§ "That a sum, not exceeding £110,067,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges for the following Civil and Revenue Departments (including Pensions, Education, Insurance, and other Grants) for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929."
§ [For details of Vote on Account, see OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1927; cols. 69–72.]
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Sir ROBERT THOMAS
I beg to move, to leave out "£110,067,000" and to insert instead thereof "£110,066,990."
We have witnessed a resumption of the campaign on behalf of safeguarding, and one can hardly deal nowadays with trade depression without referring to safeguarding. It has become a burning question once again. We are told safeguarding has been an unqualified success. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Wait a minute. I will give you some figures before I sit down which will rather startle the Gentlemen who are saying "Hear, hear." It is, I admit, the prevalent, opinion that safeguarding has been an unqualified success. We are told, after the exhibition we have just had, that even now Germany is buying cutlery from us. I have read in more than one speech that Germany, as a result of the safeguarding of industries, instead of exporting cutlery to this country is now actually buying from us. The Gentlemen who have given currency to that report arc evidently quite unaware that Germany has never, as far as we have any record, exported to this country a knife, a fork or a spoon and that Germany before the introduction of safeguarding bought her cutlery from Sheffield and from nowhere else. I defy anyone to point to a single instance where Germany has bought a single knife, spoon or fork from any other country than this. It is true we get some trash from Germany. We get some six- 618 penny pocket knives that, the Sheffield people will not manufacture. It is true there is a little trade in that, but in the main Germany buys her cutlery from Sheffield and we do not buy it from Germany, so no credit can be taken for that. We are told we are making wonderful progress in our trade and increasing the amount marvellously since the introduction of safeguarding in 1925. Let us deal with a few figures. Figures are pretty hard things, particularly if you take them from the Board of Trade Returns, and that is what I have done. But I am not going to allow supporters of safeguarding an unfair advantage. I am not going to allow them to compare 1925 with 1927. 1925 was obviously a boom year. There was a boom in buying owing to the knowledge that safeguarding would be introduced, and our trade increased in consequence of that knowledge. I will take the year 1924. Take lace—£2,575,566 in December, 1924.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
Exports. That is the main test. I will deal with re-exports as well before I sit down. These are exports, and they are very telling figures. At the end of 1927 the export of lace was down to £1,763,968—quite a substantial reduction.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I have not the volume. The hon. Member can give the figures of volume. I am going to give them in values, and in my opinion that is a fair test. In cutlery there is a slight increase. At the end of 1924 the value of exported cutlery was £1,025,126. At the end of 1927 it was £1,074,212. Gloves, at the end of 1924, £259,474, and in 1927, £224,846. Gas mantles, at the end of 1924, £48,508, at the end of 1927, £41,815.
§ Mr. HANNON
It is extremely difficult to follow these figures. Will the hon. Gentleman give us the percentages of increase and decrease or some figure which we can keep in our mind.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
If the hon. Member wishes, I will give him a copy of the figures after I sit down. I think we have several of them amongst us here. The hon. Member had the same facilities of obtaining them as we have. We have 619 them from the Board of Trade Returns, and they are accessible to him as they are to us. Wrapping paper, at the end of 1924, £578,799, and, at the end of 1927, £331,083. I have not dealt with artificial silk for a good reason, but on these articles, which are very important after all, there is a total decrease from the end of 1924 to the end of 1927 of £1,051,551. In the motor car industry and the artificial silk industry there has been a very marked increase, but I submit that those industries are what may be termed expanding industries.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
The hon. Gentleman may try and explain "expanding" in various ways when he gets an opportunity to address the House, but we submit, in regard to these particular industries, that expansion would have gone on regardless of any safeguarding. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can hardly think that I would expect them to agree with my views on safeguarding, but, at all events, they are views which are very strongly held by many business people. We attribute the improvement, particularly in the motor car industry, to the enterprise of some of the people who are engaged in it. At last they have taken the trouble to find out the requirements of foreign countries in regard to motor cars. They have found a motor car for the country that requires a light, suitable car, and they are now copying the enterprising American who has driven a Ford car. I understand that Mr. Morris is building this light, suitable car for the foreign trade. It is the enterprise mainly of our manufacturers which accounts for this very wonderful increase of trade in the motor car industry. There has also been an expansion of trade in the silk industry. That is due, as very many of us know, to exceptional processes which, so far, other countries have not got. We manufacture artificial silk in this country the like of which no other country can manufacture both in regard to quality and price. That is why that industry is expanding and has expanded in the way that it has done. I have shown this, I think, fairly conclusively. To an impartial judge, the figures speak for themselves.
What about the re-export trade? I am sure many hon. Gentlemen opposite, 620 if they have business in the City, come in contact with houses who have dealt very largely in business on the re-export principle. London has been the clearing house for years. We have done an immense re-export trade. It is very hard, as anyone who is in business knows, to get the actual figures. You have to rely upon information you get from people engaged in the trade for the simple reason that these articles, lace and so forth, are sold out of bond. There are no figures from the Board of Trade, or official figures of any kind, which one can obtain to support the contention which I am putting forward, that that re-export trade, owing to the processes of safeguarding, has been knocked on the head. That is the opinion to-day of the people engaged in the re-export trade in the City of London. Anyone who likes to take the trouble to inquire, will find that that is the case.
At Question time we had a little flutter in connection with Russia. I should like to refer to the adverse effect that that blow to our trade has had on the East Coast. It is a matter that the Government ought to take into serious consideration. There are dozens of fishermen on the East Coast who have lost their livelihood since the suspension of trade with Russia. I am informed on very good authority that the loss in trade on salted herrings alone amounts to not less than £3,000,000, taking the coast line from Eye-mouth to Arbroath. This is a condition for which the Government are responsible, and when we are dealing with trade these are losses which the country should clearly understand.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Will the hon. Gentleman explain that figure? Does he maintain that this is a loss of £3,000,000 to the herring trade since the Arcos raid? Is there any foundation for the statement?
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I am told that it is more than that. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that these figures are approximately correct.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)
I am very anxious to have the hon. Gentleman's authority for the figure that we exported this year £3,000,000 worth of herrings to Russia less than we did last year.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I do not say that; I do not confine it to so many months. But since the Arcos raid the salted herring trade which we did with Russia has been lost, and that trade over a period—I have not the exact period—was worth about £3,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman has every facility for checking the figures.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
May I, as one who is very interested in the herring trade, ask the hon. Gentleman the total value of herrings sent to all countries in the world in one year. It does not amount to anything like £3,000,000.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who is so certain of that will, when he addresses the House later, give his version. That there has been a very serious loss there is no doubt. With regard to the vexatious procedure in reference to safeguarding, perhaps hon. Members will allow me to read an extract from the "Daily News" of an incident which happened. This is how it reads: 4.0 p.m.An illustration of the way trade is handicapped by the Protectionist policy of the Government is provided in a letter sent by Messrs. Paul Winn and Co., Ltd., of Oxford House, John Street, E.C., to the Customs and Excise Department. A packet containing small samples of lace, sent to this firm from abroad, was seized by the Customs on the ground that the importation of such dutiable goods by foreign sample post is prohibited. As a result, an order was lost. In their letter Messrs. Winn state:'The mosquito net is purchased by Germans and Swiss from Nottingham and embroidered abroad. Considerable quantities of this net are bought by our Colonies, and, were it not for Government Departments' interference, the trade would come to London as it always did. Now, however, what happens? The inquiry arrives here with a request for cable quotations. We submit these inquiries abroad, as the goods are not made in this country, with samples, requesting counter samples and quotations. These samples were posted to us with a view to our being able to sell, and, incidentally, make a profit on them—of which profit the British Government takes 20 per cent. Twelve days after samples are dispatched we receive your notice. Our efforts to get the business have been rendered nugatory by the official mind, which can see no further than the rules and regulations to which it must conform; and you wonder that our Colonies tell us that it is useless sending inquiries for foreign goods, and that they must send them direct to foreign countries.'622 Then what is to be done about the second inquiry on hosiery? Are the Government going to hold up their decision in regard to that inquiry? It is creating no end of disturbance in the hosiery trade. The whole system of safeguarding is useless itself, and it is vexatious to all connected with trade. There is one other matter to which I would like to refer in regard to the administration of the Board of Trade, and that is its attitude towards combination. I have put questions to the right hon. Gentleman in this House ever since 1926 on the Report of the Joint Inquiry into Foreign Competition and Conditions in the Shipbuilding Industry. That Report was issued by direction of the Joint Committee in June, 1926. There are certain recommendations made by that Committee, and on several occasions in this House. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he was taking any action in regard to those recommendations. I would like to point out to him what they are, as, apparently, he has forgotten. The Report, dealing with "Materials and Equipment," says:Suppliers of many of the materials, particularly where they have a large non-competitive alternative market to their shipbuilding market, are charging prices unreasonably high as compared with pre-War prices for the same commodity, and unreasonably high also as compared with the general level of prices. We quote, merely as an example of various materials, the cases of lead and paint materials, upholsterings, ropes, electric cables, light castings and sanitary outfits where the prices paid by our industry to-day show an increase over pre-War prices ranging from 100 to 200 per cent. In certain metals the prices quoted by manufacturers to foreign competitors show a substantial reduction as compared with home prices.It goes on—and I want to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this—In view of the extent to which high prices of materials, which have to be purchased by shipbuilders for use in the construction of ships, are prejudicing the total costs of shipbuilding during the present crisis, we agree to ask the Board of Trade to investigate the operations of rings and price-fixing associations in the supply of these materials, with a view to bringing relief to shipbuilding.I think that I have a right to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House to-day what he is prepared to do with regard to that very important matter. 623 He has refused time after time to give me any satisfaction in reply to questions in the House.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Member is now quoting me, or I would not interrupt. I have repeatedly said that no request has come to me from this joint body. I have always told the hon. Gentleman that if a request came from this body, I would consider it. I have had no request, probably for the excellent reason that the parties have got together and can carry on their business without the aid of the Government.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I was not, but the hon. Gentleman knows quite well that they have never been to the Board of Trade, although this Report was made several years ago, and I have no doubt, as I say, they have not been there for the excellent reason that people find out that they can carry on their business without Government help.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, knowing of the request in that Report for an investigation, would have made, without any further delay, an investigation, and it is really amazing, having regard to the enormously depressed shipbuilding industry, that the right hon. Gentleman should say, "I am doing nothing whatever with regard to this matter, because although I had this Report containing this request that I should investigate, I am going to do nothing until I hear further." I submit that that is an attitude quite unworthy of the high tradition of the Board of Trade. On the point of shipping rings, the trade of this country is really suffering to-day from the strangle-hold of these rings in various forms. I have given the result of a joint inquiry, not an inquiry by the workpeople engaged in the shipbuilding trade, but a joint inquiry of shipbuilders and men, and they say deliberately that the cost of shipbuilding, an essential industry in this country, is too high, and that it is due 624 to rings and price-fixing associations. The Government have been asked to investigate this question and, on the admission of the right hon. Gentleman, they have done nothing, because they have not been bullying them. I do not want the House to take my word as to the iniquity of this system, and I would quote a speech by a gentleman whose name, I am sure, will be received by everyone in this House with great respect. I refer to Sir Malcolm Arnold Robertson, British Minister to the Argentine Republic. He was in this country last year and made several speeches. This is a quotation from one of his speeches:We have between £600,000,000 and £1,000,000,000 invested in Argentine, to say nothing of shipbuilding, and we took by far the greater proportion of Argentine produce. If one or two of our rivals were in this position do yon suppose that we should be able to sell even a safety pin in Argentine; and yet our trade is slowly but steadily giving way to that of the United States, Germany, Italy and others countries—pathetic, especially when I tell you that the Argentine will gladly pay up to 15 per cent. more for genuine British goods. The reasons are to my mind "—And I would ask the House to bear this observation in mind—and I speak after very careful study and help and advice given me by British and Argentine alike—lack of propaganda, inadequate advertisement, poor salesmanship and high freights.In speaking of freights, I am speaking as one who knows more about them, perhaps, than about the herring fishery.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would like to ask the hon. Member in what way the Minister controls freights. This is Supply, and everything must be confined to the power which the Minister has. I have been waiting for a long time to see what the Minister was to do.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I suggest, that the combination of these rings and price-fixing associations should be kept under control by my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I hope to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman. With your permission, I should like to draw attention to the iniquities that exist and to ask the right hon. Gentleman to supply a remedy.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The rule is that we do not discuss matters in Supply which require legislation for a remedy. If the hon. Member can show in any way that it is a question of administration, then he will be in order.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I do not see how I can speak on the position of trade unless I am allowed to refer to these matters which are interfering with trade.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Perhaps in order to bring his argument into order the hon. Member will be able to suggest some method other than legislation by which the Minister can act.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
Perhaps you will allow me to proceed to point out in what way the shipping rings are injurious to trade, and before I sit dawn I will endeavour to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the remedy. We have it on the authority of the British Minister to the Argentine that these shipping rings are injurious to trade. What is happening? We have to-day combinations in shipping the like of which this country or any other country has never seen and never dreamed of. Take the Royal Mail Steamship Company. That company controls a tonnage which is simply staggering. No one man and no half-dozen men could hope to control such a large tonnage. It amounts to the colossal figure of 2,461,564 tons gross. This octopus has its tentacles all over the world, in combination with smaller combines. Germany is in it, the Dutch are in it and the French people are in it. They are in a huge combine, and they fix rates. They fix rates so high that they can sail ships with half cargo and still make good, whereas if the freights were lower they would get more from full cargoes and it would be all the better for our manufacturing trades. No one is allowed to interfere with these people. Here, for instance, is a note on the Shipping Conference provided for the International Economic Conference at Geneva in May, 1927. Those who subscribe to this Report who have anything 626 to do with shipping will be connected with some combination, conference or other. The most amazing explanation and justification for these amalgamations and conferences for the fixing of freights is contained on page 4 of this document. This is what they say in justification:A large part of the trade of the world is financed on borrowed money, the security for which is the bill of lading issued by the shipowners. The receiving and delivering organisations of the lines enable the land transit to be covered by the bill of lading and they are financed throughout.The Report proceeds, and I ask hon. Members to note, what follows:The shipping conferences neither possess nor exercise the powers of a monopoly. They are subject to competition in freights from without by the large and mobile reserves of tramp tonnage, and from within in quality of service.In the first paragraph they say that their justification is that they can give these through bills of lading, that they can finance all the operations, and that, therefore, they should be allowed to have these combinations and run regular lines at fixed rates of freight. They then go on to say that there is no risk, "because you have the competition of the tramp tonnage." Are they not aware that the tramp tonnage is not able to give these facilities? The tramp tonnage can only deal in full cargo. These big lines, these combines in this country and on the Continent maintain an unreasonable and unhealthy level of freights and are gradually and securely excluding the tramp from the shipping industry. They are doing so because they are taking cargo in small parcels and are forcing shippers to pay high rates, because shippers cannot supply a full cargo to any one ship, and arc therefore thrown into the hands of the Conference Lines.
If anyone dares to attack these Conference Lines or enter into one of the trades where these mighty conferences exist, you get a reasonable rate of freight. Perhaps I might be allowed to refer to my own experience. I am a shipowner running a line of steamers outside any conference. At the present time I am engaged in running a line of steamers to South Africa in opposition to the Conference Lines. I have never been connected with any conference. It is an amazing thing, and I think it would be very interesting to the House 627 to get some of the rates of freight which the Conference Lines charged before I entered the service and the rates of freight they are charging to-day. Here are some of the rates charged by the conference before and after I entered the service:
and so on. That is what these shipping lines can do when they are thrown into open competition in the open market. Take the Union Castle Company. The Union Castle Company, a few years ago, bought the concern from the old firm of Donald Currie and Company, and paid £30 for each £10 share. They have built steamers at fabulous prices, and to get a return on this inflated capital they are maintaining an unreasonable rate of freight; a rate of freight which the tramp owners cannot do. The tramp owner if he buys a steamer on an unfavourable market, as many did in 1920 and 1921, when the prices of ships were £40 a ton, and to-day they are £12 a ton, has to cut his losses, but I have never heard of any of the Conference Lines in these rings cutting their losses on the value of their ships. They maintain these inflated values and say, "Our capital is so much that we must 628 have a high rate of freight to pay interest on this high capital value." It is, obviously, monstrously unfair to the trade, and it is unfair for them to make e statement of that sort, which is not understood. The reason why their freights are so high, is because the values are too high and these shipowners, like the tramp shipowners, should face the situation and cut their losses, which they have not done.
- Bags (empty jute bags), original rate 40s., now down to 15s.
- Cast iron baths (weight or measurement of baths about five to the ton), 65s. per ton, now down to 15s. per ton.
- Empty wine bottles. The rate they used to charge was 55s. per ton; the rate now is 20s.
- China, 55s., reduced to 15s.
- Paints, 70s., reduced to 30s.
- Earthenware, 55s., reduced to 15s.
- Iron and steel bars, 35s. per ton, present rate 15s.
- Drift tool and drift steel, 60s. per ton, now 25s.
- Galvanized iron, 50s. per ton, now down to 10s.
- Iron hoops and joists, 45s. per ton, reduced to 25s.
- Nails, 50s. per ton, now 15s.
- Red and white lead, 70s., reduced to 30s.
- Oils, 70s., now down to 27s. 6d.
- Pianos, 60s., present rate 30s.
- Boot polish, former rate 80s., now 50s.
- Tin plates, 55s., now 25s.
