who make applications. If considerable sums are at stake, if people are wealthy, and if they wish to prolong the inquiry and brief the most expensive counsel they can get, as was done in two cases, the costs will be heavy. If, on the other hand, they are content to proceed more modestly, the costs will be a great deal less heavy. In neither of these two cases did the Board of Trade call any witnesses; and no case, other than those two, occupied more than two hearings, and some of them were done in about a couple of hours. The Board of Trade—and here I doubt whether my right hon. Friend will agree with me—only brief junior counsel in these matters, and we find it does not involve us in as heavy costs. I think that, having regard to what I have said, there is no inherent inconvenience to people who wish to make claims—and who probably expect to benefit if they succeed in making their case—I cannot see there is any severe penalty upon them if they should have to pay for it. With regard to the refunding of drawbacks, as I am advised, that is really decided in the fifth Sub-section of the first Section of the Act—and the list shall be amended so far as is necessary in order to give effect to the decision, without prejudice, however, to the validity of anything previously done there-under.I am advised we have no power to enter into the question of refunds.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I am not clear on that point. I do agree with everything my right hon. Friend said about experts. That, I am afraid, is a disability inherent in this procedure. If you are going to have expert evidence, you do run the risk which is always present when you call experts. It is not only in regard to such inquiries as we have been holding that you get this trouble arising about the definition of terms. The definition of terms, or of a word, is provocative of more trouble in this country than almost anything else. I know, from my own experience when I was more interested in business than I am now, that most of the great labour disputes arose out of differences of opinion on the interpretation of words or of a few words. All experts differ, and the trouble and costs of these witnesses is a very grave matter. With regard to Part II of the Act there we get to a rather different ground: and my right hon. Friend was quite correct in the figures which he gave. There have been three eases referred to Committees which have been reported upon unfavourably, and there have been four others in which the decision of the Government has not yet been given. I very much regret I am not in a position to give the decision of the Board of Trade to-day on these four cases. But I would point out that, while I recognise that delay is unfortunate for the businesses concerned, yet if an Order were made to-day, it could not be put into force until it was ratified by the House, and therefore in no case could there be ratification until we re-assembled after Easter. Had it been possible to announce a decision any time within the last week or two, I doubt very much whether the Leader of the House would have been able to find the time necessary to discuss these decisions and have the Resolutions either passed or rejected. The more closely the time of getting the decision and the passing or otherwise of the Resolution of the House synchronises, the better, and I hope very soon after we meet it may be possible to give a decision to the House and to take the Debate which must necessarily follow it. I conceive it to be part of my duty as President of the 475 Board of Trade to examine very carefully the reports that are submitted to me by the Committees, with a view to following out every line of investigation which seems material, but which could not be brought under the Act before the Committee itself. It is quite obvious that, in some of these cases, there are other considerations which require very careful weighing. When the scales are balanced very evenly, the need for adjustment and consideration becomes the greater, and a comparison of the scales should always take place in an atmosphere as far removed from prejudice as possible. I do not know whether there is any other point that my right hon. Friend put that I have not touched upon. Although there is a great deal more that might be said on this matter, I am very reluctant to-day to take up too much time in discussing it. I remember—if I may just conclude with a point to illustrate what I am trying to explain to the House—I remember many years ago a lady—in what the Press interested in these matters calls "Society" (with a capital S)—paid a visit to Sir Edward Burne Jones's studio to look at his pictures. It is always very difficult for ladies, in society or out of it, to find appropriate remarks on seeing masterpieces of art. Stimulated by her unwonted proximity to genius, she evolved this dictum—she said: "Painting must dull the intellect." I think that perhaps too much study of Parliamentary Bills is apt to take the fine edge off the intellect, and I have great hopes that, when we meet refreshed by the Easter vacation, we shall be able to return to these matters with fresh vigour and fresh desire to form a right judgment on all things.
