Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, having taken into consideration the proposals with respect to tariff preference for Empire goods which His Majesty's late Government intimated at the Imperial Economic Conference in 1923 that they intended to submit to Parliament, is of opinion that the following dried fruits now subject to duty, that is to say, figs, raisins, plums, and currants, should, if of Empire origin, be free from all import duties on importation into Great Britain."—[Mr. Baldwin.]
§ Sir PHILIP LLOYD-GREAME
The Resolution which has just been read from the Chair, and the Resolutions which follow it on the Paper standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, comprise the whole of the preference proposals which were made at the recent Imperial Economic Conference. I am sure, whether we agree or disagree in principle or in detail on these Resolutions, it will be the desire of hon. Members in all parts of the House, as it is surely our duty, to consider the Resolutions on their merits and without prejudice. The Resolutions fall, broadly, into three different classes. There are, first, the Resolutions which propose either the abolition or the reduction of a rate of duty at present levied, that is, the abolition or reduction of those duties in the case of imports from different parts of the Empire. There is a second class, that of stabilisation, which relates to sugar alone, and which proposes that for a period of ten years, so long as the duty levied upon imported sugar is as much as one halfpenny per lb., the preference accorded to Empire-produced sugar should not fall below that monetary value. The first two classes, therefore, involve either the abolition or reduction of a duty now in force, or the stabilisation of a rate of preference which is at present in force. The third class of Resolution involves the imposition of new duties on certain articles, provided those articles are imported from foreign countries, but proposes that articles of Empire production should be entirely free.
I should think the first two classes, those which involve a reduction of duty, or those which involve the stabilization 1964 of an existing preference, would be assented to readily by anyone who does not challenge the whole principle of Imperial preference. They involve no imposition of a fresh duty of any sort or kind, and the policy which they propose is a policy which many years since was endorsed by Members of all parties. It will be in the recollection of the House, and certainly in the recollection of some right hon. Gentlemen now sitting on the Treasury Bench, that the first Resolution passed by an Imperial Conference in favour of Preference was passed by the Imperial War Conference of 1917 in these terms:The time has arrived when all possible encouragement should be given to the development of Imperial resources and especially to make the Empire independent of other countries in respect of food supplies, raw material, and essential industries, and with these objects in view the Conference expresses itself in favour of(1) The principle that each part of the Empire, having due regard to the interests of our Allies, shall give specially favoured treatment and facilities to the products and manufactures of other parts of the Empire, and(2) Arrangements by which intending emigrants from the United Kingdom may be induced to settle in countries under the British flag.That is the first Resolution of an Imperial Conference in favour of the principle of Preference, and it was passed in 1917 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister. I think I am right in saying that the present Home Secretary was then not only a Member of the Government but actually a Member of the War Cabinet while the Lord Privy Seal was also at that time a Member of that Government. Therefore, Preference as a principle was then endorsed in perfectly general terms by a Government consisting of representatives of all parties in this House. When it came to carrying that Resolution into practice, it was carried out in a Budget introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) and introduced under a Government which was not a Government of one party alone but a Government headed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and including Members of both the Conservative and Liberal parties. 1965 Therefore, I would plead that, so far as the Resolutions of the first two classes, that is, the first four Resolutions on the Paper, go, anyone who has accepted the principle of Preference in the past, and supported it at the time of that first Imperial Conference in 1917 and in the Budget, would surely be stultifying himself if he did not support those Preferences, at any rate, on the present occasion. I appreciate that, of course, there may be a considerable difference of opinion, at any rate at first blush, as between those types of Preference—the giving of a Preference where a duty exists to-day and the stabilisation of Preference —and a Preference which involves a new duty. I think it is possible that there are many people, considering this, who have said: "We accept the principle of Preference; we are anxious to give Preference, and to make it as effective as possible where a duty is already levied, but is it right to create a duty for the purpose of giving a further Preference?" I propose to deal with the general case for the whole of the programme of the Conference, but I should like, at this point, to address one or two observations to hon. Members who feel that, while they can support a Preference upon an existing duty, yet would find a difficulty in the imposition of a duty in order to gram, under it a Preference. In the first place, it will be agreed by everybody that the fiscal system of this country must embrace indirect as well as direct taxation. I am not concerned to-day, nor would this be the time, to argue what is the precise ratio which should obtain between direct and indirect taxation, but I do not think there is a single Member of this House who would challenge the necessity of maintaining both classes of taxation or who would venture to say that you could do without a large measure of indirect taxation. That being so, whatever is the precise ratio which should obtain, is it not both right and wise, within what is the agreed aggregate of your indirect taxation, to adjust your duties so as to get, not only the greatest possible revenue under them, but also the greatest indirect and general advantages I Let me give an example. Would it not be wise to reduce still further the Tea Duty and to raise the taxation which would have been raised by that Tea Duty by the taxation of some 1966 of these other commodities which are mentioned in the Resolutions? In that way you would not be adding by a fraction of a penny to the aggregate of the indirect taxation; you would, possibly, almost certainly, be actually reducing the aggregate amount of duties collected, you would be effecting a substitution by reducing the duty at present levied upon an article of more general consumption and imposing a duty upon another article which, if of Empire origin, would be admitted free; and you would thereby obtain indirect advantages in increased settlement and in increased trade. That is the first general argument that I would put forward. There is a second, which applies to one class. One of the Resolutions proposes that certain dried fruits, which are not to-day subject to duty, should have a duty levied upon them, the produce of the Empire coming in free. I do not know whether there is anybody on the Treasury Bench who could explain it—I am sure the Colonial Secretary could not—but it has always been a mystery to me on what basis dried fruits are taxed. A plum is taxed. An apricot, for this purpose, is a plum, and an apricot is taxed, but, for some obscure horticultural reason, a peach is not a plum, and, therefore, peaches are admitted free of duty. There can be no question of principle in that, and I do not think the most pedantic person could maintain that his principles would be violated if to-day we included, in the term "plum," not only an apricot, but also a peach or a nectarine. Therefore, I feel that that particular proposal ought, both on grounds of logic and of common sense, to be the more readily accepted. The third question is that of preserved fruit as distinct from dried fruit. That, at present, is not subject to duty, except upon the sugar content. It is a proposal to which the Dominions themselves attach very great importance, and for this reason, that it completes the process of the work and the product of the smallholder. May I say at once, on this point, that I have heard it stated, quite mistakenly, that these proposals were designed to benefit particularly some great capitalists' holding great areas of country. Nothing is further from the truth than that. The greater part of this fruit which is grown in the Empire, in the Dominions, is being grown on small 1967 holdings, many of them settled with discharged soldiers, either from the Dominions—
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I am going to be most careful in this speech that I say nothing of a party or controversial character. [An HON. MEMBER: "No sob stuff! "] If I give the hon. Member an occasion on which he can justifiably interrupt or challenge, I will certainly give way, but until I do that, I think this is a theme which I might be allowed to follow, and I am going to be particularly careful to say nothing which I cannot justify by the facts. I will, however, pause to deal with the interruption of the hon. Member. He was referring to South Africa; I, at the moment, was referring to Australia; but if he goes to South Africa or reads the Blue Book, he will see, in the evidence which was given in their speeches by General Smuts, by Mr. Burton and by Mr. De Wet, the Minister of Justice, that they produced the most abundant proof that the places where these preferences would operate are the places where the population is most dense and where the cultivation is being carried on in the most intensive way; and the whole case put forward by Australia throughout the Conference, with regard to dried fruit and preserved fruit, was the development of the Murray River, which is a development for smallholders, many of whom have come out of the Australian forces; and this is the very type of holding on which we want to settle our man with a small capital out of this country. Therefore, preserved fruit is of vital importance to them, because it completes the field of operation of that type of smallholder. It also provides the subsidiary industry of canning, which is very valuable, and which, incidentally, has a direct and favourable repercussion in this country in orders for tin plates. Therefore, that duty is of great importance. But I want to put this alternative to the House. We propose—and we think that we can justify the proposal—a duty of 5s. per cwt. upon those types of preserved fruit which are of particular interest to the Dominions, but, if the Government would prefer to deal with it in a different way, may I suggest a method that would give 1968 almost, if not quite, the same result? Instead of levying a new duty upon preserved or canned fruit, would the Government be prepared to abolish the duty upon the sugar content in the case of any fruit which is imported from the Empire? If the Government will do that, I believe that they will get in every case almost the same result as by the duty which we propose, and if we can get what was the general purpose of establishing these smallholders in large numbers in the Dominions, we mind not at all whether it is done in the one way or in the other.
There is one more reason which I wish to adduce. Every one of these articles is an article which is produced in enormous quantities within the Empire itself. Not only are these articles produced in great quantities at the present time, but the evidence is overwhelming that, in a very short space of time, there will be no difficulty in producing within the Empire all and more than all of the total consumption which is required in this country. Let the House observe that it is proposed, wherever the duty is levied, that the Empire produce shall come in entirely free. That means that you will have an ever increasing import of commodities from within the Empire absolutely free of duty. In those circumstances, I do not think it can be seriously contended that any one of these proposals which come from the Imperial Conference is a proposal which, whether it be right or wrong, will involve any fundamental change in our fiscal system. I think the House to-day would agree to—as certainly the country, I think, accepted without challenge—the statement made by General Smuts at the opening of the Conference. He was dealing in his opening speech with the value of preference and the possibilities of its extension, and he said:We appreciate very much what has already been done by you in the direction of Preference"—That was the Resolution of 1917 and the Budget of my right hon. Friend—and I am sure that, without departing from the settled fiscal policy of this country of not imposing the duties either on essential raw materials or essential foodstuffs, it is quite possible for you to give the Dominions such additional preference in a number of articles that there would be a tremendous development of Empire resources. You cannot fairly claim that the 1969 Dominions should in very large numbers take immigrants from these islands and at the same time refuse to help the Dominions in taking the products of the work of their hands. The two policies go hand in hand, and I am sure that without any inroad on your existing fiscal policy you can so shape your course and give such preferences in future as will very much facilitate this work of migration and of Empire development.That, I think, was accepted throughout the country as a fair statement of the scope and character of these proposals. I do not think that I saw any criticisms or reports in the different papers which challenged this as any inroad upon our system. I remember the day after the proposals which I made on behalf of the late Government had been tabled the "Daily Chronicle" wrote:The extensions of Imperial Preference put forward indicate the articles included in Sir Philip Lloyd-Greame's proposals and none of them are of any magnitude, nor are they calculated to affect the price of commodities to the consumer. From the Free Traders' standpoint, the proposals involve no further breach of the fiscal principles of this country, and are thus comparatively unimportant.I think that was the general view which was taken by people whether in other matters they would call themselves Free Traders or Protectionists. Therefore, I would submit that we ought not now, because things have happened in the interval, to go back upon what was the considered view of these proposals at the time they were made. May I take one other point? I know it has been said by some that they are as anxious as anyone on this side of the House—I am sure we are all anxious to do what we can—for the development of Imperial resources, and that they do not propose to do it by preference, but by a policy of subsidies. I should like to say one or two things in answer to that, because I do not want anybody on this occasion to vote against these preferences under the impression that he can get the same or equivalent advantages as easily by means of subsidies. The whole question of subsidies was considered very closely by the Conference itself, and, if hon. Members will look at the Report of the special Committee which went into the question of subsidies and of price control, they will see that the Conference reported unanimously that there were almost insuperable administrative difficulties in the way of a policy of subsidies on these commodities. I may 1970 observe, in passing, that the experts who considered that matter, experts not only in this country, but Dominion and Colonial experts, were people who themselves had had in each of their countries detailed and. particular experience of administering controls of one kind or another during and after the War, and there was a concensus of opinion among them on the impracticability of administration. That is a very strong authority. Assuming, however, that you can get over the administrative difficulties, upon which that Committee dilated at length, and which are set out in their Report, which was unanimously adopted by the Conference itself, there are four reasons which I suggest make a policy of subsidies far less advantageous than a policy of preferences. The first is that the whole of your subsidy must be raised by taxation which the British taxpayer has to pay. I am not going into the vexed question of what proportion of the duty in varying circumstances it is paid by an exporter or by an importer, but this is certainly clear, that when you are dealing with a subsidy the whole of it has to be paid by the British taxpayer, and, therefore, the whole cost of that method of Imperial development must fall upon the British taxpayer. That leads to the second objection. There is far less security to the Dominion producer in a subsidy than there is in a preference, for the obvious reason that the subsidy has to be renewed every year by taxation, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to propose and carry through this House. There is much more likelihood that a preference on one of the normal standing duties will be maintained than that this House will carry year after year some form of direct or indirect taxation specially designed to raise a subsidy for the grower in the Dominion. There is a third objection to subsidies. The more successful your policy of producing within the Empire the more it is going to cost you. You start, say, with a third of your consumption Empire produced If you are doing it by a duty and preference, that third comes in free. The preference increases the Empire produce, and you get two-thirds of your consumption Empire produced. Under a duty and preference two-thirds therefore comes in duty free. But under a subsidy you are going to pay twice as much.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
No, not necessarily. [Interruption.] I am dealing with objections to subsidies, not objections to preference. I do not expect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will endorse the point of view that we should have subsidies, and I therefore appeal to him all the more earnestly to look favouraly on a policy of preference. The fourth objection is this. Where you are dealing with an article which is produced in the Dominions and in the Home Country, you have to give your subsidy, not merely to the Dominion producer, but also to the Home producer. Therefore, our subsidy is going to cost you more. I venture to suggest that those considerations are sufficient to answer any critic who says, "I want to get this development, but I think it can be got better by subsidies than by preferences." All those considerations were, of course, closely present to the minds of all the representatives at the Conference.
May I say a word or two about the history of the Conference itself, how it came into being, and how it did its work? This was no sudden resolution come to at the last moment. If hon. Members will cast their minds back, they will remember what was the genesis of this Conference. It was practically the first act of Mr. Bonar Law after he took office as Prime Minister. Almost the first thing that he did after the General Election was to invite the Dominions to an Imperial Economic Conference. I think everyone will agree that there has never been a man in this House who had a clearer insight into, and a clearer vision of, the economic conditions of this country and the economic conditions which were likely to exist in the world, and he, with that extraordinary clearness of vision of his determined, as his first work, to invite this Conference to assemble in order that representatives of this country and of all the Dominions and Colonies in conference round a table should see what could be done to meet the economic difficulties with which we were faced as well as they, though they in a less degree than we. That invitation was accepted immediately and was welcomed by every Dominion.
1972 The result was that for months before the Conference itself assembled the representatives of the Government here and of the Governments in the Dominions were in close and constant consultation with the best expert opinions that they could get. Industry, commerce, banking, shipping—all were called in to advise them as to the best method of improving imperial trade. They worked with us closely throughout the Conference itself, and therefore the recommendations that were put forward at that Conference and agreed to were not merely suggestions put forward by statesmen or politicians alone, but were the considered commercial judgment of what was the most effective course to be taken. The moment we began to consider the problems with which we were faced we found that we had to take them not as isolated and different problems but as different factors in one big problem, the problem of the development of imperial resources and of imperial trade. There were a number of questions which were tabled for discussion and which were discussed; they included the development of resources; settlement; financial co-operation; a number of detailed points for the better development of inter-imperial trade; communications and the question of preferences. They were all discussed, and it was plain throughout that every one of these questions was inextricably linked up with the other questions. That view was taken by everyone who had any part in the Conference.
Let me deal with a few of the points. Take settlement, upon which there is no difference of opinion. I should say, in any quarter of the House. All hon. Members are equally anxious to make settlement effective. But many people talk loosely about it. They talk as if settlement were a tap which could be turned on or off to suit one's convenience, but that is just what you cannot do. What has happened in connection with settlement in the past is this, that when trade is good all round, when the Dominions are doing enormously well, and when this country is prosperous, that is the moment when settlement is easiest, but when you come to the time when you have numbers of people out of work and trade languishing it is impossible for the Dominions to absorb settlers, and they cannot take the number you wish. The extent of settlement depends on markets, and the point in 1973 regard to that was well put by Mr. Bruce, at the opening of the Conference. I want to refer to this because: it has been put to the House on more than one occasion that the Government are accepting a large number of Resolutions passed by the Conference. That is a rather specious thing to say, because we know that some of these Resolutions are relatively unimportant. You cannot, for example, put catalogues and commercial travellers' samples in the same category as the big questions which we were discussing at that Conference. But, apart from that, you cannot deal with the recommendations of the Conference in watertight compartments because they are all linked up together. Take the question of Settlement. Let me quote the words which Mr. Bruce, the Prime Minister of Australia, used at the opening of the Conference. He said:I think it is almost necessary at this stage to deal with the matter at some length, because there is no question but that the solution of the problem of Empire development is dependent upon three things, men, money and markets. These matters are dealt with on the Agenda as separate items. One cannot, however, deal with the question of Empire settlement and come to any effective decision, because such settlement depends upon the markets available for the resultant production, and also upon the money which is provided for the purpose of Empire development. I certainly think that the most useful course to follow at this stage is to deal with the whole problem; to try and show how in our opinion all these points depend one upon another; and to stress again in the strongest possible way that we believe the paramount question is that of markets, and that it in quite useless to deal with Empire migration and discuss questions of that character in detail until we have arrived at some solution which ensures markets for the increased production that would result.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
Will the right hon. Gentleman read what Mr. Bruce himself suggested as the only solution, namely, a tariff on agricultural products?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. And gallant Gentleman ought not to attempt to mislead the House as to what was said by the Prime Minister of Australia. He said that the more articles that were subject to preference the greater the advantage to Australia. That is true. [Interruption.] I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will let us discuss this question without prejudice. I am not 1974 going to be drawn into political polemics at this juncture, although I am quite prepared to take the rough and tumble of any controversy at the right time. I have debated party issues very often in this House, but those issues do not arise to-day. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite wrong in what he suggests. The Prime Minister of Australia said, in terms, that he regarded these concessions which we proposed as of enormous value, and subsequently one after another of the Prime Ministers of the different Dominions and the representatives of the Crown Colonies stated the same thing in terms. It is not fair, therefore, to try to represent to the House that they did not regard these concessions as of the greatest possible value. Let me take another point besides settlement—let me take financial co-operation, which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has accepted broadly in the Trade Facilities Bill. Let me remind the House of the history of that proposal at the Conference. The Prime Minister of Australia said it was really idle to discuss financial co-operation until they knew what was going to be done about markets. He said:You cannot expect us to go ahead with any development schemes unless we see our way to market the commodity which is to be produced.It was only after Preference had been proposed that they accepted and welcomed the proposal of financial co-operation as they felt that they could then go forward to some purpose. The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary shakes his head, but it really was so. I was present at every single one of these meetings. Let me quote again what Mr. Bruce had to say on the financial problems after we had had our preliminary discussion.
The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Thomas)
I only shook my head because my right hon. Friend must be aware that Australia came to the agreement as to financing emigration well knowing our views on the tariff question.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
That is a separate question. The right hon. Gentleman must know that the proposals for financial co-operation were a distinct proposal for extending the assistance we were giving to public utility undertakings 1975 in this country to the Dominions when they could expedite work. I hope some schemes will come forward in any case, for example, some of the New Zealand hydroelectric schemes. But Mr. Bruce stated plainly that the extent to which the Dominions could make use of the proposal must depend largely on whether they could market what they produced on the newly developed areas. Here is what Mr. Bruce said:I will be quite frank and say that I did not really regard this with very much interest before yesterday, because, as I have said, we can only speed up and press on if at the end of a period of five or ten years we can visualise such an increase in our population and 6Uch a strengthening of our position that we can carry the additional burden of interest comfortably. But until you shed a ray of hope and light on the situation yesterday I was very doubtful whether there would be anything we would he able to do, but your having given us that earnest yesterday of your intention to do everything possible to try and help us in the direction I suggested, I am fairly confident that there are a number of very sound schemes we would be able to put before you which will fulfil all the conditions you are asking for and which if they are put into operation will greatly help in the development of Australia, and will, I hope, be of considerable assistance to you at a time which you have described as one of very dire distress in Great Britain. On behalf of Australia I welcome the scheme and say that we will do everything in our power to see if we cannot act with the British Government in regard to it.It is plain from this that their view was that without seeing their way to the marketing of the produce that these new settlements were to provide they could not, even with the generous financial treatment suggested, accept fresh capital obligations. Take the question of communications again. Communications stand on exactly the same footing; unless you can get a big ebb and flow between the various countries of this Empire you will not be able to get improved communications. Nothing was more striking throughout the Conference than the way in which not only the representatives of the Dominions, but people interested in shipping, saw that in the general development of Empire trade and Empire resources was to be found the real interest of the shipping community. That is the way to approach these questions which are inseparably interlinked one with the other. It was because they were treated in that way and with a common over- 1976 riding purpose that we got such a large measure of agreement, and I am certain that we should never have secured so much agreement on questions like the taxation of shipping, and flag discrimination, If it had not been that the whole Conference felt that the shipping problems were one factor in the general development of inter-Imperial trade, and that the whole of that policy hung together. That was proved by the Chamber of Shipping itself, and I would like to acknowledge the great help which we received throughout the Conference from the representatives of the Chamber, a body which I suppose is about as strong a Free Trade body as can be found in the world. The Chamber of Shipping in this country passed unanimously a Resolution inviting the Government to accept the whole—not a part, but the whole of the Resolutions of the Conference. Surely they are right in that. It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of the development of Imperial resources to-day, when one looks at the economic position of this country, entirely dependent, as it is, for a large part of its food supply and raw materials upon its export trade. Our export trade to-day is 25 per cent, short of what it was before the War, and yet we have a population of a million and three-quarters greater than at the time of the last census. We have to remember, too, that the march of science has inevitably made our task much more difficult, because it now takes fewer men to get the same amount of production than it did before the War, and therefore in order to keep our greater population at work in industry we must not only have as large an export trade as before the War but we must have more. Otherwise we cannot solve the problem of unemployment. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about consumption?"] Surely the best way to secure a greater consumption is by developing these great new lands. You have only to look at the history of other countries, and especially at the history of the United States, to realise that consumption is not a fictitious thing but comes from a growing population creating a demand for goods. [An HON. MEMBER: "An effective demand!"] Could anything be more effective than a demand coming from the Empire itself, when the population of the Dominions 1977 take pounds per head, where foreign countries take shillings. I am sure that if the hon. Member who interrupted me just now will consider that, he will appreciate the point. It means that we have got to restore, not only the volume of our pre-War trade, but we have got to do more than that if we are to keep our population in work. And how are we to do it? It is idle to say we shall have done enough merely by settling affairs in Europe. I do not underrate for one moment—taking the long view—the importance of European settlement and stabilisation in Europe. Anyone would be mad who did. But you are not going to solve this merely by the settlement of reparations and stabilisation of exchanges. Look at the position of Europe. Every country in Europe is poorer, but every country, at the same time, has enormously increased its manufacturing capacity and manufacturing plant. Every country during the War was developing its plant to make munitions, exactly as we were in this country. Every neutral country was extending its plant and its manufacturing capacity, partly to manufacture for the belligerent countries, and partly to capture the trade which belligerent countries had done, but were no longer able to do. The first result which you will get from settlement in Europe is enormously increased productive capacity in all those countries, and by nobody has that been put more forcibly than by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He made a speech of very great force in this House on the 16th July of last year, in which he pointed out how extremely rash it was to rely on a European settlement as a solution of the problem of unemployment He said you may settle reparations with complete satisfaction to every country that is interested, whether it is the country that pays or receives: but do not deceive yourselves that that is going to be a solution of your present discontent:The moment peace is restored in Europe and the exchanges are stabilized. …you will then be face to face with the real rivalry.Manufacturing plant has been enormously increased in France—In Germany, the same thing is happening. …They are all ready for the great development which may take place when the settlement comes."—["OFFICTAL REPORT, 16th July, 1923; col. 1950, Vol. 166.]1978 I cannot put it more forcibly that one of the certainties is that the settlement of Europe is going to bring this keener industrial competition. What, then, is the solution? It is not to try to stop that settlement; you want to work at that settlement, and urge it on in every way. But the one and only solution which can be certain is the finding of new markets, and those markets can only be found in the way in which we were saved before in an earlier emergency, and that is, in the markets of the Empire. I think it is common knowledge to Members in all quarters of the House that in that period of long and deep depression which came upon industry in this country between 1875 and 1895, when our population went on steadily increasing year after year, and our exports to foreign countries remained stagnant, one thing alone kept our people at work, and that was that within those years our trade within the Empire doubled. It is within the Empire, and within the Empire alone, that we can look with certainty for new markets. They will give us a trade indefinitely expanding and reciprocal in character. We solve our settlement problem in our stride as we do that. We get a steady progression, immediate orders placed in this country, the population growing in the Dominions, and the real consumptive demand which my hon. Friend wants to see. It matters not in the least that from time to time the character of the demand which comes from the Dominions changes, as the aggregate demand is increasing all the time. You are developing new supplier of food and raw material, and surely if one thing is certain it is that volume means cheapness. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about rubber?"] I do not understand the interruption. There is not a single commodity in this world which does not depend for its price upon whether the supply of it is plentiful or is scarce. Observe, too, the enormous importance of depending less rather than more upon what is produced in the United States. Take sugar, for example. The right hon. Gentleman has made a remission of sugar duties. He wants, as everyone wants, to be certain that that remission of duty is going consistently to find its way into the pockets of the consumers. The one thing only that can make that certain is insuring an increased supply, and alternative sources. Take cotton, 1979 It does not come within the terms of this Resolution, but the principle is there. The development of cotton-growing within the Empire has had to be helped in every way with money, advice and Government guarantee. It is absolutely right to do that, but if it be right to adopt that form of assistance, which is the abnegation of laissez faire, to try to develop cotton-growing, it cannot be wrong to try to take appropriate steps to develop other products in other parts of the Empire. I understand the Prime Minister is going to carry on the policy we started with regard to cotton-growing within the Empire. I sincerely hope he is. Let me put this point, with which, I think, he will certainly be in agreement. Surely he would be the first to maintain, as would the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the enormous importance of bringing the American exchange to parity, and keeping it there. But, so long as you have to pay £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 a year in repayment of the American Debt, every payment you have to make in America tends to depress the dollar exchange. If, then, it; be possible for you to buy more of your commodities, which you would otherwise purchase in America, within the Empire, you are appreciating your dollar exchange, you are getting more plentiful sources of food supplies and supplies of raw material, and you are doing what we all want to do, that is, making our food cost us less, and not cost us more. Surely al this proves the vital importance of developing Imperil trade. I said I would not pass from this without reference to the enormous importance and the value which Preference has been to this country. In 1922, the actual rebate of duty granted to our manufactures within the Empire came to as much as £11,250,000, a sum of enormous value, and the steady rise of our imports into those countries has proved its value. There is not an industry which does not endorse, that to-day. Let me give my own experience of the feeling which, I know, went through all industry at the prospect of even a small reduction of Preference in one Dominion. It will be within the recollection of the House that some two or three years ago a commercial treaty was made between 1980 France and Canada, under which the preference given to French imports into Canada are increased. That automatically reduced the rate of preference which was granted to our industries. The Government of the day at the urgent request of the British manufacturers, tried to arrange with the Canadian Government to get back the preference given, which was only a reduction of a comparatively small percentage. The Canadian Government increased the British preference, and let me point out how they were able to do it. They did it as a reciprocal act, in return for our taking off the embargo on Canadian cattle. Mr. Mackenzie King at the Conference said:We wished to do something more than give verbal appreciation of that action"—that was the removal of the Canadian cattle embargo—in the hope that the British public would realise that having met us in a matter in which we were vitally concerned, we, in like measure, would like to meet them in a matter of concern to British interests. We increased our Preference by giving an additional 10 per cent, discount on the existing preferential duties on all goods coming through Canadian ports. This was done largely as the result of the action of the British Government in respect to the admission of our cattle.Therefore, by that act, by a reciprocal arrangement, we are enabled to get restored that preference which had been of such value to our manufacturers. In this matter we cannot stand still. Other countries are anxious to deal with the Dominions. Mr. Bruce said at the Conference that over and over again foreign countries had proposed to them reciprocal arrangements, and they had refused, because they wanted to deal with us. Of course, foreign countries make proposals of that kind. The enormous advantage we are getting under the preference is a thing which those foreign countries are only too anxious to enjoy. That was the position we tried to meet in the Imperial Conference within the limits of our existing fiscal system. How necessary it was is plain. How widely it was appreciated I can show by the quotation of one Resolution which came through a very few days after the tabling of the Sugar Preference. It came from the Government of Mauritius, on 19th November.The elected and nominated members of Council of Government have requested me 1981 to beg you to convey to His Majesty's Government an expression of deep gratitude of the people of Mauritius for the great measure of Protection that has been granted to the chief products of this Colony."—That was the stabilisation of sugar.The Council has agreed to give preferential treatment to a substantial extent on all imports, not affecting essential foodstuffs, being products of the United Kingdom and of such British Dominions and Colonies as may agree to reciprocal benefits.We cannot but contrast with that spontaneous Resolution coming from the Government of Mauritius, resolutions which have been tabled recently in several of the Dominions and Crown Colonies in favour of the reduction, or the abolition of Preference, if we are unwilling to go forward with these proposals. I do not want to read those resolutions. I hope, that after the Debate and the decision which is taken in this House to-day, those resolutions may find no place upon the Order Paper of any House of Assembly within the Empire. But the fact that they are there proves not only the importance of this issue at this moment, but how far-reaching may be the effect of the action we may take. The unity and security of the Empire, and the development of its resources have been the purpose and dream of men of all shades of thought throughout its history. There are some lines of Milton, which were, I believe, his daily prayer for the British Commonwealth:Thou who of thy free grace didst build up this Britanick Empire to a glorious and enviable heighth, with all her daughter islands about her, stay us in this felicitie.Surely those words have a greater meaning for us to-day The islands have become continents. There is greater responsibility, but a far greater opportunity! Will anybody, looking at the development which has taken place in the lost Dominion, the United States, in a century, in half a century, comparing their resources with ours, doubt what lies within our power? Look at their development, but look, too, at the enormous and diverse resources of our own Empire, typified as they are by that universal Exhibition which is taking place in this country at the present time—looking at both can anybody doubt that what the United States have done it is possible for the British Empire itself to do? Can they doubt that here really lies the road to prosperity for this country, an issue out 1982 of our present difficulties, and the solution of our present discontents. I believe in all sincerity that in that solution is to be found not only the solution of our difficulties here at home, not only the strengthening of the Empire itself, but the greatest guarantee for the peaceful progress of the whole of the civilised world.
