§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Captain FITZROY in the Chair.]
§ Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £262,448, be granted for the said Service."
I had almost concluded what I had to say when we were interrupted by the Message from the Lords. I was trying to impress upon the President of the Board of Trade that, when his Department had more money at its disposal than is, perhaps, the case at the present time, some of that extra money should be used for developing the already efficient Intelligence Department of the Board of Trade, in order to get wider knowledge, statistics and information with regard to co-operation, not only in this country, but internationally. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that there are 29 national co-operative trading organisations now affiliated in one International Co-operative Alliance. I think the Board of Trade ought to be fully informed as to the whole of the possibilities of co-operative trading between these bodies. In view of the interruption, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I reiterate these three points: First of all, I do not agree with his view or his policy concerning trusts and combines in this country, and 2374 I urge that definite action ought to be taken with regard to the menace to the consumer of price-fixing associations like the Proprietary Articles Trade Association. Secondly, we desire that the position with regard to the sale of bread by weight in this country should be dealt with more definitely with a view to the ratification of the present temporary Order in a definite form; and, thirdly, we think we might have, as is the case in other countries in Europe, where co-operation is increasing by leaps and bounds, far more sympathetic and official recognition from his Department than we have at present.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES BURN
I wish to bring to the notice of the President of the Board of Trade, or, if it be in his Department, the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary, the question of reparation to the fishermen in my constituency who suffered so seriously as the result of enemy action in the late War. I specially wish to bring forward the case of the town of Brixham, because that town is mainly dependent on the fishing industry, with which all the people who live there are in some way connected. These fishermen, as is known to everyone, performed most gallant deeds during the War. They did patrol work in every quarter of the globe—in the North Sea, the Mediterranean and elsewhere—and they suffered very serious losses, especially the men who remained at home carrying on the fishing industry. In so doing they were adding to the food supply of the nation, which at that time was even more valuable than it is to-day. Those who remained at home to fish lost many of their boats by enemy action, and, moreover, those boats were sunk in the best part of the fishing grounds. The town of Brixham has suffered more in proportion through the action of the enemy than almost any other town in the United Kingdom.
The fact that the boats were sunk in the best part of the fishing ground makes it next to impossible for the fishermen to pursue their calling in that part of the sea where they previously did so. It, must be remembered that it is impossible to put a buoy for every wreck, and that only general directions can be given as to where the wrecks are, in order that 2375 the boats may avoid putting their trawls down in that particular area. Consequently, the sinking of those boats involves much loss of gear to the fishermen. I am sure my right hon. Friend will realise that, since the price of everything has gone up to such an extent, it is almost impossible for these men to replace the gear that they lost, and the price of boats is so high that they cannot, un fortunately, replace those that have been lost. Up to date, the amounts that they have received from the Reparation Commission have represented only an infinitesimal part of the loss that they have sustained. It must be remembered, also, that in the fishing industry the men are are not able to come under the National Insurance Act, because they always arrange on the share system. This is a very serious matter for them, and they suffer very greatly in consequence.
Surely, these boats having been lost by the action of the Germans during the War, these people, of all people, are the ones who should receive compensation. In giving them compensation, we should not only be assisting to provide the fishermen with boats to replace those which have been lost, but also assisting the shopkeepers in the town, because the amount of business done there is very much curtailed owing to the losses sustained by the fishermen, the result of which losses is to diminish very much the purchasing power of the community. This industry is so important, and the number of men employed in it is so great, that I feel I shall not plead in vain for something to be done through the Reparation Commission to enable these men to replace the boats and gear they have lost as a result of their service during the War. I appeal to my right hon. Friend, with all the earnestness at my command, to take what I have said to heart, and to see that everything that can possibly be done is done in order to set this industry on its legs again. If it cannot be restarted, it will mean that the younger men will leave for other towns or other countries, and that in course of time the town of Brixham will be more or less depopulated. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will do all that is in his power to see that reparation is paid to these men who served their country so well, and than whom none are more worthy.
§ Mr. JOHN MURRAY
When I came down to the House this afternoon I had no intention of speaking, but the speech of the hon. Member for the Hillsborough Division of Sheffield (Mr. A. V. Alexander) brought me to my feet with memories of the past. The hon. Member has been speaking about certain committees attached to the Board of Trade, one of them dealing with the prices of building materials, and one with the price of milk. The operations of those Committees reminded me of certain speeches that were made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the President of the Board of Trade, in the almost distant past, namely, about May, 1921, when the Central Profiteering Committee, of which I happened to be chairman during the last year of its existence, came to an end. I well remember the long series of Reports upon trusts and combines which that committee, through its numerous sub-committees, elaborated for the benefit of the whole community. I well remember the general trend of those Reports, and their steady insistence that, while British business is honest and straight on the whole, and free from the tryannies, exactions and extortions that can be alleged with some truth against the trust system in America, at all events in the more distant past, nevertheless, the public interest required that certain steps should be taken, and that the Board of Trade should be armed with certain powers of inquiry, investigation, and, where need be, rectification where abuses might be found to exist. I remember a whole handful of Reports in that year, with the details of which I will not trouble the Committee, touching the building trades. Their general burden was that there was in those trades sufficient organisation of the producers to make the position of the consumers a little difficult, a little dangerous, a little weak. All these Reports, extending to far more trades than the building trade, ask that some permanent steps should be taken by the Board of Trade to remedy these evils or to obviate these anticipated evils.
If the hon. Member's suggestions were carried out, they would involve legislation.
§ Mr. MURRAY
At that time the Board of Trade desired the advice of the Standing Committee on Trusts and sent a communication requesting their advice on a 2377 matter which was closely connected with the regulation of these amalgamations for the protection of the public interest The Standing Committee considered the matter confidentially and prepared a Report, which was sent to the Board of Trade, and it was understood that the Government of that day intended to take certain steps. As far as I know no steps of any kind, not even administrative steps, have been taken. The Board of Trade has not done its duty in the continuance of that administrative action in saving the body politic from the discontent and backbiting and quarrelsomeness between classes which a proper method of administration would have saved them from. If the Reports of those Committees are true, those rather dangerous organisations which existed in 1920 and 1921, and which those investigating Committees held might have certain after-effects, continue and they are probably more powerful from the killing off of weaker competitors, and the failure of the Board of Trade to give clear information and a definite reassurance regarding trusts, shows that it realises that these large amalgamations of associations, so powerful financially and economically, are not helpful to the community. The Board of Trade has the definite duty of investigation and of re-assurance, and of safeguarding the interests of the consumers, and, so far as I can see, looking back into that past which was full of hope and promise, those happy times have gone. We scarcely know where we are with foolish little Committees at one Ministry or the other pretending to hold the balance between producers and consumers. I believe we are not entitled to ask where we are going, because that would be legislation, and legislation to-day is taboo, at least to those who must put questions, if not to those who can give the answers.
§ Mr. D. REID
I want to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the matter which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir C. Burn). It relates to other parts of the Kingdom as well. I have had a great many letters from fishermen whose boats were lost by enemy action during the War. They have not, I think, in many cases received any compensation. They are deprived of their livelihood. In some cases, on 2378 application to the Board of Trade, they received statements which, I think, they and their friends construed as being a proof that they would be paid compensation in the long run, and on the strength of those letters some of them borrowed money in order to provide themselves with new boats. In a number of those cases they are being pressed for repayment and their position is very difficult and very pitiable. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to try to do something for them? I ask him to consider these cases sympathetically, and see whether something cannot be done to enable them to be put in a position to resume their occupation. They performed notable service during the War. In many cases their boats were lost when they were actually engaged on work of national importance, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do something for them.
§ Mr. J. HOPE SIMPSON
I wish to revert to the subject of the Dye Stuffs Regulations. The trouble under which the dyeing industry is now labouring has been represented in this House on more occasions than one. It was the subject of consideration at a meeting of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, of which, doubtless, the right hon. Gentleman has received a report, where representatives of the dye manufacturing industry and of the dye stuff traders and users met and addressed the chamber. The report of that meeting gives very full information of an important character, which I commend to the right hon. Gentleman's attention, because it points out in very clear language the disabilities under which the dye industry is at present working, owing to the administration of that branch of his Department. One has to look at this question from various points of view. I have no brief for the manufacturers of British dyes, who, I have no doubt, are quite well able to look after themselves. The hon. Member for Widnes (Dr. Clayton) had nothing but praise for the administration of the Act.
The effect on the merchants is probably the greatest of all. The chief opposition comes from that quarter. The hon. Member seemed to suggest that it did not matter very much what happened to the dye merchant, but, as a fact, the dye merchant plays a very important part in the organisation of the dyeing indus- 2379 try. He deals with the small men, and he has opportunities for scientific investigation, and he also has experience on a far more important scale than any of these small men can have, and, as a fact, the smaller dye users resort to the larger merchants and rely on their skill and experience for advice with regard to the dyes they shall use. Again, the merchant has machinery for importing and for dealing with large quantities of dye, whereas the small man would find great difficulty in obtaining small amounts of dye at all if it were not for the merchant. This practice is not restricted to dye users, but also to those who use what are called dyes in preparing cordials, and they often club together and obtain dyes from the merchant, and the whole of that trade would be carried on with great difficulty if the merchants were not there.
The merchant, under the present administration, is being systematically squeezed out of the trade. The greatest evil of all is the compulsion on the merchant to reveal the name of his customer. I have no doubt there is some good reason for that which the right hon. Gentleman will explain. The merchant himself feels it very seriously, because that is one of the trade secrets which he naturally wishes to keep to himself. On the Committee there are members whom he regards as trade rivals, and to them least of all he would desire to expose the list of his customers. Apart from that, there is great delay, which interferes with their business at every turn. The right hon. Gentleman has had many instances of delays, and I yesterday received two more complaints which I should like to present to the Committee. Here is a case which occurred on 15th March, when a merchant of 100 years' standing applied for a licence for 500 lbs. of patent blue A. A British substitute was offered to him, and in the letter the Committee added:Applications for licences based on price-grounds will only be considered from the consumer concerned.The customer's name was revealed and it is alleged that he was visited by the traveller of a British maker who was represented on the Commission. Eventually a licence for 120 lbs. was granted instead of the 500 lbs. which was asked. At first sight that would seem to be an interference with the ordinary course of trade, which is not only unnecessary but delibera- 2380 tely vexatious. Here is a second case which was brought to my notice yesterday. On 13th April a merchant applied for crystal scarlet 6R. and a British substitute was offered in the ordinary course. In the letter the Committee wrote that they were only prepared to consider applications from the actual consumers concerned. This merchant is acting on behalf of a group of cordial manufacturers and he had to reveal their names and they had to make their applications in order to get the dye. In June, the application having been made in April, he was informed that the dye was available from reparation stock. There are many instances of the sort—we have had many advertised by question and answer across the Floor of the House—so there can be no doubt that such cases occur, and the merchants complain that their business is being interfered with in various ways. First of all, there is the price of the dye, and then there is the uncertainty whether they will get it or not. They cannot make a contract unless they are certain of getting what they contract to hand over. Then there is the delay which occurs in every case. Then there is the inquisition which occurs in practically every case. Finally there is the suspicion that there is unfair competition owing to the fact that they have to reveal their secrets to their trade competitors.
There is one more aspect which has not been considered, and that is that we used to have an entrepot trade in dyes which, I speak from memory, in 1920 was somewhere in the neighbourhood of £5,000,000, and which had decreased in 1922 to £1,250,000.
I want to quote a short extract from the report from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce meeting, where the case of the merchant was presented by Mr. Reynolds, who is well known to the Members representing the Manchester Divisions. He said:The Bills were conceived under war conditions, and rushed through Parliament without proper consideration or opportunity for Amendment. The Acts, bad in themselves, have been made insufferable through imperfect administration. Without achieving the objects aimed at, incredible delays, inconvenience, uncertainty, inconsistency and extortions have resulted in diversion of trade, and in a national detriment Infinitely greater than any benefits that have accrued, or are likely to accrue.2381 That is the representative of the merchants speaking to a special meeting of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce called to consider the question.
There is also the point of view of the dye user. His objection is the administrative difficulty and delay which occur when he applies. In this connection I should like to quote one case which I think, speaking from memory, has been before the House on a previous occasion. It is the case of Laing and Company, Wellclose Square, who on the 17th January applied for two hundredweights of blue de Liono. They have a secret process involving the dye to exposure to ammonia, and they considered that this dye was the only one that would stand that exposure to ammonia. A British substitute was offered, namely, pure soluble blue. I had in my possession a small bottle of each of these dyes, and a small bottle of each of the dyes when they had been treated by ammonia, but, unfortunately, two of the bottles got broken in my locker, so I am not able to produce them in the House. The effect of treating the British substitute with ammonia was that in two minutes that dark blue dye looked like dirty water, with a small brown sediment at the bottom. The German dye treated with ammonia, two months afterwards was exactly the same as the untreated German dye. That was established eventually to the satisfaction of the Committee, and on the 27th February, one month after the application, 20 lbs. of the 2 cwt. that had been applied for was granted, in consideration of the amount of the previous trade of the firm. That seems to indicate an anticipation that no firm is going to increase its trade. If a firm is increasing its trade it is clearly very much to its advantage that it should be rationed on its previous trade, as was done in this case. Thereupon, there were further representations, and in March an additional 36 lbs. was granted.
There is a case quoted in connection with the Manchester Chamber of Commerce meeting, where Italy offered German fast colour for calico printing at 3s. 3d. a lb., and this was accepted by users in England, who were using inferior English dyes at 27s. 6d. in one case and at 30s. in another case per lb. There was great delay in obtaining the licence, and when it was finally obtained they could not get the dye, because it had all 2382 been sold by the Italian dealers. These are cases in which the administration of the Act has caused trouble to the users of dyes in this country.
