§ 15. Mr. WADDINGTON
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that the cotton operatives in Holland have been out on strike for 12 weeks in resistance of a proposed reduction of 10 per cent. in wages and an increase from 48 hours to 53 hours per week; that Dutch cotton goods directly compete in the British Home market with Lancashire cotton goods; and will he, with a view to prevent this unfair competition with British producers, causing similar demands for longer hours and lower wages in this country, impose duties to counteract the underpaid labour of Holland or, alternatively, adopt any other form of protection to British producers which expert inquiry by the Board of Trade may deem necessary?
I am aware of the dispute referred to in the first part of the question. As regards the second part, I would point out that the imports of cotton piece goods consigned from the Netherlands amounted in 1923 to only 5,439,000 linear yards as compared with 8,402,000 in 1913. As regards the last part of the question, I would remind the hon. Member of the Debate and Division which took place in this House on the 13th February on a Motion proposed by the hon. Member for Kidderminster.
Certainly, and if all these figures are taken into consideration it does not seem at first sight that any 223 possible increase in the number of hours worked in Holland has anything to do with the competition of other countries.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Will the Minister take similar action in the event of a strike in the Lancashire cotton trade?
As I propose to take no action in the first case, I can quite easily give the reply that I propose to take similar action in the case of a Lancashire strike.
§ 26. Captain Viscount CURZON
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that in the last eight or nine months public bodies in this country have placed orders abroad for goods to the value of nearly £1,000,000; that Bradford has given a contract to a Belgian company whose tender was £4,000 below that of the lowest British price; that the Glasgow Tramways Committee accepted a quotation from the United Steel Products Company for £8,568 of steel rails; that the Manchester Corporation placed an order for gas-pipe tubing with a French firm whose price was £1,000 less than the lowest British price; that the Manchester Corporation placed a contract of special brickwork in America, and that the price was £14,000 lower than the lowest English price; that the Metropolitan Water Board gave a contract for filters to a Danish firm, whose price was £10,000 lower than the lowest British tender; that locomotives for the Indian Government, and large contracts for rails, steel-tyre carriages, and wagons for South Africa, and also orders for Egypt, have been placed with American and German firms; that British firms are apparently undercut by at least 20 to 30 per cent. in competition with foreign firms; that the High Commissioner for Australia has just placed orders in England for over £200,000 worth of copper and bronze wire for the Commonwealth post and telegraphs departments, and at the same time stated that the wire could have been obtained for some thousands of pounds cheaper on the Continent, had it not been for the practice of Australia of giving preference to Empire products; and whether, in view of these facts, he will consent to set up a commission to report at an early date why it is possible for foreign manufacturers to undercut British industries to such an enormous extent?
My attention has been drawn to some of the contracts mentioned, but I am very doubtful if a general inquiry of the kind suggested would serve a practical purpose. I would point out that at no time have British manufacturers obtained all the contracts for which they have tendered, and that the cases to which the Noble Lord draws attention are small in comparison with the great volume of domestic and foreign trade which British manufacturers are still securing.
§ Viscount CURZON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the case of the South African contract mentioned in the question, the British price amounted to £191,000 and the foreign price to about £147,000; in other words, the British manufacturer was about 30 per cent. more than the foreign manufacturer. Surely that is a very important matter?
If the British manufacturer cannot do his business more closely to the bone than that, I should think that the British engineering industry is seriously open to criticism, as, in fact, it has been criticised by official bodies.