I hope, on this and the next day, the Debate will be conducted in the same spirit, free from passion and temper, as it has begun, because one cannot but observe that things may be said in this Debate which, whilst understood and appreciated by this House, may be subject to misunderstanding and perhaps cause friction in other parts of the Empire. We can, at least, state our case free from passion, and with a genuine desire to do the right thing, however much we may differ. I have listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite who opened the Debate, but I first want to draw his attention to the fact, and to say, it is somewhat unkind of him in a Preference Debate to quote the cattle embargo. If the Resolution of appreciation of the Canadian Government of the cattle embargo means anything, it means, first, that those of us who are Free Traders brought tremendous pressure on the Protectionists to do it, and, having done it, we are thanked by them for having done something to cheapen food in this country. Equally— if I may say so—I have heard many explanations as to why we lost America, but this is the first occasion on which I have heard it connected with Preference.
I want to put to the House the position of the Government in connection with these Resolutions on the Paper, because my right hon. Friend, in tracing the history of the last Imperial Conference, forgot to tell the House that the position in which we found ourselves, and any disagreement, disappointment, or inconvenience that may have been caused, or any feeling aroused, is not due to the act of anyone on this side of the House, but it is due entirely to the deliberate' act of the late Government itself. The Dominion Ministers were invited here. They were asked to discuss this question. They were led to believe that these Preference proposals represented the mind of the country. They were told, and told with certainty, that the then 1983 Government, having a majority at its disposal, intended to submit these proposals to the House and carry them through. It was on that assumption, certainly, that negotiations on the proposals were made. Without any explanation of them, without explanation to the country, the verdict of the country was taken on these and other proposals. It was not our fault. We did not submit them. We did not ask for an issue on them. It is rather stretching things too far when the Opposition, having taken the step they did and having ascertained the voice of the people; having deliberately told these people: "We will go down to the House of Commons and say what we will do," now come and ask the House to reverse the very mandate that the people themselves have given. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
Were not representatives of the Labour party members of the Government at the time of the Conference of 1917—the Conference that passed these Resolutions?
It is true that certain members of the Labour party were members of the Government at that time. It is equally true that there were no members of the Labour or Liberal party in the last Government. That Government had a majority, and it was on that majority that they framed their proposals. That is a fact. I want also to put to the House clearly what I think is an unfortunate misrepresentation in the discussion of these proposals; that is, that the Empire as a whole is not only united on the side of hon. and right, hon. Gentlemen opposite on these proposals, but that they are looking upon us, as if we were doing something not only slighting to them, but deliberately to cause offence. That, I am sure, from the appreciation shown of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, represents the considered view of those on the opposite side of the House. Therefore, I want to say exactly what the Dominions themselves think on this question. There was a Debate in the Canadian Parliament a few weeks ago. During the discussion, Mr. E. Lapointe, the Minister of Justice, said:Canada was giving the great principle of Preference in her markets of her own freewill, but mainly because it suited Canada to do so.1984 He went on to say:Fiscal autonomy was just as necessary for Canada as political autonomy, and every nation within the Empire must be left free to devise its own fiscal policy according to its own needs, the wishes, and the requirements of its own people.That is a responsible Minister in Canada. In other words he says, "Oh, no, I shall not be offended; we will not be upset; we will not look upon it as an insult or a slight; for we recognise that Great Britain is doing for her own people what she believes to be right and best, just as we claim the right to do for our own people." I am dealing with Members of the existing Government, not with members of the Opposition. I will come to them in a moment. Mr. Graham, speaking in the same Debate, said:Preference was given to Great Britain out of the hearts of the people of Canada, hut not altogether from altruistic motives, because Canadians believed—and it had turned out to be true—that the giving of Preference to the Motherland would be mainly for the benefit of their own countrymen.That clearly indicates that it is not only unwise, but untrue, to suggest that Canada looks upon our action in dealing with the Preference Proposals in the manner in which we do as any insult to them. Let me come to Australia, which has been quoted. I now quote a responsible ex-Minister there. He said:If Britishers came to Australia and said to us: 'We think you ought to give higher preference to British goods,' we should listen very politely, hut we should not give them preferences unless we were satisfied that it would be a good thing for us.
§ 5.0 P.M.
That is Mr. Hughes, the late Prime Minister. I could quote numerous speeches of that kind. The only object in quoting them is not to set one party against another, the Opposition or the Government. Nothing could be more disastrous than to do that. I am quoting them with a view to showing that Canadians. New Zealanders, Australians, and South Africans are compelled to do as we are compelled to do, view all these questions from the standpoint of the interests of our own people. If there is one thing I would definitely state in connection with general questions of Empire development, it would be the tendency of late years to make a party matter that which need not be made 1985 a party matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am delighted with that measure of approbation, and I would ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to remember who is responsible for making the thing a party issue. I say that, because equally it would be a mistake to deal with this question as a sort of debit and credit account on a balance-sheet. Whatever differences there were about the War, there would be no difference of opinion that all parts of the Empire rallied to the Mother Country, and, therefore, we have no right to consider it from that point of view. Equally it is a mistake to assume that the assistance obtained and the great help and encouragement we received was either intended or was due to any material considerations of Preference 8r anything else. Therefore, it ought not to be considered from that point of view.
Now I come to the proposals themselves, and it is interesting to ask if a certain political event had occurred last year, what would have been the position of these proposals to-day? Mr. McKenna was invited to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, but a statement was issued a few days ago denying the rumour that Mr. McKenna made it a condition that the McKenna Duties should be removed before he took office. There was, however, a significant paragraph in that same statement which said:It was understood and agreed that there would be no change in our fiscal system.Supposing the vacancy in the City of London had materialised, and supposing the late Member for the City of London had gone to another place and Mr. McKenna had become Chancellor of the Exchequer; is it to be argued that these Preference Resolutions would have then been the grave subject-matter of the Conference that they were? Is it not true to say that they would have been looked upon as a change in our fiscal system? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because Mr. McKenna had made it perfectly clear in speeches in this House prior to his retirement and since that, so far as he was concerned, neither Preference nor Protection was a thing with which he would have anything to do. One can only conclude that there must have been some discussion or it would have been 1986 unnecessary for these Press statements to have been issued a few days ago. Therefore, it is rather significant to observe how such a little incident even as the creation of a vacancy in this House might have changed the whole seriousness of the grave Empire problem we are discussing to-day. A complaint has been made that the present Government have refused to guarantee the 10 years' preference in regard to sugar. I can understand and sympathise with the planters who assumed that that guarantee was given in good faith, and I can quite understand the annoyance and inconvenience caused to them. I will, however, put it to the House that nothing would be more anti-democratic or inconsistent with the Constitution of this country than for one Government to bind another in connection with this matter. [An HON. MEMBER: "How about your housing scheme?"] I think speeches from the other side of the House have already given clear indication that they are not accepting our proposals when they get the chance. We do not complain, but we wish to take care that they shall not reverse them. The point I am making is that, when this guarantee was given, it was first given before the authority of Parliament was sought, and, secondly, no Minister had a right to bind future Parliaments upon it. I would ask the House also to remember that, when we were discussing this question with prominent representatives of the Dominions themselves, they took an entirely different view to that assumed here. I discussed this very question the other day with a very responsible Minister, and he said quite frankly to me:Whilst I administer a country with conditions such as they are, certainly I am for protecting it, but when I come "to consider the question from your standpoint, and if. I were here with YOU. I should be a Free Trader.The explanation is a simple one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name."] I would not quote this opinion unless it were true, but I think it would be unfair to mention the name. The point I am making is that we have a right, as we have a duty, to consider this question, not alone from the standpoint of the interests of the Dominions and the Colonies, but equally from the standpoint of our own people at home. That being so, I would ask 1987 my right hon. Friend opposite whether it is not equally true that in discussing these very proposals they found considerable difficulty in finding how they could benefit some parts of the Empire as against others. For instance, is it not true that when you started to discuss your proposals relating to dried fruit, and so on, you reached the stage when you asked yourselves "Where is Canada coming in"? and then the 5s. on apples was put in, not on account of any particular benefit to our own industry, but because you found yourselves unable to leave Canada out owing to the fact that you had given something to someone else. In other, words, you start a vicious circle, and there is no knowing where it is going to end. I put it to the House whether all I this does not mean that we ought to reconsider the whole question of the Imperial Conference. Is it fair, I ask, to bring these responsible statesmen here to take part in discussions for weeks and months, after travelling thousands of miles, and immediately they go back find that the very proposals they have made, for some reason or other, are rejected on this side? It is difficult to know how to get over that, and it is not an easy matter. I am going to suggest to the House that it is worth considering whether it would not help the unity of the Empire and give more encouragement and confidence if we took the responsibility not only of inviting the Prime Ministers of particular countries but of inviting the responsible leaders of the opposition as well.
§ Mr. AUSTIN CHAMBERLAIN
Has the right hon. Gentleman any recent expression of the opinions of the Dominion Governments on that subject?
I know the objections, and I will deal them. The first difficulty is to get the responsible Leaders of the Opposition to accept the responsibility. They say, rightly, "No, this is the Government of the day; they must have the responsibility themselves, and we will not share it." I put to the House the difficulty made clear a few days ago by the Prime Minister himself with regard to the Lausanne Treaty. You had a discussion in the House of Commons in Canada last week which everyone must deprecate, and no one can read that 1988 Debate without being disturbed and positively alarmed. As my right hon. Friend said, whether we like it or not, apart from any fiscal or party differences, some solution of that problem must be found. My right hon. Friend opposite asked me whether I have had any opinions recently on this point. I may say I have discussed it with responsible people from the Dominions. I cannot say that they are committed, but I will say that from my discussions with them they are convinced that some change such as I have indicated is absolutely necessary in order to make the Conference more effective and real than it has been in the past. I want this question explored. There may be some better means, but I am perfectly certain that it will only lead to disaster to go on with these conferences, and find when they are broken up that nothing whatever has been done, because you would find an agitation growing up against them which would be disastrous to everybody. When they have taken the responsibility, as they have, of sharing in foreign affairs, it becomes doubly necessary to have agreement on this matter.
Now I come to the second aspect of this question, which is that at the last Conference there was a very important Resolution carried with one dissentient, and that was with regard to the Economic Committee. The Government considered that question very seriously. I think the House ought to know that Mr. Mackenzie King himself raised many objections to that Committee, his main objection being that he thought the terms of reference were so wide that it would give them a sort of roving commission. It was mainly on the grounds of the absence of unanimity among the Dominions themselves that the Government turned it down.
We have, however, reconsidered the matter, and we have considered it in this light, that there are many questions outside fiscal questions of vital importance to the Empire which ought to be considered. There are many problems that can be explored free from party, and free from these fiscal controversies, and if we can get them considered, so much the better The Government, therefore, are prepared, if the Dominions wish it—we cannot do it unless they do wish it —and feel they can agree, to consider this question not on the lines of the 1989 Economic Committee, as proposed, out, perhaps, on the lines of an ad hoc committee something hike the Imperial Shipping Committee.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The exact proposal made at the Conference was to have an Economic Committee exactly on the same lines as the Imperial Shipping Committee, a purely advisory body with no executive powers whatsoever.
My right hon. Friend knows that the terms of reference were so wide that Mr. Mackenzie King called it a body with a roving commission. We believe that a specific job, so to speak, indeed, many jobs, can be given to them. Let them be given a definite task to do and be allowed to do it, but we must have, as I have already indicated, a Committee representative of the Dominions as well as of everyone else. We propose to consult the Dominions on that side of the question, and I shall probably be able to make a communication to the House when we have had replies. I am not dealing with the particular specific proposals because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to deal with each of them. I only want to submit to the House this: Firstly, it is unfair to adopt the policy that, unfortunately, has been adopted in the past, of assuming that on these Empire questions one party alone is the patriotic party. It is not true. We resent it, and we shall be able to prove that it is not true. Equally, we are prepared, outside these fiscal controversies, to consider every question without party bias or prejudice. I have already indicated that we are giving deep consideration to what steps can be taken to make the Imperial Conference more representative and more effective than it has been in the past. While we are strictly giving effect to the promise made to the Opposition, that on all these Resolutions a free vote of the House will be taken, and that verdict will be accepted by the Government, the Government themselves propose to vote against them.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
Whatever may be the opinions held in various quarters of the House on the expediency of adopting the series of Resolutions which have been put down for discussion, everyone in all quarters of the House will agree that this very important Debate has been opened by two speeches which set an example to 1990 us all as to the tone and temper in which such matters must be debated. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down claimed, as he did, that a deep interest in such questions, and a sincere desire to help to solve them in the best way, is the common object of all parties and of all members of all parties in this House and out of it. The dispute that arises on such a subject as Imperial Preference is a dispute as to method, as to what the ultimate effect of pursuing such a policy is really likely to be. On that there are very great differences, but there is not the slightest shadow of difference between us in our desire, as far as we all can, to put aside prejudices and prepossessions, for the purpose of considering on their merits the proposals which are now put before the House. While I say that, I do think that it is impossible to consider these proposals without appreciating one or two fundamental facts about the whole scheme of Imperial Preference as it is recommended to the country.
Preference, as it is understood and practised in the Dominions, is quite a different thing from Preference as recommended for adoption and extension in this country. It may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing, but it is quite a different thing. We sometimes hear speeches made—and made, I know, by men of the greatest patriotism and the greatest devotion to the Empire—appealing to us to imitate an example that has already been set by our fellow-subjects beyond the seas, to reciprocate a fiscal attitude, to avail ourselves, as it used to be said, of a Dominion offer. Sometimes, indeed, they have gone so far as to ask us to accept a Dominion gift. Those are all very pleasant phrases, and, in so far as they embody our sincere interest in and respectful sympathy with every effort to promote Imperial objects, they are very proper phrases; but they are quite inaccurate phrases, and they do not really represent in the least what is the difference between what we are invited to do by such Resolutions as these and what the Dominions on their side are doing.
The methods of Preference that we are invited to adopt are utterly different from the methods of Preference as they prevail in the Dominions, for this reason. Here we are in a very small island which 1991 has developed an immense overseas trade in manufactured goods on the fiscal policy of imposing no import duties except for revenue. The position of the Dominions is entirely different. They are, many of them, very large areas, and, for reasons which one can well understand, they have taken a different view as to the fiscal policy that they should follow. They are absolutely within their rights in doing so, and we should be doing the most dangerous thing if for a moment we ventured to criticise or complain; but they are areas that have seen fit to adopt, as the basis of their taxation, a high tariff policy. They have surrounded themselves with a high Customs wall, and for them what is called the policy of Preference means pulling down a certain number of bricks from the top of this very high wall by which they are seeking to keep out products from over the seas so far as they can possibly compete with their own native industries.
We are grateful that they do so. I have no doubt it is true that British manufacturers have gained by such proposals, though I altogether dissent from the estimate which the right hon. Gentleman the former President of the Board of Trade gave us, that you could measure this advantage to the British manufacturer by saying that the British manufacturer in effect put in his pocket every year £11,250,000. The way in which the £11,250,000 is arrived at is this: Take, for instance, in the case of Australia, the tax upon imported British woollen goods of 30 per cent, ad valorem—a very high tariff prevailing at this moment against Yorkshire manufactures going into Australia. It is perfectly true that the tariff in Australia against corresponding woollen fabrics coming from foreign countries is 45 per cent.—an absolutely prohibitive tariff; and the way in which you arrive at the figure of £11,250,000 is by imagining that all the imports of British goods to the Dominions under the preferential rate would go on in the same volume at the higher rate, and calculating what would be the additional amount of taxes paid. Without in the least wishing to minimise the advantage that British manufacturers are getting from the Preference, it is perfectly plain that the persons who primarily benefit by that Preference are the consumers of those 1992 articles in the Dominions themselves, and, of course, it is a grotesque method of measuring to pretend that you can evaluate the Preference by any such calculation as that.
At any rate, that is what the Dominions are doing, and we are heartily grateful to them for what they are doing. I do not wish to minimise it in the least degree, but that is not in the least what we are invited to do. What we are invited to do is to undertake the building of a wall. We are to set up an obstacle of some height in order that, when that obstacle is set up, or as long as it is maintained, its height may be reduced to a certain extent, or certain gaps may be made for the admission of Dominion products. It is, surely, clear, and it is as well to have it clear to begin with, that those two operations, although they are both called Imperial Preference, the one in the Dominions and the other here in Britain, are totally distinct and different operations. The practice of Preference in the Dominions is Preference in a protected market. The permanent application of extensive Imperial Preference in Britain means the establishment, first of all, of a protected market here, the abandonment of the principle upon which the trade of our islands has been built up, and the creation of a situation which, as experience has shown, makes it a very difficult and invidious thing to claim afterwards to alter your proposals.
Let me just point out, by two quotations from Mr. Bruce, how this distinction is well understood by our fellow-subjects in the Dominions. In quoting Mr. Bruce, let me say that, while it is inevitable that we should refer to some of the observations made by these Dominion statesmen, there ought never to be in our Debates any quotation or passages from their speeches with the slightest desire or the slightest colour of intention to reflect upon their view or to criticise their view. It is merely that we want to make entirely plain to one another and to our friends across the seas what the essential difference is. I notice that Mr. Bruce, in an article which he recently contributed to the "Nine-teenth Century," writes thus:Imperial Preference has been adopted in the Dominions primarily to safeguard our standard of living.1993 In other words, he actually calls his system Imperial Preference, because, to an Australian like Mr. Bruce, Imperial Preference is an incident in a system of Protection, and what he really means is that the high protective system of Australia, modified, as we gladly recognise that it is, by Preference to the British manufacturer, is none the less a system which has been adopted to safeguard, as he conceives, the standard of Jiving and the opportunity of nascent manufactures in that great Colony. A similar quotation can be made from a speech of Mr. Bruce when lie was in this country. The date, I think, was the 24th October of last year —of course, before the General Election took place, because Mr. Bruce, with the greatest good feeling and sense of Imperial patriotism, the moment that this matter became a subject of immediate domestic controversy here, carefully abstained from any language which could possibly be thought to interfere in that controversy. But, at any rate, before he knew that an Election was impending— I wonder how many right hon. Gentlemen knew that it was impending in October— Mr. Bruce said:In Australia they were a Protectionist country, and they insisted that their markets should be reserved in the first place for their home people and their own production.That is what Imperial Preference means from the Dominion point of view, and I wish, therefore, in the first place, to insist that to us Preference means the abandonment of all hope of a free market, and the establishment of Protection, with Imperial modification? Whereas Preference in the Dominions has a tendency to decrease the burden on the consumer, Preference in this country really has no such tendency, but may very well have the effect of actually increasing prices. I have heard some little doubt as to that expressed on the other side. Let me give an actual instance which is now on record. We have for some time past had on Imperial sugar a preference of one-sixth, and there cm be no question at all that that preference is very gratefully received by our fellow-subjects in the West Indies and elsewhere; but is the result of it to reduce the price of sugar? I have here a statement made on behalf of the Board of Trade by the understudy, if I may use that term, of the right hon. Gentleman the former 1994 President of the Board of Trade, in another place on the 16th July of last year. What the spokesman of the Board of Trade said, speaking of Empire Sugar Preference, was:Preference has greatly benefited the producers in the West Indies and elsewhere, as they have been able to obtain higher prices practically to the full amount of the Preference (over £4 per ton on fully refined sugar) for all sugar sold to this country.I do not blame them in the least. It is really foolish for us not to appreciate that one of the results of the Imperial Preference which we have so far granted is not by any means necessarily to reduce prices here at all. On the contrary it is a grant which is no doubt most gratefully received by our fellow subjects across the seas, which no doubt may have a certain result in promoting Imperial production—I do not want to suggest the contrary—but which certainly has not the effect of reducing prices here at all.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I will give the right hon. Gentleman a second instance where I do suggest it. I do not know whether anyone has observed that the first of these Resolutions does not include the whole of the proposals made at the Imperial Conference. It has to do with the subject of currants. The tax on imported currants at present is 2s. a cwt. All that the right hon. Gentleman puts down is a proposal that, if the currants come from Australia, they shall not be taxed at all. But it was agreed at the Imperial Conference that that would not be giving an effective measure of Preference to Australian currants, and the spokesman for the late Government went on to say that part and parcel of the late Government's scheme was to increase the tax upon foreign currants in order "to give an effective Preference." I answer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) by saying at once that, if you are going to give an effective Preference 1995 to Australian currants', which unfortunately ripen in the early part of the calendar year and therefore in any case are not quite so satisfactory for plum puddings as currants which ripen in the autumn—[Laughter.] I can assure the hon. Member I am not speaking without knowledge. He will not find that Australian currants in fact at present are at a prohibitive price. They are quite easy to buy, if you prefer them. If, as a matter of fact, in order to give an effective preference to Australian currants you have to go the length of doubling or trebling the duty on all other currants, you will raise the price. That is one of the most significant things about the proposals for Imperial Preference at the stage they have now reached, for the truth is that we have exhausted all that can be done on the basis1 of existing taxes, and consequently those who really believe in this as a way of Imperial development, following logically out their sincere convictions say, "Now the time has come to put new taxes upon articles of food in order that we may carve an effective Imperial Preference out of them."