§ Mr. KILEY
I congratulate the President of the Board of Trade on that quality of courage which we all know him to possess, but never has he exhibited it in a cause so weak as that which he has defended this afternoon. Before making any further comment, I w7ish to remove the impression which seems to prevail in certain quarters, that those who object to this Act are opposed to the development of British trade. That is an absolutely wrong conception, and I shall endeavour to demonstrate the fact by showing presently that the greater part of the commodities affected by this Act are the raw materials necessary for the develop- 476 ment of British industries. That important fact is being completely overlooked, and, despite his courage, the right hon. Gentleman refrained from giving any definite information on a matter which is of profound interest to many trades, and especially to the chemical trade, namely, the actual effects of the Act. He was about to show, and I listened with great expectancy for what was to follow, that great success has been obtained as a result of this Measure being passed into law. Then he came to a full stop and left the subject. Could he have told us, especially as regards the chemical industry, what that success had been—could he have told us how many new chemicals had been placed on the market as a result of this protection and as a result of this interference with the chemical industry, it would have been interesting, but when we consider that of the fine chemicals imported into this country no less than from 70 to 75 per cent, are for the purpose of re-manufacture or re-export, for which practically no provision is made in the Act, we can realise what have been the effects of the disturbance of that industry.
One result it has achieved up to now is that a considerable part of that trade is being diverted abroad and London traders have had to open branch establishments in Hamburg and elsewhere. If these commodities instead of coming to this country and providing trade and work in a good many circles are sent elsewhere it will affect not only our shipping and transport industry, but our banks and our warehouses and many other interests all of whom get something out of this trade. Yet this business has been diverted through the inability of those in authority in this country to enable the drawback or duty paid to be recovered. The President of the Board of Trade during the discussions on this Act said that arrangements would be made in this respect, but no arrangements of a satisfactory kind have been proposed up to now and this has resulted already in the loss of a certain amount of trade which we can ill-afford to lose at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman carefully refrained from giving any information as to the developments which have taken place in the chemical world as a result of this Act. If one were to examine the different industries of this country which did well, and which made 477 money out of and during the War I venture to say the chemical industry would be found to have been one of the most prosperous. As a result they got new plant and established new works and, of course, they would have developed in any case. I am only sorry that the development has not been greater. If the President of the Board of Trade, however, suggests that the development is due entirely to the Safeguarding of Industries Act he had better seek for information from some channel other than that which has been providing him with information up to the present.
In my own constituency we have a very large soap industry which is dependant upon certain perfumes. Although that is a very small part, still it is a very essential part of the work. Everyone can make soap, but it depends upon the perfumery as to what value the soap will realise. They have been compelled to import and pay this duty, which cannot help anybody, and the effect has been to make this part of the process a great deal more expensive, and for their export trade they have been at a considerable disadvantage. Results such as this can be seen in industry after industry. All have been affected in some way or another, and against that we have only the information that certain chemicals have been produced which would, perhaps, not otherwise have been necessary. That is a point upon which I differ entirely from the right hon. Gentleman, and I think I am expressing the point of view of many engaged in the chemical industry.
I am glad to hear that it is proposed to set up additional works for the manufacture of microscopes. One would imagine that microscopes were a new manufacture in this country. They have always been made here, and very valuable and important works have existed for generations. Whether more microscopes will be made now or not is a matter of doubt. Personally, I doubt it very much. There are certain people who believe that a certain brand is better than any other brand, and they will continue to get that brand and pay extra money for it if necessary, whether their belief is justified or not. We all know that there is a belief that the Kodak camera is better than any other type; people will pay, and are paying, the higher prices charged for the Kodak. If the President of the Board of Trade will 478 look up the case of Kodak cameras, on which a duty has been placed, he will find that the Kodak manufacturers are still selling their cameras, despite the fact that the purchaser has to pay more than he would otherwise. I am glad to know that glass industry in our own country is prosperous, and the more they prosper the better it is for us all. We have heard a great deal about glass from, amongst others, the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel). He himself endeavoured to get from the Board of Trade a definition of glassware which was dutiable and which was not.
§ Mr. KILEY
I understand the hon. Member endeavoured to get from the Board of Trade or from the Customs a definition of what kind of glass was liable to duty, and he has failed. He is a staunch supporter of this Act, anxious to clear up difficulties that were arising, and when a supporter of the Act failed to get the information, it is not surprising that those who consider the Act ill-advised should also fail.
