HC Deb 21 May 1924 vol 173 cc2307-54

I beg to move, That a committee be appointed to consider the position of our export trade and the means to be taken to obtain the necessary markets; that the committee shall consist of a judge of the High Court as chairman and six Members of the House of Commons, two of whom to be nominated by the Government, two by the Conservative party, and two by the Liberal party; that three of the Members shall be Cabinet or ex-Cabinet Ministers and the other three shall possess business or trade qualifications; and that the committee be requested to report to the House prior to the Summer Recess. I would ask my fellow Members on this occasion to divest themselves of all party feeling and to examine the position in the light of present circumstances, and to consider what steps can be taken to meet a crying danger. I hope that they will recognise that the dogmas of the 18th century and the dogmas of the 19th century can have but little bearing upon the position of to-day. Our population is over 40,000,000. In England we have 649 people per square mile, and in Scotland 164 per square mile. Great Britain cannot produce either the food for her people or the raw material on which they can work. We have to buy enormous quantities abroad and to import them. In 1922 we paid £470,000,000 for food, tobacco and drink, and we paid nearly £300,000,000 for the raw materials for our factories. In addition, we purchased manufactured goods to the extent of over £560,000,000. [HON MEMBERS: "NO!"] I can give you the Board of Trade figures, which are in my pocket. We paid for these imports by the sale of over £750,000,000 of manufactured goods, coal and raw material, by the work we did for people in other countries, such as shipping, banking and insurance, and by the use of the interest on accrued capital. We cannot produce one quarter of our foodstuff and we have to buy abroad. We must sell our manufactured goods and work for other people in order to pay for the imports. The time is fast approaching when we must either make fresh arrangements for dealing with the export of our manufactured goods or we must weaken our country by excessive emigration.

My fear for the export business is based largely upon the fact that many countries in Europe are no longer in a position to pay for the goods which they require, unless they can find markets in which to sell the goods which they themselves manufacture. But almost every country in Europe can manufacture as cheaply as we can. With education, with modern machinery that is doing away with the skill of the handworker, with rapid transportation, with telegraphy and wireless, there is little reason why one country should manufacture more cheaply than any other civilised country. The great markets for manufactured goods in the future must be found largely, I believe, in the Eastern hemisphere, where the hot sun is inclined to produce a disinclination for labour, save that needed to encourage Nature to produce her own fruits, which can be shipped in payment for the manufactured goods produced in more temperate climates. I would like to deal with three or four of our biggest exports in the past. Take coal, for instance. It now costs 75 per cent. more than it cost before the War, and, in addition, you have a high cost of transport. No-one can claim, considering the cost of living, that the wage either of the miner or of the sailor is commensurate with the value of their work. In addition, in some countries coal is not needed as much as in olden days. We have now electricity produced by water power, not only on the American continent, but in Italy, where the demand for coal is not nearly as great as it once was. Other countries are going ahead with electricity. Then we have liquid fuel and natural gas in some countries, and these may become a factor in manufactures.

Take cotton goods. We all realise that our exports in olden days consisted very largely of cotton and woollen goods. I was reading not long ago the statistics for 1828, 1829 and 1830, and I discovered that our total exports of produce and manufactured goods made in England amounted to £35,000,000 to £36,000,000, and that only £22,000,000 consisted of cotton and woollen goods. We have always been accustomed to rely on the American cotton crop for our raw material, but those of us who know something about the cotton crops in America fully believe that it is almost impossible to get larger crops than from 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 bales per annum; unless there is some new method of picking adopted we cannot count upon getting more than 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 bales from America. America is using large quantities of cotton herself, and she is bound to go on using more, and the day is not far distant when America will use the whole of her crop and ship manufactured goods instead of the raw material. Unless we can arrange to obtain our cotton in sufficient quantities at reasonable prices, the outlook for our cotton exports is uncommonly bad. In the Empire there are places like Pondoland and Rhodesia, to say nothing of the Sudan and other places, in which experts agree that illimitable quantities of cotton can be produced and picked and exported. I know this question is being studied and that work is being done in connection with it, but the call of our manufacturers and workers is so strong that we ought to make a point that nothing is left undone to ensure our getting the cotton we require. As to wool, there is nothing to prevent the various portions of the Empire from selling both wool and rubber to foreign countries and allowing them to use it for their own factories, unless some arrangement can be made between the component parts of the Empire.

Let me say a word about our shipping, because our export business depends very largely on our shipping. We can still expect to make profits out of it, but we must not overlook the fact that America is determined to have a big merchant fleet of her own, and if by any chance the flag discrimination contained in the Jones Bill is adopted, there is no doubt that many of the cargoes that our ships have been accustomed to carry will not be forthcoming. One of the greatest troubles of the shipping world is that so many ships have been built in the past few years. We have to-day some 667,000 tons of British shipping lying idle for which there is no employment and many charters are made to-day at rates which are not profitable. We can only hope that confidence will be restored in Europe at an early date, that European markets may be revived and remunerative international trade again carried on.

Europe, however, cannot provide the food and the raw materials for which we have to pay in cash. The cash as we know is obtained by the sale of our manufactured goods, by the interest on our investments and by services rendered. I am heartily in favour of doing everything in our power to help the reconstruction of European trade, but prices in Europe may be too low to permit of a living wage being paid to the British worker who manufactures the goods. I believe the time has come when we should try to find new markets to add to the old markets. I believe they can be found. May I remind the House briefly of how our trade was built up, because, looking at the circumstances to-day, we should realise the vicissitudes through which we have passed. Until the time of Queen Elizabeth we were a pastoral country; we were not colonising then to any extent. Holland, Portugal, Spain had gone ahead with their colonies, but it was not until Spain with wealth collected from the East built the Armada and tried to conquer England that we were roused up and went in for colonising. We built up markets throughout the world and carried on a fair trade. Hegel, the great German philosopher, wrote of England: The material existence of England is based on commerce and industry and the English have undertaken the weighty responsibility of being missionaries of civilisation to the world for their commercial spirit urges them to traverse every sea and land, and to form connections with barbarous peoples, to create wants and stimulate industry and, first and foremost, to establish among them the condition necessary to commerce, namely, the relinquishment of a life of violence, respect for property, civility to strangers. Then came the European wars of the 18th century, followed by the Napoleonic Wars. England was the only great country which was not invaded and devastated. She progressed in her manufacturing, owing to the enterprise and energy of our merchants and manufacturers and the brains and ingenuity of men like Arkwright, Cartwright, Hargreaves, Watt, Stephenson, and men like them, who revolutionised the methods of manufacture and the means of transport. When the wars were over, we found ourselves in a position to supply the devastated countries with manufactured goods. We had, however, great distress among the working classes in England—greater than to-day—and very low wages. I think it was due to the belief that if the import taxes on food were taken off there would be a reduction in the cost of living and a cheaper cost of production, that the so-called Free Trade we have had for some years was brought about. It was then that our merchants and manufacturers felt that the Colonial markets were useless, because trade was then carried on by means of sailing ships. There were neither cables nor a fast letter post, and long periods had to elapse before any returns could come in from the cargoes that were shipped. It meant that money used in that way was only turned over once, while money used in European business could be turned over two or three times. I desire that this should be neither a Protectionist speech nor a Free Trade speech. As far as I can, I will steer clear of both. I would point out, however, that it was only when the European market came along—and it was a good market—that our merchants and manufacturers thought it was not necessary to keep up the Colonial markets. It was then that Cobden used the celebrated words: The colonial system with all its dazzling appeals to the passions of the people can never be got rid of except by the indirect process of Free Trade which will gradually weaken the ties which unite the Colonies to us through a mistaken idea of self-interest. We want all the European trade we can get. Undoubtedly we made money out of it, and good money, and there are many rich men who can truthfully say that their family fortunes were founded in those days. To-day, however, I am sure the House will agree with me when I say the European markets are not promising, and it seems to me that the time has come when to carry on a proper export business we should strive urgently to get other markets to add to the old markets. I am asking that a Committee shall be appointed to look into this matter, and I am sure hon. Members realise the sort of Committee which I have in mind. I suggest there should be a Judge of the High Court as Chairman and six Members of the House of Commons, two nominated by the Government, two by the Conservative party, and two by the Liberal party. Three of the members, I suggest, should be Cabinet Ministers or ex-Cabinet Ministers, and the other three should possess business or trade qualifications. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I can tell hon. Members why. I want this Committee when it reports to the country to have behind its Report men who are entirely regardless of their political labels, men who are known to the country as good servants of the State. I hope the Committee will not look at the matter from any party standpoint, but will go into the question to see what can be done to increase our export business. If the Committee is appointed—and I trust the President of the Board of Trade will see his way to recommend it—I hope their meetings will be held in public and that the evidence will be given before the public, so that the people of England may know our exact position. We all acknowledge that our country has been through a very hard time. It has had a vast load to carry, but we are not beaten. We have been through many serious times before, and I recall what Emerson said about us after the Crimean War: I see her, not dispirited, not weak, well remembering that she has seen dark days before—indeed with a kind of instinct that she always sees a little better on a cloudy day, and that in storm of battle and calamity she has a secret vigour and a pulse like cannon. I see her in her old age, not decrepit, but still young, still daring to believe in her power of endurance and expansion, and seeing this, I say: 'All hail.' That is what an American said about us after the Crimean War, when we were going through hard days. To-day we are going through them, but if our country will only recollect her great past, her power in forcing forward civilisation and in keeping peace, if she will only recollect that she has in the Empire a great body of civilised people who want to see peace maintained and commerce pursued, and if we can get a committee that will go into this question and report to this House the beet steps to take in order to produce the desired markets, I believe it will be good for us.