Increased price also puts a handicap on our dye industry in comparison to the dye industries of other countries. There is a dye which is called Swiss wool green which costs 3s. 9d. in Germany and 7s. 6d. in England, for possibly an inferior dye. The French buy the German dye at 3s. 9d., and the result is that the French manufacturers of Roubaix are able to sell green serges and gabardines in England at 2d. per yard cheaper than our own manufactured and dyed article produced in England. The cost of dyes was quoted in a question put to the right hon. Gentleman on the 5th June last. The differences are almost incredible. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. H. H. Spencer) put a question in regard to a case where the British price for two tons of dye was £1,736 more than the foreign price—£868 per ton higher than the foreign article. The hon. Member for Penrith (Mr. Collison) mentioned a dye that was £364 a ton more expensive than the foreign article. Within the last fortnight I received a cable from Australia, asking me about the prices and quality of indigo used in England, and on inquiry I found that the price per ton is £400 more than the German article. This is a terrible handicap to our own manufacturers.
It is often said that the dye represents a very small amount of the price of manufacture, but a gentleman representing the users at the Manchester meeting in question said:To put it in another way. The largest concern in that trade consumes annually 5,000,000 lbs. of colour, and taking the minimum and maximum so-called negligible figures of 1s. and 4s. per lb."—that is, the difference in the price of the British and the foreign dyes—this would mean respectively 12½ per cent. and 50 per cent. on its ordinary share capital.That shows conclusively the importance of the difference of price between the foreign dyes and the English-produced article.
On the 5th June last, the hon. Member for South Bradford asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he was aware that the quantity of grey cotton cloth exported had increased by 50 per cent., whereas printed and 2383 coloured woven cloth had decreased by 38 per cent. in 1922 as compared with 1920. The President of the Board of Trade replied:I am aware that as between the two years quoted there was a large percentage increase in the exports of grey cotton cloth, and a substantial, though smaller, percentage decrease in the exports of dyed and printed cloth; but I am not prepared to accept the view that this is due mainly to the price of dyestuffs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th June, 1923; col. 1943, Vol. 164.]I have got the figures out for 1920 and 1922, and it is desirable that these figures should be placed on record. The exports of cotton greys unbleached in 1920 amounted to 968½ million yards, and in 1922 they amounted to 1,519¼ million yards, an increase of 55 per cent. Although we have had a trade slump there is an increase of 55 per cent. in the exports of cotton grey unbleached goods. When we come to the dyed goods, they are given in the returns under three descriptions—cotton piece goods, dyed in the piece, cotton piece goods, printed, and coloured cottons made of dyed yarns. For brevity I will take them together. In 1920 there was exported 2,040½ million yards, and in 1922 the figure had decreased to 1,344½ million yards, or a fall of over 35 per cent. Therefore, we have these facts that in a time of slump the trade in cotton grey unbleached increased by 55 per cent., while the trade in the dyed goods decreased by over 35 per cent.
Where do these cotton grey unbleached goods go? The Netherlands in 1920 took 8,000,000 yards, and in 1922 29⅓ million yards; Belgium in 1920 took 11¾, million yards, and in 1922 21,000,000 yards. Germany in 1920 took 4,000,000 yards, and in 1922 she took 99⅔ million yards, while Switzerland took 36½ million yards in 1920 and 185½ million yards in 1922. That seems to me absolutely conclusive proof that our dyeing industry is a dying industry. The raw cloth is being exported to other countries where they can dye cheaper, owing to the cheaper price of dyestuffs. If we want more proof of that, let us consider the figures before the War. In 1913 the Netherlands only took 5,000,000 yards and in 1922 they took 29⅓ million yards. Belgium, which took 21 million yards in 1922, only took one-third of a million yards in 1913. Germany took 2¾ million yards in the year before the War and 92⅔ million 2384 yards In 1922. Switzerland took 6½ million yards before the War and 185½ million yards in 1922. What is the reason for that? The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not believe it is due to the price of dyestuffs. Then why is there this sudden expansion in the exports of undyed cloth compared with the expected contraction in the exports of dyed cotton goods? Surely there is an obvious reason, and in the absence of some other reason it is legitimate to conclude that this fall in the export of dyed cloth and this rise in the export of undyed cloth is due to the administration of the Act which we on this side dislike so much.
§ Mr. SIMPSON
I have given the figures before the War. That is, in 1913; but I can give the following figures: the Netherlands took, in 1912, 6,000,000 yards; 1913, 5,000,000 yards; in 1920, 8,000,000 yards; and in 1922, 29,000,000 yards. I will only give one further case: Switzerland, in 1912, took 7,000,000 yards; in 1913, 6,500,000 yards; in 1920, 36,500,000 yards; and in 1922, 185,500,000 yards.
The object of this legislation was to provide insurance against difficulty in time of war. The British Mission which reported on the enemy chemical factories in the occupied zone, in regard to the provisions of the munitions of war, in February, 1919, stated:The key to Germany's war production of explosives was the Haber process for the production of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen.The right hon. Gentleman is probably well aware that we now have in this country a factory producing atmospheric nitrogen. It is a very large factory run by Messrs. Brunner Mond and Company, and it is so constructed as to be available for large and rapid expansion if necessary. Therefore, we have at our disposal the insurance which we are seeking in this dyestuff legislation. At the meeting in Manchester, the representatives of the merchants pointed out that it was not without significance that two of the most profitable dye manufacturing concerns, the Clayton Aniline Company and the British Alizarine Company, both Manchester companies, were those which received the least assistance from the Government.
2385 The defence of the right hon. Gentleman will doubtless be this, that if British dyes are to be protected this delay and this inquisition is inevitable It is quite true that if they are to be protected in this manner that is inevitable; and that is the condemnation of this thing.
The representative of the dye users, speaking at Manchester that day, put the case in this way. He said:The only difference between the consumers and the manufacturers"—so far as dyestuffs are concerned—is that the consumers, with a great deal of right on their side, do not think that this industry, which is also required as a national industry, should be built up at the expense of the consumer. If there is any other way by which this industry could be supported let us explore it. We set out with the firm conviction that the industry is needed, both nationally and commercially; but there is a very great difficulty to-day in getting our Government to face anything in the way of subsidy as such.That is quite true and, we think, very satisfactory.
At the time of the Second Reading of the Act, the right hon. Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne), who was then President of the Board of Trade, said:There will neither be delay nor, as far as I can perceive, difficulty in granting these licences. Let us say, for instance, that a licence is required for a dye which is not made in this country. It is perfectly obvious that a licence will be granted quite readily for that dye.I recommend to the President of the Board of Trade that he should administer this Act in that spirit. That was the intention at the time; let us have that intention carried out, and let us, so far as is possible, have the delays reduced, have this abominable inquisition minimised, and have the merchants as well as the users sympathetically treated. Where it is impossible to grant a licence without inquiry, which will last for a considerable time, would it not be possible to arrange for a temporary licence for a smaller amount while the inquiry was going on?
§ Mr. ADAMS
While I desire to express my commiseration with previous speakers upon the errors and abuses of the late Government, from the fruits of which we are suffering, particularly in the matter of the Australian Concentrates Contract, 2386 I wish to direct the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to a matter in which his Department is very materially concerned, and which is a very great grievance to the people of the North of England. That is, the absence of a United States Consulate at the Port of Newcastle. This grievance has lasted since 1st September last.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Fitzroy)
I think that comes in on another Vote, that for the Foreign Office.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
No doubt it is a matter of very great concern to the President of the Board of Trade, but it does not come in under this Vote.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Would it not be in order to refer to this in the hope that the President of the Board of Trade can bring friendly pressure to bear on the Department concerned? In Hull we are being constantly crowded out by the constituents of the hon. Member for West Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Adams).
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Vote 5 is the Vote which has to do with this particular subject, and not this Vote.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
May I point out that the Vote deals with our own Consuls, and not with foreign Consuls. This is a question of the American Consul at Newcastle, and concerns the President of the Board of Trade. The American Consul, because of his alleged interference with British shipping lines, was withdrawn. As it affects British trade, would it not be possible, at any rate, to refer to it in passing?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. Gentleman who spoke first in this Debate expressed regret that I did not open with a statement. In view of the fact that I knew a great many hon. Members wanted to take part in the Debate, and were 2387 likely to raise a great variety of points, I thought I should better serve the convenience of the Committee if I delayed until shortly before dinner-time, and then replied to the general points raised, rather than if I made a general speech at the first. I think probably the Committee will agree that that is a convenient self-denying ordinance if a new model.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I have not the least doubt we shall have the hon. and gallant Gentleman up again.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I am afraid if it were so I could not guarantee to keep the hon. and gallant Gentleman silent. He would then feel bound to rise to express his satisfaction. The Debate has ranged over a rather wide field, and I think it will be convenient if I deal as briefly as I can—though I must go into the points—with the more important issues which have been raised. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) expressed some criticism on speeches of mine, which he had done me the honour to read, but, perhaps, not to read completely. He said I had expressed an undue optimism. I have always tried to feel whatever optimism is possible in a situation, because I do not believe that any good is done by undue pessimism. But, in any review I have tried to give of the trade situation, I have based it on the facts as they were known to me at the time. From time to time the prospects have varied, but I have always made it clear, in every speech of the kind I have delivered, that it was impossible to give a forecast of a really optimistic character as to the progress of trade, unless one could be satisfied that stable conditions throughout the world were likely to develop and be maintained.
Broadly speaking, what has been the progress of trade? In the beginning of 1922 we started with a deficit on our export trade—when you take values at a common measure, equalising pre-War and post-War prices—of something like 35 per cent. At the end of 1922, that deficit had been reduced to 25 per cent. Though it is difficult to speak with cer- 2388 tainty as to the course of home trade, the best estimate one can make is that probably the progress at home was about equivalent to the progress made abroad. At the beginning of this year the deficit was still further reduced, and we touched a point when I suppose our export trade was something like 20 per cent. less than the normal of pre-War. I am speaking in fairly general terms. That alone has obviously not been sufficient to absorb anything like the whole of the unemployment there is, and one has to bear a further thing in mind that even if we could restore our trade position to what it was before the War, we certainly would not be employing as many men, because the efficiency of production today is considerably greater, owing to improvements in machinery, and so on, than it was before the War.
The hon. Gentleman has quoted statistics. He said, with perfect truth, that the last export returns show a falling off from the export returns for the month that went before, but it has been pointed out in some quarters that they show a considerable volume of trade. I wish I could believe—I wish I had the evidence before me to believe—that the amount of trade which is shown in the export returns of the last month or two months was any measure of the export trade likely to be shown six months hence. I do not believe—I cannot, unfortunately, believe—that it is so. I have been in touch, so as to form the best estimates I can, with merchants, with bankers, and with manufacturers representing all the great industries in this country. Almost unanimously they tell the same story. Orders are not coming in, and the reason is the general uncertainty which is caused by the failure to obtain settled and stable conditions in Europe.
I do not want to go into wider questions of foreign policy, but I think it is right that I should give to the Committee, on this occasion, the best appreciation I can of the trade position. I say at once that throughout the industries of this country—and I can hardly find an exception in any of the greater industries—the prospects are nothing like as good as they were last December or last January. While there is work in many cases in factories to-day, we cannot see the orders in sight which 2389 are going to keep those factories fully occupied, or even as fully occupied as they are to-day, in the next six months. The reason is not far to seek. After all, this country does not do its trade merely as direct trade from abroad to this country, and as from this country to countries abroad. That is profoundly true, and while we sometimes disagree as to the particular policies to be followed, do let us, in a vital matter of this kind, appreciate what the real facts are, because it is necessary, whatever the policy should be, that the people of this country should understand what the industrial situation is. The credits which are used to purchase from us are not simply credits from direct sales, but credits created through sales from India, the Straits Settlements, China, and South America, to Europe and other countries; and those credits, created by those sales made in other countries, are the credits which are used to purchase goods in this country.
That is the reason why whatever temporary orders may come through the unsettlement of one country or another in the long run—and it will not be such a long run—a block in trade anywhere, the incapacity of any country to produce and buy and sell owing to unstable conditions, is bound to affect the general volume of trade, and is bound to re-act on purchases which are made in this country. For that reason it is vital to this country to get settled and stable conditions. I may add one other thing. Vitally necessary as a settlement is, even if you could get a settlement, on the Continent, the aftermath of the War has left many of those countries in such a condition that they cannot be for a considerable time the great trading communities which they were before the War. Therefore no policy which considers merely the restoration of continental markets is going to be adequate to deal with the British situation. If one looks at the past the times of greatest industrial ease in this country have been the times of great development in some new country or continent.
I suppose that the easiest times that this country ever had were from 1850 to 1875, when great developments were going on in the Continent of America. It is only through some such possible opening as that in the coming generation that we can 2390 retrieve our industrial position. I do not want to go here and now over all the ground which I ventured to traverse in the Debate which we had in this House some months ago on Imperial development, but I would say that the most fruitful policy that this country can pursue, if it takes a long view, is a steady, delibrate policy of development of Imperial resources, whether in the Dominions or the Crown Colonies. Economic interests point to the necessity of drawing as much as we can of the raw materials from countries other than those to whom we are a debtor, and to the need of drawing those raw materials from countries whose development will immediately not only supply us with those raw materials, but will immediately and increasingly supply us with a market for our manufactures, and will in an increasing degree afford opportunity of settlement and a better life for people in this country who cannot at the present moment obtain it here. Those two policies must go hand in hand. The development of Imperial trade and the settlement of European conditions are the lines along which lies the greatest hope of recovering and maintaining our industrial position.
I will deal with one other specific point that was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull. He referred, as he does on many occasions, to Russia. He said, "Why do you not trade with Russia?"