I do not want hon. Members to take my word alone on this subject. I will quote what has been said by Mr. Richard D. Holt, of the Blue Funnel Line, who is the largest private shipowner in the country. I mention this matter because I think it does in a very material way affect the trade position. Therefore, perhaps the House will be interested to hear the views of one of the eminent men who really understand the shipping trade. Mr. R. D. Holt controls 600,000 gross tons of shipping. This is what he said the other day:He gave full recognition to the fact that this country depended wholly on its overseas trade and that no reasonable person could believe that it could support one-half of its population without that trade; that without her overseas shipping Great Britain would soon become a second-class power; that it was through the enterprise of British shipowners that the British Empire was established and maintained; that British shipping was a missionary of British ideals and British civilsation; that opportunities for trading created trade; and that it was a striking fact that directly a line of ships was started on a new route, a new trade was gradually built up. But he was very anxious to see not a, small number of big shipping firms, but a big number of small firms, for this brought out more men of character and enterprise than came if trade was concentrated in a few hands. Accordingly he regretted the tendency towards large amalgamations which sometimes practically resemble Government Departments.That is the opinion of the largest private shipowner in this country. He desires to see the liquidation of these shipping rings. Now I come to the question as to what the right hon. Gentleman ought to do. He knows that he has one remedy, and that is to hold an impartial inquiry. It is all very well to have an inquiry such as we have in this document submitted to the International Economic Conference at Geneva. I do not suppose there is an independent shipowner on that Committee, and it is essential in 629 order to get at the root evil of the shipping rings to have an impartial inquiry by all parties concerned. Let the Conference Lines be represented, but let those who are outside the Conference Lines be also represented. Let the manufacturers be represented and also those who realise how these high rates of freight are driving trade from this country to the Continent, as they are doing in a large and marked degree at the present time. I submit that the right hon. Gentleman should hold an impartial inquiry with a view to possible legislation. The country is tired of this long spell of depression. We have now had a trade depression for seven weary years and every business man is utterly tired of it. We think that the Government should wake up and help, in so far as they can, to revive trade and rebuild our industries. I see no sign of this; and I am sure the most optimistic Conservative Member opposite cannot hope for any revival of trade while the present Government is in power. The only alternative for a revival in trade is a change of Government, and that change must obviously be a Liberal one.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I beg to second the Amendment.
I associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas) and I desire just for a few minutes to supplement what he has said. Hon. Members opposite made considerable play with his reference to the year 1925, but my hon. Friend's reference to that year was because there was an influx of imported goods into those industries to which safeguarding was to be applied under the well-known proposals of the Government. In the figures we are presenting to the House to-day we have taken the year 1924, which has this advantage, that it was the year before hon. Members opposite came into power and the finances of this country were controlled by the right hon. Member for Coins Valley (Mr. Snowden). Hon. Members opposite will admit that they could scarcely have been in worse hands. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am sure the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Colne Valley will be most grateful for his unexpected champions, but from the point of view of this discussion they could scarcely have been in worse hands because the right hon. Gentleman 630 is an unrepentant Free Trader and did his best to wipe away all protective duties when he was in office. Therefore, from the point of view of hon. Members opposite 1924 should have been a bad year for British trade. That is why we take that year and compare it with 1927, when the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have been in power for three years.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I am trying to find the best year for comparison, and I will start with the interruption of the hon. Member and give him the information for which he asks. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey took five articles which have been safeguarded, leaving out pottery, because there has not been time yet to see its effect, motor cars and silk. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] We are discussing the question of safeguarding. Does the hon. Member for Penrith (Mr. Dixey) suggest that these industries came under the safeguarding proposals? Did they go through the process of sifting and examination?
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
The reason why I do not take motor cars and silk is perfectly simple. The motor car industry has expanded continuously both during the period when the duties were taken off and also since the duties have been put on. The silk industry is a new industry, and there is no possible basis of comparison—I mean the artificial silk industry. When one sees the developments which have taken place during the last few months and days in the artificial silk industry, hon. Members opposite must realise that it goes beyond the bounds of common sense to imagine that any safeguarding Duty would produce this result. I am taking the industries which have been subjected to the machinery of safeguarding legislation. The hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon), being unable to contain all the figures in his head at one time, asks for the percentages or something convenient to remember, and I have done my best to get out roughly the percentages. Let me take the lace industry. I must remind hon. Members that the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) in the Debate 631 on the Address said that the present unemployment was due to the falling off in our exports. That may not be altogether true, but it is largely true, and in view of that statement I hope hon. Members will consider these figures.
In the lace trade there has been a 33 per cent. decrease in exports, in cutlery a 2½ per cent. increase in exports, in gloves a 12 per cent, decrease in exports, in gas mantles a 14 per cent. decrease in exports, and in wrapping paper a 45 per cent. decrease in exports. If hon. Members opposite are prepared to take the export trade as a criterion of the advantages of these duties, then I ask them to explain these figures. Let me take two instances in detail. I will be frank and say that I have taken the two most favourable to my argument, but if hon. Members will take any of these instances they will find that wherever the imports, the effective imports, have fallen, exports have fallen in an even greater proportion. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) took my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey to task because he quoted values and not quantities.
Let me take cotton lace, and I particularly ask hon. Members opposite to notice the figures. Between 1924 and 1927 the imports are these. In the year 1924 they were £1,900,000, and in 1927 £372,000. Do hon. Members opposite regard that as satisfactory? The imports of cotton lace have dropped from just under £2,000,000 to within £370,000, but the re-exports, I notice, have fallen from £1,700,000 in 1924 to £115,000 in 1927. The hon. Member for Royton will see that the retained imports have risen from £206,000 to £257,000. The object of the hon. Member's intervention in regard to values was this. He meant that even if exports have fallen in value, because values have gone down, they may have gone up in volume. My reply is this, yes, but if the decrease in the value of exports is made up by an increase in the volume because they are larger, what does he say to the figures of retained imports, which have actually gone up? It means that the retained imports have gone up in a greater ratio than is shown by these figures.
What a glorious day for British trade says the hon. Member. If you take from 632 these figures all those which are re-exported, after giving employment to British workmen, the retained imports which compete with British workmen have gone up. That is the point which I say will tax the ingenuity of the hon. Member. If the importation of these goods does indeed affect the employment of British people, then the Government have deliberately injured employment by their policy. In all these circumstances it is not surprising that Mr. Gregory Meakin, who is the Secretary of the Nottingham Chamber of Commerce, wrote on the 12th of January this year to the "Yorkshire Post Trade Review":It cannot be said that a revival took place in the Nottingham lace industry in 1927, or that anything in the shape of prosperity was experienced.So much for cotton lace. Now let me take another instance on which there has been a great deal of argument—fabric gloves. Here I can give volume. In 1924 there were imported into this country 954,000 dozen pairs of fabric gloves. In 1927 there were imported 1,122,000 dozen pairs. There the imports have gone up. The re-exports have, as in the case of lace, gone down, from 112,000 dozen pairs to 45,000 dozen pairs, and as a consequence, retained imports have gone up from 842,000 dozen pairs to 1,175,000 dozen pairs, and the export trade has fallen from 87,000 dozen pairs to 33,000 dozen pairs. What is the result of the duty in that case? We have lost 60 per cent. of the entrepot trade and 60 per cent. of the export trade. Does that satisfy hon. Members opposite? Is that a thing to glory about? No wonder that one of the largest firms in this trade, a firm which took a leading part in pressing for the inquiry and getting it through, has since gone into liquidation. Does that please hon. Members opposite?
I regret that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) is not in his place. I know he would have been here if possible, because I spoke to him when I knew that this Debate was imminent. We all respect the hon. and gallant Member. He is whole-hearted in his opinions and he does not hesitate to say what he thinks he means. I say that advisably, and will quote one or two passages from his speeches. I had the hon. and gallant Gentleman's permission to make the 633 quotations. In the Debate on the Address, the hon. and gallant Gentleman began by saying that the last leg which the Free Trade Liberal party had to stand on was that goods were paid for by goods, and therefore if you destroyed trade the one, you destroyed it the other. He then went on:The Liberals said, 'You cannot have it both ways. You cannot get revenue and employment.'Hon. Members who were present will remember the triumphant air with which the, hon. and gallant Gentleman then turned round and said to the Liberal Members:I am glad to be able to tell them that the conjuring trick has been completed, that we have not only got revenue to the amount of nearly £12,000,000, but we have also very considerably increased employment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1928; col. 153, Vol. 213.]
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
Does the hon. Member applaud the simile of the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth? He does. "The conjuring trick has been completed." Does he know what is the essence of every conjuring trick? It is illusion, and the greater the illusion the better the trick. When the hon. Member sees a conjuring trick, he does not really see the pea going under the thimble; he only thinks he does. When I said that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth said what he thought he meant, I meant that he does not really get employment and revenue out of the same duty; he only thinks he does, because in so far as revenue is collected, employment suffers, and in so far as employment is obtained, obviously revenue suffers. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite are prepared to pursue that analogy at all, but they will find it is a very interesting one. They will know too that the succesful conjuror is not only deft with his hands, but that in order to make his trick effective he keeps up a perpetual chatter. The essence of all conjuring tricks is to make you look at one hand while the conjuror does the real business with the other. I cannot imagine a better simile for all this Protectionist and Safeguarding humbug than to call it a conjuring trick. Then the hon. and gallant Member for Bourne-mouth said, referring to the Liberals: 634They said that prices must rise. I make this definite challenge. In what industries which have been Safeguarded have prices risen?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1928; col. 153, Vol. 213.].A year or two ago I tried to fix the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to a definite case where the price of gas mantles had risen. But I do not want to argue on my own assertions. If prices have not risen, I ask any hon. Member why it was that in last year's Budget the duty was removed from one type of wrapping paper? If the duty did not send up the price, what on earth was the good of removing the duty? The hon. and gallant Member quoted the Prime Minister's pledge with regard to food duties. Why does he think that the Prime Minister made that pledge at the election? Does he think that the Prime Minister is senseless? The Prime Minister made that pledge for exactly the same reason as his Minister of Agriculture stated about a year ago that a duty that did not send up prices would not be of the slightest value to the farmer. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and versatile Gentleman, said about the Silk Duties in a Budget speech:Whether it is by sending up prices or by preventing a decrease of prices, or whether it is by compelling people to buy an inferior article for the same price, one way or the other the effect of the Duties must be to send up your price.Last of all, on this subject, we have the hon. Member for Kidderminister (Mr. Wardlaw-Milne), who made use of a very remarkable argument. He said:The facts and figures are available for the public to read and know the results that have come about in the past.And then he added this remarkable thing:We have never had Free Trade. Free Trade does not exist when everyone can throw anything over your garden wall and you cannot throw anything back.— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1928; cols. 290 and 291, Vol. 213.]
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
Does the hon. Member who says "Hear, hear!" really think that trade consists of throwing things over garden walls? Does he imagine that even one of the merchants in the City of London, who are so often 635 the object of abuse from the benches opposite because they import foreign goods, whose evidence is not to be regarded, whose motives are suspect—does he think that anyone of those men would be fool enough to import goods if someone did not want to buy them? Does he not realise that the real interpretation of the argument of the hon. Member for Kidderminister is: "You are not going to be allowed to buy what you like. You shall buy what we say you shall buy"? Hon. Members who think like that have no right to be where they are; they ought to be on the Labour benches. The safeguarding policy has been a failure from beginning to end. The figures that I have quoted this afternoon prove it. If the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will allow me, I shall follow my hon. Friend into the second half of his speech. I agree that in a Debate like this criticism should be positive and constructive, if possible. There are one or two practical things which I might suggest to the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend read a quotation from a speech made by a British Ambassador in South America. Is it not possible for the Board of Trade to take a little trouble to look into those matters which are injuring British trade?
Let me give an example. Last August or September I happened to be in the city of San Paulo, in Brazil, a large, flourishing and growing industrial city. We heard that our trade in the Argentine was being threatened by Germany anti by the United States and Italy, and the hon. Member for Enfield (Colonel Applin) made the intelligent remark "All tariff countries." Perhaps the, House will excuse me if I go back to the hon. Member for Kidderminster. This is the answer to the hon. Member for Enfield. A few days ago, in the Debate on the Address, the hon. Member for Kidderminster said:I maintain that competition with the industries of this country is unfair whenever that competition comes from a country in which the standard of living is lower than it is here."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1928; col. 290, Vol. 213.]
Everyone of them protected countries, as indeed was shown 636 the other day by the hon. Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall).
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I will make the hon. Member a present of the United States, though he knows perfectly well that it is not in the least comparable with European countries. I was going to say that in San Paulo there is a British community, and I was astounded to find this. There is severe competition from German merchants and German goods, and when these people come to sell their goods and to advertise them, every single bit of trade printed matter, catalogues, price lists and advertisements, comes into Brazil from Germany at exactly half the rate at which it comes into Brazil from England. The postage on the German material is half the postage on the British material. I am well aware that the discussion of that question might involve, not the Board of Trade but the Post Office. What I suggest, however, with regard to the point already raised by my hon. Friend the Mover, is that it is part of the business of the President of the Board of Trade to employ some of his officials in keeping a general watch over the interests of British trade. Is there not an information department? Is there not an advisory department? Is there not a department which might by means of publicity, remove some of the abuses from which British trade is suffering? In some of the quotations which I have read, one finds the phrase we so often hear about "unfair foreign competition." I think we should object to unfair competition, but it is not only foreign competition which is unfair. There is unfair British competition. What about it? I have here in support of what was said by my hon. Friend the Mover, not only general opinions from responsible people but individual cases. I have a letter from the British Chamber of Commerce in Buenos Aires from which I propose to read some extracts. The writer, the secretary of the chamber, is dealing with the question of shipping freights—and I would draw the attention of hon. Members opposite to what he says:The position described in the attached notes exists and is, if anything, even worse to-day.637 That is, as opposed to a year ago—The huge difference between British and Continental freight rates to the River Plate has been, for many years, and still is, a very serious handicap on British trade.I am very glad to see that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Overseas Trade Department is in his place. The letter proceeds:In many cases the price f.o.b. British ports is the same as the price f.o.b. Continental ports, but, due to the lower freight rates from the Continent, the British article is shut out of this market. You will find reference in the attached notes to a striking example of this in cement, the importation of which to the Argentine from Great Britain has diminished to a negligible quantity in four years solely owing to the freight.He goes on:Another line which is being badly hit at the moment is British earthenware.Then he says what is always said in these letters:Undoubtedly, there is a preference for British goods. Undoubtedly people are prepared to pay slightly more for British goods than for others. There is undoubtedly a preference in this market for British earthenware, and importers will pay, say, 5 per cent. more for the British article, but the difference in freight makes the cost of the British goods so highs as compared with the Continental article, that sales of the former are very much restricted.That reference is to earthenware. I do not want to read all these notes, but may give one or two examples. In the case of cement, already mentioned, the price f.o.b. in Europe is the same, but there is a difference of from 5s. to 7s. a ton in favour of the Continental port. In another case we find a rate of 80s. from the British ports, as opposed to 35s. from Hamburg, and we find the same thing right through a long list of articles. This is not theory, but fact. Here is a case where British manufacturers are being kept out of foreign markets, and British workmen are being kept unemployed, because British steamship companies are charging preferential rates against the British manufacturer, and the British workman. I have here also a letter from a merchant in Liver-pool which should interest hon. Members opposite. On the letter head is the name of one of the greatest iron and steel firms in this country for whom my cor- 638 respondent acts as merchant, and this is what the writer says:I wonder whether you are aware that far worse anomalies exist than the difference between British and Continental freight rates. Do you know, for example, that British shipowners charge a lower rate of freight on foreign goods than on similar goods from British ports borne in the same boat; that it is possible for you to put iron tubes on a British boat at London or Liverpool, on which the rate to foreign ports is much higher than it is on similar tubes already on board from Hamburg or Amsterdam.What does that mean? It means that the foreign article is put on at Hamburg or Amsterdam. The ship makes the voyage to Liverpool. At Liverpool the same things are put on board but a higher rate is charged on them than is charged on the foreign goods.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
Is that the fault of the Board of Trade? I submit that the hon. Member's argument is all out of order.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I have already had a discussion with Mr. Speaker upon that before the hon. and learned Member came in.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
Then, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on a point Order, may we have it again with you? I ask, is the hon. Member in order, unless he can show that the Department whose Vote is being discussed, has some control over the things of which he is complaining? I do not see how these matters can be relevant.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
May I say, for the second time this afternoon, that Mr. Speaker has already ruled that if we can make suggestions by which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade may remedy or help to remedy this state of affairs, all that we have been saying is relevant to the discussion.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
If it is in the power of any Department which is concerned in this Vote on Account to do anything to ease the situation complained of, then it will be in order to discuss such possible action; but, of course, if the hon. Member were to suggest legislation, it would not be in order.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
How can the Board of Trade control the freights which 639 foreign shipowners charge, and the freights which English shipowners charge?
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
For the sake of the hon. and learned Member opposite who, for some reason best known to himself, wishes to avoid these things from becoming public—
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I do not know whether there is anything in that. At all events, for his sake, and in order to put myself right with the Chair, I would point out that I began this part of my speech by asking if it were not possible— even if the Mover's suggestion to have an inquiry into these matters were not carried out—for some department of the Board of Trade to watch these things and, by means of publicity, by publishing the facts, bring public opinion to bear without legislation. I feel, with hon. Members opposite, that the less legislation there is dealing directly with trade, the better. I feel that strongly, but I feel this too—that many abuses might be lessened if publicity were given to the facts. I am describing this state of affairs not on my own evidence, or the evidence of Members of this party. I am doing so on the evidence of people who are engaged, day by day, earning their living and getting work for British workmen; and their evidence is that their trade is being endangered and hampered by the abuses that are rife.
§ Sir HARRY FOSTER
I do not wish to put the hon. Member off his argument, but do I understand him to inform the House that these preferential charges in favour of foreign goods are made by British companies against British shippers?
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
That is exactly what I do say, and I am very grateful to the hon. Member, whose feelings on these matters everybody knows, for bringing out that fact. We often talk about unfair foreign competition, but here is a case of unfair British competition, and of unfair treatment by British 640 people, of British manufacturers and British traders. My correspondent proceeds:Are you aware that even in the present ghastly condition of our steel trade it is sometimes possible for our makers to quote a lower price f.o.b. than the Conti-mental figure, but to lose the order on the c.i.f. delivered price, because a British boat has given a German or Belgian maker a lower rate of freight.
§ Major PRICE
May I ask whether the freight given from the foreign port is lower than the freight which would be charged by the foreign vessel from the same port?