I beg to second the Motion.

I do so, perhaps, from entirely different motives from those which have prompted my hon. Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Sir A. S. Benn) in moving it, and in order that there may be no suggestion in this House that there is a monopoly in any one party of the desire to advance what may make for the prosperity of this country. While there is no monopoly in patriotism, neither is there any monopoly in the desire for the well-being of the whole of this country, and I hope it is not to be taken as evidence of the interest of the party opposite that the benches there have been so sparsely attended this evening to support my hon. Friend. I am supporting this Motion in the belief that everyone recognises to-day that anything that can be done to exploit the possibilities of new markets should be done, and if it is to be done by any one political organisation, no matter how good the intentions may be or how well conducted the inquiry may be, whatever the result, it will be tainted and there will be suspicion attached to it. Therefore, when the proposal is made that there shall be an investigation devoid of any kind of political bias or political colour, I, as a free trader, stand here and co-operate In that proposal. While my hon. Friend has made the suggestion that the industries of this country can be traced, I am not going to be diverted from what, perhaps, is the proper spirit in seconding a non-political Motion to state what, in my opinion, has contributed to the great success and the material well-being of this country. Otherwise, we might immediately be at cross purposes in reference to that which brought the results about.

We are faced to-day with a desire on every hand for more work. It is useless to make suggestions for insurance in connection with every kind of employment, and with all the risks associated with industry, unless, at the same time, we devote our energies towards the extension of the means for employment as well as covering the risks of that employment. Thus, to-day I welcome any kind of inquiry which will go forward with the imprimatur of this House, without a bias, but with the one desire to see if it be possible to recommend to this House steps that may be taken for the extension of confidence, the development of credits, and the furtherance of co-operation between ail those engaged in industry. There are three things needed in connection with industry to-day. We must have cheap raw materials, we must have the most efficient labour, and we must have the most economical transport connected with the things that we produce. If we have those things, it will be idle to suggest that it is in the interests of any one class or section concerned with industry to promote it. It is in the interests of all. We are all mutually dependent one upon the other. We have been taunted in times past with being a nation of shopkeepers, but we are not a nation of shopkeepers simply selling goods one to the other. We are a nation of shopkeepers for supplying goods to the world, and we can continue in that proud position if we are alert, in the other parts of the world, for the development of markets which are available to us, if we can only extend in peace what we extended in war.

During the War, we went to the help of nations and advanced huge sums of money that we shall never see again. If we advanced those huge sums of money in reference to that which was war, surely we can be advancing money in reference to that which is industry, for the building up of peace as well as for destruction in war, and I am hopeful that the inquiry that may be instituted may show that it will be possible for international credits to be extended in connection with those who want our goods, because we have to remember that there are six years of arrears in reference to manufactures which we can produce better than any other nation in the world, but the people are unable to buy them. If we could extend the credits, give them sufficient time, lay hold of those means of inducing them to believe that they can obtain the goods and pay afterwards, with the credit of the manufacturers who produce the goods, then we shall be advancing some kind of result which, without Government support, cannot possibly be expected. Time was when we in this country supplied the whole civilised world with power. Boulton and Watt established in this country that which every civilised monarch in the world in those days came here to see. Foreign monarchs visited the Soho works, Birmingham, for the purpose of finding out what was going to revolutionise industry by the cheap mechanical power then obtainable. Later on, we developed, in connection with our mills and in our looms, further processes, which also enabled us to supply the world with that which they could not produce themselves. To-day, one living man, Sir Charles Parsons, has supplied, and is supplying, the world with the cheapest kind of mechanical power known since the day of James Watt. We are doing that, and we are never afraid of competition in reference to that which relates to the engineering and the mechanical skill of this country, and while that is so, it certainly means that the markets that are available can be supplied by our men to-day exactly as they were supplied in the past.

While the time has gone by when they needed to come to us for all these things, we have built up rivals by sending our own skilled men into those countries which produce to-day that which they previously bought from us. We have cultivated our own rivals, we have educated the world industrially, we have educated the whole civilised world mechanically, and, while that has been done, it is idle to-day to say that we have no energy available for going further afield and finding what else may be done for the benefit of those who to-day have doles rather than ample wages. I am an engineer, and I am proud of the race to which I belong, proud of the possibilities that English engineering has always shown. We have the best mechanics in the whole world. I know America well, I have been there regularly for the last 27 years, so that I know something of that about which I am talking. The mechanics of America cannot touch the mechanics of England. The skill we have cannot be found there. They are too mechanically trained; they are too much dragooned; they are too much machined, and too much limited in what they do. With the possibilities we have here, I ask the House not to look upon this as a question which belongs to this side, or that side, or the other side. It belongs to us all, and we have got to go out to meet it.

While it may seem strange to some of my hon. Friends that I should be seconding a Motion which is submitted by one who has made himself distinguished in a matter on which I shall fight him as long as I live, he is not proposing it from the point of view of the old standpoints and old errors which have so blinded his eyes in the past, and I am seconding it in the belief that all that has been proposed in the past by one party or another will fail if it is to be linked up to the prejudices, to the passions, to the bitter disappointments of one side and the other, due to the disbelief each has in the motives of the other. Therefore, I am asking that we shall, for once, divest ourseves of this prejudice of one side against the other, and that we shall all co-operate, if possible, to produce a result that will bring employment. It is no use to talk about more insurance; it is no use to advocate greater security, unless we are going to fill our workshops with new work. During the War, it was my good fortune, associated with my fellow-engineers, to ask them, and to obtain from them, the greatest co-operation in producing the cheapest and the best kind of munitions possible, by allowing only the skilled men to do skilled work, and not waste their time upon doing small and inferior work. We diluted the labour, with the good-will of all the unions concerned. On the ships on the Tyne—I was Commissioner for the Tyne, so I know what I am talking about—the lines of demarcation were broken down between the coppersmith, the boilermaker and the fitter. They were all broken down during the War, and what I am now suggesting is that if we could do that in War time, if we could make a rapid output, if now similar facilities were offered, without breaking down trade union rules or trade union skill—I am not going to belittle the trade that took me many years to acquire, and to believe that anyone can step in and do the job that took me years of experience to acquire, but there is some work I did in the first week of my apprenticeship that I could do as well as at the end of the seven years.

That being so, I am asking that there should be the same broad spirit, the same wide vision, the same open mind, the same trustworthiness, the same belief in that which is industrially manufactured, as there was in connection with that which was nationally manufactured. Break down the prejudices between the employer and the employed. Let the Employers' Federation and the men's union recognise that it is a common interest they are serving, and that there is no one thing that affects one side that does not equally affect the other. Let that be broken down, and it will be better than all the Resolutions this House can carry, and will make for greater prosperity than we have yet seen. Believing we need these markets, knowing there are markets to be obtained, knowing, too, that any inquiry by one body of men would not bring confidence, I am asking the House to throw prejudice on one side, to throw away the old antagonisms which one party may have towards the other, and let us all come together, and ask the Government to give us a lead in this, that there may be an impartial inquiry, so that it cannot be challenged because of the manner in which it has been carried out.


In rising to address the House on this all-important matter of export trade, I should like, if I may, to traverse some of the ground which has already been covered by the hon. Mover and the hon. Seconder of the Motion. Both of them, it was obvious, were dealing with the subject of industrial research, and yet in their Motion for the appointment of this Committee, I find no recommendation that anybody having the slightest knowledge of scientific research should be appointed to the Committee. That, I think, is something which could be remedied. We are all in this House agreed, I think, that our future as a country will depend on the export of that priceless possession of the British race—its ideas. We must export ideas, even although they may have been materialised before leaving this country. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir C. Marks) has referred to the pioneer work of James Watt, and I should like to remind him that both James Watt and Adam Smith were professors of the same University. While the one man supplied the world with the creative idea, which is the fountain of the industrial life, not only of this country but of the whole world, the other, by initiating an entirely different principle—the mere acquisition, and not the creation of wealth—has been responsible for a good deal of our industrial unrest for a great part of the last century. In other words, we have not only to consider this matter from the point of view of raw materials, the export of manufactured products and the sustenance of this nation, but we also have to consider the relations of finance to industry, and I should have liked to have seen, also, the recommendation that at least one representative of the big financial interests should have been upon this Committee as such.

I should like to say, also, in passing, with regard to the composition of the committee which it is suggested should be set up, that a committee already exists. It is true, it has no great powers; it is an advisory committee. Above all, it is suggested in the Motion that no such Department as the Board of Trade exists. I would like to suggest that we have a Board of Trade which has been attempting to perform for this country for many years the function which it is suggested this small committee should deal with in the space of two or three months. This is a very, very short time to review all the possibilities of the export trade of this country, and shall I say that anything done for the export trade must depend on the internal condition of the country? I think that I should hardly favour the kind of committee that has been suggested in the Motion. I would rather favour a fuller and more intensive inquiry into the whole matter and that we should have no time limit put upon the production of their report.