That leads me to point out what I do not think was very clearly pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman. There really have been three stages in the effort for promoting a Preference policy in these islands. The first stage—and I commend it to those who are disposed to sympathise with the first Resolution—was the modest suggestion made at a time when there was a Registration Duty of Is. a quarter on all wheat imported into this country. It was imposed during the Boer War by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach as a means of raising revenue, without the slightest intention of altering or modifying in the least the fiscal practice and policy of this country. It was imposed purely for revenue purposes, believing it would have no effect at all on the price of bread. It led to an agitation to keep the duty on so far as foreign wheat was concerned, but to take it off so far as wheat coming from the Dominions was concerned. The argument in favour of it was exactly the argument which I can imagine put forward in favour of one or two of these Resolutions to-day. It was said, with great plausibility, "After all, you have an existing duty upon an article of food. To take that duty off so 1996 far as regards the Empire supply is a step in the direction of Free Trade. It will tend really to reduce the price—certainly not to increase it. It will be welcomed in the Dominions and it will do no one any harm." That is, in fact, the origin of the movement for Imperial Preference, and those were the arguments by which it was advanced. Those arguments were resisted, not merely by Liberals but by most responsible Conservative opinion. They were resisted by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, by Mr. Ritchie, by Lord George Hamilton, and by the late Duke of Devonshire. No one could question that the reasons which induced those people to resist that proposal had nothing in them of a partisan or pettifogging character. They resisted them for the reason that if once we had adopted the principle of keeping a small duty, like that on imported wheat, on foreign supplies and taking it off Dominion supplies you would find it difficult and perhaps impossible ever to get rid of the import duty on foreign wheat at all.
That was the first stage. The second stage carried the thing rather further. It was a proposal that we should retain food duties, and even reconsider their range, even though it might be possible to get rid of them because—I am here using a famous phrase—you could not have Imperial Preference without duties on food. That proposition, which was laid down by a high authority long ago, has not, lost the least of its virtue. That was the second stage, which continued until comparatively recently. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) has gone further, and in his account of what he was doing last year he has been much too modest. He is attempting to break new ground entirely. His Resolutions, as anyone can see who will read them, are Resolutions which, if we were to adopt them, would do this. For the sake of creating an effective Preference for the Dominions they would ask us to increase some food duties which now exist and to invent new duties on food which is not now taxed, for the express purpose of drawing Imperial Preference out of them. I have to say for my part and on behalf of those who agree with me, that we resist that altogether. I found myself on three very simple propositions. The first is 1997 that food taxes are the most objectionable of all taxes, and nothing has given more widespread satisfaction to the country, certainly nothing has given wider satisfaction to my friends, than the boldness with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done his utmost to get rid of food taxes. I want to see that course continued because I consider that food taxes are the worst of all taxes. My second proposition is this: I have said already that you cannot have an effective system of Imperial Preference unless you are going to have taxes on food, and therefore you may dress up this argument as much as you please but in the end you have to choose whether the object to be aimed at in the development of British fiscal policy is that we are to get rid of food taxes altogether or whether we are to erect upon a system of food taxes this interlocking method of Preference. In the third place I ask leave to say that to talk about Preference if you do not mean to tax foodstuff and agricultural raw materials is dodging the issue. When I say that I avail myself of the suggestion of the late President of the Board of Trade that other people might quote from Mr. Bruce after he had done so. T see Mr. Bruce said this:It is no good our passing pious resolutions in favour of better preference to the Dominions and ever dodging the great issue.I look back to see what is the great issue. Mr. Bruce has been very frank and fair about it. He says:Britain should be prepared to assist in some way in the marketing of Dominion foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials. I particularly mention foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials for this reason, that these things are what the Dominions produce and it is their production which will bring about the development of the Dominions. It is no good our passing pious resolutions in favour of better preference to the Dominions and ever dodging the great issue. The issue is there and it is not the slightest use our trying to avoid it.I perfectly recognise that the late President was quite right in saying Mr. Bruce expressed his satisfaction at the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman was able to make, but that does not in the least alter the fact that if you are really going to pursue to its end this policy of Imperial Preference—and those who believe in it do not mean to stop here. They are merely dodging the issue, unless they recognise that the issue is this. Are we in 1998 the British Parliament at this time of day going to declare ourselves in favour of a policy which aims at getting rid of all food taxes as soon as possible, or are we, on the other hand, going to take part in developing a system which depends for its foundation and development on the preservation, and even the invention of food taxes? You cannot go one step further along the road to Imperial Preference for any practical purpose unless you are prepared to maintain, and, indeed, to increase the taxes on food. If there are, as I suppose there are still, hon. Members in this House who believe in Imperial Preference as it used to be expounded, I wish they would explain to me why Mr. Bruce is not right when he puts food and agricultural raw materials on the same footing. I do not know, but I imagine an example of an agricultural raw material is a thing like wool or hide. I have never been able to understand—and I should be sincerely grateful for an explanation—what is the reason why Gentlemen who are convinced that this policy is right are willing to see Imperial Preference erected on the basis of taxes on food, but refuse for a moment to admit that they contemplate taxes on raw material. What is the difference? Their situation is that they believe it is quite safe to put a tax upon foreign beef and mutton because, they argue, the result will be that we shall encourage the production of Dominion beef and mutton, and, in the end, mutton chops and rounds of beef will be more abundant than ever. If that is the case, what about the wool on the backs of all these additional sheep? What about the hides which clothe every one of these additional cattle? If it is really the case that this is a system which makes it safe and wise for us to put a tax upon foreign as distinguished from Dominion supplies of food, I cannot understand the argument which suggests that there is something dangerous on putting a tax on foreign supplies of wool or hide. The truth is that, although it is possible to wrap the argument up when you deal with food, it is much more difficult to do it with raw materials, but the two things stand on absolutely the same basis.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Perhaps I might get a little more light on it if I suggest that the hon. Member might consider this further conundrum. Is it his view that if a tax was put upon foreign wool you would increase the price of wool?
§ Sir J. SIMON
If the hon. Member thinks it would increase the price of wool, I agree with him. If, on the other hand, Preference is not going to increase the price of meat, I cannot understand why it is going to increase the price of wool.
I should like to put two objections which seem to me to be very serious, and I think they are overwhelming objections against the House of Commons adopting these Resolutions, and thereby extending the system of Imperial Preference. They are not party reasons; they are reasons which I hope, if they are good and sound reasons, will appeal to hon. Members in all quarters of the House. The first reason is that this system, if we develop it further, is a system that produces expectations which tend to cause grave disappointment if they are falsified by the abolition or the reduction of the Duties. Even the mere passing of these Resolutions before the last General Election undoubtedly raised strong hopes in certain quarters in the Dominions. It is just as much a distress to us on this side as to any other Members of this House to see our fellow-subjects in the Dominions suffer a disappointment.
My point is, that it is extremely bad policy. Consider the basis upon which the fiscal development of the Empire has been carried out. We have accepted the principle that each self-governing area decides its taxes for itself. It judges what it believes to be in the interest of its own community. It is not blind to the interests of the Emipre or of the world, but primarily it claims the right to settle its own fiscal affairs in its own way. The result is, that we have in this country an annual Budget, the most interesting and, for most of our fellow-countrymen, the chief parliamentary event in the year, the one day in the year when the average man and woman reads with intense excitement to see what is going on in Parliament, what tax is going to be increased or reduced, and what new method is to be introduced for the raising of revenue. The moment it is found 2000 that you have a tax which is pressing hardly on a section of our population, and the moment you find that a tax here calls for repeal and that it raises resentment, under our present system it is within the competence of the House of Commons, as representing the people of this country, to deal with that grievance there and then. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day can produce a change if he thinks well. If he does not follow public opinion, he will get himself and his Government removed and another Government will take its place. We can constantly adjust grievances and the pressure of taxes that are felt to press too hardly upon any section of our population by the simple annual adjustment according to our own House of Commons methods.
Consider what the difference will be if you once commit this country to a great inter-locking system of Preference. It is impossible to suppose that you will not find, as a result of that, that there will be a section of the population, manufacturers and consumers, who will complain. Their complaints will go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is astonishing what a big complaint a trivial and small matter can develop into. The Entertainments Duty, the Beer Duty, the Income Tax, the Sugar Tax, the McKenna Duties: these are the great, topics of acute Parliamentary controversy. But instead of being able to correct these grievances then and there, once we accept Imperial Preference as the governing principle of our finance, we shall have the Chancellor of the Exchequer getting up and saying, "I recognise that this is a grievance, I think it is a hardship and I should like to correct it at once if I could. However, I will bring it up at the next Imperial Conference."
That is not the sort of thing that cements the Empire. That would create a condition of affairs that docs not at present exist in this country. There is no such thing in our country to-day as an anti-Dominion party. There is not the slightest difference between one political party and another in its pride in the Empire, and in its wish to sustain the Empire. But if you once make it an acute topic of our principal fiscal discussion for the year, whether or not some portion of our fiscal scheme is pressing too hardly on us, I say, be careful what the result will be. By that you will 2001 inevitably raise the question, "What are we getting in return? Is the Dominions' contribution to the Navy sufficient? Are we getting a proper quid pro quo if the taxation on British goods going into Australia is so much per cent.?" I do not want that to be a discussion in the Empire, because I believe it would be most damaging to the Empire. Everybody knows from his own experience, or the experience of persons less fortunate than himself, that of all the unpleasant controversies in a household the most unpleasant controversy is the comparison of the contribution of different members of it. There could not be a worse service to the unity of the British Empire than that we should have an annual discussion here as to whether or not this particular concession which we have made is fairly balanced against concessions which we receive elsewhere in the Empire.
I would assure the House that many of us who feel deeply on this subject are not consumed with mere pedantic, pettifogging objections of a technical kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] We are not. I concede that hon. Members opposite have a. complete desire to do what is best for the Empire, and I claim that for myself. But I do say, from the bottom of my heart, that if once we depart from the principle that each part of the Empire is to decide these matters for itself, we are striking a fatal blow at what is essential to the progress of the Empire.
My second objection is this: As things are, the different Dominions and Colonies of the Empire know that here in our own country they are not only all welcome but they are all treated alike. There is no question of Canada saying, "You are doing more for us than you are doing for Australia." We are able to say in the Mother country that they all receive equal treatment and that nobody is so welcome. The moment you start this attempt to be ingenious with a highly developed system of fiscal preference you will find difficulty. The preferences which you are granting to one Dominion are of no use to another. The Resolutions which we have to discuss must be discussed as a whole. If you were to take one of them it would benefit one corner of the Empire, and if you took another you would benefit another corner of the Empire. You would, therefore, start 2002 invidious, unpleasant and very likely unjust comparisons between our fate and the fate of our fellow-subjects beyond the seas. You would start a most wretched system of comparison and of rivalry as between one Dominion and another. For these reasons I hope the Government—while I understand they propose in this matter practically to adopt an attitude of strict impartiality —will not leave us without guidance as to what in their view we ought to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Surely that is not an unreasonable hope. It is a matter which affects every family in the land.
I agree that those who have promoted these schemes and who desire to develop them, are doing it from an unselfish desire to promote great Imperial objects, but I do with great respect submit to the House that their motives are utterly mistaken, that it is far wiser that we should preserve the present system, and while in matters that really affect the Empire as a whole we should still consult together, we should recognise that in the annual adjustment of the burdens of taxation it is essential that each self-governing unit of the Empire should speak and decide for itself.
§ Sir H. CROFT
The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has given us a most interesting speech, and one which must make both his supporters and his opponents think. There was one phrase in his speech which will give a great deal of pleasure to many of those who for many years have been preaching the advantages of Imperial Preference; that was when he most generously and frankly expressed his personal gratitude to the Dominions for the advantages which they give under the existing Preference. I am certain that that is something for which we are all grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because it shows that even in quarters which are hostile to the principle of Imperial Preference the gratitude is none the less sincere. The right hon. and learned Gentleman based a great deal of his speech on the question, if you are going to have Preference, why should it be on food and not on raw materials? The answer is very simple. The late Government, when they went into the Conference, were pledged to make no great fundamental change in our fiscal system. 2003 Therefore, they could only give these Preferences, broadly speaking, within the ambit of our present fiscal system, and as our present fiscal system only includes food supplies, obviously they were not going to do something the advantage of which would be in another direction.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to tell us that the result of Preference to the Dominions was a decrease in the cost of articles consumed there. I do not think any of us complain about that. We are all glad to think that they get that advantage from British trade, and that may explain that their desire was not only for increased trade with us, but to secure their own benefit. There is a double advantage. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us that we could only bring about Preference schemes by building some new tariff walls, and that here the cost of articles would not be decreased. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) asked him, "You do not suggest that the cost of these articles would be increased?" He replied, "No, certainly I do not." That statement is very different from the speeches delivered by hon. Members opposite at the last election, when they were discussing this subject. On second thoughts, the right hon. Gentleman said to himself, "There is the question of dried fruits." The last Resolution that is proposed does not propose any increase in the duty on dried fruits, so that even in that respect the right hon. Gentleman's case is not a very strong one.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I think there are five Resolutions which propose to impose duties upon articles of food which at present are not taxed at all. I take the view that these Resolutions would have the effect of increasing the price of those articles.
§ Sir H. CROFT
Assuming that to be correct, I ask the right hon. Gentleman a very simple question. If you are going to permit something which is going to be an advantage to the peoples of the Empire, why should you think it is a bad policy to remit the duties on the people's tea to the extent of, say, £1,000,000, even if you do put an increased duty of £500,000 on dried fruits produced by Turks and Greeks in order to give 2004 advantages to your own people in the Empire? The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said that the great thing for the British Empire is that we treat the Dominions all alike. That is precisely the reason why we want to see a change. We want to see the Empire as far as possible treated alike, and we also want to see our own Empire customers treated better than those who give us no advantages. The Dominions give us advantages, although they are belittled sometimes by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The whole question can be looked at from two points of view. First of all, there is the stage which I would describe as the effect on the moral of the British Empire, and on the whole question of the unity of the Empire, and then there is the material side, the effect on the traders, the workers, and the taxpayers of this country and of the Dominions. It is unfortunate—I know it is not deliberate—that very recently the decision with regard to the Singapore base, the merits of which I am not entitled to discuss in this Debate, had to be turned down by His Majesty's Government, because that was regarded as absolutely vital by the people of Australia and New Zealand as a measure of defence. That was followed speedily by the Budget introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of which, though there is some little exception to be taken to it, it may be said that it is a very good Conservative Budget, reducing as it does the Tea Duty by the same amount as my right hon. Friend did two years ago, when the Liberal party did not sing quite such high songs of praise as they have done in the case of the Budget introduced some time ago.
I would ask right hon. Gentlemen to remember the effect of every single change in the Customs Duty, and that by that mere reduction we accordingly whittle down the advantage of Preference to the Empire overseas. Then we had the Conference last year, a Conference not between this country and one Dominion, but between this country and what hon. Members opposite would describe as the democratic Prime Ministers of every single one of the self-governing Dominions, with representatives of British India and the responsible advisers of the Crown Colonies and Protectorates. They all met together 2005 and passed these Resolutions unanimously. Coming on top of the two other events to which I have just referred, it is very disturbing that His Majesty's Ministers have decided to oppose these Resolutions in the Lobby to-morrow. I think that all hon. Members will agree that there is no statesman who can be less fairly described as a Jingo Imperialist than General Smuts. So much is this the case that he is always the subject of quotation by both parties opposite. In the remarkable speech which he made on the day after he landed in South Africa he said:
Though we have no interest in their party government or local politics, yet the promises made by His Majesty's Ministers must be carried out, even if the carrying out has to be done by their successors. 'Otherwise, I foresee a very grave danger that the whole conference system, to which we all attach so much value, will fall into discredit,He went on to say:Remember, the 1923 Conference merely carried out, though, it is true, on a very small scale, the decision of the 1921 Conference, and therefore Liberal and Conservative Prime Ministers were involved.But I would ask the House to cast its mind back even earlier than that, to the 1917 Conference, the Imperial War Conference, which was called, I think I am right in saying, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), and was actually held when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister. The Resolution which it passed was never dissented from by a single member of the so-called Liberal party, which had representatives in the Coalition. It was never dissented from, as far as I can understand, by any responsible statesman, and it was carried unanimously. That Resolution declared:The time has arrived when all possible encouragement should be given to develop Imperial resources and especially to make the Empire independent of other countries in respect of food supplies, raw material and essential industries.I do not know if those words are fairly clear. One cannot help asking, did that Resolution really mean anything, or was it merely a few phrases thrown together, because at the end of the War we were all grateful for the Imperial contribution in the great struggle. I remember that in 1920 the right hon. Member for Carnarvon was describing his right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, and he said:
2006He has not got a single constructive suggestion for our great world crisis. Words, words, words! We cannot feed hungry Europe out of a dictionary.But to these right hon. Gentlemen who are the twin brethren, the Boanerges, who lead the Liberal party at the present time, I would say that you cannot maintain an Empire by merely using words or merely passing some Resolution which, the moment you are out of office, you are prepared to throw to one side. As Mr. Massey, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, said, when he heard of the possibility of this Government not endorsing these Resolutions,It would be a calamity if all or any of the work which they helped to accomplish at the round table of the Empire were to be scrapped because of a change in the domestic politics in Great Britain.Therefore, I cannot help thinking, though I am sure that to-morrow we are going to be sincere, that from the moral point of view, as far as we are concerned, it is a tragedy if we have to give the impression that we are tearing up the decisions of a previous Government in this country and following the precedent of a famous German Chancellor who has been so much quoted throughout the world in recent years. I come now to the material side of this question, which is also interesting to us to a very great extent. I ask the House to remember that British India is buying year after year from us more than any country in the world has ever bought. During the last four years the Commonwealth of Australia, with a population which is less than that of Greater London, is buying more from us than the German Empire ever did with its 70,000,000 people in its most prosperous years, and Australia and Canada, with a population under 15,000,000 have bought more from us during the last three years than Germany and the United States with 170,000,000 people, and, further, the British Empire last year bought £22,000,000 more worth of manufactured goods in this country than the whole of Europe put together. With those vital facts before us it must be perfectly clear that but for that great volume of Empire purchase our trade, which has been bad enough during the last five or six years would have been in a thoroughly parlous condition.
If we can only realise that fact, when we see the extreme difficulty, after the wizard from Wales has failed, of the 2007 wizard from Scotland who is now sitting on that bench in bringing about a restoration of trade and prosperity to Europe, we must realise how important it is to do everything in our power to foster the sale of our goods in those British markets overseas. Is it realised in this House that during the last 30 years, owing as I think I can prove conclusively to the advantage of preference given to this country by the Dominions overseas, our trade with them has practically multiplied 10 times? If that is true, if we can achieve anything like the same expansion during the next 30 years, that would be more than sufficient to solve all our economic problems at the present time. I know that it is sometimes doubted that the Preference is of any advantage at all, and on this point I would ask to be allowed to submit a few figures.
Take the case of Canada. Between 1892 and 1897, years which are often forgotten by some gentlemen in this House, our exports to Canada dropped by £1,750,000. Year by year Canada was buying less and less, until altogether the drop amounted to £1,750,000. Then a Preference was granted, and our exports to Canada immediately went up, and they have gone up year by year until we find in 1913 that they had increased by an average of £1,000,000 a year, until from £6,000,000 they went up to £24,000,000. This is such a staggering result that we would be inclined to say "thank you" to Canada for that great advantage. The same thing was happening in the case of Australia. Between 1882 and 1906 our exports to Australia, though its trade was increasing with a rapidity which was absolutely staggering, went down by £100,000 or so, while the total imports of Australia had increased by £20,000,000, from £24,000,000 to £44,000,000, but between 1906, when they gave Preference first, to 1913 there was a complete reversal. Our trade there increased from £20,000,000 to £34,000,000 during that period. In other words, we secured 63 per cent, of the total imports into Australia under the advantage of the Preference.
Then came the War, and everybody knows that our industries, which normally exported to Australia, were busily engaged in other matters, and that the snipping was not available, and there 2008 was a very serious decline of British exports to Australia. But the Prime Minister and the Government of Australia, being thoroughly alarmed that British trade had fallen enormously from 63 per cent, of the total imports to 46 per cent., immediately decided to increase the Preference from 5 per cent, to an average of 12 per cent, on 95 per cent, of British imports. The result is that by 1922 we had got back from 46 per cent, of the imports into Australia to 64 per cent. In the case of every single commodity which we export to Australia the percentage has gone up—wearing apparel, cotton and linen piece goods, woollen piece goods, other textiles, china, earthenware, glass, etc. The result of that increased Preference, which was given in 1921, has been of enormous advantage to British industry. I do not want to introduce a fiscal controversy into this discussion, but I do urge that if trade in Lancashire, for instance, happened at any particular time to be languishing, and if things looked badly in that county, it would be wise for us to do everything in our power to persuade our own countrymen here, and our own countrymen in Australia, to buy their textile goods from Lancashire.
In exactly the same way, if the South Wales mines were not working, or working only to a small extent, nothing could be more mad than to encourage the importation of German coal into this country. The production of our own people is the one vital thing above all other considerations; nothing else matters in the long run. You must keep your people contented and keep your production going full time with fair wages. That being the case, I would urge on hon. Gentlemen opposite who are to vote on this question to-morrow, that there will be no vital change in our system. They are not really violating their consciences, and, as the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley has said, the electors in the constituencies will not be able to accuse thorn of trying to increase the cost of food in any particular article. [HON. MEMBERS: "He never said so."] He did say so, or I thought he did. I do not want to misrepresent the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but he said, in answer to my right hon. Friend, that with regard to the whole of the existing duties in this country he was not suggesting that the price would go up. If you add that to the in fling subject of apples 2009 and one or two other things, you find that by no conceivable argument can you suggest that the total food supplies would cost more. If Canada gives us a Preference on tin plates, it is surely good policy that we should buy Canadian salmon tinned in Welsh tins rather than Japanese salmon tinned in American tins. I offer that as a suggestion.