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I am not saying that. I have never hinted that. I will give hon. Members a concrete example of what I mean. I am not sure what the actual articles were, but I think they were cotton goods from Manchester, and an importer found it cheaper to send his goods to Antwerp and have them reshipped from Antwerp to the River Plate than to ship them direct from Manchester to the River Plate. Finally, I am going to quote one more actual case—and this is a case which will, I am sure, appeal to hon. Members opposite. This is the case of a British firm, and they have been good enough to let me have the actual correspondence which has passed between them and their foreign agents. I am going to translate very freely the first letter in the correspondence. It is from a firm in a port in the Eastern Mediterranean writing to the British firm. They say:We shall be very much obliged if you will quote your lowest price for (a certain article). We would like you to know that we are in process of reconstructing the whole of n certain system in this foreign town, and we shall have need of very large quantities of these particular articles. It will be very agreeable to us if we can work with your firm.Then they request that they may have an agency. Here we have, what we all want—a request from a foreign country, preferring the goods of this country, asking for British goods, made by British labour and yielding profit to British manufacturers. What happens? The firm in question in England writes immediately for a shipping rate to this Eastern port and they are quoted a rate of 80s. a ton. They know that to another port, which is about equi-distant from England and is certainly no nearer, the rate is 32s. 6d. 641 The rate quoted to them, however, is 80s.—and hon. Members will note that every freight figure I quote in this case must have added to it 10 per cent. on account of what is called primage. Do hon. Members know what primage is? It is another word for blackmail. It means that on every freight you pay to the combine there is an extra 10 per cent. which is retained for a certain period. It is retained altogether, if it is discovered that you have sent any of your goods by an independent line, but is returned—in three months, I think—if you have not done so. On 12th October this price of 80s. is quoted, and representations are immediately made to the shipping agents. They set to work with the Conference, and on 18th October the price is reduced to 60s. Again telephonic communications take place, and there is another quotation of 40s. on 1st December, so that the Shipping Conference, which was prepared to charge 80s. on 12th October, in about seven weeks has come down to 40s.
What possible justification could there have been for the quotation of 80s.? Then, when it is at this stage, the foreign agents who are inquiring after this contract write to the British firm that the freight from Antwerp to this particular port is 22s. a ton, and the fact that it is 22s. from Antwerp while it is 40s. from England means that the goods made in Germany of a similar kind are infinitely cheaper at the Mediterranean port. "But perhaps," they say, "your quality is better," and they ask for a sample, as they are prepared to pay more for British goods. In view of these facts, more representations are made to the Shipping Conference, the price is reduced to 30s. on 5th January, and finally, on 25th January, it is brought down to 25s.; and at that price, although it is still higher than the Continental article, a trial order is secured. That correspondence goes on from 12th October to 25th January, and by successive stages the quotation is brought down from 80s. to 25s. and, in addition to all that, the 10 per cent.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, quite apart from the excessive price, is it not almost inconceivable that if the 25s. had been quoted at first, that firm would not have got the contract straight away and there would have been employment for British people? It is beyond any question at all that this shipping 642 ring has, as somebody said, got a strangle-hold upon British trade. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are Liberals!"] What a perfectly senseless remark. What has it to do with the case? I do not mind if they are Liberals, Conservatives, or Socialists. They are probably all three, but that is not the point. The point is that here is something which is hampering British trade. I am not going to say that the right hon. Gentleman is supine or inactive, but I hope he will forgive me for making the suggestion and saying, as I see his colleague is there, that between them, by finding out those things which are keeping back British trade, for instance, the lack of diplomatic privileges to commercial attachés and small things like that, they will ascertain that there are things here and there to be done which, I am sure, will help to clear the path and let. British trade go forward. It is in that direction rather than by these tariffs and safeguarding devices that, I am sure, our salvation is to be found.
§ Captain RONALD HENDERSON
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas), in the course of his speech, referred to the motor manufacturing industry generally, and I should like to correct a misapprehension which I am afraid might mislead this House if his statements were permitted to go unchallenged. He said it was not fair to take as a comparison the figures in the motor-car industry, because it, was a naturally expanding industry, and he also said that the expansion was largely due to the enterprise of British manufacturers, who had copied the American manufacturers and taken a leaf from their book and so, by lowering the clearance of the cars, had found more customers. I have the honour to represent, in my constituency, what I think I can venture to claim is the largest British motor-car manufacturing concern, and I was so struck by the statements of the hon. Member that I took the opportunity of telephoning to the company in order to check one or two of those statements. As a result, I find that the case is totally different from the position stated by the hon. Member. Far from the British motor-car manufacturers copying the American manufacturers, the boot is entirely on the other foot. There has been no attempt, in this particular com- 643 pany, which is the biggest of all the British motor-car manufacturing companies, to copy American methods or to lower their cars.
§ Captain HENDERSON
Yes. Far from being that at all, the case has been that they have got out their own designs and pushed their way in the world markets by their own enterprise, and the Americans are now copying the British cars by going down towards the ground, and we find the latest pattern of Ford car closely assimilated in design to the British cars.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I was referring to the foreign trade, and the hon. and gallant Member must know very well that in certain foreign countries you want a larger clearing space, otherwise these low manufactured cars cannot make any progress. Therefore, I suggested that manufacturers in this country are now adopting American methods in that particular respect.
§ Captain HENDERSON
That misapprehension I am endeavouring to correct. So far from the British manufacturers adopting American methods, the Americans are copying the British, and coming down.
§ Captain HENDERSON
The hon. Member for Anglesey also said that the increase was due, not so much to the Safeguarding Duties, as to the fact that it was a naturally expanding industry. How much of the expansion that has taken place in the motor manufacturing industry is due to what the hon. Member describes as natural expansion, and how much to the effect of the Safeguarding Duties? In order to get a fair analogy, we will go back to the year 1923 and compare that with the year 1924, which the hon. Member took as his datum, and I think we shall thus get what might fairly be called the natural expansion of the industry when it had not got the assistance of the Safeguarding Duties. In the year 1924, as compared with 1923, the increase of exports was one of 25 per cent. 644 Then, if we take the year 1924, which the hon. Member took, and compare it with 1927, we find that the exports in that period went up six times. Therefore, taking his own suggestion that the natural expansion of the industry was represented by, shall we say, an annual increase of 25 per cent., the effect of the safeguarding has been to expedite that natural increase from an annual 25 per cent. to an annual 600 per cent.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
The hon. and gallant Member has possibly overlooked the fact that the year he quotes, 1924, yielded seven months of duty. The McKenna Duties were not removed until July, 1924.
§ Captain HENDERSON
The comparison is not quite so bad as the hon. Member thinks, because in this type of car the whole of the export orders are booked for the summer. One other thing I should like to say is that the hon. Member would lead the House to understand that safeguarding had not, assisted the employment of British labour. I can speak from personal knowledge of my own constituency. When this industry had the benefit of safeguarding, employment steadily increased. The McKenna Duties were removed, and at once a check to employment set in, and that check was accentuated month by month.
§ Captain HENDERSON
The motor-car industry. Then the duty was restored, and at once employment went steadily up, month by mouth, and it has in-creased year by year continuously. I can assure hon. Members that, if it had not been for those duties, in my county we should have been faced with a grave unemployment problem, but, thanks to those duties, it has passed to a large extent over our heads.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
Will the hon. and gallant Member allow me to say that the move which led to the great expansion of the imports in the motor industry was taken when it was known that the right hon. Gentleman was going to take the duties off, about six weeks before the Budget?
§ Captain HENDERSON
I took the precaution of putting a trunk call through to the works when the hon. Member for 645 Anglesey was speaking, and I obtained figures which show that in 1924 the increase in exports was 25 per cent., or what we might call normal expansion, and taking the same year as the hon. Member for Anglesey, the year 1924, and comparing it with 1927, it had increased six times. I can only say that it has been the saving of my county from going through all those tragedies and horrors of unemployment which have so afflicted other counties. It is thanks to these duties—
§ Captain HENDERSON
—and to his genius, I quite agree. I merely rose to correct what would have given rise to a very serious misapprehension on the part of the House if the statements of the hon. Member for Anglesey had been permitted to go uncorrected.
§ Major Sir HERBERT CAYZER
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate until I heard the hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas) make some remarks in regard to shipping rings. I happen to be connected with conferences connected with shipping in a great many countries throughout the world, and I am not ashamed of the fact. If you consult the merchants and shipowners you will find that they are in favour of these conferences and that they help them by the stabilisation of freights. The Mover of the Amendment made the statement that merchants were suffering from the stranglehold of the shipping ring. I would like to show how the Conference benefits merchants and shippers of this country. First, they ensure regularity of service, that is, the sailing of ships to date and their arrival at regular times in the ports. The Mover of the Amendment stated that the Conference actually fix rates so high that they can sail their ships with half cargoes and still make good. In one sense he is right. Ships have to sail whether they have 10 tons of cargo or 10,000, but to say that they make good when they sail with small cargoes shows that the hon. Gentleman does not know anything about the matter. I could give him the results of some boats which have sailed with small cargoes, and I do not think that he would care to take over the liability. The second thing the Conference does is to ensure the stability of rates. That is 646 a great thing to all merchants. In order to quote for business in South Africa or other parts of the world, he wants to know what the freight rates will be three months hence before he wishes to send his stuff across the ocean. By having confidence in the stability of rates he knows what be can offer for goods three or four months ahead.
The third point is uniformity of rates for all merchants, great or small. That is rather appropriate in this case, because it concerns the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. The Conference laid it down as one of their first principles that whether a man ships 100 or 1,000 tons, he should pay the same rates of freight. The rate of freight is the same whether you are a big or a small shipper. That was really one of the reasons for the fight which is now going on in the South African trade, to which reference has been made by the hon. Member for Anglesey. A certain firm of merchants two years ago came to the Conference and said that they had a large quantity of cargo to take to South Africa and they demanded a cheaper rate of freight. The Conference absolutely refused, and said that the firm would have to pay the same rate as a small shipper. As a result, the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment is approached by this firm of shippers, and he proceeds to quote lower rates to this shipper than other shippers are paying, thus doing away with the stability of freights. In other words, one rate is given to one man and a different rate to another man, and that does not give fair competition to exports from this country. The Conference has also undertaken that our shippers will not suffer by reason of lower rates quoted to other shippers, and when the hon. Gentleman quoted low rates, and freights had been reduced, we felt that the Conference had to reduce rates in fairness to shippers who were loyal to the Conference. After all, an opposition might last for a year or so, but these rates cannot continue indefinitely. It has caused a great deal of worry to the shippers in that trade. The Conference further ensures to the merchants what they require, and that is high-class steamers, efficient and fast boats which are able to deal with all classes and descriptions of cargo. The result is that, in a regular line, expensive boats have to be built to give the speed and efficiency 647 to meet the requirements of the trade. That is exactly what a tramp boat cannot do, and when a tramp line tries to force its way into a trade it cannot meet the requirements that the merchant wants. In the long run, the merchant is bound to go back to a rate which is at least economic to provide for the requirements of the trade.
The hon. Gentleman also stated that the rates to South America between United Kingdom ports and Continental ports were lower on the Continent as against this country. There are certain reasons why there should be lower rates given from the Continent. The loading expenses and labour conditions are much higher in Liverpool, for instance, than in Antwerp. The excess of cost in British ports over the cost in Contmental ports ranges from 50 per cent. to 300 per cent., so that if a rate is higher from Liverpool than it is from Antwerp, local conditions must be taken into account. Another reason is the question of despatch. I have here the despatch of half a dozen steamers from the United Kingdom as compared with the Continent. A cargo of 3,500 tons bauxite was loaded in 16 hours on the Continent. A cargo of 4,700 tons in this country was loaded in 14 days. When you have got boats costing from £50 to £100 a day, you can imagine that the cost goes up very materially. Another boat loaded 5,500 tons of ore on the Continent in two days. In the United Kingdom it took 14 days to load it. Another boat loaded 1,866 tons of cargo in 7¼ hours on the Continent and a boat with 2,176 tons took six days in this country.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I say it is the rule that the costs are from 50 per cent. to 300 per cent. higher here than on the Continent. What makes the working costs of British ships a great deal higher than on foreign ships is the higher wages, but I do not cavil at that. This matter of low rates from South America is largely due to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. He states that it is hard on the British merchant that he should have to pay a higher rate than the foreign merchant from Antwerp. Yet 648 he is the very man who cut the rates from the Continent and gave the low rates to the merchants on the Continent, giving them the benefit over the merchants in this country. If any man ought to be held up for having hit British traders, it is the hon. Gentleman himself. I am sorry he is not here, but this is the first opportunity which I have had to reply to him. I must compare rates in Antwerp with those in this country. The rate of iron goods from Antwerp is 18s. a ton and from the United Kingdom 27s. 6d. That is a fairly big difference, but you have got to take the expense of handling. If you take a 7,400 ton cargo, the cost of loading from Antwerp is 3s. 4d. per ton, and from London 6s. 7d. per ton, representing an extra cost in loading at London of £1,200. Take the instance of voyage to the Plate. The Plate is one of the most expensive ports in the world.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
The loading of the cargo. In loading at Plate you have lighterage dues, and they vary very largely. To take a fair average, the cost would be 8s. 6d. a ton. If you take 8s. 6d. a ton for discharging at the Plate and 6s. 7d. for loading in the United Kingdom, that is 15s. ld. If the rate had been 18s. on this side, which is what the hon. Gentleman quoted on the Continent, it leaves the shipowner 2s. 11d. for the cost of running his ship, and everybody knows you cannot run a boat from the United Kingdom to Plate at anything like 2s. 11d. per ton which has to pay for cost of fuel, wages, and running expenses. The fact that the hon. Gentleman has been largely instrumental in lowering the rate to 18s. on the Continent has made it impossible for any shipowner, unless he be prepared to face enormous losses, to get anywhere near that rate from this country. That is one reason for the difference of the rate between the two countries. The hon. Member for Anglesey talked about the stranglehold of the shipping ring as if it were something quite new. It is a very old bogy. We have had many inquiries into it. In 1909 we had the Royal Commission on Shipping Rings. They went into it very thoroughly and reported: 649Where a regular and organised service is required, the conference system fortified by some tie upon the shipper is as a general rule necessary.The hon. Member for Anglesey has mentioned Mr. Dick Holt as a celebrated private shipowner owning one of the biggest private companies in the world. I agree with him, but the hon. Gentleman has held him up as a paragon against the Conference lines and the Conferences generally. I have had the pleasure often of sitting on a great many Conferences representing trades in different parts of the world alongside Mr. Dick Holt, who was also a member. So, if he is held up to admiration by the hon. Gentleman, he can have nothing to say against these Conferences. I will quote another extract. In 1923 the Imperial Shipping Committee reported on Conferences, and this is what they sald:It is clear that competition between individual liners or lines in the same trade would be quite incompatible with stability of rates, and that the trade would in fact tend to return to the disturbed conditions which prevailed before the introduction of the conference system, or to those characteristic of the tramp market. The shippers might for a time secure the benefit of low-cut rates, but there would inevitably be a strong tendency to abandon regularity in sailing, and there would be no gaurantee, such as obtains at present of any general progress in the type of vessel plying, and the nature of the facilities afforded. We consider therefore that the conference system must be accepted as a necessity of modern commerce.That was in 1923. In another short paragraph the same Committee remark with regard to this tie which they say is essential between the British shipper and shipowner:We have carefully considered the question of the necessity for a 'tie,' and it appears to us that there is a clear mutual obligation—the shipper wants the ship on the berth without fail and the shipowner wants the goods on the berth without fail. Hence we find it is necessary for the conferences to have some assurance of continuous support from shippers such as will constitute an effective method of preventing intermittent and irresponsible competition for berth cargo by outside ships.That is the very thing which my hon. Friend below the Gangway has been doing, irresponsible competition on the berth, endeavouring to force his way into these trades, and, as I say, doing a certain amount of injury to British shippers by reason of the uneconomic low-cut rates 650 which he has quoted from the Continent to the detriment of British shippers. As a matter of fact, certain trades have rebates and certain have not. In regard to South Africa, there is no such thing as a rebate; it was done away with a long time ago. We have an agreement between the shipowners and shippers, who meet to discuss various questions of freight and the rates in that trade are settled between the merchants and the shipowners by agreement. Any merchant who disagrees with a rate has a right to put it before this conference and have it discussed and rectified. That arrangement has gone on for a considerable time and, I think, to the satisfaction generally of the merchants of this country in the South African trade.
I am sorry to have had to refer to these things, but the loyalty of South African shippers to the Conference show how well satisfied those concerned are with the conditions existing. I think that pretty well covers the points put by my hon. Friend below the Gangway, and I regret if I have had to make any personal remarks about him or his ships; it was inevitable, because I wanted to show clearly that the Conference was out to try to cater for the trade in the interests of the merchants. We shipowners want to extend our export trade abroad, not to cut it; and we do not wish to hand British trade over to the foreigners. We want to try to encourage as much trade as possible between this country, foreign countries, and the British Dominions, and to give as low rates as possible in conformity with what merchants require. Certain trades want fast ships, and other trades want excessively fast ships, and we have to try to meet their requirements, and rates are largely governed by what the trade requires in the matter of ships and, very often, by the expenses at the ports of loading and discharge and the likelihood of the homeward cargo has also to be taken into account. No two trades can never be treated alike, they all vary.
I would like to say this in conclusion. I have said no word about safeguarding, because I know there are a great many other hon. Members who will probably talk about that, but I would like to mention that as a shipowner I am entirely in favour of the principle of safeguarding. 651 It is generally said that shipowners are Free Traders. I do not know why that impression has got about. Possibly it may have arisen from the fact that in the old days a great many shipowners were Liberals, and it was part of their creed. I think they were Free Traders more because they were Liberals than because they were shipowners.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Baronet that he can discuss safeguarding on this Vote only in so far as regards the action of the Board of Trade in setting up these committees or deciding upon an inquiry. We cannot have a general Debate on the principles of tariffs or Free Trade. This is the Report of Supply.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I apologise to you, Sir. I had no intention of saying anything about it at all, except to express the view that the shipowner is not so much against safeguarding as is often supposed.
