§ "That a sum, not exceeding £262,548, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments, including certain Services arising out of the War and Grants-in-Aid."
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
I owe no apology to the House for commencing a further discussion to-day of the extremely important question of the position of our trade and the contribution that was made to this subject by the President of the Board of Trade in his speech of the 18th July last. I think that everyone who has any knowledge of business affairs feels a certain amount of disquietude and discouragement from the fact that what appeared some months ago to be a wave of prosperity and the return of more normal conditions has received a check, and those who are well qualified to speak on this subject have some apprehension as to what is going to happen within the next few months and the coming winter. Therefore there is no subject to which this House can address itself to with more seriousness and better effect than the question of our trade position. I do not propose to go into departmental details, but I will confine my remarks more to the general aspect of our position and what steps, if any, can be taken to improve the conditions as they exist to-day.
The right hon. Gentleman, in a speech he made the other day, pointed out that we had had a setback at the beginning of the year in our export trade. It was anticipated, at the time we had a change of Government, that the coming into 754 office of that stable, peaceful and tranquil body would improve trade conditions. It is only a melancholy satisfaction to those who did not entertain those anticipations now to realise that these results had not taken place. It is somewhat difficult on this subject for people outside to understand what is the immediate function of my right hon. Friend, and for what he is responsible. It is quite impossible to review the trade position without taking a wide view. Of course, I do not hold him responsible for what I may consider the errors of his colleagues, but still he has a joint responsibility. The main reason for the diminution of our trade to-day is to be found in the condition of foreign affairs in Europe, and especially in the position in the Ruhr, and I think it would be of great advantage to this country if some more authoritative opinion could be expressed by the right hon. Gentleman's Department as to the actual result on British trade of the French occupation of the Ruhr. I am inclined to share my right hon. Friend's view—indeed, I do not think it would be seriously contested in any quarter—that if into the network of commerce one introduces a violent disturbance, although it may benefit some particular body, the world trade, as a whole, must suffer. There is a great difference of opinion, even among those able men of business whose judgment I respect, and who take the view that the effects of these events are very much exaggerated. It seems to me it would be a very good thing if the right hon. Gentleman would prepare some memorandum, to be issued to the Press if the House is not sitting, of the character I have suggested, because it would give greater confidence to those interested in trade.
It would not be right on this Vote to go into the question of the Ruhr, which was to have been debated to-day from the Foreign Office point of view, and I do not therefore propose to enter upon that subject, except to say that I must confess to feeling some disappointment that more energetic action has not been taken in order to reach a final agreement on this subject with those with whom we are co-operating. Those who deal with these matters at the Foreign Office have nothing to do with trade. One result is that time appears to them to be absolutely no object. Negotiations proceed in leisurely fashion, the Ambassadors visit 755 each other, people go on holidays, and in the meantime the ruin is growing fast day by day. Take, for instance, the rate of exchange in Germany at the time the Note was issued on 7th June, compare it with the position to-day and see what a kaleidoscopic change has resulted while we have been discussing with our Allies the reply. Such a situation cannot go on. As every engineer knows, there is a point at which any material, however lasting, will snap, and economics are in a similar position. At the present time something urgent needs to be done, although it is difficult, of course, with the imperfect knowledge which we have, to suggest exactly what that action should be. Undoubtedly the whole situation—the whole European situation—is causing great damage to the trade and industry of this country. As soon as a political disturbance occurs it is reflected in trade, and what has been happening in the City of London during the last two or three weeks proves that, as promotions have been at an absolute standstill owing to a want of confidence and very often to a somewhat exaggerated idea that diplomatic Notes and discussions between the Allies must necessarily lead to very grave results. When my right hon. Friend says he is told by the manufacturers and bankers that orders are not coming in and that trade is slowing down it must be realised that undoubtedly one of the most serious factors in bringing about that result is the position of affairs in Europe. Of course, we have only a certain amount of control over Europe, but I hope more energy and determination will be shown than has been shown in the last few months. We are not the sole arbiters of what may happen in this respect, but one naturally turns to see whether, in the present state of affairs, there are not other steps that ought to be taken—steps which can be taken and which are under our control in order to benefit trade and industry and to reduce that vast burden of unemployment, the shadow of which has overhung us like a leaden pall for so many years.
I confess I was disappointed and could not possibly agree with the statement the right hon. Gentleman made as to what he considered should be our attitude towards trade with Russia. I hold no brief for the Soviet Government. I have no interests in Russia, and I wish to see 756 Great Britain get what business it can. From the information which reaches me from reliable sources of different kinds the markets of Russia are reopening for manufactured goods of all kinds, and, as far as I can gather, Great Britain is getting a very small share of that business in comparison with more energetic competitors from other countries, especially America. The right hon. Gentleman, in a speech he made the other day, when challenged on this subject, uttered the following observation:Suppose that I did to-morrow put the whole benefit of the export credits machinery before English traders to assist them in their Russian credit, would one of them take advantage of it? The export credit system is that the British Government take part of the risks 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 had been re-established which are necessary for all sound business."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July 1923; col. 2396, Vol. 166.]I think the right hon. Gentleman overlooks one fact, and that is the psychological effect of a Government Department either assisting or not assisting trade with a certain country. The mere fact that his Department refuses to treat Russian trade as it does other trade influences quite a considerable number of people in forming the conclusion that it is quite impossible to do any trade with Russia at all. They say, "If the Government, which is better informed than we are, has come to this conclusion, it is not worth our while even to investigate." Obviously, one of the difficulties of a private firm wanting to do any trade with Russia is the difficulty of obtaining such information as the right hon. Gentleman can obtain from our trade delegation in Moscow. Therefore, his statement is not really the fact. I know of cases in which the argument I am adducing has had enormous weight. You may be prepared to take a certain risk yourself, but you may not be prepared to take the whole risk yourself. Therefore, the fact that the Government comes in to some extent under an export credits scheme or a trade facilities scheme does assist trade of that kind to be reestablished. The mere feeling that the 757 British Government has a trade delegation at Moscow has a very considerable influence, because, if they are at the back of the trader, he feels, naturally, more secure than if he has nothing at his back at all. I have had put in my hand papers of an absolutely authoritative character on this very point. The information put before me by an important organisation is that:Several contracts have come before our notice during the past few months which indicate that the belief of the President of the Board of Trade is not well founded, but on the same day that this speech was made a particular instance came to our notice in which British firms were willing to take their fair share of the risks to which he refers in order to bring to this country a large power station contract of the value of over £2,000,000 which would provide a great deal of employment now and would continue to do so from developments and replacements in the future. The chance of bringing these contracts to this country has been jeopardised by the absence of Government support to the firms concerned, such as is afforded by other Governments to firms in their countries tendering for these contracts.I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has the details of this contract. I have not got them myself. There you have one large contract which certainly might have been secured, and which would have been of assistance. I think it is a mistake to endeavour to mix up what I might call the diplomatic and Foreign Office side of the question with the trade side of the question. I have always felt that it is almost a pity that the Trade Delegation at Moscow is not under the Department of my right hon. Friend instead of the Foreign Office, because I have never found that business and diplomacy mingle well together. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will further investigate this question. I have myself only lately realised that there is a considerable growing market in Russia, where conditions have changed very much in the last 12 months. I hope he will not allow our chances of trade to be jeopardised, because this question has lately got mixed up with political questions, such as recognition.
There is another market of great importance to this country which also is suffering, and I am afraid is suffering very much, owing to disturbed conditions, and that is China. I was informed the other day by one of our representa- 758 fives in China that he had never known the country in such a bad condition. There, again, it is impossible to say how much a Government can help or not help in assisting conditions. It is a question on which I would not like to dogmatise, but I do think that information ought to be collected to see whether there is any power or authority which the British Government possess, owing to their many years of straight dealing with foreign countries and their great prestige, and which they could use to get conditions improved. It would be a great thing, particularly to the textile industry—because China is one of the greatest consuming centres, much more important than some of those small European States about which we hear so much—if we could bring about better conditions there.
Let us turn from the export trade to a problem to which my right hon. Friend referred, and in which he and I were jointly interested, and which we have much more under our own control. I have been for some time an advocate of that Empire development which has become very fashionable today, but I must confess that I was disappointed at the amount of support one got in cash, and I am informed that the situation has not much changed since I left office. Over two years ago I advocated that the British Government should boldly come out with a loan in order to finance the Crown Colonies and, if necessary, some of the Dominions. If you rely merely on the amount of credit that these countries can get on their present development, it is obvious that the rate of progress must be extremely slow. The one thing that we in this country do maintain is a good national credit. It is one of the great assets that we have got. It is an extraordinary paradox that, though you have Members getting up in this House and poining to Germany and saying, "Look at bankrupt Germany," yet there is no unemployment there: new factories, new hydro-electric works, and new canals are being built. I was myself in Germany last year, and I was struck with the same fact. Two-thirds of the Bavarian State railways are to be electrified next year. When I said to the Germans, "You are bankrupt," they replied," Certainly, but we are just going on." When they have finished they will have their fac- 759 tories and cheap power and be in an economic condition to compete. That is what people forget. They forget, too, that it is the same in France.
What does all this show? It shows that we are much too timid to use the much better credit that we have in order to bring this country into a competitive condition. I cannot see how we are going to benefit by it. We sit here with a better exchange and a reduced debt, but all our competitors have cheaper methods of production to drive our goods out of the markets of the world. It is not my idea as a manufacturer. I have always found that the man who has the cheapest costs of production is the man who holds the market. I am not concerned with his capital costs. If he can produce cheaper than anybody else, he can go on making a profit when the other man is bankrupt. Surely we have now tested whether trade will normally revive. It will not. At the best, even if we settle all these troubles in the next month, it will take a long time. We still have this vast army of unemployment. Winter after winter and summer after summer you have said that things are going to get better, and then, in August or October, the Cabinet Committee on Unemployment meets and you begin to discuss schemes. At the same time you are told, as I was told, that there is no money, and every time it has proved not true. There is money. This country raised a gigantic sum during the War. I do not say that is a reason why you should spend money, but it does show what the country can do if necessary. Surely it is absurd to say that the financial resources of this country are so limited that you cannot squeeze a few hundred million in order to get on with the work. We can find loans for Austria. Every possible country in the world is raising money on the London market. The only loan that we do not find is a loan to develop our own Empire and our own country.
It is an obsession which has seized some people, that the only thing to do is to sit quiet and try to pay our debt. Look at our exchange—and we are starving to death. Yet it is called sound finance. It may be national destruction. I do not believe it is either the one or the other. If your schemes are reasonably sound, as they ought to be, you will very 760 soon get a return for what you are doing. The Trade Facilities Act has been somewhat disappointing. The only real trade facility is to help people who are in difficulty to get money cheaply; otherwise, it has no object at all. If the trade facilities are extended merely to those who are thought to have the better security, they will never achieve what they are meant to achieve; and the amount of money guaranteed is quite insufficient. The export credits scheme has suffiered very much from the same kind of basis. Obviously, if the Government wants to put its credit at the disposal of traders it must not be afraid occasionally of making a bad debt. Governments can afford to make a bad debt when individuals cannot. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly. Not merely that, but individuals sometimes can make more money if they are not afraid of making bad debts. I remember a manager of a firm with which I was connected pointing with pride to the fact that despite a large turnover he had only made one bad debt of £5. I asked him if he realised how much profit he had missed through being anxious not to make any bad debts. In normal circumstances, we think of these things, but we are not in normal circumstances; we are in abnormal circumstances. Therefore one feels that action should be taken.
We are going to have the Imperial Economic Conference. I am very glad, and I only hope that it will be conducted on real economic lines. I hope it will not be allowed to develop into a series of platitudinous resolutions, as conferences so often do, or into any attempt to bolster up a policy of Tariff Reform by some kind of mysterious preferences. Either of these developments would be equally detrimental, equally to be deprecated, and of very little help. At the present moment it is not by building up difficulties that you are going to make trade flow, but by pulling them down. Therefore, I hope the Imperial Conference, over which, I understand, my right hon. Friend is going to preside, will have really practical questions put before it, and I hope it will also deal with them in a serious and practical way. The only assistance that is really practical is financial assistance. I remember a scheme for assisting the finances of the Indian railways to an extent far beyond what the, Indian 761 Government could raise, and it seemed to me at the time that that would offer a field of very great importance, in which a great deal of employment could be given to the people of this country, and in which money could usefully be invested. I hope that at the Conference questions of that kind will not merely be explored, but that, if possible, some arrangement will be come to.
Then there is the further question of our home trade. We are always talking about our export trade, because the Board of Trade publishes figures for exports and imports, but no one publishes any figures about our home trade, although it is, after all, our biggest trade. Is there not something more that can be done there? I have a few positive suggestions. A very eminent and useful body was established when the Electricity Commission was set up, and it has been busily engaged in endeavouring to co-ordinate the large electrical supply stations and our whole system of electric supply in the future; but, like many innovations of this character, it is having a retarding effect on operations at present, and I am assured that there would be a great deal more business for the electrical industry to-day if, instead of so many inquiries being held, more decisions were come to, and people were allowed to place orders. I do not wish to criticise in any way the personnel of the Electricity Commission, but there are two things that I should like to say. Firstly, I think their number is much too small to enable them to get through the vast amount of work that has to be done; and, secondly, I believe the chairman of such a Committee should not be a technical man, but should be a non-technical man, who would be less inclined to go into considerations of detail and more inclined to come to a decision.
This question is a serious one. I devoted some time to it a considerable time ago, and it is remarkable what a number of schemes have been held up, and how much money has not been spent in electrical industries, simply because negotiations have been pending with local authorities and power supply stations, and inquiries have dragged on, as they usually do, but nothing has been done. Anything that could be done to speed up these matters would be of real practical use. Then you have the question of the 762 electrification of the railways, and other questions of that kind. Surely, some greater stimulus should be given in the case of some of these problems. The Minister of Transport used to exercise a very considerable stimulating influence in that direction, and I think an appeal ought to be made. A great deal was done in America, when they had a very severe wave of unemployment, by making appeals to employers, and people who had orders to place, to get together and see what could be done. The result was very remarkable. People in this country are not deaf to appeals of this character. The War showed that an appeal made in the right spirit always met with a response. A great many people, however, are unimaginative, and do not visualise. I believe that if the Prime Minister himself, with his great experience of trade, would use his personal influence with some of the great railway amalgamations to hurry up and put into operation schemes which they dare not carry out in view of the slackness of our trade and the difficulties of our employment, I am certain that a much more ready response would be obtained. At any rate, I think it is well worth trying, and ought to be tried. The right hon. Gentleman may object that I am anxious that the Government should interfere too much in business. I am not. I am the last person in the world to want to interfere with business in its normal course, but we are living in abnormal conditions, and the Government are the guardians of our trade. The right hon. Gentleman knows that much could be done which would stimulate and. help our trade in the very serious position in which we are at present. Of course, there are other factors, with which the right hon. Gentleman is not immediately connected. We might have fewer industrial disputes, and more co-operation between Labour and capital. That would certainly be of assistance.
§ Sir A. MOND
There would be fewer starvation wages, and, indeed, more wages altogether, if there were fewer disputes. There are also further questions in connection with our whole system of transportation, both roads and canals, and works of that kind. I am not going into the canal question, It is a very 763 controversial one, and various opinions have been expressed upon it by many Commissions which have considered it. I am not sure myself that there is not more to be done than has been assumed. We have never had really impartial reports or investigations on the question, but I think that opportunities would be found there of using money to advantage, money which would have a permanent future value. Then there is the question of the development of hydro-electric schemes, and especially the development of the tides. It is high time that some attention was given to that question. The French Government are devoting large sums of money to very important experiments on the coast of Normandy on the question of utilising the tides for hydro-electric purposes, and I understand that schemes are now proceeding. We made some few preliminary investigations on the Severn, but the matter requires a great deal more investigation, and there seems to be no reason why we should not develop a very large source of hydro-electric power in that direction. That would in itself be a very great benefit, but, as I said earlier in my speech, it is no use merely tinkering with the question; we must look to the future in relation to what our competitors are doing.
There is, of course, one very heavy burden, which is the fundamental cause of almost all our depression, namely—and this is not the first time I have said this—overtaxation in this country. The whole financial policy of overtaxation is to my mind just like sitting on a man's chest and stopping him from getting up. You are causing a great deal of the depression about which you complain, and which you are trying to remedy in other respects. We have, in my opinion, deflated much more rapidly than was wise. Hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Benches are, curiously enough, anxious to deflate even much more rapidly, but that would produce an amount of unemployment which would stagger us. They are proposing to redeem huge blocks of War Debt, which, of course, would be deflation on a very big scale. I do not want to get too far away from the problem, but it is difficult, when dealing with the whole problem of trade, not to point out one of the more fundamental reasons why 764 trade is depressed, and the course which the Government have in their own hands.
I do not take quite as gloomy a view as the right hon. Gentleman did in his speech, but perhaps I am more fortunate in that the industries in which I am personally interested are not in a depressed condition. I want to take, however, a rather wider view than that. The harvests of the world this year are; going to be very good, and, after all, all trade consists fundamentally in the exchange of industrial commodities for food products. The harvest in Canada, I understand, is going to be a record, and the harvests of the United States, of India, and of other countries are going to be good. Farmers, therefore, are going to be prosperous, and that ought to give a stimulus all round to consumption, which, one may hope, will counteract to a considerable extent the present unfortunate state of things. It may, therefore, well be that the depression will give place to a rise, or that, at any rate, there will not be any further fall. We must not, however, neglect to do everything which is in our power, and there are many things to be done which are within our power. I am a great believer in the future of industry, and particularly of British industry. We have not yet seriously begun the application of scientific methods and thought to industry. I am quite convinced that the world production in the next 50 years will be much greater than it has been in the last 100 years, and, therefore, I do not look lugubriously on the future. I do not believe in the decay of British trade or British industry. Our geograpical position has always secured for us the premier position in the world, both as a distributing and as a manufacturing centre. Our financial position has always maintained its strength. Therefore, I think we can look to the future with confidence, but we have to surmount the present, and, therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who specially represents the interests of industry in the Government, not to allow his particular branch, which is so important to our Stability and prosperity, to be overlooked among the many things that are pressed upon every Government, whatever its complexion may be. I hope he will keep up his end, and I know that if he does, he will rightly earn the gratitude of the commercial community in this country.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
Having listened for some 30 minutes to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) advocating what is, in essence, the Capital Levy policy of the Labour party, I think it is time that some of us who still retain a little faith in private enterprise, in sound finance, and even in free trade, should, at any rate, register a protest. What is the policy that the right hon. Gentleman advocates? He advocates Government borrowing, inflation of currency, and inflation of credit. I think that that is a fair description of his policy. He says, let us extend such things as export credits; let us borrow money and develop the tides as a source of power—as though the power supply available in this country was not ample for any trade we are likely to get for some time to come. The development of the tides as a source of power is one of those specious things to which, probably, every engineer in his early youth devotes, as I did, much time and thought; but, with a little more experience of these problems, and a little more experience of commercial matters, one is soon led to believe that it is simply a fallacy.
§ Sir A. MOND
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but is he aware of the very important work on that subject which is being done in France?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
As an engineer, I am inclined to think, and I believe I have some justification for it, that in engineering the French, at any rate up to the present, have not been able to teach us very much.
