§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.—[Colonel Gibbs.]
I am very much obliged to the President of the Board of Trade for coming at this late hour to hear 1284 the statement I propose to make in reference to a grievance under Dyestuffs Act, 1921. Under that Act an Advisory Committee was set up to advise the President of the Board of Trade as to whether or not he should exercise the powers given him under that Act to prohibit the importation of dyes from any foreign country. The complaint I have to make falls under two heads. The first refers to the general practice of the Committee. When a merchant applies to the Committee for leave to introduce a dye for one of his customers into the country, he is frequently asked, in support of his application, to give the names of the customers on whose behalf he is making the application, and it is stated by the Board of Trade themselves that these names, which constitute the goodwill of his business, are distributed to rival firms, who apply to those customers and seek to serve their needs. If you allow that a merchant is performing a useful function and the man who imports something is causing an export in return and assisting the trade of the country, it seems hard that machinery which was never intended for that purpose should be used to push the merchant out of his trade and give away what is the good will of any business, namely, its clientéle, to his rivals. This is not an occasional practice, and it is not one for which the Committee is in the least responsible. What I am saying is not any reflection upon the conduct of that Committee, which consists of able business men who are giving their services in the public interest to carry out what was the wish of the House. The responsibility for this practice must rest with the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, and I ask him whether it is a fact, as stated in correspondence—and I think he can hardly deny it—that this information is given to the competitors of the people who ask for permission to import dyes, and, if so, what justification there is for it. Now I come to a specific case. This is not a party question, but purely one of business. There is a firm of printers—I will not give the name, although there is no objection to my doing so—who want to import a certain printing ink from France. Anyone who knows the business of printing knows how severe is the competition between our own colour printers and the colour printers of the Continent.
1285 A great deal of imported colour work comes in, for various reasons, and makes the competition with our own printers very severe. This firm applied for permission to import a certain French ink. They wrote to the Committee and explained their requirements. The Committee replied:There is a firm in England which makes an ink which is quite suitable for you.The firm replied, very courteously, and said:The ink that you suggest, will not suit our job.It is to be presumed that these printers, carrying on their business, have more idea of their requirements than has the President of the Board of Trade or his Department. The Department then replied and said, in effect:You must show that the ink which we suggest is not satisfactory.Accordingly, the printers went to a great deal of trouble, and wrote a long letter to the Board of Trade, explaining in great technical detail some of the reasons why this ink of British manufacture, which the President of the Board of Trade wishes them to purchase, is not suitable for the task in which they are engaged. Thereupon, they were told, curtly, by the right hon. Gentleman's Department, that they could not have the French ink, and in consequence the firm complain that they are going to lose the business in which they are engaged.
I ask any Member of the House, of any party, whether there can be any justification for a course of that kind. It is a hindrance to trade. If the case is as I have stated, and I have not the least reason to doubt the bona-fides of my correspondent, whose name I have supplied to the right hon. Gentleman—
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)
The hon. and gallant Member says that he has supplied me with the name. That is true, but he knows that he supplied it to me It 6.15 this evening. The information, necessarily, being entirely in the hands of the Licensing Committee, will have to be obtained from Manchester, and it could not be obtained at that hour.
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to try to ride off on the Licensing Committee. These gentlemen come forward in order to give service for the public good.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. and gallant Member must not misrepresent me. What I said was that at 6.15 this evening it was impossible to obtain information which can only be obtained from Manchester.
The right hon. Gentleman is making his usual defence, namely, that the people who come forward to assist him with their business experience are to bear the responsibility, although it is his responsibility. The Act, of Parliament does not say anything about the Licensing Committee being responsible for decisions. It says that the President of the Board of Trade shall grant licences, and he has the great advantage of the assistance of business men.
To try to put the blame on them, when he is responsible, is an act which is not worthy of the holder of a great office. The hon. Member knows the name of the firm, and I ask him whether he denies the facts that I have brought forward, and, if not, what justification there is for the action which I have described, which is a severe hindrance to British commerce.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. and gallant Member has raised two points. One is a specific case, and I am not in the least desiring to ride off on the Licensing Committee. The whole House has the fullest confidence in that Committee. Successive Governments have relied on that Committee of very able business men, who are doing a not very easy job in an impartial way. It is an Advisory Committee which consists of three makers, five users, and three independent persons, including two distinguished Members of this House. What I have said to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I have no intention that there should be any misrepresentation on the record, however suitable it may be to any purpose which he has in mind—
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I take full responsibility for the administration of the Act and I am duly grateful to the Committee which administers the Act thoroughly and impartially. What I have 1287 said is that as the whole matter is in the hands of the Committee, and quite rightly in their hands—and I take full responsibility for what they do—and as the name was supplied at a quarter past six in the evening and it was not possible to obtain full information from Manchester between a quarter past six and 11 o'clock, I will have inquiries made into this case. The Board of Trade in London know nothing of it, for the very good reason that we have complete confidence in the Committee and are perfectly content to leave the whole administration in their hands, which is exactly what it was said we should do when this Act went through the House of Commons. Therefore I propose to say nothing with regard to the particular case which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has brought forward, and which he did not bring forward in the question which he asked me to-day, which was a perfectly general question.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
When the right hon. Gentleman says that the administration of this Act is left to a Committee, are we to take it that this House has no control over what is done in Lancashire? Do we hand over the full control of the administration of this Act to that Committee?