The question of the supply of raw materials is, as the hon. Member for Plymouth (Sir A. Shirley Benn) has said, one which must exercise the minds of every Member of this House. But I should just like to point out to both the Mover and the Seconder that there has been in the last few years substitutes discovered for many of the raw materials which are grown naturally. One can imagine what would happen to the silk industry of this country if we had to depend on overseas for our raw silk rather than on the scientific men who have discovered the process by which artificial silk can be made. One could go through the whole of the category of the various scientific discoveries in this country during the last 100 years, which have contributed so vastly to the national wealth, and which, if rightly used, could have contributed so materially to the welfare of the whole of the people of this country. I am one of those who refuses to believe that this country is overstocked with human material. I believe that the world is not overcrowded, but is quite sparsely populated. I am one of those who believe that man is a scarce animal on the face of the earth. I believe that if only the whole earth was brought under some scientific survey by the best scientific minds of all countries, not merely of this country, and if the financiers of the world also made up their minds to get back to their proper functions, and not to command industry, but to serve it as they originally did, that that would contribute to the happiness of the world, and the country would not be faced with the necessity of piling armaments upon armaments in the, everlasting race for supremacy.

9.0 P.M.

During the last few weeks we have heard of a discovery by Mr. Grindell Matthews. It is attributed to him that he has discovered a ray with extraordinary properties. The suggestion is that he can pass an intensive ray of electricity along a beam of light, using the beam of light as a conductor. I do not know whether he would agree with the suggestion that is made or not, but I understand he has patented his invention, and that there is some danger of the invention being taken up by another country. One is aghast at the idea whenever any invention of this kind is suggested in this country, or any other civilised country, that the first suggestion that is made by the thinkers—by the thinkers all over the world—when such a new instrument has been discovered, is not that of doing some good to the world, but that it may or should be used for destroying humanity, and destroying the best of humanity. All the way through one will find it is the same thing. The same process that will turn out poison gas will turn out the most beautiful dyes. Merely a slight change in the end of a series of processes will convert the one thing to something entirely different in its effects. Professor Soddy has rightly said that man, particularly civilised man, seems to have been using the discoveries of science which have given him such command over natural processes, not to build up the civilisation of the world and to add to its material and intellectual progress, but with the enthusiasm of a lunatic asylum to destroy and ruin it. That is essentially the case.

You have the Haber process of producing nitrogen from the air which would have supplied us with fertilisers for the whole of the world. Those fertilisers would give to us what we all require in this country—increased yield of our crops and reduced cost of production. But the first immediate purpose to which such scientific discovery was put was to supply explosives in order to blow men to bits. Something like 14,000,000 of civilised persons have either been blown to bits or rendered unfit for any further useful work for the community. We are facing now quite glibly the possibilities of a new war. So one can rejoice at the Motion which has been moved and with the sentiments expressed by the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded it. In its essence it is that we should get this exhaustive inquiry into the whole world resources.

An impartial inquiry upon the matter would have to bring in the whole of the scientific men so that they might apply their minds as to what is best in the same way as you here have them apply their science to the arts of war. When we have that, there is no question about it, that civilised man will find a way out of the present impasse, different to this ceaseless competition in the markets of the world, and will realise that there is room for all of us. I have already said that I myself am convinced that this country is not over-populated. Last week we had the melancholy spectacle of a number of adherents of a certain economic faith trying to persuade us that by the removal of certain duties which were put on for one purpose we should be entirely ruining an industry. The hon Member for North Cornwall (Sir G. Croydon Marks) tells us the following week that this country's greatness has been built upon its craftsmen: upon the intelligence and educated intelligence of its people. He tells the House that we have a tradition of craftsmanship in this country which has never been equalled the whole world over.

Only last year I spent a considerable time not only going through various universities on the Continent, but going amongst the firms that were making scientific instruments. I am interested in the subject, and in the production of scientific instruments. I remember in Vienna I went into the works of Reichardt's, the great optical manufacturers. I was examining and criticising one of the particular instruments which they produced, that is an epidiascope. In response to my observations the manager of the concern said, "It is true in that respect it is not all that it might be: it could be a much better instrument, but the trouble is that since the beginning of the War we have not been able to get your English craftsmen over here to work in our workshops, because we cannot afford to pay them the wages they want." He said that your best English craftsmen are going to America. On my return to this country I was happy to be present at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Liverpool, and I was examining there some of the scientific instruments which were being exhibited by various makers and agents.

Speaking to one of the agents I repeated to him the remark of the manager of the firm of Reichardt's in Vienna, and he said, "Well, there is no question about it that if the British manufacturers would only be content with a smaller margin of profit, if only they would have a little more courage and be prepared to develop a market which already is in existence, there is no reason at all why the British scientific instrument should not be the peer of any scientific instrument which is being produced in the whole world." He said it is true that in reality the German scientific instrument makers base their optical industry upon the elaborate researches of Abbé, and that is where the German manufacturer has scored. I say this without regard to Free Trade or Protectionist principles. I should say that very few people are doctrinaire Free Traders now, judging from the spectacle we witnessed last week when quite a large number of Free Traders walked into the Lobby with the Protectionists.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

And all the Protectionists on the opposite side went with the Free Traders.


The point I was making was that the British manufacturers will not pay the same attention to a new discovery unless they think there is an enormous fortune to be made immediately, and they have not displayed for the last 50 years the same courage in developing new industries as have been displayed by some of our foreign competitors. At the present time this country is not doing well from the point of view of scientific research, and as a matter of fact it is not really encouraging it. In 1917, during the War, a Committee of Inquiry considered the question of the application of science to the industries of this country, and eventually a Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was established to promote scientific research amongst the industries of this country. After some time a scheme was brought forward by which the Government itself was going to pay pound for pound to the manufacturers in certain industries to encourage them to take an interest in research. It was a pretty expensive experiment, as has been shown by the results of the quinquennial valuation of the work of the research associations, and why? Not that the research that has been done has not been of first-class importance; not that if it had been done in America, or Austria or Germany it would not have commanded the respect and the attention of all the business men in those countries; it was not that at all, but merely that the British manufacturers will not take the least interest in research, with a few notable exceptions, and they are amongst the best run industries in this country, and they have not only been able to pay their workers well, but they have made a handsome margin of profits and have indulged in other schemes in South American railway companies out of the profits which they have made in this country.

The majority of the manufacturers in this country do not appreciate scientific brains, and they will not put people in control of their industries having any vast knowledge of science, and even a Government stands condemned for the type of director it has put on the British Dyestuffs Corporation which may, I hope, be remedied in the very near future. When these researches have been undertaken by the workers in the research associations most of them get pound for pound, and some get as much as £9; but in many cases firms that have only contributed £1 against the £9 contributed by the State do not want to continue to experiment and co-operate in this way, but it must be clearly understood that they cannot still proceed by their own unscientific rule-of-thumb methods and still command the markets of the world.

If there is one thing we have neglected in this country it is the application of the work that has been done. There are some people who look back to the 4½ years of war as a period of intense scientific research in this country. As a matter of fact, it was the worst period for the last 20 years from the point of view of the output of research. It was certainly the period when discoveries made in science during the previous 15 years were applied intensively for the protection of the country, and incidentally for the destruction of other countries. Some of the most extraordinary applications of science were made during the last War. It may interest hon. Members to know of one which was brought to my notice by Professor Wood, of Baltimore, last year.

We were in a difficulty with regard to submarines destroying our transport trade, and the difficulty was that the transports, particularly convoys, wished to keep in touch with each other without showing any lights. That was very difficult, and wireless would not enable them to solve the problem. It was, however, solved by a very simple application of X-rays. In that way the convoys were able to signal to each other for a distance of some miles by a very simple application of X-rays. I do not think anybody in their senses a few years before the War would ever have imagined that X-rays could have been put to any such use, because we have always associated their use with medical treatment.

I do feel that one of the great drawbacks has been in the last few years, when the country owed a real debt of gratitude to the various scientific men who placed their services at the disposal of the State, without any hope of reward, and most of whom, since the War, have been most shabbily treated I can think of one in particular. It was by the adoption of a suggestion of his, when he was honorary adviser to the Colonial Office, that British companies were enabled to control certain raw materials in British Guiana, which are absolutely essential for certain industries in this country. His advice was taken, but quite recently he was told that the Treasury did not think they could retain his services any longer, particularly now that, since he is getting an old man, he thought they might pay him something as a retainer. We have not, as a country, applied our scientific discoveries in a way which will improve, not only our export trade, but our import trade. I have already suggested, for example, the possibility that we need not be so dependent upon oversea supplies of raw cotton. I am not suggesting that naturally-grown cotton is not the most economical source of such fibres for clothes at the present time, but I can envisage, as I expect most hon. Members can envisage, the time when we shall not need cotton plantations at all, but shall be able to synthesise fibres and make clothes from them.