To return to the main argument, the right hon. Gentleman tells us that the Government ought to strain the national credit to its utmost; that instead of deflating, instead of making arrangements which will shortly enable us to fund the debt and to reduce taxation, we should continue to inflate, and, if I may thus express it, to get our liquid capital into a congealed state. All that he asks us to do is to reduce the credit of the country, in other words to bring about a capital levy. I am very sorry there are so few Members of the Labour party here, because if the Labour party intends to advocate a capital levy it is very desirable, in order that they may 766 put their arguments well and clearly before the people of the country, that they should study speeches like that of the right hon. Gentleman. After all, inflation is nothing else but a capital levy, and when the right hon. Gentleman says, look at the state of France, with no unemployment, and look at the state of Germany, with no unemployment, he forgot to tell the House that there is no unemployment in France or Germany because they are living in the main upon capital and not upon income. Everyone knows that those who invested their savings in Germany in industrial stocks or in banks or in what were supposed to be gilt-edged securities of the Government of Germany, have lost every penny of their investment, there has been a complete confiscation of the capital of the middle classes and the professional classes. Moreover, there is taking place at present an equally complete confiscation of the property of the rentier of France. I mention these matters because I am convinced really that the right hon. Gentleman did not believe a single word of what he was saying. Unhappily, during the life-time of the late Government it fell to him, as having one of the clearest minds in that Government, to advocate pernicious doctrines from that box. He made most convincing speeches in favour of Protection, in favour of the key industry policy, and of other economic heresies. Instead of coming here to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, as one might have done a few years ago, putting forward sound economic arguments upon which a sound economic policy might be based, that unhappy habit of his, acquired in the time of the late Government, of seeing whether he could not make the weaker argument the stronger and make every economic fallacy appear sound—and I must admit he did it with most remarkable success—has grown upon him until finally he gives such a pitiful, such a painful, and such a melancholy exhibition as we have had this afternoon.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I should like to take up the line in regard to the prophecies which are being made in respect of our trade and commerce during the coming winter. I suppose it has been brought to the attention of the hon. Gentleman that a representation has been made to the Prime Minister, I suppose, largely based upon his own speech, in which he gave 767 such a gloomy view of the months which are approaching with regard to the question of the employment of our people. I notice it has almost become the fashion nowadays to ascribe the whole of the woes of our people to the late War. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has told us that the unemployment, the misery and the distress that confront our people are the aftermath of the War. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) told us that to some extent it is due to strikes, and that if it were not for strikes and trade disputes our people would be receiving better wages than they are doing. Unfortunately, there is a strike at present in the East End of London brought about because the men protested against their miserable wages being forced to a still lower level. Most trade disputes arise at periods like this out of the question of wage reductions. It is indicative of the hopeless attempt of the mass of the workers to retain a little of the standard that they had a year or two ago. We have trouble now looming on the railways because of the attempted reduction of wages. These disputes always arise out of the attempt of the men to retain their standard, whereas the hon. Member has just told us that if it were not for these disputes wages would be better than they are at present. What with this talk about the aftermath of the War and the wastage of wealth during the War, which I do not believe for a moment has anything to do with the question—[Interruption.] I should admit at once that the War caused tremendous destruction or wastage of labour, but after all, we are not bankrupt. The world is not bankrupt. No country can be bankrupt. Natural demand continues to exist. How much raw material was wasted? As a matter of fact, during the War we wasted certain years of productive labour, but nature still produces.
The right hon. Baronet told us that we are in for a record harvest. The curious thing is that when I first saw the statement with regard to the record harvest and the likelihood of tremendous crops in Canada, that same report came to the conclusion that the farmers might be ruined—the very men who had produced the corn might be ruined because there was too much production. That is 768 a very remarkable state of affairs. Nature is not niggardly. She produces in profusion, and because she does so capitalist newspapers and writers come to the conclusion that the men who have produced the profusion are going to be ruined. Even Russia, after all her experience of the last three of four years, is now talking of exporting corn and, I understand, has placed an order in Scotland for an enormous quantity of sacks for the purpose of exporting her surplus. So, from the point of view of natural production, the War has not injured us at all. From the point of view of industrial capital, surely the world is not poorer now than it was in 1914. So far as I can gather, every producing nation in the world is richer from the point of view of real industrial capital than ever it was before They have more factories, more machinery, more steel plant, than ever they had. Invention has been piled upon invention, machinery has been produced almost out of recognition, the power of man to produce was never so great in the history of the world, and therefore I conclude that, from the point of view of the actual method of producing real industrial capital, the world is as rich or richer than she was in 1914. Certainly scientific knowledge is indefinitely more profound and deep than in 1914. All the factors are there for wealth production. In the War we used steel and coal rather more than we have been doing. The use of coal and steel and raw material during the War has materially depleted the world's stocks, but to assume that the world is poor because, forsooth, we wasted a certain amount of time between 1914 and 1918 is sheer futility. It is the sheer inability of capital itself to adapt itself to the new conditions that prevail. The natural demand is there all the time, and yet we are told, in face of all this, the surplus of production of food and machinery and the scientific knowledge, that next winter our people will be face to face with poverty, misery and starvation, and that the Government can do nothing at all, they have no proposal to make, and can give no help whatever, and we are told we must hesitate and we must be careful as to what we do lest, forsooth, we introduce some evil new principle which will bring ruin and degradation upon our people and will ruin our industry.
769 It seems to me that our industry is in a fair way of being ruined at present, and the difficulty is that the ruin is coming upon those who have no resources whatever. When I spoke last week I was taken to task by hon. Members opposite because I said I had very little sympathy with the men who had brought us to the difficult pass in which we find ourselves now. I have no hesitation in saying that this country is where it is because of the deplorable policy of the late Prime Minister laid down at Versailles instead of attempting to pursue a policy of reconciliation and friendship which would have led to the reconstruction of the broken life of Europe. We had wonderful pictures from him in those days. He said to us in one of his most inspired moments, "Fear not, I am on the bridge!" Supposing he was on the bridge. If the captain is drunk with egotism on the bridge he might as well be asleep in the cabin. All those marvellous pictures he painted for us of the sunlight glowing on the Cambrian hills have all turned pretty grey, and we are where we are because the so-called leaders of (he people, the leading politicians and the captains of industry, did not understand the working of their own system and could not tell how their policies would work out. Four years ago they gave no warning to the people as to what was likely to happen to them, and now they find themselves deserted in the coming winter, the Government sitting supinely by hoping for a period of repose and tranquillity which certainly does not seem likely to materialise. This country is not poor because it lacks the resources and the means of producing wealth. We are here because of a bad system of wealth production. We are here because so much of our labour power is used in a mischievous manner. We are told there is no money in the country, we cannot do this and we cannot do the other. Our industry has stood something the last year or two. It can stand Henley, it can stand Ascot, and it can stand Isle of Wight. It can stand the expenditure of wealth upon luxuries to an untold extent, and there is not a single pennyworth of money spent in luxury that does not come as the result of the sheer skimping of the man at the bottom. You can only get it that way. You cannot have prosperity for the wealth producer—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The matter before us is the Vote for the Board of Trade. It is not the Vote for the Foreign Office, nor is it a Vote for the London School of Economics.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I bow to your ruling. I find myself in the same difficulty as did the right hon. Member for West Swansea, in keeping to the point. I submit that even in the speech of the right hon. Member for West Swansea there are some suggestions which the Government might take up and examine. There are questions that he has touched upon there that might be developed, and if we had a Government actuated by common sense, they would be developed, but our Government are too afraid of names and of what a thing might be called. If the State begins to interfere and use its powers for development, they are afraid that the sources of private production will disappear, so far as their own supporters are concerned. Along those lines, I think, there might be some help for the people of our country, provided we are not afraid of economic bogies and are determined to face the facts arising out of the new conditions with courage and determination, and with the express purpose of doing something to meet the deplorable conditions that exist for the mass of our people. I want to enter my protest against the inaction, or the seeming inaction, of the Government, with the full knowledge in their possession of the difficulties that loom ahead, with no preparation whatever made, and the winter coming, with all its bitterness, and sorrow, and misery for the people at the bottom; and if there be trouble in the coming winter, as there must be under the conditions foreshadowed even by the right hon. Gentleman himself, the real cause of it will be found to lie at the door of the Government themselves, who, in the months when they might have prepared, have done nothing to meet the difficulties with which they are faced.
§ Mr. ELLIS
I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. In the House and out of it, when any difficulty occurs in trade, it has become more or less the custom to blame the Government, either for something they have done or for something they might have done and have not done. Really, the whole ques- 771 tion is one which we have to tackle from an economic point of view, from a point of view which really ought to concern capital and labour alone. I do not say, of course, that there are not many ways in which a Government can hinder and can help trade, but in the long run what really matters to any country is that it should be able to produce the profit and find the market to buy its goods. It does not matter in the least, dealing with economic questions on a broad basis, whether you have a Capitalist organisation or what hon. Members opposite call a Socialist organisation. What they can never get rid of is the basic fact that to carry on industry of any kind you must have capital, and in order to live you must make a profit on the things in which you deal. What concerns us to-day primarily is not only to find a market, but to find a market in which the ordinary customers are able to pay us. That, to my mind, is the difficulty from which we are suffering to-day throughout the whole of the world.
It is beside the mark to say that the War is not responsible for what is happening to-day. The inevitable result of the destruction of a large amount of capital must lead, whatever your economic conditions in the country may be, to a terrible upset in world trade and industry. In this country, fortunately or unfortunately, we are in the position of not being self-sufficient, or, one might say, self-supporting, and in no circumstance, with our present population and with our present tendency toward an increase of that population, can we ever be entirely self-sufficient or self-supporting. Therefore, it is a matter of prime necessity to consider what markets outside this country we should seek. If one looks round the world to-day one finds that in the East the reason why we cannot trade with China is one that is to a large extent beyond our control, because she is in revolution. In India, the reason why we find considerable difficulty in trading is the aftermath of the War to some extent, and to a very large extent the spirit of unrest engendered by an agitation which has led to a large refusal to take British goods. Although at first it might not seem to be apparent, the effect of the world War on the present position of Germany has very much affected our 772 trade, even with India. I do not think it is quite realised what a very big trade India did with Germany before the War in raw materials. Raw materials sold in Germany set free in India, working through London, a large amount of money which was available for investment in English goods and English securities. That is an indirect effect of the War which I think no hon. Member opposite would deny, but it is very real all the same, and it deprives us of a considerable opportunity of getting rid of our production.
Turning to another part of the world, what have we to face to-day in a market which we had, up to quite recently at any rate, for the luxury goods which we produced? I hope hon. Members opposite will be the last to say, if we do not use the luxury goods at home, that they are prepared to see the trades which produce them suffering any diminution, because, if they do, I can assure them it is going to knock out of this country one of the most prolific sources of profit and revenue which it has ever had. If we take the position in America to-day, we are met with a determined attempt, economic, but nevertheless determined, to keep the goods of foreign nations to a large extent outside the United States. Whether or not it will be successful remains to be seen. Not only have we had a tariff put up against the importation of foreign goods into America, but, running parallel with that, there is a determined admission on the part of American capital that you have to have a relatively large increase in the wages paid to labour. In order to make that increase doubly certain they have introduced stringent immigration laws, which prevent any competition in the labour which has to be supplied. The result is, be it good or bad from our point of view, a very large inflation in America, and a consequent very great increase in the cost of living and of material of every kind throughout the States. Coupled with that, they have a very large mass of gold collected from the rest of the world, and we are face to face with this position, that, owing to the inflation and to the monetary indigestion from which they are suffering because of the presence of so much gold, there is bound to be some crisis before very long in American trade and industry. We have that to face in the future, and very important it is from our point of 773 view, because it may lead to the unloading of a good deal of American material on the few markets left in which we can compete to-day.
We have one of our old markets left to consider, the market of Central Europe. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the home market?"] I am coming to that, but I cannot deal with everything at once. It is difficult to speak of any trade or industrial matter in Central Europe without some reference to political conditions, and I hope I may be allowed to refer to this question in so far as it affects industrial conditions. The effect of the occupation of the Ruhr has been to put an end to all feeling of confidence in trade in Central Europe.
§ Mr. ELLIS
I quite agree. The first result of that is that you cannot tackle the question of stabilisation of currency at all, because no one knows what Germany is going to be called upon to pay, and, therefore, no one knows what the countries concerned are going to get out of Germany, and until that is known it is impossible to put your house in order so that you may get to a basis on which you are able to say: "The value of my currency to-day, for the purpose of trade, is going to be as stable as I can make it, and is likely to be stable for a sufficient number of weeks or months ahead for any merchant dealing with me, when he prepares his invoices and calculates his profits, to say that it is going to be worth his while to trade with me." It is a little unfair, as the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) said, to say that the real question is one of more production, and that the Government ought to finance undertakings in this country to carry on exports abroad. So far as that goes, is there any real difficulty to-day—and I speak with some knowledge, as a private banker who has been through some of these things himself—in any industrial enterprise in this country with any standing, with any reputation, with any knowledge of its business, getting all the financial help it requires to-day? If that be so, is it not perfectly apparent to all that the real reason why trade has more or less come to a stop to-day is not that we cannot 774 produce enough, but that we cannot find the people to pay for our goods when they are produced?
That, therefore, is what we have to direct our attention to, and to see if, by some possible way, not only can we restore those markets, but restore them in the sense that the people who will come to them in the future, as in the past, have some basis upon which to work to produce goods in exchange which will enable them to take our goods. That is the whole difficulty from which we are suffering to-day, and I hope that, whatever is done by the Board of Trade or by any other internal Department of this country, it will be thoroughly realised that what are stopping trade to-day in Europe are political conditions, and nothing else. If we are going to get any restoration of trade, any increase of production which makes it worth while to produce, those conditions must improve, for after the War nobody will suggest that it would be sense to build up an enormous production to-day in the hope of selling it in the future. So far as 5.0 P.M. political considerations are concerned, I do think that it is important to consider this point of view. Before you sign your Treaty arranging to take this step or that step, I do suggest to my right hon. Friend that his Department should be consulted by the diplomatic and Foreign Office side as to what possible effect certain aspects of the political Treaty which compel reparations to be paid in certain ways may have on the trade of this country. It is a most important consideration, and, if I may be forgiven for bringing it to the notice of the House, it is because it will be too late if the Treaty is settled. There is only one way in which you can get an individual—or a nation—to pay debts he owes you, and that one way is by taking steadily from his production as large a proportion as you can possibly get from what is left over after he has been able to keep himself in a moderate condition of life. That is what we have had to face, but let us face it without any sentimental recollection of any kind. There is no question of sentiment in providing for the people of this country to live. It is admitted on all hands that we are sympathetic to our Allies, but our first and essential consideration is employment for our people and food whereby they may live. That must be the first 775 consideration in any Treaty. Therefore the only way in which we can get the money which is to pay our reparations indirectly, the money which is to pay part of our Debt to America, is by taking it from the profits of German trade. That, of course, implies the necessity of allowing Germany to trade. Therefore we are face to face with that issue. But when the time comes to get that money—and get it we must—how are you going to get it? There are only two ways in which that money can be got.
§ Mr. ELLIS
I hope the hon. Member will allow me to finish. Take a country—I am not taking Germany particularly in this sense, but take any country which is in the position of having to pay in full its debts to one creditor, and yet retaining its full right to deal with others; because I think it will be agreed that it is extremely difficult to get anything from a bankrupt unless you allow him in his business a certain amount of freedom. You can only get that money in two ways—by taxing the import of raw material and taxing again the exported manufactures; and I think in taxing the import of raw material you will get at the amount of money put away by the Germans in order to provide credits abroad, because they cannot carry on their trade without the import of raw materials, and if those raw materials are paid for by the foreign credits abroad, you will touch some of those foreign credits by exacting a tax on the imports bought with them. In the same way, you will get some of your debts back by taxing the exported manufactures.
I ask the House to consider—I do not think it can be settled at short notice—what effect that may have on the trade of this country. Obviously, if you were to allow a free and an unrestricted trade by Germany throughout the world under compulsion of paying considerable reparations, you would find it the strongest competitor in the international market you could possibly get, and, in view of what has taken place in the past, it will be necessary to have some restriction of the kind mentioned in order to restore the balance and to see that before your goods are produced at impossible prices on the international market, you have got 776 your margin in reparations from Germany before she competes. I do ask the President of the Board of Trade to take some note of these considerations before a Treaty is made, in order that, with his advice and knowledge of British trade, whatever is done, when it is done, will be done with due regard to our trade in the future.
There is just one other consideration I should like to mention as a banker. I am not speaking in this sense in the ordinary way, but when one has been engaged in the profession of private banking, one has come into very close touch with the trade and industry of the country, and has probably more knowledge of one's friends and customers than an ordinary joint stock banker. With that knowledge one would like to prophesy a smooth time, but in my part of the world there was never a time in which greater apprehension was felt, and greater fear for the future, owing to the conditions which exist throughout the world. To-day our textile industry in the North of England is suffering severely, because its markets have been shut down, and not only for that reason, but because even in its home market there has been a very large amount of dumping by the French into this country. The material dumped into this country has been sold at a price at which it is impossible for us to produce and yet pay a decent living wage to the workers. That is a very serious consideration—a consideration which applies not only to industry—I am not dealing with Free Trade and Protection now, because I am a Free Trader—but it must be taken account of in any measure of arrangement which is made with the French.
I am interested, too, in one of the proposals of the right hon. Member for Swansea. He spoke rather vaguely, but I have a strong recollection of an interesting speech which he made, wherein he so heartily called the Labour party to order for not definitely stating what their particular brand of Socialism was. So in his case I should have been very interested to know what is the particular brand of inflation which he proposes. It is true he did not propose inflation directly; he is much too clever for that. But what he did was to suggest in some sort of way that there has been too much deflation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley pointed out, directly you 777 begin to inflate, there is a certain Nemesis following you the whole time. Somebody is going to suffer, and inflation simply means the transfer of money from one set of pockets to another set of pockets. It may be very convenient if you hold a large mass of materials, of which you want to get rid, to persuade the country generally to go in for inflation, because then your mass of material which you hold, say, at the price of 20s., immediately, by reason of the fact that it is material and not currency paper, goes up to 25s., and you can get rid of it. But what is going to be the effect upon all those people who have got their money in the form of pensions, savings, or retiring allowances? The effect is a very simple one, and it is this: Their capital remains the same, but their power of purchase falls by so much as the inflation grows. I do suggest that we have had quite enough of that sort of thing in this country without wanting any more.
I demur also to the theory that what is called bankers' deflation in this country is due to any concerted move on the part of the Government or the bankers. Deflation took place in this country because we had a mass of stocks which nobody wanted at the time, and, naturally, prices fell. The effect was felt throughout the whole trade and industry of the country, and most inevitably. I do not know what other step the Government could take than the step it did take, and that was to do nothing, and to leave it to trade and industry to look after themselves. Trade and industry are in the main like a man living his life in the ordinary normal way, now and again being subject to diseases and troubles, which are generally the result of his own action. You get unnecessary expansion. You eat too much and you suffer for it, and during your period of recovery you do not, if you are a wise man, look round for all sorts of medicines to put you right, but you admit you have made a mistake, and you sit tranquilly by until you have recovered your position, and are able to resume your ordinary life. Therefore, I do suggest that these various gibes that are made at my right hon. Friend and the Government are not reasonable. In fact, when I listen to the right hon. Member for West Swansea, I think he has generally got a pleasant smile at the back of his head. When he says this and 778 that, he does not really mean it, but he likes to get up and tackle my right hon. Friend, who is younger and not so experienced, if he will forgive me for saying so, with little facts which are not intended to convey anything here, but which, at the same time, outside this House, are taken for more than they mean, and, if I may again be forgiven, for more than they are worth.
But he mentioned one thing of which I am going to ask my right hon. Friend to take note. In the country to-day we are suffering to a very large extent from either the inability or the inaction of the Electricity Commissioners, and I can speak feelingly, because I have some connection with electrical energy production in the West Biding of Yorkshire. It is our wish to do what we possibly can by a large extension of our plant. We are subject to rules and regulations which are made by the Commissioners. We are anxious to get on with our work, and to find work for the unemployed, but we are altogether prevented from doing so by what is, to my mind, the very amazing slowness of the decisions come to by these Commissioners. I am almost tempted to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if this is going to continue, he might approach the Treasury to see if the number of Commissioners could not be increased, because if the work could be got through faster, it would enable us in this period of unemployment and difficulty to employ men who would not otherwise be employed. If the thing is going on as slowly as it is, when the recovery of trade comes, we shall have gone through a period when men, instead of drawing the dole, might have been at work, and we shall have to deal with our undertakings at possibly higher cost. The same consideration might also be applied to another matter. In dealing with industry we might to some extent, in many places, change the dole for some real work. If we could introduce a system among the local authorities who now come here to squabble and to spend large sums of money—I Can speak feelingly for my own constituents—as to whether this little bit of a water shed belongs to them or to somebody else, and matters could be arranged differently, it would be better all round. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nationally!"] No, that would be the last thing to do. I cannot conceive any efficient form of water works that was dealt with 779 from London. By the time a decision had been taken probably the water works would have run dry. We could deal with these questions in a broader way by setting up boards all over the country, and instead of municipalities coming here squabbling and spending large sums of money, that money could be spent among the unemployed.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
With part of what the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis) has said, many on this side of the House will agree, but with regard to his last suggestion, while a certain amount of money might be available for unemployment in the North of England, I am afraid that the legal fraternity would lose a good many briefs in the South of England, and they would become unemployed. That shows that you are up against some vested interest, whatever you do. What is one man's gain is generally another man's loss. When the hon. Member for Wakefield expresses the hope that the Foreign Office will consult with the Board of Trade occasionally, he seems to think that we have not yet returned to the Cabinet system of government. I understand that the President of the Board of Trade is a Member of the Cabinet. Surely he is consulted in these matters. The sight of the Marquess Curzon during the last four or five years consulting the President of the Board of Trade on the question whether foreign policy affects our trade or otherwise would have been a sight for the gods. Both of them have been equally mistaken, and have played their part in misleading the public. They have both played their part, one in another place and one here, in bamboozling the representatives of the people, either elected or hereditary; but we see signs of grace and enlightenment and repentance. I do not want to be ungenerous. I was very glad to observe the Noble Marquess in another place yesterday advocating the League of Nations scheme for a loan to Hungary, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade, in his reply, will give a rather more encouraging answer to some of the constructive suggestions that have been made than he did to myself and other hon. Members on the last occasion when this Vote was under discussion.
