§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I wish to raise a question which has been debated more than once during this Session, namely, the question of the lace trade of this country. I make no apology for raising it again, because the condition of that trade is so deplorable that I should be wanting in my duty to my constituents if I did not utilise every possible opportunity of bringing it before the Government. As many as 75 per cent of the lace machines in the Nottingham area are standing idle at this moment, 80 firms have in the last few years gone out of business altogether, and highly skilled men by the thousands have drifted into common labouring work, unskilled work, lowly paid. Whereas there used to be, only a year or two ago, 50,000 people employed in the lace trade, there are now employed only about 1,700. If the economic chaos in Europe continues, I am afraid those people have nothing to which to look forward but complete unemploy- 644 ment, bankruptcy and ruin, and it is for that reason that I take this opportunity of raising the necessity of giving this industry the benefits of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. When we have brought this subject to the attention of the President of the Board of Trade, he has questioned our right to be included, on the ground that there is no evidence we are suffering from the depreciated franc, but I contend that we can prove and establish our case. The President said that there is no evidence to prove that the value of the franc is not the same externally as it is internally, but I cannot help feeling, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that he is misinformed on this question, because we have submitted to the Board of Trade reliable statistics proving, that whereas the value of the franc in relation to the £ during the whole of last year averaged about 60 francs to the £, the price of retail articles did not rise above 40 francs to the £. If the franc was higher by that degree internally than it was externally during last year, how much higher is it at the present moment when the franc has gone to 70?
I, therefore, claim that. we are suffering in Nottingham from the depreciated franc, and that we have a right to be included, or, at all events, to have our case examined by the Committee. The Board of Trade will not attempt to refute these figures. They try to prove to us that it is all a delusion that Nottingham is suffering from foreign competition at all. They produce statistics which tell us, that whereas the imports last year were valued at £1,000,000, the re-exports amounted to £876,000, and, therefore, only £124,000 worth of the lace brought in remained in this country, and therefore it is absurd to claim that Nottingham is suffering from foreign competition. In rebutting these figures, I wish to point out how unreliable they are. They do not give in the least a true and proper account of the quantity of lace retained for consumption in this country. These figures give no account of the prices at which goods a-re imported. Freight, insurance, commission and profit come to about 20 per cent. I would draw the attention of my Noble Friend to the fact that it is well-known in the Nottingham trade that vast quantities of lace are sent into this country by parcels post. Those goods are re-made up, and sold 645 in large bales for export. As showing how unreliable, the Board of Trade statistics can be, in some years they prove that the re-exports of lace exceed the imports. For instance, in 1920, the Board of Trade figures show that £136,000 worth of lace was imported into this country, but the re-exports in that year were £889,000. The Board of Trade attempt to explain that this is accounted for by the carry-over, but the balance available for carrying over last year was only £210,000. The Board of Trade also attempt to explain their figures by saying that the great discrepancy between the import of £136,000 worth and the re-export of £889,000 worth, is accounted for by the large changes of prices in 1920 compared with 1919. If, however, we look at the quantity of cotton lace imported, we find that only 1,629,000 square yards of lace were imported in that year, whereas over 12,000,000 square yards were re-exported. Really, one cannot place very much reliance on these Board of Trade statistics. The Christian Scientist tries to explain away disease by saying there is no such disease, but I am afraid the Board of Trade must furnish us with much more reliable statistics to try to prove to us that there is no such thing as foreign competition with the lace trade in this country.
The President of the Board of Trade, when we approach him, as we have approached him in the past, tells us that we aught to develop our export trade. He says, "Develop your trade with America." I quite agree with him. The Nottingham lace trade has been an export trade in the past, and I hope it will be again in the future, but, in the present circumstances, we are up against exactly the same difficulties with our export trade with America as we are in our home trade, because the duties in America are ad valorem duties, and, owing to the depreciated franc, the French goods jump over the American tariff at about 50 per cent., whereas we have to pay 90 per cent. There is no doubt about it, the Nottingham trade in the past has been an export trade, and, therefore, in the prosperous days the home trade was somewhat neglected; but, after all, it did provide £1,000,000 worth of trade for Nottingham machines, whereas that has now sunk to nearly a quarter of that amount. Now that the export trade of Nottingham has fallen away to nothing owing to the de- 646 preciation of the French franc, the increased competition of French goods, and the high tariff, the home trade assumes much greater importance, and I do submit that if we were to get the benefit of the Safeguarding of Industries Act for Nottingham, the idle, machines could be set going, not, perhaps, at their fullest extent, but, at all events, till things got better.