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
I do not propose to follow the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer), because the question of shipping rings is one about which I know nothing, but I would like to refer to the question raised at the beginning of the Debate, that is, the position of British trade as it has been affected by safeguarding. I will take it that the general policy of the Government on trade is an extension of the powers they have for the safeguarding of industry. If that be so, and I do not know that there is any other constructive proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has put into operation, it is my submission that this policy has been clearly a failure. It is obviously impossible to deal with the large problem of our home markets by means of safeguarding. It is equally impossible to deal with the situation in some of the most important basic industries, such as coal, shipbuilding and cotton, by means of safeguarding, and the case I wish to make is that the real responsibility for the trade situation of to-day lies upon employers of labour, in conjunction with the fact that the Government and the Board of Trade have not exercised that influence and moral persuasion which they might have used to see that our industries re-adapted them- 652 selves to the circumstances which followed the War. Before the War, British industry could hold its own in the world. Since then changes have taken place. We are living now in a new economic era, where changes have occurred with extraordinary rapidity, but where neither industry nor the Government have helped the process of readjustment as they ought to have done. A day or two ago a letter appeared in the "Times," in the course of some correspondence which has been running for a week or so, from a distinguished scientist named Dr. Bone dealing with the position in the iron and stel trade. He pointed out that in his opinion the British steel industry is suffering primarily from its past neglect of scientific methods and control, and its want of outlook and leadership all round. If that charge be true, and I believe it is, there is a heavy moral responsibility on His Majesty's Government to use what influence and power they have to consult with the basic industries in order to see that they de exercise that foresight and do apply that knowledge and science which the conditions of the time demand.
During the later stages of the War, and immediately after the War, there were a series of Committees, some of them, I think, set up by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors, on some of our greatest industries, and I think I am right in saying that in the case of almost every industry the Reports made serious criticisms—certainly of the engineering, shipbuilding and other trades. Many of those criticisms still hold to-day. Professor Bone, who, I think, may be regarded as an independent expert, has a certain right to speak for the iron and steel industry, and he says, in short, that what is wrong with this industry to-day is that there are not enough brains applied to its conduct, and I would say that the same criticism applies to other industries. The fact that we have in Morris's, as was pointed out to us today, an extraordinarily efficient firm, to which we all pay tribute, only throws into deeper relief the extraordinary inefficiency of a very large number of other engineering firms in this country. That has been proved by Government Committees, and even by a joint committee of employers and workers in that industry.
653 The case of coal is an obvious one. Everybody knows that the coal industry is inefficient, at least, everybody but the coalowners, who appear never to learn. There is amongst the business men outside the coal industry, whatever their political views, a general feeling that the coal industry is lacking in organisation, lacking in the application of science and lacking in its capacity to adapt itself to the new circumstances of the times. When an industry is in trouble, invariably its first step is to turn to the workers and to say, "What about longer hours and lower wages?" That is always the first step. The first step ought always to be the inquiry whether the industry is efficient or not. I think the benevolent supervision and guidance and encouragement of the German Government, and perhaps the more scientific outlook of German business men, have resulted in a reorganisation of German industry such as is unknown in this country, and it has been very largely responsible, indeed, almost entirely responsible, for the remarkable recovery made by the German people, notwithstanding difficulties greater than those which assailed this country. As far as I know, the President of the Board of Trade has never made any appeal to, and has never exercised any pressure on, any industry in this country to reorganise itself.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am sorry the hon. Member has never read any of my speeches, although I did not expect him to do so.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am a very, very faithful reader of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, but I am asking what has he done? Many people make speeches and but little follows. Has he ever called into consultation the employers in the basic trades and put the cold hard facts of their inefficiency before them? Did he on the occasion of the coal dispute do anything to persuade the coalowners that there was something radically wrong with the organisation of their industry? So far as I know, he did no such thing. That is my complaint—that the Board of Trade has a certain definite responsibility for trade and does nothing. It ought to be part of its 654 definite action to call into regular consultation the representatives of those industries which are now going through these very difficult times.
Let me refer to an industry where there is obviously need of some Government inquiry and intervention. I refer to the cotton trade. That industry, on its productive and manufacturing side, was once the most efficient in this country, but it has now fallen on evil days, and even safeguarding will not help it. Here is an enormous industry where, roughly speaking, four-fifths of its products go abroad and about one-fifth is consumed at home. The cotton exports have fallen in volume and, quantity to two-thirds of what they were before the War, but not in monetary value. In actual amount the exports of cotton goods have fallen by one-third.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Here we have an industry which is entirely dependent upon its exports, and it is now in as bad a state as any industry in the country. Our markets have been lost in India and China. We have been told that the cause of this is the increased poverty of the Indian peasants after the War due to famine and bad harvest. With regard to China, we have been told the civil war is the cause of this falling off in the cotton trade. The truth is that for every bale of cotton exports that we have lost, Japan has gained one. That is it very serious situation for the premier textile industry of the world to occupy. What is the explanation? It is the one I have already suggested, that there is far more scientific organisation of the cotton industry in Japan than there is in. Lancashire to-day. I do not say that on my own responsibility, but I say it on the responsibility of Lancashire business men. As far as I know, the Board of Trade have not taken any action to deal with this situation. We find the cotton industry badly organised, and at the time when we are faced with a need for drastic action, the employers in the cotton trade, like the coalowners, put 655 forward a series of demands which include longer hours and lower wages for the workers. Even if the employers succeed in forcing an extension of hours and lower wages for which they ask, it will not mean more than a fraction of the 10 per cent. reduction in price which they say is absolutely necessary to carry on the cotton trade.
I am making these statements, not on my own authority, but on the authority of business men. We must look for something different. Appeals have been made in this House to the Prime Minister and to the President of the Board of Trade for a Commission of Inquiry into the whole problem of the cotton textile industry, and that request has been refused. I should like to know on what grounds it has been refused. Is it not obviously right, when an industry is passing through a difficult time, that there should be a full examination of the economic circumstances affecting that trade? I once heard an employer say, after the appointment of the Sankey Commission, that that would be the last Commission of its kind, but there has been another. I have come to believe that business men dislike the disclosure of facts, and they rely upon secrecy a great deal too much. In these matters a grave responsibility rests upon the Government. Are the Government going to allow one of the most important industries in the country from the point of view of our export trade, simply to dissolve in decay or in some form of struggle before they come to its assistance and lay bare the real facts of the situation? When this country went through the first stage of the industrial revolution a century and a-half ago, nobody could understand what was happening because it was the greatest industrial revolution we have ever seen in this country. We have now had the experience of a century and a-half, and we know a great deal more about the operation of economic influences than we did before. We can see why no change has taken place. The War and other causes necessitated a reorganisation of our industrial forces, and the truth is that the nation has not adopted any deliberate conscious policy of national development.
656 I do not believe that the policy of the President of the Board of Trade of leaving people alone is the right plan. When the question was raised of an investigation into the condition of the shipbuilding industry, the right hon. Gentleman said, "No; they have not made any application, which shows that they are perfectly satisfied with the present state of things." That seems to me to be an abrogation of the functions of the President of the Board of Trade. I am pressing for a statement that the Government realise their responsibility for giving a lead, and helping in the organisation of our large industries, in order to meet the difficulties of the present situation. I put the responsibility for the present state of things upon the Government and the employers. Not very long ago there was a very interesting investigation in the United States into the responsibility for the inefficiency existing in a great number of important industries, and that investigation was undertaken by scientific men. I wish hon. Members opposite would read the report issued by the committee of investigation, which shows that in every case the preponderating cause of inefficiency was the management, and not labour or external circumstances.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am only pointing out that in America, the responsibility for inefficiency and waste is laid at the door of the management, and if that he true in America, it is still more true in this country. The position is such that it really constitutes an indictment of the people who are responsible for industry, and of the Government for allowing them to go on so carelessly. There is not sufficient organisation, co-ordination or effort in any British industry. Certainly there is not sufficient organisation in the cotton industry. Hon. Members opposite know that perfectly well, but they make no reply except to say that the President of the Board of Trade has power to safeguard industries, that he has safeguarded an industry hero and there, and that the exports have gone up in those particular industries. Figures of that kind do not interest me, because they do not touch the fundamental problem of the state of our big staple industries 657 which, without exception, are in a position of depression almost unknown in the history of those industries. The application of knowledge, the use of scientific brains and the application of proper organising capacity are necessary, and that is the only way in which British industry can be rescued from its present plight. This state of things will not be remedied by forcing upon the workpeople longer hours and lower wages; it can only be remedied by the Government forcing employers to know their own business.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
It is quite obvious that they do not know their own business, and they have not yet learned how to adapt themselves to new circumstances. If the Government can bring pressure upon the miners, why cannot they do the same with business men, whose load of responsibility for the present situation is infinitely greater than was caused by a general strike? What we are now suffering from is an accumulation of neglect for years and years. This was intensified during the war, and has been further intensified by post-War conditions. We have in this country some of the best equipped firms in the world. In engineering, shipbuilding, textiles and the electrical trades, we have some of the most efficient individual firms in any country. I am asking that steps should be taken to induce or persuade the worst firms in industry to do their best to keep somewhere near to the best firms. I do not ask for the impossible, and I do not think you can achieve 100 per cent. efficiency, but the fact that we possess such units of capacity and efficiency is sufficient to show that many firms have a long way to go before they can regard themselves as being a credit to the nation.
There is a growing opinion in the trade union movement that the responsibility for the present state of things rests primarily with those business men who will not see that what I have suggested is the best way out of their difficulties. One of the most important advantages that may come out of a conference between a certain number of employers 658 and the Trade Union Congress will be the insistence on the part of industry that efficiency in production must come first. It is in this way that the Government can play a very great part. My own view is that the President of the Board of Trade, with all his knowledge and all his enthusiasm in regard to safeguarding and leaving industries alone, is doing nothing whatever to promote the efficiency of industry, but, on the contrary, by his methods he is doing much to discourage them. If greater efficiency will not save British industries, then nothing else will. Instead of encouraging this whenever he had the opportunity, he has put a positive hindrance in the way of improved efficiency in British industry. I hope, though I am not sure that my hope will be fulfilled, that he will see that the greatest service he can pay to British industry as President of the Board of Trade is to leave aside this rather stupid and futile expedient of safeguarding, and concentrate his efforts on improvement in the organisation, efficiency, and productive capacity of the great industries of our land.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood), and, conscious as I am of my own shortcomings, I could not help wondering whether I, or my predecessor at the Board of Trade in the Socialist Government, had been in the closer contact with manufacturers up and down the country, or in the closer consultation with them, and had tried to do more to promote that organisation and efficiency of which the hon. Member has spoken. He assumes that, because one does not come down every day to the House and say. "I saw such-and-such an industry to-day," one has never seen an industry at all. On the contrary, if the hon. Gentleman had ever been in touch with the work of the Board of Trade, he would know that day by day the whole year round we are constantly in touch with all industries, and we do a good deal more to help to get reorganisation, to get amalgamation, to get this or that done which we think wise, because we do not talk about it, than if we went out and told everything that we were doing. Does the hon. Gentleman really suppose that one would get 659 confidential information, that one would be able to discuss amalgamation with a number of firms, that one would be able to press amalgamations here and there, if one came down to this House once a week and gave a report of the progress of the whole of the confidential investigations which we had undertaken?
The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that we do a great deal in that direction, whether he likes what is done or not—and, of course, he does not, because his conception of how industry should be run is a conception which I am not entitled to discuss on this Vote, because, happily, it would require legislation. It is the conception that the State should put itself in place of the undertaking. Our conception is something entirely different. It is that industries have to save themselves by their own exertions, and that it is only in that way that they will be saved. That being so, our efforts are directed to trying to promote good will and efficiency, and, where necessary, I say at once, to giving assistance to industries which are pressed unduly hardly by excessive competition. Let me take two specific instances which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. He said that we had done nothing about coal. That, of course, is patently inaccurate. The Act which was passed, as regards carrying out what he had in mind—the forcing of amalgamations, reorganisation through amalgamations, reorganisation through the transfer of one coal area from one company to another—went the whole way, and rather further than, the Samuel Commission recommended.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I will come to that, but really the hon. Gentleman must allow me, if he will, to make my speech in my own way. The challenge put to me was that the Government had done nothing. My answer to that is that the Government, in this matter, have done all that was recommended by the Samuel Commission, and even more. I have been challenged on this, and, therefore, I hope I may be permitted to reply, although the suggestion of dereliction of duty to some extent involves legislation. There is only one thing, in connection with reorganisation, in which it can be 660 said that we have not quite fully implemented the recommendations of the Samuel Commission, and that is the nationalisation of royalties; but let me point out that the action taken under the Coal Mines (Working Facilities) Act does far more than any nationalisation of royalties could possibly do. If you nationalise the royalties, all the advantage that you get is that you are able to deal with royalties in mining areas when the leases fall in. Many leases go on for 50 years, and you cannot deal with those until they fall in, whereas, under the Coal Mines (Working Facilities) Act, any colliery owner to-day can go to the Railway and Canal Commission and say, "It is more in the public interest that I should work this piece of coal than that my neighbour should who at present has the lease," and that coal can be transferred on fair terms. Therefore, so far as the Government are concerned, everything that was suggested could be done by the Government towards reorganisation, towards regrouping, towards the transfer of working facilities from one enterprise to another, has been most fully done, and, accordingly, the charge of negligence against the Government entirely breaks down.
Then the hon. Gentleman says that nothing has been done in regard to amalgamation. Many speeches have been made in this House about the coal industry, and about the importance of reorganisation and amalgamation, and I do not want to inflict another such speech upon the House, but no one has spoken more strongly, or urged more the need for amalgamation, than I have. It is quite untrue to say that nothing has been done. A certain number of actual amalgamations have gone through, and, in addition, there are the big working agreements. The hon. Gentleman, surely, knows that the scheme which covers the whole of the counties of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire was announced as due to come into operation to-day. That represents, I suppose, something like one-third of the coal output of this country. How, therefore, can the hon. Gentleman say that nothing has been done? I do not say that the scheme is perfect; I think it will improve as time goes on; but it is a pretty big enterprise, as anyone who has had any business experi- 661 ence knows, to get a large number of undertakings, varying in character over a wide area like that, with different markets, and different qualities of coal, all into one comprehensive scheme. It is a very remarkable achievement.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I dealt first of all with amalgamation, and then I said that, in addition to amalgamation, this has been done. The whole suggestion has always been that there should be working agreements, and we are constantly having pointed out to us the example of the German cartel. I am answering the challenge that nothing has been done by the Government or by the coalowners. I hold no brief for the coal-owners; I want them to do a great deal more; but it is not fair to say that nothing has been done when a large arrangement has already been made, covering practically the whole of the federated area and Lancashire. Then, I understand, there is an arrangement which is not actually in force at the present time, but which may shortly come into force—a working selling arrangement covering a very large portion of the Scottish coalfield; and negotiations also are going on for a similar arrangement in Wales. When all this is happening, it really is rather absurd to say that no move is being made.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the cotton trade. I should be very sorry if anything were said in this Debate to cause the least embarrassment to anyone in the cotton trade, but I do not think I shall cause any embarrassment if I say just a few words. I feel bound to say, in reply to the hon. Gentleman's remarks, that the cotton industry is an industry which is probably only adequately understood by those who are engaged in it, an industry in which the relations in the past have been extraordinarily intimate between employers and employed, and in which, indeed, many workers have so identified themselves with the industry as to have supplied no small part of the capital on which the original undertakings were based. That is an instance, if ever there was one, in which those in the industry should continue to work together, and 662 in which the industry should solve its own problems. The only suggestion that I would venture to make is this: I know what has been said about the over-capitalisation of many concerns in the cotton industry, and I am quite sure that reconstruction is very necessary in many of those cases. I do not believe, however, that the question of capitalisation to-day has a very marked effect, in any event, upon the price which people are trying to get. That, I think, is apparent from the fact that, when an attempt is made to form a yarn association, the difficulty is not that people who are over-capitalised try to get prices to meet their inflated capital, but that people have not been able to get agreement to standardise a selling price covering even the lowest possible working costs. Therefore, while I hope most sincerely that the necessary financial reconstruction will be taken in hand, I do not think that that is the greatest problem which the industry has to face, though it is very necessary that it should be faced if amalgamations are to be made between concerns, some of which are properly capitalised, and some of which are improperly capitalised.
One of the greatest difficulties in the cotton industry is that hitherto it has worked far too much in watertight compartments. I do not know of any industry in which the production and sale are so entirely separate as they are in the cotton trade. I have always been accustomed, in industries which I have known, to complete identification of production and sale, which is the ordinary practice. Where you want to develop a market, you develop that market, if necessary, at a loss. If you want to get a large line of production in order to keep your factory full, you probably sell one line at cost, or even below cost, in order that your factory may be full, and you may develop other lines, so that, over the whole range of your production, when you have sold the whole of your range, there is a profit. That kind of action, however, is almost impossible to-day in the cotton trade. You have a large number of separate spinning mills, manufacturing concerns, and finishing processes conducted by large and very efficient concerns, and then you have the whole of the selling organisation in the hands of the merchants. There is a good 663 deal of competition between merchants, and often not quite enough unity of policy between the merchants. You find that the merchant knows the market, and the manufacturer does not know the market, and so you have not the real combined interest of the two working together.
I venture to think that a real advance has been made in the action which the Manchester Chamber of Commerce has taken. In setting up their joint committee, they have realised that to the full, and the way in which they are trying, as I understand, to approach the problem, is to bring together the spinner, the manufacturer and the merchant in common consultation for what ought to be a common interest. They propose to proceed—I believe they are at this moment proceeding—by way of a committee of spinners presided over by a chairman who is a manufacturer, a committee of manufacturers presided over by a merchant, and a committee of merchants presided over by a manufacturer. It seems to me if that can be followed out, if you can get an industry to face up to all the manifold problems it has to face by a combined effort of those who in other trades are naturally one and the same, you will have the most hopeful chance of the cotton trade working out its profits to the best advantage, and the best service we in this House can render is to give them encouragement to go forward with that work and put no obstacle whatever in their way.