780 I am glad of the powerful support now given by the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) with regard to the question of trade with Russia. I am highly elated, and I hope I shall be forgiven for this elation, when I find that my advocacy of the extension of our overseas trade insurance scheme to that country is reinforced by such a master of politics, industry, business and finance as the right hon. Member for West Swansea. Like the right hon. Member, I am not in any way advocating the case of the Russian Government. I am speaking simply from the point of view of British business and British industry and of the workpeople who need employment in this country. In Moscow to-day we have a trade mission headed by Mr. Hodgson. I have on previous occasions, speaking from first-hand knowledge, referred to the excellent way in which he sustains his office, and the dignity with which he discharges his duties. That mission is not an Embassy. It is called a trade mission, but it is not fully organised. They have not got the personnel for assisting British trade, and they do not pretend to have. The best way I can illustrate that is by making a contrast between this organisation and the organisation of a real, so-called German Embassy in Moscow. In Moscow the German Ambassador and his staff deliberately, as a matter of policy, try to assist German nationals and to open up trade between their country and Russia. They have one or two gentlemen on the staff who are specially detailed for the purpose of assisting German business men who come to Russia for business. They speak the language perfectly, they have the entry to all the Government Departments, and they chaperone and bear-lead German business men who go to Russia, and help them in every possible way. We have no one in a similar position in our trade mission. The consequence is, that the Germans, in spite of their terrible difficulties, in spite of their currency difficulties, in spite of the fact that the Ruhr occupation has made the delivery of goods difficult, and in spite of the fact that the whole commercial situation in Germany is perilous, are doing a great deal more trade with Russia than is England, and we are suffering in consequence.
781 Take the Consular service. We have, I understand, a Consul at Petrograd, but he is not called a Consul; he is called an agent. The word "Consul" might give some sort of recognition of the Russian Government, I suppose. Have we a Consul at Odessa, Novorossisk or any of the great ports of Russia in the South? We have no representative of any sort in Georgia. We have no Consul or official representative in one of the richest countries, for its size, in the world. Georgia is immensely rich with oil, minerals and many valuable products in which we are interested. In great centres in Russia we have no Consuls although we had Consuls before the War. Is there any reason why we should not have Consuls there. Call them agents or anything else, so long as they try to help British business men. If we have not these gentlemen, why not? Is it the Treasury that objects, or the Foreign Office? What does the President of the Board of Trade think about it? Is he pursuing the policy of the Conservative party during the time of the Coalition Government, when they did all they could, secretly and behind the scenes, to prevent trade between England and Russia? When the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs carried through the trade agreement it was met with the most bitter, covert opposition from certain sections of the Conservative party. It was a sneaking opposition behind the scenes, but none the less effective. Is that being carried on in the Conservative party to-day? They would not dare to face commercial circles by reversing the policy of the late Prime Minister, but is it their policy to hinder and oppose the increase of trade between the two countries?
Let us take one great example. A large wheat and grain crop is coming along to export from Russia, and the business is being competed for by brokers and grain merchants of various countries. The managing director of one of the oldest, most conservative, and most excellent of British firms of grain merchants, told me that he had been trying to negotiate the handling of a very large quantity of that grain. At least it amounted to one million tons. I think he was hoping that the total for export would be three million tons. Certainly, one million tons is a conservative estimate. He tells me that he got no help from our Government in connection 782 with the business. It is a matter of the distribution of grain all over Europe. He complained to me that the German merchants were getting every sort of assistance from their Government, financially and diplomatically, in their negotiations. It will mean a big loss in shipping charges, insurance charges, and the ordinary brokers' profit in the handling of this grain if he fails and the Germans succeed. Somebody is going to handle it, and I ask the President of the Board of Trade to look into this matter very carefully. We organised the trade mission in Moscow to help British trade, and it ought to be under his Department, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, and not under the Foreign Office. I make no charge against the personnel, but they are not being allowed to help British merchants as they ought to be helped.
I regret very much that the Government will not extend the Trade Facilities Act to Russia. The excuse of the right hon. Gentleman is that the Russian Government do not recognise the pre-War obligations, and that there is no confidence on the part of British traders; but the fact remains that people are prepared to trade with Russia and are trading with Russia, and they want a little help in doing it. As to the question of the obligations of the Russian Government being recognised, that is by no means a closed book. That matter ought to be negotiated. I believe some arrangement could be come to by negotiation in regard to the pre-War debts of Russia, but we will not negotiate. We had a crisis in the early part of this year, which nearly led to war between our Government and the Russian Government. Now that that crisis is over, we should take the next step and organise a conference between our Government and the Russian Government, as is laid down in the trade agreement, which states that these questions of the debts and liabilities of the Russian Government, and our debts to them, shall be opened up and dealt with at a regular conference between the two countries. That has never been done. The Russian Government asked for these conference? in several of their Notes during the crisis, with a view to settling these outstanding questions. Every hon. Member is being bombarded with post cards from his constituents who have investments in Russia.
783 I want to support the claims of British subjects who are owed money in Russia, but their claims cannot be settled without conference. We have to face it, and the longer it drags on the more loss there is on our nationals and there will be all the difficulties about finance that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. But that is no excuse for the Government not moving. The fact that bankers, perhaps by agreement, hold back from giving credit to Russia is no reason for the Government not trying to get difficulties removed. That can only be done by direct negotiation with the Russian Government. They are there; they are not going to fall; they are getting stronger every day. Every independent observer admits that, without ceasing to criticise certain aspects of their policy. The hon. Member for the Mosley Division (Mr. Hopkinson) talked of the French Government living on its capital. What else are we doing with the present rate of unemployment? I do not often pay attention to the hon. Member's speeches, but I have to comment on that statement of his. We are living on our capital. Thai cannot go on. As the hon. Gentleman said, we should leave sentiment aside and look at the matter from a business point of view, and I do beg of the Government to alter their policy.
I desire now to refer to the very pertinent remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the discussion and who spoke about transport. Every manufacturer in this country complains of our high rates, which are injuring the recovery of this country and will injure us when trade improves unless something is done. We have the Ministry of Transport, but it has not anything to do with transport. I think that the Board of Trade is very largely concerned. Our railway rates are strangling British commerce. I get complaints from my constituents, and I am sure that every hon. Member gets complaints from his constituents. Take the question of improved communications. One matter of vital importance is a tunnel under the Humber River. This does not concern my constituents alone. It concerns the whole of the East of England, particularly the East Riding of Yorkshire and the great rich county of Lincolnshire.
This work cannot be done by private enterprise, and I do not think it will be 784 done by the railway companies. In either France or Germany a thing of this kind would have been done by the Government 40 or 50 years ago. It would open up the Lincolnshire iron fields and develop transport between the two counties. This matter is essential. We have all this money spent on unemployment at present, and meantime this vital means of communication is neglected. At a time of trade depression when unemployment prevails improvements in communication of this character should be undertaken. I am sorry that a reduction in the Vote was not moved. I am afraid that the activity of the Board of Trade is not sufficient for the difficult times in which we live. I dare say that they do their best, but it is a poor best. This Government has had long enough to have evolved a policy, but it has no far-sighted, carefully thoughtout policy of meeting our difficulties at the present time. We are drifting and hesitating, and the life-blood of the country is running out.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I cannot claim to have the expert knowledge of business which some of the hon. Members who have already addressed the House claim to possess. But the more I listen to them the more convinced I am that business, as they understand it, is not for the good of the community. They say in effect that when a thing is profitable it should be left to private individuals, and when a thing is not profitable it should be done by the State or the municipality. That is a most remarkable doctrine in respect to capital, which might be described as the end of everything economical. Some people always associate capital with the private individual who owns it. After all, capital is simply the instrument used for the purpose of producing wealth. But the gentleman who controls it imagines that he is the essential person. In the Departments covered by this Board of Trade vote we have a great amount of authority in connection with the organisation of capital enterprise.
Every public body which wants to develop its tramways or electricity supply, or any of the functions which are usually associated with matters concerning trade, has to go to the Board of Trade for the purpose of getting authority to act in certain connections. I understand that the Ministry of Transport still exists, but all authority in reference to 785 tramways is signed by the Board of Trade, and all the Acts of Parliament under which they operate are administered by the Board of Trade and the officials of the Board of Trade. The Ministry of Transport has simply been superimposed, and in that connection it is a most extraordinary doctrine, for some of us who happen to be Socialists, to hear that where there is a profit to be made the private individual must be allowed freedom to have it, but where there is no profit to be made the State is to find the money. That seems to me to be a beautiful game of put and take. We do the putting and you do the taking.
The Board of Trade publish a document every month dealing with the conditions of employment and the cost of living. To-day we have in London alone somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 men in the streets in revolt against their figures. Of course I know that an agreement has been made—an agreement made by force. It was not a voluntary agreement. No trade union to-day can enter into a voluntary agreement because we are down and out, and just as the Germans took full advantage militarily of their opportunities during the period of the Great War, so those in authority to-day are taking full advantage of their opportunities economically to force the workman down to the lowest possible level of existence. I happen to represent a constituency where the principal body of men involved in this dispute live. There have been two regrettable occurrences this week, last night and the night before. The men are getting out of hand because they find themselves practically down and out. But do not imagine that this matter is going to be settled.
The Minister of Labour promised the other day in connection with this matter that, after normal circumstances arose, he would be prepared to appoint a Committee of Inquiry. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade on what basis his figures, on which the cost of living is estimated, and which are published in the "Board of Trade Gazette" are arrived at? How can he prove to the workmen that their cost of living has been so reduced that their wages have got to be further reduced? This is only the beginning of a great revolt, because any further reductions are simply going to recreate the very circumstances which 786 are now prevailing. I am speaking now as a casual labourer myself from actual experience, and I ask, how can you estimate the cost of living of a man who has, on the average, two days' work in the week on the basis of the position of a man who is working the full week through? How can you say to that man, "The cost of living has gone down, and therefore your wages must come down"?
He is not an expert in figures. I listen to people in this House who are experts in figures, and the more I listen to them the more I am amazed. I have been reminded that figures cannot lie, but that liars sometimes can figure, and when I have listened to them and have gone home I have asked the missus—and she is in the Gallery now—" Kate, what is the price of stuff?" and she says, "I see no reduction." She has not been able to discover it when she goes out into the market, and I undertake to say that if hon. Members opposite, who may be better placed than some of us are, would come with us into any of the retail markets in the East End of London they would not discover the reductions which are supposed to have taken place in the cost of living.
No wonder the men revolt; no wonder the docks, the lighters and everything have been stopped, because the men, and particularly their wives, are incensed against having to submit to a reduction of wages which brings them below a decent standard of living, and in spite of having these reductions they get the policeman's baton as well. We can afford to pay policemen to baton them; we can send hundreds of men thereto break meetings up, and yet we cannot afford to deal with the thing that matters. If I can prove to these men that their case is not a good one, and demonstrate that your figures are correct, that the "Board of Trade Gazette" is not published for the purpose of throwing dust in the eyes of the people, then you will get them to return to common-sense methods. I believe in constitutionalism, but I cannot excuse myself, when I am face to face with men who can prove that for months they have only worked one day in the week, and that on that day they have to suffer a reduction of a shilling, so that they go home with 9s. for the week. If a man has to go down to the docks twice a day—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member's remarks should be made on the Ministry of Labour Vote. The figures to which he refers are not published by the Board of Trade, but by the Ministry of Labour.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame)
That is quite right. The cost of living figures, on which all these wages agreements are based, are published in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette." The only figures for which the Board of Trade are responsible are the wholesale figures which are published from time to time.
§ Mr. JONES
That is the point which I want to raise. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has interrupted me in this way, and that you, Sir, have put me right. It is exactly upon the wholesale figures that we want to raise the point. The wholesale figures have no relation to the retail figures by which the workers are affected.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The figures which the hon. Member wishes to discuss are, I think, the figures upon which wages agreements are based. These are Ministry of Labour figures. They are the retail figures, which have nothing to do with the wholesale figures.
§ Mr. JONES
I admit that they are different. What I want to argue is that we challenge the retail figures, and we challenge the wholesale figures so far as the workers are concerned. We challenge those figures in every detail, because the wholesale figures for one class of goods, which the workman does not use, are lower than the figures for the goods which he does use, and, as a consequence, the retail figures have no relationship. Therefore we always find ourselves in the cart; whatever we do, we are wrong. If we bring the matter up on one Vote, we are told, "The Board of Trade is responsible." We read the "Board of Trade Gazette," and what do we see? We see the number of trade disputes that have taken place, and the number of hours per week the men work in the docks. Has 788 the Board of Trade no relation to that? A man cannot get more than eight hours work in any one week, yet he is reckoned to be employed for the whole week, and his cost of living is estimated on that basis. I really do not know how we can raise this matter, but, so far as we are concerned, the Government are responsible; whether it be through the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Labour does not matter much. I have got in what I wanted to say, and that is all that does matter.
§ Mr. H. H. SPENCER
I do not propose to follow the last speaker on questions of capital and labour, but to occupy a few minutes discussing questions of trade. I think it is sometimes useful where one can find a few points of agreement with the Minister in charge of a Department—at any rate, agreement as to facts—and I am going to put forward two statements of fact for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. If we can agree upon those facts, I am going to base one or two arguments where I think we disagree as to what those facts mean. We have had several Debates in this House on the administration of the Dyestuffs (Import Regulation) Act. I have ventured to speak once or twice on those Debates, and my hon. Friends have done the same. We had a Debate a week ago, when I am sorry I was away; or else I think I should have taken action, such as the Irishman did when he saw a street fight, and asked whether it was a private fight or whether anybody could join in. This will be the last occasion for a good many weeks upon which we shall be able to bring up these very important agreements in the textile trade and the colour users' trade. The two facts which I wish to put before the Minister are these. It is a fact that the colour users in this country are paying very much higher prices for their dye wares than they were during the War, and they are paying very much higher prices than their competitors abroad. Secondly, and this is an admitted fact, there has been and there is a tendency, in both the wool and cotton textile trade, for the proportion of goods which are exported dyed and finished to decrease, and for the export of undyed—what we call grey—semi-raw stuff to increase. Those are facts which the Minister has admitted 789 in answer to various questions, but we differ as to their implication.
I am not going to recapitulate the many facts which, over and over again, we have brought before the Board of Trade, but I will mention two or three of the most striking. I gave the President of the Board of Trade an instance where the Government, or the Licensing Committee on behalf of the Government, refused to allow a dye-user to import two tons of colour, although the British price for them was £1,736 more than the price at which the dye-user could have bought them in Italy. The present basis on which licences are granted is this. The British dyer is given a preference; he is given prohibition against importation if he is prepared to sell to the British user at a price not more than three times the pre-War price. Let me show the House what that means. Supposing the pre-War price were 1s. a lb., and supposing the Swiss price is 2s. a lb. If the British dye-maker is prepared to sell at 3s. a lb. the Board of Trade prohibits the dye-user getting his dye at the Swiss price of 2s. a lb., and compels him to pay the British dye-maker 3s. a lb., or three times the pre-War price. I have put before the Minister various facts, and I will take the liberty of reading a letter which I sent on to him some few weeks ago, from some of the largest buyers of British textiles in America. This firm wrote to me, and sent an inquiry for a certain particular textile cloth. At the bottom of the letter, they said:We think it would be advisable for you to quote for the goods undyed, also for finished goods with ordinary washing dyes and with guaranteed fast dyes. Our experience is that the cost of guaranteed fast dyes from England is very much higher than the cost of similar dyes in the United States. This is the reason why we suggest you quote for the grey goods as well as the finished goods.I sent that letter to the Minister, and we disagree as to the implication involved. I came back from a little trip to the Continent, and I found another letter awaiting me from one of my constituents, who said:One goes to the expense of sending a traveller to the Far East, one is taxed almost to breaking point, and then one is prevented from executing profitable business. To particularise: we got an order for 60 cases, value over £4,000, and our customer wanted a new colour. Application for licence to import the dyeware from 790 broad was refused; English dyeware makers would supply the right stuff, but have not done so yet. In consequence, we are in danger of having the entire order cancelled, in which event the manufacturer will have thrown on his hands all the other colours which are now ready, because we may not ship an incomplete assortment.That, shortly, is the contention of the dye users in this country. This textile trade is not without some importance. I do not think the Board of Trade has ever quite realised what its importance is to this country, and I think it will surprise hon. Members when I tell them that the average percentage of our textile exports is something like 43 or 44 per cent. of the whole of the manufactured exports of this country. I want to point out that the constant trend of sending our exports away undyed, because of the difficulties which have been put in the way of the dyeing trade, involves the further danger that we are not only going to lose the dyeing trade, as we are losing it now, but that we are ultimately going to find our textile trade very much hampered. Hon. Members above the Gangway, who know anything about the textile trade, and who sit for textile constituencies, are aware that, generally speaking, it is very much easier for the foreigner to copy a plain textile cloth than to copy a dyed and finished-off cloth. If we send very highly finished and beautifully dyed textiles abroad we may keep that trade; but if we send the cloth undyed to Germany, Switzerland, France, or even to the Far East, we are much more likely to lose not only the dyeing trade but the manufacturing trade as well. The difference between the President of the Board of Trade and myslf on this question is that the right hon. Gentleman seems to think, and maintained in the various Debates we have had in this House, that the establishment of a dye-making industry in this country, first of all, is necessary to the textile trade, and, secondly, has been of advantage to the textile trade. I deny both of those hypothesi.
The dye-making industry was not established in this country in any relation to the colour-using trade. It was established solely because of the danger of war. We were told that because of the relations between explosives and the coal-tar industry and the extracting industries, we must have these colour-using factories, which could be turned into munition factories at the shortest 791 possible notice. Nearly all of us agreed with that, and I, in common with my colleagues in the textile industry, agreed that if it were necessary to have this security in case of future war, not only should it be done, but we were perfectly prepared to pay our share of doing it. We maintain, however, that if that is the reason for setting up those huge factories, it is as much a matter of national defence as the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force, and that, whatever the cost, it should be put on the general taxpayer. Not only that, but the general taxpayer, above everything, ought to know what the cost is. At the present time, the whole cost is being put on the colour-users, and it is being put on them in a way which is costing them far more than the actual monetary loss, through the interference with business and the uncertainty of business. Let me give the House two or three instances to show the evils that exist. We are all agreed, at any rate on this side of the House, that one of the most important things in business is to keep up the free breath of competition. In the dyeing industry we have one great syndicate—one great association—which is more or less of a monopoly. We have, outside that association, many smaller dyers, and to those smaller men the very breath of their life is the ability to buy their raw material, the dyewares, in small quantities.
The action of the Government is helping the great monopolistic combination to crush these small dyers out of existence. The great syndicate can afford to buy and hold large quantities of dyewares. The little, outside man, who is the man we want to keep alive, is dependent, as he was before the War, on the merchant of dyewares who is prepared to hold the stocks for him. Moreover, the very fine colours which the British dye-maker finds the greatest difficutly in making are the very colours which the little dyer will want to buy in the smallest possible quantities. Everyone can see that the very fine expensive colours are those which are wanted in the smallest possible quantities. The Minister has replied to me—although he admits that our cost of dyeing is higher and he admits, also, all sorts of questions, when I ask him—that he does not admit that we are handicapped and that the main cause of the loss of a 792 considerable proportion of our dyeing trade is the excessive cost of dyewares. I admit that the cost of dyeing to-day is very much higher than it ought to be in proportion to the extra cost of the average commodities of the world; but, if we go to the dyers, what do they tell us? They repeat to us the fevered arguments of our tariff reform and protectionist people. They say, "If we could run 100 per cent. of production, our overhead charges would come down; our cost for coal, in proportion to turnover, would come down, and our cost for labour, in proportion to turnover, would also come down. One of the reasons why we have to keep up these exorbitant prices for dyeing is the fact that we are running only at 60 or 70 per cent. production."