I ask the Government and the Board of Trade to say what they are going to do. Are they going to do nothing at all, and let this trade go away altogether? A 90 per cent. tariff has been put upon our exports by America. The Government have done nothing. The tariff in France has been largely increased. The Government have done nothing. So far as I know, they have made no protest. French goods are sent into the home market at prices with which Nottingham people cannot possibly compete. Again the Government have done nothing. I warn the Government against getting the reputation of being a "Do-Nothing" Government. I submit that we have a right to ask the Government to be helpful. I am bound to say that I and my colleagues will be obliged, by the pressure of public opinion, to take every opportunity of worrying the Government in this matter. I do hope, however, that the Government will he able to make to-night some answer which will give a little hope and cheerfulness to the Nottingham trade, which otherwise is going to die away and be lost for ever to this country.
§ Mr. LORIMER
I wish to claim the indulgence of the House for my maiden speech, and personally, may I say, I am thankful that the benches are so empty. I shall be able subsequently to tell my constituents that there was not quite a full House. The Noble Lord, who has just spoken, and I have the honour of representing constituencies where lace is the great trade. Long Eaton is the principal town for the manufacture of lace, which, in turn, is finished at Nottingham, so that hon. Members will see that we take a special interest in this industry. I wish, without traversing some of the ground of the Noble Lord, to bring a few facts before the notice of the President of the Board of Trade in regard to the extraordinary difficulty of the position in which the lace manufacturers are at the present time. I would like to say that, 647 in the month of February, I took the opportunity of going round a number of the firms there to see the exact position of the trade. One afternoon I visited eight firms, and there I saw 230 lace machines which ought to have been in full play. Amongst these 230 machines I found 23 only at work and 13 of these were on short time, and this has been going on for a considerable period.
One of the principal firms, and one of the most up to date almost in the whole country, was visited, and here the proprietor put all the facts of the case before me. He pointed out that his firm had a capital of £50,000, and he had, amongst other things, 20,000 patterns, costing £5 each on an average. He had a considerable number of machines—I forget the exact number—each machine costing before the War, roughly, £1,100. The price of yarn for the spinning of lace, which in 1922 was 42s. 6d., to-day is 12s. 6d. The Board of Trade returns with regard to employment show that in 1906 the number employed was 37,520 males and females. In 1914 that figure had risen to 50,000. In 1922, I am sorry to say, the figure had come down to 10,000. This gentleman had plant costing, as I have said, somewhere about £50,000; that capital was lying practically idle, and this was due almost entirely, as the Noble Lord has pointed out, to the adverse exchange. For the firm on whose behalf I am speaking—I will not trouble the House with the name—there was in 1913 purchased 114,470 lbs. of yarns, against 35,275 lbs. The employés numbered 157, against 46 in June, 1922.
I think these two facts must show the drastic necessity for something being done to save this large and pre-War lucrative business. I should like to ask the House to consider one or two suggestions as to why the lade industry should be brought under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. The first proposition that I would put to the House is that we ought to get the advantage of the Act, because an article costing 2s. net to make and finish in Nottingham is now being imported from Calais at 1s. 4d. To compete at 1s. 4d. involves a loss which is quickly putting every firm out 648 of business. The French article is purchasable here at 1s. 4d. because the franc is only worth 3½d. instead of 10d.