§ Mr. KILEY
Then one has a very interesting experience when one desires to import, for instance, a pair of spectacles. There is always a debate as to the exact stage in magnification at which the glass becomes liable to duty. While I am on this point as to glass-ware I may call attention to a question addressed to His Majesty's Customs a day or two ago. This was in reference to the importation of a quantity of a well-known brand of pills. Apparently this brand of pill was able to pass successfully, but when it came to the glass container, that is, the little tube of glass about the size of a lead pencil containing the pills, then His Majesty's Officer of Customs decided that this must come under "lamp-blown ware." These tubes cost about 1s. per gross and the entire consignment of these pills had to be detained pending the decision of the amount of duty which should be forthcoming on these particular articles. This is one of the examples of the difficulties of importing glassware, an industry which has always been a very large and substantial one in this country. How 479 much improvement there has been as a result of this Act I think it would be very difficult to ascertain, and I am surprised that the President, knowing that he would be called upon to defend his Measure to-day, did not obtain something tangible from the glass authorities as to what progress they have made as a result of this protection which they have enjoyed for almost a year. The Act has been in operation for only a part of that time, I know, but the manufacturers knew that protection would be afforded them, and one would have thought that if they had derived sufficient benefit from the Measure, they would have been in a position to give the right hon. Gentleman some tangible results.
The President also referred to an application which has gone before the Referee, and he made some comment on the cost. It will interest him to know that there have been certain cases taken before the Referee, and what has happened? In the cases in which organised opposition has been presented, where experts have been called and learned counsel engaged, the application for removal has been successful, but in three cases to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, they were made by private individuals who could not go to the trouble or the expense of getting experts and legal advice, and they failed. Therefore, instead of these results doing anything to reduce the expenses, I am afraid they have done a great deal to increase the expenditure, and when it is realised that these applications on the average have cost over£1,000 in each case, and, as the President has told us, there are still 500 cases to be considered——
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Not at all. I did not say there were 500 cases still to be settled, but that something like that number of cases had been sent in before the last date for sending in. I understood the association had sent them in in order to preserve their rights, but I do not expect more than perhaps a dozen to materialise, and it would be altogether an exaggeration to say that anything like 500 are to go forward.
§ Mr. KILEY
The right hon. Gentleman has better sources of information at his disposal than I have, but I may suggest to him that he is very wide of the 480 mark. At any rate, 500 or more applications are in his office waiting for consideration, and what happens? An individual makes an objection to a certain commodity being on the Board of Trade list, and it is then for the President to consider whether that is justified. If it is justified, he calls upon the applicants to provide what is known as pleadings. In many of these cases the individual will not go to the expense of providing pleadings. He wishes to know whether the Board of Trade agree that there is any justification, and if there is justification, and the individuals are advised, then the pleadings and what other formalities are required will be forthcoming. Whether they are forthcoming to the extent of 500, the right hon. Gentleman is in a better position than I am to know, but that there will be scores and scores of these cases there can be no doubt at all. It is all very well for the President to say, "Why do these people spend the money?" He knows very well why they spend the money. I have demonstrated that already, by the cases in which a private individual has gone to the Referee without experts and without skilled legal advice. He has been defeated in every instance, because the Board of Trade defend their lists and have at their command all the Government experts; they call in costly advice, have their own solicitor, their own legal branch and skilled assistants, and they can put up an entire battery against the private individual who goes before them, which they do not hesitate to do in their own justification. Therefore, when the President asks why they spend money, I say that they realise what they are up against, and the success of their efforts up to now has entirely justified their action.