In so far as the Board of Trade, by its administration of this Act, is hampering our dyeing trade, it is artificially keeping up the cost of the dyeing, and so the vicious circle goes round. You start with the high cost of raw material and with a diminished demand for the finished product. Because of the diminished demand, the factories work short time, the overhead charges go up, and then the factories say, "We must have higher prices again to cover us for the loss caused by short working." I appeal not for Protection but against Protection upside down. So far as textiles are concerned, we are a Free Trade country. I have to sell my goods in this City of London in free and open competition with the Frenchman, and I have no complaint to make of fair competition, but I object very strongly—and I think the Labour party will support me in my objection—to a French manufacturer selling to the City of London houses the very goods which I make under these conditions. My goods are dyed with exactly the same dyeware as the French goods—a Swiss dyeware it may be and not a German product at all—yet, owing to the excessive price which we in Yorkshire have to pay for dyeware, my goods are 1d., 1½d., or 2d. per yard dearer than the French goods in London. I say that is not fair and that it is Protection upside down. In the very first speech which I made in this House I gave a concrete instance in regard to a Swiss dye, and I hope hon. Members opposite will not think I am dealing with this question simply in relation to the German 793 goods. On that occasion I gave the instance of a Swiss dye, very largely used in dyeing the ordinary navy blue costume cloths for women. The price at which the Swiss dye was freely offered was 3s. 9d. per lb., the dye users in England were compelled to pay 7s. 6d. per lb. for a similar article made in England. Although the present Minister of Health, replying on that Debate seven or eight months ago, said we could not give an instance where any article had been made dearer or anybody thrown out of work by the policy of the Board of Trade, it is significant that within a fortnight of my quoting that particular case the British dye maker was able to reduce his price from 7s. 6d. to 5s. 6d. per lb. for this particular dye.
The fact still remains that Frenchmen are coming into England to-day and selling goods dyed with the very same dye-wares as those which we are using or, if not the same, dyewares which are just as good, and they are able to purchase those dyewares at prices much less than the prices at which we are getting them. That is a little bit of practical politics about unemployment. I have to correct some statements which were used by the Minister in the Debate of a week ago. We have in England a very influential body known as the Colour Users' Association, and a few months ago the hon. and gallant Member for Salford (Lieut.-Commander Astbury) informed the House that the Colour Users' Association approved of this Act. The hon. and gallant Member did not know, or had forgotten, that 18 months after the colour users had accepted the Act—I do not think they approved of it—they definitely stated at their annual meeting that the Act was seriously handicapping them in competition with the rest of the world. Only a week ago the right hon. Gentleman the Minister was engaged in a little passage with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle), in which the question of a Biblical quotation arose, and the Minister said that a person who ought to know, namely the chairman of the Colour Users' Association, had given his testimony before the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and the right hon. Gentleman added that, like Baalam, this gentleman had come to curse but remained to bless. The Minister quoted the chair- 794 man of the Colour Users' Association as follows:I would like to pay a sincere tribute of admiration to the makers for their un-deviating progress in the production of dye-stuffs 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…. We have been able to use 80 per cent. of British dyes where we used only 20 per cent. before without in any way reducing our standard."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1923; col. 2400, Vol. 166.]That is all very gratifying, and hon. Members who are not in the trade would take it that the chairman of the Colour Users' Association, my very good friend Mr. Sutcliffe Smith, who certainly does know what he is talking about and whose word I would take without hesitation as that of an authority, was approving of the methods of the Licensing Committee, but he spoke further at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and I have taken the trouble of looking up all that he said on the matter. I have not the actual quotation at hand, but I will send it to the Minister and the House can take it from me that Mr. Smith in the rest of his speech, while congratulating the British dyemakers on their progress, made the strongest possible protest against the methods of the Licensing Committee. He laid down what I have tried to lay down to-day, that the burden should be placed equally upon all taxpayers, that at all costs the dye users of this country should have access to the best dyes produced in the world, and that they should have access to those dyes at as low a price as their competitors anywhere in the world. In asking the Board of Trade to make that their policy in the future I am not asking for any favour. I do not think any of my Socialist friends who know me will think that I desire any Government interference. and I think any of my Protectionist friends will agree that I am the last man in the world to ask for Governmental favours. All I ask is that we should be put in a position at least as advantageous for getting our raw materials as the position of our competitors in Frnce and Italy. Let me emphasise my point by reference to that one particular item for two tons of dyestuffs in regard to which the policy of the Board of Trade was that our dye users should be penalised to the extent of £1,700. I know the Minister has multifarious duties to perform, but 795 I put the facts of this case before him. This particular lot of dye wares was on sale in Italy. It was a surplus lot which the Italians had got as reparation from Germany, and it was for sale at what may be termed a knock-out price. The particular difference of policy between the Board of Trade and those for whom I am speaking is that we say, if there was an extraordinarily cheap and excellent lot of raw material which could be used in the working of our industries, it was better for this country that we should get hold of that raw material than that Italy or France should get it. We had a dye user in Yorkshire wanting that dyeware and prepared to give work, and, of course, the amount of work which £1,70O or £2,000 worth of dyeware represents bears no relation to the amount of dyeware itself. We used to treat dyeware as being equal to about 1 per cent. of the finished products, and here is our Board of Trade, with that tiny percentage, putting on this burden. The financial burdens are serious enough, but the burdens of uncertainty, of delay, and of being at the mercy of a Government Committee are infinitely more harmful than the financial burdens.
I know it is very easy to criticise, and that Government Departments are among the easiest things to criticise, but we in the textile trade, we users of colour, do not want to avoid our burdens at all and we have a positive policy. It is a policy which we shall continue to press on the Government, and we shall not allow this agitation in Manchester or Bradford to die down. We demand in common fairness, not what the motor car manufacturers are asking, not what the tyre makers are asking, namely, a 33⅓ per cent. duty against the foreigner, but we demand what is the very minimum of justice for any producer, any workman or capitalist in this country, namely, that he shall not be prevented from getting his raw material as cheaply as his foreign competitor unless the Board of Trade is prepared to guarantee that we shall keep up this agitation in the House and in the country. We want no subsidy, we only want equality with other people. We have not received much sympathy from the Board of Trade, and I do not know if our arguments will have any effect upon them. I was rather amused to read in the "Times" this morning a 796 description of the Finance Minister in India given by one of the Indian Members of the Legislature, and I am taking the liberty of quoting it in reference to the right hon. Gentleman. The Minister in India was said to have "a face like a cherub and methods like a tank." The right hon. Gentleman's methods of dealing with our agitation on this question have been somewhat on those of the tank in war-time. I appeal to him to consider seriously the appointment of a small non-political Committee to consider this matter. We do not wish to hamper, in any way, the manufacture of dye-wares in this country, nor do we wish to interfere with the security which lies in having dye works capable of being converted at short notice into manufacturies of munitions and chemical explosives, but I am not exaggerating when I say there is the strongest discontent in the colour using trades and, of course, the textile trade uses about 80 per cent. of the colour consumed in this country. There is the strongest discontent against what we feel to be the unfairness with which we are treated as compared with our competitors. I think it is a fair appeal. It is not every trade that comes down to this House and says that it does not want protection, and too much bureauracy. It is not every Member that is prepared to say that his constituents—working people—ask for no favours at all, and when a Member can appeal like I am doing at present and ask solely for the right of getting in the most important materials in the world—for after all this is the most important export trade that the country possesses, the textile export trade. I say that when all he does is to ask that he and others shall be able to buy on the same terms as our French and Italian friends, and then we are prepared not only to compete with them all over the world, but prepared to allow them equality with us in our own market, that equality that makes for peace and free trade and good will among the nations the world over, then I think the Minister might listen with some amount of sympathy to the appeal.
During the last two or three weeks I have travelled something like 2,000 miles on the Continent of Europe. I have seen in these various countries the people at work. I saw no unemployment in France, practically none in Austria, none in Yugo- 797 Slavia, practically none in Italy. This country of ours is the Cinderella of the nations to-day so far as employment is concerned. In so far as my own trade is concerned I am pleading for the women and the children, for the unemployed father in the textile trade. It is with me and with others of us—I ask my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches to believe me for once—more a question of employment than a profit—of employment for our people. I maintain it is far more a question of providing work than of profit.
§ Sir THOMAS ROBINSON
It is not my intention to speak at any length, but as chairman of the licensing committee I think it my duty to point out one or two things, and to reply, at least in part, to the speech to which we have just listened to from the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. H. H. Spencer). In the first place, I am sorry that my hon. Friend has not taken the trouble to post himself up in the facts, which are well known to all consumers of dye and to the producers in the general textile trades. The Bill was approved by the dye users. On 3rd December, 1920, it was submitted to a meeting of dye users, and practically unanimously approved. The Bill was examined in every line and every paragraph, and assent was given. The Government were notified of that assent, and the dye users supported the Bill through all its stages, so there can be no doubt about it that this Bill has had practically unanimous support of the colour users of this country.
It must be within the recollection of hon. Members that on the face of the Bill there is a Government guarantee of prohibition for 10 years. On that guarantee we obtained approximately five millions of public money to run the industry. I submit that the Government are bound by that guarantee. So far as the colour users are concerned, they do not desire to go behind that. I shall refrain from saying what would convey information relative to this industry over to the Continent. I shall not be drawn into that, or into giving any information that might be detrimental to the British dye-making industry. But I can assure, my hon. Friend who has just sat down that there is a complete reply to what he has said this afternoon.
Let me give to the House some particulars of our organisation and our method of dealing with licences. At the 798 present time approximately 94 per cent. of the applications for licences have been dealt with within four days of the application being received; 62 per cent. have been dealt with on the same day. I am glad, very glad, to say that we are receiving very few complaints. On the other hand, I believe my committee has the confidence of the users in this country. What is the question that the organisation has to answer to the satisfaction of the users in this country when substituting British for German dyes? That British substitute is a real substitute. We have asked the Users Association to appoint four members on the committee and the producers to appoint four members, and this forms an expert committee of men, and every dye substitute has to be unanimously approved by these eight gentlemen. Further, the consumers appointed an expert and the producers another, and these two experts are members of the licensing committee, and advise the committee of eight to which I have referred. What better organisation could be adopted? [Interruption.]
I am not, let me say, a politician and I am not speaking as a politician. I am speaking, if I may say so, as one interested in the industry. The question of syndicates has been mentioned with the suggestion that our organisation favours a syndicate and that it is disadvantageous to the small consumer. There is absolutely no foundation for the statement. The small consumers have the same privileges because, as far as the Committee is concerned, they get exactly the same treatment as the large users. They get their dyes at the same price and at the same time as the large users. It is my duty, week in and week out, to keep all these various interests satisfied so far as I can, and, if there is any doubt about any matter, it is referred to the Committee. If we are told by the Committee of experts that certain colours must come in, we endeavour to satisfy the applicants. In some cases we do not grant leave for the full quantity applied for, but we are mindful in such cases to license a quantity to keep the industry running. I assure the House that every day in the week we are doing our very best to administer this Act. There are in the country, I believe, a number of purchasers who are what we term middle-men. Some of them during the War made pretty large fortunes. Some of them make a fair living dealing 799 with dyestuffs. It is quite true that some of these people have suffered. The trouble is this—and there is evidence for it—that France, Belgium and Italy are taking in reparation colours in larger volume than they can consume, or ever have consumed, and they sell the surplus outside to dealers. Some of our consumers occasionally come across these cheap lots and then they become very dissatisfied because they cannot purchase them at low prices. We have to run this industry in this country and this cannot be done without prohibition. British dyes to-day would not have succeeded to the point they have if they had not had prohibition, which is essential to the establishment of this industry. I want to say that every day we are marching nearer to the day when British dyes will be able to produce the largest volume of colour, of the best quality, and at the lowest price. Every week we have evidence of that. There has been marvellous progress made in the last three years, but the full development will require time. Colour users are practically unanimous in their support of the industry. My hon. Friend behind me has made the speech he has, but he does not know or he would not have said what he has done. The House may be assured in regard to the Licensing Committee.
§ Sir T. ROBINSON
Something has been said this afternoon about a certain colour having been applied for and not allowed. I know nothing about it, but I may tell the House and assure my hon. Friends that if details are sent to me within 12 hours the matter shall be dealt with. If any hon. Member of this House or elsewhere has any complaint to make, if he will write to me the matter shall be dealt with in 12 hours. I have undertaken this work, and I propose to carry it through. Very few letters have been received by us, but we always endeavour to deal with them. I ask the House on behalf of the Licensing Committee not to believe these fairy stories but to trust the Licensing Committee to administer the Act.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
I do not propose to travel over the ground so well covered by my hon. Friend opposite, but I should like to answer a few of the complaints put forward. It has been said 800 by several hon. Members that the textile industry of this country is being ruined by the present scheme. Really to those of us who are consumers of dyes, and have been consumers in some cases for 25 or 30 years, the whole thing is too absurd to answer. I have given figures to this House time after time, and I am going to give them over again this afternoon. When I tell the House that on the production of 150 yards of cloth the total cost of the dye in the production of that cloth is only 3 per cent. of the whole, what folly is it to come forward and say that this licensing scheme is ruining the textile industry! If there were no licensing whatever the cost of the printed and dyed cloth would not come down one brass farthing.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Before the War the merchants had two industries in which they sold at lower prices, and they were the bleaching trade and the dyeing trade. At that time we were printing and dyeing at a price that it was impossible to make any profit upon, and if it had not been for the War you would have seen most of the printing and dyeing industries in this country go smash. But now prices have been put up the merchants come forward and say, "This licensing is ruining our trade." They say that grey cloth is going abroad, but that has been going on for the last 20 years.
Let me take the case of Alsace and Lorraine. This cloth was sent there to be printed because we could not produce the same work owing to the water and the atmosphere and other conditions, and that trade will go to Alsace and Lorraine as long as we live. Take Holland. A certain amount of trade went to Holland, and it is going there to-day and will continue to do so, but if you take the average of the trade in cloth that went there before the War to be printed and dyed and compare it with the average that is going there now, you will find, practically speaking, no difference whatever. The dye industry is making very great strides. I am speaking here as a business man who has to make his money out of that trade. As a consumer, if I 801 thought this system was going to do anything to prevent me making a living, I should vote against it to-morrow. My hon. Friend opposite raised the question of the great amount of unemployment here, and compared it with the state of things abroad. He said that there is no unemployment in France, while we have a good deal of it here. The explanation is very simple. France is a vast agricultural country, and the men who have come back from the War are men who can work on the land, and a vast army of men have been drafted on to the land, and that is the real reason why there is no unemployment in France as compared with this country.
Now where are the complaints coming from with regard to people not being able to get these dyes from abroad? When the War broke out nearly every alien in this country bought up all the colours he could, and these men, who had only a few shillings to bless themselves with before the War, sweated us in the price of these colours, and we shall never forget it. Complaints are coming now from the same agents that they cannot make a profit for themselves so long as they cannot import the colours here and sell them to us at an increased price. Those are the men who are complaining that they cannot get the colours. Only last night an hon. Member showed me a letter from a firm complaining of the way the Licensing Committee was operating. The letter stated that they were ruining the textile industry of this country I looked at the heading of the letter, and I said that that firm was only a small firm of agents in Manchester who were selling this colour before the War. They want to get hold of the surplus colours which are at present in foreign countries in order that they may undersell our colours in this country, and so throw our men out of employment.
I appeal to hon. Members is it not better, even if we have to pay a slight advanced price for our colour, which will not make one iota of difference in the price of production of the cloth, to do that, and find employment for hundreds and thousands of men in this country. The dye works in this country have taken on a great number of men since the Ruhr question came on. I warned hon. Members of this House two years ago that if we ever have another war, I do not think 802 that we as consumers will ever allow ourselves to be placed in the same position as we were in during the Great War. What are the conditions now? You are getting no exportation of colour from the Ruhr to this country, and if you had an other war, you would have no German dyes at all. Therefore, an industry like the cotton trade must be self-contained with regard to the production of its own colours to allow us to carry on.
This is not a Measure of Tariff Reform. It is not a Measure of Free Trade or Tariff Reform at all, but simply a Measure to enable us to carry on for a certain number of years, and it will never be asked for after, because in 10 years' time we shall be the biggest colour producing country in the world if we are only given the chance to compete against the unfair competition abroad. I would like to add my appreciation of the Board of Trade for sticking to their guns and for carrying this Measure through. What is going to happen now if you allow Germany free access to this market? To-day the colours that we cannot produce in this country the Germans are selling at sweating prices in France. The Germans are charging us to-day 8s. 6d. per lb. for colours which we cannot manufacture here, and the colours which we have been manufacturing here they are dumping at any price.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
Because if we take these colours from Germany we shall be ruining our own colour works here.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
You cannot make here every colour that a country has been making for the last 50 years in six months' time. You have to allow a reasonable time to make them. For all the colours we cannot produce Germany is sweating this country and they wish to undersell us in regard to the colours we are making, and then she will bring down with a crash the dye works of this country, and once she has done that she has the trade in her hands as before the War, and she can put up the price of the cheaper colours, and what state then will your textile trade be in?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Why do we not take in reparation the colours which we do not make, and in regard to which Germany has a monopoly, and is selling at sweating prices?
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
We take 25 per cent. of those colours that we cannot make in this country, but that is a reparation question and does not deal with this subject. It does not deal with the business position. My argument is that if this country once again allows Germany to smash our works and get possession of our colour production your textile trade is ruined once and for all.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
However important the dye industry may be, it is hardly comparable to the importance of British trade and to the rehabilitation of that trade. I confess to a very great deal of amusement at the spectacle of business men quarrelling among themselves as to the merits or demerits of a particular Measure which has been passed by a former House and which operates in a particular industry. Surely it must be obvious that so long as the business men of this country have conflicting interests of that kind there is not the remotest possibility of restoring British trade to a normal condition of things. Hon. Members opposite have made reference to occasional trade disputes which in their judgment hamper British trade, but surely this conflict amongst commercial interests hampers British trade to an even greater degree than the industrial disputes which take place from time to time.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) deserves our congratulations for having initiated a debate on such an important topic as this question of British trade. At the same time I do not think he is deserving of any praise for his consistency, or for the proposals he has submitted to the Government so far as their practical character is concerned. Perhaps the Committee can remember an occasion not many weeks ago when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea, in the course of a memorable speech, with his usual lucidity argued against State interference in industry or commerce. That was the whole burden of his song. He said, "Hands off industry, keep out of the ring. and do not inter- 804 fere," and yet to-day he argues from the beginning to the end of his speech for complete State interference. He supports the Trade Facilities Act, which he says is most needful, and he complains that credits are not furnished in sufficient quantity. We are told that we have not resumed our trade with Russia.
We have also been told that the Government can afford to make bad debts, and it has been implied that it is right to enter into commerce and trade, and then he crowns all that by suggesting that the Government might spend hundreds of millions, not a paltry few millions, in the way of credits to British commerce and trade in their commercial relations abroad. I confess I cannot understand, neither can I appreciate the consistency of the right hon. Gentleman. Either the State must keep its hands off industry or, for reasons which are to be made clear, it must come in at this time. We on these benches believe that industry is in such an abnormal condition throughout the country that it is essential for the State at some point to come in. It has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Swansea, and also in an interesting and lucid speech delivered by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis), that there are political considerations involved. Undoubtedly that is so. The Government must be expected to deal with the political considerations before trade can be restored to its normal condition. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will be able to impress the Government with that fact.
It is said that we on these benches are unconcerned about the restoration of British trade. I admit that, in the course of speeches made from these benches and outside as well, the point of view we have to present to the country may have created an erroneous impression. What are the facts? We recognise that within the four corners of the existing system we are all, in whatever quarter of the House we sit, interested in British trade and commerce, both at home and abroad. We on these benches would like to change that system, but the pleasure of doing that must be deferred until some future time. We accept certain inevitable facts consequent on the system. We are anxious to restore trade. The problem divides itself into two parts—foreign trade and 805 home trade. With regard to foreign trade—it is quite a misconception, quite a misunderstanding—it displays a complete lack of knowledge of the situation, to argue, as the right hon. Member for Swansea did this afternoon, that if the Government, acting in conjunction with other Governments abroad, can settle the problems of Central Europe, trade will revive. It is equally a mistake to imagine that if you restore your trade relationship with Russia you will solve your industrial or trade problems here.
I do not want to minimise the importance either of a European settlement or of the resumption of trade relations with Russia, but hon. Members appear to forget—and this is a point which I think constitutes the most formidable menace against British commerce for many a long day—that Great Britain is no longer the chief manufacturing nation of the world. That is an important consideration. What are the basic industries of this country? I ventured last Wednesday, in the Debate on the Board of Trade Vote, to make reference to certain industries as our basic industries. I do not want now to go into details. Our basic industries are, broadly, coalmining, shipbuilding and engineering, and the shipping service. [Interruption.] I do not want to be misunderstood. I want the House to consider the question from the point of view that the actual quantity of production is not the matter which is of most importance to the nation. I submit, therefore, that the shipping services—notwithstanding their lesser importance as far as revenue is concerned—are still extremely important from a national commercial standpoint. Coalmining is gradually being restored to its normal condition.