Another reason for asking that this industry should be put under the Act is that by adding the duty of 33½ per cent., plus other charges and expenses incidental thereto, the economic effect of the depreciated French exchange would be corrected, thereby enabling our manufactures to compete with the French on practically equal terms, and certainly without loss. The third reason is that the normal trade cannot be restored until the depreciated value of the exchange with France has been corrected. Further, it should be noted that a depreciated rate of exchange which reduces the wage rates below the standard rates payable in the country receiving the goods, has the same effect as the importation of goods made with sweated labour. I should like to give one or two other figures showing why the lace industry should have the protection for which we ask. The following figures speak for themselves: The import of Leaver's lace, cotton, and silk for the 12 months ended 31st August, 1922, was equal to £2,000,000, including import by parcel post estimated at £250,000, while the minimum wages value in these imported goods, say 25 per cent., equalled half a million. Instead of receiving these wages, lace workers in our district, Longeaton and Nottingham, were receiving at one period during the present depression in trade up to £4,000 a week in unemployment pay. We suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that instead of spending £4,000 per week in unemployment pay, the money would he much better employed for the good of the country as a whole, and particularly for these people in our different areas, if we could only get the protection of the Safeguarding of Industries Act and thereby keep our mills going, These are one or two facts on which I hope the President of the Board of Trade will give us some comfort and some answer. We admit that we have been received with every courtesy, and the matter has been thrashed out very thoroughly, hut we maintain that the present position of the lace trade is entirely due to the depreciated exchange, and, if that be so, I think the trade is undoubtedly entitled to special consideration, because the Safeguarding of Industries Act was brought in primarily to correct that unfortunate 649 condition of the exchanges which might happen after the War. We submit that this is a case which stands by itself, and is a very clear case for protection under this Act.
In the remarks that I desire to make on the cotton industry, I am not supporting the principle advocated by my hon. Friends opposite. If I had to support a protective duty on the cotton industry, I should not need to go to Lancashire or Yorkshire any more. The mark is not the trouble at all with the cotton industry of Lancashire or Yorkshire, but, directly we seem to get a little bit of trade, and get our manufacture of the cotton cloth going, up goes the price of the raw material. The trade is being killed to-day simply by the increase in the cost of the raw material. We in the cotton industry—many of the employers as well as operatives — believe that this business is being subjected to gambling and speculation and cornering. I have sat on these benches and listened to many discussions with regard to unemployment, but I do not know that I can remember any instance being brought before the House that will compare with the cotton industry of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The textile industry, ever since the War ended, has been one of the worst trades that I know of. There are members in my own association who have not done a stroke of work for two years, yet they have a situation to go to if there were work to do. It is simply because the mill is closed. I was speaking with the Secretary of the Oldham Spinners this morning, and he told me that this week they are paying no fewer than 6,000 unemployed workpeople. If there are 6,000 unemployed workpeople, there must be 6,000 card-room workers who are unemployed. I do not imagine that there are so many weavers unemployed in Oldham, because the velvet trade is working under fair conditions, but where it is mainly a question of cotton cloth the weavers in Oldham will be suffering just in the same way, and I imagine that at the present time there are no fewer than 15,000 unemployed people in Oldham connected with the cotton trade, who would be working if the price of raw material were such that they could make cotton cloth to sell at some profit.
650 9.0 P.M.
In the constituency which I represent—and these are official figures from the Employment Exchanges—there are in a small place like Brighouse, which has less than 20,000 inhabitants, no fewer than 975 people unemployed, because they cannot make a profit, and that is due to the high cost of the material. In Elland, again, another very small district in the constituency, there are 250 people unemployed, and in Greetland there are 240, while, as I have already said, there are no fewer than 15,000 in the district of Oldham who are unemployed to-day, who have been unemployed during this week, and are on the Employment Exchange funds. The Government is helping to find the money, and, in my opinion, it is the duty of the Government to take some steps to make inquiry into the cotton industry of Lancashire and Yorkshire, which, if this cornering is going on, will help to prevent it. In Morley, in Yorkshire, there are over 2,000 unemployed workpeople in the cotton industry, out of a population of 27,000. At Blackburn and Burnley, which are weaving centres, the condition of things has been deplorable for many weeks. From the date of the Armistice the cotton industry commenced to slacken, and the condition is now a most serious one. Many mills have been absolutely closed for twelve months, eighteen months, and even, in some cases, for two years. They no sooner get a few orders, and get the place going, than, when the next lot of orders arc due to come in, the price of raw material has advanced and again stopped trade. As long as this condition continues, the cotton industry can never be expected to get back to the old conditions.