Let us realise what has happened up to the present moment. The amount realised by the duty under this Act for the first six months has been£140,000, but a considerable part of that has been improperly collected, so the Referee and the President of the Board of Trade declares. The Referee decided a few weeks back that a number of chemicals should come out of the list, and in conjunction some 40 odd other commodities had to be removed also. I do not know what part of the£140,000 this great block of raw material for other industries represents, but it represents a colossal amount. 481 I know in one of them was sugar of milk and represented duty value of£3,000, and the cream of tartar a much larger sum, and I can see a very substantial reduction of that amount if a drawback is obtainable by the importers. One can realise the position of the traders who are compelled to import these commodities as raw material for industry. A manufacturer cannot buy every hour of the day what he requires, but has to make contracts, and when he has got his material into his store and the duty is suddenly removed, he is left saddled with the goods without any opportunity of obtaining a rebate on the duty paid, yet this Measure is supposed to safeguard and help British manufacturers. The,£]40,000 will be very substantially reduced by the duty which the Customs have collected up to now, but which will not be obtainable in the future, and I have no doubt that as these applications against the list are considered by the Referee, this amount will become smaller and smaller.
It is quite true that there has been only a limited number of applications dealt with up to the present—in all, I think, something like 10—and they have cost well over£1,000 each, and if there is any large proportion of these 500 cases still to be considered, then the President will realise the pros and cons of the amount of duty that has been collected and the cost to the consumer, remembering all the time that nearly every one of these tariffs increases the cost of the finished manufactured goods. In the list which the Board of Trade has issued there were some 6,000 commodities, and one would have thought that sufficient, but it is found that it includes various headings, such as "Lamp-blown ware," and under that one item alone come hundreds, and I would not be surprised if there were several thousands more under that one category. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the Customs to-day are levying duty, or attempting or are entitled to levy duty, on well over 10,000 articles. It does not require much calculation to work out that a revenue for half a year of£140,000 distributed over 10,000 commodities brings down the total revenue to something like£10 per commodity in the half-year. And this is the great Measure that is going to revolutionise trade, and make good all deficiencies!
§ Mr. SEDDON
It was not done for revenue, but to carry out the pledges of certain Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. KILEY
If it was not done for revenue, it was done because the amount of imports was so great that it was inflicting injury upon British trade, and when you come to analyse it, it comes to£10 per commodity. If my hon. Friend were to try to import some commodity on which the duty payable was 1s., he would realise what he had to go through to get that package. They would send him three large official forms to fill in. Then he has got to take those forms to an excise officer, it may be 20 or 30 miles away from his location, if in the country. He has then to hand over his original invoice with the amount of duty, and in two or three weeks' time get his package delivered. And this is supposed to facilitate and help industry. Time and time again questions have appeared on the Notice Paper as to why it must take so many days, weeks or months to obtain delivery, and every time we get a different reason given. It is either that the officers are inexperienced, or the premises are too small, and that other premises are being taken. The next explanation given was, that in the process of removing to these larger premises, there had been an amount of delay and confusion, and again the "Xmas pressure." Having got over the inexperience and the difficulty of the premises being too small, the reply given last week was that there had been a strike on the German railways, and that that had brought in more parcels than they could cope with.
Almost every week we have had an apology based upon a different reason, and so the proceedings go on over this, trumpery Act, necessitating the holding up of millions of pounds' worth of goods. We had an illuminating case the other day of some bronze powder, which, was the subject of a Committee appointed to consider whether it should have a duty imposed upon it or not. A consignment arrived, and the Customs official was not sure whether a duty had been imposed, and that necessitated the goods being detained pending inquiry. Having made inquiries and found the goods were not liable, he then decided to send a sample to London to the Government chemist to 483 find out whether there was any "fine" chemical connected with the commodity upon which a duty was payable. In the ordinary course of procedure, a packet arriving from the Continent on which there is no duty payable is cleared almost automatically, but any commodity which is subject to duty, or is thought to be subject to duty, is now detained. In the ordinary course the thing would go through, but if it is not cleared within three days it often takes 13 days to get a packet through; it is taken into the docks and there are the charges and rent accumulating every day.
I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to go into the City houses and ascertain what all this means to the trading community. There is, perhaps, one redeeming point. In going through the streets of the City of London I observed a number of new motor vehicles, which are the property of the carrying agents, so that if this Act has done very little good to the ordinary manufacturing interests, it has been a great boon to the owners of docks, warehouses, and clearing agents, as they have, almost without exception, been able to obtain new vehicles, so that, at least, this Act has done some good to somebody, even although the unfortunate consumers have to pay for these expenses, and a good many other charges in addition.