But take the shipbuilding and engineering industries. One cause of the slackness in that industry is undoubtedly the handing over of a large number of vessels as a result of the Versailles Treaty. Do not let us trouble ourselves however about causes, whether they are immediate or remote. We have to get at the facts and to try to find a solution for the problem. Let me put this to hon. Gentlemen with regard to shipping. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of men who have been employed in the past in the shipbuilding and engineering 806 industries are idle to-day. Our shipping yards are doing nothing. The slips are empty. In my judgment it will take years, if ever it can be done, to restore the shipbuilding industry to its normal condition. Why? Japan does not want our vessels; she can build them herself. Other nations can build their vessels.
How then are you going to restore our shipbuilding industry? How are you going to employ the men who have in the past been employed in that industry? How are you going to provide for the shopkeeping classes who are dependent for their livelihood upon the men and women whose livelihood is concerned. in the shipbuilding industry? How are you going to provide for all those who were dependent on that industry in this country? The same thing applies to other industries, many of which have gone, perhaps never to return. How are these people to be dealt with? The right hon. Member for Swanssea thought he was submitting new ideas and proposals when he said—he denied that he was pessimistic, but at any rate he seemed most lugubrious—that you will have to electrify your railways, you will have to add one or two commissioners to the Electricity Commission. But these are not solutions of the problem. They may lead to the employment of a few more men. They may build up a small industry or two, but they do not touch the heart of the problem, which is that a great part of your foreign trade has gone, never, I fear, to reappear. We have to face that fact. You may settle the Ruhr problem, but your foreign trade will never be the same again. You have too many competitors to-day. You may settle your Russian problem, but it will not solve your own problem.
What is the remedy? I say that within the four corners of the existing system the remedies are very simple, and not even heroic as some people imagine. You will have to accept simple domestic remedies. Take for example again the men in the shipbuilding and engineering industries. They cannot be re-employed in those industries. They cannot be kept on the dole. It is deplorable they should be on the dole. You have to find new occupations for them. How are you to do that? Production depends on consumption. That is your trouble. If you have got in this country hundreds of 807 thousands of persons who are not consuming all that they might consume you are bound to have bad trade.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
Ships must be used, and does not the hon. Gentleman think that we can produce ships cheaper than our competitors? Cannot we expect in that way to get some of our trade back?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member will pardon me but I think I have some little knowledge of that industry. I am quite satisfied—and I feel sure the hon. Member will agree with me—that it is not a mere question of cheapness. That has nothing to do with the situation just now. As a matter of fact ships are not required. The United States of America are not likely to purchase ships from this country no matter how cheaply we can produce them, for the simple reason that they have more than they know what to do with. [An HON. MEMBER: "They cannot send them to sea!"] That is a very interesting question. The truth is that America has been making very laborious efforts to establish a mercantile marine, but it has never come off. That, however, does not help us. It is not a question of cheapness at all. It is a bigger question, and I am satisfied that the shipowners of this country do not refuse to build ships merely because of the cost. I was told by a prominent shipowner some weeks ago, with regard to a liner which was being constructed at a cost of £1,750,000, and which could have been built prior to the War for about £500,000, that the trouble was that, no matter how low the cost, the vessel would never earn sufficient to recoup the firm for their capital expenditure. In fact, vessels cannot earn enough money because of the great competition which is going on.
Remedies are to be found not in one country or another, but in all countries You cannot take this question and say that if you settle the Ruhr question or the Russian question that will end the trouble. It will not end the trouble to appoint one or two more Electricity Commissioners, or even to build a few hundred thousand houses. You want to have a national stocktaking and see exactly 808 where you stand, and if the commercial interests of this country could recognise the advisability of that course of action, it would be far better than all the senseless commercial rivalry which is saddling us with these present difficulties. I submit there is nothing more important than that we should concentrate our attention on the restoration of British industry, keeping in mind the great possibilities of more industrial development. In that connection, you must not forget the question of land, or of land reclamation. A great deal more might be done in that direction. The hon. Member for Wakefield suggested that we could not be self-supporting or self-sufficient. I quite agree, but we have never yet explored the possibilities of self-sufficiency. That is what we have to do.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The essential thing is to sit down and ascertain how far you can go. You have not done that yet. If you want to make the best of your capital system you must ascertain for yourselves how far the nation can go in the way of industrial development. Do not imagine you have explored to the full all possibilities of trade in this country. I hope that, as a result of this Debate to-day, we are not going to confine ourselves to the merits of housing and home or foreign conditions. They are not to be compared with the great broad question of British trade. There are greater issues before the country than those which have been referred to. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade presented to us an appalling picture last week. The House does not realise, the country does not understand the position. You who represent the Government have the greatest responsibility on this question of trade. You have to provide something for next winter, or the problems which have been worrying this House for the last six months will be intensified and aggravated, and probably you will not be able to deal with them at all when the time comes.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GOULD
I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has 809 just spoken on the manner in which he has expressed his own and his party's ideas on a technical question. As a shipbuilder, I must join issue with him on the general principles of his argument. In the first place, we had a revival of the general shipbuilding industry which promised, some six or nine months ago, to be continuous and lasting. We then had the Ruhr trouble, and contracts and orders promised fell off. We had in many yards a large number of orders. In one with which I am connected we had four orders. We have delivered, after a great deal of trouble and in very difficult circumstances, one ship, and I have had to close the yard down this week with three ships to complete, not because of any action of the Board of Trade or of the condition of the country, but simply because, in violation of an agreement reached between employers and men, a certain section of the workmen walked out in defiance of an agreement entered into by their own governing body. Thousands of men have been thrown on the streets in the shipbuilding industry to-day through the action of the boilermakers in coming out on an unofficial strike. The Board of Trade is not responsible for that.
§ Mr. GOULD
I believe I am in order in making that statement, and I challenge any contradiction of it. The facts are absolutely correct. With regard to the shipbuilding industry, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) drew a very doleful picture. He told us, practically, that there was no prospect of the shipbuilding industry in this country ever getting back to the condition in which it was before the War. He said we could not do so because other countries did not want ships and because America had so much tonnage available for use, and was capable of building so much, that we should have to find other occupation for the men who were formerly engaged in engineering and shipping. Nothing of the kind. If we can only get peace in industry, there is even the prospect to-day that we can, by foregoing profits as shipbuilders have been doing, and are prepared to do, get orders and put these men back to work. What is the position? Having been connected all my life with the shipping and shipbuilding 810 industry, I can say that there is not a single country in the world to touch us so far as shipbuilding quality is concerned. Notwithstanding all the conditions of labour and other considerations, there is not a country that can turn out a cheaper or a better ship than we can. Even under the conditions of trade to-day, we can turn out a ship in comparison and competition with any country in the world; and a better ship. American shipping! Fifteen million tons has to be subsidised out of that which is afloat today, and the 11 or 12 million tons of shipping, tied up in American ports, not only rotting but rotten, will never go to sea to compete with us.
There is another factor to be considered when we talk of the conditions of the shipbuilding trade. There are between five and seven million tons of shipping afloat to-day which in the ordinary course of events would have been scrapped in trade. It is obsolete tonnage which cannot work at a profit in competition with modern vessels, and, when the hon. Member for Linlithgow says that we cannot compete to-day, I wish to challenge him, because I know that last year and to-day the ships with which I have the privilege of being associated, despite the conditions, were and are able to trade in competition and not lose money. I quite admit at once that the difficulties of the British shipping industry are numerous and complex. We have not been assisted as we should have been by the Board of Trade or the Government. That is a past story. Because of the position taken up by the whole of the country towards shipowners during the War and the profits they were supposed to have made, and which they set aside for provision against the bad days that they knew were to come, which unfortunately, have come and have ruined and broken many a man who thought he was wealthy, it has been anathema to raise anything in connection with shipping in this House. The result is that legislation has been imposed on the industry which has had the effect of retarding its development. We have seen recently in the Fees Bill an enormous increase of charges which we cannot afford in normal times, and much less in the circumstances in which we trade today. It is the honest endeavour of every decent British shipowner to-day, despite the falling-off in the carrying 811 trade and the difficulties which exist in collecting freights between one country and another, to keep his ships afloat and going, because we know that although, if we lay them up, we may lose from £400 to £500 a month, if we only lose £200 or £300 a month by keeping them afloat we are saving money and creating employment.
The position to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow referred in Germany and the Ruhr is naturally one which must give us very great concern. I for one thoroughly agree with the President of the Board of Trade in his remarks last week as to the pessimistic outlook at the present moment, particularly so in the iron and steel trades, in the coal trade, and I believe I can say also in the carrying trade. If the Ruhr. situation were settled to-morrow, there could be no prospect of any increase in the volume of trade, but there would be, on the other hand, a very serious set back in the industrial conditions of this country. Despite the best efforts of every man in this country, regardless of party or creed, I cannot possibly conceive how we can avoid a position towards the end of the year which will seriously increase the number of unemployed in this country. Nothing mortal man can do will get away from it. Whether conditions in Europe remain the same or are altered by a settlement, conditions must get worse. Let us take the coal trade, one of the stable industries of the country. What is the position? In the first six months of this year we exported something like 10 or 12 million tons more to France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and Denmark than in the corresponding period of last year. That trade has gone off in the last two or three months. Because of the demand for that coal, high prices prevailed. Now the prices have come down, and because it takes two months between the end of the month and the period of ascertainment of the wages, we are going to see a period of false prosperity when miners' hopes will be raised by increased wages and suddenly dashed to the ground in the winter months by decreased wages because of decreased profits. Hon. Members may think that I regard lower prices as an indication of increased trade. I regard it as one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the country that we 812 should have had a false period of prosperity such as we have had, with high prices for a short period, giving false hopes to people who are entitled by every circumstance to expect that they will get a permanent condition of better wages.
If the Ruhr situation be settled tomorrow what will be the position? Our coal orders will fall off, and shipping will fall off because there will be less for us to carry. We shall be inundated with the products of cheap labour from the enormous factories that have been erected in Germany and the Ruhr in the last two or three years. I do not believe the House realises the position of the Ruhr to-day. I have had an opportunity to obtain information at first hand from a reliable source as to what is taking place in Germany. Our steel trade, with which we have prospered and done so well in the past, stands in the position of being well nigh taken from us by the conditions of manufacture at present prevailing in the Ruhr, and which shall be on a competitive basis in the future. The German people have utilised the resources and wealth of their country, not in the reconstitution and reconstruction of their immense factories, but in rebuilding with the most up-to-date and economical plant on such a basis that they cannot only compete with us but can deliver their goods to us at something like two-thirds of the cost of production in this Country. I am talking of basic industries. France is doing the same, and there is no doubt whatever that the struggle between the two countries is one which to the outsider in business and not to the politicians is one of domination and control of markets and world-trade as it was before. I admit it quite frankly, and it does seem to me that because of the conditions with which we are faced and the lack of unity between both sides—because both capital and labour are to blame for that, I admit—and because of the lack of appreciation of the difficulties, we are going slowly and steadily backwards in the race in which we have to take a part as we need our export trade for building business. To go back to the steel trade again, I find that Germany to-day, or if the occupation of the Ruhr ceased, could send their steel here and put us in such a position that we would immediately have to close down the bulk of our blast furnaces.
§ Mr. GOULD
We have a good many going. It is all very well to blame the Government for its inaction. It is also very well to say that you have remedies, but the hon. Member for Linlithgow has not given in his speech a single remedy except to say that we have to find other means of production. It seems to me a fatuous argument to say that this condition is going to arise, and then, after discussing it seriously and making admissions that I never expected him to make, to say that we shall have to get over the difficulties by finding other means of production. What is the position we have to face? Our position is that, no matter what we try to do or do, the demands of the country for raw material and food to sustain us are such that we must export in exchange a correspondingly large amount of goods if we are to maintain the trade balance of the country and not go bankrupt. If we are not to be, as the hon. Gentleman said, one of the premier manufacturing countries in the world, if we are not going to have big exports, how are we to avoid bankruptcy? Certainly not by obtaining some other means of production; certainly not by encouraging home consumption in this country, because, if there is no market for the goods which we must sell for our very national existence, how can there be the wherewithal to consume that which is manufactured at home by the people of this country? It seems to me that that is no remedy.
I thoroughly agree that other means will have to be found in substitution for those industries which have fallen into decay or disuse, but, on the other hand, hon. Members opposite, in the course of their arguments in Debates, take various points of view—points of view to suit the occasion. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) took to-day a strangely economic point of view. His speech might have been a speech from this side of the House. On the other hand, a few days ago hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench, leaders of the Labour party, took a point of view which is strangely inconsistent with that. They took the uneconomic point of view that in every possible way we must, by subsidy or subvention, maintain unprofitable pits and 814 collieries, and pretty nearly every industry in the country, in order to create employment. This afternoon we heard an entirely different story from the hon. Member for Linlithgow. He took to task the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) because he suggested State aid for certain undertakings which might be termed national undertakings. I did not laugh at the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) when he suggested a tunnel under the Humber. That is by no means a bad proposition, and it is a thing that will have to be done. We have to take into consideration this great fact, that, if we are going to be a competitive nation—and we have to be if we are going to maintain our existence and keep our heads above water—we must do everything, both privately and publicly, to reduce the cost of production and to expedite production in our manufacturing industries.
It is impossible, as conditions are today, with the policy of deflation that the Government is pursuing, making credit difficult, making the obtaining of money from the public for industrial undertakings almost impossible with any prospect of profit that can be held out as an inducement to the prospective investor—it is impossible to undertake schemes which, when carried through, may or may not be profitable, but which, as national undertakings, will be of very great benefit, and will have a very great bearing upon the success of every other industry, and induce a very great amount of employment in many scores of trades. Mention has been made this afternoon of high railway rates, and we admit and we know that both dock and railway rates are factors which contribute to a very great extent to the dissatisfaction of the people of this country, and to retarding trade development. How are we going to reduce them? It is never admitted that increased wages play a big part in increased rates and charges. That is never thought of; it is always because the railway companies are making large profits, and no allusion whatever is made to the fact that wages have increased by, I believe, something like 200 to 250 per cent. in the railway world. Railway and dock charges are very material factors, but, if we could get our railways electrified, and our docks and harbours electrically 815 equipped for quicker handling of goods than is possible to-day, a very great step would have been taken towards meeting the competition of other countries. It is possible in America, for instance, to transport coal a distance of 1,000 miles more cheaply than it is possible to transport it in this country for 50 miles. That is what we have to face in competition with other nations.
§ Mr. GOULD
That is what we have to face. There is no getting away from the fact that, as long as other countries have economical and efficient transport, we must lose unless we place ourselves in the same position. If the railway companies cannot raise money for these undertakings, why should not the State come forward and assist, not in subsidising or giving subventions to the companies, but in guranteeing the undertakings for a certain period of time, making the management of the undertaking or company responsible for the payment of the money? We have had experience of that in connection with loans or advances by banks. In these days the banks, because of the state of trade, are not in a position to make the loans that they would ordinarily make, and, wherever a loan is made by a bank to any undertaking, there is a responsibility for the repayment of the loan, by way of an assurance given by the company, on its record, that it is able to manage its undertaking in such a way as to ensure profitable working and a return on capital. If we have that, I see no reason why the State should not undertake schemes which, in the course of the next two or three years, would add materially to the cheapness of production and help materially in the development of the industries of the country.
We have heard very little lately as to what has really happened to those Departments which have been absorbed into the Board of Trade within the last 12 months or two years. One notices, for instance, that the Ministry of Shipping still has a large number of employés; one notices that remnants of the Food Control Department are still in existence; and we also notice that the Disposal 816 Board, for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, is still in existence, and is moving but very slowly towards extinction. There is also the Shipping Liquidation Committee. I know something about shipping, at any rate, and it seems to me that it would not, and should not, under whatever circumstances, and despite the largeness of the business, take all these many years to wind up that business. I know it can be said that claims cannot be ascertained for two or three years, and I know from practical experience that sometimes a period of three years does elapse before claims can be finally ascertained; but there is no reason for the retention of such a large number of people in that Department, and I submit most respectfully that there is something wanting if the Committee cannot be wound up more quickly. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will be able to give us some assurance that the Government intend seriously to undertake the consideration of works which will be productive, even though violating to some extent the canon of not undertaking any work by the State, and so providing material for a charge of taking the first steps in Socialism. We have to put, before every other consideration, the interest of the public, and I believe that, by supplying the necessary driving force for capital undertakings in various industries, which will improve their efficiency, we shall be going a very long way towards helping to meet the difficulties which we shall have to face in the winter, and towards strengthening our position in free, open competition in world trade, so that we may be able to compete with our neighbours abroad on equal or level terms.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I should like to ask the attention of the House to another subject, which, I venture to think, is of considerable importance, which is not in any sense a party subject, and which it is proper to raise in connection with the Board of Trade Vote. I refer to the treatment which is being meted out to the property of individuals who are British-born, under the Treaty of Versailles. It is within the knowledge of the House that, as that Treaty is drawn, and, indeed, as it is at present operated, there are oases of very great hardship, which have been thought worthy of the attention both of the House of Lords and of 817 Members of this House, without distinction of party at all. It seems to me that singularly little time has been occupied in this House in discussing a matter which is undoubtedly of great importance, and in connecton with which a good deal of hardship is inflicted on a number of people with whom, I think, British subjects ought to sympathise. They are men and women, and, perhaps, especially women, who come from families in our own land, who are British-born, and who—and usually it is the case of a woman who has married, it may be long before the War, a Hungarian, or an Austrian, or a German—are finding that their property, although it comes from their British relatives, although it is derived entirely from their connection with Britain, is being forfeited under the Treaty of Versailles.
I say that this is not a party question because I notice that, when it was discussed in another place, one of the speeches was made, Mr. Speaker, by your predecessor in the Chair, Lord Ullswater, and some of the most serious cases brought to the attention of the House of Lords were dealt with by Members of that House who could not be suspected of the slightest desire to be weak or unduly sympathetic with the hard case of a defeated enemy. Let me give to the House two instances, because it is easier to follow an instance than a general argument, which show how the Treaty of Versailles, if its strict terms be carried out, has in fact operated. I will take, first, one case which was actually quoted by Lord Ullswater in the other House. There was a Scotchwoman who married an Austrian—and I should, perhaps, say that he was a colonel in the Austrian Army—as long ago as 1867. She went over to Austria after her marriage to live with her husband. They had one child, a daughter, and, almost immediately after the birth of this child, the father died, and his widow and her baby came back to this country. They settled down here, mother and daughter, both of them in point of family, in point of speech, and in point of associations, purely Scotch, and they have never been back to Austria since. Such property as they had in their family was derived entirely from Scotch relatives, but technically the mother, of course, had become an Austrian subject. I do not know whether she was actually to be blamed because she did not take 818 steps before the War to change her nationality, but there she was, a Scotchwoman living among her Scotch relatives with her Scotch daughter in this country, with property which was the result of the accumulation or benevolence of her Scotch relatives. Everything went on happily until, shortly after the War broke out, the mother died, having left a will in which she gave the property, as was natural, to her daughter. What does the Treaty of Versailles do with that property? It says to the daughter, "Although this property comes from your Scotch relatives, although your mother was in point of origin and associations a British subject, although you, the daughter, have no recollection of your father, for he died when you were a child a few months old, although you have never lived in Austria since that moment, your property is forfeit to the British custodian under the terms of the Treaty which was made between this country and Austria." Everyone can see that that kind of case is a hard case, and I am not saying at all that provision has not been made in a certain measure to deal with it; but the question which I ask the House to consider is, whether the provision that has been made is anything like adequate. Let me take a second example. It happens also to be the case of an Austrian and a Scotchwoman. The Austrian came to this country at the age of 15. He carried on his life here. He married a Scotch girl. This happened long ago, but the two of them are still living and they are about 70 years old. These people in course of time set up a hotel, which they carried on by their own energy and I have not the slightest doubt the wife, with her Scotch traditions and thrift, has been quite as much responsible for the success of the hotel as her husband, and here these people are, living under British law, believing that this was a place where accumulated savings were safe, but as the result of the operation of the Treaty which was made at the end of the War their hotel, which represents their life work here in our island, has been compulsorily seized and sold and has realised some £13,000, and all that is left to these people is a compassionate grant of £1,000 apiece. I want to ask whether we ought really to be content, without at any rate asking for a little more explanation and, I hope, reconsideration, with the opera- 819 tion of a Treaty which in cases of that sort produces such undoubtedly hard results.