I come now to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas), who opened the Debate in a speech that I think I may say delighted the whole House. He ranged over a wide field, from Russia to every port with which he and his competitors trade, and every trade from herrings to galvanised iron. He astonished me by the statement that his constituency and many others were now in a deplorable condition owing to the fact that since the breach with Russia we had lost £3,000,000 of trade in herrings. I was so surprised at that figure that I invited the statisticians of the Board of Trade to procure for me the exact figures of the trade. I find that in 1925 the amount of herrings exported to Russia was £164,000, in 1926 it 664 was £10,398, and in 1927 it was £155,000. [Interruption.] I think the hon. Baronet was drawing a red herring across the track of the Debate. He then founded a wider argument, for which he did not cite figures, upon the allegation, which was also raised at Question time to-day, that trade with Russia had been so difficult since the breach that it must diminish until it falls away to nothing. I do not think the House will dissent from this proposition, that if you have every facility for selling to a country, you also have every facility for buying, and if it is perfectly easy to sell there is no undue difficulty in the way of your buying. If we found that Russian sales in this country had gone down enormously it might be said, "Trade was very difficult, and what are you going to do about it?" But what are the facts? In the first two quarters of 1927, before the breach, Russia consigned to this country, roughly speaking, £3,500,000 worth of goods in each quarter. In the quarter immediately following, July, August and September of last year, she consigned to us £7,600,000 worth of goods—that is over twice the average of the previous quarter—and in the last quarter, £6,681,000. It is true the exports from this country to Russia have been lower in those last quarters than before, and it may be true that the Russian Government, who are, unfortunately for the success of that country, the only trading organisation there, have placed a few orders here, but when they are selling twice as much here as they did before, it is sheer nonsense to say they are buying less here because they have not full facilities for buying.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The point the right hon. Gentleman is making is an interesting and, to me, an important one. Can he give us details of the type of import from Russia that has increased since the break, and is not a great deal of that due to petrol importation, for which a special organisation was created, and further, will he tell us, since he has given the figures of Russian imports, the exact figures of exports from here to Russia?
Sir P. CUNLI FFE-LISTER
I will, certainly. The exports for the first quarter of 1927 amounted to £1,363,000, for the second quarter £1,243,000, for the third quarter £1,022,000 and for the fourth. £884,000.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
The right hon. Gentleman has given figures before and after the break in regard to imports. Can he give us the figure for exports?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The break was in May or June of 1927. The fair average to take is that the first half of the year is before the break and the second half after it. The imports from Russia in the last half of last year were much greater than those in the first half. That is not, of course, due to petrol alone. A very large number of other commodities figure in it. The point I was making is that, if it is possible for Russia to sell here with full freedom and facilities, as is evidenced by the fact that she was selling much more here in the last half of the year than in the first half, whether it is petrol or anything else it is clear that the Government have put no obstacle whatever in the way of trade and that, if Russia is buying less from this country than before, that is due to deliberate policy.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
She has ample money, if she wishes, to make her purchases. There is no reason why, if Russia wishes to make purchases in this country, she cannot make them out of some portion of the very large amount of cash she receives for its goods she sells here.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Of course she is. Let us take one thing at a time. You do not need an export guarantee scheme to make purchases here for cash when you are selling £12,000,000 worth of goods for cash. There is no reason why some of that cash should not be spent here. There is a very large amount of purchases that are made in other places. That is plain, and we have not the least intention of extending the export credit scheme to Russia until Russia is prepared to establish those conditions of confidence, fair treatment and fair trading upon which the commercial credit of all countries must rest.
666 I pass from that to the next point the hon. Baronet made, which was an inquiry as to why I have not made some investigation—I was not very clear as to what it should be—arising out of the Joint Committee of the Shipbuilding Industry. I have always said if the industry came to me and said there was something I could usefully do I would certainly consider whether I could act, but the last thing in the world any Minister wants to do is to butt in when he is not wanted. I know that will not be accepted by hon. Members opposite. What has obviously happened is that these bodies, who are never backward in coming forward when they want anything from the Board of Trade, have settled down, and if they have reached a successful conclusion so much the better.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I have twice put to the right hon. Gentleman the question the hon. Baronet the Member for Anglesey has put to him. Does he really mean to say the Shipbuilding Joint Report does not ask him to intervene? Does it not specifically point out the reasons for asking him, and has not the right hon. Gentleman said he has received the Report and read it.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Of course I have received it and read it. There was a suggestion that they should come and make certain representations and ask me to do something.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have said frequently that if they came with a request that I should take some action —there was something about the effect of some ring on the price of a particular component part of a ship, and if they said could I intervene about it I would see what I can do.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
The right hon. Gentleman has said a joint deputation of the shipbuilding and engineering trade have not asked him to intervene. He also says he has received a copy of the Report and read it. Let me quote from the Report:We have interviewed the Permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade on this subject and he explained to us that, while his Department has no power of control over rings and price-fixing organisations, they are prepared to meet our request to follow up the matter so far as they can and see what can be done to bring relief to the shipbuilding industry in this respect. In view of the extent to which the high prices of materials which have to be purchased by shipbuilders for use in the construction of ships are prejudicing the total cost of shipbuilding during this present crisis, we agreed to ask the Board of Trade to investigate the operation of rings and price-fixing associations in the supply of those materials with a view to bringing relief to shipbuilding.I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has not received communications to that effect.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I received that report, but, as I have said at least half-a-dozen times in this House, I have received no further communication. They have never been to me, and I should simply be foolish in unnecessarily interfering in the industry.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
They certainly have not made any request to the Prime Minister to pass it on to me. If they had he would have sent for me and told me to do it, and I should have done it. Until I get such a request, I should certainly be extremely foolish in acting. [interruption.] Really, if the hon. Gentleman challenges me, he must take the answer. Over and over again I have said in this House that if these representations were made I would see what could be done, and the very fact that they 668 have not been made is the best possible proof that by sitting down together they have probably solved their difficulties. As a matter of fact, I do not think the hon. Gentleman has had anything to do with it.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Gentleman has reflected on my conduct in this matter. I would therefore say that throughout the meetings of the Joint Committee I was constantly giving all the assistance I could from the Board of Trade. I gave a very great deal of information, some of it of a confidential character. Some of this information was collected for them, and for the purpose of that Conference, by my representatives in various foreign countries, and at the close of the inquiries, I was very glad to receive from both sides of the Joint Committee their very cordial thanks for the assistance that the Board of Trade had rendered to them.
Then the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea went on to say—[Laughter.] My only regret is that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Mr. Runciman) is not here to reply to what the hon. Member said on the matter of shipping, with which they are both so familiar and on which, I think, it might just be possible that they might take rather different views. The hon. Member for Anglesey said that he hoped that in the Argentine, for example, and in South America there would be propaganda for the pushing of British goods. He knows that in propaganda the Government have done a good deal by means of the British Industries Fair, and he knows of the propaganda and services which are being rendered by our trade delegates, our commercial diplomatic services and our trade commissioners. May I ask that he should also address his appeal to the Leader of his party, who, I regret, is not here, because among the things which do not help British trade in America, North or South, are the articles which the Leader of the Liberal party is writing.
The hon. Gentleman next entered upon a very interesting discussion of shipping rates and Conference lines. He painted the picture, I hope, rather too gloomy. I do not propose to enter into a long dis- 669 cussion of the merits of this or that or the demerits of this or that Conference. Obviously, as the Imperial Shipping Committee found, there is much to be said in favour of Conferences in order to maintain the regular services. I think also that it must be apparent that a Conference may abuse its position, in which case plainly, in the first place, the traders should take action. It would be unfair on my part to express an opinion on what was obviously an ex parte statement made from the other side of the House or on the very able answer of another hon. Member speaking on this side, supporting the action of Conference lines. I would only say that sometimes—and I have investigated a good many of these cases—I have thought that Conference action was excessive, and I have never hesitated to say that rates should come down.
Sometimes, when I have investigated these matters, I have found that what appeared to be an enormous discrepancy in freight was much less than it appeared. For instance, I had a case brought to my notice the other day of two competing rates. It looked as though the rate from the English port was fantastically high as compared with the rate from the foreign port. I asked to have it checked, and the information supplied to me by one of the lines was roughly speaking to this effect. The English rate included collection of the goods, carriage on rail and delivery at the port, and these were not included in the other rate. It also included a rebate of 7s. 6d. or something approximate. Again there was the further consideration that, when you compared actual weight for weight, the way in which commodities—it was piece goods there—were packed on the foreign ship and on the English ship you actually had a result which made the foreign freight and the English freight per yard of material work out the same. I have only said that in order to show that the comparison of a rate from a foreign port with a rate from an English port without close investigation may give a completely erroneous picture. That is an example which I think it is only fair to give, as many other examples of a damaging kind have been given. At the same time, this is all the more reason why there should be the fullest examination of these questions.
670 The advice which the Imperial Shipping Committee gave to traders all over this country was, I think, very sound and indeed I hope it has been generally followed. It was, that shippers and traders should in all disputes and in all trades form themselves into an organisation which can be representative and which can deal, and deal with full force, with the different Conference lines on the different subjects. That seems to me plainly to be the proper course for various industries to take. I have every reason to suppose that the textile industry is fully alive to that necessity and is taking that action. Obviously, these matters are much better settled by the representative organisation of traders and the shipping lines. If they can drive a satisfactory bargain, that is the better course. But I agree that if there is still a complaint it is important that there should then be an adequate tribunal. That tribunal exists in the Imperial Shipping Committee. That Committee is one of the few really inter-Imperial bodies; the English representatives are appointed by the Prime Minister here; and the whole Committee is appointed by, and reports to, the Prime Ministers of the various parts of the Empire. I have their authority—most of them have given their opinion—to say that not only shall that Committee be authorised to deal, in case of need, with inter-Imperial trade—that is, a dispute as to freights between one part of the Empire and another—but that it shall also have authority to deal with and investigate a dispute as regards freight from any part of the Empire to a foreign country.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that when you get evidence from a responsible body like the British Chambers of Commerce giving actual examples of loss of trade it is a case for investigation.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
That is obviously what I am saying. My point is this. Let those traders have their own organisation. Let each of the great industries have its own organisation for dealing with the shipping lines on these questions of freight. Let them get a fair agreement if they can. But if there be a real question outstanding, if a large body of traders still say, "We are very unfairly treated in the matter, and we must have an impartial investigation of 671 the matter," then I say, if the parties cannot agree, it is exactly the kind of case which ought to go to the Imperial Shipping Committee. I am sure the House will agree with this, that we must not impede the Imperial Shipping Committee with a lot of little cases at the start. Let us settle by the representative bodies everything that can be settled by agreement so that only big cases and questions of principle shall from time to time go to that body.
I think I have said enough to show that there is, at any rate, the full machinery for dealing with any dispute adequately, and that it would be improper for me to express an opinion one way or the other on any particular case that might be cited in this House. The hon. Member drew too gloomy a picture of the shipbuilding position. He stated that there was a state of stagnation in the shipbuilding industry. I am very glad to say that the position is nothing like as bad as that, as the House will see from the figures which I propose to give. The amount of British shipping under construction at the end of 1926 was 760,000 tons as against 1,173,000 tons being constructed abroad. When we come to the last quarter of 1927, we have 1,579,000 tons of shipping being constructed in this country against 1,539,000 tons being constructed abroad. That, I think, shows an advance—although we hope for better signs still—and a very satisfactory improvement upon a year ago.
There is another thing which, on looking into the shipping and shipbuilding figures, gives me some encouragement to-day and which, I think, will also interest the House. It is this. In spite of the fall in the price of oil, coal bunkers in 1927 were up as against 1925, while oil bunkers as against 1925 were not up. I think that is rather an encouraging sign for the coal industry. That, in face of a steady fall in the price of oil, is encouraging. Again, the fact that there is now simple machinery being installed for the pulverisation of coal on board ship will enable a great many more ships to use powdered fuel in their boilers in future.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
No, I would not like to say that. I do not think we have got the benefit of that yet. The large orders for the new machinery for pulverised fuel of which I have knowledge are on ships which are only under construction at the present time. We ought therefore to see a greater tendency in that direction. The Debate then rose or degenerated, as the case may be, into the usual wrangle over safeguarding, with that great discretion which Members observe in order to keep themselves within some semblance of order. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. Crawfurd) was less general in his condemnation than the hon. Member for Anglesey, who was quite general in his condemnation that safeguarding had done no good. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow told us that he was careful to select those examples which particularly suited his case.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
That is not quite fair. It is true that I said I cited two particular cases, but I referred to the general group of exports which cover the whole safeguarding principle.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Member selected in detail those examples which were most satisfactory to him, and from that and general trends he drew a general inference. Let me say one word about the items which he selected. He selected the lace and fabric glove industries. The lace industry is one where one would naturally expect a duty to have the least spectacular result, because it was a case of protecting an industry in which there was not likely to be a general advance. On the contrary, you were trying to keep some life in an industry which in the general tide of fashion was becoming more and more a contracting industry. If you look at the great period of free trade over a period of 20 years, you find that the lace industry had contracted by 50 per cent., and I believe that 20 years ago there were twice as many people employed in the lace industry in this country as there are to-day. I think that is substantially true of the lace industry of other countries. Therefore you are faced with an industry which was dwindling but which, if you were to keep it going at all, had to have a duty. I should not have been in the least surprised to have seen that industry 673 go down a little. That is not what has happened. One of the tests you can take is whether there are more people at work. We can take export figures or import figures. Both of them are valuable, but the most valuable is the figure of production, and that is why I am anxious to get an index figure for all the big industries of the country throughout the year. It is much more important than throwing exports or imports at each other. But, failing that, if you take the figure of employment, I find, as near as I can get, from information from the trade itself checked over by the Ministry of Labour, that there are nearly 1,000 more people at work in this industry in 1927 than in 1925. That is the fairest test you can apply. The hon. Gentleman said that there was a rise in imports. There is a very small rise as far as I can see in the imports of cotton lace and net, but there is a decrease in the imports of silk lace and mixed and a decrease in the total imports. I am not at all sure, but I think a close inspection of the embroidery figures will probably show that a good deal of stuff used to come in under the heading of embroidery which now comes in under the heading of lace because it is a dutiable article.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Yes, I know there is a decrease in exports, but, if the hon. Gentleman would carry his inquiry over the countries where the great lace trade exists, he would find that there is a decrease there too. There is a decrease in the French trade and that is a reason why the entrepot trade is less. A great deal of lace does not figure now in the re-export figures because it is transhipped in bond and passed out of this country in bond and therefore does not figure in our records of imports or exports. I quite admit that there is a smaller amount of lace passing through bond now than a few years ago in the entrepot trade. The reason is that the United States are taking much less lace. If you look at the French figures, you will see the total French exports to the United States are much less than they were and that accounts for the diminution. I will be content to base myself on the fact that in this diminished industry there are 1,000 more 674 people at work. That is the best test. If the hon. Gentleman goes down to Nottingham and sees the people there he will find that they fully confirm that fact. Then he took as his next example the glove trade. The glove trade has a Joint Industrial Council which supplies information as to what the trade is doing. I have information from that council.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has edited it. The facts as given me by the Joint Industrial Council are these. Comparing the fourth quarter of 1925, before the duty was put on, and the third quarter of 1927, one finds that the production of leather gloves was about 22 per cent. higher while that of fabric gloves increased 70 per cent., there was a 10 per cent. increase in the total number of workpeople employed in making leather gloves and a 46 per cent. increase in those making fabric gloves. If the hon. Member visits the parts of this country where gloves are made—for instance in Wor-cestershire—
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
This is very interesting but what I would like to ask is this. These duties are put on because we are told that imports are damaging the trade. The duty goes on and the right hon. Gentleman now gives us figures to show how flourishing the trade is but the imports have only decreased by a very fractional amount and so it was not really the imports.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Gentleman must take a more comprehensive view of our national life. There are more people in the country. They are earning more money. They are wearing more gloves. British people are wearing more British gloves and are shunning foreign gloves. If he visits these glove centres he will find that, whereas before the duty was put on no one was going into trade and no apprentices were being taken on, now everybody is working full time and apprentices are being taken on again. So much for the two examples upon which was to be justified the general attack. But the hon. Member naturally did not condescend to those other trades which are of course equally 675 included in his condemnation. He did not deal with the motor industry and I think wisely. There, of course, it is common knowledge that employment has enormously increased. Their output has increased. I take the production estimated by the trade—though we are told that we must not take 1925—
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I am perfectly willing to meet the right hon. Gentleman on fair ground. From my argument this afternoon I did not exclude the motor industry. When I said I did not take 1925 it was because the threat of Safeguarding Duties increased the importation in that year.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Yes, I will take the hon. Member on his own ground. 1925 was the year motor duties were put on and he says there was an excess of imports in that year. The hon. Gentleman selected one industry which suited him. Now I am going to select an industry which suits me. I have dealt with his two and I was a thousand up in one of them. Now I am coming to this rather wider range of another industry which ought to suit us all as it is more comprehensive. It quite justifies what he says in one respect. He says that if you take the year in which duties go on you will find an excess of imports because the imports flood in. In 1925 there were 47,000 cars imported as against 24,000 in 1924. But what I am interested to look at again is the production. To suit him I will take the year 1924 as well as 1925. I will take the trade's estimate of production. It is as follows:
§ Nobody can tell me that prices do not stand lower in that trade to-day. I do not think anybody will tell me that any other trade has been injured as a result of those Duties. If you want to know something on that point, you might ask the people who are engaged in the ancillary industries which go to the making of a motor car, and they will tell you whether they have been injured or assisted by the Motor Duties. Take tyres. What has been the effect there? 676 Prices have not gone up. I think I am right in saying that since the Tyre Duty was imposed that five or six firms have decided to set up here, and I think have actally begun works in this country.