It is not protection that we seek. Protection for the cotton industry in Lancashire and Yorkshire would be its ruin, and I hope I am not understood to be supporting my friends from Nottingham, although I do not raise the slightest objection to anything they may put forward. I do not say that it is only the operatives who are affected. The employers to-day, as the result of trying to keep their machinery going, are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in a year, and that is very serious for the people who have to toil and who depend on them for their employment. I believe the middlemen in this business are largely to blame for the present condition 651 of the cotton trade. Many hon. Members in this House would be surprised to know that, between the growing of the raw cotton, the purchasing of the whole field of cotton, and its coming into the form of cotton cloth and being sold as such, there are no fewer than 20 people who dabble in the business, every one of them making some profit if there is profit to be made. What is to become of the working people under conditions of that sort? I hope that the Government will give some consideration to this matter. I should have liked to take part in the Debate with regard to the position on the Continent, because this is a trade 80 per cent. of which is an export trade. We have to depend upon foreign countries, and, until there is peace and confidence in India, until there is peace in Egypt and in the East, the cotton industry will continue to suffer. Further, I am convinced that, if only this gambling and cornering in cotton can be stopped, something will arise which will give us more employment than we have at present, but, whether there is peace or not, if this gambling and cornering is not stopped the looms will be empty, people will be unemployed, and the Government will be called upon, through the Employment Exchanges, to pay away many hundreds of thousands of pounds. I want to appeal to the Government to give some consideration to the position of the cotton trade. I have been connected with it for longer than I want to remember. I have had some knowledge of it officially for 45 years, and I never knew it in all my life in a position in which it was so fluctuating. There is just a slight boom, and then up goes the price of cotton. I want the Government to make some inquiries. I believe one of the best things which could come would be to have a joint meeting with the representatives of the employers and the operatives to see if something could be done to lift it from its present position.
§ Mr. REMER
I do not join issue with the hon. Member as representative of a constituency that borders on mine with one word that he has said about the terrible position that exists in the cotton mills in that district. In my constituency of Macclesfield there is one cotton mill which has been actually closed down for two years. I want to endorse every 652 word he has said on that aspect of the question. I do not, however, think he has tackled the real root of the problem. It is my view that we must look at the situation of the cotton trade to-day as compared with what it was 10 years ago. At that time Lancashire was using more than half the raw cotton that was produced in the world. To-day she does not count, as far as the consumption of raw cotton is concerned. The United States is using more than half the raw cotton that is produced; the Continent of Europe is second, and Lancashire is a very bad third. If we analyse why it is that Lancashire is in this deplorable position, I do not think it can be denied that the real reason is that the whole world is raising up tariffs against the Lancashire cotton trade, mainly in India, which is the great market to which the hon. Member has referred, and that is one of the main reasons that are preventing us from finding employment for our people. The great ideal founded by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, which was going to bring Free Trade within the Empire as the ultimate goal, is the means by which we can secure more employment for the people in the cotton and other trades.
But that is not the main thing upon which I have risen to speak. I have risen to support my hon. Friend the Member for Southern Derby (Mr. Lorimer), whom I congratulate on his maiden speech. The only point on which I should like to join issue with him was when he deplored that there were only a few people in the House, because I am sure if it had been full and Members had listened to the cogent arguments he brought forward, they would have carried great weight. The lace trade of Nottingham is in exactly the same condition as the silk trade of Macclesfield. I really cannot understand why the Government, in the very serious position in which these two trades are placed, state that they are not able to do anything to assist them. The Conservative party, to which I have always belonged, and which claims to he in power at present, has always held it out as its ideal that they shall do something to help the trade and commerce of the country. That has always been the first plank in our platform. It seems to me that the people who at present occupy the Treasury Bench are inclined, whether we are dealing with agriculture, housing, unemployment, or 653 this case, to adopt the policy of doing nothing—the policy of laissez faire. It has been stated on the public platform that this is a Government of reactionaries. I join issue with that. I think they have lost their pluck. When the President of the Board of Trade was a back-bench Member, he was never lacking in pluck. He was always able to make a bold speech attacking the Government of the day, and make them express views which might not be popular but which he thought right. Now he has got to a great position in the Cabinet, he might display a little more pluck in dealing with the position in which the country is placed.