May I point out how this thing comes about. If I go back it is merely for the purpose of clearness of exposition. Of course, nothing is better established than that a civilised community, apart from the express stipulations of Treaties, has no right whatever to forfeit or to confiscate the property of an individual who is living inside the community merely because that individual is the subject of a State with which we were at war. That is an elementary principle which every civilised State has been expected to recognise for centuries. I should like to give two quotations. Lord Finlay, whose authority on this subject matter is recognised by everyone, laid it down in a judgment which he gave in 1918:It is not the law of this country that property of enemy subjects is confiscated. Until the restoration of peace the enemy can, of course, make no claim to have it delivered up to him, but when peace is restored he is considered as entitled to his property with any fruits which it may have borne in the meantime.No one can doubt that that is a well-established practice as between civilised nations, apart of course from the express provisions of a Treaty. The other quotation I wish to give is from Lord Birkenhead, who in 1919, laying down the law in the House of Lords, said:It is a familiar principle of English law that the outbreak of war effects no confiscation or forfeiture of enemy property.So we start with this, that if it had not been for the terms of the Treaties which have been made there can be no question at all that the distinction would have been drawn, as it is ordinarily drawn, between the liabilities of a State and the right's of a subject and that we should have recognised that people who live in this country and under our law and pay our taxes as individuals are, apart from Treaty stipulations, entitled to the private property which belongs to them, even though they are enemies.
How did it come about? It came about because amongst the very elaborate provisions of the Treaty of Versailles there is a provision which works out in this extraordinary way. Here let me draw a distinction. For my part I do not see anything to complain of; on the 820 contrary, it has seemed to me a businesslike and sensible arrangement to provide, as we do in these treaties, that you may set off debts which are due from British traders in this country to Germans against debts which are due by Germans to British traders. There is no reason at all that I can see, in good sense or in fairness, why you should not make an arrangement by which you discover at the end of the War the different cases in which there are debts owing from individuals who are British subjects in this country to German firms or companies or individuals in Germany, and that then, instead of paying those sums of money in the ordinary way, you should set up a clearing house and get those sums of money paid into a fund, and that fund should be available in order to meet the claims which British subjects have against Germans in Germany. That is a thoroughly sensible arrangement.
But the Treaty of Versailles went further and contained a financial provision so ingenious that I can only attribute it, I will not say to Mr. McKenna, but to the Postmaster-General. No other mind could possibly have been so ingenious. It is a provision that you shall not merely secure this fund, out of which the claims that British subjects have against Germans may be discharged, by intercepting and collecting the moneys which are owed by British subjects to Germans, but that you should proceed to lay hold of any scrap of property which belongs to any German, Austrian or Hungarian in this country, and you should not only make that answer for the claims of British subjects against individuals in those different countries, but you should even make the private property of one of these ladies to whom I have referred, who is only, let us say, an Austrian subject because long ago she married an Austrian, available to pay any claims which anyone has against any German or any Hungarian. It is a most extraordinary principle.
The provision is so extraordinary that the different Powers associated with us in the framing of the Treaty have in more cases than one found it necessary to alter it. I notice, for example, that Belgium is so conscious of the hardship which is inflicted upon women who are 821 Belgian born, but who none the less find their property forfeited because they have married into one or the other of the enemy nationalities, that she has exempted altogether from seizure the property which belongs to Belgian-born women and which comes to them in their rights as Belgians. If that were so in this country we should not be inflicting this grave hardship upon a number of individuals who are British in every sense, but that they had the misfortune, if it is a misfortune, to marry the man of their choice at a time when they could not anticipate future events, and he turned out to be ultimately of the country of our enemies. I see that the United States of America, which had exactly the same rights we have, has, I believe, in the course of the present year passed an Act of Congress which, as I understand it, has exempted from the operation of this Clause of the Treaty the property of individuals notwithstanding that they are enemies if they are American-born. I believe they have gone further, and they are protecting the property of individuals, whoever they may be, who are actually resident in the United States, because it appears to me to be a very curious proposition that you should accept an individual not merely as a visitor, a stranger who is within your gates, but as one of your own community for all purposes, and yet you should turn round on him or her when the war is over and say, "These things do not in the least matter. Now the war is over I am going to forfeit your private property."
I came across an instance the other day, which has been discussed before the Supreme Tribunal of the land, which illustrates the extraordinary way in which the Treaty works, very graphically, indeed. It is one of those difficult cases which lawyers have to deal with, which involve the subject of double nationality. There are a number of people living in this island who, by British law, are British subjects, but who, by some foreign law, may at the same time be regarded as subjects of a foreign country. You had such cases during the War. You had the case, for example, of the man whose mother was here at the moment when he was born and who, therefore, by English law is regarded as British. But, at the same time, if his father was a German, German law would regard him as 822 German. That is a case of double nationality. How did we deal with such a person when the War was on? He was treated as a British subject. He served in the Army. He was required, under the Military Service Acts, to serve in the Army even if he had not volunteered to do so, as some of them did. It was no good while the War was on for such an individual to come forward and say "I am a person of double nationality. It is true I am British from one point of view, but I am German from another." While the War was on we said, "We care nothing about your German nationality. It is your British nationality that we are interested in, and you must serve like every other British subject." That may be quite right, but when the War is over, and when the question arises whether you are going to forfeit his property, and he says, "I am of double nationality; I may be German by German law, but I am British by British law"—is it right to say to that same individual, "I care nothing about that. I am not interested in your British ntaionality. I am now going to forfeit your property, because you are a German." I cannot believe it is in the interests of the honour and good faith of this country that we should allow the Treaty to be thus interpreted and applied. It was so interpreted by the House of Lords within the last month, and it is being so applied, and the question I wish to bring to the attention of the House is the way in which the discretion is being exercised by the Government, and more particularly by the Department of the right hon. Gentleman opposite which deals with these matters.
The Treaty of Versailles, and the corresponding Treaties with Austria and Hungary, contained this extremely severe penal provision which will automatically expose all this private property, be it small or great, to the burden which the Treaties put upon it. But before the Treaty became operative in this country it was necessary to carry an Act of Parliament which was called, the Treaty of Peace Act and to make an Order in Council which is called the Treaty of Peace Order, which contains a provision that "all property, rights and interests within His Majesty's Dominions or Protectorates belonging to German nationals at the date when the Treaty comes into force are hereby charged, etc." But it also contains, very properly, a provision 823 that "any particular property, rights or interests so charged may at any time, if His Majesty thinks fit, be released from the charge so created." That is what makes this proper to be raised on this occasion because it lies within the discretion of the Government and of the Board of Trade to say in what cases and to what extent this undoubtedly harsh provision is to be relaxed. The right hon. Gentleman has been asked a number of questions about this. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nottingham (Captain Berkeley) has been persistent in well doing, as have my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) and others, and we are obliged to them. The answer which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, or his Under-Secretary, gives is this. He says to the House of Commons: "This is all in the hands of Lord Justice Younger's Committee, and surely you cannot imagine anybody more likely to do it fairly and rightly than Lord Justice Younger. We have handed it over to this impartial body, and this impartial body advises us how we are to act." I would be the first to recognise that Lord Justice Younger's Committee is a most admirably constituted body, but—
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I would not like the right hon. Gentleman to answer a case which I do not propose to make. Lord Justice Younger's Committee carries out the Regulations laid down by the Government, but there is no discretion to go beyond those Regulations, and the attack on the Regulations should be made entirely, I think, against myself and the Government, and not at all in respect to the action of Lord Justice Younger's Committee.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would communicate with his Under-Secretary, for I have here an answer which was given by the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary to the Board of Trade on 23rd July to a question which I put to him. I thought, as I gather that the President himself thinks, that it is not true, that it is not seemly, or decent, or accurate, to suggest that this matter is entirely to be. referred to Lord Justice Younger's Committee, and that therefore the Government are 824 relieved from having to answer for what they are doing. I, therefore, put this question to the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary:Does not the Treaty confer on the British Government the right and the duty of exempting the property in cases in which the application of the Treaty would produce these shocking consequences?What was the answer given by the colleague of the right hon. Gentleman? Did he say, "That is a matter which the Government must justify, and we will not pray in aid Lord Justice Younger's Committee"? No. What the Noble Viscount said was this:It has been decided that each case must be dealt with on its merits, and cases are referred to the Committee over which Lord Justice Younger presides."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1923; col. 31; Vol. 167.]I want to call attention to the fact that, as a matter of fact, Lord Justice Younger's Committee has an extremely limited power, and cannot go outside it.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I know very well the right hon. Gentleman would never think of throwing the blame on anybody else. The Committee consists, I believe, not only of Lord Justice Younger, but of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Sir M. Macnaghten), and it also includes the hon. and gallant Member for Reigate (Brigadier-General Cockerill). If I may presume to say so, there are not two Members of the House, and I doubt if there are three people in the country, to whose good sense and judgment in a matter of this sort I would more willingly trust, but what are the limits of the power which they are exercising? It is laid down that the applicant for this compassionate relief must have been a resident here before the War if the full relief is given, and that the applicant must be necessitous, which means that you claim the right to forfeit the property of a British-born woman who has married an Austrian or a German if she has a good deal of property, and even when these conditions are satisfied, I understand that if the individual is resident here, the individual, as a maximum, cannot get more than £1,000 capital out of the whole of the capital forfeited. On the other hand, if the applicant is not resident here, there is this amazing distinction: If the appli- 825 cant is a British-born woman, who has committed the offence of marrying a German, then the applicant as a maximum might get £500, but, on the other hand, if the applicant is a British-born woman, who has committed the different offence of marrying an Austrian or a Hungarian many years ago, the applicant cannot get more than £200.
I should very much like to know on what conceivable principle of justice or good sense this differentiation is made. I know why it is done. It is done for a reason which I venture to say, with all responsibility, is a mean reason. It is done because the fund which is available to meet claims in the case of Austrians or Hungarians is in so serious a financial state that it is thought it is wrong to be as generous in the case of a British-born lady who is the wife or widow of an Austrian or a Hungarian as in the case of one who has married a German. That, surely, is a most ridiculous and, indeed, a most insulting differentiation, and I cannot believe that anybody who approaches this question, not in the spirit of a debt collector, but in the spirit of a statesman who wants to see his country's reputation stand high in dealing with these grave matters, is really going to justify that distinction. I would point out that while I have dealt with Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians, there remain the Turks. There is something to be done by waiting. The Turks, I understand, have now got a Treaty known as the Treaty of Lausanne, and I observe, by such examination as I have been able to make of its terms, that the Turk, at any rate, has avoided these inconvenient controversies. If you can produce an English or a Scottish woman who has committed the rather rash act of joining the family establishment of a Turk, she, at any rate, is going to remain with her ancestral possessions.
I want to call attention to these matters, because they are really not party matters at all, and I hope that in nothing that I have said it will be supposed that I do not recognise that the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the. Government would in this matter desire to administer the Treaty as fairly and properly as they can, but I think this matter has got too much into the hands of some compartment, or Department, which is not looking at it in a broad way. If you look 826 at it in a broad way, I think you might perhaps think it well to bear these points in mind. There have been cases where property has been brought under this Clause, where it has been appropriated and confiscated, and actually represents money that has been put into the British Savings Bank, the Post Office Savings Bank, by some enemy alien. Is it a wise thing, is it a dignified thing, is it a thing that is really going to inure to the credit and the reputation of this country to say, "Here we are, people are free to come here and live under our laws. We do not expel them; we only require them to obey the law and pay the taxes. If they like to save, their savings are theirs, and there is no place where you can put your money so safely as in the Post Office Savings Bank. But, mind you, when we administer the Treaty of Versailles, we will confiscate your money, and now you shall realise what really is meant by the wise administration of the law"?
I cannot believe that, looking at the thing as it ought to be looked at, in a broad way, it can be a desirable thing to do such acts as that or to produce that impression, and as far as I am concerned I claim most boldly that in raising this question in this House, as Lord Buckmaster raised it in the other House, I do it because, like everybody else in this House, I love my country and I want my country in this matter to come out of the administration of this Treaty with a reputation which does not belie the great reputation that Great Britain has always enjoyed. The answer which is put from what I call the debt-collecting side of this matter is this: It is said: "There are very heavy claims which are made against various German individuals or against the German State; there are many British subjects who have suffered cruelly and frightfully in the loss of their private possessions—sailors who have had their little belongings taken from them—and these people are the people who have the first claim upon our consideration." So they are, but I should be very slow to believe that there is any honest man in England, sailor or trader, who would get up and say: "I am owed something by a German or by the German State, and I call upon the Government to collect the debt by forfeiting the savings of some Scotchwoman who has married an Austrian." I do not believe there is any Briton who 827 would do it, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would be interpreting far more truly the real desire of public opinion in this country if he recognised that this Treaty—it is nobody's fault; it is a very complicated Treaty—is a Treaty which in this respect has, by administrative act, to be substantialy modified.
I said that this matter had been discussed already in another place, and it is noteworthy that when this matter was raised in another place, on 6th April, 1922, although explanation was offered on behalf of the Government, the House of Lords entirely declined to accept the Government's explanation as adequate, and I notice that among those who supported Lord Buckmaster and Lord Ullswater in calling for a substantial modification, was no less a person than the Marquess of Salisbury. He voted for this Resolution, which has, I am afraid, not been put into operation:That the terms of the Peace Treaty appropriating the private property of enemy subjects shall not apply to sums of £5,000 or less where the owner is either born of British parents or has been resident in this country continuously for 25 years before 4th August, 1914.This is one of the cases in which it is very easy for an ingenious man—and the right hon. Gentleman is very ingenious—using departmental detail to produce some sort of plausible excuse for the way in which this thing is being operated, but I submit to the House that if it be looked at, as it ought to be looked at, as a large matter of public policy, and not as a branch of a debt collecting agency, the House of Commons ought not to be content unless the Board of Trade is prepared in this matter to recommend the Government to make a substantial modification in order to relieve these people of what is a very hard measure indeed.
I should have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman might think it well to have appointed, it may be, quite a small Committee, or even to have invited the three gentlemen who are serving so admirably as Lord Justice Younger's Committee to let us know what, from their own experience, their own day to day experience of how this really works, they think would be a suitable modification. If that were done, I believe the Government would be 828 meeting a certain number of very hard cases, and they would be taking from us all the most uncomfortable feeling that in the actual administration of these Treaties, in the multitude of things which a Government has to do, this matter is being dealt with in a peddling way, which is injuring our reputation, which is really belying our proud claim that our country is a place where people may, at any rate, be sure that their rights will be fairly respected, and more and more causing individuals to feel that the use which is being made of these Treaties is one which was not really consistent with the high purpose which caused the War to be undertaken and carried through.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mrs. WINTRINGHAM
I wish to support the case which has been so ably and so admirably put by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). He has gone into the matter so thoroughly that it is rather useless for anyone following him to go into the same details. The cases which he has quoted have, I am sure, touched every Member of the House, and further cases could be quoted, as they are continually being brought to my notice, but I want to make a plea, because these women who are suffering are of my own flesh and blood. They are as English as I am, and as English as any Member of this House. One knows how, during the War, these women suffered, and I feel that, as they are of our own flesh and blood, they need some sort of special consideration in the circumstances. Why should a woman who marries an alien lose her property any more than a man who marries an alien? A woman should have the same right to dispose of her property as a man. What is right for a man should be right for a woman. The laws were made by men, the War was made by men, and the so-called Peace Treaty was made by men, and one cannot help but feel that if women had had a hand in any of these things these difficulties would not have arisen in the same way. The impounding of property of an ex-enemy alien is a new departure, and quite contrary to the traditions of England since 1215. Of all countries in the world, I think we should represent the interests and security of property. One feels that, as the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said, it is not a party question, but it is a case of human justice.
§ Captain BERKELEY
I, too, would like to say a few words in support of the case that has been put, if I may say so, so admirably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), and so well reinforced by the hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham). This is a case in which I, in common with a number of my friends, feel very deeply. When I put a question on this subject last Monday, I expected there would have been some kind of reply indicating the intention on the part of the Government to meet this obvious case of injustice, and I was staggered when the Noble Viscount, in making his reply, laid it down that the Board of Trade had no intention of issuing instructions to protect the case of those women of British nationality who were being deprived of their property, and then threw it out, as though it were a great concession, that in necessitous cases it was possible for relief to be obtained from Lord Justice Younger's Committee. I venture to believe that it will be the opinion of the great majority of Members of this House that it should not be put on the plea of necessity, but it should be recognised as an inalienable right that these women of our own nationality, who, in pre-War days, married, what are now ex-enemy nationals, should keep the property that was provided for them by their British parents from British sources to protect them from need. It seems to me that the case really does not admit of argument. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, with his customary fairness, has been at some pains to point out the excuses that can be made on the other side. I believe it will be the wish of this House to sweep those excuses aside, and to do this small act, if I may so call it, of reparation to a number of people who have been very hardly used.
There was a case put forward in another place which I will briefly recount to the House. It was the case of an old woman who was a Dane, and who long ago got married to an Englishman, and thus acquired British nationality. She had a daughter who got married to someone of ex-enemy nationality. The old woman had a certain amount of savings, with which she was ekeing out her old age. Her powers were failing her, and so an arrangement was made that the 830 property should be transferred into the name of her daughter for purposes of administration. By the execution of these astonishing provisions of the Treaty, that property has been taken away. I submit that that is a perfectly monstrous state of affairs. I have had a case brought to my knowledge by a friend of mine who is trustee for a woman, a relative of his, who, before the War, married a Hungarian. Her father was most anxious to make every provision to safeguard her against eventualities. He settled on her gilt-edged securities, and stocks of various kinds, amounting in the total to £38,000. That was 18 years ago—10 years before the War. The War came, and her husband being a Hungarian was ruined, and then the crowning and crushig blow came when she found that, not only was her husband ruined, but that she was ruined, too, that the property which her father had left her against just such an eventuality as the ruin of her husband, was, by the operation of the Peace Treaty, taken away.
I do not wish to labour this point any further, but I do want to impress upon the Government that, however defensible the original provisions of the Treaty may be, however excellent may have been the idea of taking the property of Germans in this country for the purpose of satisfying claims against German nationals by British people, and however much the framers of the Treaty may have thought that they had safeguarded those dispossessed from injustice, by providing that the Government of the ex-enemy country should compensate the person dispossessed to the extent of his dispossession, there has, in fact, been created a state of affairs which was never intended at all, and I would go further and say, a state of affairs which no honest man can defend. If the Government, now that this has been pointed out so vividly by my right hon. Friend, take no steps to rectify this serious wrong which is, one might say, tantamount to robbery, the Government would deserve to be execrated throughout the length and breadth of the land. I venture to hope that the Noble Viscount, who is representing the right hon. Gentleman at the moment, will give this matter more serious consideration than it received when I put a question on this subject last Monday.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I am sure the whole House has heard with considerable interest the fair-minded speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down had left it as presented in those moderate terms, it would have lost nothing in weight. There are difficulties in connection with this matter, and there is, undoubtedly, another side to it, but I venture to appeal to the Government—because, as the right hon. Member for Spen Valley said, there is no question of party politics at all—to give some reconsideration to this matter. I do not use the term "robbery," or anything like that, but it does seem to me that a very fair case has been made out for re consideration, and I hope it will be possible for the Government to give the Committee which has been set up much more discretion and much wider powers than it has got at the present time. I believe there is a very strong case for following the example of Belgium, and giving British-born subjects the same privileges that Belgium has given to Belgian-born subjects. But there are other considerations, and perhaps the Government may not see their way to go to that extent. I must say, however, that I am surprised to hear the limitation of this particular Committee, and that when cases are brought before them, such as we have heard this evening, they are only able to give, in the case of Germans, the sum of £500 capital value. How that figure has been arrived at, or why, in the case of Hungarians, it has been put on the lower scale of £200, I do not know, and I should like to have further information. The fact that when the Committee have cases before them such as that of a hotel realising the sum of £13,000, the people being to all intents and purposes British subjects, it is only possible to award to those people such a small and miserable amount, must put the Committee in a very great embarrassment indeed.
At any rate, the practical course could be taken, and well within the terms of the Treaty and the arrangements that the present Government have made, to extend the scope of the Committee, and give them power, on merits, to award, according to their judgment, any amount up to the amount claimed. I think we may well trust the Committee to do that. 832 There may be individual cases where it would be an unfair thing, perhaps, to give the property back. I could conceive of extreme cases where, having regard to-things that have passed, and the conduct, perhaps, of the person concerned, and matters of that sort, it would, perhaps, be an unfair thing to take certain sums of money away in such a case. There is a case for the Government reconsidering this matter; as far as the jurisdiction of the Committee is concerned, and it is in that sense and in that spirit, speaking entirely apart from party—because, as has been pointed out, a number of members of the Conservative party have asked the Government to reconsider this matter—that I support the appeal made by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I wish to make a few observations upon a matter which may seem of very minor importance compared with the items referred to by the last two speakers. I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade a few days ago with regard to the claim of a man for damages due to action by the enemy during the War. In this case no property was destroyed, but the life of a woman was destroyed as the result of an air raid. She was the wife of a poor workman who had no funds at his disposal to meet the extraordinary medical expenses and the funeral expenses consequent upon the woman's premature death. A claim was submitted on the basis of the certificate supplied by the local doctor, who stated very definitely that death was wholly due to the air raid. This case was not dealt with finally until two or three weeks ago, when it was stated that the claim did not come within the meaning of the powers held by the Commission which deals with these cases. The President of the Board of Trade reiterated that statement in reply to my question.