§ On the question of the Key Industries Duties, responsibility for which I must share with the Leader of the Liberal party, the test must again be applied, by which we must stand or fall. They were industries that were not naturally expanding. No one can pretend that those industries were naturally expanding in this country. Indeed, we found during the War that they had so contracted in this country, that we were nearly threatened with great disaster because of their absence from our midst. In every one of these industries, fostered by these Duties, we have seen a great industry grow up. We have established a fine chemical industry. Thousands of articles are now being made which were not made before. We have also established a magneto industry. If the hon. and gallant Member and his friends are going to fight this issue on the results of safeguarding, they must tell the whole story, and when they tell the whole story they will find that the more often this matter is debated in this House or in the country, the less will the country be disposed to abandon wise, steady and proved experiments.
On the subject of general trade, when I was speaking in the Debate on the Address, I ventured to say that all the figures for 1927 showed that we had made considerable advance upon any previous year. The House will perhaps recollect that I was severely castigated by the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) because he said I could not do a simple sum in arithmetic. I sent word to the right hon. Gentleman that I hoped to be able to reply to him to-night, and I regret his absence. He said:
I have heard with some degree of amusement the statements that have been made in this Debate about the way the country is getting on to its feet. I heard a great deal about safeguarding. I wonder if the House knows that the exports from this country in 1924 were greater than they were in 1927, and that in 1924 the exports were greater than they ever were in the history of the country. Yet the Minister tells us how prosperous the country is becoming.
The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister): The right hon.
Gentleman is quoting me. If instead of giving figures which take no account of the fall in values he will have regard for that fall, he will find my figures are correct. I dealt with volume, not with fallacious quantity.
I have taken my figures from a respectable Conservative journal. I always rely on Conservative journals, because they are just as immaculate as the Prime Minister's promises, and we rely upon them in exactly the same way. In 1924 the exports were £941,000,000; in 1925, £927,000,000; in 1926, £779,000,000; and in 1927, £832,000,000. That is, there was £109,000,000 difference between 1924 and 1927. You can juggle with these figures as you like, and you can talk about extra values and all the rest of it, but you cannot juggle that £109,000,000 away."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 14th February, 1928; cols. 771–772, Vol. 213.]
I did not want to interrupt the fluent peroration of the right hon. Gentleman, and, in fact, I had exhausted my right to speak again on that day. I will now reply to him. He has made two substantial errors. To quote figures of values without taking into account volume is a little misleading. If he had gone back and quoted the figures for 1920, he would have found that the figures were the highest in the whole history of this country, 40 per cent, higher than the figures which he quoted. The figures were high because prices stood far higher than the normal. He has also made the further error of adding together the exports from this country of our own production and, the re-export of what is imported. If you want to make a proper calculation, you must take the net exports and not add the re-exports.
It is not a question of juggling away £109,000,000; it is not a question of producing unexpected animals out of hats, the real figures, when you come down to the common method of value, show that the British exports for 1927 were 2.3 per cent. more in volume than in 1924, and in the last quarter of that year they were more than 5 per cent. better than the last quarter of 1924. I therefore venture to say that the estimate which I gave was entirely justified, and I think the figures of which we are now in possession for the first month of this year carry that prognostication forward. I believe that, provided we continue to pursue the sane and moderate policy of assistance to trade, not substituting the Government for the undertaking, but 678 giving it that assistance which is best suited to trade in this country, we may confidently expect a course of steady progress and advance.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
The right hon. Gentleman and the Government seem to me to have decided to leave industries to look after themselves, and for that reason the comment of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood), speaking on behalf of the Labour party, is important. He began his speech by an attack on what he thought was the inefficiency of those engaged in the control of industry. I do not share that opinion, and I do not think there is anything in the past history of the commercial life of this country that would justify such a statement. I think, also, that the statement in itself is highly to be deplored, because it gives the impression that the working men of this country, seeing the condition in which they find themselves, think that it is due to the inefficiency of those who have been appointed to look after the organisation of trade. The past history of trade does not prove that those who controlled industry were inefficient. On the contrary, the great, successful trade which has been built up and carried on by the country proves that they were highly efficient both in organisation and in the development of industry. The real truth lies, particularly in regard to the coal trade, in the matter of policy rather than that of efficiency. Take the question of the embargo put against British coal in foreign countries, to which a good deal of coal is exported from South Wales. I would like to know something of the position in regard to these embargoes and whether they have been removed, or whether they can be removed in the immediate future. The position in South Wales at the present time is exceedingly serious.
There is also the question of a policy which affects the export trade of the country and that is the question of reparations. I take it that I shall not be contravening the rules by referring to this subject, because it does not involve legislation. I do not think we have quite realised to what extent the policy which we have adopted in regard to reparations has injured our foreign trade. I remember some years ago, I think it was in 1921, speaking to one of 679 the leading bankers of this country, who is no longer with us. He said: "If I could frame the policy of this country, I should at once say to the Germans, 'You must pay all the reparations due to us' and I should at once give them a moratorium for ten years." I asked him why he would do that, and he replied "I can see from the reports which I am receiving in the ordinary course of my business, that on account of the reparation coal which is sold so cheaply in Spain, Portugal and South America, we are losing our markets." Unfortunately, the tendencies which he discovered so early have become very marked. There can be no doubt that we are suffering in the coal areas owing to the policy which we adopted and which we are still pursuing in regard to reparations. The coal of South Wales is failing to keep its own market. The markets of South America are being closed against it owing to the ridiculously low price at which reparation coal is now being sold in those markets.
Then there is the question of the safeguarding of industries. I do not know to what extent we are entitled to call attention to the effect of this safeguarding on our exports. In the past we have always been told that it was necessary to do everything to minimise the cost of production in this country, because we had to compete in the neutral markets of the world. In other words, there were to be no increase in wages, no lowering of the number of hours of work, because that would increase the cost of the exported article. For that reason, the question of our exports plays a big part. The right hon. Gentleman said that the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Crawfurd) had picked out cases which were in his favour. I have figures in regard to five different industries affected by the Safeguarding Duties, and I find that whereas in 1924 the value of our total exports in those industries was £4,487,000, in 1927 it had been reduced to £3,435,000. In other words, in these industries, lace, cutlery, gloves, gas mantles and wrapping paper, our exports are reduced by 25 per cent. What justification can there be for that very remarkable reduction in our exports, except the fact that these duties, which were supposed to be put on in the 680 interests of trade, have had that bad effect. Although, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, they have increased to a certain extent the employment in particular districts, they have told on the export trade of the country and consequently upon the wealth of the community to the extent of not less than £1,000,000 in the short space of four years. I do not know to what extent this policy is going to be increased, but I do suggest that the time has come when the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to have inquiry made on the subject.
Even his own figures to-night at the best were not too optimistic as to the effect of Duties on the trade of the country. I saw a statement in a newspaper the other play that a Committee was sitting or was to be appointed to inquire into the question of whether there should be a Duty even on handkerchiefs. I understand that there is to be a Duty in regard to Aberdeen granite. One newspaper took it to mean that it might be a safeguarding Duty on tombstones. I am not much concerned with taxation on tombstones; but I am rather concerned as to the effect it will have on the increased cost of living in this country. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might seriously consider appointing a Committee to inquire into the working of these duties which have now been in force for some time. If my figures are correct.—and they have been supplied by his Department—in five of these trades where these Duties have been in force there has been a decrease of 25 per cent. in exports during the last 10 years, and therefore a case has been made out for his consideration.
Mr. SANDEMAN ALLEN
The only object I have in intervening in the Debate is to refer to a question which was raised at the commencement of the discussion with regard to the conference shipping lines and the effect it had on the trade of the country. I listened to the very interesting exposé by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas), somewhat pictorial, but quite interesting. We have also had a very interesting answer from the hon. Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer), both of whom are shipowners, one representing the tramp side of the industry and the other the liner's side. One went 681 rather too far on one side and the other too far on the other, and I feel called upon to say a few words from the point of view of the trader who has, in the long run, to pay, and who will suffer or benefit from the actions of shipping lines. It is a good thing that this question has been ventilated to-night in this House because traders have been much disturbed. They were inclined at first sight to take the view which was so strongly laid down by the hon. Member opposite; a view which rather implies that the shipowner is doing all he can, without regard to British trade, to line his pockets as quickly as possible. I am speaking now with a considerable knowledge of the subject because we have been going into it very fully for the last two or three years. We have had before us a great many of these differences in freights but, having studied the whole question, we have come to realise that what we have to consider is how far the traders generally receive advantage from the conference system.
The Shipping Committee reported that it was desirable, if not absolutely necessary, and the trailers of this country have come to the same conclusion, that it is vital we should have regular liners giving a regular service and going to and fro, even if they are not fully loaded, so that our forward contracts and business arrangements should be on a sound basis. That must involve a quid pro quo on the other side. A shipowner, of course, is not more altruistic than the trader or anyone else, and he knows that it is in his own interest to give the best service. The trader knows that he cannot expect the best service without giving something himself, and finally the present system has been arranged. In some eases deferred rebates were arranged for, but gradually it became more general to have an agreement to ship by Conference Lines for a certain length of time. This has proved to be most valuable for the stability of British trade. The trader realises that the shipowner gives him to a large extent what he wants, and the shipowner receives what he requires for his services. The hon. Member for South Portsmouth painted a very enthusiastic picture of a happy family of traders and shipowners all charmed with the prospect and paying no attention to the gentlemen who were 682 trying to throw the apple of discord amongst them. I cannot subscribe to the absolute accuracy of that picture. I am sure the hon. Member hoped that it was true. The traders have been thoroughly dissatisfied as to the working of the system in various routes, but believe it is the right system to work on. You have a certain set of shipowners dealing with this particular route or trade; then you have a corresponding set of traders dealing with that particular conference line on account of that particular trade.
It is made quite clear that the shipowners in conference matters refuse to meet the general organisations of any trade. They require to have representation of particular customers in particular trades. There are certain lines of trades which are now organised, Australia and South Africa, for instance, but a large number of trades have not yet organised themselves into a body corresponding with that on the shipowners' side to discuss these matters and where all grievances can be ventilated. When we studied this question in the Association of British Chamber of Commerce we found that the first step to take was to do what the Imperial Shipping Committee recommended, that is, create an organisation for each particular trade corresponding to the organisation on the shipowners' side, so that the two parties could meet together. One result will be that each particular trade will find it much easier to get together and discuss matters, and they will have behind them the organised trade of the country to guide and support them. I doubt very much whether it will be necessary to carry the arrangement, beyond this stage, at any rate, until it has been thoroughly tried. We unanimously came to the conclusion that it would be better to try it out first, and, if there is any defect, there is the Imperial Shipping Committee to refer to.
While the picture as presented by the hon. Member for Anglesey does not appear to be very promising, yet, I think, when we have developed the negative, we shall see that there is a great deal less to contend with than when we looked at it first. If so far in practical results it, has not proved quite so satisfactory that is not so much the fault of the scheme itself as to not applying it properly. While we appreciate the great 683 attention, assistance, and guidance we have had from the President and his Department, and while traders as well as shipowners realise the constant watch which is being kept in the interests of the people, yet I say that the last thing we want is to have any interference with our own affairs by any Government Department, however excellent and however well informed.
§ Mr. FORREST
It will be admitted by every section in the House that the Liberal party have initiated a very interesting Debate this afternoon. British trade has been discussed from almost every point of view, and the impression left on my mind is that what British trade needs in order to thoroughly recover with the least possible delay is absolute co-operation on the part of all those interested in it. Unemployment is a vital problem, and the trade and welfare of this country are bound up with the question of unemployment. The better the trade the less unemployment there is, the more unemployment we have the less the home demand and, therefore, the worse our trade. Some of the speeches which have been delivered have rather led one to think that trade union leaders and labour leaders might well devote much more of their energy in the direction of levelling up the more backward industrial countries. We have been told that inefficiency in management is the cause of much of our evils and troubles. Hon. Members opposite say that almost every foreign buyer will give an advantage from 5 per cent. to 15 per cent. to the British producer, because of the superiority of British goods. The German system has been compared with the British, to the advantage of the German, but when we do that I do not, think we take into account the great burden of taxation and rates which industry in this country has to hear in comparison with Germany and other foreign competitors.
I would not for a moment speak against transferring certain charges from local rates to the National Exchequer, because certain public expenditure has been put upon local authorities, by legislation of this House, which, in reality, should be a national charge. On the other hand, we all agree that rating falls much more unjustly than taxes; it falls 684 upon the just and the unjust, on those who are making profits and those who are not. Taxation only falls on those who are fortunate enough to make a profit. But that is not the whole story. Although taxes may not fall on those who have sustained losses, they take away from firms making a profit some of their surplus which would benefit industry if it was invested in renewal of machinery and the development of trade. In this way it would provide increased employment. Although a transference from one class of taxpayer to another is an advantage, I would suggest that the real and true advantage is economy in both national and local expenditure. Free Trade and Protection, or safeguarding, have been thoroughly discussed this afternoon. An hon. Member on these benches suggested that it is now time the results of the Safeguarding Orders which have been in operation should be investigated by an independent Committee.
Speaking for myself I say that British industry is too important a subject to be flung about in the cockpit of party politics. The national welfare depends upon the prosperity of British commerce and industry, and although I have been reared in the school of the free trader, educated to the idea that Free Trade is the best principle for this country to adopt; although I think that to-day Free Trade is undoubtedly the best principle for this country to adopt; and although I take it we are all Free Traders on all sides of the House, the question is, would an impartial investigation reveal that conditions are substantially changed from those of 70 or 80 years ago? At that time we were the workshop of the world and had little or no competition outside our own shores. It may be that if we could have an impartial investigation by a Committee composed of the best brains of the country and representing all sections of society—trade union leaders, captains of industry, bankers, and others—if we could have a thoroughly impartial investigation into the whole principle of safeguarding, Free Trade and Protection, to decide which is in the best interests of the future of the country, I am sure that the finding of a Committee of that character would receive very serious consideration from every section of the community. I can only now express the hope that the result of this Debate may be that the 685 trade of the country will benefit. I am sure that we are all anxious to see that result.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I do not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, although I would like to compliment him upon the open-minded way in which he has discussed the question of safeguarding. I would like, however, to refer to certain remarks by the hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Ellis Davies), who, I regret to see, is not now in his place. He pointed out, quite rightly, the importance to us of the export trade and said it was essential that the costs of production should be low so that we might carry on this trade. I wish to assure him that the very best, way to reduce the cost of production is by the application of safeguarding to the industry. If we can secure for ourselves the home market and get a larger volume of orders for our factories, we shall then be able to increase our production and reduce prices, and thus have a better chance of competing in the markets of the world. I wish also to refer to certain observations made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood). He referred to the expansion of the cotton industry in Japan, and I understood it was his belief that this expansion is to a very large extent due to the high industrial efficiency that exists in Japan. I would remind the hon. Member that there is another reason which is even more important than that one, as an explanation for the great expansion of trade. It is the very low rates of wages and poor conditions of employment that exist in Japan and that we certainly do not wish to see here.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The hon. Member may take it on the authority of persons who know better than I do that that is not so and that production costs are as high in Japan as in Lancashire, and that the difference is really accounted for by standardisation of products by better coordination of units and, on the whole, larger units, and not by lower manufacturing costs of production and wages.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
All the information that I have points to the fact that very much lower rates of wages and conditions of labour exist in Japan and these are a very important factor indeed.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I mentioned the name of a gentleman who is as good an 686 authority as can be found, a Lancashire manufacturer, Mr. Gray, of Burnley, who has analysed the costs of his own production and the equivalent Japanese production, and has arrived at the conclusion that the manufacturing costs do not differ.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I am afraid that the hon. Member and myself will have to differ on this question. There is another point. That is, the hours of labour in the Japanese factories are longer than they are here. These are considerations which certainly help the Japanese manufacturer and merchant to export cotton goods in larger quantities. The hon. Member for Nelson had a great deal to say about the lack of efficiency of our manufacturers, and I regret very much that he should have made such sweeping statements on that subject. I am not competent to speak in any way for the cotton textile industry, but in any case the hon. Member's observations do not apply to the wool textile industry, about which I have the honour to know something. If one desires proof of the efficiency of this industry it is only necessary to remember that in spite of the difficult times through which it has been going the British wool textile industry still leads the world in fashion, design, colours and cloth. The fame of British cloth is certainly higher than that of the product of any other country. This in itself is an extremely good test of the efficiency of the industry. Naturally there are always exceptions, but I do not think that, generally speaking, the troubles of the wool textile industry are due to any lack of efficiency of the manufacturers. We must remember this also, that when the industry is suffering it is very difficult for the manufacturers to do things which perhaps might be necessary, such as remodelling the factories or installing new machinery. If a firm of manufacturers in the textile trade is losing money it is not easy for it to remodel its factory or instal new machinery which might be useful to it. If we had safeguarding it would give a decided impetus to higher efficiency, because it would be an encouragement to spend money in replacing old machinery and in making any helpful innovations. Without proceeding any further on those lines, I wish to say that I have been extremely disappointed 687 this afternoon with the speeches made from the Liberal benches. I had hoped that not only would Liberal Members make criticisms, which one naturally expected from an Opposition party, but that they would be able to give us something constructive. I am very sorry that no reference has been made to the new industrial policy of the party, of which we have heard such a great deal lately.