One might go further and say that the time is not so very far distant when we shall be able to get, at any rate as much nourishment, if we do not get as much physical enjoyment as we do at present, from our meals, by using synthetic foods. It is a horrible thought, I agree, and it would not give us a great deal of physical satisfaction; but the time may come when man will not need the same amount of physical satisfaction as he does at the present time. If hon. Members would read the Lord Chancellor's nephew's last book, "Daedalus," they might find there a good deal of food for thought in that direction. I need not say anything further on that, because it has not a great deal to do and, indeed, is not even remotely connected with, export trade. In a number of directions this country is dependent upon our Overseas Dominions and upon foreign countries for supplies, as raw materials, of commodities which may very well, in the near future, be made synthetically. The history of the dyestuffs industry in this country is a tragedy of lost opportunities. We have tried our utmost, in the last few years, to get back our old markets in dyes. It is true that we have succeeded in this country in producing a large number of dyes, and now the whole world can supply such quantities of dyestuffs that the world could be overstocked with them.

There is another aspect of the export trade which has not been touched upon. I do not want to enlarge upon it, but we are thinking a great deal in these days about the markets which we have, as has been said by the hon. Members who moved and seconded this Motion, inevitably lost in certain directions because the peoples concerned are themselves manufacturing on their own account, and, as they have the necessary raw materials in abundance at their very doors, we quite obviously cannot face competition of that kind. It is doubtful whether it would be a good thing for this country to attempt to compete unduly in certain natural markets, such as the Bombay market in the case of cotton goods; but there are still vast tracts in thickly populated countries where there is a tremendous avenue for our export trade, if only the populations of those countries increased their needs.

If there is one thing above all others which increases the needs of any population, it is the spread and growth of education. As man's education improves, so do his needs increase, and this fact should provide any Committee of Inquiry with food for thought. Think what a thoroughly well educated Russia would mean from the point of view of the export trade of this country; but it will take some years for the Russian people to develop the needs that have already been developed by the people of this country. One could go on applying that to various other countries, where the standard of civilisation is a poor one, owing entirely to the want of any proper system of education. In other words, it would pay this country to spread propaganda of an essentially peaceful kind to the effect that all peoples on earth should be thoroughly well educated. It would be sound economy from this country's point of view, and would give this country's export trade, as far as one can gather, the impetus that it needs. I must say that I was intensely interested in the plea—for it really was a plea—made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir C. Marks) for the recognition of the brains of the people of this country, and for the craft traditions of the people of this country, although I cannot go quite so far as the hon. Member would like to go with regard to the dilution of labour. At the present time we have to make the best of the existing system, and, while the financial system of this country and of the whole world is on its present basis, I doubt very much whether any army of workers, in this or any other country, should fling away the one weapon that they have—the protection of their own interests.


I am inclined to agree with the hon. and gallant Member for East Leyton (Major Church) with regard to the Committee that has to be set up. It is only a detail, but I do think that, in certain respects, it would be strengthened by the addition of, perhaps, a financial magnate from the City of London, or one or two other men of business, who would assist the Committee in making a correct and proper Report. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Drake (Sir A Shirley Benn) on bringing forward this Motion, and I can assure the hon. Member for Northern Cornwall (Sir C. Marks) that, as far as I am concerned, I shall not treat it on a party basis. I feel that it is far too vital, not only for this House of Commons, but for the whole nation, to understand this question of export trade. In the past, in 1914, it was always said that we imported four loaves out of five, consumed and it was said—and I believe it can be said to-day—that at certain times of the year, if we had not these imports from abroad, and, therefore, the exports to pay for them, we should starve in about three months. The hon. Member for Drake stated that we had to bring into this country raw materials and foodstuffs, and that we exported, against those, two classes of commodities. He forgot, however, the Debt to the United States of America. We have to export in order to pay that Debt. We were lucky last year in exporting more to the United States than we did in 1922, in spite of the Fordney Tariff. We also paid off part of that loan in gold, but the rate of exchange undoubtedly helped our exports, because, the dollar being at a premium as compared with the pound, it assisted the exports from this country.

I think that is a very strong point to remember in dealing with any export trade. The foreign trade of this country for 1923 was £1,983,000,000. It was an increase compared with the previous year of £157,000,000, or 8 per cent. It is very difficult to compare 1922 with 1923 owing to Great Britain having lost the exports in regard to the Irish Free State. There is an item which has to be considered in exports and that is the invisible exports. These are comprised of shipping, commissions, bank charges, etc. Last year they amounted to the large sum of £325,000,000. There was a balance in favour of this country of roughly £100,000,000 and we invested abroad practically that whole sum, £97,000,000. Our foreign investments in 1923 were £97,000,000. There is going to be a certain amount of trouble in the future with regard to our exports. We send more to India than to any other country in the world and, as hon. and right hon. Members know, at the present time, India is considering a big tariff against our steel trade. India is considering paying bounties to any Indian company in India which will make wagons. That must affect our exports. We may be able to get over it in certain ways, but we have to take these things into consideration, and it is in that way that I welcome the Motion of the hon. Member for the Drake Division in that the Committee must go into this question which must affect us, especially in reference to India. The hon. Member for Northern Cornwall referred to credits. He knows as well as we know that there is an Exports Credit Scheme. Firms have not come forward and taken the full amount allowed by that scheme as passed by this House. It is a difficult thing to carry out this Exports Credit Scheme. If the credit of the Company is good enough, it can be obtained in the City of London, although I warn Members that credits are getting more difficult in the future than they have been in the past.

There is one suggestion I should like to throw out to the hon. Member for Plymouth so that we might increase our export trade, and that is in encouraging foreign investments. That is, for foreign countries to come to London and place their loans in London. There are only two countries in the world that can lend money at the present to foreign countries, ourselves and the United States of America. Where the difficulty comes in with regard to ourselves, is that during the War we put a 2 per cent. stamp duty on all foreign investments floatations coming into this country, which meant a revenue to this country of, roughly, about £1,250,000. In the United States there is no stamp duty at all. I do contend that possibly the right hon. Member the President of the Board of Trade might pass on that hint to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would encourage foreign investments in this country. What does that mean? It means that goods would leave this country and it would help our export trade. I cannot help thinking that that suggestion is possibly worth considering.


Would the result of that be that after interest on your investments was paid you would get a big import back?


Yes, but the interest is paid over several years. It takes a longtime to pay sinking fund and interest and it gradually comes back. One thing I want to suggest, that all those foreign loans and even home loans, can only be paid out of the savings of the people. It must be the savings which make us prosperous, and it is only their prosperity which will enable these exports to continue and expand as we all desire they should do. I welcome this Committee, and I again congratulate the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth on bringing forward this Motion.


It affords me very great pleasure to hear the hon. Member for the Drake Division (Sir A. S. Benn). It came very strangely to manufacturers listening to the speech that we had from the hon. Member on the Labour benches, who was instructing us and giving us some idea of the man who knows nothing about the manufacturer's difficulty, and telling us how we ought to run his businesses. The idea of going to Lancashire and advising the cotton manufacturers there that they might rely on some sort of synthetic production which would take the place of ordinary cotton is almost too ridiculous to speak of. I welcome and support the Motion for one special reason. I believe it will bring about an investigation into the whole of our Consular Services. I believe it will make us realise how important it is that a manufacturing nation should have in every important country in the world men who will understand and take a much keener interest in our products than they have hitherto. As a manufacturer I can remember myself that we had the greatest difficulty in finding out what the wants were in the various parts of the world, the various peculiarities, the various differences necessary to suit these particular markets. All these things are important, and it would be of great assistance to the manufacturer who cannot keep a representative in every country in the world if we had some national system. I have no doubt that the explanation of Germany's great and rapid advance in pre-War days was due to the fact that the German Government worked in conjunction with her industries in capturing these markets. To be told here to-night that we have a Board of Trade and everything is satisfactory is disappointing. That is the worst word I will use. We all recognise that the huge debt of the War must be paid for by our own industry, and we also recognise that it will take some time, however capable this Government or any Government may be in the reconstruction of Europe, before Europe can regain the purchasing power she had in pre-War days. Now we have the wide markets of the East as well as South America, which have never been thoroughly developed so far as this country is concerned. I think myself that the British manufacturer is very much misunderstood. I remember as a boy in New Zealand the complaint of the New Zealander was, "We cannot get what we want from the British manufacturer," and they were blaming the British manufacturer, while the real reason was that the British manufacturer did not know what was wanted, and had no one in New Zealand to bring before him exactly the requirements. Because I believe that a Committee constituted on even broader lines than suggested by the Motion will prove very useful and helpful to the industries of this country, I shall be very glad to support the Motion.


The Mover of the Motion has said that in order to feed our people we must sell our manufactured goods abroad. From that he went on to say that only in so far as Germany is able to sell her manufactured goods abroad, or Europe in general, will they be able to buy our goods. I hope a large number of the hon. Gentleman's party have also come to that conclusion, because it differs very considerably from their usual views. The hon. Gentleman went further, and said we were getting up against international competition. That is more or less true. I believe it can be said, with a good deal of truth, that every country possessing fuel, economic power, or even, we will say, natural economic power, with any quantity of raw material at all, has proceeded to use that raw material for manufacturing. The industrial revolution has not been confined to any one country. It is a curious thing that every country that has proceeded along the lines of industrial revolution has taken the notion that it must manufacture for export. It may be perfectly natural, but that is one point the inquiry ought to go into, whether it is absolutely necessary to manufacture for an export trade. They might consider, at the same time, whether, in the competition to capture and maintain an export market, as they do to-day, the chief way of reducing the cost of productions is to reduce the wages of the worker, thereby restricting the home market by lowering home consumption and necessitating, by their very advance, a further export market. It is true that if we can reduce overhead charges, make industry more efficient, and give higher wages to the workers we shall increase our home market and, so far as we in- crease our home market, do away with the necessity of this enormous export market.