If Australia is giving us trade advantages and is prepared to do something on a large scale to settle British workers along with her own workers in Australia, in the Murray River Valley, surely, if that is a sound policy, it is equally sound for us to buy our dried fruits from the Australians rather than from the Turks and the Greeks who, so far as I know, do not give us any trade advantages. The Free Traders' case is this: they say that it really does not matter whether you buy from the Empire or not, that what you want to do is to import a lot, because then you will export a lot in payment. That is their case. I ask them to consider this fact. In carrying on your trade with the Continent of Europe, you are exporting 50 per cent, of a trade transaction, and they are importing to you 50 per cent, of a trade transaction, and there is your 100 per cent.; the transaction is of the same value to the foreign country as to yourselves. But if we are exchanging commodities between Great Britain and the Dominions overseas, we are getting a 50 per cent. British value both ways; we are doubling the trade within the Empire. We heard in days gone by of the extreme value of our German trade. From every point of view it is more advantageous for us to try to increase our trade with the Dominions. I will call the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) as a witness. I am sorry that he is not present. In October, 1921, he said:
After all, the goods which Germany sends us are goods which we really do not want or which we could make ourselves, but the British Dominions send us things which we cannot make ourselves, things which are essential to us in the shape of food, material, or half-finished products. There is no reason whatever why, by a wise development of our inter-Imperial resources, you should not establish a healthy trade between the Dominions and ourselves which would overtop altogether the European trade with this country.I never heard the reason for Preference stated better by anyone in this House. 2010 The late Mr. Bonar Law stated that it really would not matter very much to this country if Germany was swallowed by an earthquake, and that she was far more a competitor than a customer of ours before the War. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are now beginning to realise that there is no hope of immediate recovery in Europe. The Minister of Labour has told us that we have to contemplate 800,000 unemployed workmen as the normal figure. If you add to them their dependants, you find that until the crack of doom 2,400,000 souls are to be dependent on the charity of their fellow workers, or of the employers or taxpayers and ratepayers of the country. That is a policy of bankruptcy and despair. When you realise what the Empire is, it seems to me that it is almost cowardly to sit down and say that you contemplate such a state of affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad that I have the assent of supporters of the Government in that view. We have in the Empire 450,000,000 people, the greatest collection of buyers and sellers ever known under one flag and one system in the history of the world. We have vast territory undeveloped and every climatic condition in which we can grow every possible crop, and we have every known mineral ready to our hands. Surely to goodness, if we are convinced that there is no hope of any great expansion in Europe in the near future, we are doing an unwise thing in refusing to make this small trading arrangement with the Dominions. The Prime Minister and some of his supporters have for many weary weeks been sitting in conference with the representatives of the Soviet Government of Russia. Those representatives have been called to London. Why? To try to increase trading facilities between this country and Russia. The Prime Minister and his colleagues are trying to make a trade treaty with the Russians, but to-morrow they are going into the Lobby against a trade treaty which was outlined at the Imperial Conference.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I am very glad that they are not. The hon. Member is the representative of the Shop Assistants' Union, I think, and he tells us in a voice which is most emphatic and important that his leaders are not going into the 2011 Lobby against these Resolutions tomorrow. I am delighted to hear it. The results of Preference in the Empire has been of great advantage to British labour in this country. The increase in British trade since Preference was introduced ha3 been far greater than any trade which you can hope to get from Russia. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Russian trade at its best never exceeded £30,000,000, and the hon. Gentleman knows that. With the complete disorganisation of Russia it the present time the best that you can hope for is £10,000,000 of trade for some years to come. We are discussing an obligation. The right hon. Member for Spen Valley told us that it would be unfortunate to have any arrangement of this kind, because it might be upset from year to year. Does that mean that we can never make any arrangement with our own people in the Empire? Are we going to state, here and now, that never are we to stretch a hand in order to meet that which the Dominions have extended to us? If that be the outlook of the Liberal party we shall shed fewer tears at their disappearance. As far as the party with which I am associated is concerned, the policy that we advocate can bring no personal advantage to any of us. I am not interested in any of the industries concerned, and I do not believe that anyone who advocates Imperial Preference does so from a personal motive. I believe the policy is advocated for one reason only, and that is to show the Dominions, whose soldiers died like flies for us in the War, that at long last we are prepared to do something that will prove how much we appreciated their sacrifices.
§ Mr. PERRY
I am sure that we all appreciate the tone in which this Debate has been conducted so far. Many of us on the Government Benches are most anxious to help our Dominions and Colonies, but we are not yet persuaded that what is advocated in these Resolutions will bring about the best result. Some of us are very much indebted to the last speaker for his frank declaration of faith that six of the Resolutions would mean a direct increase in the cost of food.
§ Sir H. CROFT
It is most important that I should not be imagined to have said anything so foolish. I do not believe it. What I said was that in the majority of cases there was a reduction of duty, and that in only two or three cases was there any proposal to increase the duty, and I am convinced that there will be no increase whatever in the cost.
§ Mr. PERRY
I have no desire to misconstrue the statement of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Later on we shall be able to examine the Resolutions which provide for a definite increase. May I say a word or two in reply to the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame)? He rather objected to my interruption on the question of dealing with Preference to the Dominions by means of a subsidy. My contention is that, as your trade increases, so your subsidy increases, and that in turn means a greater burden on the taxpayer, The more you increase the Preference to the Dominions, the more you increase Dominion trade to this country, the less revenue is derived on account of increasing the Preference, and the greater is the deficiency to be made up by the British taxpayer. In our judgment, that is not quite the best way in which to deal with the policy of encouraging the Dominions. Let me say something in regard to the objects of Preference. There are many of us who hold just as strongly as any Member in any part of the House that the tie between the Dominions and the Mother Country should be strengthened. So far as I understand the question of Preference, it means giving an increased Preference to our Dominions in return for the Preference which they give to this country. It would be well to examine one or two Preferences that already exist. We have had figures given to us about the increased trade between the Mother Country and Australia in particular, but it is rather a striking fact that in 1913 the exports from this country to our Dominions were only one-third of our total export trade and in 1922 the proportion remained the same. The figures for the year 1913 were: To our self-governing Dominions, 17-2 per cent.; to the whole of the Empire, 372 per cent.; 2013 and to foreign countries, 62.8 per cent. In 1922, despite all that has been said as to what Preference has actually accomplished for our Dominions, the figures remained practically the same. To our self-governing Dominions we exported 17-3 per cent., to the whole of the Empire 35'5 per cent.—a decrease of 2 per cent, on 1913—and our exportation to foreign countries was 64-5 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Values or quantities?"] I am giving percentages of quantities. Taking the year 1922, we find that out of the total export trade from this country £686,000,000 went to foreign countries and only £318,000,0(10 to the British Empire.
When we begin to talk about the development of the Empire and about what the Empire can produce to supply our demands it is rather interesting to hear a statesman from our Dominions say, not 48 hours ago, that the whole production of currants from Australia would not last this country a fortnight. As a matter of fact, the whole of the butter produced and exported from Australia would not fill our shops in this country for a month. I think it is well to get down to these facts and to see what our trade with the rest of the Empire really means. Is it to be contended that our Dominions at the moment have no preference? I 6ubmlt that in having a free market in this country they have a great preference indeed. [HON. MEMBEKS: "Over whom?"] They have a free market into this country, and if they allowed a free market into their own country they could produce cheaper in competition with other countries. They have a very material preference too, in relation to the loans which are raised in this country for the Dominions. We are asked to support this preference on other grounds, among them being that we should by this means be able to come to some agreement. Supposing we put a definite proposition to our Dominions, particularly to Australia. Suppose we were to allow Australian wool into this country free for a period of 20 years—to guarantee that for 20 years—would Australia grant to us, for the same period, a free importation into Australia of woollen manufactured goods from this country? If not, why not? I think we are entitled to ask that question.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I think the hon. Member will find that Australia actually buys all her woollen goods in this country.
§ Mr. PERRY
That is not my point. I am asking that they should admit our goods free and not under any 30 per cent, arrangement. Dealing with the particular points raised in these Resolutions the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon divided them into three classes. First, there were those which sought to reduce or abolish the duties on food, and secondly, those which sought to stabilise the preference on sugar, but the right hon. Gentleman touched very lightly, in fact, hardly mentioned at all the third class—the last six Resolutions, which seek to impose fresh duties on foodstuffs imported into this country. I think it has already been made clear that the declaration of the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain is as good to-day as it was in 1903, that you cannot have Colonial Preference without putting a tax on food. We must remember that much of our foodstuffs are imported free into this country, and if we seek to give a preference to the Empire, we must impose taxes or duties on food imported from other countries. I have heard jokes made in this House and outside about the last Election being fought on a question of tinned salmon. Those who have spent many years in the Lancashire cotton trade, know this is no laughing matter to the Lancashire cotton operative. He is more interested in tinned salmon than in lobster because he cannot afford lobster. I conducted some research work a few years ago for the Ministry of Health in regard to the excessive rate of sickness obtaining among cotton operatives in Lancashire. We found that the atmospheric conditions in the Lancashire cotton trade, the high temperature, the close confinement and the dust and impurities had a harmful effect upon the health of the operatives, and it created what has been termed an artificial appetite. People working under these conditions wanted "tasty" food, and they usually sought for foods flavoured with vinegar. I am now coming down to bread and butter politics. Tinned salmon is a dish which suits the Lancashire cotton operative, and if you are going to impose a duty of 10s. or 10s. 6d. per cwt. 2015 on tinned salmon coming into this country you are bound to increase the cost of the people's food.
§ Mr. PERRY
Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let me give the hon. Member an illustration. It has been said that by granting a preference you may possibly cheapen food. The preference granted to the West Indies has cost this country in the last three or four years practically £5,000,000. The hon. Member for Richmond (Mr. Becker) knows a lot about sugar. [HON. MEM BERS: "Ice cream!"] We do not get sugar from the West Indies cheaper—
§ Mr. PERRY
I bow to the hon. Member's superior knowledge about ice cream, and I accept his statement on that point. My own point is that, by granting a Preference to the Dominions which carries with it the imposition of a tax on food stuffs from other countries, you increase the price of food, and so long as that is the case I do not think that hon. Members on this side of the House can give much support on the question of Imperial Preference. As a matter of fact, if we take the importation of some of the things which it is proposed to tax, we find that in the year 1923 we imported into this country from foreign countries £2,250,000 worth of canned fish, and from our Dominions just over £1,250,000 worth. Of raw apples we imported from foreign countries over £4,000,000 worth, and from our Dominions just over £3,000,000 worth. Of dried fruits we imported £420,000 worth from foreign countries, and £356,000 from the Dominions. What does this mean? It means that six of these Resolutions, if carried out, are going to increase the price of food. At least we believe so. We believe the imposition of these taxes is bound to have that result. Our experience in the co-operative movement has taught us that food taxes come out of the consumer's pocket every time, and that is one of the strongest reasons why we are opposing these proposals.
At the same time I do not think it is quite fair that w-e on these benches should oppose Imperial Preference without being prepared to consider any alterna- 2016 tive or to put forward other proposals for the support and help of our Dominions, and I want to submit to some of my Dominion friends that what has been proved to be good in the case of the United States, where the interests of the scattered wheat-growers are joined with the interests of the manufacturers by inter-State free trade, might not be altogether a bad thing for our Dominions. Some of us have not forgotten how the preference in Australia happened to be applied. It will be remembered that they were drawing up a schedule of tariffs, and instructions had actually been issued to their Customs and Excise department. Suddenly they found they had forgotten all about Imperial Preference. An ad valorem duty of 30 per cent, had been imposed at the time and last minute instructions were then issued to the Customs and Excise department to increase the tariff to outside countries to 45 per cent, and to leave it at 30 per cent, in the case of the Mother Country. I believe at the present time the average preference as far as Australia is concerned works out at between 12 per cent. and 15 per cent. Australia and other Dominions first took good care to protect their own industries before any preference was rendered to this country. That is why the Northampton bootmakers export their boots into Australia via New Zealand and get them in every time. That is one way of getting round the Australian tariff.
I submit that by lowering tariff walls they would have a better opportunity of competing in the markets of the world. Further, can they not do something to abolish the middleman? A friend of mine, mentioned last night at one of our meetings that, feeling patriotic and desiring to purchase apples, he insisted that they must be Australian apples. He was charged 9d. per lb. for Australian apples, and inquiries from some of our Dominion friends showed that the grower only gets Id. per lb. Who takes the profit? Surely some co-ordinated scheme of marketing can be adopted by our Dominions to deal with this problem. Why is it that Australian meat can be landed in this country at just over 3d. per lb., but costs three times as much to the consumer? Whilst we are anxious to help our Dominions to the utmost of our power and are willing to consider any scheme which will bind the Empire still more closely together, we 2017 are not prepared to accept proposals which are bound to result in increasing the price of food to the workers of the country.
§ Mr. GREENE
As a retrograde and unrepentant Tory, I am naturally a lover of old customs, and, therefore, when I first came to this House, I made up my mind not to address it for at least a year. But I changed my mind to-day. Having been born in a Dominion, having lived in a Dominion for about half of my life, and having travelled extensively in the Dominions, I feel it my duty to speak on this great and important subject. To my mind, the question can be divided into three parts. First, there is the purpose of knitting together the Empire even more closely than it is now knit together. I firmly believe that if these Resolutions be thrown overboard, it will be regarded in the Dominions as a second slap in the face. The abolition of the McKenna Duties was a slap in the face, because those duties contained a Preference. Now comes a second slap, and I think all hon. Members on this side of the House feel that the second slap is no more deserved than was the first. The people of this country, taking them as a whole, do not wish to hurt, or ignore, or insult the inhabitants of the Dominions in any way, after the services rendered during the War. If there be one thing more than anything that I dislike it is "sob-stuff." I do not want to talk about "rivers of blood," or about "dying in thousands like flies," but I should like to refer to a remark made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in a debate a few nights ago.
I think it was the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) who referred to the services of the Dominions in the late War. In replying, the Secretary of State for the Colonies did not pooh-pooh the services of Dominion soldiers, but pointed out that men from the East End of London, from Scotland, from Worcestershire, and so on also had fought and died. That is quite true, but, if I might say so without making any invidious comparisons at all, I should like to point out that there is this slight difference: In this country, we were practically within sound of the guns, and sometimes actually could hear the guns. The War was brought home to, us— was next door to us—and that is very 2018 different from the position of the inhabitants of Dominions like Australia, thousands of miles away, at the other end of the earth. The War was not brought home to them in the same way, and the danger did not seem to them to be so near, but they came, and they came in as great numbers as they would have come had they been conscripted. There was no conscription there, however, and they gave the same quota without the necessity of conscription. They travelled to a battlefield so far away that they could not get seven days' leave every three or four months. When they went, they went for years, and when they went to fight, they did not go to fight for Belgium or for the War to end war. They came simply because the Old Country was "in the soup." They were going to try and help her out, and that is one of the reasons why I think that any action on our part which might be looked upon as ingratitude is a thing to be avoided.
The second point to which I would draw attention is the defence of our own trade. I feel very strongly that, if these Resolutions be done away with, we shall, to a certain extent, be endangering our own trade, for the simple reason that the Preferences that we enjoy in the Dominions may be given to other countries, and I say this advisedly. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the notes of an interview of the United Tanners' Federation with Major Oakley, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Australia. This interview took place on 4th December. I propose to read only one short extract, to show what may, and very likely will, happen. Major Oakley, in the course of his remarks, stated thatAustralia was being continually approached by all sorts of countries (15 in all) for a more favourable treatment in their import tariff, and very substantial concessions were offered in return. He said that hardly a day passed without receiving some representations on this subject, but Australia had made it clear to the world that she was not prepared to give to foreign countries the same treatment as to Great Britain. He instanced, in particular, that France had offered to reduce her import duties by 75 per cent, on Australian produce, if Australia would in return give her the same treatment as Great Britain. In the case of the United States, a reduction of 50 per cent, had been proposed.If we treat the Dominions as it is proposed to treat them—by the jettisoning of these Resolutions—how long will they 2019 go on refusing such tempting offers as those of the United States and France? It has been mentioned in this House on several occasions lately that Motions were tabled in various Dominion Parliaments protesting against our not offering Preference to those Dominions which give Preference to us, and I think that may possibly be only the beginning of the end.
Thirdly, there is the question of migration, which, to my mind, is the greatest matter of all. Migration, if successfully carried out, is killing four birds with one stone. It will relieve congestion in this country, it will benefit the migrant, it will benefit the Dominion to which the migrant goes, and, as he becomes a customer in that Dominion, it will increase our export trade there, and thereby decrease unemployment in this country. One often wonders what are the objections to helping migration by means of Imperial Preference or otherwise. The only objections that I can think of are those such as were voiced a few nights ago by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall), who seemed to infer that in the Dominions the migrants would receive, low wages, if they were employed, and that most likely they would net receive employment. I wish to touch on this matter of migration, although it is not really inside the Measures before the House this afternoon. But it is so indissolubly linked up with Imperial Preference that I hope you, Sir, will allow me to refer to it for a few moments. When I have heard hon. Members like the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean speaking, I sincerely hoped that they did not belong to that section of the community which suffers from the wish being father to the thought, because there is a section of the community—and I am very sorry to say it—that opposes migration, or anything that will help migration, because it will remove from this country a large amount of the discontented, or Socialist, vote. I sincerely hope that hon. Members opposite do not belong to that section.
During the remarks of the hon. Member, I intervened, and asked him if there was any unemployment in Australia in agriculture, and his amazing reply was, in effect: "Of course there is. After harvest, when the crops are gathered in, the harvesters are dismissed and are 2020 thrown out of employment." I submit that that reply is just about as sensible as to say that nobody should be a hop-picker, because, if he were a hop-picker, he would be unemployed for 11 months in the year! After listening to those remarks of the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, I returned home, and happened to pick up a paper called "The British Australasian," in which I found the following Government advertisement:
"Farm, workers for yew South Wales, Under the terms of a new agreement concluded by the New South Wales Government, 500 men for farm work are required at once.… Such emigrants are guaranteed employment on the land, with an undertaking that if they prove capable and thrifty their claims for blocks of land will receive every consideration. Wages for experienced men are £2 2s. per week and keep." Another statement made by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean was that in his tour through Australia he found that all the land was privately owned, and that to buy it was impossible, because the price put upon it by the owners was prohibitive. Out of that same newspaper, I take the following from a speech of Sir George Fuller, Premier of New South Wales, on 19th May—The voluntary system of sub-division of private estates for closer settlement had resulted to date in 131 estates, comprising 1,018,922 acres, being sub-divided into 1,200 farms, of which 673 had so far been taken up by settlers. This was in addition to settlement on Crown lands"—and let the House mark that the hon. Member stated that there were no Crown lands—
of which 2.214 acres had been started by the present Government.That figure of 2.214 acres is a misprint, and should be 2,214,000 acres. I can only think that the hon. Member, during his tour of Australia, was unfortunate. Australians are good at many things, but at leg-pulling they are adepts, and I think the hon. Member must at the present moment be suffering from an acute and, I hope, not permanent attack of "leg extension."
With regard to the facts- as I know them myself, if we can help migration by means of this Imperial Preference we shall be sending men out to permanent work at high wages; and when I say high wages, I mean considerably higher wages than in this country. An agricultural labourer gets £2 2s. a week and keep. Then there is the seasonal employ 2021 ment, which so much shocked the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, which consists of work in the harvest fields, stocking, stack building, header-driving, and so forth, where even higher wages are earned. These men during the rest of the year are suitably and fully employed in such other occupations as shearing, tank-sinking, post-splitting, fencing, and so forth. I do not wish to take up the time of the House, but I could give many examples myself of people being helped out of this country to Australia, and there making good. I would like to mention that the way in which an average farmer in Australia obtains his farm is as follows: He first of all works for wages and keep, saves his money, and when he has put £100 or £200 together, he borrows the rest from a landowner, and becomes a share farmer. While share farming, he lives well, he pays good wages, and makes sufficient money to pay off what the landowner lent him. He continues to do that until he has sufficient money to buy the farm on which he himself started as a labourer, and I can assure hon. Members that what I am stating is an absolute fact. It is a thing that I have carried out for years, and my father before me, to the benefit of everybody concerned. I do not wish to be blinded by the fierce light of personal experience. I admit that there are failures, as there always must be in every walk of life and in every part of the world; but the number of failures among emigrants going to Australia is extraordinarily small.
In conclusion, I would say that emigration is a good thing, a beneficial thing, and that it ought therefore to be encouraged. Again, I would say that it is admitted, I think, in every part of the House that Imperial Preference would help migration. Therefore, I would make an appeal to all those who are Imperialists at heart, who believe in migration, but who are rather wedded to the Free Trade idea. I would appeal especially to hon. Members below the Gangway. I know they are patriotic, because the House was told so to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). I should like to be quite certain that that patriotism is not confined to these islands, but is world wide throughout the Empire. If they are really patriotic, I would beg 2022 them to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in this matter, and cast from their helmets that abominable crest with which the public has lately presented them, namely, that of a Worm Wrigglant Proper. I feel perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will agree with much of what I have said. I know he was only joking when he was speaking at Brighton the other day He is reported to have said that the Leader of the Opposition had driven the cart over the precipice to get to the bottom as quickly as possible. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman must have been standing on his head at the time to make people think he was like Atlas of old, bearing the world on his shoulders, but in that rather ridiculous position he must have viewed the situation upside down. It is not our party that is at the bottom. We are the biggest and most powerful party at the present time, and I am sure he will admit his own party is the "Tishy" of the political racecourse. Joking apart, I hope that hon. Members below the Gangway will join with us, show themselves really patriotic to the Empire, and give the lie to those who say that Dr. Livingstone was talking politics when he said:God made the white man, God made the Black man, but the Devil made the half caste.I feel that those who will not join with us on this important issue are prevented entirely by their belief in Free Trade. For the sake of argument, one might admit that Free Trade was right in general, but I think it is absolutely certain that Free Trade can be wrong in particular. What I mean is this. Alcohol may be wrong in general, but even those who disapprove of alcohol would surely not refuse a drop of stimulant to anyone swimming in icy water. At the present time we have hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country swimming in the icy waters of unemployment and despair, and I would beg of those who believe in Free Trade not to refuse a little stimulant in the way of Imperial Preference to help those more unfortunate than ourselves to the dry land of hope and work. I have nothing more to say, except to hope that hon. Members below the Gangway will not miss this chance of showing their patriotism by a high moral 2023 gesture, simply for the sake of keeping alive an unholy alliance with, the playboys of the Northern World.
I am sure the House has listened with interest to the maiden speech of the hon. Gentleman, and even though I think most on those benches could not appreciate all the points he raised with regard to ourselves, we were glad to hear a speech from one who has had personal experience of the Dominions, having lived there half his life. I would not detain the House for more than a very short time were it not that I can make a similar claim. It is the fact that in this Debate we are discussing two things. The first is whether these Resolutions would be good for the trade of this country and the trade of the Dominions; and the second, and not less important, is whether it be a fact that by rejecting these Resolutions we should cause disappointment and even distress to our kinsmen across the sea with results to Imperial unity which everybody would agree would be disastrous. Before I come to that point, I would like to ask the Government whether I understood the Secretary of State for the Colonies aright —I think I did—in a portion of his speech not quite so clear as the rest, namely, that the Government did propose to set up the Imperial Economic Committee in effect as proposed at the Imperial Conference, leaving out of its purview only those very fiscal questions which we are now discussing.
That is so. Well, that is very important, because I believe it was originally intended that the Imperial Economic Committee should concern itself with other aspects of the case rather than the fiscal question, leaving the fiscal question to be dealt with by Resolutions, If that be so, we can say that one part of the result of the Conference has been adopted, as is undoubtedly the case if the proposals for setting up the Imperial Economic Committee are accepted by the House of Commons. Thus, we shall have got one thing, at any rate, and I am going to address a few remarks to the House in the hope that they may accept some more. We had a very interesting and able speech from my right hon. Friend the Member 2024 for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). It was a first-rate free trade speech. I wish he were here. I know he will be here any moment. It was not only a first-rate Free Trade speech, but it was a first-class pre-War speech, because he had quite forgotten some of the things the War produced. A most important thing happened, which vitiated the whole of his argument, when he and I were across the seas in France. In 1917, under the Presidency of a Liberal Prime Minister, with representatives of both the Labour and Conservative parties, it was decided, without demur, and accepted, that within the broad framework of our Free Trade policy we might give as much Preference as we could to the Dominions. That was accepted, and has been, going on ever since. It is going on now. It is not proposed to reverse it.
I cannot understand what my right hon. Friend, with his clear vision, was driving at. All he said was applicable in 1914 and 1915, but it has lost all its sense now that the principle of Preference has been conceded. Here is my right hon. Friend. All parties—Liberals, Conservatives, and Labour—conceded the principle in 1917, granting Imperial Preference as far as possible without overturning our general Free Trade system. That has not been seriously challenged by my right hon. Friend himself, and does he not see how all his argument with regard to the point of view of the Dominions, if these Resolutions are rejected, falls to the ground? Take the position of the Dominion representatives to many of whom I have spoken. Before they left England they all said, "Well, you are going to have an election. If the Free Trade party comes in, I suppose we shall lose all these Resolutions." They all said, "We shall lose these Resolutions which involve fresh taxation." But they also said, "We shall retain all those that only involve a reduction," and they had every reason to suppose that was so, because the principle of Preference having been conceded, and being in operation and not challenged, all that is contained in the first four Resolutions, which we are now discussing, they might assume with certainty would be accepted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the principle of Preference has been conceded. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not wish to be involved in undue controversy with my hon. Friends, but I do not remember 2025 my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley denouncing those existing preferences. I do not know that he ever divided the House against all those preferences.