Major-General Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
Perhaps the hon. Member is not aware that on this Vote we arc not able to refer to anything which requires further legislation.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I shall defer to Mr. Speaker if he pulls me up for being out of order. I understand that one can discuss questions that do not involve legislation, and I believe that many of the proposals in the Yellow Book of the Liberal party affect administration only and do not involve legislation of any kind. I want to keep clear of that part of Liberal policy which does involve the passing of legislation. I have been very interested to read about this policy, but the more I have read and studied it the less I have been able to find anything which would be really useful to the industry of this country and particularly to the industry of the West Riding of Yorkshire, in which I happen to be interested as one of the Members for that part of the country. It seems to me that under this policy we should to a certain extent be following an old Chinese form of Government. It is proposed to set up such bodies as a Committee of National Development, and then there are to be a Board of National Investment and an Economic General Staff. One is rather inclined to believe that the benefit of such organisations would not be so much in providing employment in industry as in providing work for additional civil servants. That I do not think is going to do a great deal of good to industry. Again, there are many parts of the Liberal policy which would put a good deal more work upon industry than is the case now. I have read with great regret, for example, and I am sure those engaged in industry would also share this regret, that it is proposed to keep in perpetual motion the Census of Production which we now get only periodically.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I bow to your ruling and will make no further remarks on that subject. The general idea of the Liberal policy seems to be that there shall be very much more satistical information given by everyone who is engaged in industry. As far as I can make out there will be a far-reaching expansion of the Government statistical service. The modern employer of labour already has to spend a considerable amount of time and money in presenting to different Government Departments the statistics which they require, and it certainly would not be helping industry in any way if in future this supply of information had to be materially increased. Another thing that struck me, in reading the Report, was that a "thinking department, within the administration at the elbow of the inner ring of the Cabinet, would be set up." I confess that I was extremely astonished that the Liberal party should make such a confession. It rather looked as if they did not expect that there would be sufficient brains within their Cabinet and that they would need to bring in outside people to do their thinking for them. One of the speakers to-day said that the only way by which we could get back to decent trade was by having a Liberal administration. I only hope that before Liberals proceed any further with their industrial policy they will submit these proposals to the Association of Chambers of Commerce or to some other competent organisations in industry. I am certain that if this is done it will be found that industry does not want these proposals, because they would do more harm than good.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
The last hon. Member who spoke from the Liberal Benches said that the thanks of the House were due to the Liberal party for initiating this Debate. I agree with him, because the Debate has allowed a certain latitude in criticising the various industries of the country and in making comments regarding the efficiency or inefficiency with which they are conducted. In the course of the Debate reference has been made to the coalowners, and the Government have been criticised for not having paid attention to the coalowners. When 689 the hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Ellis Davies) made certain remarks in reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) and contended that industry was efficiently conducted, I wondered whether he followed his leader, because I find that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made this statement:At the present moment there is no doubt at all that the minds of this country are in a very bad way. Another thing which anyone can see for himself if he will only look into it is that if you are going to leave it to the colliery owners to reconstruct they will never do it. Unless the Government take it in hand, and use the authority of the State to compel them to take the initiative, and to act the condition of things will go from bad to worse."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1928; col. 783, Vol. 213.]That is from the leader of the Liberal party, but the hon. Member for Denbigh apparently holds the view that we have no right to criticise the efficiency of industry. I think that statement which I have just quoted shows conclusively that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was quite right in the criticisms which he made, and following upon that, I wish to show, from the Report of the Samuel Commission, what the members of that body think about the coal industry. I think their view will be found to hear out the statements which have been made from these benches. I quote from page 232 of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (1925):At the same time we cannot agree with the view presented to us by the mineowners that little can be done to improve the organisation of the industry, and that, the only practicable course is to lengthen hours, and to lower wages. In our view large changes are necessary in other directions, and large progress is possible. We agree that immediate measures are indispensable to deal with the immediate position but the effort ought not to stop there. The problem indeed is two-fold. It has a permanent aspect and a temporary aspect. We have proposals to make with regard to each. We will take first the permanent aspect.They then go on to state what, in their view, ought to be done, but the crucial point is this:The methods of utilising coal are unscientific. Four-fifths of the coal consumed in the country is burnt in a raw state; oil and valuable by-products are wasted, and the atmosphere is polluted. Research 690 into the methods both of winning and of using coal is inadequate. Mining in many places should be intimately associated with several other industries—with gas, electricity, smokeless fuel, oil, chemical products, blast furnaces, and coke ovens. A beginning has been made towards this combination but it is no more than a beginning.That is conclusive evidence that something ought to be done immediately by the coal industry. I suggest to the Board of Trade that, on these lines, great progress can be made, and if the ideas set out in the Samuel Commission's Report are followed, I think success will come to the coal industry. I would point out to the Board of Trade that, instead of importing much of the oil which we have to import at present, we could, if attention were paid to the coal industry, ourselves produce all the oil that is wanted in this country. The "Manchester Guardian" of 31st January, 1928, contained the following reference to the dangers of dependence on imported oil:In a statement issued yesterday, Mr. D. A. Bremner, the Director of the British Engineers' Association urges that the question of railway and road transport should be referred to a Royal Commission. He says, We are committing ourselves more and more deeply to a highly dangerous dependence on imported oil fuels, the chief sources of which are under foreign control, and the supplies of which, having to be carried long distances by sea, are extremely vulnerable in time of war. In other words, this country with its enormous coal resources, is becoming vitally dependent on imported heat energy, any serious failure in the supplies of which, in war time would imperil the national safety and, in peace time, would quickly sterilise enormous capital investments in motor ships, motor vehicles, aviation, and power plants.I think the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was quite in order when he criticised the inefficiency of the people who control the coal industry, and we on this side call upon the Government to take immediate steps to deal with this product, and to see that the best possible use is made of it. I blame the Government in this respect. The President of the Board of Trade said they had done something in the direction of amalgamation, but when questions have been put down on that subject we get very little information. We want to know if any progress has been made in that direction. We do not think that sufficient progress has been made. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that part of the coal industry—Lancashire, Notts., Derby- 691 shire and Yorkshire—had combined together with a view to getting overseas trade by lowering the price overseas and increasing the price at home. What that will do I do not know. That is a question for the coal industry or the coalowners. I do not think any good will come from it. I think good will come from utilising the by-products of the coal industry, and unless the Government proceed on those lines no success is likely to come. If this Debate has only served to bring to the notice of the Government the needs of the coal industry, then I can agree we ought to thank the Liberal party for having initiated it.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I wish to address the Parliamentary Secretary in particular upon a matter which was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas). I am sorry the President of the Board of Trade has had to leave the House, but we know he has been in attendance for four hours this afternoon. It is because I believe that the Board of Trade can do a great deal of good in reference to this particular point that I wish further to emphasise what w as said by the hon. Member for Anglesey on the question of profiteering in shipbuilding material. I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken any action in this matter. I do not know if that is because of any wounding of his amour propre. He was not at the meeting of the deputation with the Prime Minister in regard to this matter. He said so this afternoon when I interrupted him, but that was not the fault of the deputation. I think it was reasonable to expect, when the deputation had asked to be received by the head of the Government, that the head of the Department concerned would have been invited by the Prime Minister to attend. The publicity given to this matter in the House of Commons has resulted in a reduction of costs in shipbuilding material and equipment, but, if the right hon. Gentleman had acted on the request which was made to him, even better results could have been achieved in this important matter.
I said when I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon that the profiteering in shipbuilding material and equipment is a disgrace to this country and the right hon. Gentleman 692 himself is well aware of it. He has said twice or thrice in the House that he has received and studied the Report on this matter, and the Report clearly indicates that where there is a market dependent on shipbuilding orders there is no profiteering to speak of, but where there is an outside market for these materials, manufacturers are forcing up prices to an enormous extent. I have reminded, the right hon. Gentleman more than once of what was said at the annual meeting of the united Chambers of Commerce in Sheffield in 1925, when a member of that body said in reference to light-castings that he could manufacture them 20 per cent. cheaper for both home and abroad, but he was not allowed to do so. There is no more important item than light-castings in shipbuilding material, and in this respect we have suffered greatly. It has been emphasised again and again in this House that if employers and workmen would only co-operate and do their best for industry, we would get over our difficulties. The Report on this matter is a joint effort on the part of those engaged in the shipbuilding industry to bring about that co-operation, and as a result of the meeting of this joint committee, there has been effected a considerable saving in shipbuilding construction. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we have an increased tonnage this "back end" as compared with the previous year. The right hon. Gentleman gave the figures of tonnage, but, had he also given the number of men employed, it would be seen that the picture was not quite as rosy as he painted it. Had he given the figures of employment on the Clyde for the two years, it would have been seen that while tonnage has increased, the number of men engaged has actually decreased. There has, however, been an improvement which we are all glad to see, and it, has been brought about to some extent, I believe, through the work of this committee. The President of the Board of Trade, however, seems to be content to leave things as they are, but I would appeal to the Government to do something to assist the industry on the lines indicated in the Report. Those engaged in the industry have done their best. They have appealed to the right hon. Gentleman, who has given us no more comfort to-day than on previous occasions.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Herbert Williams)
When was this appeal made?
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not read the Report. I have already referred to the deputation which interviewed the permanent secretary to the Board of Trade and asked the Prime Minister to receive them. They went to the Prime Minister and, I suppose, they overlooked writing to the President of the Board of Trade. If the amour proper of the right hon. Gentleman has been hurt and if he is keeping out of this matter on that account, I would make an appeal to him and to his Department not to let that stand in his way. As I have said, the publicity already given to the matter has caused the prices of materials to fall. I believe that if the President would only send for the people who are still profiteering in light castings and ship materials, a further fall would take place. That is the position, and I do not know why the Parliamentary Secretary is shaking his head. I am stating the facts, and since I interrupted the President of the Board of Trade I have refreshed my memory as to everything that has taken place. I, like the last speaker, thank the Liberal party for giving us an opportunity of bringing this matter forward, and I want to say, while I have the opportunity, that in these large numbers of articles and materials and equipment quoted in the Report, a very considerable saving can yet be effected, because some of these prices are even now 200 per cent. above pre-War prices. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to bring to the notice of his chief the earnest request that is still being put up that he should intervene in this important matter.
§ Mr. PILCHER
A great dear has been said on the subject of British shipping and the progress that has been made in the last year or two, but there is one rather important factor to which so far attention has not been drawn, and it has a very important bearing on the industrial depression from which we are suffering and from which, if this cause persists, we may continue to suffer. The total tonnage launched in the world in 1927 was 2,239,000 tons. Of that amount 864,000 tons were for internal combustion, 470,000 tons were for oil fuel, and only 694 905,000 tons were for coal. I might draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that last year only some three-eighths of the world's new tonnage constructed during the year was for coal, and if, while we consider those figures, we also consider these, we shall get some new light on the position in the coal industry. The total consumption of British coal in 1914 was 287,000,000 tons, and in 1927, 260,000,000 tons, a difference of just 27,000,000 tons. [An HON. MEMBER: "Consumption or production?"] Consumption. I have these figures taken out in this form: Exports of British coal declined between 1914 and 1927 from 73,000,000 tons to 52,000,000 tons, and production for bunkers declined from 24,000,000 tons to 18,000,000 tons; home consumption stood steady at 190,000,000. There is a difference of 27,000,000 tons there in consumption, and it is all connected either with exports or shipping, and it accounts for the unemployment of about 100,000 men.
We are told that in the coal-mining industry now there are about 200,000 surplus men. Some 100,000 were attracted into the industry during the War for special reasons, and the other 100,000 are permanent employés in the industry who are out of work owing to the world depression. It seems to me that almost the whole of that 100,000 permanently out of work can be accounted for very largely by this tremendous, permanent, and increasing revolution which is going on in the matter of the kind of fuel used in the world's ships. That is the real point of those figures, and it seems to me that unless we expect coal treated by low-temperature carbonisation, pulverisation, or in some other fashion to take the place of the coal hitherto used by ships, there is very little hope of putting this 27,000,000 tons reduction right. We have really to face the fact, and the increase in the construction of tonnage for oil and internal combustion has also to be faced and its growth regarded as extremely probable.
In common with several other hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate, I went out to Brazil last year with a small delegation of 10 or 12 Members from this House, and I should like to emphasise, from our own experience, both going out to Brazil and returning—it is the common experience of those who 695 travel by sea now-a-days—the significance to the industry of this country of this change-over of fuel for ships. The ship in which I returned from Rio had 26 greasers in lieu of 170 stokers, which a ship of similar engine capacity would have had, had she been fuelled with coal instead of with oil. She burnt 68 tons of oil a day in lieu of 300 tons of coal, and she would have taken in 7,500 tons of coal for the three weeks' voyage, but now takes in some 2,500 tons of oil, which can be done in 10 hours, whereas the coal used to take a whole week to put in. The displacement of labour and the effect on our industrial strength and so forth, it seems to me, are perfectly obvious, and I wane to call the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to that factor in the situation.
Our visit to Brazil and South America on that occasion was also fruitful in another respect. I think it gave a good many Members of this House who went to South America furiously to think, and I had the same experience in Europe in the previous year. I should like to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the enormous expansion of hydro-electric resources in many countries whose factories formerly scarcely competed with us at all. In Brazil, the development of the hydro-electric capacity of the country is really so remarkable that one wonders whether the southern part of that great country, with its vast hydro-electric resources, may not become in time a very serious competitor with us in the markets of the New World. That same hydroelectric energy has been a very fruitful factor in displacing us from other great markets. If my hon. Friend ever visits India and goes to Bombay—perhaps he has been there already—and examines the cotton position, which is so very serious in Lancashire, he will discover that every cotton mill in Bombay, which has become so serious a competitor of Lancashire in the Indian market for the lower classes of piece goods, is driven by cheap hydro-electric energy.
Last Easter, I think it was, I was down to the Pyrenees and saw this same process of displacement of colliery-driven factories by hydro-electric factories, and I saw it in the previous year, in Milan, where the competition with our textile factories is due to Italy's great hydro-electric re- 696 sources. It seems to me that we have to face these two great new developments, for they are still relatively new—a matter of the last decade or decade and a-half—in a very constructive spirit. It is quite clear that our difficulties, in so far as they come from the superior resources of our competitors in oil or in hydro-electric energy, are not going to be easily overcome. That is why I welcome very strongly the Government's serious, if tardy, effort to transfer some of the redundant labour in the colliery industry to those of our industries which are doing well at the present time—relatively young industries in which we start more or less fairly and squarely with the rest of the world. That is a very promising line of action, and I hope the Government will persist in it and develop it in the near future.
There are one or two other points that attracted my attention when abroad recently. One of them, and perhaps the most important of all, is one in which I am not quite sure whether the Board of Trade can do anything; but it is one to which the Department's attention may legitimately be called. It is the extremely poor show that this country very often puts up in the Press of those countries in which our great markets lie. There has been a most serious decline in our exportation to the Brazilian market, and everywhere in Brazil one heard expressions of regret from the Brazilian people themselves that British goods cannot be purchased on such good terms as formerly, and that they were taking inferior substitutes. We heard everywhere that our advertising was absolutely miserable and that Press information from English sources was pathetic. There is a pool of two or three great Press agencies that supply news from Europe to the leading papers of South America, and I gather that news supposed to come from London very rarely indeed emanates from London for the Press of Rio and San Paulo. That is a matter which should be carefully considered by some Government Department, because it is materially affecting our trade. Some of the facilities of which our traders abroad complain are not up to those offered to traders in other countries, particularly postage and telegraphic facilities.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
I do not think that that ques- 697 tion arises on this particular Amendment, which has to do with the Board of Trade Vote.
§ Mr. PILCHER
It is someting which could be remedied by administrative methods adopted in the Board of Trade, but I will not proceed with it if it is out of order. My comment has reference chiefly to the means adopted by traders in this country to circulate their catalogues in foreign markets.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not know whether the question of catalogues comes under the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
In so far as it is a question of duty on catalogues, it may come under the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. PILCHER
There is very often a heavy duty on catalogues which are illustrated, but no duty at all on leaflets, and, as in Brazil at least, illustrated catalogues are subject to a duty of from 12s. 6d. to 15s. per catalogue, our traders should be strongly recommended to devote more attention to the simple pamphlet. I have been impressed again and again with this point in many foreign markets, and with the extreme desirability of getting these leaflets much more used by traders in this country and of dispatching them in the language of the country to which they are sent. I do not know whether the Board of Trade can encourage the creation of economical facilities in London for the translation of advertising matter for use in our foreign markets, but such facilities are essential if the decline in our export trade is to be checked.
There is another point, a difficult one to raise, because it is easily misunderstood. That is the old subject of the advertising given to Empire trade—a system of propaganda with which I am in the strongest sympathy. It is only right, however, that this should be said by somebody. The propaganda is not always understood in some of our great neutral markets. I have had it pointed out to me by people of other nationalities in South America, who were in the habit of consuming our goods more largely than they are now, that there is a strong feeling that this Imperial propaganda has been intended deliberately to divert trade from our neutral markets and to damage them. If my suggestion in regard to the Press and the necessity for a better flow 698 of news from London to our foreign markets were adopted, I think it would be wise to make it quite clear that, while we are encouraging and relying increasingly on our Empire trade connection, there is nothing in our propaganda which is hostile to our neutral markets, with whose custom we would be unable to dispense. If the President of the Board of Trade will give that his attention, he will find on inquiry that there is something in it.
Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
I wish to refer to the question of the new proposed French tariff, on which I asked a question of the President of the Board of Trade on 28th February. As the French Commission des Douanes has accepted the proposal of a 15 per cent. ad valorem duty on imported footwear, it is only a matter of legislation passing through the French Chamber in the course of the next month before it is put into force. I will remind the House of the methods adopted in the boot industry. Some of the largest firms in my constituency run the manufacture and sale of boots from the beginning to the retail establishment. For instance, one firm, which is affected by this new tariff, has been one of the first to establish shops with English capital in France. They started this business as long ago as 1890. Before the War, there were 15 retail establishments in Paris and in the provinces. There are to-day 20. Before the War the average turnover amounted to about 3,000 pairs of boots and shoes per week. It has dropped since the War, largely owing to the luxury tax, and to difficulties connected with the exchanges and other War difficulties, and it is now between 200 and 500 pairs of boots and shoes a week. Now, when that trade is showing signs of improvement, and of being just on the point of regaining the market in France, the French Government propose to put a 15 per cent. ad valorem duty on imported boots and shoes. This will have a serious effect on the sale of boots and shoes in France, and is acting adversely in regard to Germany and other countries which are concluding commercial treaties with France and will get beneficial advantages over us. I would remind the President of the Board of Trade that every year tens of thousands of pairs of boots and shoes from abroad are sold in this country without any restrictions, and I suggest, 699 therefore, that this question which I have brought forward ought to receive immediate attention.
I will quote what the actual result of these tariffs will be on a pair of shoes, taking the value at 20s. In 1914 the duties were 1¼ francs a pair; the present duties are 8.625 francs a pair; under the new ad valorem duties the charge will amount to 18.6 francs, more than twice as much again. I press this as a matter of urgency, because if no action is taken, and if no negotiations are opened with the French Government with a view to lessening this duty until the Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced his Budget, then there will be nothing left with which to bargain with the French Government until another Budget is introduced next year. I do ask the hon. Gentleman opposite to do what he can to help us in this respect.