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
We are trading with Russia, but I do not think that we should be able to trade with Russia a great deal more if, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested, we alter our relationship with that country.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I am very sorry, but both hon. Members intervene so frequently in Debate that for the moment I had transposed their sentiments, 2391 and I must apologise to both. The hon. Gentleman opposite said, "Let us carry this matter further." Do not let us raise any false hopes by that kind of suggestion. Trade really has nothing to do with diplomatic agreements. Trade is a matter of confidence between those who trade. If you were to establish the closest diplomatic relationship with Russia you would not make traders trade any more with Russia than they do at present. Nothing will make traders trade with Russia except confidence in Russia and in the willingness of the Russian Government and people to discharge their obligations.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
If that be so it will be, obviously, most improper to make an agreement of that kind with Russia until we have such confidence.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
There is a trading mission, and I think that there are two Consuls in Russia, but if you were to establish 60 Consuls in Russia people will only do business there if they know that they are going to be paid. Consuls do not create business, though they help the business which is being carried out. Let me remove one other delusion of the hon. Gentleman. He thinks that you necessarily get a great deal more trade if you have a definite agreement. That is not true. Even the converse of that is not true. Russians do not fail to trade with a country because they have not got an agreement with it. It is interesting to note that the Russian Government placed with Sweden one single order for locomotives which, on a very conservative estimate, must have been a greater order than the total amount of the export trade done between this country and Russia ever since the War. Yet Sweden has no trade agreement with Russia. And not only that, but when a trade agreement was broached the Swedish Parliament turned it down. I am not saying whether that is right or wrong. I am not going to enter into the question whether we should or should not have a trade agreement with Russia. What I want to point out is that it is utterly unfair to raise 2392 the hopes of people in this country that they will get trade by some diplomatic means.
The Russians will continue to buy goods where it suits them best. When it suits them to buy goods from countries with which they have no trading agents they do so. They buy from Sweden, America as well as from this country. Neither the presence nor the absence of a trade agreement or a diplomatic agreement is going to create any great volume of trade in that direction. It can only come in conditions in which trade becomes normal. The hon. and gallant Gentleman did say, "Why not extend export credit facilities to Russia?" He said, "You always give me the same answer." I know I do. When Russia creates the condition of confidence which have enabled the British Government to give credit to other countries then the British Government will put at the disposal of Russia whatever credit facilities the British Government provide for the assistance of trade, but until those conditions of mutual confidence are established there is no justification for such action. He said, "I do not ask this for the benefit of Russia, I ask it for the benefit of Britain." But suppose that I did to-morrow put the whole benefit of the export credits machinery before English traders to assist them in their Russian credits, would one of them take advantage of it? The export credit system is that the British Government takes part of the risk with a firm. The firm does not come forward with a proposition that it should share in the risk unless the firm is satisfied that there is good security that the person with whom it deals is going to meet his obligations. I do not believe that, even if I was prepared at this moment to open either that or any other machinery of credit for dealing with Russia, it would be of any use until those conditions have been re-established which are necessary for all sound business. No matter what machinery we put at their disposal, we cannot restore trade until they restore confidence, the basis on which trade rests.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that trading credits would not be of any advantage, will he explain why he offered them to the Russian Government at The Hague as an inducement to come to terms with us?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is wrong. I offered them to the Russian Government on condition that they would accept the whole arrangement. The proposal which I put to the Russian Government at The Hague was, "Acknowledge your obligations. Come to terms. Create those conditions which are the basis of credit in every civilised country, and when you have done that I will put at your disposal, and at the disposal of our nationals who trade with you, all the machinery of trade credits, just as we put it at the disposal of our nationals who trade with other countries, but the condition precedent must be accepted."
Another point raised was the question of dyes. The course of the attack was twofold, first as regards administration, and second as regards the general policy. With regard to administration a picture was drawn which you might find, in one or two instances, bore some resemblance to the truth, but which bore no resemblance whatever to the ordinary course of administration which is pursued in hundreds of cases day in and day out. One would suppose, from the picture drawn, that an autocratic Department, totally ignorant of the industry, was of its own initiative administering the whole system of licences. Nothing of the kind. The whole of the licensing business is done by a Committee of which a very distinguished Member of this House, the hon. Member for Stretford (Sir T. Robinson) is the Chairman. On behalf of the Board of Trade, may I say how grateful I am for his untiring work in that capacity? The Committee consists of three makers of dyes, three members who are independent, and of five members who are themselves the users of the dyes, and of these three independent members one is a distinguished scientist and the other is the hon. Member for Stretford.
Then it is said that there is always an interminable delay, that licences applied for are held up day by day and month by month before the applicants can get them. I have heard that said before. So I have had a Return prepared and sent to me of the rapidity with which the applications for licences are disposed of. I have it here. In February, 73 per cent. were disposed of within two days of the application; in March 79 per cent.—
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I can give those particulars. In February the total number of application was 562; 359 were granted and, of these, 340 were dealt with within one week. 94 were refused, of which 93 were dealt with within one week; 53 were referred to the Reparations Supply, and the whole of those were dealt with in one week. In March, 79 per cent. were dealt with within three days; in April, 82 per cent. within four days; and in the following month 89 per cent. within four days. That does not look much like delay. Then the hon. Gentleman said it is unfair for the merchants to have to give particulars. But it is most necessary that merchants should be made to give these particulars. After all, what is this Licensing Committee? Remember that on it the makers of the dyes are in the minority and the users in the majority. They want to be satisfied about the price; they want to be satisfied that the dye is necessary because the applicant who is going to use it cannot get a suitable British substitute. It is necessary to get some further particulars from the merchants, as otherwise he may propose to bring in tons of German dyes and sell them wholesale in this country. The merchant is required to prove two things. One is the price which will be charged to the consumer; the price to the merchant may be one thing and the price at which the merchant passes the article on to the buyer may be a totally different thing. Therefore this Licensing Committee requires to be satisfied, and quite rightly, as to the price to be charged to the man who is going to use the dye. They also want to know from the man who uses it and who has to sell his product what is the suitability of the dye for the purposes he requires it for. It is utterly unreasonable that we should be asked to deprive the user or the maker of these very necessary safeguards. The hon. Member referred to exports of undyed cloth, and I happened to see a speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) in which he used the same argument which was criticised in the "Bradford Daily Argus," where it was pointed out that, though it is quite true there has been a large increase in the exports of undyed materials, in 1913, 2395 immediately preceding the War, the exports of this character to India was 1,461,000,000 yards, and that in 1922 the figure was considerably below that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted certain rises of 5,000,000 and 10,000,000, but he did not tell the House that the great bulk of the increase was due to getting back the pre-War Indian trade for Lancashire.
I want to come to the broad question of policy, because on that so much depends. I have no hesitation in saying that the value of the dye industry to the textile industry of this country is greater to-day than it ever was before. Just look at what has happened in the course of the last six months. We have had the occupation of the Ruhr, which has lessened the facilities for exports of dyes from the Continent, and it has been of the greatest advantage to have had a dye industry in this country. I know of one company which has been manufacturing day and night since the occupation of the Ruhr in order to supply the needs of the textile industry in this country and elsewhere. The textile trade, whether in Lancashire or Yorkshire, would have been in a very anxious position in the last six months if it had had to rely entirely on dyes coming from the Continent. Let the hon. Member note another fact. The position of the textile trade to-day is wholly different from what it was before the War. Before the War the textile trade enjoyed a predominance which was unique. Look at the exports of one industry in this country—an industry which, whether in times of trade boom or slump, has gone on steadily producing textile machinery, and that textile machinery has been going out of this country to be erected in competing markets. The trade of this industry has gone on increasing when every other trade has been bad. The increase has been constant and the manufacturers of textile machinery have been unable to keep up with the demand. The hon. Member will not suggest that the competition of the number of mills growing up all over the world—a number which is steadily increasing—is not an increasingly dangerous position which Lancashire has to face. It would be unwise to leave Lancashire at the mercy of a possible combination of foreign dye-makers and foreign mill 2396 owners. Then the hon. Member said the dyes we are making are bad. I would like to quote to him the words of a person who ought to know, the chairman of the Colour Users' Association, who gave his testimony before the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and who, like Baalam, was called to curse and like Baalam remained to bless.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. Member who comes from Scotland has a scriptural knowledge which almost disgraces mine. This authority said:I would like to pay a sincere tribute of admiration to the makers for their undeviating progress in the production of dyestuffs in the past few years, not only in the extension of production, but in the definite improvement in quality which has become more and more apparent. The pre-War consumption of German and other foreign dyes was from 70 to 80 per cent. of the total; whereas last year we used from 70 to 80 per cent. of British dyes thus exactly reversing the position. We have been able to do that—to use 80 per cent. of British dyes where we used only 20 per cent. before, without in any way reducing our standard.At a time when one wants to get British trade back, I hope the hon. Member will not go on publishing to the world this libel that British textiles are not fast in their dyes. Finally, there is the question of price. The hon. Member quoted prices for this and for that, but he quite forgot to tell the House what has been the common experience in case after case. It is this: that it was only when we made the dyes in this country that the German prices came down. If you give up making dyes here, do you suppose the German dyes will stay at their present low level? Of course they will not. As soon as the Germans again get the market, up will go their prices, and then what have you got for your own industry? You have no guarantee of any dyes at all. You have no guarantee that you will get them at reasonable prices. I do not think that that is likely to appeal to the common sense of the textile trade.
I now want to deal with another question which has been raised by two hon. Members—a rather complicated question—although a less contentious one, namely, the question of zinc concentrates. The facts about zinc concentrates are these. In Australia we have a contract which we are bound to carry through and under 2397 which the British Government engages that up till 1930 we will take 300,000 tons of zinc concentrates every year, and 45,000 tons of refined zinc. We take the concentrates until 1925 at a fixed price; after that the price varies with the price of spelter. The refined zinc or spelter is to be taken at a price which carries a premium above the world price. It is in effect an obligation to pay a premium amounting to about £112,000 a year. I think the general feeling in the House, when this matter was last discussed, was that it was very desirable the Government should make some arrangement to secure that it would never have any of these concentrates left on its hands. I am glad to say we have been able to make a number of contracts under which, in the first place, the whole of the 300,000 tons a year will be taken. One hon. Member was very anxious that a large part should be secured, if possible, for Australia, and I think 150,000 tons a year—I am not quite certain of the quantity, but at any rate it is very large, will be taken by the company in Australia. We also have as part of this arrangement got rid of the obligation to pay for the delivery of spelter and to pay the premium. In return for that we are making an allowance in the price at which the zinc concentrates are taken. I do not think I need weary the House with further details of this. I shall be glad to give them to the hon. Member if he wishes for them. I think the House would wish to be satisfied as to the contracts, and we are advised that we have got the best terms obtainable which will definitely see us with the whole of the concentrates absorbed for the whole period of the contract.
The hon. Member referred to the trading account and to the loss incurred. I think he asked me what would happen in the future. I hope that in the future there will not be anything like the loss the Geddes Committee anticipated. I hope there will be little, if any, loss, but that inevitably will depend on the price of spelter. At the time when the trading account was made the price of spelter was very low, about £25 a ton, and on the stocks at that date there was a very considerable loss. After that the price of spelter rose to something like £35 a ton, and at that price the loss would be wiped out. At present prices the loss would be reduced by about £700,000. 2398 Because the whole transaction must necessarily turn upon the price of spelter from time to time, it is impossible to say with certainty what will be the result of the transaction, but I think, from what I have said, the House may be satisfied that we have taken the most practical steps we can.
§ Mr. COLLISON
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is to become of the mines in this country that are now waterlogged?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Gentleman satisfaction. What he really says is this: "This Government, or a Government, entered into a contract during the War with the Australian Government to take a large quantity of zinc concentrates at a fixed price. Having done that, will you now enter into a similar contract with the mine-owners of this country to take it from them?" I have no power to enter into any such contract, and I should certainly hesitate very much before coming to this House to ask it, because it had entered into the Australian contract, to enter into another contract which would involve the taxpayer in a further loss. I think the hon. Member is basing his case on a misconception. He is basing his case on the belief that it is the Australian contract which is keeping the mines closed. It is not. The spelter would have been there, the zinc concentrates would have been produced, whatever contract had been entered into. The thing which is making it impossible for the mines to work in the hon. Member's constituency is not the Australian contract, but the world price of zinc concentrates and the world price of lead, and there is no way out of that.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The spelter price is certainly higher than the pre-War price, but if the hon. Member is suggesting that to-day that price makes it profitable to work these mines, while I should like to give consolation to both the hon. Members, I am afraid they will not be satisfied with that, and the real thing is that the success or failure of 2399 those mines must depend upon the world price.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Is it not a fact that you have said that the price you paid for spelter and zinc concentrates is so much per cent. of the world price, and that is the reason for the reduction of the production of those concentrates in Australia, and the increased price they get?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
It is the price of spelter that is above the world price. The price paid for concentrates is a fixed price, which works out at about £4 4s. 7d.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The freight is not £4, but 37s. 9d. I do not think it is relevant. I am in a little difficulty about the other point with which I was asked to deal, namely, the question of trusts, not that I have any desire not to deal with it, but while hon. Members who addressed their inquiries to me said it was very desirable to take certain action, I am afraid it is perfectly plain that the action I am invited to take involves legislation, and I should be called to order by you, Sir, if I indicated that I either was or was not intending to introduce legislation. Therefore, obviously, with reference to the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. J. Murray), who said certain things were done under the Profiteering Act and asked why should they not be done now, the answer is that the Profiteering Act does not any longer exist, and I could not do anything like that without legislation. I should be debarred in this Debate from discussing whether or not legislation of that or any other character ought to be introduced.