It seems to me that either the Commission are wholly guided by the amount of money at their disposal, or they are not giving the sympathetic consideration to these isolated cases that they warrant. If they are working within certain financial limitations which do not permit them to give the sympathetic consideration to which the cases are entitled, the right hon. Gentleman should appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a 833 more useful sum of money so that all these cases can be dealt with as they are entitled to be dealt with. If, on the other hand, the powers of the Commission are so limited that cases of this description cannot be dealt with by the Commission, there is ample room for an extension of the powers of the Commission.
In this case the husband is a poor workman, and all he receives is a very low wage, even in the very best of times. Consequently, he could have no reserve for extraordinary expenditure and the extraordinary medical cost to which he has been put. Funeral expenses were excessive at that particular period, and he had no reserve funds with which to meet them. Further, he had to employ domestic help, and he had not only to provide food for the lady who undertook the domestic functions but to pay her a wage for a very long time, which, out of his own small wages, almost left him and his children without sufficient money to enable them to buy the normal quantity of food for full physical development. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will investigate this and similar cases with a view to doing one of two things, either appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a larger sum of money and not leaving these people wholly dependent upon illusory reparation money, or, on the other hand, seeing to it that the powers of the Committee are so extended as to make it possible for these cases where the evidence is absolutely conclusive to be dealt with by the Commission as sympathetically as they ought to be dealt with.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir P. RICHARDSON
I rise to support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) in regard to the property of women who have married foreigners. There have been many very great hardships imposed upon ladies who have married foreigners. One case was brought to my notice of an Irish lady who married an Austrian. At the end of the War the Austrian left his wife in England and went to reside in Austria. She was possessed of jewellery which she had had before her marriage, and which had been given to her during her married life. She found herself without means and sold this jewellery and invested the money in British securities, thinking herself per- 834 fectly safe; but, to her great surprise, these securities were held to be forfeit, and she was granted a very small sum, because she was an Austrian subject. That seems to me an exceedingly hard case, and I trust that the Government will see their way, first, to grant additional scope to Lord Younger's Committee, and, secondly, to include in the reference that such cases may be made retrospective. I have merely quoted this case because it appeared to me to be preposterous that a lady who had private property in the form of jewellery, which was not likely to be taken from her, and who, because she was patriotic enough to invest this property in British securities, should be deprived of it. If there is a further reference, and I hope there may be, I trust that the cases which have already been decided may be brought up again with a view to remedying that which has been opposed to the intentions of the Treaty of Versailles.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
There are two sides to this question. There have been cases of Englishwomen who have married foreigners and have entirely, adopted the feelings and nationality of their husbands, and all their lives have been absent from England, and to all intents and purposes have become foreigners. That is one side of the case—which does not appeal so greatly to our sympathy. There is another side, such as that which the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) brought to our notice, the case of the Englishwoman who has married a foreigner and who has lost her husband and returned to Great Britain and has not been re-naturalised. Consequently she has been struck by the awful misfortune involved in a certain reading of the Treaty of Versailles.
One case was brought to my notice last Saturday of a lady who married a German in 1880, before there was any suspicion as to the policy of Germany, and when the late Emperor William was a lad of 20 This lady lost her husband. She ought no doubt many years ago to have re-nationalised herself as British, but she did not. Her father left her a considerable fortune, with the user of it to her stepmother. On the death of the stepmother in 1922 the Public Trustee intervened and seized the whole of this property which the lady's father had left to 835 her. Here again we have one of these cruel cases such as have been referrd to by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley and others.
The whole thing depends on the individual case. It does seem to me that this Committee ought to be able to go individually into each case, and in those where large sums of money have been forfeited by persons to whom we cannot impute any blame whatever, but only the slight carelessness of not re-nationalising themselves many years ago when they lost their husbands, not merely paltry eleemosynary sums of £200 or £500 should be returned, but, as far as possible, some form of complete compensation should be given. In such a case as that of the hotel keeper's wife, which was referred to, it is not of much use to give £500 to a person who has had £13,000 confiscated, and who has never been out of England all her life. Cases like that are cruel, and I trust that the Noble Lord in charge of this matter will give an assurance that every case will be dealt with on its individual merits; that those who have ceased to be British should have some consideration, but those who have shown all their lives that they wish to remain British should receive something more than an eleemosynary £200 or £300.
§ Mr. FILDES
I rise to emphasise, so far as I can, the urgent necessity of the Government doing something to remedy what is a very obvious injustice. The House is under a debt of gratitude to the right hon. Member for Spen Valley for drawing attention in such detail to this very important subject. I attach great importance to the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman that he did not raise this question as a party question, and I would appeal to the Noble Lord to regard it from that point of view. The fact that the Noble Lord inadvertently made an inaccurate reply to the question put to him on this matter does show that there has been some misunderstanding on the part of the Government Department with regard to it, and therefore I trust that on reconsideration one of two suggestions will be adopted.
Either additional facilities should be given to Lord Justice Younger's Committee to deal with this matter or legis- 836 lation should be brought in on the line of the proposals adopted in Belgium and the United States. If either of these two courses is adopted, it will be a great relief, not only to Members in all parts of the House, but throughout the country generally. The instances given to the House this evening of British-born persons who have been married for 40 years, who have never left the country, who inherited money from British-born parents, and who had that money confiscated on a technical interpretation of a Treaty, are very striking, and, though I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, who termed what has been done robbery, yet it is going as near robbery as anything I ever heard of. I am certain that the Noble Lord, with his long tradition of ancestry and of fairness in legislation, will be singularly careful to see that nothing wrong is done in the name of law in this country, or by a misinterpretation of the law, but that what has been done will be remedied, so far as he himself can secure it. I feel confident that when he rises to speak he will promise us a remedy for what is, indeed, a great injustice.
§ Mr. REMER
I hope that I shall not be thought unsympathetic with the views which have been expressed by my hon. Friend and others who preceded him, if I do not refer to the particular subject with which he dealt. I wish to refer to another subject upon which I feel very deeply, and which I think should receive the immediate and urgent consideration of His Majesty's Government. I refer particularly to the large and increasing importation of foreign manufactured goods into this country. Last year nearly £200,000,000 of foreign manufactured goods came free of duty into this country. Among them were such goods as motor tyres, manufactured silk, and manufactured lace, all of which are pure luxuries which could very well be done without at the moment. When we come to consider the position of this country at present, when we have over a million people out of work, it is the height of lunacy that we should allow such an enormous flood of foreign manufactured goods to come in.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
; I hope that the hon. Member will connect his remarks with the Board of Trade Vote.
§ Mr. REMER
Yes, I was going to submit that the President of the Board of Trade has power to deal with the situation to which I am referring. I would refer particularly to the collapsed exchanges, which are having a most serious and increasing effect upon our trade. Only to-day I was coming in the train with a very prominent wool manufacturer from Lancashire. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for the Waterloo Division of Liverpool (Lieut.-Colonel Buckley), who represents the Overseas Trade Department, is not present, because he was a partner of one of the largest firms of wool brokers in Liverpool, and that firms holds wool sales frequently in Liverpool; and I was told by this woollen manufacturer to-day that nearly every buyer who goes to buy wool at those particular sales is either a German, a Swiss, or a Frenchman, and that though that wool is bought in Liverpool, it is actually manufactured in France and then shipped back to this country to the displacement of working people in this country. The same thing, I am credibly informed, is happening with reference to cotton. A well-known manufacturer, who has works in Bolton and in Belgium, tells me that he can import cotton into Belgium, manufacture it, and export it to this country, at a cost fully 25 per cent. less than in his works in Lancashire. I say, without the slightest hesitation, that this position cannot go on any longer. The Government must stir themselves to find some means of remedying it, either with the aid of the powers they already possess, or with other powers with which they should invest themselves.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would point out to the hon. Member that a question requiring legislation cannot be discussed here. The hon. Member can deal with the existing powers of the Government, and contend that they are or are not using those powers sufficiently.
§ Mr. REMER
I will try and keep within the requirements of debate, but I am quite sure the Board of Trade already have powers which will enable them to deal emphatically with the present situation. I do not think we should allow any old shibboleth to stand in the way of those powers being effectively used. I hope the Noble Viscount will not only consider this himself, but will impress upon other 838 Ministers who are not on the Front Bench at the moment that this question is a very pressing one, which should be dealt with without further delay.
§ Mr. BROTHERTON
It seems to me that the Board of Trade Vote affords very wide scope for the inclusion of many things in the course of the Debate. I have listened to numerous speeches, which have brought in many subjects, and I am particularly interested in the matter of industry as a workman. It appears to me that the Board of Trade, or the Government generally, does not do all it might to assist the particular industry to which I belong, and which has been going through a very serious period of depression since the conclusion of the War. It has gone through that very long period of depression, owing, in my belief, to the folly of the previous Government. I may not be allowed to discuss that here, but I should like to mention it by way of an illustration. Mistakes have been made by past Governments, and I hope the present Government will try to avoid them. There has been much talk this afternoon about the merits and demerits of private enterprise as compared with co-operative effort. I happen to have been returned to this House from an industrial borough that has suffered very severely from depression in the engineering trade, of which I am a member. This Government should avoid the mistakes into which the previous Government, wilfully or otherwise, unfortunately fell. Instead of hindering the progress of manufacture and of trade with foreign countries, upon which so much has been said in regard to our dependance on foreign trade, they should endeavour, as far as possible, to encourage trade with all countries.
My particular trade, the engineering industry, has had a very wonderful effect upon all trades. There is no other industry carried on in this country, or in the world, upon which we are all so much dependant as the engineering industry. Therefore, it behoves the Government to encourage that trade as much as possible. During the War, the Government then in being made very great claims upon the engineering industry, and they were so badly served by the arrangements which were in existence prior to the War that they had to control the industry, and in many districts they established engineering 839 factories. As I happened to work in one or two or those factories, I know something about the manner in which they were conducted, and with what result. Neither the present Government nor any of its supporters can deny that the results were wonderful under their own established agencies.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I am unwilling to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out to him that he should, in some way, connect his argument with the Board of Trade, and refer to something the Board of Trade did, or ought to do, or ought not to have done. I do not at present see that he is linking up his argument with that.
§ Mr. BROTHERTON
As a Very young Member of the House I suppose I, like many others, shall find considerable difficulty in trying to keep within the bounds of what is called legitimate Debate. I was endeavouring to lead up to the point that my particular industry has suffered very largely, because of the action of the previous Government, and I was urging that this Government might, through the agency of the Board of Trade, and through the recommendations that might come from that Department to the Government, avoid similar errors. Whether they are directly under the control of the Board of Trade or not, there are certain agencies in being which have some relation or connection with the Board, and which, I think, might usefully be utilised. For instance, I elicited by a question this week the fact that there are certain properties still in possession of the State which, in my judgment, could be usefully used in some way to relieve the distressing circumstances of unemployment through which the engineering trade is now passing and has been passing for the past four years. To me it seems they could operate those factories which are still in existence through the agency of the Board of Trade, which I believe has some measure of control over them. I think it would be advantageoous if they did so. In to-day's Press we have seen suggestions made as to what some of us advocated a long time ago, and we are told that the unemployment problem is likely to be much more serious in the coming months than it has been in the immediate past. I say the immediate past because the situ- 840 ation has slightly improved as compared with what it was when I myself was one of the unemployed after the War. What we advocated four years ago is now being reiterated in another place.
The Board of Trade, I suggest, could do something by utilising these factories. A great scheme of electrification has been talked about; if they were to undertake such a scheme it would unquestionably engage in industry many of my co-workers in the engineering trade who are at present compulsorily idle. If these factories were converted, as they could be converted rapidly by working engineers, to the manufacture of the things which would be needed, say, in a great national electrification scheme, and if the Government, through the Board of Trade and various other Departments, were to undertake schemes of this character, it would be a great advantage to the general community. No private enterprise company, however pushful it may be, could do that which the State is capable of doing on a national basis in connection with such a matter as electrification. The previous Government had the opportunity but neglected it, and I do not wish this Government to fall into the same pit as their predecessors. I wish the Government to be as sincere in its expressions of sympathy with the unemployed as they would like us to believe they are, and I want them to show their sympathy by really endeavouring to do something for the workless people of our community. Private enterprise has failed, and the failure has been a bitter one to the workers, though we see no apparent loss to the possessing classes as a result of it. The workers are suffering acutely from the failure of private enterprise, and, because of that suffering, a change of opinion is taking place and is proceeding rapidly among the working community. This Government will have to act and will have to alter its policy. They must pursue a different policy from that of the previous Government. They must, as has already been said in this Debate, employ the people of the State. They must in some way or other either get control or utilise the powers that they possess through the Board of Trade and other Departments in order to enter into industry and compete with private enterprise which is now so inefficiently carrying on the work. There are many things which the 841 Government could undertake if they had the well-being of the people at heart. One which has been mentioned already by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and which seemed to be regarded by the hon. Member for Cardiff (Mr. Gould) as a good suggestion and which would provide a national asset, is the making of a tunnel under the Humber. No private company, however enterprising, could undertake such a scheme.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Viscount Wolmer)
I do not think we have such powers without going to Parliament for them.
§ Mr. BROTHERTON
One of the things I wish to impress upon the representatives of the Board of Trade is that if they have not these powers, they should secure them. I think, however, the Board of Trade in itself or through the Department with which it has relationship should be able to do something in that direction. It is a Department which touches upon almost every phase of our national industrial life and I think that, by some means or other, it could become an employer of labour on a larger and wider scale than at present. I do not, however, desire to go beyond what are considered the proper limits of this Debate, though I do not think I have travelled any further afield than some of those who preceded me. We heard a lot with regard to the dyeing industry, but I am not so much concerned about the dyeing industry as about living humanity. My concern has been with those who are suffering and it is that which has brought me to occupy my position as a Member of this House. I believe, as I say, that the Board of Trade by a full utilisation of its powers could materially and effectively decrease unemployment in this country. It seems to me to be a most silly and foolish system which we on these benches consider that this and previous Governments have indulged in paying millions of pounds away and nothing being done. It was paid away to keep men in idleness—men who want work. I want to impress this upon the Government. I ask them to endeavour to find useful employment 842 for the workers through or with the aid of the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade must have some relation to trade and industry. It cannot exist without thinking about the people who are engaged in trade and industry, or—as the case may be—not engaged, but who ought to be! The Government through the Board of Trade, and in the best interests of the entire community should get down at once to finding employment, and so saving themselves and the nation. The Board ought to lift its embargo upon trading with foreign Powers. If this Government will now begin to open up trade even with Russia, which, as we have been told to-day, has such infinite resources and such undeveloped possibilities it would be well; for they would be able to give us what we need and in return we should give them what they need—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not see what the hon. Member's observations now have to do with the Board of Trade. They might be in order on the Consolidated Fund Bill which will come on next week.
§ Mr. BROTHERTON
I am very sorry to find myself in conflict with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I cannot, for the life of me, get it out of my mind that the Board of Trade have to do with the matter that I have mentioned, and with the subject I have endeavoured to draw attention to. In resuming my seat, may I ask the representative of the Board of Trade to take into consideration many of the suggestions that have been made, notwithstanding the way these points may have been put, for some of us have tried to show the effect of the position in which we find ourselves.
§ Mr. ERNEST EVANS
We have listened to a number of speeches, dealing with particular industries, which have come from the lips of men who are very well informed as to the details of those industries; speeches, certainly, of great value. But I could not help feeling, as one who views the state of trade in the country generally, that one has to go farther afield than the particular points raised in those speeches, because we are dealing with a situation which is due to causes more varied and wider in their application than the causes of which we have heard. I dare say that this Debate 843 will pass without, perhaps, very much of a very practical character having been suggested, but I do venture to think that it is a good thing that this House should devote one day to a general consideration of the state of trade and commerce in our country under existing conditions. I say that for this reason I think it is of the utmost importance that the country generally should be enabled to realise the situation in which we really are; it is imperative that we should seek to ascertain the causes of existing conditions before we seek to remedy them.
There is an advertisement which faces us on the hoardings of this city and which impresses upon us the desirability of seeing the label. I am not at all sure what the article is, but I believe it is a beverage. [An HON. MEMBER: "Pop!"] I am afraid there is a danger of many of us seeking to approach trade and financial conditions prepossessed by our own ideas. I myself believe the conditions are so serious to-day that it is very important that the country as a whole should realise exactly where we stand and should face the situation quite irrespective of the particular theories which people may have had. I have found in conversation with a large number of business men, particularly small business men, that their hopes have been raised only to be dashed to the ground more than once within the last few years. There is no doubt that after the War many prophecies were made to the effect that the prosperity which we then had was going to continue. Many believed that. Many acted upon that belief. The disappointment has been acute.
The result is that to-day not only is trade depressed, but those who are engaged in trade are more depressed than they have been for a very long time. Rather than create a spirit of false optimism and to raise expectations which again may not be realised, I for my part believe that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was right when he took a much more gloomy view of conditions than he might otherwise be inclined to do, and in the course of his speech last week ventured to inform the country that he did not see those signs of immediate trade prosperity which some people last year claimed to be discern- 844 able. There are many conditions applying to individual industries which can be remedied in an individual way only. There are other conditions which are widespread and world-spread, and which can only be dealt with from those points of view. In the course of conversation, which I, like everyone else, have had with different people, I have found that it is generally agreed by those who are engaged in industry that they are unable to put forward their best efforts at the present time for two reasons.
One is the feeling of insecurity, so far as conditions at home are concerned; the other is the feeling of uncertainty which is caused by what is happening on the Continent of Europe at the present time. That undoubtedly is the view of the ordinary man, the man who is often described as the man-in-the-street—for I must confess that for my part that man's opinion may be, and probably is, usually influenced by the kind of street in which he lives. Certainly these are two conditions which are most commonly impressed on one as one seeks to obtain guidance from these people. With respect to the first—uncertainty at home. There is only one way to remedy that, and that is to remove the root causes of the uncertainty which prevails. That insecurity is not confined to one class.
§ Mr. EVANS
Then I will deal with the conditions which prevail in European countries at the present time. Exception has been taken to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) on the ground that the suggestion which he made in. regard to the electrification of railways and the improvement of transport generally, and so on, were things which would only supply labour for a comparatively small number of people In one sense that is true, but in another sense I do not think it does justice to the suggestion, because there is no doubt that traders all over the country to-day are complaining of the lack of proper transport facilities and the burden of railway rates, and they complain of the general management of the railways at the present time. For that reason I think there is much that can be done in that particular direction. Then there is the question of the development 845 of our markets in Europe. Reference has been made to the necessity of reopening trade relations with Russia. I join with those who have pressed upon the President of the Board of Trade this matter, but at the same time I utter a word of caution, and it is that I do not believe that even that would produce that large volume of trade which some people hope would be the result.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That is really a matter for the Foreign Office, because it deals with our relations with the Russian Government.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
May I point out to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Russian Trade Agreement is not signed by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs but by the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I understand that that Agreement has never taken effect, and therefore it remains for the Russian Government to make arrangements with the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not think that the Board of Trade admit any liability in regard to this matter.
§ Mr. EVANS
I am not arguing that there should be direct recognition of the Russian Government by the British Government, but I was pressing upon the President of the Board of Trade that he should seek facilities for the working out of the Trade Agreement, and that argument applies not only to Russia but to other countries. In the course of the Debate last week and on other occasions I have noticed the tendency on the, part of some hon. Members to develop the importance of the home markets, while another pressed forward the development of European markets, and a third section urged the importance of developing Imperial trade. I notice that there has been a tendency to speak of these three things as if they were in competition one with the other, but in my view that is a profound mistake. What we really want to do is to develop all our trade, and I hope my right hon. Friend will do all that he can in all those three directions in order that the traders, and those engaged in the industries of this country 846 shall have every encouragement in these difficult times to embark upon new enterprises and to enable them to pursue them to a successful issue.
§ Mr. JOHN MURRAY
I should like to offer a few observations in the course of which I hope to keep within the ruling of the Chair. I intend dealing with the broader aspects of the work of the Board of Trade. I think the House must take serious notice of the present condition of the country as represented by the speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) and the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould). I would like to point out the conclusions which follow from the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and contrast it with what was said by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff, who stated that it will be some time before we shall see the shipbuilding industry of this country employed as fully as in the past. It has been said that at some places we shall have to give up shipbuilding altogether in favour of those places where they enjoy greater advantages and facilities, but the natural advantages of our shipbuilding industries justify us in expecting that within a measurable time we shall have control of all the best shipbuilding in the world.