It would appear that the necessity for an export market for every manufacturing country has some relation to the inequality of the distribution of capital. A man with an income of £10,000 will not spend as much upon the economic necessities of life as one with an income of £1,000, and I think the home consumption of a people could be increased by a more equal distribution of capital. Again, to come to the development of Imperial cotton, I think the hon. Gentleman will notice this fallacy in his argument, that as America begins to manufacture her own raw cotton so we shall have to find more raw material to keep Lancashire going. That is true, but notice at the same time that unless the consumption of the world's cotton goods goes up, the increased production of cotton will not solve the problem, because as America manufactures her own cotton she will be attempting to get the very markets we have now, and if you increase the raw cotton to keep Lancashire going without increasing the market for the consumption of the goods you will be up against a difficulty as badly as you are to-day. There is another factor. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has ever considered whether the export of capital has anything to do with the industrial development of countries on competitive lines with our own.


We do not export capital.


What we do is to invest money abroad, but do these goods exported by us in the shape of machinery go to the building up of competitive industries in another country? I think that has been the case more often than not in the past, certainly in Germany. Instead of making it complimentary to our home industry we are making it supplementary to our home industry. We could have developed our raw material for our home enterprise by making our investments complimentary rather than supplementary. Instead of increasing the productive capacity of other peoples we could have used our investments for the development of raw material in our own home markets.

As the world proceeds along the line of industrial development all follow the blind habit of doing what their neighbours have done before, manufacturing with the coal, the fuel, and the machinery which has been invented the same kind of goods which have been produced in industrial countries using raw materials of the same kind. There is not a very wide field for development unless we get a greater demand for other commodities, because the industrial revolution definitely tends towards mass production, and mass production of the economic needs of the people as a whole, so it is confined to clothing, boots, shelter, means of transport and so on. If we are to understand the whole position of economic development on the lines of the industrial revolution, to avoid conflicts, not only for an export market but conflicts for the market from which they draw raw materials, we shall have to have not only business men on the Committee but men who are prepared to come not with ideas of export markets at all, men who may have new ideas of a co-operative system in the world with markets complimentary to the industry and not supplementary to it, people who are prepared to take a broad view, who are prepared to understand. That what we have to do at the moment is to get food for our people, and what we are attempting to do all the time is to export to purchase that food, remembering at the same time that it should be possible to have greater efficiency of production and higher purchasing power of our own people at home if you have a greater consumption at home, and so reduce the necessity for an export market.


I think the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Sir A. S. Benn) for tabling this Motion, because it gives us an opportunity of discussing a very important problem. I do not think anyone in any quarter of the House can be satisfied with the present position of our export trade. I am not going to weary the House with a number of figures, but I should like to read the figures given in answer to a question not long ago, setting out the position of our export trade. If you want to get an accurate appreciation it is enormously important to get your figures down to a common basis of pre-War values. I dare say there are many who have not seen the answer that was given. The information was given in a written answer. The question put was as to the value of our import and export trade to-day and in recent years compared with 1913, taking 1913 values as 100. I will give first the figures as to imports of raw materials and articles mainly unmanufactured, because that is an indication of what the total manufacturing output of our country is, and gives us some indication of the home market as well as the overseas market. While I agree to a certain extent with what was said by the last speaker as to the importance of the home market, I do not agree that a mere redistribution of wealth will increase the general purchasing power of the community. Taking the imports of raw materials, the figures show, as compared with 1913 values at 100, that in 1922 the percentage was 79.4, in 1923, 79.1, and from January to March, 1924, 73.9. Taking exports of articles wholly or mainly manufactured, the figures show that in 1922 the percentage was 66.5 and in 1923, 73.3, and for the first quarter of 1924—when there was in one month a great expansion in exports, though, unfortunately, it has been going down more recently, the percentage was 74.2, as against 100 in 1913.

To-day we have a population of something like 1,750,000 more than we had at the last census period. The efficiency of production is enormously increased, and, consequently, we have to do a bigger business in order to keep the same number of men employed, and yet we are doing less than three-quarters of our volume of overseas pre-War trade. Such a situation must fill us with a great measure of disquiet, and is in itself a sufficient reason for the moving of this Resolution to-night.


Do the figures for 1923–24 include Ireland?


For this year, no, but you have adjustments to make both ways, and I do not think you will find that it varies very much.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he agrees that taking the figures of 1913 and the figures of 1923 that our export trade is somewhere about £100,000,000 short?


I am very anxious not to get into figures of millions of pounds. One million pounds to-day is quite a different thing from £1,000,000 before the War. The fairest way that I can put it is to say that our export trade is only three-quarters of what it was before the War. That is a fairer and more comprehensive statement. As to the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Captain Berkeley), I am not quite sure whether it affects it one way or the other, but practically I think it is negligible. On the whole, I am inclined to think that the figures are rather worse than better. That is my impression, and I think the President of the Board of Trade will confirm that. What are the three factors which we have to consider in a solution of this absolutely vital problem, because it is a problem of our bread and butter? The first consideration is the extension of markets, the second is the efficiency of our industry, and the third is the cost of manufacture in this country. These are the three principal factors which we must consider when we are dealing with this matter.

I do not know whether a Committee such as the one that is proposed in this Resolution or a Committee of a different character would help as regards markets. I am not sure. I am inclined to think that you have most of the evidence that you need if you will only act upon it. It is very often said, "Well, all you have to do if you want to get the markets right is to restore Europe and get stable conditions." Undoubtedly that is of the greatest possible importance, and if you take the long view over a great period of years it is of absolutely vital importance; but do not let the House be misled into thinking that that alone is the solution, or that immediately that is going to be even a palliation. I remember this point being put very forcibly by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), when he said, "Do not suppose for a moment that when you have restored Europe that that is going to put things right."

The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in that statement, because when you restore Europe the first thing that you restore in Europe is not its purchasing power, but its producing power. Remember that throughout the War every country was increasing its capacity to manufacture. Every country in the War was manufacturing munitions as hard as it could, and extending its plant, and every country that was neutral was doing the same thing to supply belligerents with munitions, and also preparing to take that overseas trade which the belligerent countries had hitherto enjoyed, so that you have to-day in Europe, as you have in this country, an enormously increased capacity for production.


But they have not the credit.


They may not have the credit, but they have an enormously increased productive capacity, and the fact that they have not the credit at the moment is not going to prevent them from being formidable competitors in future. If they are able to produce more cheaply than we are, and to make more profit out of their production, the credit will come to them, and they will have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary credit, other things being equal—I mean, political conditions being stable. I do not want to be deflected from my main proposition, though I felt that I must answer the point put from such an authoritative source by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise).

It is agreed that in these countries you have this enormously increased capacity for production, and the first thing that happens when you restore Europe will be increased production. Increased consumption will follow somewhat behind. If we take the iron and steel trade, should I be wrong if I said that the capacity of Europe to-day to produce was 50 per cent. or 75 per cent. or 100 per cent. more than the capacity of the world to absorb at the present time? That means that, as you restore Europe, you will find concurrently with it this greater productive capacity and far keener competition. That means that you have to look for trade not only there but elsewhere. I do not want to anticipate the debate which we shall necessarily have, and a debate which I wish and still hope may be taken without party bias. Surely, the market which lies open to us is the market within our own Empire. If one goes back over history, one finds that in the most critical time through which our industry passed, long before the present crisis, namely, between 1875 and 1895, when for years our foreign trade remained absolutely at a standstill, the one thing that kept the increasing population of this country going was that our Empire trade doubled during those 15 or 20 years.

You have the same opportunity to-day. What has been said about the American debt makes it all the more important to try to develop the new markets in the Empire. We do not want a Committee to go into that. You have the work of the Imperial Economic Conference. I do hope, particularly in view of something which I have seen in the papers of one of the internal organisations of the right hon. Gentleman's party, that he may reconsider the rather hasty decision not to proceed with the appointment of an Imperial Economic Committee. That seems to me the best way to carry out the inquiry which my hon. Friend suggests. I venture, as an older Member, to congratulate sincerely the hon. Member for East Leyton (Major Church) on the speech which he delivered. I understand it is not a maiden speech, and I only wish that I had heard him make earlier speeches if they were of an equal quality. But the second factor which I would lay down is that the most important requirement in order to get efficiency is to give security. The hon. Member said that you want more money spent on research. You do. But let him and his friends remember that to get money sunk in research, the one thing above all necessary is to afford security and the full sense security to firms in order that they may make their investments on that account. Under the Board of Trade, in conjunction with the Department of Scientific Research, you can probably render such help as a Government can give. If the Government co-operate in promoting the spending of money on such processes of inquiry, I believe that they will be spending money to great advantage.

10.0 P.M.

The third factor which I would lay down when considering how to fill up the gap in our export trade is the question of cost. Here I believe that a real inquiry is wanted. I doubt whether an inquiry into the incidence of taxation is going to add very much to our knowledge. I would like to see an inquiry directed into the difference in wages in what have been called the sheltered and unsheltered trades and the causes of those differences, and the effect of those differences in adding to the cost of the unsheltered trades and reducing the wages in those trades, and making it more difficult for us to compete in the world. Remember it is the unsheltered trades which have to sell the products which buy the food on which the sheltered and unsheltered trades live. That inquiry, I am sure, is included in the intention of the Motion. I should like to see coupled with it an investigation into the comparative incidence of these charges on the business and trades of this country and other countries. Further, in that connection, let us look into that great and important item in overhead charges, the cost of taxation, whether direct, or indirect—and in taxation I include all national expenditure and rates—and let us know what is the effect of that charge upon the competitive trades in this country as compared with costs which fall upon similar trades in other countries.