I think I am right, however, while still keeping within order, in referring to the point raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Woodbridge Division (Sir A. Churchman), who raised the question of milk prices. I had the opportunity yesterday at the Board of Trade, together with a number of my colleagues, of meeting representatives of the producers and of the distributors who were referred to in Lord Linlithgow's Report, and we had a very full discussion upon that Report. While, obviously, it would be out of order now—nor am I prepared—to state 2400 what action the Government will take on that Report, I should like to say at once that I think the United Dairies ought to reply very definitely to the case which is made in that Report, and the most acceptable reply that can be made to the Report would be a reduction in the price of milk. I am bound to say that despite all that I heard at the conference yesterday, unless very strong evidence disproving it is forthcoming, where there is a margin of 1s. between the wholesale and retail costs, when I find that in Glasgow, for instance, the distribution costs are not 9d. but 5½d., then I think that very strong evidence will be required to show that that company is not in a position to sell milk cheaper to the consumer in the coming winter months than was done in the course of the past winter. I think I have now dealt with all the points which were raised in the course of the Debate.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the question of belated reparation claims to which reference has been made?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
If there is an opportunity later in the Debate, I should like my Noble Friend to deal with that at rather more length than I have time to do now; but I would say this, that as the hon. Member knows, in this matter the Board of Trade is really the secretariat and the pay office of the Royal Commission. A decision as to what claims should rank, and how they should be assessed, is entirely in the hands of the Commission, but the hon. Gentleman may be sure that all claims that have been submitted to the Board will be put forward to the Commission for their full consideration. Both I and my Noble Friend, with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, have been in close touch with the Commission as to their consideration of these claims, but it would be impossible for me to give an undertaking as to the course the Commission may follow.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. Member was extraordinarily discreet in that matter. He said he would like to know what I was going to do to rectify the situation. I said last night what I could in this matter, and we put in the Expiring 2401 Laws Continuance Bill a continuation of the Order; but he must not ask me now whether I am going to introduce a Bill.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
That also is a matter for the Royal Commission. I cannot give them any instructions whether they should admit claims of that kind or not. It must be a matter for them to decide.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade asked what would happen if the Dyestuffs Act had not been passed. Let me remind him that the colour users throughout the country before the War did not suffer the same difficulties that they are suffering to-day through the interference by a Government Department in their trade. The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question of price. Let me remind him that the price of dyestuffs to-day is some 300 to 400 per cent. higher than in pre-War times, and raw material which was used in our textile factories does not come up in any way to that large increase of price. Therefore, we submit that the administration of that Act has been faulty, so placing an undue burden upon the textile trade, and is a direct handicap to British trade in different parts of the world. But I have risen now to note the new spirit and the new tone of the President of the Board of Trade regarding our European trade. What a marked contrast to his speeches during the first few months of the year! In the early months of this year, many hon. Friends of mine raised the subject of the handicap to British trade through the conditions existing in the Ruhr Valley. The President of the Board of Trade turned a deaf ear to us on those occasions, and he disagreed entirely with the facts which we submitted. On 12th April, after summing up the Debate on behalf of the Government, the President of the Board of Trade said:On these facts I still assert that the onus of holding up British trade in the occupied territory to-day rests on the German Government and not on the French Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1923; col. 1392, Vol. 162.]2402 Is that the attitude taken up this afternoon?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. Gentleman was asking me particularly a question dealing with pre-occupation contracts. At that moment the French had agreed to the issue of licences.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
It is a much wider issue than pre-occupation contracts. The case I brought up referred to pre-occupation contracts. The case put before him by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. F. Gray) and the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) referred to present contracts entered into after France occupied the Ruhr and dealt with far more than pre-War contracts. Later on in that speech, the President of the Board of Trade used these words:The thing which is stopping trade is that the German Government are refusing to allow their nationals to export even under contract.What a difference the last three months has made in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. I had sveral occasions during the earlier months of this year to invite his assistance. I do so again this afternoon. I have several cases here where British trade is being handicapped and where British traders are unable to get export licences for their goods from the Ruhr Valley. I will send him these cases, but we have often during the past few months invited the assistance of the President of the Board of Trade on behalf of British traders, and we have not up till now received any satisfaction. He has, I say deliberately from my place in the House of Commons, neglected British trade in this matter, and there is to-day unemployment up and down in the country, because the President of the Board of Trade has not yet brought the whole force of his Department to bear on the French authorities in the Ruhr to protect the vital interests of British trade. Le me give three cases. The first is the case of a contract entered into before the French occupied the Ruhr, on the 12th of December, 1922, for 400 tons of creosote oil. The oil is lying at Duisburg and the firm are unable to-day to obtain an export licence and have not yet received delivery of the goods.
During a recent visit to the Ruhr I came across many British traders who are spending time and money trying to 2403 get export licences from the French authorities. They are passed from one town to another. I have this on very good authority. Some of them are Canadians, some are Scotsmen, some are Englishmen, and they are passed to and from one town to another, from one department to another, meeting difficulties which are created definitely with the object of frustrating German trade and bringing Germany to her knees. That is a matter I will not touch upon. Here is another case I can give him. I will pass it to the right hon. Gentleman, and he can investigate it.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I have often on previous occasions brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman cases from reliable quarters, from my constituents, and from individuals who have given me the information.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that he has sent me particulars of cases and that I have done nothing? All I can say is that in the last six months I have tried to get arrangements made in all cases brought before me. I have never failed to attend to a single case. If there are any cases which have not been carried out, I will be very glad to deal with them. My information is that they are all carried out.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I have given the right hon. Gentleman one case, and I will give him another case of a contract entered into before the French occupation for 20 tons of carbolic acid crystals and 40 tons of cresylic acid. These have been lying at Ludwigshafen since November last, and the firm have only now received the export licence. All the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman have only resulted, in the case of this contract entered into last November, in the firm receiving the export licence after eight months. This firm says that it is still very uncertain whether they will be able to move the goods from the occupied territory. I will give another case. On the 5th of December this firm shipped 50 barrels of crude carbolic acid from England by the Holland Steamship Company for transhipment at Amsterdam for Ludwigshafen. The shipment was stopped by the French at Duisburg. The firm say that "since then we 2404 have been unable to obtain delivery or permission to move the parcel in any way." I will hand this information to the right hon. Gentleman, and I sincerely trust that not only in his own Department in London but, what is even more important, that at Cologne, at Coblenz; at Essen, and at Dusseldorf the British representatives will have the instructions of His Majesty's Government to use the whole persuasive power of the British Government to clear British goods at the very earliest possible moment. The right hon. Gentleman will say that he has done all that he could. It may be so, but if he would in August, or at any time during the recess, pay a visit to the Ruhr Valley and come in contact with the traders who have been spending weeks, costing them large sums of money, in endeavouring to obtain licences for their goods which are required in this country, then I think he could come to this House and say that during the time he was President of his Department he had watched over British trade abroad. However, we say decisively that we note with pleasure his new tone this afternoon, that British trade is dependent upon a stable Continent. Many a time during the last 12 or 18 months the President of the Board of Trade has pointed out that if we suffered on the Continent we could trade with the Empire beyond the seas. Even the Federation of British Industries in a recent memorial pointed out that many factories throughout the country are dependent upon a stable Continent to find employment for our people, and, although we welcome every attempt to secure an increase of trade by the development of our Empire overseas, we are convinced that until a stable Continent is secured there cannot be a great increase of employment in this country.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I would like to ask the President of the Board of Trade a question regarding dyes. I wish to ask if it is a fact that when war ceased the dye users in this country bought what would be equal to £7,000,000 worth of dyes, and that what we are suffering from now is the fact that the small users have to go to those who hold the dyes to get small quantities?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
There may have been a purchase. I do not think it was so great as £7,000,000 worth.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I have listened to many remarkable speeches in this House, but I have never listened to a more remarkable speech than the one the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered from the Government Bench. He has painted an exceedingly gloomy picture of trade and employment prospects in this country. He resembles Cassandra running through the streets of Rome crying, "Woe and havoc." He has told us that he has been in touch with the authorities in the banking and industrial world and in all walks of industry, and that the prospects are exceedingly gloomy so far as the coming winter is concerned. That is a very remarkable and grave statement to make, because, as far as we can gather, the President of the Board of Trade and his colleagues in the Government are making really no preparation for dealing with the situation. So far as we can gather, no advance preparations are in hand. We have over 1,000,000 unemployed, and if they are to be added to in the coming winter to the extent indicated by the right hon. Gentleman, then we are in a very parlous situation, indeed. I confess that, so far as I am concerned, I should exhibit very little sympathy for the capitalist classes of this country in the ruin that faces them, if it were not for the fact that their undoing would cause so much suffering and sorrow to the mass of the people. The policies that have brought us to this pass are the policies of the Gentlemen on the Government Benches.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Strikes have nothing whatever to do with it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has told us that our situation to-day is due to the situation in Europe. That has come about by policies which have come from the Government side of the House. Four years ago some Gentlemen who now sit on the other side of the House were enunciating their policies. I would like to know when any one of them, prominent in business, or banking, or finance, told the unfortunate people of 2406 this country what the results of their policies would be. No one, in the shipping trade, in the coal trade, in the cotton or the wool trade, raised any voice of warning. The results of their policies in Europe have been devastation, ruin, bankruptcy, and misery, for the masses of the people, and it also faces them now. I say again that, were it not for the fact that it is the mass of the people at the bottom who have to suffer for your lamentable mistakes, your colossal ignorance and your boundless incapacity, I should have no sympathy whatever for you in the straits and difficulties in which you find yourselves at the present moment.
I am not sure that I follow the argument of the hon. Member, but it seems to me that his remarks ought really to be directed to the Foreign Office. I do not see how the President of the Board of Trade can be held responsible individually for European policy.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I was really following the speech delivered by the President of the Board of Trade himself, which had a great deal to do with the whole European situation. It is almost impossible to disentangle, from the statement which he made, those parts of it which strictly belong to the work of his Department. But I will come to another point. The right hon. Gentleman was dealing with the Lancashire cotton trade and was complaining that it was in a bad way, that the whole trade was suffering, and that we were face to face with foreign competition. It was suggested that the only trade that had escaped this disaster was the machinery-producing industry which has been exceedingly busy producing goods for export. The textile machinery industry had been the only stable industry in the Lancashire towns. But it is all very well to tell us that we are face to face with foreign competition. Let us clearly understand that a good deal of that foreign competition has been financed by British capital. For instance, Poland enters into competition with our textile trade in Yorkshire, but it is British capitalists who have bought up the mills of Poland and are using the cheap labour of the Poles in competition with the cotton workers in Yorkshire. The same is true of the 2407 Lancashire cotton trade. It is perfectly true that we hear of foreign competition, but a great deal of the machinery that is being laid down, even in India and Japan, is furnished by capital that was originally raised out of the labour of the Lancashire cotton operative, who is now forced to suffer on account of this foreign competition. He suffers in reduced wages and loss of employment; but the British capitalists still draw their dividends, and whether these dividends are obtained from Great Britain or from India, Japan or some Eastern dependency will matter very little to him. So far as he is concerned it makes no difference where the money comes from. These are points that have to be borne in mind.
To my mind the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a confession of failure on the part of the Department to which he is attached. Now they have suddenly awakened to tell us that the development of the Empire does not settle the problem for us at all. We have been talked at for the last seven or eight months on this matter, and told that what we wanted was Empire development. We are now told by the President of the Board of Trade that Empire development is quite inadequate, and that we must go back to a suitable policy in Europe in order to stabilise European affairs and to get back our old customers. This is a question which concerns both the President of the Board of Trade and his colleagues at the Foreign Office.
The right hon. Gentleman made some play with the question of trade with Russia. Everyone now realises that trade with Russia is not going to settle the problems that confront us, and that, even if we did begin to trade with Russia, we have put off renewal of that trade for so long that little benefit can be expected in that quarter in the immediate future. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned an order for 2,000 locomotives that went to Sweden. I was in Russia at the time when that order was placed. I was in the company of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw), and he can corroborate what I say. Undoubtedly in 1920, at the time when that order for locomotives was placed, the Russian Soviet Government would have been only too pleased to open friendly relations with this country, and that order might 2408 have come here to have been carried out in our Yorkshire shops instead of going to Sweden. We had this information supplied to us in Petrograd and in Moscow itself when I was there. Instead of the Government doing everything they could to develop our trade and industry and to meet the undoubted slump which they ought to have known was going to occur, they did not realise at that moment that there was any such need.
I have been in Reval, and there I met the representative of a great engineering firm in this country who was running round Royal. He was in a country with no credit, with little population, and with no facilities for buying, in an attempt to get orders for machinery, while just over the border there was a nation hungry for the things that we could send them, hankering for our goods. The reason why we did not trade with them was, forsooth, that after fighting a war for the rights of peoples to settle their own form of government, we did not approve of the form of government which they had chosen, and desired them to have another. This is the basis of the whole Russian problem. It is not merely a question of recognising the Debt. It is very probable that you have lost in the past, are losing now, and will lose in the future, infinitely more through loss of trade than the whole of your blessed debts are worth, so far as Russia is concerned.
I want to come to another question with which the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt. I refer to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander). On Monday we were discussing here the need for the maintenance and continuation of a system that led to private initiative and private enterprise. My hon. Friend, the Member for Hillsborough, in a very lucid and able speech, gave point after point to show that it is known even to the Board of Trade what limitations are placed upon competition in various trades in this country. It is well known to Government Departments, although the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to reply, or, at any rate, has failed to reply. Hon. Members who sit on the Government Benches, who are so keen about competition and who desire so much to see competition maintained, might at least have said something against the trust system that confronts us in this country. I sup- 2409 pose they are too closely linked up with trusts and combines, and believe so firmly in trusts and combines, that they prefer to be silent so far as that mattr is concerned. Certainly none of them raised that question or attempted to discuss it. I should have thought that we ought to have some answer on this question of trusts.