I will defer to another occasion any remarks I have to make about some of the Committees. I might, however, just say a word about glass. There has been a very important Committee dealing with imported glassware. Suppose the Committee recommend, and the President of the Board of Trade confirms, the imposition of a duty on tumblers from Bohemia, it will immediately mean the transference of that trade to Belgium, where no duty is applicable. At the proceedings before that Glass Committee, which I attended on one or two occasions, an extraordinary procedure arose. The applicants, who were applying for an order, stated their case. The opponents, who were not prepared for certain statements which were made, challenged those statements and, as they were not allowed to examine or cross-examine witnesses, they applied for an adjournment in order to bring rebutting evidence, which was duly obtained. Then the original applicants stated that they wanted an 484 adjournment to bring rebutting evidence against the other rebutting evidence, and that was duly granted. It is not, therefore, surprising that Sir Arthur Colefax, a very important counsel at the Bar, with a good deal of experience, made a violent protest. He said it was most unfortunate, and he knew of no method less calculated to arrive at the truth than the proceedings as laid down by the President of the Board of Trade.
Certain appeals have been made to the President to reconsider the system. I can tell him from my own experience that it certainly is an extraordinary method by which a witness can make a statement and the other person concerned cannot put a cross-examining question. The only way, therefore, to get rebutting evidence, and questions put, is to chase all over the country, and find somebody of authority on the opposite side, bring him to London, before the Committee. Proceedings of that kind are certainly very unsatisfactory. They prolong the proceedings and add to the cost. I submit that this Measure has done very little indeed to encourage trade, but it has inflicted an amount of annoyance, cost, and trouble beyond all calculations upon various branches of industry, and, therefore, I suggest to the President that he might well, having had some months' experience, consider the point of considerably amending the Bill or totally repealing it.
§ Mr. ATKEY
I desire to intervene in this Debate for two reasons, the first being the observations that fell from the right hon. Gentleman the member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) in regard to the attitude of Chambers of Commerce towards this Bill. I suppose in any community, either of business men or any other, there will "be a minority who are always prepared to disagree with the greater wisdom of their colleagues. That may apply to Chambers of Commerce. What, however, I am concerned to point out is that the body which is entitled to speak most fully in regard to the attitude of Chambers of Commerce as a whole is the Association of British Chambers of Commerce——
§ Mr. ATKEY
I did not know, and I am delighted to hear it. I understood the principal interest of my hon. Friend was in other directions. If he is chairman of two manufacturing businesses, all I can suggest is that it is a great pity he does not help these associations which are mainly concerned in manufacture. It would undoubtedly be an interesting thing—it might possibly be instructive, and certainly entertaining—if my hon. Friend would join a Chamber of Commerce, for no doubt his evidence would be an important factor, and would secure him a seat upon the executive of the body.
§ Mr. ATKEY
Then the other manufacturers do not recognise the merits of my hon. Friend. Otherwise we should have had the benefit of his advice in the larger counsels of the nation as far as commerce is concerned. With all respect, I venture to suggest that my hon. Friend would be less able to impress the Council of the Associations of Chambers of Commerce in regard to his righteousness on this subject than he does this House. There they would possibly be prepared to deal with him on common grounds. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley suggested that certain Chambers of Commerce view with hostility this Safeguarding of Industries Act. What I rose to point out is this, that so far as the representative body, not of any particular Chamber of Commerce of a locality, but the national representative body of the Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, it was 486 one of the principal factors in impressing upon the Government the necessity to introduce this Act. On 22nd July the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce addressed a very long letter to the President of the Board of Trade, urging upon him the immediate necessity of introducing this Bill. The Council of the Sheffield Chamber in their letter drew attention to the "prolonged delay" in the introduction of the Bill. Again, at a quarterly meeting in November, 1920, a Resolution was considered at the Leicester Chamber pressing for the introduction of this Act. The purpose for which I rose, however, was not so much for this, but for the secondary purpose of telling what trade has got so far as this Bill is concerned. I do not know anything of the chemical industry, and I am not prepared to deal with the observations of my hon. Friend in regard to the difficulties incidental to that industry. Personally, in so much as this Bill is a protection of home industries, I am not at all concerned with the worries of those who try to import foreign-made articles into this country. Whilst that may be very irritating to those who prefer to see German goods sold in this country to British, these troubles and vexatious delays to which the hon. Member refers offer a certain amount of satisfaction to one who like myself would sooner see British goods sold in this country than German.