I stand corrected if that be so, but I do not think that was the case. I think if my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle) goes into it, he will find that he is not quite right. "We have been summoned here"—the Dominion representatives said—"to discuss the best means of bringing the Empire together. We fully appreciate that in a Free Trade country, if there be a Free Trade Government, we are not likely to get fresh taxes, but we think it certain, whatever Government is in power, that you will agree to any resolutions we may come to unanimously which involve reduction of taxation." I would appeal to my hon. Friend to consider whether that view is not sound. Take the case of dried fruits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley drew a lurid picture of the awful results which would follow from the granting of Preference. Well, Preference exists already. What possible harm can come to any man, woman or child in this country? Which hon. Member going down to his constituency could be embarrassed if he had to say, "I voted for the reduction of the tax on dried fruits?" They would not challenge him on the ground that it could do any hardship. There are others, like myself, who said that we were in favour of all things that reduced taxation, and that we ought to begin by reducing taxation in the Dominions. That has always been my view. How could any possible injury or harm be done to any man or woman?
It certainly will give real pleasure and satisfaction, irrespective of party, in Australia especially. Of that there can be no doubt whatever. Everybody would be glad to have the duty on those dried fruits removed. I made an inquiry from a sure source, and I was told that the effect undoubtedly would be that it would still further facilitate settlement on the Murray River. An estimate was made that if this first Resolution were carried it would enable 25,000 more settlers to be placed on the Murray River than if the Resolution were rejected. I should think 2026 that very likely is true. One result of lowering duties is always to stimulate trade. There is another point. I am sorry my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley has gone out for a moment in order to verify his point. While he is looking it up—and I see he has now returned—may I ask him this further question? He was good enought to say in his speech, not once but twice, that he would be first to gratefully acknowledge the real advantage that was given to our manufacturers by Dominion preference. Of course that was an advantage to workpeople as well as to manufacturers. If there was a real advantage in having that preference there must be a very real disadvantage in losing it. From that dilemma there is no escape for my right hon. and learned Friend. If the preferences are withdrawn the manufacturers and workpeople both will suffer. Why should we jeopardise, as I think we should be doing, a thing of real value to the people of this country just for the sake of what? Yes, I want to know what? [An HON. MEMBER: "Principle!"] For the sake of principle! What principle is involved in remitting altogether the duty on dried fruit coming to us from Australia? I appeal to hon. Members as Free Traders what possible infraction of free trade principles is involved in that, especially when all parties, with one or two exceptions, have agreed on the main thesis as being on the whole sound. I believe it is sound.
I think I know the views of the average Australian better than some of my hon. Friends. Lord Kitchener said to me during the War that man learnt more of other men's opinions in a week of real war than in a lifetime of ordinary peace. It so happened that between three and four years I lived with the Dominion troops. I was in closer touch with them than I am now. This is just a matter of opinion. I think my hon. Friends, even the most extreme Free Traders, will agree that, supposing this Debate ends in the rejection of all the Resolutions, the resultant disappointment and distress will cause real harm to the Empire. If they believe that I think they will hesitate long and carefully before rejecting the Resolution. Will it have that result? I am persuaded that it will. We have been in a way very hard on the Dominions; we have a perfect right to our own Free 2027 Trade views, and they have a perfect right to their Tariff Reform views. I think it really is the case—that they are feeling sore at their treatment in the past. There was first the case of Singapore. There may be a great deal to be said on the other side. Personally, I doubted its wisdom when it was first proposed, but no one can dispute that its abandonment is a disappointment to Australia and New Zealand, for they were led by experts of the Admiralty to believe that the Singapore scheme was vital to their safety. That was rebuff number one. Then came the question of the five cruisers to be specially built for Empire trade protection. That was on the whole a sound policy, but many people in this House took an opposite view and denounced the proposal. That was rebuff number two. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] It is no use blinking facts. There have been rebuffs. I hope they will not recur. They may have been unintentional. Then there were the McKenna Duties, under which a preference was given to Canada. The Canadians asked for a little, time before the duties were taken off, but they came off. That was rebuff number three. It must be conceded at once if you have a preference and it is removed, it is a rebuff; it is no good saying it is not. To reject all these Resolutions would be a very great rebuff. I think it would be a terrible thing.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Whatever may be the accuracy of his ancient history, his more recent history is certainly open to challenge. On the 11th June last year, in Committee on the Finance Bill, there was a Debate and Division directly on the question of maintaining the principle of Imperial Preference in this country, and I am glad to say that the leader of my right hon. and learned Friend, the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) voted in favour of abolishing Imperial Preference.
Yes, but what did the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) do? I have been nearly 25 years a Member of this House. For one year, to my own very, great regret, I was not in this House. That will account perhaps for the error. If I did an injustice to my right hon. 2028 Friend, I certainly did not do an injustice to other right hon. Gentlemen. I was saying that if they reject these Resolutions my hon. and right hon. Friends will eventually regret it. I plead with them not to do it. I have no ulterior interest to serve. How could I have? I am giving expression to exactly the same views on fiscal policy as I have always held. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that it would be good for this country to adopt a system of tariff reform. I am an absolutely unrepentant Free Trader, and, speaking as one in company with many other unrepentant Free Traders, I say that to reject proposals solemnly come to at an Imperial Conference summoned by the Prime Minister and attended by the Prime Ministers of the great Dominions, and at the same time as you do that to propose nothing to reduce taxation or cheapen products, and to do it simply because you want to cling to some particular idea, is to do a thing which, I am sine, we shall all bitterly regret. I do not claim to have any particular knowledge of the views of the average man in this country, but I am persuaded that the average man in the Dominions will feel very real distress if these Resolutions are rejected. In making this last appeal I wish to put it on record that in rejecting these Resolutions the House will be doing a thing which will cause, great damage to us imperially just at the moment when gratitude for what they have done in the War and since, and a profound esteem for them, should make us hesitate to do anything to hurt them. If we reject the Resolutions we shall be doing a harm which may have incalculable results.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I am sure the House will not wish to interfere in the spectacle of my hon. and gallant Friend being attacked from his own corner with regard to the policy of Preference. We prefer not to make this a party question, and we would rather let hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway settle their own quarrel—
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major-General Seely) paid a tribute to his right hon. 2029 and learned Friend (Sir J. Simon) on the clearness of his speech. I rather think that to-morrow when he reads the report of his own speech he will come to the conclusion he was not 80 very clear himself in regard to the economic value of the Preferential policy. He asked the House to be more tender in their treatment of Resolutions which did not involve the imposition of any new taxes, and he said there could therefore be no possible harm in them. But my right hon. and gallant Friend forgets that if the duties are kept on you are keeping up, in the case of goods coming from foreign countries, the price to the consumer and not merely of goods coming from those foreign countries but also of similar goods coming from the Dominions, and at the same time the Treasury is getting no benefit. That is the argument against giving the differential treatment with regard to the Resolutions which have been put on the Paper, which do not involve new taxation and which will be a reduction of taxation in the case of the Colonies. I should like to say a word or two as to the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) introduced this discussion. It was introduced on a very high level, on a better level than we have had for some time in connection with fiscal discussions in this House, a level which, I hope, will be maintained throughout this Debate. I do not propose, however, to deal at any great length with, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Still, there are one or two points which occurred to me from my experience at the Board of Trade to deserve some attention. One point which occurred to me was that the right, hon. Gentleman suggested there might be an alternative proposal with regard to one of the Resolutions, namely, that we should abolish the duties On the sugar content of preserved fruits from the Dominions. But the right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that that is not a new proposal. It has already been considered and we have been convinced that what would happen would be that, if we abolished the duty on preserved fruits from the Dominions, it will mean putting a tax on the home manufacturer in this country, who will have to meet the competition of fruits and jams from the Dominions, whilst he has to manufacture with duty-paid sugar.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I was not putting that forward as a definite proposal. What I did suggest was that if the Government objected to dealing with this Resolution in the way we asked, they might deal with it simply by abolishing the duty on the sugar contained in the product. That would mean a rebate to the home manufacturer on the sugar he bought for the purpose of making jams or preserved fruits. I do not think there would be any administrative difficulty in doing that, while securing at the same time free importation from the Dominions.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am told that, from the administrative point of view, it had been considered and discussed when previously put tip, and had been rejected. Another point that the right hon. Gentle man put forward was this: He referred to the need for Empire Development, with which we entirely agree, and laid down for this purpose that there were three requirements—men, money and markets. I do hot think the Governments of the Dominions themselves would deny that their best emigrants come from the home country, and that we are, in fact, year after year, building up our oversea Dominions by sending them some of our very best blood. It is true the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Greene)— who made quite an attractive maiden speech, and whom we shall all be glad to hear again—suggested that the policy of some of the people who sit behind me on these benches would be to try and prevent Socialist voters leaving this country. In reply to that, I will only say that, judging from the development of democratic government in those Dominions, where the institution of Labour Governments is increasing, there are good Labour voters included in the emigrants
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think the Noble Lord will find-that, with the development of Labour Government in the Dominions, there will be a great tendency towards a freer fiscal policy in the Dominions than we have at the present time. The next point the right hon. Gentleman made was with regard to money, and I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman, with his administrative experience, will say that this country has been generous to the Dominion's in that direction.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I know the hon. Gentleman wants to answer the point I made. It was not that our terms to the Dominions were not generous. I think they are generous, and so do the Dominions; but the point was, that it is no use offering these terms unless you implement the conditions which make them useful, namely, the markets, and that is the opinion the Dominions expressed.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I quite understand the point, and I was coming to it, but I wanted to show, en route, that in regard to men and money, this country had accepted whatever obligation there was upon it. Then, in regard to markets, I suggest that we have served the Dominions very well indeed. I think if the right hon. Gentleman will examine in detail where the Dominions are sending their goods to-day, he will find they are sending them to this market more than to any other market in the world, and for a very good reason. I remember reading some time ago—and I got a copy of it again for this Debate—one of the very earliest speeches made by the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain when he came back to open his fiscal campaign. It was on the 15th May, 1903. He said:Canada in 1898 freely, voluntarily, of her own accord, as a recognition of her obligations to the Mother Country, as a recognition especially of the fact that we were the greatest of the free markets open to Canadian produce, gave us a preference of 25 per cent, and later increased it to 33⅓ per cent.That was put in rather a different manner by the Secretary of State for the Colonies this afternoon. Canada, and, incidentally, other parts of the Empire, still give us Preference in regard to goods which have to pass their high tariff walls, because we have already given them far more. We are giving a free market for the produce of the Empire. I have here some figures with regard to where the products of the Dominions really go. I will give one or two salient examples. In the case of New Zealand, of 1,250,000 cwts. of butter exported, the amount sent to the United Kingdom was 1,119,000 cwts.; of 1,441,000 cwts. of cheese exported, the amount sent to the United Kingdom was 1,428,000 cwts.; of 734,000 cwts. of frozen meat exported, 714,000 cwts. was sent to the United Kingdom, and so on all down the list. I could give further figures showing 2032 that the freedom of the market we are giving to New Zealand is responsible for providing her with her best and main market. The total exports in 1923 amounted to £45,967,000, and the value of the goods sent to the United Kingdom amounted to no less than £37,324,000. The figures are almost similar, with regard to food products, at any rate, from Australia, and, although not quite so marked, certainly with a strong bias in favour of goods being sent to the United Kingdom, even in the case of such articles as wool and other things required for manufacture.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I would put it conversely, and say, Could they send to us, and could we take their produce, unless they bought from us? Surely the hon. and gallant Member's whole programme is reciprocity, and so his point applies one way as much as the other.
§ Mr. D. HERBERT
Does not what the hon. Gentleman is saying mean that he will support the further freedom of our markets to Colonial produce?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think we are giving the most free markets already to the Colonies, and the policy of the Labour party, as that of many Members below the Gangway, is to give a still further reduction of taxes on food from any source whatever. What we are objecting to is a preference which is going to place an unfair burden on the consumers of this country, without any countervailing effect to the Treasury.
The hon. Gentleman does not suggest that it could possibly raise the price by a millionth part of a farthing? It only means the Treasury will have to raise the money in other ways. It will not raise the price of the article.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am not suggesting that the price would be raised, but I am suggesting that you would not get the Colonial product at a cheaper price, and therefore you would go on paying a price unjustified economically, and you would not be getting the taxes for the Treasury. Let me take the other point—because we want to be perfectly clear on this—raised by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. D. 2033 Herbert). Hon. Members seem to forget that our Dominions start with high fiscal duties. May I give some of the figures of duties that we are paying in the Dominions as compared with those which have to be paid in France and Italy in regard to some of the principal manufactures in which the United Kingdom is concerned? In the case of men's boots and shoes1, the duty in the case of Italy and France is 16 per cent. After allowing for the Preference in the case of Australia, it is 35 per cent.; New Zealand, 25 per cent. I give that as an example. We have instance after instance like that. My case is this: We are already offering the Dominions a free market for their goods.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
If they want re ciprocal trade, of course, without interfering in any way with their right to manage their own fiscal affairs, but simply organising on the economic basis, surely there is some reason for the Dominions making a move. If they want a wider market in this country than now, they can get it best by an exchange of goods, and by giving us a better market than we have at the present time having regard to the existing tariff walls, and enable us to purchase their products in return. I will not go deeper into that, because I do not want to be represented as desiring to interfere with the Dominions in regard to their fiscal affairs.
Then there was a point made by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion, that there were periods—I think he said between 1875 and 1890—when there was a very marked increase in the percentage of United Kingdom trade 4one with our Dominions. I think he will find, if he takes a survey over a long period of years, that the ratio of trade of the Dominions with this country as compared with our trade with foreign countries has remained steady, in spite of the offering of Preference to British goods in the Dominions. The right hon. Gentleman ended his speech with a reference to possible Resolutions and the possible withdrawal of Preference, and my right hon. and gallant Friend below the Gangway suggested there was a danger of some of these Preferences being removed. That is not a new argument in fiscal topics in this 2034 House. That has been put up ever since the issue was raised 22 or 23 years ago.
But never before have we rejected and thrown over the deliberate Resolutions of the Imperial Conference. That is quite new.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said during his speech that proposals put forward during the War had been accepted by all parties without demur. What, apparently, he overlooked was that there had not been an appeal to the electorate on that specific issue until last December, and, when that appeal was made, there was an overwhelming vote as to what the attitude of the country should be. Let me say one other word with regard to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. He referred to the question of a quid pro quo being given to us by the Canadian Government with regard to the removal of the embargo on Canadian cattle. I think the Secretary of State for the Colonies referred to that point, but let me say that for nearly 30 years people with whom I have been associated were working and working against successive Governments for the removal of that embargo, and in December, 1922, I myself received a letter of appreciation from the Canadian Government for the efforts used towards getting that embargo removed. This was in the face of the opposition of many hon. Members opposite who talk to us in favour of Imperial Preference.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think it proves my point, that if you remove fiscal barriers you are going to develop reciprocal trading between this country and the Dominions rather than by putting up fiscal barriers in the hope that you will give preferences here and there. Just one other point. It is assumed in regard to preferences given to the Colonies that any benefit which might accrue would always go to the producer. I suggest that that is not so. Take the Resolution on the Paper in regard, say, to tobacco. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite has really thought about that Resolution. If there was to be any advantage gained from a preference in regard to the Tobacco Duty, it would have to be gained because there was a 2035 free market for the Colonial producer of tobacco to send his product in. Is there such a free market1? I suggest that, whatever additional preferences you may give in regard to tobacco, it would be very unlikely to go to the producer in the Colonies, and that because the control and buying of the leaf is in the hands of an almost world-combine between this country and America. Very little of the preference would go to the producer to stimulate the growth of the tobacco leaf in the Colonies, and certainly, whatever some people who are supporting this Resolution say, we have had no benefit for the consumer of tobacco. We have had an increasing importation of the tobacco leaf of a poorer quality than some of the American tobacco leaf, but we have had no benefit in price from the tobacco combine. I would suggest that if inquiries were made it would possibly be found that the producers were also dissatisfied.
Altogether I think we may say, in regard to this question, that taxes of any kind which come between the producer and the consumer, whether overseas or not, are not going to help trade, but are going to hinder trade. It is still true to say—and I put this to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely), because he says he is an unrepentant Free Trader, and he also referred to John Stuart Mill—it is still true, to say, as Mill said, that one of the most vicious forms of taxation is a discriminating tax between one source of supply and another. Amongst other ill-effects, it is a waste of. both capital and of labour. As to the general view of those on these benches—the right hon. Gentleman (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) suggested we must get new trade and more markets if we are to get away from our present position. Let me say that I myself believe that the imposition of tariffs is an indication that there is a belief in the minds of thousands and thousands of people that there is a limited market for the product of labour applied to capital. I do not believe it. I still believe that there is no limit to an expansion of the wants of man and the amount which the human race can consume. What really is the point is this: that the masses of the people in this country and in our Dominions get such a small portion of 2036 the result of their labour that they are unable to consume what they should of the produce of their work. You are never going to settle the world-problems of unemployment and resettlement until people have been converted to the view, not only in this country, but in other countries as well, of the right of the worker to a proper share of the wealth he produces, so increasing his capacity to consume the produce of his own labour as applied to capital.
§ Sir EVELYN CECIL
Let me endorse what was said with regard to taking this matter, so far as possible, to-night out of party politics. I myself do not believe that party politics ought to come in> either in overseas Dominions' questions in this House or in foreign policy, more than can possibly be avoided. We have got to face two or three facts. It is perfectly well known that the Dominions do feel disappointed at the action which is likely to be taken in refusing to confirm these Resolutions. They show a certain amount of soreness, perhaps even impatience, and the spirit in which I hope the matter will be discussed here to-night is in the spirit of endeavouring to come together on the different sides of this House and see how much can be given to save the disappointment of the Dominions in this way.
After all, Imperial Conferences are not got together to waste time. All parties have asked the Prime Ministers from overseas to come here and to discuss many important questions, and when these questions have been thoroughly threshed out by the Conferences this House ought not overcritically to re-examine, but should accept the Resolutions of the Conferences as settled by responsible Governments. I do not quite feel satisfied at the attitude-taken by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). He is indeed a Free Trader of the Free Traders. He seems to belong to the straightest of the sect in the matter of his repudiations; but I believe had John Stuart Mill been alive to-day, it is quite possible he would have repudiated some of the dogmas of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Sir E. CECIL
Well, John Stuart Mill was strongly in favour of national defence 2037 and of a united Empire. I would also point out to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that he rather seems to suggest that the country at the last Election settled this question. I myself am very much disposed to dispute that, I do not think that this matter of Imperial Preference was put forward in any particular way. There were other matters, some of which occupied considerable attention. But I would further point out that it was not as though Imperial Preference at the last Election was a new thing. There is a long history behind it. It is pertinent to remind the House in some respect of that history. For instance, to begin with, there were Resolutions on this matter at the Colonial Conference of 1902. Perhaps I had better read two or three of them to the House so that we may be reminded exactly where we are, and what was agreed to. The first Resolution was:
That this Conference recognises that the principle of preferential trade between the United Kingdom and His Majesty's Dominions beyond the seas would stimulate and facilitate mutual commercial intercourse and would, by promoting the development of the resources and industries of the several parts, strengthen the Empire.Then the Conference also said:That this Conference recognises that in the present circumstances of the Colonies it is not practicable to adopt a general system of Free Trade as between one country and the British Dominions beyond the seas.This is material to several of the speeches that have been delivered to-night. Then there was a third Resolution, which runs:That with a view, however, to promoting the increase of trade within the Empire it is desirable that those Colonies that, have not already adopted such a policy should, as far as their circumstances permit, give substantial preferential treatment to the products and manufactures of the United Kingdom.These Resolutions were reaffirmed by the Dominion Prime Ministers; in 1907. I would remind the House that an important Committee, presided over by Lord Balfour of Burleigh himself a free-trader, reported in 1917. I need not quote the findings of the Committee. They were also in the same sense. Again, in 1917, at the Imperial War Conference, a Resolution was passed as follows:This Conferences expresses itself in favour of the principle that each part of the Empire, having due regard to the interests of our Allies, shall give specially favourable treatment and facilities to the 2038 produce and manufactures of the other parts of the Empire.If it is needed to give one more indication of the trend, over all these years, of the policy of this country, I will read a sentence from a letter of the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who, in November, 1918, writing to the late Mr. Bonar Law said:I have already accepted the policy of Imperial Preference as defined in the Resolutions of the Imperial Conference.All this! Then we come to the Conference of last year. Over a period of 22 years the regular attitude of the Governments here, and the Conferences here of all our Overseas Dominions, has been to hold out a policy of Imperial Preference as a policy which this country was prepared to consider and adopt in favour of the Colonies. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the- Member for Spen Valley put forward some very specious arguments. He seems to think it was not possible to give a Preference, because Preference involved taxation. I think that was very much the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. I cannot very well see why we cannot give preferences on taxes, if imposed for revenue purposes, without impairing the Free Trade doctrine. You have to have some taxes of some sort. No country can get on without them. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to me to be arguing in favour of no taxes at all.
§ Sir. E. CECIL
But you cannot get on without having some taxes. Why not give a Preference to our overseas kith and kin rather than to other people? Aft the time of the Paris resolutions in 1916 the Government was prepared to give somewhat similar privileges to our. Allies; why not now to our Dominions? I do beseech the House to pass these Resolutions. Let us try to consider this from a non-party point of view and do something to meet the real expectations of the Dominions. There cannot, to my mind, be any real doubt about the advantages of Dominion Preference to us. They are very considerable. Statistics have already been referred to. The Australian fiscal policy is designed, among other ends, to assure to the British manufacturer the largest possible share of 2039 Australia's import trade. This is clearly instanced by the woollen industry. In 1913 British woollen and worsted tissues received a preference from Australia of 5 per cent, ad valorem, and Australia's purchases of these goods amounted to £1,800,000 in value and to some 15,000,000 yards in quantity. In 1920 the tariff was revised, giving to British woollens a preference of 15 per cent, over all other countries, both Dominion and foreign. In 1922 Australia purchased British woollen and worsted tissues to the value of over £4,000,000, the quantity being 22,000,000 square yards.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. CECIl
Therefore the advantage of all these Dominion Preferences to us is very obvious. With reference to the advantages of United Kingdom preference to the Dominions, it is not less important, and in that respect we are only following the example of other countries and that point ought not to be overlooked. France, Spain, Italy, Japan, the United States and Portugal all have the same idea on this question, and they give a Preference to their Colonies. I have never been able to understand why a great country like ours should be prevented from applying the same principle. I look upon the reduction of the Dried Fruit Duty in the Budget as rather a mischievous move. It reduces the margin upon which preference can be given. That is not encouraging to our overseas Dominions, and I hope that hon. Members, in voting tomorrow, will bear in mind the point of view of our own Dominions on this question. Overseas countries are keenly anxious for these Preferences. In South Africa 70 per cent, of the farmers are of Dutch origin. Let them, by a preference on dried fruit, see the advantage of the British connection. The case of the Murray River in Australia has been referred to. In Adelaide, too, there is room for encouraging group settlement and fruit growing, and I believe in taking every possible measure to encourage migration, otherwise you will not firmly establish a sufficiently close connection between the different parts of the Empire.
When you bear in mind the figures of the population of this country as com- 2040 pared with countries overseas, the necessity of migration as a corollary to Imperial Preference comes out in strong relief. I have been looking up the figures of the population of England and Wales and they show that there are 649 persons to the square mile. In Belgium the proportion is 636 to the square mile, in Holland 554, Italy 329, Germany 328, France 184, the United States 31, Canada 2.4, and in Australia the proportion is 1.8 to the square mile. Surely that is an argument for granting an Imperial Preference which will stimulate group settlement. I feel considerable anxiety as to what will happen if this House rejects all these Resolutions. Approaches are already being made to some of our overseas Dominions by foreign countries offering them preferences, but if we grant them a preference there is hope for many good things. I feel enthusiastic about the extension of goodwill that the tide thus taken in the affairs of men will promote. I picture to myself with perhaps not undue optimism a future which will be fraught with great possibilities and an ever closer relationship between ourselves and our Colonies. I appeal to each individual Member of this House not to be led away by a party flag of any kind, but to consider this matter on its merits, and to vote according to his own personal conclusions.
§ Mr. T. JOHNSTON
We have had in this House to-day the case for Imperial Preference stated from a Protectionist point of view. We have also had it discussed from the point of view of the orthodox Free Trader. I propose to discuss it for the moment from another point of view altogether, and that from the Socialist point of view. Every hon. Member on the Labour Benches is pledged by his very acceptance of membership of this party to oppose sweating. No hon. Member on these benches would agree to allow the importation of sweated goods into his town if he could obstruct it from any other town in this country. We would not agree to the importation of sweated goods from Edinburgh into London or from London into Edinburgh if we could help it. Why then should we be expected to welcome with open arms the importation of sweated goods from countries which are only a few miles further away. Why should we be expected to object to sweated goods manu- 2041 factured in London and at the same time welcome them from France or Belgium or Japan or Greece?