I want to put a question to the representative of the Board of Trade. I want to ask him, with regard to this question of trusts and with regard to the possibility of legislation, whether it is true to say that the Board of Trade early in 1921 had a Bill in draft and obtained from the Standing Committee on Trusts, which was a Committee of the Profiteering Committee, a considered opinion upon that Bill. I want to know whether that Bill was drafted by the Board of Trade, and I want to know why it was that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) did not go on with it. I should like to know what malign influence was at work to keep that Bill from being introduced into Parliament. After all, these are very important questions, and I should really like to know what are the powers behind the throne that prevented the Board of Trade itself from carrying through this legislation and putting the Bill into operation after they had asked the opinion of the Standing Committee on Trusts. That is a question of which it might interest the House to hear an answer from the President of the Board of Trade. It would be interesting to kow, for instance, what influence was brought to bear by the Federation of British Industries, and in what way they operated to prevent this Measure from becoming law.
There is another question to which the President of the Board of Trade refused, or at any rate failed, to provide an answer—the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough as to the treatment of the co-operative societies by his Department. I think the hon. Member for Hillsborough is an optimist. When he seeks for equal treatment by the Board of Trade he is open to somewhat adverse criticism, because his experience ought by now to have proved to him that the biggest enemies of the co-operative societies are on the Government Benches, and perhaps not only on the Front Bench, but on the benches behind. 2410 He was asking for consideration for the co-operative societies. I should advise the co-operative societies to look for no help whatever from the present Government. I do not know what other Governments may do, but probably like this one they will do nothing but hamper, and hinder and retard! There was a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough, and it has had no answer up till now.
So far as this trust question is concerned I want to say this: I do not believe that either the Board of Trade or the Government can deal with the trusts. They are inherent in the competitive system. You cannot avoid them. Every competitor is a monopolist at heart. He believes that if he can destroy his competitors then he will establish a monopoly, and the moment he gets the power he does that. So far as the Government actually is concerned, we have had a speech by the President of the Board of Trade and the implications of that speech are not only a breakdown of the Government's own foreign policy, but the future that awaits us in the coming winter months. In view of that I feel it should be impressed upon the President of the Board of Trade that he should bring this question to the notice of his colleagues in the Cabinet, and insist that they begin to Prepare here and now for the dreadful time looming ahead. Otherwise when the consequences of the lack of policy present themselves next winter it will be no use turning round and blaming the victims if they begin to protest in a very peculiar way. The blame will rest entirely on the Government who, with full warning and full knowledge of the conditions that are coming, are failing so far as I can see to take any adequate steps to deal with the situation.
§ Mr. F. GRAY
I desire to refer to two matters in regard to the German Reparation (Recovery) Act, 1921. I have been asked to bring before the Committee the position of the retail booksellers of this country. I do not think I shall discharge my duty in a quicker way than by detailing to the Committee the transactions that take place when there is an importation of books into this country from Germany, and the claim comes in of the English Government under the German Reparations (Recovery) Act. An English retail bookseller receives an order from a 2411 customer to get a German book. He naturally writes to Germany and has all the incidence of postal expenses. It must be remembered that the books that are being imported are books printed in the German language, and deal with subjects that are—
I do not think that covers the particular matter to which the hon. Gentleman is referring.
§ Mr. GRAY
Except this—of course, Mr. Hope, I very gladly bow to your ruling—but I am advised that the sum which is received in the circumstances which I was about to detail to the Committee, are paid into the fund in relief of the expenses which are dealt with in this Vote. If I am correct, I submit that I am in order.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Gentleman makes a mistake in bringing this under the head of reparations.
There is no return here as an Appropriation-in-Aid of the expenses of the Board of Trade.
§ Viscount WOLMER
No, surely the hon. Member knows that, whatever happens, this money does not reach the Board of Trade.
If the hon. Member can show an item under Appropriations-in-Aid arising out of this transaction, that would make him in order, but this appears to be a matter of Customs administration and of the Customs Department.
§ Mr. GRAY
I may remind you, Mr. Hope, that this matter was raised on the question of the duty of 26 per cent. payable under this Act? The Debate, it will be remembered, took place on 12th April last, and this matter was dealt with by the President of the Board of Trade. I have here a report of his speech. The President dealt expressly with this matter.
§ Mr. GRAY
I would remind the Committee that on 12th April my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) raised the question of the Ruhr receipts and the loss to the revenue in respect of this 26 per cent. duty under the German Reparation (Recovery) Act. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith spoke, and I spoke, and a reply was given by the President of the Board of Trade. I was proposing to quote the words later in my speech to-night used by the President of the Board of Trade on that occasion.
§ Mr. GRAY
The subject before the House then was goods under contract from the Ruhr to this country were being held up, rightly or wrongly, by the French Government, and we were urging upon the notice of this House that the result of that was not only loss to the traders of this country, but that under this Act we lost the 26 per cent. of the value of the goods that should have been received, and were held up.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Gentleman, as I understand him, wants to discuss an Act which is administered by the Customs, over which the Board of Trade has no control, and for that reason I do not think it comes under this Vote.
It is the 26 per cent. Customs Duty administered by the Customs, and that is a matter for the Treasury. If the hon. Member can show that the Board of Trade received, appropriations-in-aid on account of this matter, it will be in order, but it seems to me to be merely a Customs matter, as far as I can understand it.
§ Mr. GRAY
Then I will not press that point, and I will continue with my second argument. I would like to know if I shall be in order in referring to goods which we desire to import into this country from the Ruhr district which were held up on the occupation of that district by the French, and which was the precise matter which was debated, and of which the President of the Board of Trade was in charge? What I desire to call attention to is that upon that occasion we complained that goods were being held up by the French Government, and it was alleged by the British Government that the German Government were no less responsible, and that these goods were being held up notwithstanding the fact that they were contracted to be sold to this country prior to the occupation by the French, and they were goods which the French themselves agreed should be sent to this country.
I believe I am right in saying that there is an Amendment before the House to reduce this vote by £100, and I submit that it is amply justified on the ground that in February, March and April, when this particular Debate took place, I and other hon. Members urged first upon the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and then upon the President of the Board of Trade that they should use their influence to protect British traders and importers and make representations to the French Government to get these goods out of the Ruhr district in pursuance of the contract. That has been repeatedly urged on the President of the Board of Trade. There are to this day large quantities of goods contracted to be sold to this country before the occupation by the French which British merchants have never been able to obtain. I appealed to the right hon. Gentleman in May to assist us in getting those goods. The goods in which I was particularly interested, amounting to some four trucks, I am glad to say, have been received in this country.
§ Mr. GRAY
The Noble Lord says, "Hear, hear!" but those goods have been received here through no service rendered by the Board of Trade, and no thanks are due to that Department from all those persons who relied upon the Board of Trade, as I did myself, for four months. The persons in whom I am interested secured the goods by sending out a youth from this country who, by a process of distributing ten shillings here and there, and by bribery and corruption, managed to get the goods across the frontier, and he had to use a French engine, for which he was charged by the French Government.
§ Mr. BECKER
Does the hon. Member suggest that British officials in this area were being bribed by ten shilling notes?
§ Mr. GRAY
I am making no such suggestion. I must remind the hon. Member that there are no British officials in that district, nor does the King's Writ run in that area. On the contrary, I was pointing out that nobody held a less influential position in that district than the President of the Board of Trade and the British Government. I was emphasising that there was a duty which the President of the Board of Trade owed to those British traders which he failed to discharge, and they were left to go out and get the goods themselves because the British Government failed to safeguard and protect their interests. There was a reason for that. The President of the Board of Trade throughout insisted upon two things. First, that it was not the intention of the French Government to injure British trade, and, more amazing still, that British trade was not in fact injured by the French occupation of the Ruhr.
To-day I was amazed when I heard the President of the Board of Trade open his speech with elementary platitudes about international economics, words which I believe I am right in saying have been taken from an Oxford Professor's books on economics. I am indeed gratified that the President of the Board of Trade has at last learned those elementary economics, and that he has, in reply to the unanswerable facts put forward by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hope Simpson), had to quote elementary platitudes which he has learned since he made 2415 the speech in this House on the 12th April. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion was very severe in his reply to me when I suggested that it was in fact the intention of the French to injure our trade in the Ruhr. He said this:The whole suggestion made by the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford was that it was the intention of the French to damage our trade—Mr. GRAY: In the Ruhr.Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME: —to damage our trade in the Ruhr, but I repudiate that absolutely."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1923; cols. 1389 and 1390, Vol. 162.]I understand the President of the Board of Trade has won considerable repute in commercial circles in the past, and I think it is absolutely beautiful that a man who has gone through the rough and tumble of commerce should retain this child-like simplicity about the acts of others in commerce. But the right hon. Gentleman must give the French credit for common sense. It is always wise to give other Governments credit for sound, common sense. Does he really suppose that the French occupied the Ruhr for the purpose of maintaining and increasing the trade between that area and England? Holding the views they do, obviously it was for them to hamper German trade in every direction, except the direction which resulted in the transfer of goods from the Ruhr to France. For the President of the Board of Trade to suggest that they desired to maintain the trade then existing between the Ruhr and England is not giving the French credit for common sense, but it indicates, as I say, a beautiful and child-like view of life in general and of commerce.
§ Mr. GRAY
I do not know if it is open to me to refer to the loss of trade by the closing of the usual channels since the occupation, which is now admitted by the President of the Board of Trade. I do not think it would be fair to suggest that the President of the Board of Trade is responsible for that. I think it is a fair and legitimate criticism, however, to say that in respect of the large bulk of goods held in the Ruhr district at the time of the occupation for consignment to England—which the French, apart from a dispute between the 1st and the 20th January, were prepared to allow to be removed to England—there has been a 2416 failure to achieve what could be achieved in the way I have suggested, and the Board of Trade has failed throughout those months to assist the British trader in securing the export of these goods. The goods have not yet been received in all cases and the British trader has nowhere to look for compensation for the serious loss he has sustained by the holding up of these goods from February up to the present time and, as it may yet prove to be, for a much longer period.
§ Mr. HOHLER
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Gray) has addressed the Committee in most impressive style, but I confess I did not fully appreciate exactly what were the goods which he described as having been held up and the release of which, I gathered from him, was secured by means of a 10s. note. I cannot conceive what that has to do with the present Vote, and it is strange to me if it is part of the duty of the President of the Board of Trade, or any of his officials, to exercise any influence by means of bribes upon officials abroad.
I do not think the hon. Member suggested that exactly. I presume the contention was that the persuasive powers of the President of the Board of Trade might have obtained the release of these goods without compelling resort to the methods described by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. HOHLER
That certainly was not made clear to me nor, I think, to other hon. Members. We were also told that the French, by going into the Ruhr, did not facilitate German trade with us. I assume that is perfectly true. The French went there for their own purposes, and their occupation of that area had nothing to do with facilitating our trade, and indeed it was, I suppose, inevitable that it should have damaged that trade. I deprecate the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead). He seemed to suggest that there was one solution for every trade trouble, and that was Socialism. We had the old story over again about trading with the Soviet Government. I gathered from the hon. Member's statement that we, in this country, could have obtained an order for the manufacture of engines which ultimately went to Sweden. I think I have seen a statement under the hon. Member's own hand indicating that he was 2417 persona grata with those at the head of the Russian revolution. If he could have obtained this trade for us, why on earth did he not do so? I presume the hon. Member's theory is that we should trade with Soviet Russia.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Is it in order for the hon. Member to travesty the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr who never said anything about getting this order himself, but only referred to the order being obtainable by this country?
I did not understand that any innuendo against the personal motives of the hon. Member for Merthyr was suggested, but unfortunately we seem to have got on to the question of Socialism, and as Socialism would involve legislation it is not therefore in order.
§ Mr. HOHLER
I made no implication against the hon. Member for Merthyr. I only expressed a view that if the order could have been obtained for this country the hon. Member would have been a very suitable person to obtain it. Apparently he did not do so. As you say, Sir, Socialism would certainly involve legislation—at least, I suppose so—and I was only seeking to reply to the remarks which the hon. Member for Merthyr addressed to hon. Members both on this side of the House and below the Gangway on the other side of the House. I now turn to a matter in this Vote on which I should like my Noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to give me some information. I find under the heading of "Services arising out of the War" a considerable expenditure, and I find that there is still a Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies, representing an expenditure of some £6,000. I thought that Commission had long since ceased to operate, and I had hoped that we had realised all the wheat we ever contracted for and that our contracts were all fulfilled. In these times, when economy should be exercised, it is curious to find that we are still being charged with this sum for this service. Would my Noble Friend also tell me what we are likely to realise on it, because I cannot find any suggested Appropriations-in-Aid as a result of what the Commission is supposed to be doing.
2418 The next thing about which I wish to have some information is the item in respect of the Clearing Office (Enemy Debts). Would the Noble Lord tell us how that is proceeding, what real progress is being made, and how far the debts due to this country have been discharged? Here, again, the expenditure is very considerable, and, indeed, seems to be very little less than it was last year. Is there any prospect of this expenditure coming to an end? The War has been over for a long time, but it seems to me that it is proposed to continue this establishment until the end of this year, without, as far as I can see, any sign of diminution. Indeed, if the Estimate is correct, it looks to me as though this Department will be in existence next year. In fact, it seems to be interminable, and the amount expended under this head is £320,000 odd. I would ask the Noble Lord to give us some explanation and some satisfactory assurance as to the progress that is being made. How is it that this large expenditure is incurred, and can he hold out a prospect—I do not ask for a pledge—that at the end of this year it will come to an end? I cannot help thinking that there must be some very soft billets here that might be got rid of.