§ Mr. ATKEY
I am only sorry that so many people seem to lack sense. It is very difficult to deal with some people by means of the truth. They perhaps suffer the same kind of irritation as they allege their foreign friends suffer when they try to dump their goods on the British market. They are always irritable on the subject. My hon. Friend suggested that in the case of the chemical industry there would have have been considerable development if this Act had not been passed; therefore the President may claim no credit, seeing the development is not due to this Act. I am speaking as representing a small industry, the latch needle industry, which, as a matter of fact, would not have been in existence to-day but for the passing of this Act. It would have dropped out of existence. I am very much surprised that Members of the House should criticise this Bill, and that 487 they seem to be so blinded apparently by certain fixed principles which have dominated them for so long that they utterly fail to realise any of the benefits that might have accrued by the passing of this Act. My hon. Friend raises the question again of what is lost to this country when certain industries are protected under this Act. Here I would suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that it would be well if by any means, with the machinery at his disposal, he could present the case of individual trades in the form of a balance-sheet, so that we could judge these cases on their merits. It should be clearly shown that what is lost by having to transfer certain faciliites to Hamburg to deal with export trade would be more than compensated for by building up an industry here and giving employment here, and then we should be able to meet this problem on a different basis. If we continue to discuss it on the present lines, there seems to be no possible end to it. With regard to Part II, I suppose it would be possible to obtain protection for the lace trade. That is not a trade where the raw material has to come from abroad.
§ Mr. ATKEY
Yes, but the yarn is made in England. This is an industry in relation to which the position is that it was developed in this country, and to-day, owing to abnormal conditions, it is at an absolute standstill, and 90 per cent, of the machines employed in the lace industry and the capital employed in it are also at a standstill. The result is that an equivalent number of men are receiving relief from one source and another because, owing to exchanges and other circumstances, the lace can be imported more cheaply from abroad. That is a suggestion which I wish to lay before the right hon. Gentleman. Here is the capital in this country and the workers are unemployed, and there is an equivalent amount of that product arriving in this country from abroad which, if produced here, would employ every lace-maker in Nottingham on full time. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, as a reasonable proposition, to consider whether that trade cannot be brought under Part II of the Act.
488 I would like the right hon. Gentleman also to consider the advisability of preparing a balance-sheet to show what the country is losing by loss of interest on capital and unemployment and wages in such instances as this. I would also like him to show, on the other hand, what is lost by the shopkeepers who sell the lace. If this were done, I am sure we should get a state of affairs which would enable this trade to be dealt with as a commercial matter, quite apart from the political bias which has been introduced. My object in rising was to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade on his determination to carry on the good work in connection with this Bill. I was afraid the right hon. Gentleman had assumed that there was a much greater body of opposition to these proposals than really exists. The opponents of this Measure have talked long and loud, but those of us who are satisfied that the Bill was right trust the right hon. Gentleman will continue to carry on this good work. At any rate, I tender on behalf of one industry their thanks and appreciation, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will continue firm in support of the Measure which he has introduced.
§ Mr. REMER
I think the House was deeply impressed by the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, particularly the latter portion, which referred to the great amount of employment which had resulted from the imposition of these taxes in connection with Part I of the Act dealing with fine chemicals and other goods. I think that is only carrying out the experience which we have always had in relation to the imposition of import duties on such articles as motor-cars and musical instruments. Our experience has been that this policy has always resulted in more employment in this country, and it has been beneficial to the trade and commerce of the country as a whole. It is more than amazing to me that the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet, having that experience before their eyes, they have not made more efforts to bring Part II of the Act into operation, and bring the same beneficial results to the other trades which have resulted from the adoption of Part I of the Act.