§ Major CRAWFURD
I have the Act in my hand, and the section relevant to that point says that the Board of Trade have power by licence to authorise either generally or in any particular case the importation of any goods, etc.—The Board of Trade have power.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had been present at the Debate in this House he would know that the condition on which the House passed the Dyes Act—and a very proper condition—was that the administration of the licences should be vested in the Committee established by the Act, the proportion of the membership and the position of the Committee having been the subject of discussion in the House and the subject of an undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne), who was then President of the Board of Trade, which undertaking has been carried out.
§ Major CRAWFURD
It is clear that the responsibility lies with the Board of 1288 Trade. Surely that responsibility cannot he divested by the Board of Trade and transferred to another body.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has repeated what he said before. I accept full responsibility, and I have sufficient confidence and the great majority of this House has in the hon. Member for Stretford (Sir Thomas Robinson), who has presided over it for some years, and the other Members of the Committee, and I am ready to take full responsibility for any action which the Committee may take. In taking that responsibility, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, I am doing exactly what my predecessor undertook in this House that he would do, and what every successive President of the Board of Trade has done, and there is nothing which Lancashire would desire less than that the Board of Trade should take the practical working of the day-to-day granting of licences out of the hands of the experienced Committee and vest it in a number of officials in London. Certainly I am not going to do anything of the sort. I take full responsibility for what the Committee do but I will not fetter the discretion of the Committee in any action which they take from time to time. With regard to the special case of which I know nothing, I am not in a position to make any statement, but I make this statement without knowing the facts, but knowing the record of the Committee, that I am certain that the Committee treated this case as carefully and impartially as they treat the 300 or 400 cases that come before them every month.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to a question of general policy. There has been no change in that matter. Of course, the hon. and gallant Gentleman and I agree to differ as to what ought to be done in these matters. Those who are responsible for passing the Act or for its administration are anxious for the successful establishment and development of a dyes industry in this country. I appreciate that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is rot. But he can hardly expect me to administer an Act, the object of which is to establish, if possible, an industry, the lack of which was a great disaster to this country in the War, in a way that will defeat the Act's whole object. When he and whoever may be his 1289 allies for the time being come into power, they will have an opportunity, I hope not to administer the Act so as to defeat it, but of taking the more honest course of repealing it. It will be time enough to consider that when he comes into power, but as long as we remain in power—our predecessors of the Labour party carried out the same policy—we shall carry out the Act in the spirit in which it was passed and with the assistance of, and full confidence in, the very able Committee which advises us.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that there is something unfair in inviting agents in special cases—it is only in special cases—to disclose the names of would-be purchasers. I can tell him that it is only in special cases, because in the month of January there were 443 applications, and in only 12 of these were agents asked to furnish the names of consumers. In February there were 472 applications and in only 13 cases was the request made. That shows that this is not so much the rule as the exception. The exception is made in a perfectly proper case; it is made when there is a dispute as to whether the dye which the British maker-can furnish is a suitable dye for the purpose. So far from the onus being in such cases upon the man who wants to use it, the Committee have always put the onus of showing that a suitable dye is available on the British producer of the dye. That is a perfectly right thing to do. In order that the Committee may be satisfied in such a case as to whether there is a suitable British dye available, and in order that they may be able to test by proof put before them by the British producer of the dye whether a suitable dye is or is not available, it is necessary that the person who is to be the direct user of the dye sought to be imported and the alternative producers in this country should he brought into contact and should have a chance of proving their case. Therefore this rule, which is the exception, is laid down in the direct interest of the consumer, not the merchant but the consumer, the printer, the dyer, as the case may be, who requires a dye. to suit his purpose. This rule is laid down, started by the Committee with my full approval in the interest of the Lancashire calico printer or dyer or colour user, in order 1290 that the Committee may be satisfied as to whether or not there is a British dye available for the purpose. So far from there being anything improper in that, it seems to me to be a practical and sensible way in which practical men would find whether or not there was a suitable dye available for the purpose. I propose to continue to administer this Act in the spirit in which it was passed. I am well aware that there may be cases where the importer—not a printer, not a dyer, but the importer, the commission agent—might think it convenient to import "on spec" large numbers of foreign dyes not required for the immediate purpose of printers or colour users. It is not the purpose of the Act to enable that to be done. That Act was passed in order that an effective dye industry might be established. It is worked in such a way that there is a full and practical understanding between the colour-users the people who employ labour in the printing trades, the dyeing trades, the textile trades—and the producers of dyes. It is always the active concern of the Board of Trade to see that the most harmonious relations and the most practical working arrangements exist between the producers of dyes and the users of dyes in this country. But it is not the purpose of the Act, it is not the interest of the Board of Trade, and it is not, I think, the purpose of this country as long as this Act remains on the Statute Book, to afford speculators the opportunity of importing dyes at cheap prices, which they will probably sell at a considerably higher price. Where it is not required by printers and dyers it is certainly not required by any other person. We shall continue that Act with the advice and assistance of the Committee which has worked well in the past. We shall not be diverted from that purpose, nor will the Committee, nor will, I think, o the users of British dyes be diverted by such criticisms as those which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has advanced.
§ Mr. LIVINGSTONE rose—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present, House counted, and 40 Members not being present, the House was adjourned at Twenty-five minutes after Eleven of the Clock until To-morrow.