Again, in the case of the Reparation Claims Department, there is a considerable expenditure of some £27,000 odd. What are these reparation claims? Surely, if they are claims for properties taken by the Government, they are all dealt with by the Commission. Under the Act which confirmed the right to receive payment of money on such claims, you had to go before the Commission to establish your claim. What is this Department really doing? What is the nature of the claims? We get no indication of that on this Vote. I see that there is a controller at £1,000 a year, a legal adviser at £600, and a number of other persons. It really seems to me that we are losing sight of the fact that we ought to have got through these difficulties, seeing that it is more than five years since the War terminated. All these matters ought to be very carefully examined.
The next thing to which I want to refer is the Timber Disposal Department. It is true that here the sum is not a large one—a matter of £3,000—but what is the 2419 timber that is not yet disposed of? I should have thought that His Majesty's Government had long since got rid of it, and I cannot see why all these gentlemen should be kept on this list. I have no objection to their drawing the dole, but, although I see that the acting controller has disappeared, there remains an accountant at £800 a year. Could the Noble Lord give us any idea of the value of this timber? I think I am right in saying that there is no Appropriation-in-Aid to be found in respect of this. If there is no timber to sell, let us know it, and let us know why we are keeping these gentlemen. No doubt they are nice billets, but I think the money could be more usefully employed elsewhere.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOHLER
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to give it to my hon. and gallant Friend, and I am sure there is no one who would be more worthy of it. Indeed, I would rather like one of these appointments myself, and I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend would. Under this head, there is a matter which I really cannot understand, namely, the provincial staff. What does that mean? I do not know whether they have ceased to be, but perhaps that is so. It may be that these entries refer to last year. I should have thought that, if the Government or the Board of Trade had timber to dispose of, it could be disposed of over and over again with the greatest ease. As far as I can judge, they appear to be holding it on a falling market, for timber is one of the few things that have got cheaper in the years since the War. There is another thing I cannot understand, namely, the War Insurance Accounts Branch. What is that doing now? I see that there are a clerk and two copying typists, and also contributions in respect of Health and Unemployment Insurance. What on earth are they doing now? Surely all these policies have long since come to an end. The risk has been incurred, and either losses have been sustained or nothing has been payable under the policies. I should like the Noble Lord to explain what is the meaning of that branch. Surely, if the underwriters were liable, they have long since paid up, and the money has been 2420 appropriated in aid and received by the Government, but here we find that a matter alleged to be in connection with the War is still proceeding, and the only reduction that I can see, as compared with last year, is that the clerks have been reduced by £100, and that the allowance to officers from other Departments has disappeared. Otherwise, the amount remains the same as last year.
Again, what is the meaning of Item P 8—Diverted Cargoes (Cotton)? I see that there is an estimated further expenditure of £40,000 in connection with the diversion during the War to United Kingdom ports of certain cotton cargoes, but I thought we had got through all this War expenditure and all the difficulties and complications arising from it. How is it that this has been overlooked, and now appears on the Estimate? Last year the estimated sum was £150,000. It really seems as though these Estimates have been prepared on the basis of breaking to us gently what we have to pay—that it cannot be all charged this year, and, therefore, something is being carried over to another year; and it would seem that, for that very useless purpose, these staffs are being kept alive in order to look after these funds, wherever they are. What, also, is meant by the next item—Reparation Dyes? The sum involved here is £99,000, and the note is as follows:Under the terms of the Treaty of Peace with Germany, approximately 3,000 tons of dyes may be received for sale in this country during 1923–24, and will be sold at prices sufficient to cover costs of distribution, which are estimated as follows.Then come the various items of remuneration to agents, del credere commission, and allowance towards transport, handling, and so on. Are we going to receive those dyes, and, if we receive them, are we going to get more than is debited to this country in these Estimates? If not, will the whole of this sum be taken as an Appropriation-in-Aid of the Board of Trade Vote? In my judgment, the sum of £90,000 for this purpose is very considerable indeed. I think it is time the Government, and every Department of the Government, should have clearly impressed upon their minds that this Committee and the country are very impatient of this long-delayed settling of claims and obligations.
§ Mr. HOHLER
No I cannot see that, because the difficulty is that you have very little resource against the Government. Take the policy of insurance. If that was the question of litigation it would at once pass to the Solicitors for the Treasury and there would be no reason for keeping the staff going. You cannot suggest that the sale of timber has anything to do with the law's delays or else my hon. Friend has very little notion of what the law really is. I am satisfied that the country is very impatient and the Government is keeping a Department going which, in my judgment, should have been wound up long since.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The President of the Board of Trade made a very clear point when he said that trade was not as good to-day as it was last December. But while he was able to make that statement from the returns which are always to his hand, he never gave a sentence which explained why that condition had been reached or the slightest indication as to how we might improve. He spoke largely about the foreign market—so largely that one might easily conclude that all the people in Britain would require to sit down and die quietly if there were no foreign markets. He never for a moment discussed the possibility of developing markets at home. The whole trend of his speech was something abroad, and he remarked because I smiled. Why cannot a man smile at the idea that, because you are not doing something with someone thousands of miles away, you have to sit down and die? Suppose for a moment that every other country we are trading with is able to produce what we have been trading with those countries. It has happened with a great many countries already. Does it mean, because other countries advance in producing things we make, that we have necessarily got to face starvation? Surely the President of the Board of Trade cannot ignore the fact that Japan, which only a few years ago depended entirely upon this country and Germany for everything in industrial machinery and the building of ships, stands as far advanced as Great Britain. That is bound to go on because all these nations are advancing, and if you multiply that, what is the outlook of Britain? There is no use saying, "Why talk about that now? There 2422 is plenty of time." There is no time. Why should we not be a nation within ourselves? Why should our existence be dependent upon outside countries? I should like the President of the Board of Trade to be able to give some reply to an argument of that kind. If we are losing our markets, as we are, we are bound as a nation, instead of following the old traditional method of looking away towards some place where we can dump, to make our nation as self-supporting as it can be. He spoke then of getting back our industrial position. We can never get back our industrial position as it was because of the facts I have stated. The question of Russian locomotives came up. At one time locomotives of that quality were only built in Britain. Then followed the introduction of German competition. Those were the only two sources so far as supplying locomotives was concerned, but to-day you have all these other countries advancing and being able to take the work they used to give to us. What, then, is the President of the Board of Trade going to do? What is his solution? What are we to do in face of the fact that such things are taking place, that our trade is going, not because we cannot produce anything, not because we cannot produce more than we did before, but for the other reasons that I have stated?
I notice that the President of the Board of Trade when dealing with a general question always neglects what is the real kernel of industry, and that is power. We are shown in these pages a sum of money being spent under a Department called the Petroleum Department, and if we have a Petroleum Department under the Board of Trade we should expect to get some information with regard to petroleum. Yet, in answer to a question, the President of the Board of Trade on 19th June gave figures as to the increase in the importation of petrol, and while he was dealing with shipping to-day in the ordinary Board of Trade crystallised phrases he went on to glide over the essential facts. We have other countries to face in this question of carriage, and the Board of Trade is largely concerned with shipping, and we ought as a nation to be keeping our place in shipping, if for nothing else, because we have special occasion for it. If we take the power with regard to ships, we find that in 1914 there was 7.95 sail power, and in 1922 that was 2423 reduced to 4.70. Oil used in internal-combustion engines of ships amounted in 1914 to ..47, whereas in 1922 it was 2.35. Oil fuel used in ships for raising steam to drive engines amounted in 1914 to 2.62 and in 1922 to 22.34. A big increase, and yet there is not a single word in this House from the Board of Trade as to our absolute dependence on supplies outside this nation, in face of the increased use of that fuel. Just as we increase the use of that class of liquid fuel on board our ships, and neglect to produce that fuel inside our nation, so much more do we become dependent on outside sources, and so much more difficult will it be for our shipping if this nation gets into difficulties, such as war. In 1914, the coal that was used in ships was 88.96, whereas in 1922 it fell to 70.61. We are a great nation trying, on the one hand, to keep in advance of science, while on the other hand, because of vested interests, we are not manufacturing fuel, which would not only give us independence, but an absolute reduction in price.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
Will the hon. Member tell us where, commercially, it is possible to produce oil in this country, either from shale or in any other way?
The hon. Member must in some way connect this with the powers of the Board of Trade, to show that they are preventing it, or that they could by administrative action cause its manufacture.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I hold that I am in order in stating that the Board of Trade gives its bias and its influence to something that is coming from outside the nation, but if it comes to a question as to my being in order, I can give the reply to the President of the Board of Trade to questions that I have been putting, with this thing fully in view. Just as the Board of Trade gives its permission to an increase in the number of horse-power being transferred from coal to oil fuel, so much more do we become dependent upon outside sources of supply. In this country, we have plant in existence, and if the Board of Trade, without legislation, used its powers, we could be on the 2424 highway to producing all that power, not only in petroleum form, but in the form that is much better, namely, industrial alcohol. If we wanted even to go on a petroleum basis, all that we have to do in this country is to use known plant in order to take from the coal oil that would give us independence, and at the same time give us pure atmosphere in our cities. [An HON. MEMBER: "Can you raise steam with industrial alcohol?"] If you do so it would be a waste of material. You could raise steam with industrial alcohol, but no engineer would do that, because the value of industrial alcohol is to get it into your internal combustion engines in order to get the full effect. In this matter the Board of Trade have not only been lax, but they have been criminally neglectful. France, Germany, and America, in their Board of Trade Departments, have all been keenly interested, with the result that France, which 20 years ago was in the backwoods compared with the British nation in power, is to-day a thousand miles ahead of us. The same with America. Notwithstanding, we have Presidents of the Board of Trade, one after another, giving us the same stereotyped form of replies in Debates, instead of having open minds and a keen sense of responsibility, which would show that they are interested in the nation's affairs, and that they are taking advantage of every opportunity which science can give, and applying it to the national advantage.
I might well have gone into many other things. I will deal with one which is mentioned in the Estimates, and that is the payment of £200 per annum to one officer as director of gas administration. I want to take this opportunity of drawing the attention of the Board of Trade to what is happening. When we changed from the system of charging by the cubic foot to that of selling by the therm, we entered not only upon a new method but upon something that is bound to tell very hard against the small gas undertakings. No two seams of coal have the same therm value. The large undertakings can afford to take the output of one or more mines, and they are always, because of that fact, getting a steady output of coal, and having the choice of the best coal. Since no two coals have the same therm value, it means that while the big companies are able to buy the output of one 2425 or more mines, the smaller gas undertakings are going to be left with coal that does not contain the same therm value. That means that the smaller gas undertakings must either increase the price of their gas, or they must continue to lose on the manufacture of gas. I asked the President of the Board of Trade—as I have asked him before, and have never got a satisfactory reply—not to smile, as he has smiled in Debates, on this question. This is a most serious question, and unless something is done immediately it will mean that the poorer people in the outlying districts, where carbonisation is on a small scale, will be compelled either to pay a quarter more or perhaps to go without gas altogether. If the Board of Trade desire to put this on a proper basis all that they have to do is to take an analysis of the coal, and there and then decide on certain classes of coal for the manufacture of gas. That is the only way to give fair play to those who are manufacturing gas. What is happening to-day? The Board of Trade seem to riot in a system of anarchy in the coal trade. The very best coal is used to raise steam, which is the lowest use to which you can put coal. We never get a word of guidance or of control from the Scientific men who say that this is national waste. I know that the brains are inside the Board of Trade, but we want to get them into the House, and on to the Front bench. If the technical experts were allowed in, to deal directly with those matters, I know what would happen. I hope, therefore, that the Board of Trade will not, as in the past, remain in a state of crystallisation, but will become something living and active, moving with the times, and especially keeping abreast of science.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GREENWOOD
I listened with very great regret to the speech and the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead), especially where he said that he would have no sympathy whatever with those engaged in industry if they were brought down and ruined, were it not for the fact, that if they were brought down and ruined it would, at the same time, bring about the ruin, and possibly the starvation, of the working people. I am sorry to think that the only time when hon. Members opposite, like the hon. Member for Merthyr, can realise the interdependence 2426 of employers and employed in industry in this country, is when ruin faces employers and employed. I very much regret his tone, especially in regard to employers. What would be thought if employers of labour were to talk in the same deprecating strain about British labour? There is no employer of labour on this side whom I know of who has any intention of doing that. I ask the Committee if it is not about time that we should realise that we must all go on the same road together?
I was about to stop the hon. Member for Merthyr, only lie finished his sentence with such celerity that I was unable to do so I must ask the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. W. Greenwood) to come back to the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Had I known, Mr. Hope, that you were about to call the hon. Member for Merthyr to order, of course I should not have drawn attention to his remarks. There was another remark the hon. Member made, with which, perhaps, it will be relevant for me to deal. He said that no one on this side of the Committee had pointed out to the Government the dangers they might be running by their attitude in regard to various trade questions during the past few years. That is hardly a fair remark, because those hon. Members who were in the House during the last Parliament, and many hon. Members now in the House, will know that many on this side were not so sure that, on every point in regard to trade, and the way in which they dealt with trade, the Government were entirely right. If one were allowed to do so, one might say that with regard to the most important question of our competition with other countries; namely, the basis on which industries are taxed. I think it would be quite in order to discuss that question, because there can be nothing which affects our competition more keenly, and the point whether we can obtain orders or not, and whether industry is to have a fair field in face of its competitors, than the way in which our industry is taxed.