The lace trade and the silk trade have practically the same case to submit to him. The silk trade is essentially a very much better case because £25,000,000 of manufactured silk came into this country in 1922, and when hon. Members opposite talk as they did in the Free Trade and Tariff Reform controversy about food costing more, I wonder if they will go to the ladies of Mayfair and try to get their votes by telling them their silk dresses are going to cost them more. That is essentially a luxury trade, and of all other trades it should receive consideration on that ground. In this country we have only 30,000 people employed in the silk trade, while in the United States it is the greatest textile trade, employing 600,000 people. A gentleman who was sitting next to me at the silk trade dinner last week told me that the previous month ho had been at the silk trade dinner in New York, and instead of 100 people being present there were something like 1,500. When we find goods pouring into this country at prices much below the cost of production here, it is time the Government considered seriously what they are going to do for the trade. It has been said that most of the imports are coming from Switzerland and from France, but we know, and the people of Macclesfield and other towns in the silk trade know, that these goods which are assumed to come from Switzerland and France are really being smuggled over the frontier from Germany into middlemen's hands without giving any advantage to the consumer here. The Joint Industrial Council of silk trade includes amongst others the chairman of the Liberal Association, who did all he could to keep me out of 654 Parliament at the last General Election, and it also includes members of the Labour party, and they have come to a unanimous decision asking for protection for this trade. What possible case can be brought against attacks being put upon imported manufactured goods?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I am afraid the hon. Member has suggested something which requires legislation. If he can suggest anything the Government can do by administration, he will be in order, but not otherwise.
§ Mr. REMER
It is in the administration of the Safeguarding of Industries Act that it should be done. What possible case can the Government raise? I have never heard of one point they have brought forward which by the widest stretch of imagination can be brought to bear against the case which the silk trade have brought forward. If there is a case, why not let the silk trade and other trades of that kind put their case forward before an impartial tribunal under the Act, in order to prove their case? I have the greatest doubt about the bona fides of some of my right hon. Friend's officials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "] I have the gravest doubts, and I am prepared to submit them to the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw! "] I do not withdraw. These cases should he submitted to an impartial tribunal, so that they can be fully investigated. I submit to the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who is to reply, three definite questions: (1) Has his refusal to deal with the silk trade anything to do with any trade agreements? If so, we arc entitled to know exactly what those trade agreements are. (2) Has his refusal anything to do with our diplomatic relations with France and Italy? If so, we are entitled to know and to have a definite answer on that point. (3) Why should protection be given under this Act to motor-cars, films, watches, gas mantles, fabric gloves, and musical instruments, and refused to such luxuries of the rich as silk and lace? When these facts are placed before the country, when we know the serious state of unemployment which is existing in these trades, and when we know the serious position in which the country is placed, we are entitled to some more satisfactory answer than has yet been given by the Government. I do submit 655 that they are alienating their best supporters, and that they must face this question and bring it to an immediate issue.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Viscount Wolmer)
The position of the Board of Trade, like that of the Ministry of Labour, in a time of unparalleled depression is not an easy or enviable one. It is not only in the great industries that have been referred to to-night that the acutest depression prevails. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend and the Government are endeavouring to do everything they can to bring to an end this period of trade depression, and to give every assistance to various industries. I will deal first with the remarks of the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Robinson) in regard to the cotton industry. If I may say so with all respect, I do not think he was quite justified in reproaching this Government, of all Governments, of inactivity in regard to the cotton industry.