For the life of me I never could understand how a party whose very existence is built upon the idea that we ought to preserve the highest possible standard of civilisation amongst our own people could be expected to follow at the tail end of an orthodox free imports procession. We have already in our Dominions four Labour Governments out of six, and those four Labour Governments are not the special perquisites of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Imperial idea is not a perquisite of the Tory party any longer, and the Labour party and the Socialist party have to evolve their trade policy in relationship to the Labour and Socialist Governments who are beginning to form a majority of the Governments of the Empire. Australia achieves a 48 hours week and in many of her industries a 44 hours week. In Australia the minimum wage in the skilled industries is £4 1s. 6d. Australia happens to produce dried fruits and she can raise about 10 per cent, of what we consume. In this respect her only other competitor is Greece. I am told that the conditions under which the people employed by Greece in these plantations for the production of fruit is not a 48 hours or a 68 hours week but as a matter of fact they work all the hours that God sends and a few more, and what their wages are nobody knows, and yet we import our currants from Greece.
I submit that it is our business as a Socialist party and a Labour Government to examine the origin of our imports if we are going to be a Labour Government at all. I disagree with the proposition put forward that we have no concern with imports except their cheapness. We have to consider the conditions under which the labour is employed in the manufacture of our imports. I disagree with the point of view expressed on this point by hon. Members opposite. The last time this subject was introduced was when an attempt was made to upset the decision come to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abolish the McKenna Duties. What was the Tory party doing then? It was not attempting to preserve a high standard of civilisation from an attack by a lower standard. They were protecting the sweated industry of engineering, in which the men were 2042 receiving £2 4s. per week, from competition by engineers who were receiving £8 and £12 per week; they were simply attempting to preserve a low standard of civilisation from competition with a higher standard. I think the Socialist point of view is one which will receive increasing adherence all over the world by organised workers, and it is that we ought to preserve the higher civilisation from attacks by the lower civilisation. We should preserve the higher standard of civilisation where we have got it.
Let us see where that leads. By Article 289 of the Treaty of Peace the High Contracting Parties, recognising that the well-being, physical, moral and intellectual, of individual wage-earners— I am not quoting the whole of it—is of supreme international importance, and recognising that differences of climate, habits, customs, economic opportunity, individual tradition, and so on, make strict uniformity in the conditions of labour difficult of immediate attainment, nevertheless the High Contracting Parties to the Treaty of Peace declared for a 48-hour week. They declared, of course, for other things as well. They declared that labour was no longer to be a commodity, that there was to be a right of association, that every man was to have a reasonable standard of life; but they also declared that, after the greatest war in history, it was to be the business of civilised nations to abolish overwork and to fix a 48-hour week. They set up a Convention, including workmen, which met at Washington on the 28th November, 1919, and that Convention decided, with certain exceptions, into which I need not go for the purpose of this discussion, upon a 48-hour week, which this House has never yet ratified. That was the decision of a civilised Conference endeavouring to raise the standard of life of the worker. Suppose that we apply that idea, so far as we can, to our international trade, and, without importing disputable questions about rates of exchange or what is a sweated wage, simply take as a universal standard of value a 48-hour week, and say that any country, any trade, any industry, which is attempting to work its employeés 60 hours, 80 hours, or 90 hours a week, is sweated, and its products are not to be allowed into our markets if we can keep them out. I would not have a tariff at all. I would keep them out altogether, 2043 just as I would keep out anthrax-infected goods or poisonous goods of any kind; for in very truth, if ever the word "poisonous" could be applied to any goods manufactured in the world, it would be to goods which the employeé are compelled to work 90 and IOC hours a week to produce.
Let us apply that to currants. Surely, we can say to Greece, "We are going to take all the supply produced under 48-hour conditions that we can get, and we are going to prohibit all that we can that is produced under 90 or 100-hour conditions." That would be the finest; preference that could be given, not only to Australia but to the highest standard of living as against a lower, and it would do more for the working classes of Greece in 24 hours than all our missionaries have been able to do in several centuries. I recognise, however, that that is not enough. I recognise that the immediate problem before us is, as to how we are going to deal with this question of British Empire trade. It is true, I think, that commodities coming in from the British Empire do not get a square deal here, but not for reasons which the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who has just nodded his head, would be prepared to accept.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I do not know what is in the right hon. Gentleman's head, but if it is something different from what has been on his tongue for several months, then I am afraid I do not understand it. Let us take the question of Colonial meat. I telephoned to-day to the Queensland Government offices and asked them at what price the best Queensland meat is being landed in London to-day. They told me that it was 3¾. per lb. What is it selling at? It is selling at 7d., 9d. and 11d. per lb. in London, according to the part. If the Socialist Government were only to set about arranging decent market conditions—and I will show in a moment that they are capable of doing it and have done it—get this meat when it arrives, and abolish the middlemen and suckers who fasten on it, they would be able to give the people of this country cheaper food, and better food than in many cases they are getting now, and would be able to give a better price to 2044 the Australian producer. During the War the Poplar Guardians—the right hon. Gentleman knows a lot about Poplar and will be able to confirm this, because I am perfectly certain he has gone into it—the Poplar Guardians got thousands of pounds worth of meat from the Board of Trade and the War Office at cost price, namely, from 5½d. to 7½d. per lb., and sold it to the poor in the East End of London, at a time when, in the shops of London, the same meat, operating through this terrible engine of private enterprise, was selling at from Is. 6d. to Is. 9d. per lb.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Of course it was, and now that the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) has awakened to the possibilities of a sound system of organisation, I hope we shall welcome him into our ranks.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
No. The price of 1s. 6d. to Is. 9d. included what was called free meat, and that was the trick.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
But the free meat was not fixed at all, and the price was governed by the so-called free meat, just as in the case of tea and sugar, there was free tea and free sugar. That was the trick of the Lord Devonports and the other gentlemen who came from the Liberal party.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
If my hon. Friend will allow me, Lord Rhondda, when he was Food Controller, wished to nationalize the distribution of milk, but that was prevented, not by Lord Rhondda, but by the representative of the Department in the House of Commons, who is now the Lord Privy Seal.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
That is a good point for the hon. Member for Penistone, and now that we have him and his party going about boosting the idea of the nationalisation of milk, and declaring that it was our Front Bench that stopped it, the sooner we have a concordat in favour of nationalisation the better. But that is taking mc away from my point. I question very much the hon. Member's statement of fact about the Lord Privy 2045 Seal, but at any rate we can discover later on whether the Lord Privy Seal prevented nationalisation, while an anti-Socialist like Lord Rhondda wanted to have it. At any rate, if Lord Rhondda wanted to have it, it shows that he was a man of much more common sense than many members of the Liberal party are to-day.
Let me get back to Poplar. Poplar saved thousands of pounds. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will give the exact figures if he gets into the discussion, or the late Minister of Health will be able to give them. They saved thousands of pounds by Socialists marketing all meat and by smashing private enterprise. We are perpetually declaring that the middlemen grafters are preventing the producers from getting the best price and the consumers from getting a cheap commodity. If you apply the Socialist idea to imports from abroad, you will see how you can give the Australian producer a very much better price and lower the cost of commodities. Take wool control. Hero is another story for the hon. Member for Penistone to deal with.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
It was lost because the fossilised ideas got into control. During the War a more pathetic fossilised imposture than Liberal party individualism I never met in my life.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am prepared to say now. During the War the British Government bought the wool from Australia. It was a Socialist step. You abolished private enterprise. You bought the wool, and at the end of the War we were manufacturing khaki cloth cheaper than the cloth we could buy at the out-break of the War to fit out the Kitchener troops, and, in addition to that, there was £64,000,000 profit, half of which you handed back to the grower in Australia
§ Mr. PRINGLE
At the expense of the individual consumer. The military cloth was cheaper, but if you or I went to buy a suit you had to pay more.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Member is only seeking to confuse our minds. I am not talking about free cloth at all. I 2046 have said that on practically everything which was controlled during the War there was a margin which was left free.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Ent-wistle)
If the hon. Member would address me instead of the hon. Member for Penistone, it would be better. He must also confine himself to Imperial Preference. He is travelling rather wide.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I was endeavouring, perhaps with indifferent success, to show an alternative which might be acceptable to all parties in the House except those who are Victorian survivals of political and economic ideas.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Take apples. What does the grower get for his apples? Less than a penny per lb. What are they selling at in London? 9d. a lb. What are they selling at at the Wembley Exhibition? 6d. a lb. There is sufficient margin there for all the business acumen and organisation on the other side of the House to see that the grower gets a decent price and a decent livelihood, and at the same time the cost to the consumer can be rapidly reduced. We have heard to-day that the Liberal party never favoured Preference. The only great Preference thing one of the leading members of the Liberal party ever did was a thing which redounds to the honour of the Liberal party to-day. That was when William Cadbury discovered that the cocoa that he was using was being grown upon slave plantations at San Thoneé. When he discovered that, he sent representatives to Portugal and said, "You will stop these slave gangs at San Thoné or I will buy no more of your cocoa." He stopped purchasing that slave cocoa, and he got Rowntrees and Fry's and Stollwercks in Germany to stop it too. I understand the Liberal Foreign Secretary did his utmost to obstruct Mr. Cadbury's attack on the slave trade. He went to the Gold Coast and got the small producers there to grow the cocoa, not under slave conditions, and we are now consuming British Empire cocoa not produced under slave conditions. That was interfering in a very fine way indeed with slave conditions in production.
I spoke a moment or two ago about meat. Will any hon. Member opposite 2047 or below the Gangway who believes implicitly in what is called private enterprise, which we know to be private robbery, oblige me by going to last year's minutes of evidence of the Public Accounts Committee and reading there the admission of how during the War the Big Five, the American Meat Trust, actually charged this country £1,275,255, the great bulk of which was not for meat at all but to prevent meat being sent to Germany. "If you do not give us this baksheesh we will go to Germany," and we gave them the baksheesh. The then Prime Minister, who gave them the baksheesh, last week in Wales denounced the Socialist Government because they favoured trusts. The antics of the Liberal party beat me! The Socialist policy of the abolition of unnecessary middlemen, the giving to the producer of the full social value of his product and marketing the commodity at the cheapest possible price to the consumer, would lower prices here and raise the conditions and price of labour in Australia, give the producers in the Colonies, as we gave them during the War, better market prices, give us a homogeneous market, bind the Empire together, so far as it can be bound by material and commercial transactions, and would obviate all this annual struggle on the British Budget, and all this cavilling as to whether it should be 4d. or 3Ûd. or 2Ûd. I ask hon. Members to consider the Socialist point of view, and the Socialist argument, and not allow this House to be influenced by the mediæval opinions and ideas put about by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and hon. Members on the other side of the House.
§ Mr. PILKINGTON
I should like to say a few words on the effect which a policy of Preference has had and is likely to have on trade between Australia and this country. While I can speak specially in regard to Australia, I believe that what is true of that country is substantially true in this connection of most, if not all, the other Dominions and Dependencies. I speak of Australia because it is a country in which I made my home for 27 years, and therefore I have some knowledge of it. I have heard to-day in this House, and previously, some remarkable and startling statements as to the effect of the preferences granted 2048 by Australia on imports from this country. It is vitally important in this matter of Preference that we should know the facts. It is very undesirable that we should come to a conclusion on the matter of Preference until we have first ascertained the fact accurately.
I listened this evening to an hon. Member who gave some figures, and I listened a few months ago to the right hon. Member for Lady wood (Mr. N. Chamberlain), who also gave some figures in regard to this question. He informed the House that during the seven years which immediately followed the adoption of the first preferential tariff in Australia there was an increase in Australian imports from the United Kingdom to the amount of £14,000,000 per annum, and he asked the House to believe that that enormous increase of something like 70 per cent, was due to the preferential tariff. That inference that the increase in the imports from the United Kingdom was due to the preferential tariff is not only unwarrantable but it is an inference which could not be drawn by any person who was familiar with the facts.
While it is true that that increase did take place, it is also true that during the same period of seven years the imports from foreign countries into Australia, in regard to which there was no Preference whatever, also increased, and increased in a slightly larger proportion. The tariff came into operation in the year 1907. In 1906 Australian imports from the United Kingdom were 59.39 per cent. In 1913, after seven years of Preference, they were 59.7 per cent., or practically exactly the same. Foreign imports during the same period rose slightly from 25.52 per cent, in 1906 to 27.88 per cent, in 1913. These facts and figures establish beyond doubt, indeed they demonstrate conclusively, that the increase to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and which he attributed to the first preferential tariff was, in fact, a general all-round increase in Australia's power to import, and had no more to do with preferential tariffs than the man in the moon.
The real test of the effect of a preferential tariff is to see whether the proportion of goods imported from the country which is preferred has increased. If we take the 14 years from 1900 to 1913 inclusive and see what the imports were 2049 during that time—remember that in the middle of that period, in 1907, the tariff had come into force—we find that through-out the period the imports from the United Kingdom remained constant at one or two points above or below 60 per cent., the imports from foreign countries remained constant at one or two points above or below 27 per cent, and the imports from British possessions remained constant at one or two points above or below 13 per cent. That was throughout the whole period, with the exception of 1903 when very large imports from the United States of America threw the balance out of gear. The fact is, that the passing of the first preferential tariff adopted by Australia produced no perceptible effect whatsoever upon the proportion of imports which came into Australia from this country or other countries.
My fundamental objection to the whole system of Preference is that a policy of Preference must in the end, as the sum total, mean that the consumer in this country is taxed in order to provide a cash subsidy to the producer in the Dominions, a cash subsidy which goes to him in the form of an artificial rise in prices. I will ask hon. Members to note that the operation of the Preference which this country is asked to give to Australia and the operation of the Preference which Australia is willing to give, and the only Preference which Australia can give by tariffs to this country, are totally different. The Preference which this country is asked to give to Australia is a Preference which gives the Australian producer an artificially high price for his goods. A higher price than he would get if there was no duty against a foreign country and no Preference. The Preference which Australia gives to this country, and the only Preference which it can give to this country, does not give the manufacturer here one penny piece higher price or, at any rate, any appreciably higher price. The reason is very simple.
Far and away the best market for Australian products, the biggest market, is Great Britain. The market of Great Britain is so important to Australia that it dominates the value and prices of the products that Australia exports. For instance, the price of wheat in Australia is the price of wheat on the British market, less the cost of transport, insur- 2050 ance and marketing. The whole of the Australian export products are dominated in their price by the market here. Consequently, if by a tariff or any other means you raise the price of those commodities in the British market, you raise the price of the commodities in Australia, and the Australian who sells, whether he sells here or anywhere else, gets the benefit of that increased price. We have heard about currants this afternoon, and I will take the case of currants for this reason. There is such a very small proportion of the currants produced in the Empire sent home here that one can say with certainty that any preference given in the case of currants will mean that the price will be raised by the full amount of the preference.
That is to say, assuming that a duty of 10s. 6d. a cwt. be put on foreign currants, but not on Australian currants, the result would be that the price of currants in this country will be raised to the consumer by approximately 10s. 6d. a cwt., though probably a little more. The consumer will have to pay that extra 10s. 6d. on all his currants, but in so far as he consumes currants from Greece, the 10s. 6d. which will be taken cut of his pocket will go into the Imperial Exchequer, but in so far as he consumes currants which come from Australia, the 10s. 6d., which he will still have to pay, will be diverted from the Imperial Exchequer and will go into the pocket of the Australian producer as a cash subsidy in the form of a higher price. That is what takes place in regard to the Preference which this country is asked to give to Australia. It is a Preference which means a higher price as a cash subsidy to the producer, but when we look at the Preference which Australia is prepared to give, and the only Preference which it can give, the position is entirely different.
So far as I know, there is no article manufactured in this country—I may be wrong; there may be one or two, but at any rate they are very insignificant—the price of which is dominated by the Australian market. The price of articles manufactured in this country depends on the world's market and not on the Australian market. You can do what you like with the Australian tariff; it does not make any difference in the price of the article manufactured here. The result is that the English manufacturer does not 2051 get any higher price for his article, but, when it is imported into Australia, the consumer in Australia who gets it has the benefit of paying the lower duty.
The case could be put briefly like this: The Preference which Great Britain is asked to give to Australian imports means taking a cash payment out of the pockets of the consumer, diverting it from the Imperial Exchequer and paying it over as a cash subsidy to the Australian producer in the form of higher prices. The Preference which Australia gives, and the only preference which it can give owing to the facts of the case, means that money which would otherwise be taken out of the pockets of the Australian consumer, and paid into the Australian Exchequer, is left by this proposal in the pocket of the Australian consumer. That is the effect of these two Preferences, and they are wholly-different.
The sum total result, therefore, is this. The policy of Imperial Preference means that the consumer in this country is taxed in order to provide a cash subsidy for Dominion produce. That is neither just nor equitable. I say further that it is, what is more important, highly dangerous. We have heard some remarks to-day about the American colonies many years ago. The analogy is not exact, but it is worth noting. We lost the American colonies because it was attempted to tax one part of the Empire for the benefit of another part of the Empire. I suggest that that is a dangerous course to pursue. Whatever the machinery you use, the policy of Imperial Preference involves the taxing of the home part of the Empire for the benefit of the Dominions.
What may one expect to result from such a policy? We would no doubt begin with a few industries which require this Protection, for it is Protection, in order to enable them to flourish, but it would not stop at a few industries. Every day, or, at any rate, every month, we should have claims from other industries, from other parts of the Empire. Continually new industries would want to be protected in the same way. The burden would inevitably grow. We know that tariffs, like other ill weeds, grow apace. The burden in this country would grow inevitably year by year, and a day would come when the burden would be too great 2052 to be borne. What would happen then when that day came, and the burden could be borne no longer and was discarded? Throughout the Empire we should have derelict industries of all kinds which had been carried on under the influence of this hot-house Preference. That is not the sort of result that binds the Empire together.
I hope that hon. Members opposite will not suppose, because we do not believe in Preference as a means of binding the Empire together, that we do not wish to see the Empire bound together. I believe, and I think that most of us in this House believe, that the British Empire is probably the greatest power for good existing in the world to-day. I believe, and I think that we all believe, that it is the duty of every single man and woman who is fortunate enough to be a subject of the British Empire to do whatever he or she can do to strengthen, develop and consolidate the Empire, but I most profoundly believe that the policy of Preference is the worst policy that can be conceived for that purpose. But I would ask hon. Members also to consider this. I have said that I believe that it-would inevitably lead to disaster. I believe that inevitably the burden would become too great for this country to bear, and that the result would be what I have said. But I need not put my argument so high as that it is inevitable or that it is probable. It is enough for me to say, is not that a possible result, and if it is a possible result is it not right that we should refuse to allow this Empire to be subjected to such a result?
We have been told that it is quite a different proposition to give Preference by imposing new taxes from giving Preference by remitting existing taxes which are imposed for revenue purposes. I admit that there is a difference. But what is more important is the fact that there is a fundamental similarity in these two methods, because they both produce the same result—the result of taxing the man in Great Britain for the benefit of the Dominion producer. That is the fundamental failing of the whole policy of Preference. I ask hon. Members not to be led away to the belief that there may some sort of compromise in this matter There is no room for compromise. Either one believes in Preference as a means of binding the Empire together, or one 2053 believes, as I most fervently believe, that the policy is a pernicious and vicious policy, tending to the disruption of the Empire.
§ Major STEEL
It has become evident to all of us that in future we must view these great Imperial questions with a far wider outlook than we have adopted in the past, and that we must try to develop our Empire as a whole for the benefit of it as a whole and to the mutual advantage of each component part. The Secretary of State for the Colonies quoted speeches which have been made by Ministers in the Canadian and Australian Parliaments—speeches which went to show that in Canada and Australia they give us these Preferences in their markets for their own advantage, and that they would have given us those Preferences and would continue those Preferences or would increase them, only provided that they were absolutely certain that it would be to their advantage. I am certain that on this side we all agree with them in that view. Nobody on this side who sincerely believes in Imperial Preference would ever advocate it if he did not honestly and sincerely believe that it would be for the benefit of the people of this country.
We have to treat the Empire as a whole. We must consider the position of the Empire at the present time. One portion of the Empire has an enormous population. In other parts there is a scattered and small population. In fact, in large parts of the Empire there is hardly any population at all. In this country, with its huge population, we cannot find work for all our people. There are those who say that we are over-populated. I do not know whether that is true or not, but I think we would be justified in saying that a country was over-populated which could not find productive work for all its people. Certainly during the last three years we have not been able to find productive work for anything like the whole of the population of this country. Even the present Government contemplates a very serious amount of unemployment during the next two or three years. Therefore, one would be justified in saying that, at all events at the present time, this country is over-populated, whereas in other parts of the Empire there are huge Dominions with great stretches of undeveloped land which are crying out for a population to 2054 develop them. In this country there is a population of something like 372 people to the square- mile, whereas in Australia the population is only 1.9 to the square mile, in Canada 2.3 and New Zealand 12.3 to the square mile. That being the position, surely the wise policy for us is to try, as opportunity presents itself, to transfer the surplus population from our own shores, where we have all this unemployment, to the Dominions which are anxious to welcome migrants from this country. As Mr. Bruce, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, said at the Imperial Conference, the whole question of Empire development depends upon three essential factors: it depends on men and money and markets. We have dealt with the first two essentials, by the Empire Settlement Act, which was passed by this House in 1922. By means of that Act the Imperial Government, in conjunction with the Dominion Governments, entered into an agreement to help emigration from this country by assisted passages and in other ways. I realise that advantage has not been taken of that Act to the extent that was anticipated, but it must be remembered that it was a new experiment, and that, as in the case of all new experiments, there were weak points. But I believe that the weak points will be overcome and that gradually the Act will be used to a far greater extent than it has been during the last two years. I look forward to very large migration under that Act. We have the third essential, that of markets, still to be dealt with. There is not the slightest use in sending men out to the Dominions and in spending vast sums of money on them, unless you assure markets for their products. It was with that object that the Imperial Conference was held last year, and it was with that object that the Resolutions which we are discussing were passed, and with that object that they are put before the House to-day.
I would like to say something with regard to dried fruits and preserves. The Preferences that are suggested are very largely connected with both dried and preserved fruits. They will benefit all our Dominions to a certain extent, and will benefit Australia to the greatest extent of all. In Australia there is a very large amount of land suitable for fruit cultivation, and for some time past they have been developing what is called 2055 the Murray River scheme. At the present time there are only 200,000 acres of land under cultivation in the Murray River Valley, but the Australian Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with certain of the Federal Governments, have decided to expend about £10,000,000 of capital in the next few years in order to irrigate the whole of the Murray River Valley. When that money has been spent, and the land has been irrigated, it is estimated that by the year 1928 a million and a half acres will have been made suitable for settlement, and that within a few years after that period, the whole of the valley, comprising about 2,000,000 acres of land, will be prepared for settlement, and will be capable of taking about 750,000 settlers. The whole object of Australia in her desire to get these Preferences on dried and preserved fruits is to enable her to get ahead with the Murray River scheme.
The first Resolution proposes to reduce the present tax on Empire-grown currants, raising, prunes, plums and apricots. At the present time it is true we do not get a very large proportion of our currants from the Empire. We get a considerable proportion of our raisins from the Empire, but not a very large amount of prunes or plums. With the development of the Murray River scheme there is no doubt that within a very few years we shall get a huge proportion of our supply of these fruits from within the Empire. If we carry out the proposal of the first Resolution and take off the whole of the existing tax—which amounts, in the case of currants, to 2s. in the £, and in the case of raisins, prunes and plums, to 8s. 9d. in the £—and if we allow all these articles to come in free there would only be a loss to our revenue of £91,000. The fifth Resolution deals with dried fruits and proposes to put a duty upon foreign-dried fruits, including apples, pears and peaches, while allowing Empire-grown fruits to come in free. If we put a tax upon foreign apples, pears and peaches, then according to the figure of the average imports for 1920, 1921 and 1922 we should get a revenue of about £36,750. In the same way if we carried out the proposal of the sixth Resolution and put a tax of 5s. on preserved fruits of foreign origin we should get a revenue of about £245,500. In other words, if we carried out the 2056 whole policy proposed with regard to dried and preserved fruits and took off the tax upon Empire-grown currants, raisins, plums and prunes, while putting a tax of 10s. 6d. on foreign-dried fruits and 5s. on foreign-preserved fruits, there would be a net gain to the revenue of about £190,000. Even assuming—and I do not think that Free Traders go this length—that the consumer paid the whole of the cost of that tax, it would only come to lÛd. per head of the population.