I believe that an inquiry of that kind into the competitive costs and what gives rise to those costs, and the incidence of those costs, would be of value, because they would supply us with what an inquiry ought to be directed to, accurate information, which we have not at present, upon which we can base policy and decide what action it is right to take. If the inquiry took that form I should welcome it. I do not think it necessary to bring in a High Court Judge. The only inquiry for which we want to take a High Court Judge away from his judicial duties is an inquiry in which he would have judicial duties to perform. You could get men of practical experience and economic experience, not confined to Members of this House, to conduct an inquiry of this kind, and I believe that it would be a real contribution to our knowledge of this subject and of real assistance to the trade of this country.


I am sure that the House will agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Sir A. S. Benn) has performed a very useful service in bringing forward this subject, and that we are indebted to him not only for that but for the manner in which he explained what he had in view. As the Debate has proceeded I think that a passing observer would have reason to be strengthened in his view that the hon. Member for Plymouth has really made a suggestion which meets with a great deal of sympathy in all parts of the House. I am not going to attempt to traverse all the ground, but I do hope that before I have done, I shall be able to convince the hon. Member that the Government is not unsympathetic to what he proposes. If I might comment on some of the speeches that have been made right through, I would enter a note of protest against—I do not think that it was really meant—a fallacy in which all of us are apt to indulge, for we cannot help thinking that the commerce and trade and production of the world is a definite quantity in this sense, that if we get more, some other person must get less.

I do not agree with that. I do not think that anybody, when he comes to think it out, will think that that is so. Still, we are always speaking as if we believed in what seems to me to be the fallacy of supposing that because other people may do better and become more skilful or more productive, therefore somebody else—and here we usually mean ourselves—must necessarily be doing somewhat less. I may be presumptuous or rash, but I take the opposite view. I believe that this country will prosper more and more by the prosperity of any other country, and more still by the prosperity of every other country. I believe, with Napoleon, that we are a nation of shopkeepers and that we benefit by the prosperity of our customers and not by their adversity. The more any other nation learns to do, even of the things that we have done, the more we shall be enabled to do. I put that forward almost as a paradox, by which I mean something which is true but which seems false. I am not afraid of a paradox. The paradox is that other countries take our trade—as it is sometimes put—or our manufactures, and yet our country, in the past has flourished, when that has happened, and I believe it will flourish in the future with that happening. We sometimes hear phrases about looking after one's own country and about patriotism. I feel myself a very patriotic person, because I believe in my country. I have full confidence that it is going to be successful in the future as it has been in the past. It was suggested by one hon. Member that these exports—the foreign loans which the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) wanted to encourage—were too apt to go away in the form of machinery to build up competitive industry in other countries. We have been doing that all the time. It is exactly 100 years ago this year that we repealed the law which prohibited the export of machinery. Our ancestors, in their wisdom, were so very anxious that the inventions of Boulton and Watt should not go to other countries, that it was made a penal offence to export machines. That was quite consistent with the suggestions that have been floating about to-night, that we really suffer when, say, a cotton industry is set up, or when steam engines are built in some other country, or when some other country learns how to make something which we are making. Our ancestors believed that, and made it a penal offence to export machinery. They also made it a penal offence for skilled artisans to emigrate from these islands. Since the repeal of that law, we have had our artisans all over the Continent, and throughout the rest of the world, setting up this machinery which has gone out, and working the machinery when it has been set up. This country has gone on increasing its trade, and increasing its standard of life and prosperity since then.

Those facts are consistent with my view that this country benefits by the prosperity and the advances in industrial civilisation of other countries. I do not want to indulge in the rather gloomy view which has been expressed to-night Certainly, the present state of things is bad enough, but I am old enough to have lived through very bad times. The first thing I remember was the very bad slump of 1879. It was very much worse than anything which this country has suffered, even in the depths of depression after the War. We got over that. I admit that the present state of things is very unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me at the Board of Trade (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) said our exports of British manufactures were only 75 per cent. of what they were in 1913. But 1913 was a boom year; I believe a record year. Looking back, we find trade has gone in rather definite cycles. The year 1913 is at the top of one of those cycles. We have no reason to feel aggrieved that we are not actually at the top of the wave. I would ask my right hon. Friend to take another figure, which is confirmatory, and gives a better idea. Suppose we take the imports of raw material which were retained in this country. If you take the amounts of cotton, wool, iron and various other things which we have imported, and retained in this country, you get a certain measure of our manufacturing industry. It is a rough figure, but it gives a kind of index in the absence of anything better. Compared with 1913, it is about 80 per cent. for 1923.

As regards unemployment, we know we still have, roughly speaking, one million unemployed, which is a sad enough fact. It is going down, but a million unemployed is a very awkward fact. Let us take the trade union percentage, because that corresponds pretty closely to the total number of unemployed, and if you restrict yourself to the percentage of trade unionists employed in certain industries, you are able to carry the comparison further back. I believe the figure for unemployment to-day corresponds pretty well with the corresponding figure for unemployment in 1909. In 1909 we, no doubt, thought trade was bad, but we did not think it was so very bad, or that we were in such a very severe crisis. To have come through the War, and have had the slump that followed the War, and to find that we are no worse now in the way of unemployment than we were in 1909, means that we need not quite lose all heart. We may expect that just as 1909 rose to the top of the boom in 1913, so 1923 may rise again to a boom in 1926. I hope hon. Members will not put any money on that. [Interruptions.] Prophets are often right in their pre-dictions, but they are generally a good deal out in their dates. That is why they are not millionaires. Therefore, while we have every reason gravely to consider the state of trade, we need not take a too gloomy view about it.

The hon. Member for Plymouth wants a Committee to inquire into the export trade. I would suggest that is rather too limited a reference. The export trade does not mean merely the merchants who are willing to send goods abroad, but it is carried right back to manufactures for export. It is the manufactures for export that are primarily concerned, and it is pretty difficult to distinguish the export from other manufacturing industries. I suggest to him that while we are concerned about our exports, we might bear in mind why it is we care about exports at all. I am not prepared to say that the profit which the exporters make by the export trade is the measure of the advantage of that trade to the country. We must take a wider view than that. I am not uttering any novelty, if I remind the House that the reason we are concerned about our exports is because we want our imports, and that the whole object of exports from the national point of view is that we should get our imports. We are therefore just as much interested in imports as in exports. We have got to take the whole of our trade for the inquiry. We carry on our export trade solely—apart from the profits which the manufacturers make, which I disregard—in order to get the imports. Let me put it my own way. We weave on our Lancashire looms the iron ore and the copper that we want, and the tea and the spices that we use are made in the mills and the forges of the West Riding of Yorkshire. What the men on the Clyde build is not ships and engines alone, but the wool and the copper and the jute and the rubber which feed our factories all over England. That is why we carry on our export trade. It is because we do not get enough of these things at present to feed all our people, or, at any rate, not enough to keep them employed, that I am concerned about the export trade as much as the Mover of this Motion.

I agree with a good deal that has been said about the importance of getting further markets, but I would like to tell the House that there has not been as much change in the distribution of our trade as might have been expected. We have got into the habit of thinking that Europe is ruined and that we cannot sell goods to Europe. As a matter of fact, making allowance for the changes in regard to Ireland, as far as they can be made, Europe in 1923 took 33.7 per cent. of our exports, or roughly one-third. In 1913 Europe took 34 per cent. of our exports. Therefore, the 1923 figure is only fractionally less than that for 1913 as a proportion of the total of our exports. Our total exports are down by 20 or 25 per cent., but Europe is, relatively to the total trade, exactly as good a market as before the War. I do not say that of Russia and Germany, but I am speaking of one part of Europe with another; you must take Europe as a whole. If goods do not go to Germany they go to Holland, and if not to Denmark they go to Sweden, and so on. Take the Empire as a whole, or the British Commonwealth of Nations, as I prefer to call it. Our trade with the Empire has in the past greatly developed. If you compare 1923 with 1913 the Empire as a whole took 35.5 per cent.—I am speaking now of quantities—of our total exports in 1923 as against 36.3 per cent. of the total in 1913. The figures are very nearly identical, though slightly down for 1923. The United States and South America took 16.8 per cent. in 1923 compared with 16.2 per cent. in 1913; the Far East took 8.6 per cent. against 8.4 per cent. The total result is that the distribution of United Kingdom exports in volume, in 1923, compared with 1913, has remained extraordinary stable.