I did not charge you with that. I asked whether you would give it some attention, and I suggested what I considered to be the best way of doing it.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I submit that the Government has already given this matter very great attention, and is continuing to give it great attention. The hon. Member pointed out, quite correctly, that one of the chief causes of the depression of the cotton industry is the great price of raw material at the present time. That is a matter to which the Government and the preceding Government nave been alive for a long time past. We are at this moment taking every step within our power to promote cotton-growing within the British Empire and elsewhere in order to increase the supply of raw material for this industry, one of our greatest industries. I would remind the hon. Member that when, last Session, my right hon. Friend introduced a Bill to promote cotton growing in the Sudan we did not meet with very warm support from hon. Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I think I am fully entitled to say that—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—when we are reproached with not having done all that lies in our power to improve the supply of raw material 656 available for this industry. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member said in regard to the necessity for the restoration of peace and normal conditions throughout the world before this great industry can prosper. That is only echoing the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier to-day. Everything that this Government can do to bring about normal conditions in the world we are doing, and will continue to do. I now turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer), who made a general attack upon the Government because they were not sufficiently Protectionist, not sufficiently Tory—
§ Viscount WOLMER
And not sufficiently die-hards. I am glad to welcome the hon. Member as the latest convert to the ranks of the die-hards. I am sure we shall gain great force from his inclusion. I am not entitled, at this stage, to enter into a general discussion on protection for the silk industry. The only point that can be discussed is whether or not my right hon. Friend ought to have held an inquiry under the Safeguarding of Industries Act with regard to the silk industry. I say with all respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, that he has not made out any case for the application of that particular Act to that particular industry. I took very careful note of what he said. He spoke about the large imports that come from Italy, Switzerland and France. In regard to Italy, no question of the exchange arises, because the internal purchasing power of the lire approximates very nearly, or keeps pace very nearly, with the external purchasing power, and we have not a situation there in any degree comparable with what exists in Germany. In regard to Switzerland, no question of the exchange arises.
§ Viscount WOLMER
My hon. Friend said that the imports of silk from Switzerland in reality come from Germany. All I can say is that the Board of Trade would be exceedingly obliged if the hon. 657 Member would give us any proof of that statement.
§ Viscount WOLMER
If my hon. Friend is in a position to do that, I can assure him that we should appreciate that assistance very much. At the present moment, we have no information in our possession which would lead us to suppose that that is the ease. The hon. Member dealt with the case of France. When the application for the inclusion of this trade under the Safeguarding of Industries Act was made, the position of the French exchange was different from what it is at the present moment. I admit that the depreciation of the French exchange did introduce a new element into the situation, but I would point out to him that the French exchange has already considerably improved, and that the prices of materials in France have also been rising to catch up with the depreciation of the franc. Therefore, even that new factor is less acute than it was six weeks ago, and unless the franc continues to depreciate I do not think it can be held at present that a situation has arisen under which the Safeguarding of Industries Act can properly be applied to France.
There was one part of the speech of my hon. Friend to which I must take the gravest exception, and that was the remarks he made with regard to the permanent officials of the Board of Trade. I can assure him his remarks were totally unfounded, and also, in my opinion, totally unjustified. I would like to say this to him: The civil servants are not the servants of any particular party. They are the, servants of the nation, and they are not in a position to reply to attacks that are made upon them. They have no means of answering any criticisms or any accusations that may be made against them in the Press, or in this House. If there is anybody to be attacked, it is the politician, and my hon. Friend knows that as well as anybody else. I hope if he has grievances, and criticisms to make, that he will throw all his criticisms, all his strictures and abuse, on the shoulders of this Government, who are here to answer them and can answer them. My hon. Friend, in his concluding remarks, asked three specific questions in regard to the silk industry. He asked if this application had been turned down on account of any 658 trade agreements. If the hon. Member looks at the Safeguarding of the Industries Act, he will see that the question of trade agreements is provided for under that. Act. All I can say to him is that every application we have turned down—and this application in particular—has been turned down on the merits of the ease and not from any ulterior motive at all.
He also asked, "How can you justify a duty on motor cars and on gas mantles, and refuse a duty on imported silk?" There, I would point out, he has made—if I may say so, with all deference—a complete confusion. The duties on motor cars, on watches, and on musical instruments, were imposed under what are known as the McKenna Duties. They were duties imposed on luxury articles during the War. The other duties he mentioned were imposed under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. In the opinion of the Board of Trade, it is not possible, consistently with the terms of that Act, to impose a duty on silk imports as provided for by that Act. If the hon. Member wishes to raise the general case of protection in regard to luxury articles, that is altogether a different issue, and one which I am precluded from dealing with in this particular Debate.