No doubt our industrialism is swollen and over-inflated. One of the results of the War has been to develop the industries of the whole world. There is not a country in the world, and hardly a British Colony, which did not seek to industrialise itself during the War, and there is barely one which did not succeed In many countries, some of them very close to ourselves in the British Empire, have a new ambition to run their own industries, and that has grown up to such an extent that they refuse to accept from any country whatever the gift of manufactured goods, and they desire to manufacture everything for themselves.
We are a nation of 50,000,000 souls who are dependent upon external trade, and we have now to look out upon a world which in a new degree has industrialised itself. The position is so obvious and world-wide that many of us think fit to ignore it. Some of us recognise it to the extent of suggesting petty cures. I do not wish to depreciate what has been said by the hon. Member for Cardiff about the necessity of peace in industry because 847 without peace we are lost. However good the relations in this country are between employers and men, that is not going to affect the fact that if the foreigners will not trade with us the employers will not be making profits and the workmen will not be receiving wages. It is quite true that if you build tunnels under the Humber or the Thames you cannot do it without doing good to somebody, but really what we want is foreign trade. I hear from the benches above the gangway ridiculous suggestions that we should turn out the private individual from private enterprise and put the State in his place, and that by so doing we shall better our position. But have we any experience in the world to show that if we displace private enterprise and put the State in we will get better goods and cheaper.
§ Mr. MURRAY
I have sat here very silently, and have listened without interrupting a single speaker on that bench, and I ask hon. Members to extend the same courtesy to me. This House is getting into such a condition that one cannot ask a rhetorical question without an answer being roared at him from those benches. Can any hon. Member say how the substitution of the State for the private undertaker is going to help us?
§ Mr. MURRAY
I was not so very sure myself that I was in order, but speakers on the benches above the Gangway have been allowed to sing the praises of the substitution of the State for private enterprise as a means of helping the country in its troubles, and I thought it open to me to contradict them. Anyway, I have contradicted them; I have given them a flat contradiction, and that is the only answer which such an assertion in the present state of the world deserves. Now I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow. What he said about shipbuilding on the Tyne I cay say about the whole industrialism of this country. We have a wrong balance between the husbandman and the craftsman, and until that balance is redressed the Board of Trade, the chief among the Govern- 848 ment Departments, will have to face the prospect of millions upon millions of unemployed in the coming winter. The direness of the position is well understood already by the President of the Board of Trade, and I congratulate him sincerely on having the courage to tell the people of this country of the evils in store for them, because only too often statesmen paint rosy pictures of the future and declare that all will be well if they are given control. For my part, I believe with the President of the Board of Trade that these evils will prevail, not only in the coming winter, but for many winters to come. The fact is we are over-industrialised, and the hon. Member for Linlithgow is quite right in saying that we must de-industrialise the greater part of our population.
§ Mr. MURRAY
I really hope that hon. Members will allow me to make my own speech without interruption. The hon. Member for Linlithgow, when he declared that we would have to deindustrialise, left us to conclude that these many millions of unhealthy and unwholesome people from our crowded towns and cities can be accommodated on our land. So they can, much in the same way as rabbits, and with rabbits' methods of living, but I hold that the men and women of the 20th century who have got to be industrialised cannot expect to obtain a decent standard of living by going on to the land of this country. The only possible way for them is to emigrate, and the real remedy for this country is a great State-aided, State-organised policy of emigration.
§ Mr. MURRAY
It is quite unnecessary for any Member of the Labour party to make an observation of that kind. I belong to a country many of the inhabitants of which have gone to British Colonies, and I am glad to say are doing well there. Any man who has the courage to take his fortunes into his hands and settle on British lands in other parts of the world will not only benefit himself but he will benefit the whole world. People who object to this policy should themselves stay at home. I hope the hon. Member who in- 849 terrupted me just now will never be so misguided as to go to our Colonies. They might send him back. Those who pretend to represent the working classes of this country who claim in a quite special sense to represent Labour must be aware that there are many adventurous men and women who are willing to emigrate but have not the means to do so without help.
Here I come back to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Swansea earlier in the evening. The right hon. Gentleman insisted that it was the duty of the Government in these times of emergency to do all it can with the power given it by law to set business going, to foster industry, and to try and revivify the commercial life of the nation. I observe with a little disappointment the reply to that of the hon. Member for Linlithgow. He suggested that the right hon. Gentleman was now turning a Socialist. Surely those of us who dislike the inclination of hon. Gentlemen on those benches to use the State always for everything and everywhere and at all times, are not bound down to the extreme opposite view of never availing ourselves of the power of the State. For one thing we were all sent here to govern the country and we are part of the executive power of the State, not so influential as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who occupy the Front Bench, but still holding our humble place in the system. We too here believe in using the power of the State but discriminatingly and for definite reasons, not in obedience to a foolish theory. We have the idea of the use of the State, but we do not have it in our brains nor do we suffer from it as an obsession. We regard it as an instrument, a tool, a practical principle governed by expediency.
The right hon. Member for West Swansea said that during the War, because we had to do so and there was a crisis, we raised vast sums of money by loan for State purposes. That is plain. He said that now we are in a different kind of crisis surrounded by difficulties, and that again it is the duty of the State to raise and dispose of large sums, the Board of Trade using all its legal powers to help the nation through its difficult times. That is not Socialism, that is merely sense. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is what Socialism is!"] I hold that a large number of millions of our indus- 850 trial population must be deindustrialised and emigrated, and that cannot be done without large expenditure of State money, the active help, superintendence, and organisation of the State in this country, and the help of the Governments of the Dominions. Presently there is going to be an Imperial Conference, at which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will preside, and I wish to ask him as seriously as I can to do his best to bring before the representatives of the Great Dominions—who can be argued with, who must be persuaded, who cannot be overruled—with his great powers of persuasion the prime need of this country at this time, coresponding with the prime need of the Colonies who need more capital and more labour. I hope as much as I have ever wished for any issue in politics that the result of that Conference will be that means will be found, supported with money by the Board of Trade and the sympathy and active help of this House, to enable a large body of our surplus industrial population to be helped, it being willing, to the Dominions, there to build up a far better life than this country provides them with an opportunity to enjoy.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
This debate has, perhaps naturally, ranged over a very wide field, almost as wide a field as the area covered by British trade. Before I come to deal with the broader and more general questions which have formed the staple of the debate I should like briefly to reply to two points which were raised. I shall have to be very brief because the time left to me is not long. The first is the question which was raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir John Simon), the question of the relief afforded through the agency of Lord Justice Younger's Committee to foreign nationals in cases of distress or cases of hardship. Let me say at once in this matter that, whether the rules be right or wrong, they are the rules for which the Government are responsible, and the Government, and I think everyone, has nothing but gratitude to Lord Justice Younger and his colleagues, two distinguished Members of this House, for the way in which they have unsparingly carried out what must always be a very difficult task. It would obviously be improper to criticise and I have no desire to criticise them, 851 but I should like to say on behalf of the Board of Trade and of the Government how grateful we are to them for the manner in which that work has been conducted.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I see that the right hon. Gentleman's representative in the House of Lords, in reference to the Committee, made this statement:In considering the cases of hardship of ex-enemy nationals that come before them the Committee are, I think, apt to overlook the sufferings of our own people.Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether that is the view of the Board of Trade?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I have not that passage before me. I am expressing the view I hold of the work of that Committee, and I think we shall get on more quickly if I am allowed to deal with the merits of the case and not with what may or may not have been said in Debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman presented the case, as he always does, with great skill and with great persuasion, and he would leave the impression upon the House, as a great advocate always does, that the case is absolutely unanswerable. The case is far more difficult than he would have led us to believe. If the case were as simple as he put it I should be inclined to say without hesitation that I should adopt all the suggestions he made. As to one, namely, that it might be useful to have the advice of a Committee, possibly of Lord Justice Younger's Committee with one or two others, I should like to give it further consideration, as it might be a useful course to adopt. The case is far more difficult than that he presented. He presented certain hard cases. It is true, I have no doubt, that there are hard cases. On the other hand, what the right hon. Gentleman did not present fully to the House were two things. The first is that there are hard cases on the other side; that the money which you pay away is money which would go to meeting claims of British nationals of exactly the same type in many cases as the people who are concerned here, British nationals who were arrested and interned in Germany and who suffered great hardships. Then there are the British nationals whose property has been sequestrated in Germany and whose claim for compensation must 852 be paid out of the assets which are available. Therefore, it is not simply a question of being able by a stroke of the pen to make a present to one set of people without its having any other effect. There are other effects, and those effects are directly on the people in this country, many of them cases of hardship also. The second consideration is that under the Treaty it is the duty of the various countries of which these people are nationals to recompense their own nationals for the property sequestrated. It is quite true that in Germany, contrary to the provisions of the Treaty as I think, the Germans have said, "We are not going to give to our nationals anything like the real value of the property that has been sequestrated," and they have, as a matter of fact, let their own nationals who were debtors to nationals here off paying at sterling value.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Something like that, but under the Treaty they ought to have given the full value. I think it is unreasonable to put the whole of the blame, to say the least of it, for the failure of German nationals to receive compensation that they ought to receive from their own Government and which by the action of their own Government they are precluded from receiving, on the British Government. In the other case, that of Austria, there are some hard cases again, but the Austrian Government give to their nationals in respect of this compensation sterling bonds to the full value of the property which has been sequestrated, and five or six months ago those gold bonds were possessing at least 50 per cent. of their face value. With the general stabilisation of conditions in Austria I am sure they are worth considerably more to-day. They are accepted in Austria as payment of any Government obligations or taxes. The point is that you are asking to have reduced the sum which is available for British nationals, in order to discharge the duty of the Government of the foreign nationals to make provision for them in their own country. As regards the case of women, it has been the regular practice in this country, when a widow who has been married to an ex-enemy national returns here, as soon as she resumes her British 853 nationality in this country, to release to her the whole of her property. I could discuss the details and difficulties of these cases at great length, but I think I have said enough to show that the whole question is by no means as simple as it might appear to the House from the presentation, necessarily, of one side of the case, and I think it would be unreasonable to expect me to commit myself to any further action at present. I should like, however, to consider the suggestion of appointing a Committee to go fully into the question, not merely from the point of view of these people themselves, but from the point of view of those others who are complete British nationals, with very real claims, and with not much prospect of being satisfied, and to recommend what is a fair procedure, because, unfortunately, there is no doubt that, if this fund is materially reduced, those people cannot get anything like full justice.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Could the right hon. Gentleman announce his decision as to the Committee, when he has thought the matter over, before the House rises?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I should not like to give a pledge as to that. I did not know that the question was to be raised until I came down to the House.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Yes. I should like to discuss the matter with my colleagues. I feel that I am in the position of a trustee of funds in this matter.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider whether it is not possible to enlarge the jurisdiction of this Committee and give it further powers?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I certainly will not commit myself on that. I really must leave this question now, because I have to deal with the very important question of the trade position, which has been raised. Before doing so I want to allude to the question of dyes. I want to add very little to what was said in the extremely interesting speech of the hon. Member for Stretford (Sir T. Robinson). I think he showed the House how well fitted he is to preside over the Licensing Committee, and how fair and impartial is the work of the Committee under his chairmanship. I should like again to 854 thank him, as I did before, for his unsparing efforts in that work. I would only add that I endorse entirely what he said to the House in regard to the pledges that have been given. Government after Government has been committed by pledges on this matter. Pledges were given in 1916 and 1918 by the then President of the Board of Trade in this House, they were repeated in the country, and were inserted, with the full authority of the Government, in the prospectus on which millions of money were raised, and any Government which failed to stand by those pledges would certainly be dishonouring its own word and that of its predecessors.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
It seems to me to be an exceedingly poor argument to suggest that we should, therefore, dishonour a further pledge. I dealt fully with the merits of the case on the last occasion, when this Vote was considered in Committee, and the facts adduced today by the hon. and gallant Member for West Salford (Lieut.-Commander Astbury), who has a life-long experience of these matters, are sufficient to endorse the view which on that occasion I ventured to present to the House.
The main volume of this Debate has ranged round the trade position, and I think there has been a general agreement with the diagnosis I gave last time, and also a large measure of agreement, with the policy which I recommended as the only possible cure. I entirely endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff as to the fact that you cannot isolate the solution of this problem into Empire trade, foreign trade or home trade. All three have to go together if the solution is to be effective. It is said sometimes, "You can clear out of Europe and turn elsewhere." You cannot do any such thing. I pass by the whole question of propinquity, which would make it difficult, if not impossible; but Europe buys from all the world, and we depend upon the purchasing power of Europe. It is the purchasing power of Europe which enables Europe to buy from all the great. countries, whether east, or south, or west, which have sold to Europe in the past, and they have used the credit created by their sales in Europe in order 855 to buy from this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tell that to the Colonies!"] I tell it to all countries. The hon. Member is quite wrong. There is just as good an appreciation of the true economic facts on this side of the House. I wish that hon. Members on the other side, would accept with equal enthusiasm what is equally true, and that is the necessity of developing fully our Empire markets. There is generally a strange silence there upon that, but that, undoubtedly, is the position. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) asked, would it not be possible to produce an authoritative statement of these facts based on statistics? It is not possible to base a statement as to the present position on statistics, because any statistics we collect must be statistics of work which has been completed and sent out. The test of the position to-day can only be found in the factories themselves, and in the way in which orders are coming in, and the appreciation of that can best be got—as has been shown to the House in the speeches delivered to-day, and in many speeches delivered by responsible business men outside giving their view of the prospects which attend their respective companies in the coming months—by statements and evidence of that kind. But such further evidence as has been given to-day enforces and reinforces everything I said last week as to the seriousness of the present position and the effect of the upset in Europe upon trade conditions in this country. It is not only the interrelation of trade; there is the instability of prices, and there is nothing worse for business than instability of prices. December was a good month. It was full of promise because prices were steady. There was a feeling that they had touched bottom and there was a slight tendency to rise. People came into the market and orders for ships were placed on the East Coast and on the Clyde and for steel work because you had that stability. There was a feeling of security. Purchasers who had been hanging back were ready to come in and were beginning to come in, and until you get stability that condition cannot arise again.
The question of Russia was raised again. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea said he thought I had been wrong in suggesting that if you 856 threw open the Government facilities for credit to-day, people would fail to take advantage of it. May I remind him of a view which was expressed, not by any Member on this side of the House, but by a very distinguished and practical economist on that side of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young), in a most admirable speech delivered in the course of the Hague Conference, which so impressed the representatives of all the nations that they appended it in extenso in their report. He said:It is useless for a Government to offer encouragement and facilities for giving Russia credit unless its nationals are willing to accept them. Its nationals will not be willing to accept them unless their confidence has been restored that there is a reasonable basis for Russian credits. At present they have no such confidence. For the restoration of that confidence there is one essential, that Russia should reset the keystone of the arch which supports all credit at all times and everywhere: the recognition of the binding force of obligations solemnly contracted. … Even were the British Government for instance formally to extend to Russian trade all the potential benefits of its various Acts for encouraging foreign trade, as long as the present attitude of the Russian Government in respect of its obligations towards foreigners in the matter of properties and debts is maintained, that formal extension by the British Government would be a formality and nothing more. It would profit Russia not at all because the private holder of capital would remain totally indifferent and would refuse to take advantage of the facilities offered.That is a view with which I entirely concur. The hon. Member says, "Why not try to get this done?" He cannot say that either to my right hon. Friend or to me. We spent months, first at Genoa and then at The Hague, making every reasonable proposition to get such an arrangement, and we are willing to-day to get such an arrangement, but until Russia is prepared to restore what must be the basis of confidence the world over it is perfectly idle to try to set up the great machinery of credit because the whole thing would be a facade and no building could be built up behind it.
Then the broad question was raised, should you or should you not use Government credit in order to try to assist industry at present. An attack was made by one hon. Member who said the last thing you ever. wanted was to use Government credit for this purpose. I do not agree for a moment. I am certain 857 that when you are faced with the alternative of outdoor relief and unemployment pay which is costing the State money and which is costing the ratepayers money—this is a wise use of our credit. You cannot adopt the alternative of doing nothing, because people cannot sit and starve till the world comes round. Long before hon. Members fought their election my right hon. Friend and I were passing the Trade Facilities Act.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
£28,000,000 of work. It is being done at present. Go and look at the extension of the tube railways. See the work which is being carried on in the factories and workshops. There are 100,000 men employed to-day in different factories, workshops and undertakings by means of that Act. Then come back and criticise what is being done after you have gone to see it. I am sure, faced with that position, a wise policy of the use of Government credit in order to assist trade and industry is right. But you have to be careful in the use of that credit that you do not discourage work which in any case would be put in hand. That is the difficulty. If you offer too easy terms, if you are too generous with your credit, people who would naturally go ahead hold back. You may get cases on the border line. That has got to be carefully watched. But, generally speaking, it is a wise and sound policy to use Government credit in order to anticipate new work which could not be done in the next three or four years, work of a practical, revenue-producing kind. I am not merely stating a principle, but it is a principle which the Government are carrying out.
I have spoken of things like the Trade Facilities Act and Export Credits, but we have also sent a Circular—the questions of public works and electricity were raised—to all the local authorities in the country informing them that if they would put in hand works of a revenue-producing kind which they would not normally undertake in the immediate future, work of a kind which would place engineering orders and orders for materials in those industries which most need orders of that kind, the Government will come to their help and will make an advance of 50 per cent. of the interest charges up to a period of 15 years in the case of a loan. We are also pre- 858 pared to do the same thing for public companies carrying on the same class of work. Some of them already are under statutory provisions in respect of dividends, but in the case of others which are not we are prepared to do it—there will be a possibility of going into details when we discuss the unemployment question—if they accept the conditions as to repayment or as to limitation of the dividend declared during the time in which the loan is in operation.
Then one of my hon. Friends said, "What are you doing in the case of the Dominions? Do you intend to bring this policy before the Imperial Economic Conference?" Most certainly we do. I announced that that would be our intention last April. This question of financial co-operation is one which we are anxious to discuss with the Dominions and we have tabled it on the Agenda.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Certainly. We have sent to the Prime Ministers of the Dominions a telegram saying that we are anxious to discuss this matter, and that without excluding from consideration any form of assistance, we consider that a guarantee of interest or advance of part interest for a limited period would be likely to prove the most useful method. With regard to the Crown Colonies, my noble Friend the Secretary of State is working on these schemes that were referred to in the Debate yesterday. The same principle will apply there, and we shall go forward at the Imperial Conference, and in the work of the Colonial Office in dealing with Crown Colony development, with the firm intention of helping sound schemes which will anticipate development which will mean the placing of orders in this country and the development of an area, which will draw settlers from here to the Dominions. I am certain you can never settle the top-heavy position of our population merely by treating it as an insular problem. You have to settle the ratio of the industrial to the agricultural population by treating it, broadly, over the whole Empire. This policy of anticipation will give that opportunity. It is a way of placing orders in this country, and with each scheme of development of that kind that can be put forward, you are not merely helping to 859 relieve unemployment, but you are creating a source of supply of raw materials, and you are creating a market which will buy from you increasingly in the future.
I have said enough, I think, to show that we not only profess this principle, but that we are prepared to act upon it, and that we are acting upon it in fact. I will add only one word more, I have said that the whole hangs together, that settlement is necessary as well as the development of your Imperial trade. The hon. Member for Linlithgow said—
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. and gallant Member not infrequently intervenes, but I will do him the justice of saying that he is not usually as offensive as that. The words I have to add are not in the nature of a mere peroration; they are something which I think the House would wish should be said. The hon. Member for Linlithgow said there was a responsibility upon the Government in this matter. There is. There is a responsibility upon the Government to work for a policy of settlement and settled conditions in Europe; there is a responsibility upon the Government to work for a policy of Imperial expansion, of the development of our Imperial resources; there is a responsibility upon the Government to try in the most effective way to deal with the unemployment problem at home. But the responsibility does not rest upon the Government alone. It rests on every
§ Member of this House; it rests on every one in this country, because whatever a Government may do, however keen it may be, however ready it may be to use its credit, to use its power, to restore trade, to help to create conditions in which trade can go forward, all that is nothing unless the people of this country—they may dispute about the particular system and about the division of profits when there are profits to divide—but the policy of a Government cannot save this country or restore its trade, cannot put its employment upon a stable and sound basis, unless all in industry, employers and employed, are ready to pull together to see the country through.
§ It being Ten of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Questions, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to VII of the Civil Services Estimates, and of the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, the Air Force Estimates, the Revenue Departments Estimates, and other outstanding Resolutions severally.