That, however, does not prove that we should not get more markets. I am not sure that we could find any undiscovered countries. Both the North Pole and the South Pole have been searched and are not very promising places for development at present. Short of going to Mars it is very difficult to find absolutely new markets. We can, therefore, only develop the markets that exist, because the enterprise and the ingenuity of our merchants have already carried them to every part of the world. The common expression "finding new markets" is, therefore, not quite accurate, for it can be only a question of new development. This Government, like any other Government, is as much concerned to see the development of overseas parts of the Empire as it can possibly be. We have accepted the Resolution of the Imperial Economic Conference on the subject of overseas settlement. We want to see what can be done by administrative action and how far we can pursue that policy of overseas settlement in order to make migration within the different parts of the Empire as easy as possible and as open to everybody as possible. In that matter we think great stress should be laid on the importance of family and group migration and settlement, rather than on mere sporadic migration. There has already been an offer to the Commonwealth of Australia, under the Empire Settlement Act, 1922, of a large grant in aid of settlement schemes and development purposes connected with settlement schemes approved by the Government. This Government is renewing that offer, and we hope it will result in a large development of overseas settlement. I do not like to put it that this is a mere question of developing markets. It really is a means of opening up brighter and happier opportunities for such people as choose to avail themselves of it, and I would rather look at it from the point of view of migration than from the rather sordid point of view that we are merely to get additional markets for Sheffield or for Bradford. It will have that effect, as we hope and believe, but it is not for that reason that it is being done, and I only mention it in this connection because of its relation to the subject under discussion.

Hon. Members will excuse me for not going into the very interesting details of the many interesting speeches which have been made. I want to come to the Resolution itself. I hope the hon. Member who moved the Resolution will not mind if I say I do not like the shape of this proposed Committee. It is not merely that we do not like to take a Judge of the High Court from judicial work. Indeed there are not too many Judges working in the Courts, and that is a standing objection to the proposal. I am not quite sure, moreover, that a Judge of the High Court is really the best person in a case of this kind. It is not merely a question of listening to evidence. It is a question of listening to witnesses who, in the case of a judicial inquiry, would probably be ordered out of Court because they all come to testify on matters of which they have no personal knowledge, and they really give their opinions which have to be taken for what they are worth. A Judge of the High Court is not in a better position to estimate the value of that so-called evidence than a layman. It is suggested that the Committee should be composed of six Members of the House of Commons, three being Cabinet Ministers or ex-Cabinet Ministers and three possessing business and trade qualifications.


Not mutually exclusive.


I was going to say that I would not quarrel with the suggestion that it was mutually exclusive, but if the hon. Member who moved the Resolution will allow me to say so, I do not think the proposal provides for all the elements necessary to such an inquiry. The Committee is to report to the House before the Summer Recess, which would compress all their work into the months of June and July. I do not like that kind of Committee. They would only register a sort of consensus or summary of the statements of opinion made before them. No doubt the Report would be very ably drafted by a competent civil servant, who would be made secretary, but I am not prepared to think that it would be of the value suggested.


Would they not have the Board of Trade behind them?


They might have the Board of Trade in front of them. The Board of Trade might be in the dock, and I am not sure that they would have the Board of Trade behind them. For that reason, among others, I think that if you want this inquiry, the inquiry would have to be rather longer than between now and the 1st August. We could not get all the facts which it is desirable that we should have, and we should not be able to probe into the facts in anything like that time. On the other hand, I think the House will know that an inquiry, something of this sort, is being pressed for in all sorts of quarters. I do not want to make anybody or any party responsible, but certainly I have had evidence that an inquiry is desired by manufacturers, by traders, by Chambers of Commerce, and we are obliged to take notice of that fact. How much am I entitled to say? There is no doubt that the subject is very seriously under consideration by the Government, and I think, if my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth would be content with an assurance that he will hear about the Committee very soon, but not ask me to say what the Committee can do and what form the inquiry can take, he would not be disappointed. I do not want to disguise from the House that it is not an easy thing to do. We have first to settle the scope of the Committee. If you give it an unlimited scope, you get altogether too large an inquiry. On the other hand, if you attempt to confine the scope, of the inquiry, you have to be very careful to see that you get in what ought to be got in. The personnel of the Committee, or the Commission, or the body making the inquiry is not at all easy to settle. You really want, as the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) said, somebody acquainted with financial machinery, and I think we want a little statistical, shall I say economic, experience also. Frankly, I am not in a position to make a definite statement as to the form that the inquiry will take, and still less as to the personnel, but if the hon. Member will ask the Prime Minister about that to-morrow, or at a later date, I think he will get satisfaction.


Before the right hon. Gentleman closes on that matter, might I ask him whether, as this is obviously a matter of general interest that involves no party question, he would, in the usual manner, consult with the representative Members of the different parties in this House before he settles the terms of reference?


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to that question, that there is not the least question of making this in any sense a partisan inquiry, and certainly some consultation will take place. That certainly will be done. It would necessarily follow, as it is not at all desired that it should be a party matter. On the other hand, it is very strongly desired that it should not be a party matter and that the inquiry should be of an authoritative character and one which would command respect. Therefore, it must be as far as possible divested of any partisan character, and I think I can assure the House that if the inquiry is undertaken by the Government, it will be done in such a way as will be satisfactory in that respect. I cannot announce to-night the form of the inquiry, or the form of the body to make the inquiry, or the personnel. All those matters are left for the moment out of my hands, and I can only assure the House that it is the wish of the Government to have such an inquiry as would seem to be best after due consultation. Perhaps, with that assurance, the hon. Member for Plymouth might think fit to withdraw his Motion.


My object in limiting the Committee to six Members of the House of Commons, with an independent Judge, was that the House of Commons has a responsibility to the country to look after its business, and it was to leave it to them to say what they thought of it, while the proposal to have a Judge as Chairman was, of course, because of the character of impartiality that such a Chairman would give to the Committee's procedure.


I hope the President of the Board of Trade will forgive me if I say that his remarks with regard to the proposed Committee, which he led us to suppose might, in certain eventualities, be substituted for that proposed by the Mover of the Resolution, are somewhat indefinite. Will he also forgive me for saying that this is a Motion which has been on the Order Paper for some days, if not for some weeks, and I think hon. Members will have expected some kind of definite reply from the Government, if they could not accept the proposals before them, as to what their alternative proposals would be. He says that if my hon. Friend opposite will put a question to the Prime Minister to-morrow, he may, or may not, get a satisfactory answer. What reason is there, if the Prime Minister can make a statement on the subject tomorrow, why the House of Commons should not have that statement tonight? After all, this is not a new question brought before the House. It was a question discussed by many hon. Members during the Election. It is a question which, if I may say so, I myself raised prior to the Dissolution, at the time when the Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister, and proposed to go to the country on an economic issue. I said at the time—and I am sure a number of other Members of the House agree—that it was quite unnecessary and wrong to take a step of that kind without some big economic inquiry into the situation of the country and the Empire, in the light of post-War conditions.

Nobody can deny that post-War conditions have profoundly affected the situation. The right hon. Gentleman, who is himself so renowned an economist, does not need to be told that there are at least half a dozen factors in the economic life of the world to-day which simply did not exist in 1914. I will mention one, to begin with. One is embodied in the Treaties of Peace, and is what is called the "Labour Covenant." In the Labour Covenant of the Treaties of Peace, for the first time is laid down, for adoption by all the signatories, the principle that Labour is no longer to be regarded as a commodity, but is to be regarded as something much higher, and it is to be the duty of the various Governments to undertake progressive legislation, and progressive social reform, for the purpose of increasing the remuneration of labour in industry. That is a factor which did not exist before the War. Before the War, it was an aspiration; to-day, so far as this country is concerned, it is very largely a realisation. All parties in the State and in the House of Commons, it is no exaggeration to say, are agreed to extend to the labouring partners in industry a far larger share of the return on the produce which they manufacture. That is the first new factor.

Then there is the factor which has been referred to throughout this Debate—and the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in regard to the total volume of the trade which we do with Europe do not take away the truth of that factor—the devastation of Europe, the want of purchasing power in Europe. The fact that we are sending a great quantity of goods into Europe—roughly, the same volume as we did before the War—proves nothing whatever, because the right hon. Gentleman has omitted to say, what I am sure is the truth, that a considerable proportion—I do not know the exact proportion—of the produce which is sent from this country to the Continent is sent at cost price, and, in some cases, below cost price, in order to keep the good will in the foreign markets. That factor did not operate before the War, and you do not dispose of the problem of the devastation of Europe by pointing to the very small disparity in the volume of the trade to-day compared with what it was in 1913.

Then you have again the problem in existence before the country and very much aggravated since the War, the problem of an increased working population. You have also the problem which is, to my mind, very largely if not entirely a new factor, the very great entry of the woman worker into industry. That has developed, and has followed quite naturally, upon the very large employment of women in munitions making during the War. It has come, and come to stay. You have a greater volume of unemployment than before the War. The right hon. Gentleman finds some satisfaction in the fact that the unemployment figures are not materially worse than they were in 1909. Yes, but consider what they have been in the last two years, and what they are now! That is another factor which must be borne in mind in connection with this matter.

There is another factor which has only been touched upon—and I do not wish to detain the House except to refer to the effect of taxation upon industry. That is a factor which would make an investigation entirely of its own, as to how far industry can continue to bear it. I do not want to be led away from the two points I have jotted down, or I shall detain the House too long, but the hon. Member behind me has just mentioned finance. That is not a point of the taxation matter, but it has to be taken into account. There is the question which to a certain extent has been illustrated by what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the sheltered and unsheltered trades—the question of the transport trades, for instance. These have been very seriously affected by the factor to which he referred, that far higher wages rule in the sheltered trades than in the unsheltered trades. There may have been a disparity between the rate of remuneration in these respective areas of trade before the War, but they were not in any way comparable to the existing disparity. As the right hon. Gentleman truly pointed out in his speech, one of the principal handicaps is the indirect taxation upon industry in the rate of wages paid in the sheltered trades as against the unsheltered trades.