The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), who made a very informative speech in regard to a technical matter, upon which he showed great knowledge, spoke for the first time from the Labour 2427 benches, so far as I can remember, of the importance of developing our home market. I welcome very much indeed such a suggestion coming from that quarter, and I hope when, from this side, suggestions are made as to some methods—other methods, perhaps—of developing our home markets, so that we shall not be so entirely dependent on foreign markets, we shall obtain the hon. Member's sympathy and not his opposition. That is important when we are considering the question of the reasons for the unemployment from which we are suffering. I regret the pessimistic tone of many speakers to-day. I hope they will be proved wrong in their prophecies about the certainty of a bad winter which is before us. We have had quite enough bad winters and also bad summers, in so far as unemployment is concerned. I hope something will occur to bring about a more regular continuance of our export trade, because I firmly believe that until that is done, and until—
The hon. Member must suggest something that the Board of Trade has done, or should do, or should not have done.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I was simply referring to the speeches of hon. Members opposite, because one of them, in particular, called attention to a remark of the President of the Board of Trade that it was a mistake to assume that we ought to try to develop our Empire trade as an exchange for our European market. Perhaps I shall be on safe ground if I refer to the criticism of the President of the Board of Trade when he said that. I suggest that it is not so much an exchange of markets that we want. It is not the exchange of our European market altogether for an increased market within the Empire. Instead of exchanging one market for another, we want to add one market to the other. We want them both. If we are going to do any good, especially in the cotton trade, with which I am connected, we must do this. In that trade, normally, we are dependent, for 75 per cent. of our trade, on export. I believe that of late the proportions have been about 65 per cent. export trade and 35 per cent. home trade, but normally they are 75 per cent. export and 25 per cent. home. If we are to get that back again 2428 we must not only extend our markets within the Empire but get back what is, after all, our greatest market abroad. I therefore welcome all suggestions, from any quarter of the Committee, which tend to encourage the Government to do anything to improve the European situation. I do not think it is wise of us to attach so much blame to the French as one hon. Member did. After all, it is very difficult to say exactly.
The President of the Board of Trade cannot be responsible for the French. This is a Vote for the Board of Trade in regard to what the Board are doing. If the hon. Member can suggest what they can do, or ought to have done, he will be in order, but he is really going very wide of the Vote.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
An hon. Member opposite was discussing the ease with which a particular messenger of his reached the palms of somebody in the Ruhr, by means of a few 10s. notes, and got some goods into Yorkshire which he had some difficulty in obtaining. I was simply referring to that—not to blame the French at all, but rather let us see if we could adopt some suggestion to bring about a better state of affairs. After all, it is an improvement in the nation that we want. We want to get our mills working again, and I think it a mistake for hon. Members opposite to move to reduce, even by £100, the salary of the right hon. Gentleman when I believe that, though in some respects perhaps he is not doing quite so much as he ought to do in regard to the development of home industries, yet in the main he is thinking all the time how he can help to develop our industries.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
That is how hon. Members of this Committee differ. I would ask hon. Members to settle their differences. What is the good of us all blaming each other? Instead of always saying that the British are no good, that British employers are to blame—we do not say that British workmen are no good—let us proceed on other lines. Let us have a little more understanding. Let us admit to each other that we can do just as much as the foreigners can do, but we must start on an even keel. We 2429 cannot do it if we are handicapped, as we are at present, with a taxation of 35s. a week for every man in the country.
§ Viscount CURZON
May I appeal to you, Mr. Hope, or to the Treasury Bench and to hon. Members opposite to point out that owing to the ruling of the Chair we have not been able to raise any subject relating to the Mercantile Marine, which is a very large part of the Board of Trade Vote. I appeal to you to use your influence to see that this discussion on the salary of the President of the Board of Trade is not unduly prolonged, so that we may have a chance of asking a few questions relating to the British Mercantile Marine.
§ Captain BERKELEY
I should not dream of coming between the hon. and gallant Member and his desire, if it were not for the fact that during the Debate very little has been said about the revival of British trade with Central Europe and the Continent. There are one or two considerations which I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary, particularly in view of the very ominous picture of trade possibilities in the coming months which has been drawn by the President of the Board of Trade, a picture which will be received with consternation and alarm by the country when it reads it to-morrow. The right hon. Gentleman has, indeed, led us to expect a gloomy state of affairs. Export trade diminishing to-day and likely to diminish more in the near future; orders not coming in; prospects nothing like so good as were expected. That is a very different picture from the, I will not say rosy, but more highly tinted vista that was opened up at the beginning of this Parliament, when the late Prime Minister told us, to our great gratification, that it seemed to him that the bottom of slump had been reached, and that we were coming to a point when trade would really revive.
The President of the Board of Trade has reaffirmed the belief of the Government that the future of British trade lies rather in the development of Dominion markets than in seeking to re-establish the trade on the Continent which we used to enjoy. He did not argue the matter 2430 at length, but that was the point that seemed to me the most interesting of his speech. Of course, no one wishes to belittle the importance of trade with the Dominions. Per head of the population, our trade with the Dominions is the most important trade which we have, but we must not allow our pride and gratification at that fact to mislead us. We must remember that our Dominions are relatively sparsely populated, and, when you consider trade in terms of a return per head of the population, that does not mean that your trade with the Dominions is of anything like the same magnitude as the trade used to be with the Continent, and, as I believe, it might be again if the Board of Trade can see their way to investigate the position on the Continent to-day.
My excuse for urging this in this Debate is the fact that I have just returned from Vienna, where I had occasion to go recently, and during my stay there I took every opportunity of consulting experts in the commercial world, members of the chamber of commerce, bankers, and people of standing, with a view to discovering how far it was possible in the near future to hope for a revival of our Central European trade, and I am bound to say, with all diffidence, that, on the whole, I formed a favourable opinion and was encouraged to think that there was a distinct possibility of revival. There are certainly unhealthy signs. For one thing, there are too many bankers in Vienna. For another, I think there are too many employees in the various industries. There are more persons employed than the industries can carry. But apart from that it did seem to me that the stabilisation of the exchange, which has now remained stationary for an encouraging period of nearly a year has brought about a state of affairs in which we might be encouraged to hope for a revival of trade if the trade restrictions existing in those areas—I do not refer merely to trade restrictions existing in Austria, but rather more to those existing in some of the succession States—could be removed.
I do not put this at all as a tariff question, because my information is that the tariffs that exist are not really a serious barrier to trade. What hampers the revival of our trade on the Continent at this moment are such things 2431 as the prohibition of import and export, the requirement of obtaining licences to import and export, and, even more serious, the necessity in some countries for a licence to make a payment for goods. The Government have just negotiated a highly successful commercial Treaty with Czechoslovakia, and I venture to hope that the Noble Lord will be able to tell us that the Government is prepared to pursue a similar policy with other central European States. If the Government were prepared to make friendly representations to these States with a view to the removal of restrictions, I think that the very high standard of our prestige in Central Europe at the present moment would ensure the most serious attention being paid to those representations. I would not only urge the Government, therefore, to consider the possibility of negotiating for commercial Treaties with these States and with Austria and Hungary, but I would also suggest that they might perhaps consider making friendly representations to these countries with a view to obtaining the removal of restrictions as between themselves. Restrictions upon trade between these States are operating to the detriment of the revival of British trade.
May I put one or two specific questions to the Noble Lord with regard to foreign trade generally, and particularly with regard to the export credit scheme to which reference was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull. Will he tell us how far the trading community is making use of that scheme, and whether, in his opinion, the terms of it are sufficiently elastic to obtain the best results? Will he also give us some information with regard to the Trade Facilities Act? Will he say, in view of the fact that the Act provides that loans should be made only for capital expenditure, whether he is satisfied that that is the best use that could be made of the money in view of the fact that the vital need at this moment is to revive our export trade. Finally I should like to ask a question with regard to the trade of Crown Colonies. In view of the fact that the Crown Colonies are, in effect, governed from the Colonial Office, by reason of the existence of official majorities in practically all of them, ought we not to regard the Crown Colonies as in effect forming integral 2432 parts of this country? This has an application to the arguments that were put forward by the hon. Gentleman on my right who spoke a moment or two ago with regard to the development of home markets. What I should like to put to the Noble Lord is this. In the first place, in view of these facts, the Board of Trade ought to recognise that it has a special liability in respect of Crown Colonies, an obligation to safeguard the interests of trading communities there; and, specifically, with regard to the export credit schemes and the Trade Facilities Act, will he tell me if it is possible to make some of the money provided under that scheme and that Act available through the Colonial Office for the financing and carrying on of industries in the Crown Colonies of the Empire?
§ Viscount WOLMER
Perhaps it would suit the general convenience of the Committee if I endeavoured to make some reply to the various points that have been made in this Debate since my right hon Friend the President of the Board of Trade made his remarks, and then that the Committee should pass to the other matters which I know that hon. Members on both sides are anxious to discuss. I am afraid that, although I am much tempted, I cannot at this hour follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Captain Berkeley) into the very big questions upon which he has lightly touched in the course of his interesting remarks. Indeed, those questions would be more properly dealt with by my hon. Friends who have lately been sitting on my right and on my left—the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department.
I desire, however, to deal with some very cogent and important criticisms of the Estimates that were made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Hohler), in regard to what are called the aftermath services that resulted from the War. He asked one or two questions in regard to those services, and perhaps the Committee would like to have a little information concerning them. The hon. Member asked why £6,000 was still necessary for the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies; why the Timber Disposal Department was still in being; and why 2433 there was a Vote for Diverted Cotton Cargoes. These are all matters which are still subject to winding up after the great transactions that took place during the War. I should like to say that the Government and the Board of Trade are doing everything they can to bring these war services to a termination, but where there are large accounts in existence, large claims against the British Government on the part of foreign Governments or private firms, as well as large claims by the British Government against other parties, it would obviously be foolish and unwise to allow our chances of satisfactorily settling these claims to be prejudiced by lack of proper accountancy or proper care at Whitehall.
To show the Committee the magnitude of the amounts that are still involved, I may quote the following figures. Claims are at present outstanding in regard to the Food Department that amount to the sum of £4,000,000; there are claims in regard to wheat and flour that amount to about £6,000,000; and there are claims with regard to timber that amount to nearly £500,000. These are, for the most part, claims which are now before the Law Courts, matters which are either under arbitration or under litigation, and they concern, of course, firms and countries all over the world, for this nation drew its supplies from all over the world during the Great War. Although we are endeavouring to bring, and are indeed bringing, these accounts to an end as quickly as possible, it would be unwise to bring them to an end until these cases have been disposed of. Last year, for instance, the remnants of the Food Department, which has only a very small staff left, obtained a reduction in claims against the Government of over £350,000 more than the total cost of the Department, and a similar saving could be shown in practically every one of these winding lip Departments. It would be false economy to prejudice claims with regard to many millions by saving a few thousands through the premature discharge of staffs.
I hope that the Food Department and the Timber Department will be finally wound up before the end of this financial year, and that all the claims will by then have been disposed of. I trust that this item will not recur after that in our Estimates; 2434 at any rate if it does it will only be to a very small extent.
The hon. and learned Member for Gillingham dealt with the Clearing Office for Enemy Debts and complained that the expenditure was very heavy. I may inform him that every penny of that expenditure is met by Appropriations-in-Aid and therefore the Department costs the country nothing at all. The Clearing Office for Enemy Debts is an organisation set up under the Treaty of Versailles by which debts that were owing by Germans to British subjects and by British subjects to Germans before the War are set against each other after the War, and the money is collected by Clearing Offices in Great Britain and in Germany. The Clearing Office is proceeding to collect for British subjects moneys that were owing to them by German nationals before the War, and a commission of 2½ per cent. is payable on all moneys so collected. Consequently the Office is not costing the country a penny.
Then the hon. and learned Member asked about the Reparation Claims Department. There I come to a branch of the somewhat varied activities of the Board of Trade of which a good deal was heard in the early part of the Debate this afternoon. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) and the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay (Sir C. Burn) spoke about the position of claimants for a share in the £5,000,000 which is being distributed by the Royal Commission in respect of suffering and damage caused by enemy action. With the permission of the Committee, I would like to explain exactly how the matter now stands, and what the position of the Board of Trade is. The history of this £5,000,000 in a nutshell is that during the War a Royal Proclamation invited all British subjects having claims against the enemy for damage or suffering to lodge their claims with a Department of the Foreign Office. On the 4th May, 1920, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), who was then Leader of the House, announced that the Government of the day had decided to allot £5,000,000 out of the first receipts of German reparations as an ex gratia grant in satisfaction of the claims of British subjects against Germany. He also announced at the same time that a Royal Commission 2435 would be appointed to distribute this £5,000,000 among those who had lodged claims against Germany, and who had notified their claims to the Foreign Office under the Royal Proclamation. The Reparation Claims Department of the Board of Trade then came into being, and the function of that Department has been to collect, sort and prepare these claims for submission to the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission was appointed by the late Government in August, 1921, and when they commenced their work they were faced with the fact that they had to distribute a limited sum of £5,000,000 among an unknown number of claimants, because claims had been continuously coming in ever since the Royal Proclamation of 1916. Therefore the Royal Commission had to fix a date after which no claim would be entertained by them and the date fixed was 15th February, 1922. But it transpired that there were certain claimants who had lodged their claims with other Departments than the Reparation Claims Department of the Board of Trade, and the Royal Commission issued a further notice by which they allowed any claimant who had lodged his claim with another Government Department to lodge it with the correct Department by the end of last year.
I desire to make it clear that in the execution of their extremely difficult and invidious duty the Royal Commission have constitutionally a perfectly free hand. They are not under the control of the Board of Trade, or of the Government, or of any Department. They are appointed by His Majesty and their duty is to report. All that the Reparations Claims Department of the Board of Trade can do and has done is to carry out the decisions of the Royal Commission. That Royal Commission has already issued one Report, which deals with claims affecting life, health, and seamen's effects. That Report was issued last January. It deals with 29,000 claims, and nearly all of these have been paid by the Reparations Claims Department. The Royal Commission is now considering some 12,000 property claims—claims concerning damage to property, not only in this country, but property belonging to British subjects in all parts of the world, through enemy action.