I have endeavoured to answer the remarks of the hon. Member for Macclesfield, and now I turn to a very distressing ease, brought forward by my Noble Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck), and by the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Lorimer), to whom I should like to add my congratulations for his most admirable and able maiden speech, which I very much regret more hon. Members were not present to hear. My Noble Friend knows that the Board of Trade is fully alive to the appalling conditions which confront the lace trade in this country. Again, I must say to him, I cannot argue here the question of imposing a duty on foreign lace as a general part of protective policy.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That would be a matter for legislation. I would remind the Noble Lord that that would not be in order on this occasion.
§ Viscount WOLMER
That, as the Noble Lord knows, is forbidden ground. All that I can argue to-night is whether this industry is a fit subject for the applica- 659 tion of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. My Noble Friend gave some very interesting and elaborate figures to the House to try to prove his contention that it was. In spite of numerous conferences that have taken place, and most sympathetic examinations—
§ Viscount WOLMER
—on the part of the Board of Trade of all the facts put before us by the industry, and of statistics which we have been able to collect, my right hon. Friend cannot see that the Safeguarding of Industries Act could be properly applied in this case. My Noble Friend confessed that the real cause of the depreciation in the lace industry is the loss of our export trade.
§ Mr. LORIMER
That is due to the depreciation of the franc, because the American market are able to buy in France very much more cheaply than they can buy here. America, before the War, was our chief purchaser.
§ Viscount WOLMER
No doubt it is so, but that does not come under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, nor would the Act help that matter. We should not increase the American trade by keeping out French goods from this country. Let me give the House the main figures of the situation. This application was in regard to lace, without curtains and net—what is known in the Board of Trade returns as "other sorts." Before the War, we exported about £3,000,000 worth of this lace. At the present moment we are only exporting, say, £1,000,000 worth. That, in itself, is amply sufficient to account for this very great depression. Before the War, the home market consumed about £2,000,000 of this lace, and of that there was imported from abroad, roughly speaking, two-thirds. We only produced about one-third of the lace consumed in the home market. To-day, the home market has shrunk to about £750,000. Of that, about half is supplied by home products, and about half comes from abroad. Therefore, the situation as regards imports supplying the home market, is better to-day than it was in 1913. On those grounds, it would not be justifiable for us to say that this was a case where the depreciation of the franc or any other foreign currency was 660 flooding the English market with goods to an extent that was greater than before the War.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
How does the Noble Lord account for the fact that everywhere in England French cotton lace can be sold 25 per cent. cheaper than English lace? No amount of statistics can get over that fact.
§ Viscount WOLMER
That, again, is a question which we are not at liberty to consider under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. That Act is based on grounds of currency and dumping.
§ Viscount WOLMER
My Noble Friend says so, but the facts are that the imports from France and abroad are very much smaller, not only actually but relatively, than they were before the War. Therefore it cannot be held that the Safeguarding of Industries Act would be properly applied in this case. My Noble Friend, I know, distrusts profoundly the statistics of the Board of Trade. He says that they are entirely inaccurate.
§ Viscount WOLMER
If he can tell us how they can be improved we shall be very grateful. He tells us that a great deal of lace comes into this country by parcels post, and so eludes altogether the watchfulness of the officials of the Customs House. The only answer I can make to that is that 240,000 parcels came in from France in 1913 and last year the number was 206,000. Therefore the number of-parcels coming from France is considerably less than it was before the War, and we have no reason to suppose that a higher ratio of those parcels contained lace last year than was the case before the War. If that is so, it cannot possibly be due to the exchange, because the exchange affects every other commodity as well as lace. Therefore on that ground we cannot say that this industry has made out a case for the application of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. The truth is that the Safeguarding of Industries Act is of very narrow application indeed, and intentionally so.
Because it was drawn up by a Government consisting largely of Free Traders who desired to restrict the limit of the protection which it, would afford to the narrowest possible compass, and it is the duty of my right hon. Friend to administer the Act whether he likes or does not like it. We have got to abide by the terms of the Act. The real question raised both by the speech of my Noble Friend and by the hon. Member for Macclesfield is a very much wider question and one which must be considered on some other occasion.