I realise that those of us who are keen about this policy and anxious to establish it have to persuade this House that it will be of advantage to the people in this country. As regards fruit, I have shown that if we carry out the proposals contained in these Resolutions, the cost per head at the most only amounts to lÛd., but we have to see what we are going to get in return. We have exactly the same problem as our Dominions in regard to finding a market for our industries. The only difference is that they have to find a market for agricultural produce while we mainly have to find a market for manufactured articles. It is not necessary to give a large number of figures to show the value of the Dominion market to us. What that market means to the industries of this country, the enormous quantity of manufactured goods which the Dominions take from us—all that is, I think, pretty well realised. I do not think, however, it is realised that in the total produce which they take from us there is such a preponderating amount of wholly manufactured goods as compared with the proportion of wholly manufactured goods taken by certain foreign countries. In the case of Australia, 95 per cent, of what she takes from us is in the shape of wholly manufactured goods, while 94.5 per cent, of what India takes is in the shape of wholly manufactured goods, and 80 per cent, of what Canada takes consists of wholly manufactured goods. On comparing these proportions with the corresponding proportions in the cases of the United States, France, and Germany, it will be seen that the proportion of manufactured goods—which represent labour and work—taken by those countries is very much less than the proportion taken by the Dominions. For instance, only 69 per cent, of what the United States take consists of manufactured goods: 58 per cent, of what France takes is manufactured goods, and only 52 per cent, of what 2057 Germany takes is manufactured goods, as compared with 80 to 95 per cent, in the case of the Dominions. I think that is a very important point, because it shows that the Dominion market is a far more important market for us, because such a very large proportion of their requirements are in the nature of wholly manufactured articles, which, of course, represent far more work and employment and, I hope, more wages for the people of this country.
Another point that I would like to make is this, that if you take, as an example, the exchange of trade between certain of our Dominions and us, you will find that they do business with us on both sides of the ledger to a far greater extent than any foreign countries. If you take, for instance, the trade which is done between Australia and this country, and compare it with the trade which is done between the Argentine and this country, it is most remarkable what a difference there is between the amount of goods that Australia takes back from us and the amount that the Argentine takes. These countries are very similar in this way, that they are both countries which export to us, principally, food supplies and raw materials. Australia is a country with a population of about 5,500,000, whereas the Argentine is a country with a population of 8,500,000. In 1892 Australia sold to us £64,000,000 worth of goods, mostly food and raw materials, and in the same year the Argentine sold to us £56,500,000 worth of goods, mostly food and raw materials. If you look at the other side of the ledger, however, and see what each of these two countries took from us, you will find that in the same year Australia took from us £60,000,000 worth of produce, of which 95 per cent, was in fully manufactured goods, while the Argentine took from us only £22,500,000 worth. I think that that comparison shows that, although Argentina sold to us very much the same amount of food and raw material as Australia did, she was not nearly such a good purchaser as Australia was, and, therefore, it is far more for the benefit of this country to do our trade with Australia than it is to do it with the Argentine.
I referred a few minutes ago to the Murray River scheme, and, as I said, in a very few years' time, if this policy be adopted by this House, the Murray River 2058 will contain a population of something like 750,000 settlers. In a very few years' time the whole 2,000,000 acres will have been irrigated and will have been made fit for settlement, and then they estimate that it will take about 750,000 settlers. At the present time every man in Australia buys from us to the extent of nearly £11—£10 19s. 6d. to be exact. Assuming that the Australian purchaser continues to buy from us at the same ratio and to the same extent as he is buying to-day, within a very few years these 750,000 settlers will be taking from us over £8,000,000 worth of manufactured goods. Think what that means to the trade and industry of this country. I believe it is a fact—I have, in fact, looked it up in "Whitaker"—that to-day there are 15 countries in Europe alone which take something less than £8,000,000 worth of manufactures from this country, and, therefore, I think it must be to the advantage of this country to go in for this scheme of developing the Murray River, which will really cost us nothing, and which, if it be successful, will within a very short time afford us a market for £8,000,000 worth of manufactured goods.
There is not the slightest doubt about it that our Dominion trade to-day, which, of course, is a very big one, is due to a very large extent to the Preference which the Dominions give us. I do not think that can be denied. Canada was the first of our Dominions to give us a Preference, 27 years ago. Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa followed, and they gave us a Preference, I think, 21 years ago. There is no doubt that before those Preferences were given to us we were not holding our own in those Dominion markets. The competition of Germany and America and other foreign countries was very severely felt by the manufacturers in this country. Those countries were gradually creeping up and catching us up, and it was only after we got these Preferences in the Dominion markets that we went ahead again. I think there can be little doubt that the fact that we have the lion's share of the Dominion trade to-day is almost entirely due to the Preferences which we enjoy there. We have been told very empahtically by Mr. Bruce, the Premier of Australia, and by others, that overtures have repeatedly been made to our various Dominions; we have been told that many foreign countries have approached them with a 2059 view to trying to make arrangements with them for reciprocal trading, because those foreign countries have seen the enormous advantages which the Dominion markets would afford to their own industries; and we have been told that up till now these Dominions have resisted all these overtures on the part of foreign countries, but that if we continue to turn a deaf ear to their suggestions, they may eventually be forced and driven into considering similar arrangements—such as we would like to make just now—with foreign countries. I am sure that everybody on this side of the House will agree that, if these arrangements with foreign countries were to come about, and if we were to lose the preference that we now enjoy, it would be a very serious thing for the industries of this country and I think it is with the fear that somebody else may get these benefits if we hesitate too long that we are particularly anxious that at all events some of these Resolutions should be agreed to and passed by this House. I feel that unless we enter into reciprocal negotiations the Colonies will before very long be forced to enter into such relations with other countries in which case there seems to me little doubt that we should lose the lion's share of the Dominion markets. If that happens it would be absolutely disastrous to this country, to the industries of this country, and to those employed in those industries.
§ Dr. HADEN GUEST
I am sure everyone who has listened to the Debate must have been profoundly impressed with the feeling expressed from all parts of the House in the predominant value of the British Commonwealth. I am associated with various friends whose attention has been more turned to alternatives to Preference, rather than to Preference itself. For my part I have no hostility to Preference, but it does not appear to me that you are going to get all those advantages out of Preference which certain hon. Members expect. Therefore one has been exploring other methods of ensuring closer co-operation between ourselves and the Dominions, and I 'believe that in those methods of closer co-operation is really to be found the solution of the problem. May I suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Leader of the Opposition has lately been 2060 talking about the great importance of getting rid of that middleman who divides the producer and the consumer. That is a very admirable arrangement, and one which would be seconded by every one on this side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not below the Gangway!"] They are able to look after themselves.
I would also mention several other suggestions put forward lately by Dominion statesmen. With regard to Australia, it is, for instance, suggested that a great deal of the difficulty of Australia depends on the lack of organisation by the traders in Australia. I am informed, on pretty good authority, that Australia spends in this country only £2,000 a year on advertising, which is rather an insignificant sum, and one would imagine that certain changes would give better results for the Australian Commonwealth. Then, with regard to Canada, a very interesting suggestion has been made lately, of which I hope more will be heard in this House. The suggestion is that a group of the wheat producers in Canada might enter into direct relations with the Government of this country. By exporting their wheat direct and having it stored here in elevators, to be erected and maintained under the supervision of the Government, if not by the Government, you would have at once a method of getting your extra freight, extra storage, extra insurance in this country and, at the same time, have your grain at a cheaper price in this country than you are able to get it at the present moment. It is a fact that the operation of grain pools in Canada are very largely financed by American bankers. It is suggested that it would be very much to the advantage of this country if they were financed from this country, and. if as part of that arrangement for financing from this country you have direct export to this country and storage in this country you have at once a proposition, not a Preference proposition, but one which would be more helpful to the industry of Canada and also to the consumer in this country than merely a preference given to wheat involving taxation on wheat coming from another place.
In a sense it is a Preference proposition, and a very good Prefer- 2061 ence proposition, but not a taxation proposition, and that is the point. I regret that we have heard nothing from the Front Bench with regard to these alternatives. We have heard nothing from the Front Bench but a negative, with the exception of a statement by the Colonial Secretary that the Government had changed their opinion with regard to the Imperial Economic Committee, a change of opinion of which many Members of this House, no doubt were exceedingly glad to hear. Beyond that there is nothing but a negative, and there has been nothing but a negative from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. Free Trade is not going to solve any problems at all by itself. By itself, Free Trade does not solve anything, and is only maintained in this country because it is obviously to the advantage of certain manufacturers to have goods imported without any tariffs upon them. But is the money price the only measure of value in the minds of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway? Are they not aware that every time a trade, union takes action in combination to raise wages that raises prices? Are they going, as they have been in the past, to be against trade union cooperation? The history of the great party represented by numbers below the Gangway is very well known to this House. It is ornamented by two very great names—Cobden and Bright—and with the names of those great apostles of Free Trade is associated a statement of the necessity of child labour in the cotton factories, and that tradition still unfortunately persists with the Liberal party. When I was listening with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), I was amazed to find that when he quoted Mr. Bruce's opening speech at the Imperial Economic Conference he mentioned a paragraph dealing with taxation of food, but he did not mention any of the other matters which are referred to there, stabilisation of prices, increase and improvement of Empire marketing and all those things which appear to be outside the range of consideration of the mind dominated by Free Trade ideology. I regret very much that we have not heard from hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway anything at all of any alternatives to the proposal put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. It is per- 2062 fectly certain that this country cannot go along on a purely negative policy, and for my own part I cannot imagine that all the other chief nations in the world are entirely devoid of economic wisdom. The other chief nations of the world, I notice, are to a very large extent Protectionist. There must be some arguments in favour of Protection which have not reached the intelligence of hon. Members below the Gangway. I am quite aware that the Government are very much concerned to bring about the restoration of good conditions of trade in this country by bringing about peace in Europe and good relations with all the countries of Europe. With this I am sure every part of the House is in agreement, but may I point out, that it is on the League of Nations that that depends, and the League of Nations depends for—I will not say its existence—but for its power and influence in the world on the commonwealth of nations known as the British Empire. Take the question of German reparations. It was only at the time of the meeting of the Imperial Conference that America was finally induced to come into this question in such a way as has now led to the bringing forward of the Dawes Report with a likelihood of a solution of the problem.
§ Captain BENN
Shall we be allowed to give an answer to this general disquisition on Socialism and the League of Nations?
May I suggest that these matters are very relevant to the question of the influence and power of the British Commonwealth of Nations which is really at the back of this Debate. I will draw my remarks to a more rapid close than I had originally intended, but may I suggest that we have not had any definite proposals brought forward from the Front Bench of an alternative description, and neither have we had any alternative proposals suggested by hon. or right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on this side of the House. It has only been suggested that we should go on carrying the banner of Free Trade aloft, and that then all will be well. I regret I cannot share that optimistic delusion. It does 2063 not seem to me that, without very careful organisation, without very great thought, we can possibly meet the perils and dangers that are coming to us in the future. It seems to me we are asked both for cooperation and assistance for the Commonwealth; We are asked to pay a loan. Why should we not be quite willing to do that. If we are willing to pay the loan we should be willing also to give an instalment on the loan. If a man owes another man £1,000, and says he will pay it, but he will not begin by paying £5 on account, his creditor may possibly doubt whether he will get the £1,000 at all. Hon. Members below the Gangway express the greatest possible sense of obligation towards the Empire, but if at the same time they will not make any concession to the known wishes and desires of the Dominions, they are in precisely the same position as people who refuse to pay an instalment on a loan which is due.
I would suggest that on this matter, in the absence of any alternative on which the House can vote, Members on these benches at any rate should not be led astray by the Free Trade banner, which after all will simply conduct them to limbo. They should at any rate vote for the first four of the Resolutions, which constitute really quite good Free Trade doctrine. As far as I am concerned I have never pretended to be a Free Trader, and why hon. Members below the Gangway should imagine that I am one I cannot understand. Both the elections I fought before coming into this House were against Liberals. The last Election also was a fight against a Liberal. I have never fought a Conservative and in my contest the question of Free Trade did not come in at all. It was simply a question as between different methods for the organisation of society. At the present time we are only at the beginning of a great expansion of the British Empire and the very great development of our tropical dependencies. I should very much like this country to persuade our brothers in the Commonwealth to enter into closer association with us in the development and exploitation of our enormous resources, with the deliberate object of raising the standard of life of the people of this country. That I believe is coming. I believe it is the only thing which will enable us to face some of the dangers 2064 which are also coming. There are perfectly definite dangers coming in the near future. I do not want to refer to them too darkly, but it is clear to anyone who looks a little forward that the whole question of the migration of races from one part of the world to another is going to become a very acute question indeed, and we are not going to be able to solve it- unless the British Empire is much more solidly organised than it is now.
For that reason I propose to vote for these four Resolutions, and I hope that a good many hon. Members on these benches will also vote for them and thus demonstrate their desire, sincerity and intention to make the Commonwealth of nations more united than it is at the present time. Preference by itself will not take us far enough. We must have Preference as part of a very much bigger scheme of Imperial organisation, and if we couple with that some kind of guarantee to improve the standard of life of the working people of this country I think all parties together will make a very long step in advance. At any rate, I feel sure that if this House passes these first four Resolutions it will have acted on the advice of the Prime Minister in the great speech which he made in the Albert Hall, when he referred to taking one step at a time. This step will be a step in the right direction, and it is one which I hope the House will take.
§ Captain BENN
I have listened to a good deal of this Debate, and I have been very much interested to notice that the one speech which has evoked wholehearted applause from the Opposition is the speech just made by a Socialist Member.
§ Captain BENN
I hope that that remark coming from the authoritative lips of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) will be inscribed on the banner of the Anti-Socialist Union, for it means that the real Socialists have far more in common with the Tories than with the Liberals. I hope too that the remark will be noted by many speakers above the Gangway who are always saying there is no difference between Tory and Liberal.
§ Captain BENN
I can assure the hon. Gentleman, who has tried seats in all parts of the House, that I am not angry at all. The hon. Member for North Southwark (Dr. Guest) explained that the fight to-day was not between him and us, but was between him and his own Front Bench. His speech has been a direct attack on his own Front Bench, and it is another indication that the excellent Government we now have is not in complete accord with its followers behind it, especially on some of these questions affecting the Empire. I hope that all these things will be noted by those who are interested in this question. I ventured, without I hope any offence, to raise a point of Order whether the hon. Member's speech really was relevant to the Debate which was in progress, not because I shirked the issues he was raising, but because I felt the hon. Gentleman's observations had nothing to do with the questions we were debating. The Debate to-night is on the Resolutions which have been moved by the Leader of the Opposition, and it is to those Resolutions that I propose to devote the few remarks I intend to make. The first proposition that I lay respectfully before the House is this: These Resolutions are said to be a gesture. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), in a fine flight of oratory, described them as a spiritual bond wherewith to bind the Empire. My first contention is that they are not a spiritual bond—that a tariff cannot be a spiritual bond. A tariff is a material thing: A spiritual bond is something of the spirit it has nothing to do with cash. The only people who are pleased with a tariff are the people who benefit by the tariff. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO!"] Let us see. We have had, in the last five years, various abortive attempts to set up tariffs in this country. I have never heard that a man who wanted a tariff on motor cars was pleased because you put a tariff on fabric gloves, for instance. What is meant by Preference is a preference, for one; it is no good saying it is a preference for anybody else. The bond is a material bond, and my contention is that an arrangement of this kind would do no more than satisfy a few people who benefit by that arrangement.
We have had figures given us from time to time of the actual value of the duty under this preferential arrangement, and 2066 if you compare that duty with the total amount of trade from the countries which enjoy the trade, excluding tea, spirits and sugar, you are driven to the conclusion that, at any rate, so far as this gesture is concerned, it is a gesture which can do no more than give a small material benefit to an extremely limited number of people. Anybody who has read the Report of the Conference, must be well aware that there is one thing more obvious than anything in the Debates, and that is that these preferences were not valued by those who were in the Conference for their own sake. No one pretended to value them for their own sake. They were valued because they were held out as a hope that this country was going to launch into a new and wider sphere of preference, in which the Dominions might hope to reap a material benefit. The speeches of the Dominion Prime Ministers are full of this matter. First, they said they desired a preference on things which would be of value; and, secondly, they emphasised the fact that the value of these preferences is not their value in themselves, but the hope they hold out that they will be extended. Take, for example, Mr. Massey's speech:Canada can make a tremendous increase in her wheat production.… Australia's principal export is probably wool.… New Zealand is rapidly becoming the dairy farm of the Empire.Then there was Mr. Bruce's statement, which was read out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon):I particularly mention foodstuffs and agricultural raw material.… It is no good our passing pious resolutions in favour of better preference to the Dominions, and ever dodging the great issue.Again, he said:The first method that naturally occurs to the mind.… is a protective tariff for British agriculture, with adequate preference for the Dominions.Then, Mr. Graham said:Coming specifically to the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we state what preferential duties would be of most advantage to our producers.… wheat obviously comes first.… Next in export importance among the grains comes barley.… Milling of wheat flour.… other agricultural products.… fishery products.… forest products.… metals and various manufactures.2067 That means to say that we have the clearest statement at the Conference of the fact, with which we are perfectly familiar, that the only way in which this material bond—for it is a material bond —can be made stronger and effective, is by doing something for the great products on which the Dominions depend. Then we come to the second point—the fact that these preferences are not valued for themselves, but because they are supposed to be an essay of something we propose to give. Let me quote two sentences in support of that. Mr. Bruce said:I am quite certain from the whole of their attitude that the British Government have every desire to make the Preference a real and effective Preference.Then Mr. Massey said:I look upon it that what we are doing now is only a commencement.And, again, Mr. Massey:I know this is only comparatively a small thing, hut it is an earnest of what is to follow.That is the view—and it cannot be challenged—which the Dominions take of this small essay in Preference. But what does the official spokesman for the time being of the British Government say at the Conference? He does not tell them these things are impossible, as we know they are impossible, but he encourages the hope that this small beginning will grow into greater things, and into the things they desire. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I will come to that, but let us first establish the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself held out the hope.I think it is inconceivable that in any part of the Empire the principle of preference.… should not go forward.… No one will say this Conference is the end.He goes further, and says:If people in this country are to form a final and considered opinion on whether or not they should have taxes upon basic food products,they would want certain information. That is to say, summing up this part of my argument, that the preferences themselves have no material value—spiritual value I deny. As regards material value, that they can only assist those persons whom they favour by turn; that those persons are small in number; that the preferences themselves are only valued 2068 by the Dominion spokesmen because they believe them to be an earnest of wider and greater preferences; and that that hope was itself held out to them by the official spokesman of the Government at the Conference.
I come to the interruption made by an hon. Gentleman opposite. The Dominions know that the only way in which you can create this bond—call it spiritual, if you like—is by giving a Preference upon their great products, their great trade—wheat, wool and so on, raw material. Are hon. Gentlemen opposite in favour of that? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, I am!"] Is the Front Bench in favour of that? That is the material point. May I ask for an answer? [An HON. MEMBER: "Wait and see!"] We are going to have a speech from the right bon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Major Tryon), and, no doubt, we shall get an answer. But what I am asking is this: Is all this gesture honest, or are you simply defrauding the Dominions? Everyone knows that this trumpery Preference on small products, unevenly distributed, favouring a few, and leaving great interests unfavoured, is nothing. The thing they want is a big Preference on their own big trade. Are you going to give it to them? I hope that we shall have a perfectly straightforward answer to that question to-night. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) would, of course, say, "Yes"; so would others; but are the official leaders of the Conservative party prepared to say that? That is the question which must be answered to-night. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or to-morrow?"] Yes, or to-morrow, if this Debate is to be of any service at all. Are they prepared to say that in dealing with this country that, in order to forward their scheme of Imperial Preference, they are going to lay taxes upon the food and the raw material of the consumers of this country? That must be answered. If so, then the consumers will say: "Why should we bear this additional burden, when we are already bearing a more than proportionate share of our burden of the War debt and a more than proportionate share of the burden of Imperial defence?"
I come now to the arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General 2069 Seely) and other hon. Members. These are arguments which have great sentimental weight. They say: "Why not go a little way? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), when Leader of the House, used to say: "We will not commit ourselves for the future. Let us go a little way along the road, and it will please the people; it cannot do any harm, and it will show a good will which must be of service in promoting the fraternity that exists between ourselves and our friends overseas." What is the answer to that? We have had a four years' working model of this matter. We have had these little preferences given in the shape of the McKenna Duties, the Safeguarding of Industries duties, and so on. Now by the mouth of the Chancellor of the Exchequer we discover he is standing to the letter of the Statute in this matter, and saying that where this thing exists we will give the preference that was laid down in 1919. But has it promoted good will? What is the object of this Debate to-day? It is a Debate to protest that the Empire is being disrupted because we are keeping the letter and not acting according to the spirit. I myself moved the first Amendment to the first Finance Bill in which this preference was indicated. I would remind the hon. Gentleman who represents one of the Sunderland Divisions, a member of the Labour party, that the Labour party in that Parliament supported that Amendment to wipe out the words "Imperial Preference" from that Finance Bill. Why? The reason was that it is the sort of thing that so far from leading to goodwill seems to produce friction. We have this experience here to-day. Here we are giving the preference that we promised; but because we have reduced our own duties we are told that the reduction of the duties, or the abolition of the duties, has created ill-will in the Empire and is disrupting the Empire. The working model has broken down. Let me support that view by one or two quotations. Take this one from the "Melbourne Argus," which admits that a system of tariff bargaining with its seedbeds of disputes and jealousies would have a disintegrating effect upon the Empire, yet thinks" that a Conference would be useful for the discussion of many matter of Imperial concern"— 2070 which have nothing whatever to do with Imperial Preference. Again, take what Mr. Massey says:Preference works wonders but it requires careful handling to avoid stirring up trouble.Again, we have Mr. David's Resolution in the Toronto Senate in favour of the suspension of Imperial Preference. He said:The proposed cancellation of the McKenna Duties is already the subject of much comment in which retaliatory duties are suggested.Or again, take Jamaica, where we have kept the letter of the law and reduced the duty on sugar. It would appear here that the elected Members of the Council, that is, the representative Members, argued.That the Home Government was out of touch with the Colonial ideals. Jamaica was unwilling to cut the painter but she must look after herself.
§ Captain BENN
I have read it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] The differences are there to which I have referred. Let me take the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham himself. I am quoting from "The Times," in which he, according to a speech which he recently delivered, said that he did not think the representatives of the overseas Governments were very generous bargainers. It was quite true that what they proposed was for our mutual advantage, but he thought they might give a little more in exchange for much of which they asked.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Colonel MORDEN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman calls upon the overseas Dominions. Does he forget that the difficulty with them is that for what they give they are getting no return from this country and its manufactures. Overseas Dominions are suffering from these preferences and getting nothing in return.
§ Captain BENN
My point is that however you go about these things you find these differences of opinion existing. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just interrupted seems to think that we have done nothing on this side.
§ Colonel MORDEN
These things are raised, not from this side but from the other side, who have given evidence of their goodwill, and have got nothing in return.
§ Captain BENN
That is a matter of opinion, but it would appear that the four years' Preference, so far from promoting Imperial concord, which we all desire, has promoted discord, as there is abundant evidence to show. My own opinion is that to bring in Preference, at all—and that was the opinion of the hon. Member opposite a few years ago—was a mistake, and that it would have been better to keep the whole thing out. It was a wrong step.
Sir H. COWAN
Will the hon. and gallant. Gentleman tell me whether at any time in Debate I have opposed Preference. I have never spoken against it.
§ Captain BENN
I accept the hon. Gentleman's word, though I know that for many years he was a loyal and dutiful supporter of the things that some of us here support. We have been told what is going to happen if we do not support this thing. I am old enough to remember exactly some of the speeches which were made by the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain 20 years ago when he told us in the beginning of the 20th century, if we did not do this thing, the Empire would fall to pieces—that it was necessary in order to bind together the Empire. That was prophecy. Has it been verified by the course of events? Very much the reverse. The great Dominions have grown up in that period of time when there was no Preference with this country; when this country was a Free Trade country and Preferences were not known. I hope I may say that we on this side are just as proud of the Commonwealth as are any other hon. Members. I would say this, if I myself were laying our case before the Dominion statesmen themselves: "There are two ideals of Empire which are totally different. There is the ideal of Empire of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and there is our ideal of Empire." Our idea of Empire is liberty, and your idea is restriction. Hon. Gentlemen 2072 opposite pretend to be Empire builders, but there is no party in the country that has done more to disrupt and destroy the Empire. When I first entered this House, 19 years ago, one of the first Debates I heard was one on the Constitution for South Africa, which was proposed by a Liberal Government. I remember that Mr. Balfour spoke in that Debate, and for greater accuracy as to what he said I have refreshed my memory by reading his speech. What did Mr. Balfour say about the Constitution of South Africa, with its great leaders and fine soldiers, the glory of which none will deny? He said of this scheme:If it be once interfered with from Downing Street it is destined to crumble like a pack of cards, and leave the British Empire a heap of unconnected ruins.That was the official view at that time. Mr. Balfour went on to say that this demand for a Constitution was the most reckless experiment ever tried, and that was his description of the Constitution of the Transvaal. Mr. Balfour went on to specify two men who in his judgment could not at that time be trusted, and who were they? They were General Smuts and General Botha and after that hon. Gentlemen opposite speak of themselves as Empire builders. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Ireland?"] If we have lost Ireland it was due to 100 years of Tory rule—
§ Captain BENN
Then I shall abandon what was to me an extremely instructive inquiry into the history of Tory interference. I have been asked what is our policy? My reply is, that it is liberty, and yours is restriction—tariff restriction and political restriction. Have hon. Members opposite forgotten the circular issued in 1920, pressing the Dependencies to give a preference to the produce of this country. Have they forgotten the attempt to control the export of hides and palm kernels? As regards this proposal, I would say to the Dominions that it is an attack—
§ Mr. A. CHAMBERLAIN
Let us know exactly where we stand. Is the hon. and gallant Member referring to the Coalition Government?