I wish to direct the attention of the President of the Board of Trade particularly to the silk trade, which has a 489 great representation in the constituency which I represent in Parliament. In this trade last year there were imported£18,000,000 sterling of manufactured silk, and if only£2,000,000 sterling of that amount had been manufactured in this country, every machine would have been fully occupied. There is most appalling unemployment, short-time and distress amongst the silk-workers at the present day. I do not think it would affect very much the people of this country if they had to pay a little more for silk goods, which obviously are luxuries, and something which the people have no necessity to buy. Consequently a little higher cost would not inflict upon them any hardship. I am sure when we realise this it will be granted that there are a great many arguments why these trades should be dealt with under Part II of the Act in a much more prompt manner than they have been.
Those connected with the trade I have mentioned put their case forward, but it was turned down under Part II because they were not able to bring a prima facie case forward. Owing to representations which have been made, I understand that that decision is being reconsidered, but on account of the delay which has taken place unemployment continues, and this is causing great discontent amongst even, the members of the Labour party in Macclesfield, who think that the Government are at fault in this matter. When that case came before the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor there was a. deputation from the Joint Industrial Council of the silk trade, which included the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Bromfield), who is a trade union official, members of the Liberal party and the Conservative party as well, and they saw the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was President of the Board of Trade and they pleaded for a protective measure of this kind for their trade. I contend that the right hon. Gentleman ought to take vigorous steps to try and press forward Part II of the Act to enable the silk trade, and other trades who can put up as good a case, to be dealt with, instead of being placed in the very difficult position in which they stand at the present time.
§ Mr. SEDDON
The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Kiley) reminds me of the complaint which was once made 490 against Mr. Gladstone—that he "dealt in candle ends." I discovered through the whole of his speech little niggling things which had no connection with the great principle involved. Having listened carefully to this Debate, I think every speaker seems to have forgotten that this Act of Parliament, for good or for ill, was the result of promises made to manufacturers in this country. It seems to have been forgotten that during a certain stage of the War certain necessities were so vital because they had been supplied by our enemies that many of the key industries have been lost, and there was a danger of losing the War because fierce foreign competition had destroyed the manufacture of those particular articles which had been discovered to be key articles during the prosecution of the War.
I want to call attention to one particular trade. The hon. Member for Whitechapel complained very bitterly that a soap factory in his constituency could not make soap because of a particular kind of perfume that had come under this Act. I am going to take the argument in the opposite direction. During the War the great pottery industry of this country was handicapped, and, in fact, was coming to a standstill for decorated china ware. The manufacture of ceramic transfers had been almost entirely in the hands of Germany and Austria. The Government wishing to carry on this industry to supply the home trade made certain overtures. I do not say that they were made by responsible statesmen—but they were made by officials in the Board of Trade Department. A deputation was brought from the pottery districts, and they were asked whether it would be possible for them to supply the ceramic transfers which were not coming into the country because we were at War with Germany and Austria, who had hitherto supplied them. The manufacturers said, "What is the good of us putting up this capital if, when the War is over, we are subjected to the same competition as that from which we have had to suffer. It will simply be wasting money." I have it on authority that a Mr. Simpson—I do not know whether the same person is still engaged at the Board of Trade—informed that deputation that they would not be subject to the same conditions of competition, and upon that statement thousands of pounds of capital have been put 491 into this industry, which at the moment stands in jeopardy. I think the Government and Government officials should carry out their pledge and that there ought to be a code of honour towards manufacturers as there is towards the men who fought the battles of this country.
Last night we had a discussion in which charges were made against the Ministry of Pensions that certain things had not been done for men who had served the country in its hour of trial. Surely, if pledges were made to manufacturers that they would at least be given help whereby they might get a return of their capital, it is essential for the country's good name that those pledges should not be broken because of mere party shibboleths and that men should lose their capital and be thrown back into the position in which they were before the promises were made. This Act is a fulfilment of those promises. If there be small irritation in the administration of it, that is a matter for inquiry. I am glad to know that, irrespective of party shibboleths, the right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding all the difficulties that surround the question, is faithfully carrying out the provisions of this Act, which is the fulfilment of promises made by Government Departments to those who came to the assistance of the country when the country needed their help.