There is another factor which appears in this connection, and that is the purchasing value of our customers abroad, that is the individual quantities that the populations of the various parts of the world consume. It is a most important point. If you only take the trouble to make the simplest investigation into the conditions of the export trade, you will find the most astonishing results. You find, for instance, that the individual customer in New Zealand or Australia is worth something like 25 to 30 times the customer in America. That is to say, that, taking the volume of trade that we do with our Dominions and comparing it with the volume of trade that we do with other parts of the world, the individual customer in our Dominions is enormously more valuable than the customer in other parts of the world. That leads obviously to this corollary, that if you can increase the number of customers in your Dominions you are taking a very important step towards creating those new markets to which reference has been made. The corollary to that is that if you transport the surplus—I do not like the word used in relation to our population—but I give it as having been used by another Member—and I agree that we do not want to consider this country as over-populated, and we do not want to consider a certain section of the population as being obliged, owing to economic circumstances, to emigrate—if we consider that point of view at all. It is quite certain if you are going to offer substantial inducements to a large number of your population to go abroad you must consider not only the market they are going to provide for you but the market you are going to provide for them. The few factors which I have indicated seem to me to be something entirely new, and they have been modified by the state of affairs produced by the late War.

If you have these new conditions, what is more appropriate and natural than that there should be a strong committee representative of industry, of merchants, banking, shipping and the consumer set up to make a thorough investigation of the whole economic situation not only of this country, but of the Empire, to make a report for the purpose of reviewing our economic policy, and seeing how far it is right or wrong? I am quite sure that the hon. Member who moved this Motion will be willing to accept as an alternative any subsequent proposals which the President of the Board of Trade can put forward for setting up an alternative committee, but unless the Government give some definite undertaking within a definite time to set up a committee with definite terms of reference, I hope my hon. Friend will press his Motion to a Division.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

I agree that this is a question upon which we should not introduce old economic arguments. I think hon. Members will exonerate me from hiding strong views in that direction. But, after all, we heard a speech yesterday which practically informed the country that we have got to settle down and accept an unemployment figure of 800,000 men as normal for all time. We were only discussing earlier this week relief provisions which are moving in the direction of establishing a dole system practically from the cradle to the grave. The consequence is that it really does seem to me that this question of our export trade and our internal trade ought to be put on the basis of a more or less non-controversial character, and that we should do everything we can to encourage a really impartial inquiry into this question which will be helpful to the House apart from what one might call the fiscal controversy.

We have many entirely different factors to consider. The President of the Board of Trade has told us that our trade with Europe is practically comparable with pre-War totals. I think that the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Liberal benches stated what we can all accept as correct when he said that the great amount of that trade is being kept going, simply to hold our markets, at very little profit to those concerned. Then the President of the Board of Trade went on to tell us that our trade with the Empire is practically the same as it was pre-War, also with regard to ratio; but I think he will be the first to agree that that trade is immensely more profitable, where the question of profitable trade comes into consideration.

I feel that his confession that our trade with the Empire at the present time is only comparable in ratio to that of pre-War times is really in itself sufficient to warrant an immediate inquiry, because I suppose that no one, whatever their views, will deny the great advantage of Empire trade to this country. We have, as has often been pointed out by numerous speakers from every point of view, in the past discussed this question of the exchange of trade, and imports being paid for by exports, and we have always been told, and it is quite true, of course, that the more you buy, the more, probably, you sell in the long run. Surely it must be clear to everyone that, if you can have that double replacement of capital within the Empire, you are doing something that is strengthening both ends of the trading arrangements, and therefore, that we should do everything in our power to carry it out. I was sorry that the President of the Board of Trade did not tell us what the Government intend to do in order to carry out the spirit of that decision of the Economic Conference. Is he prepared to do everything in his power to grant credits on a large scale, in order to encourage trade within the Empire?

I believe that opinion in this House is veering round in the direction of doing everything that is possible to stimulate migration within the Empire for those who really desire to go and are likely to prove successful; but it is no good encouraging all these hopes, and endeavouring to encourage a large system of migration, unless we can do something at the other end to make sure that those British settlers will find security for their markets. We have had big schemes put before this country in the last year by three Prime Ministers of different States in Australia with regard to this question, but it is no good our paying the fares of settlers to go to Australia, or anywhere else, unless we can secure work for them at the other end, and for that reason it does seem to me that it is vital, while encouraging migration, to do everything that can be done to build up the security of the markets. The President of the Board of Trade has, as I understand it, and I rejoiced to hear it, given what amounts—I think he will not correct me—to a specific pledge that the Cabinet are about to consider setting up a Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Drake (Sir A. Shirley Benn) has suggested an independent chairman, and the President of the Board of Trade seemed to think that a distinguished Judge or other legal authority was not, perhaps, the best, but I think we have to remember that my hon. Friend's proposal is that that Committee should be absolutely equally divided amongst the parties, so that there would not be the usual majority for one party and a Minority Report. If that be so, I think it is obvious that it is desirable that there should be someone—although I do not like lawyers—with a legal frame of mind, who can properly assist in assessing the evidence, and who is used to assessing and summing up. An hon. Member says, "Put a brigadier on." I dare say you might do worse. Not all brigadiers are scoundrels, and I would say the same of lawyers. But whoever the chairman is that the President of the Board of Trade recommends the Prime Minister to appoint, it must be obvious that he should be someone, if possible, who has not been actively engaged, let us say, in economic warfare in the past.

I only want to say one other word, and it is this: Whereas the internal trade of this country is, of course, of immensely greater importance than our export trade as to total value, I think that men of all parties have come to the conclusion that really we have exhausted the roads towards palliatives, as far as regards providing work of a non-remunerative character. That being so, it surely is our bounden duty—I am not going to say to explore every avenue, and I am not going to suggest that you can discover new markets—to find out which are the markets where we can most profitably advance our policy and do the best we can with regard to credit. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the decision as far as it goes. I understand it is a specific pledge; that he will approach the Prime Minister, and that this Committee is to be set up. When he suggests that two to three months is all too short for this purpose, there seems to me no reason why this Committee should not get to work at once. I doubt whether it is possible for the Government to introduce any new Measures for finding work in this country other than those which have been already tried. There is no good us fiddling while Rome is burning. If we are to save the moral of the people, it is vital we should find some new way of providing work. That is only possible by extending our trade overseas.


The President of the Board of Trade has said in his reply that he is willing to set up a Committee of a more general character with certain Terms of Reference. I gather he is quite willing to discuss the matter in the usual way with the different parties in the House. May I make this further suggestion to him—because this is a matter of great interest to the commercial community, and this Motion is moved to-night by two Members whose connection with business is very long and very respected, and who hold very high representative positions in business organisations—that, in addition to consulting in the ordinary way representatives of the different parties, he should also consult the Mover and Seconder as to the Terms of Reference.


I am very glad to reply to my hon. Friend. In order to make it quite clear, may I say that so far as I know the Government do not propose to make this in any sense a party Committee. It will not be a question of nominating Members from each side. I do not hesitate to say that some steps will take place through the usual channels, and we shall certainly consult the Mover and Seconder. The Government must be responsible for the form of the Committee and for the Terms of Reference, but they will certainly take into the fullest consideration the desire that the Committee shall be one which will command the confidence of the House.


Will the right hon. Gentleman also consult the trade union section of the House, because they are interested in the industry and commerce of the world?


I would say I am sure steps will be taken to take care that nothing is done which would tend to cast any doubt on the Committee. I must not go on saying we will consult everybody, but the consideration put forward by my hon. Friend will not be forgotten.


I do not rise to make a speech. There is a point my hon. Friend has not made clear regarding purchases per head in the Dominions and abroad, a point also made by my hon. Friend opposite which I think is without foundation if you examine the facts. I felt I must rise to offer one word in that connection. Comparison is made between the purchases per head in Europe. New Zealand, Australia and Canada, but we get no reference, when that argument used, to the fact that trade does not so much follow the flag as the loan, and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) said only a few nights ago, a loan is a credit granted in the lending country to the borrowing country to secure goods from the lending country. May I give one or two facts on that point? The figures for 1916 show that we had invested in the whole of Europe outside Great Britain £240,000,000. In foreign countries outside Europe we had invested £1,600,000,000. In British Possessions this little country had invested over £1,900,000,000. On the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead, that involved the exportation of goods. Obviously where you lend your capital goods follow. You have not lent your capital to Europe, and therefore goods have not followed. The contribution that we have made to the Empire is that we have enabled it to come to the finest borrowing market in the world for the cheapest capital in the world, and so long as you maintain your credit and make it better to borrow in the London market than in New York or any other centre, it will not be because they are brothers or cousins that the Dominions will come here for their credits but because it is the finest money market in the world. Follow the lesson laid down by our Chancellor and maintain the credit of the country at its highest, and it is the best contribution you can make to your trade, and above all, as experience shows, to the purchases within the Empire.


After the sympathetic way in which the President of the Board of Trade has received the Motion, may I ask leave to withdraw it?

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.