§ Captain BENN
Yes, the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was himself such a distinguished ornament.
§ Captain BENN
I think the light hon. Gentleman will admit that the Coalition Government got very little support from me and my hon. Friend. I say that this scheme of Imperial Preference is an attack upon the fiscal independence of the Dominions themselves. If anyone will read the opening speech of General Smuts at the Imperial Conference he will find that he points out that the independence of the Dominions was based upon their fiscal independence and then their political independence followed. This is an attack upon that independence. It tends to fetter us, but it binds them as well.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There are two other speeches to come before 11 o'clock, and these constant interruptions only prolong the Debate.
§ Captain BENN
This tariff propaganda is allied with all the evil things that came in consequence of the War. It is a denial of the great mission of our Commonwealth, not only of our own people but of the peoples of the world. I will quote some words from one who, in my opinion, is the greatest orator we have had in our clay (Mr. Winston Churchill), who said:The British Empire is held together by moral, not by material forces. It has grown up in liberty and silence. It has not persevered by restriction and vulgar brag. The greatest triumph of our race have been won not for Britain only, but for mankind.
§ Major TRYON
I think the House will perhaps agree with me if I leave the subject of South Africa and return to the question which we are discussing, namely, this Motion. Not for the first time the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has clearly indicated the real issues in this Debate. He has admitted that Preference is a great advantage to our trade, and he has acknowledged the trade we have got from it, and after those admissions he proceeded to take up the position that we should do absolutely nothing in response to the preferences which have been given to us. That is where we differ. The reason 2074 which the right hon. Gentleman gave, namely, that he objected to building up tariffs, does not apply to at least four of the Resolutions before the House, because what they propose is a reduction and not an increase of tariffs.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies, spoke with the approval of the whole House when he referred to the difficulties encountered by those great Colonial statesmen who came thousands of miles at the invitation of the British Government and who will now find that the agreements come to, which they thought were all settled, are in danger of being abandoned. I suggest that the House, taking into-account the natural feeling of regret which the right hon. Gentleman had, would do well, apart from all party considerations, to assent to these Resolutions, which would obviously get over the difficulty he felt, and would be an indication from all parties in the House that we do put our own Dominions before any foreigner, however friendly. I am very glad, if I may say so, that there has been so little of party feeling in this Debate, and that, after all, is proper and right in a discussion on Imperial Preference. I am one of those who cannot forget that in the days of Queen Victoria's Jubilee it was a Dutchman from South Africa who pro posed that a 2 per cent, duty should be put on all goods coming into the Empire, and that that money should be devoted to the maintenance of the defence of the Empire. What we should have gained in the years since 1887 in finance, in solidarity, and in strength from the carrying out of that proposal is a matter which it is not now worth while to discuss, for it is too late; but I would remind the House again that it was a French Canadian and a Liberal Prime Minister who first actually put Preference into operation in modern days, namely, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada.
§ Major TRYON
Because he wished for a united Empire; because he put the Mother Country ahead of other countries although he was a Liberal; and because he cultivated a love for Canada and the Mother Country.
§ Mr. HAYCOCK
Sir Wilfred Laurier got his mandate from the Canadian people on an unprotective tariff. He won his 2075 1906 election on a Free Trade ticket, and, when he got into power, introduced Preference in order to throw dust into the eyes of the people who had elected him.
§ Major TRYON
I think a charge like that against a great leader of the British people should not pass without comment from this House. I am a Conservative, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier was a Liberal, but I believe he was straight and honest, and I would remind the hon. Member that what Sir Wilfrid Laurier did was to reduce duties in order to give Preference, and that is what we are asking this House to do on the present occasion. [Interruption.] Unless the hon. Member wishes to apologise to the memory of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, I shall not give way. When we go further, it is again a Liberal whom I will quote. The first case in which in this country, in modern days, a Prime Minister in power adopted the suggestion that we and our Allies and our Dominions should co-operate in economic matters, was when, in 1915, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) adopted the Paris Resolutions. He told us that in that critical moment of the War, when he abandoned the Free Trade principle, when he definitely went in for the principle of Imperial co-operation, that was brought about by a very interesting circumstance. He told us that the Liberal party's eyes had been opened. The moment when the Liberal party's eyes were opened seems to be one when their opinion would appear to be of especial value and guidance to the country, and it certainly gave an opportunity to their leader to carry out his proverbial philosophy, which is embodied in three short words, under the very best possible conditions. I only hope that the principle of keeping their eyes open will be maintained throughout this critical period.
The next, incident was in 1917, and at this point I should like to reply to one point made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He said that these questions were so awkward. A government came to a decision, and then, perhaps, the Government went out, and the Dominions could not be sure of what would be done after that. That is a quite legitimate point, and the right hon. Gentleman's 2076 solution was that the Opposition should be called in. If ever it was possible to secure something of that sort, it was in 1917, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister, when the Home Secretary was a Member of the Government, and when we had the advantage which we acknowledge quite frankly, of the present Leader of the House joining the Government—it was at that moment when the principle for which we are now speaking was adopted, namely, that each part of the Empire shall give specially favourable terms and facilities to the produce and manufactures of other parts of the Empire. That is what we are voting on to-night. When the Secretary of State for the Colonies says we ought to unite all parties, how will you ever get nearer to uniting all parties than when you had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) as Prime Minister and the Conservative party working with him, and the Government also contained the present Home Secretary and the present Leader of the House. We have avoided all party questions, but I hope, as one who has fought six elections sincerely believing in the policy of Imperial Preference, I may be allowed to say how happy it was for us who worked so hard for that policy to think it was my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) who was Chancellor of the Exchequer and actually brought the principle of these Resolutions into effect.
Going on from that, we come to another point. Mr. Bonar Law, forming his Government, took, as we have already been told, as his first big step the summoning of a Conference from all parts of the Empire. Every part was represented. They were reinforced by the skill and advice of many leading experts in manufacture and in finance, and the result of that Conference is what we are voting on to-night. I can hardly imagine any circumstances under which an Empire could arrive at a more unanimous or more authoritative decision. When I think of the treaties we make with foreign Powers and the undertakings we give to embark, let us say, on a housing policy for 15 years and various long term commitments, it seems to me it would be a grave error if this House, 2077 which has an opportunity in this case of making some concession back to our Dominions by the remission of duties in certain cases, should turn it aside and reject the decision arrived at under these circumstances. I wish to make no party point. It is quite obvious that the Government, in their desire to deal with the question of unemployment, should turn in every direction, but one cannot help contrasting the action of a Labour Government, which on coming into power at once summoned a conference, not with our own Dominions but with the Government of Russia. I do not wish to make a party point against the form of government in Russia, but when you think that the trade we had with Russia, before she was reduced to her present chaos, was less than the trade we had with one single Dominion—New Zealand—to suggest that we can find any remedy for our present discontent in our trade with Russia, is to show an absolute lack of proportion, because the trade of the Empire is something so infinitely greater than anything we have now, or are likely to have, with the people of Russia.
In the same way when we are told our trade may be restored by some better understanding in Europe or by restoring trade with Germany, I cannot help remembering that Germany, in many matters, is our trade rival. In some small village, let us say, where everything was in a bad state and the grocer was doing badly, he might very well say, "When wages are better and the village is more prosperous I shall be able to sell more," but I could never imagine any grocer would say, "What is hitting me is that my rival's house has been burnt down, and until the other grocer gets his business going I shall never be able to do any trade." The trade of Germany is very often in rivalry with ours, and although we wish to say nothing to the disadvantage of trade with anyone, it is not the same sort of trade as the trade we do with our own Dominions.
One point I think requires to be made perfectly clear. Some doubt seems to have been thrown, particularly by the last speaker, upon the value of Preference. He talks of what we have done for our Dominions as a paltry thing. We all value his intervention because of his obvious sincerity. I was very glad to see that he was going to speak. When he speaks of the value of Preference to 2078 the Dominions, I think he will agree that the representatives of the Dominions speak with higher authority. We find that the proposals of the late Government to South Africa were spoken of by the representatives of South Africa as being of very great assistance to them. I find that with regard to the Preference to Australia, Mr. Bruce said:—I certainly wish to associate myself with Mr. Graham in expressing Australia's appreciation of the proposal.When it is said that we can do nothing for the Dominions except by taxes on food, I would recall that under the McKenna Duties Preference, Canada was doing a very big trade with us in motor cars. I think that rather more than half the motor cars that come into this country came from within the British Empire. Whatever may be true of 20 years ago, we must bring our Debates up to date and remember that new preferences have a great advantage for the Dominions which may not have been of any value to them at the time when certain speeches which have been quoted were made.
There is a rather curious point in connection with these Resolutions as to whether it is right for us to stabilise a particular Preference in regard to the Sugar Duties for a period of 10 years. We have heard quoted, with great approval, a speech made by Mr. Winston Churchill. I would like to quote another.
§ Major TRYON
He was at the time a Liberal. He said that in 1922:I myself, with the full assent of the Government and the Prime Minister of the day "—He meant the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs—declare that the Preference which had been given in respect to sugar to the West Indian Islands should be continued for a period of 10 years.Therefore, that was the opinion of a-Liberal Prime Minister. It is a little difficult for us to speak to the West Indies and to say that we cannot give them a Preference for 10 years because we cannot pass such a thing through our Parliament, when, as a matter of fact, the Canadian Government have passed through their Parliament a treaty or arrangement with the West Indies which 2079 gives them a Preference for 10 years. What the Canadian Parliament can do, I imagine that we should have an equal right to do.
There is a wider question, and it is a difficult and a big issue, and that is, whether we have a right to reserve and specialise the trade of so large a portion of the earth. That is a legitimate point and one which should be treated as weighty. I fail to see why we should not do that, because we regard the British Empire as a unit. We consider that this country has a right to conclude any tariff arrangements we like, say, with New Zealand. We have as much right to do that, or perhaps more, than has the United States the right to include Puerto Rico within her tariff system. The Liberal party have pointed out that we do not buy these things with gold, but that we get our imports by the sale and manufacture of certain products.
Before the War I went into this question, and I made out then that three countries, France, the United States of America and Russia had systems of Preference or Protection under which about one-half of the lands of the world outside our Empire were reserved. Since then we have had a great War and new countries have been formed in Europe, all of which have adopted, as far as I know, some form of Protection. We have seen in the Empire itself that Free Trade; which is in a somewhat parlous condition, oven in the Liberal party: at the present time, has never in the long run survived the grant of self-government to any of our Dominions. That does not prove that it is right or wrong, but it shows that markets have been reserved all over the world and that particular things which are excluded by those tariffs are the very things we wish to sell, namely manufactures, and it is through these manufactures that we get our imports.
I know that the Liberal party say that these things are a matter of triangular exchange. We have possibly a wealthy shipowner who has dividends. With those dividends and the profits of his ships and the services rendered to other countries he has the power to import. Suppose he buys with those profits a motor car in this country, the workpeople here get their wages, and they are able with those wages 2080 to import something from overseas, and that, as I understand the doctrine of the triangle, is set against the profits of the shipowner. You may simplify it by saying that he may import direct. While shipping is a big and essential industry it is by manufactures alone that you can employ our people. You cannot have 40,000,000 people living on ships or services rendered such as banking. It is from manufactures that the mass of our people get employment. Unless we can export we cannot have the power to import. That is why these preferences are of such enormous value to us, because these Dominions take what we want to export—those manufactures.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley told us that while we have here a Free Trade policy it is easier for the Dominions who have a tariff to give a Preference because, as he put it very accurately, they can take off a few bricks in our favour. These particular Resolutions are taking off a few bricks in this country. The first four Resolutions are a reduction in duty. Furthermore, it is not the case, as several Members have argued, that what the Dominions do is to put on such a tariff that we cannot sell to them, and that they give a tariff in our favour which is of no value to us. That is not what happens. One hon. Member who spoke has been associated with the cotton trade. In the case of cotton goods, Australia is not a Protectionist country. They do not manufacture these cotton goods, but they put a tariff of 5 per cent, against foreign cotton goods, admitting British goods free. They found that that was not enough. Therefore the Australian Government raised the tariff against the importation of foreign cotton goods to 15 per cent., leaving our goods free. In that case the whole argument about the brick wall built up to keep everybody out does not apply at all. We have this very extensive list, called a free list, of things which go to many Dominions without any tax at all. The whole of the duty is put on against the foreigner, and not against us.
§ Major TRYON
I am talking of cotton, but I believe that in every case our trade to Australia is very satisfactory. It amounts to £60,000.000 a year. I think 2081 that the best answer is that the sales which we make to Australia are greater than the sales to the United States, Germany or France, and there are only 5,500,000 people in Australia. My next point is based on the question of emigration. Take the Murray River and the Motion which is now being discussed before the House. We say that when you want lower duties the duties are going to be lowered. For the people who want to move out of this country, there will be an opportunity afforded by emigration, and when they get out there they will grow more fruit for us, which is to come into this country free of all duty. This will give them the opportunity to trade with us. If they succeed, they will become our customers, and this will help to relieve unemployment, and so we get the lower duties, increased trade, emigration of people who want better opportunities, and more employment for those who are loft behind.
That leads me to my next point—shipping. Could anything be better for the shipping trade than that it should be employed, first, in taking out these families, afterwards in bringing back their produce, and then in taking out the produce of this country? Yet I am told that Imperial Preference would injure our shipping trade. Reference has been made to the United States. It is true that in the United States when they went in for a system of economic development in their own territories, they developed an enormous railway system. That was because their land territories were so extensive. A portion of their trade is on the Great Lakes, but in the main it is trade on land territory. Our trade with our Dominions, if developed, must necessarily be trade which, goes in ships, and I hold that the British shipping trade would be developed by Imperial Preference. We have heard many speeches from Liberal Members to-day. I would remind them of closing scones in their great campaign during the last General Election. After a somewhat frantic fortnight of oratory, one of their leaders, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, came down to my constituency. The whole campaign worked up to a climax. I gathered from him that a system of Imperial Preference would ruin our trade, would break our Empire, and. 2082 more than that, would be very bad for watering places. The House will have anticipated that the speech was made in Brighton. In an impassioned ending to his speech the right hon. Gentleman said, "Why is it that in Free Trade England we have so many more watering places than they have on the protected Continent?" A man at the back of the hall said, "Because we have more water." I hope that shipping will benefit by Imperial Preference because, as the right hon. Gentleman was informed when he came to Brighton, "We have more water."
Two Liberal speakers to-day have challenged the idea that there is any value in Imperial Preference. I know that there are differences in the Liberal party. That must have leaked out in the present Debate. At all events, in this particular argument we are able to unite-both their Leaders. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said:Let me express our appreciation of the enormous advantage conferred upon British manufacturers by the Preference given in the Colonial markets.The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) said:As regards the Canadian tariff, I acknowledge that it has been beneficial to British trade, and particularly, I think, to the textile industries.What we are going to vote on is not the question of food taxes. The right hon. Member for Spen Valley told us that there was a day in this country when a shilling was imposed on all imported wheat, and the Free Traders did not object to that.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I speak subject to correction, but I think that the shilling was put on by a very well-known Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer in the middle of a war.
§ Major TRYON
I understood that the right hon. Gentleman quoted him as being a Free Trader. Here we have an opportunity of taking off duties, of getting freer trade and of making some concessions which may mean everything to the people as regards employment, and I urge the House not to take the party line but to support the Resolutions. The main issue is: Will this policy unite us with our Dominions, or will it not? That is what really matters. Throughout, this Debate has been a tribute to the 2083 importance of co-operation and union. It was said that we lost our American Colonies through some system of tariffs, but at the Philadelphia Congress, when the War of Independence was about to begin, the American Colonies set out all their grievances against the Mother Country; they were at that moment trying to accumulate grievances and make out a case for themselves against the Mother Country, and yet even at that moment when war was imminent, when their anger against the Mother Country was growing, they passed a Resolution stating that they would cheerfully consent to the operation of such acts as the British Parliament passed bona fide for the regulation of external commerce for the purpose of securing commercial advantages to the whole Empire and the commercial benefit of its respective members. Look at the United States, which was nothing but a series of scattered colonies, hard to unite, and you find that Alexander Hamilton united them by a Zollverein which bound them together. If you look at Germany you will see that Mr. Richard Cobden going there said the Zollverein would unite Germany into one great Empire. Mr. Richard Cobden's prophecies are not subjects which can be pursued with advantage by his supporters, but in this case he was right. We agree with him; we believe that a system of economic co-operation with our Dominions will lead to closer union and that we should go forward in that direction and in friendship with all who work towards the conscious development of our Empire.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am bound to admit that I looked forward to this Debate with some anxiety, because there could be nothing more likely to create friction between us and our Colonies than an acrimonious Debate on this question which affects so intimately the various self-governing Colonies. But I am bound to say that so far the Debate has produced no serious dangers such as those which I am sure we are all anxious to avoid. I am perfectly convinced that it is essential that we on this side should make quite clear that we are as interested in a united Empire as any other party in the House and that we seriously believe that the lines along which we propose to proceed are more likely to secure that unity in perpetuity than the lines proposed 2084 by the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the first place we ought to make it quite clear that we want to increase our trade with the Colonies, but add this proviso—we also want to increase our trade with other countries. I did not like that section of the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Brighton, which referred to our trade with Russia as though it was an alternative to our trade with the Colonies. Goodness knows we want all the trade we can get, whether from Russia or from the Colonies, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should not criticise us for trying to get trade with Russia, as if it was a contrast to trade with the Colonies. It seemed to me that the section of his speech in which he referred to Germany was equally unfortunate. If I may say so in reference to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, it betrayed the grocer's mind. He said, "Suppose there were two grocers' shops and one by accident was burned down, would not it be much better for the other grocer? That is looking at the thing from the grocer's point of view. We have to look at it from the point of view of the customers of the grocer. We want as many grocers' shops as possible, and we want as large a supply of all the necessaries of life as we can get. Our complaint against the Preference scheme put forward by the party opposite is that it will close down some grocers' shops and put an obstruction on them. It means that the consumers of this country will have to pay slightly more for the goods they purchase. That is the essence of Preference. If Preference is to be effective—and it is only effective Preference that we need talk about tonight—it means that the consumer is going to pay a slightly bigger price to the Colonial producer than the Colonial producer would otherwise get. Therefore, the customers of the grocers' shops are going to be taxed, and if they are going to be taxed they will not be able to buy as much goods or trade as much with other countries as they would if they were not taxed.
I know that hon. and right hon. Members opposite continually believe that a time must come when free traders' eyes will be opened, when we shall see with their eyes. We might reply to them that we are not like hon. Gentlemen 2085 opposite and that we do not change our views with every election. We do not come before the country saying that Protection is the only thing to save this country's trade and to reduce unemployment, and then, when the election goes against us, say we made a mistake and we will drop it. Two and two still make four in our economics, whether an election goes for us or against us. It is for that mason that we deprecate this idea of urging that you can make people prosperous by taxing them. If you tax them in that way, particularly if you tax the poorest people in the country, you make their position more difficult, you make them less able to satisfy their wants and less able to employ people in satisfying those wants. But let us understand, let us quite clearly say, that we are deeply grateful to every Colony that gives us a Preference in their market, and we are grateful to them for that Preference, and we hope that they will increase that Preference. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because we benefit by that Preference. We hope that they will increase this Preference, but we are grateful to our fellow subjects in the Empire for a great many more reasons than for a Preference of this kind.
It ill-becomes us to talk too much about the £ s. d. side of our Empire when we think of the Australians in the War. I remember, and so do other hon. Members of this House, the bad days of August, 1918, when the Australian Army, people whom we ridiculed for their indiscipline in the earlier years of the War, became the spear point of the Grand Army which broke Germany That is something which weighs with us much more than any Tariff Preference., and, believe me, it is not all on one side either. Hon. Members opposite speak as though the only return we could make to the Australians for their Preferential Tariff or their services in the War was a return in the same coin, but that is not so. The return we make to the Australians is to increase their self-respect, to make them proud of the Empire. The right hon. Gentleman the late Prime Minister will, I suppose, go down to immortality for two things. He was the initiator of the Conference last year, the prime mover of the Conference, and the prime mover of the scheme for solving our troubles by a protective and Preferential Tariff, 2086 but he was also, I believe, the hero of something else, and I am inclined to think that his second action will do more to unite the Empire than any possible scheme of Empire Preference, because it will raise the whole self-respect of the whole British Empire. I do not know whether it is true, but I have heard it said, and I have never seen it denied, that the right hon. Gentleman cancelled £100,000 War Loan which he held. That has never been done by any other Prime Minister in any other country in the world to meet any situation whatsoever. I think in doing that, and without mentioning it to a soul, he did something which is of more value for every one of our self-governing Dominions than a tariff. It creates the self-respect of Great Britain which makes this Empire. We are tied together by the knowledge that we are, after all, the most unselfish nation in the world, and the most peace-loving nation in the world. It is something to have a good name. Just consider how we stand with the records of other Governments. There never has been in this country a whisper of corruption or graft. There has never been a suggestion that any Government—
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
There never has been any question of any Member of the Government making money for himself out of his office. That cannot so well be said of any other of our Colonies or of any foreign country. It is a reputation which is of real value to the British Empire.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MEYLER
Does the right hon. Gentleman insinuate that, say the Members of the South African Government, have made money out of graft?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member will admit that the principal incitement to graft is the question of protective tariffs. There is not a Member opposite who does not regard—
Sir H. COWAN
Has the hon. Gentleman any right to make this insinuation against the Members of the Dominion Parliament? [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"]
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I certainly made it against no Government personally. The advantage we have over other Governments is that we have, by preserving Free Trade and clean bands in dealing with all political matters, given England a position in the world which we ought to maintain at all costs, and that is an asset to the whole Empire which is of value to Canada and Australia. When you talk about unity of Empire by binding the Empire together, you can do that far better by creating self-respect than by creating bonds which depend on tariffs and subsidies. We are very grateful for these preferences, but we do beg our fellow citizens in the Colonies not to ask us, in return for these subsidies, to levy taxation upon the poor working men of this country, who have a heavy struggle to make both ends meet. They are better off in the Colonies than the working men are here. Do not let us take the suggestion' of putting taxes on food as the suggestion of the Australian workingman. The position in this country is such to-day that we cannot possibly afford to allow any additional, taxation on the working classes. I do not believe that the Colonials or the people in the Dependencies would ask us to do that if they saw the position we are in to-day. If anything is to be done to cement Imperial trade, if anything is to be done to bind the Empire together, it will not be bound merely by material considerations. Whatever is done let the cost be borne by the general taxation of the country as a whole without imposing a burden on the shoulders of those least able to bear it. The hon. Member for North Southwark (Dr. Haden Guest) said he was going to vote for the first four Resolutions. How does he square that with his opinions as a Socialist believing in international brotherhood? You cannot create any permanent advantage by setting up barriers of this kind between the peoples of the world.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sorry I have only two or three minutes in which to speak. T have been in the House to-day for the first time since I have been a Member with an absolutely open mind, willing to be persuaded. While it has been very entertaining, I have not heard anything to carry conviction either from hon. Gentlemen opposite or from the advocates of Free Trade below the Gangway. I am sorry I missed some of the speeches which 2088 came from the Front Bench on this side, but I understand they have been similar in tenour to those that have come from below the Gangway. One point has struck me very forcibly in the whole course of the Debate, and that is, that every speaker who has spoken has talked about Australia and Canada trading with us. That, however, does not happen. As I understand it, certain individuals in Australia, or in the United States, or in Canada, do the trading, and these individuals may be in the United States of America good Scotsmen, or in Canada they may be German Jews, or in Australia they may be German Greeks. I for one cannot see how we are going to do something of advantage to the working people of Australia or Canada or other parts of the Empire by granting a preference to some commercial individual in either one or other of these Colonies. On the other hand I cannot see how we are going to help the British working man by saying to him that any goods that are produced anywhere under any conditions whatever in sweated dens or in swindlers' backshops should be allowed to come into this country without stop or barrier irrespective of the effect that they may have on the lives of our people. I would be prepared to go into the country at any time and fight hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway in trying to protect the people of this country against the importation of such goods. I would treat the sweater of foreign origin in exactly the same way as I would treat the sweater in this country. It has struck me in the course of this debate that the difference between the contending sides is this, that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway want to buy Imperial feeling on the cheap, while the others opposite want to buy it for nothing at all.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders u ere read, and postponed.