§ Dr. SALTER
Do I understand the Noble Lord to say that the seamen's claims have all been disposed of?
§ Viscount WOLMER
No, I said the life and health claims had been dealt with by the first Report. These were claims against Germany, whether they were by seamen or not, in respect of injury to health or in respect of the death of persons upon whom the claimants were dependent, and also in regard to the personal effects of seamen who were torpedoed. These are the claims which were dealt with by the first Report of the Royal Commission in January this year. The Royal Commission is now engaged in considering 12,000 property cases.
§ Viscount WOLMER
If the hon. Member will allow me to finish my explanation, he will see, I think, how the matter stands. The Royal Commission is now engaged in the consideration of about 12,000 property claims. They are all claims in respect to British property damaged by the enemy in all parts of the world. It is hoped that the Royal Commission's Report on these claims will be in the possession of the House before the end of this year, although, of course, it is impossible to give any definite or binding undertaking. As the Committee is also aware, since the Royal Commission's first Report was issued, there has been a large number of new claims, presented to the Reparations Claims Department of the Board of Trade, or sent to hon. Members by their constituents and by them forwarded, from persons who allege that they were unaware that they should have applied to the Royal Commission before. February, 1922, and who are now for the first time making their claims.
§ Viscount WOLMER
A large proportion of them are seamen. There are 15,000 such claimants. The hon. Member for Linlithgow, in the course of his remarks, asked why I had given varying figures as to the number of claims received. The explanation is a very simple one. It is that a great many of the property claimants, who had claimed in time, and whose claims were not covered by the first Report, sent in fresh claims on the publication of that Report, and the De- 2437 partment was so overwhelmed with correspondence that for a month or two it was impossible to examine these claims fully and discover that they were duplicated, as many thousands of them were. As far as our present information goes, there are some 15,000 belated claimants who have for the first time made application for a share in the £5,000,000. Hon. Members, speaking in this Debate, have asked the President of the Board of Trade to be sympathetic with the belated claimants. I can assure the Committee that there is nobody more sympathetic with all seamen than is the Board of Trade, but this is a matter in which the Board of Trade has no authority. It is purely a question for the Royal Commission, and I can assure the Committee that all the facts have been placed fully before the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
In the event of the Royal Commission deciding not to consider any further claims or to pay any claims submitted to them, would the Board of Trade or this Committee have no power to deal with them?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I should not like to say that the stream of new claims has ceased. It is not of such big volume as it was, but it still continues. It has abated if you like, but it has by no means stopped. In regard to the question the hon. Member for Linlithgow asked, I think I must ask him to wait until the Royal Commission has reported. As he is aware, the Royal Commission has said in its first Report that it will consider any case which for exceptional reasons was not sent in in time. If any claimant can satisfy the Royal Commission that for a sufficient and good reason he did not send in a claim within the prescribed date, the Royal Commission have announced that they will treat it as a claim which is not belated. I can assure the hon. Member and the Committee that every one of those 15,000 claims will be individually examined by the Reparation Claims Department, acting on behalf of the Royal Commission, and any claim 2438 that is, in the opinion of the Royal Commission, an exceptional claim will be dealt with as if it were not belated.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Do I understand that, in the case of applicants who claimed originally from another Government Department, but whose cases were not forwarded to the proper Department by 31st December last year, their claims will be disallowed? I have several such cases before me, and it seems hard that indidividuals who have lodged their claims with one Department, but not with the right Department, should not have their claims considered.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I will be glad if my hon. Friend will bring such cases to my notice, and I can assure him I will go personally into them.
§ Sir STANLEY JOHNSON
Will the Noble Lord tell the Committee what money has been paid to claimants whose claims have been reported on in the Interim Report of the Commission?
§ Viscount WOLMER
Yes. None of the costs of administration are taken out of the £5,000,000. All that is borne on the Board of Trade Vote. The £5,000,000 go wholly and solely to the claimants. I would only add that the President of the Board of Trade is making every effort to get this matter cleared up and finished as soon as he possibly can. In other Departments we are cutting down the staffs as rapidly as possible, but in this Department, in order to cope with the tremendous rush of claimants that has taken place since the publication of the Interim Report, we have found it necessary very largely to increase the personnel in order to get through the work as speedily as possible. Although I hope it will not be necessary to have a Supplementary Estimate to meet the increased cost, yet I can assure the Committee that even that will not deter the Board of Trade from seeing that this matter is dealt with as rapidly as possible.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Is it not the case that in the Estimate for the coming financial year the personnel is 92 as against 161 last year?
§ Viscount WOLMER
Yes, but since then we have increased the personnel because of this great rush of work, and the figure 92 is lower than the number of persons who are at this moment employed. This matter has gone on for so long that we are anxious to bring it to an end as speedily as possible. I hope that gives the Committee the information that they want on this matter of the £5,000,000, and now I venture to express the hope that we may be allowed to pass to other Votes on which I know hon. Members on both sides would like to say something.
§ Sir BURTON CHADWICK
It may perhaps interest the Committee to know that I have a letter from the Mercantile Marine Service Association, in which they express the greatest congratulations to the Reparations Claims Department for the way in which these claims have been dealt with, courteously and, as far as they can be in such a complicated matter, expeditiously.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
What does the Noble Lord consider to be exceptional reasons with regard to these claims? He has told us that the House is practically powerless in this matter, because it is entirely in the hands of the Royal Commission. Many hon. Members must have had very hard cases brought to their notice by widows and others on this particular point, and I submit that before we pass from this Vote we, as guardians and trustees for those who are unable to help themselves, may quite legitimately ask for the guidance of this Committee. The Noble Lord has said it is a matter for the Royal Commission. We have all had the most courteous replies from the Noble Lord, but that does not carry the matter very far, and I want to press on the Government this question, as to how far these belated claims are going to be ruled out from getting any recognition by the Royal Commission unless they can be shown to be exceptional cases. May I put a typical case? These are poor, ignorant women, who, not seeing the papers in which this notice was given, were not 2440 aware that they were entitled to make any claim or to have any assistance in this way, and it was only when a neighbour, another widow, who had had the good fortune to see these notices, had made a claim and got her money that the other persons realised that they were in justice entitled to some claim. Would that be an exceptional case, and, if not, what power have the House of Commons to assist the Royal Commission in dealing with this matter? Surely the question of justice does not depend on the particular time at which a claim is made, and if the hands of the Royal Commission are tied by the limit of the £5,000,000, surely the power is in the hands of the Government to assist the Royal Commission, and further extend the date, if necessary, by supplementing this amount.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member asks me what is to be considered an exceptional reason. My answer is that I do not know. As I have explained to the Committee, the Royal Commission at the present moment is at work on the property claims which were in time, and these belated claims must necessarily wait until the property claims have been disposed of.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I hope they will be disposed of before the end of this year. What the Royal Commission, when it has considered all the facts of the case, will decide is an exceptional case I do not know; nor, I think, does the Royal Commission know either. But in any case we cannot affect the decision of the Royal Commission. We must wait until the Royal Commission has reported, and then it will be for the House, if it considers further action is necessary, to take that action, for the remedy lies with it. At the present moment the matter is in the hands of the Royal Commission.
§ Sir JOHN BUTCHER
Might I ask the Noble Lord as to the compensation:n connection with the air raids? Some of those concerned have suffered very severely and have not yet got anything. Might I ask if these cases could be considered as quickly as possible?
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £262,448, be granted for the said Service."2442
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 145; Noes, 214.2443
|Division No. 298.]||AYES.||[10.24 p.m.|
|Adams, D.||Hartshorn, Vernon||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hay, Captain J. P. (Cathcart)||Phillipps, Vivian|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill)||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (N'castle, E.)||Potts, John S.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Herriotts, J.||Pringle, W. M. R.|
|Attlee, C. R.||Hill, A.||Richards, R.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hinds, John||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Barnes, A.||Hirst, G. H.||Riley, Ben|
|Batey, Joseph||Hodge, Lieut.-Col. J. P. (Preston)||Ritson, J.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hutchison, Sir R. (Kirkcaldy)||Roberts, C. H. (Derby)|
|Bennett, A. J. (Mansfield)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Roberts, Frederick O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Bonwick, A.||Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Bowdier, W. A.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Broad, F. A.||Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)||Saklatvala, S.|
|Brotherton, J.||Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East)||Salter, Dr. A.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Buckie, J.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sexton, James|
|Burgess, S.||Jones, R. T. (Carnarvon)||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Burnie, Major J. (Bootle)||Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East)||Shinwell, Emanuel|
|Buxton, Charles (Accrington)||Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Simpson, J. Hope|
|Clarke, Sir E. C.||Kenyon, Barnet||Smith, T. (Pontefract)|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kirkwood, D.||Snell, Harry|
|Cotts, Sir William Dingwall Mitchell||Lansbury, George||Snowden, Philip|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lawson, John James||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Leach, W.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Duffy, T. Gavan||Lee, F.||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Duncan, C.||Linfield, F. C.||Sullivan, J.|
|Dunnico, H.||Lowth, T.||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Edge, Captain Sir William||Lunn, William||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Edmonds, G.||MacDonald, J. R. (Aberavon)||Tillett, Benjamin|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||M'Entee, V. L.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.||McLaren, Andrew||Warne, G. H.|
|England, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Evans, Ernest (Cardigan)||March, S.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|George, Major G. L. (Pembroke)||Marshall, Sir Arthur H.||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Gosling, Harry||Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.)||Westwood J.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Middleton, G.||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Millar, J. D.||Whiteley, W.|
|Gray, Frank (Oxford)||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Greenall, T.||Morel, E. D.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Morris, Harold||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Muir, John W.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Groves, T.||Murnin, H.||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Greedy, T. W.||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Wright, W.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Murray, R. (Renfrew, Western)||Young, Rt. Hon. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||O'Grady, Captain James||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Hancock, John George||Oliver, George Harold|
|Hardie, George D.||Paling, W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Spoor and Mr. T. Griffiths.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Brass, Captain W.||Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton, East)||Brassey, Sir Leonard||Conway, Sir W. Martin|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Priggs, Harold||Cope, Major William|
|Apsley, Lord||Brown, Major D. C. (Hexham)||Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid W.||Brown, J. W. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Astor, J. J. (Kent, Dover)||Bruford, R.||Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Bruton, Sir James||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Buckingham, Sir H.||Curzon, Captain Viscount|
|Banks, Mitchell||Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Barlow, Rt. Hon. Sir Montague||Burn, Colonel Sir Charles Rosdew||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Burney, Corn. (Middx., Uxbridge)||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)|
|Becker, Harry||Butcher, Sir John George||Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Butt, Sir Alfred||Dawson, Sir Philip|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Button, H. S.||Doyle, N. Grattan|
|Bennett, Sir T. J. (Sevenoaks)||Cadogan, Major Edward||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Berry, Sir George||Cassels, J. D.||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Ellis, R. G.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Faile, Major Sir Bertram Godfray|
|Bird, Sir William B. M. (Chichester)||Chapman, Sir S.||Fawkes, Major F. H.|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Churchman, Sir Arthur||Fermor-Hesketh, Major T.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Clayton, G. C.||Flanagan, W. H.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Ford, Patrick Johnston|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Rogerson, Capt. J. E.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Rothschild, Lionel de|
|Furness, G. J.||Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Lorden, John William||Ruggles-Brise, Major E.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Lorimer, H. D.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R.||Lort-Williams, J.||Russell, William (Bolton)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Lougher, L.||Russell-Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Gould, James C.||Loyd, Arthur Thomas (Abingdon)||Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A.|
|Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Lumley, L. R.||Sanderson, Sir Frank B.|
|Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Manville, Edward||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Margesson, H. D. R.||Shipwright, Captain D.|
|Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W. (Liv'p'l, W. D'by)||Mercer, Colonel H.||Singleton, J. E.|
|Halstead, Major D.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw||Skelton, A. N.|
|Harvey, Major S. E.||Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Hawke, John Anthony||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Molloy, Major L. G. S.||Stewart, Gershom (Wirral)|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Stott, Lt.-Col. W. H.|
|Herbert, Col. Hon. A. (Yeovil)||Murchison, C. K.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Herbert, S. (Scarborough)||Nall, Major Joseph||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Hewett, Sir J. P.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid H.|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Newson, Sir Percy Wilson||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Hiley, Sir Ernest||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Nield, Sir Herbert||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Hopkins, John W. W.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Wallace, Captain E.|
|Houfton, John Plowright||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.)||Paget, T. G.||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K.||Parker, Owen (Kettering)||Watts, Dr. T. (Man., Withington)|
|Hudson, Capt. A.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Wells, S. R.|
|Hughes, Collingwood||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Weston, Colonel John Wakefield|
|Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Peto, Basil E.||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Philipson, Mabel||White, Lieut.-Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Hutchison, G. A. C. (Midlothian, N.)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hutchison, W. (Kelvingrove)||Raeburn, Sir William H.||Winterton, Earl|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Raine, W.||Wise, Frederick|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Rawson, Lieut.-Com. A. C.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Jodrell, Sir Neville Paul||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Wood, Maj. Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Johnson, Sir L. (Walthamstow, E.)||Remer, J. R.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Rentoul, G. S.||Yerburgh, R. D. T.|
|Joynson-Hicks, Sir William||Reynolds, W. G. W.|
|Kennedy, Captain M. S. Nigel||Rhodes, Lieut.-Col. J. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Colonel|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Robertson-Despencer, Major (Islgtn, W.)||the Rt. Hon. G. A. Gibbs.|
|Lamb, J. Q.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)|
Original Question put, and agreed to.