That is all I wish to say this afternoon. I had intended to reply to some of the other questions raised earlier in the Debate. I should like to have replied in detail to the hon. Member below the Gangway who referred to Japanese competition. If he really thinks that the loss of Lancashire's trade is due mainly to the fact that the Japanese are able to produce goods cheaper than us because of their cheap labour, he has been misinformed as to the facts, and I suggest to him and other hon. Members that before they come to the House again to discuss these matters they should read the very excellent report dealing with this question written by Mr. Bernard Ellinger and published by the Manchester Statistical Society. This would have been the appropriate time to go into this question in further detail, but in view of the fact that only two or three members of the party who initiated the Debate are present in the House, I shall reserve my facts for a future occasion.
Sir WILLIAM LANE MITCHELL
I am sorry to speak at so late an hour, but I consulted Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hope) earlier in the Debate, and he thought I might legitimately deal with the question of the rubber trade. It is suffering seriously just now on account of Government action.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I understand this particular Amendment has to 700 do with the Board of Trade, and I am told that the Board of Trade is not concerned with rubber, which comes under the Colonial Office.
Sir W. LANE MITCHELL
On that Point of Order, may I point out that on this Vote, we can discuss Australia or any other Dominion, everything that comes from it and every question of trade arising therefrom. The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, when he was in the Chair, said he thought that very likely the clerk's salary was borne upon this Vote, and that I should be allowed to raise this subject upon that item.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member would no doubt be allowed to raise it on the main question of the House agreeing with the Resolution, but not until this particular Amendment has been disposed of.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I think it has been to the advantage of the House that the Liberal party should have raised the discussion on trade which we have had to-day. While it is true, possibly, that nearly all the things which could be said had been said on a previous occasion, nevertheless, they may have been said in rather newer ways to-day. There are only one or two points for me to answer; having regard to the very able statement made by the President, there is no need for me to speak at any length. The hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Ellis Davies) asked a question about coal embargoes in foreign countries. The French embargo has been withdrawn, and, so far as Germany is concerned, I think we have never had any trouble about the licences. The hon. Member for East Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Connolly) raised again the question he referred to earlier when the President was here, on the subject of the action to be taken in respect of the report of the joint shipbuilding committee. I am certain there is no question of amour proper on the part of the President. The fact that he has not taken any specific step has nothing to do with that. The trade set up a joint committee to investigate certain matters; those were investigated, and they have taken certain action on the report presented. In the report it was suggested that possibly the President of the Board of Trade might 701 do something, but obviously it would be very stupid of him to go and butt in until he was asked to come along. [Interruption.] I know that is an unusual phrase to use, but it seems to be very appropriate. Judging by the attitude which is taken up by people of all parties if there is any suggestion of Government intervention when it is not asked for, I think the President of the Board of Trade has been quite justified in abstaining from intervening until he was asked to do so, and as I believe many of the matters the parties had in mind rather solved themselves. I think his inaction has been a very judicious inaction. The hon. Member for Newcastle rather challenged the statement made by the President as to activity in the shipbuilding industry. He said that it was no good quoting the tonnage under construction, that what we had to consider was the number of men at work and the extent of unemployment, which, of course, is still heavy in shipbuilding. The latest figures show, however, that the unemployment is 20.6 per cent., whereas a year ago it was nearly double that figure, at 36.9 per cent., so it will be seen that the unemployment statistics broadly confirm the statistics as to tonnage under construction.
The hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Pilcher) raised the important question of oil-burning ships and coal-burning ships. Of course, that is a technical problem. The convenience of fuelling is very much greater with oil than with coal, and there are certain facilities also in the engine room in the case of oil-burning ships. A good deal depends upon the prices. There is not the slightest doubt there are times when one would be justified in adopting one fuel and other times when one would be justified in using the other, but it is remarkable that, in spite of the increase in oil-burning ships or ships driven by internal combustion engines, we sold more bunker coal in 1927 than in 1925—substantially more—whereas the oil bunkers sold from this country increased to an almost negligible extent. Apparently, therefore, 1927 showed a relative growth of coal over oil.
§ Sir R. HUTCHISON
May I ask if the hon. Member has any figures for upkeep of a Diesel-engined ship as compared with a coal-burning ship?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
No, I have not at the moment, but I can make inquiries if the hon. and gallant Member would like to have the information.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Does the hon. Member agree that the reason for the extra tonnage in bunkers is to be found in the late coal dispute? All the coaling stations of the world have been replenishing since then.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am speaking subject to my interpretation of the word "bunkers" being right, but I think if coal is shipped to a coaling station abroad it is treated as a coal export and not as bunker coal, and that what is classified as bunker coal is coal put on a ship for consumption on that Ship and not for the purpose of conveyance elsewhere. That being the case, the point raised by the hon. Member for Rother-hithe (Mr. B. Smith) does not arise. Then the question was raised of hydroelectric power displacing coal. No doubt that is true to some extent, but it is also true that more coal is being burnt in the world to-day than in pre-War days. Probably more coal will be raised this year than in any previous year. The real reason is that we arc not having our fair share of the trade in coal. I was very much interested in the question of publicity a few days ago by the views which were put before me by a gentleman who has just been on a business tour to South America, and he complained of the quality of our Press service. I asked this gentleman to let me have an expression of his views on this subject, and I have passed them on to the proper Department in the hope that something may be done to -deal with them. All through this gentleman's remarks there seemed to run an adverse criticism of our own trading people. He said that we printed our catalogues very badly and often in the wrong language, and did not convert our weights and measures to the equivalents of other countries. That may be true, but I have had some experience in reading trade papers from other countries, and some of them complain that their own methods are much worse than ours. I think we might say something favourable of our own country occasionally. I do not think all our merchants can be quite so incompetent as has been made out in 703 view of the immense trade we are now doing. I think it is quite right that occasionally we should beat the big drum and advertise ourselves.
The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) raised the question of a new French tariff, and referred to the export of British goods to France. All I can say on that point is that the Department is examining the question, and we are considering what representations can be made. I know the hon. Member appreciates the difficulties of tariff negotiations. I was very delighted to hear the hon. Member for Northampton urge that this matter should be dealt with before the introduction of the Budget, because that shows that the hon. Member and the party opposite are now beginning to realise the potential power of safeguarding. It is rather interesting that a statement of that kind should come from the Labour benches, and from one who represents a constituency where they make the best boots in the world, with the exception of those made in Stafford and a few other places. I think I have now covered all the points which were raised in the latter part of the Debate, and I have nothing further to add.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The question which has been raised in this Debate is one in which I have only an academic interest. I rose to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade upon his excellent appearance in his official capacity this evening. We are all interested in his transfer from below the Gangway to the responsible position which he now holds, and we are interested to find that he holds that position as if he had been born to it, and had held it for a long period. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) has outlined the attitude of the Government in so far as its responsibility for trade is concerned, and he says that the Board of Trade will not butt in unless it is invited to do so. He has told us that on some occasions when invited to butt in they have considered it unwise to interfere. Adding the two statements together, we come to the conclusion that the attitude of the Government is one of non-interference with trade, except of course in the relatively minor matter of safeguarding particular industries, which the Minister has already proved were industries which, for the 704 most part, would have been successful without any safeguarding at all.
We have been told that those industries consisted of two varieties. In the first place, those which were adapting themselves to changing fashions and were supplying classes of goods such as motor cars and other things produced mainly for the wealthier section of the community. Hon. Members sitting on these benches have never doubted the ability of the better-off section of the community to purchase what they want, and consequently we are not surprised that those who are connected with such industries are in a flourishing condition. We have always contended that under the system adopted by the Government the rich will get richer and the poor poorer. The other industries which are flourishing are those engaged in producing for the working-classes some substitute for the genuine article. Those are the two classes of industry that flourish under a Tory Government, those who make the best goods for the rich and those who make shoddy goods for the poor. I wish I could only believe that the policy of non-interference with trade were a genuine one. The policy of the Government seems to be: "We are not going to interfere with the nations' affairs at all, and we are going to let all sections of the community go on as they please." That is the policy of the Government with reference to trade, but, it is not their policy in regard to unemployment, because they interfere with that very seriously to the detriment of a large number of unemployed people.
The Government also interfered with the mines very much to the detriment of the mining community, and, as far as one can judge from the statements made the other day, that interference up to the present has not been to the advantage of the general mining industry. It has certainly brought no good to the coal-owners, if we are to believe their story, and it has brought no good to the industries which are large users of coal in the carrying on of their processes. A month or two ago I read a statement by Mr. Lee, the secretary of the Mine-owners' Association, in which he said that the position of the coal industry still remains gloomy, and will remain gloomy until the wages of the miners are reduced to an approximation to those of their 705 principal European competitors. He also stated that that would not be enough, and that the wages of workers in the sheltered industries would have to come down to approximate to those of the miners. Mr. Lee also said that the rates and taxes would have to be reduced as well as railway freights, and indicating how rates and taxes could be reduced he pointed to the tremendous sum of money that was being spent in this country on the Social Services. He went on, further, to point out that our principal European competitor in the coal industry was Poland, which was an El Dorado for coalowners, because there the miners were ready to work for 3s. 6½d. a day.
That seems to be rather a gloomy prophecy from a responsible leader of thought on the employers' side—that we cannot expect this important part of our industries, namely, the coal industry, to get into a really active state until miners' wages, and the wages of practically all other workers, come down to the 3s. 6½d a day level. That means 21s. a week for a full week. And the Board of Trade tells us that it refuses to interfere to do anything to stimulate better organisation among employers. It does net see its way, as the President tells us, to interfere in the matter of the tremendous anomalies in regard to shipping freights. An hon. Member below the Gangway showed the tremendous difference that there is in the freights charged by British companies for cargoes lifted in this country and by the same companies for cargoes brought from foreign countries. The President of the Board of Trade thought that it was a responsible answer, which this House and the country ought to accept, when he told us that he had made private inquiries of one shipping firm, which he did not name, who told him that he must not accept those figures too abruptly and without certain qualifications. He says that he cannot interfere in that, but be does tell us that it is a matter which might be referred to the Imperial Shipping Conference, which, he tells us, is a very responsible and dignified body, composed of a number of individuals from various parts of the Empire, each one of whom is responsible to his individual Prime Minister; but to whom the general body is responsible I have not the faintest idea, and probably the President has not either.
706 9.0 p.m.
That was his one practical proposal for dealing with the anomalies of ocean-borne cargoes, and in no direction did he show any settled plan, any guiding idea through the Government's attitude towards freights, except that they will sit still, that they will never interfere unless they are asked, and that, in any particuar case in which they are asked, they will conclude that it is not wise to intervene. The one thing that the right hon. Gentleman will do is to allow any given industry, which feels that it is being subjected to unfair competition, the right to apply, on its own initiative, to a Safeguarding Committee, to consider whether the conditions are such as to permit of this particular industry being examined into by a number of experts, to see whether its contention as to unfair competition is well grounded or not—[Interruption.]—except any industry that matters, except any industry that really employs a, big body of men. In that case the policy is one of complete inactivity. Minister after Minister puts forward the same defence every time. I could make any Minister's speech for him; I could prepare it in advance, no matter what his Department might be. There would be about four or five headings. First of all, there is a marked improvement; we have heard about an order that is possibly coming from Czechoslovakia about the year 1929. Then there is a percentage figure, to prove that there has been an increase in some particular direction. That part of the speech does not last long; we get away from that as quickly as possible. If it is a Labour spokesman who is raising the issue, they say, "What did you do in 1924?" And if it is one of the gentlemen on the Liberal benches who is raising the issue, they say, "What did you do when you were in office?" Then they say in the peroration—which is always a big proportion of the speech—"We must all be prepared to pull together; we must all remember that we are one part of a great and mighty Empire. We have been through difficult and hard times. You cannot make good the ravages of a War that lasted for 4½ years, and involved the whole human race, in a matter of a week or two." They go on to say that, if there is united effort on the part of all classes in the community, and if the hon. Gentlemen on these benches will cease 707 agitating among the workers, and demanding higher wages and better conditions of labour, they have no doubt that, at some time in the dim and distant future, this great old country of ours will resume once more the proud position which it occupied in the past. You only need a peroration, and you are qualified to sit on the Government Front Bench.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I rose only for the purpose of congratulating my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his promotion. There is, I believe, a statement in the Scriptures that—A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.I wonder if it is too much to ask the hon. Gentleman to try to persuade that great galaxy of talent that usually occupies the Front Bench—all that is best, we are told, in British public life. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health accepts that. The other night, however, when he was defending 6d. a day to feed miners in South Wales, I thought that, if that is the best a British Ministry can stand for, God help the British democracy. I wonder, however, if it would not be possible for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to persuade the Government—for the Government is not simply a collection of more or less decorative people who draw salaries and look dignified—[Interruption.]That is the second time in the course of five minutes that hon. Members on the other side have invited me to come across there. I recognise that that is about the only hope there is of saving them. I wonder if it is too much for us to expect, having regard to the real facts, and not to statistics, because the real facts regarding the condition of this nation's trade and of the working classes are simply damnable, and, while the Ministry may walk out of every Debate feeling that they have done fairly well and have got the best of it on the dialectics chucked across the Floor of the House, the fact of the matter is that all our Most important industries are in a desperate state, that all the workers in those industries are having a worse trouble to live than ever they have had, 708 that the insecurities and worries of working-class life are greater to-day than ever they were, and that the amount of luxury and luxurious expenditure that we see around us is greater to-day than ever it was, and more offensive in its display. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) reminds me of one particular instance. I am not touchy about the methods of my political opponents. I am not particularly scrupulous about my own. I believe that any stick is good enough to beat a dog, or a collection of dogs, with. But I think it is getting pretty low down when you hold a public dinner in a notorious night club—a cabaret, I understand it is called—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Would it not be in order for my hon. Friend to discuss the effect on trade of late hours kept by people who ought to be conducting business in the daytime?
§ Mr. MAXTON
The point that I was trying to make—I was using this purely for the purposes of illustration—is that the condition of this country is very bad. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are making a tremendous call on the working classes for greater effort and greater sacrifices. They are being told in a variety of trades that they must not make any demand for higher standards of life. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said that?"] I think I could find quotations in the official records from responsible Cabinet Ministers. I will go further and say the Government and their supporters deliberately imposed worse conditions on the miners, definitely and deliberately voted for lengthening their hours and definitely and deliberately voted for lower unemployment allowances.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I know that is partially true, but right hon. Gentlemen never act on any recommendation unless it happens to be the thing they want to do. Do not let us get into any quibble of that sort. The fact is that hon. Members opposite have voted not merely against the raising of the standard of 709 life of the working people but for the reducing of their standard of life. I was going to say that in these circumstances it is in the worst possible taste to have a wild night's orgy at which responsible Ministers of the Crown auction champagne—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member is very ingenious in the way he brings the question in, but he is still out of order.
§ Mr. MAXTON
If I cannot pursue the matter any further, I hope I am not out of order in suggesting that, if we are going to get anything like a revival of trade, it is not by the Government standing in support of luxurious expenditure by a small section of the community, flaunting it in the faces of people who they say cannot have a bare subsistence. It is not to be done in that way. It is to be done by the Government recognising that it has as its first responsibility the stimulation, the direction and the organisation of trade, and that it is not their business to sit idly by and expect private individuals to do the right thing, because private individuals run their businesses for profit, and profit does not necessarily guide them to do the right thing so far as the national advantage is concerned. I believe unless the Government are prepared to go definitely and drastically to take over powers to organise the land, the mines, the transport and the finance of the country, your Government will be what the Government of to-day is, a helpless group of individuals, the mere playthings of all the conflicting trade interests that operate, and the result will be that year after year you will see your principal industries vanishing, a bigger number of your people unemployed, the standards of life going lower down and the character and the moral of your people being steadily destroyed, and no one in the final result, when this evil condition has been produced, will accept it as a valid excuse on the part of the President of the Board of Trade or the Government that they did not regard it as their business to interfere with trade, because it is their main and primary duty, it is the duty for which they are elected and for which they are paid, and if they do not interfere with trade and put trade on the right lines, they are deliberately betraying the people who trusted them.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It seems to me very extraordinary that with 1,500,000 unemployed—the figure was given me last week by the Minister of Health that 1,280,000 were getting assistance from the guardians—it is proposed that the Debate initiated by the hon. Baronet the Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas)—and we are all glad he initiated it—should happen to be drawing to a close at this comparatively early hour. If there are hon. Members below the Gangway still considering their speeches, perhaps I can give them a point or two which they can take up. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Reading and the Government on his accession to office. He has certainly earned his promotion to that Bench. He is a very energetic Member of Parliament, and there are not many such on that side of the House. He was always very persistent, and I think he set a very good example according to his lights.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have known many complimentary exchanges across the Table, but this is the first time I have heard them protested against. The hon. Member must have got out of bed on the wrong side. I trust the hon. Member for Reading, who was once described as the Ken worthy of the Conservative party, will take it in good part. I have been three times as long in Parliament as he has been and we are both of the younger generation in a political sense. I am going to suggest that he should pursue one or two lines of inquiry with regard to administration. He has come to an Office, the Board of Trade, which is second to none in importance. The Board of Trade is more important than the Ministry of Health. The Board of Trade, properly handled, with its paramountcy over transport, mining, shipping and the whole question of industry and trade and commerce of the country, should be of immense importance. That was realised when the Labour party appointed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. S. Webb) to that post, he having had more knowledge of the science of government than probably anyone of his day.
These are the suggestions which I am going to make to the hon. Member for 711 Reading. For the moment he is going to be my chopping-block and I am going to make these proposals to him. I believe we do not make sufficient use of the League of Nations in connection with British trade. The League of Nations is only looked upon as a, means of preventing war. On the contrary, if we use it properly, it can be of tremendous importance in improving our trade on the Continent especially, and in other parts of the world. I am going to show how it can be done. If Great Britain withdrew from the League of Nations, with her money power and her Fleet, the League of Nations would collapse. We, therefore, have a right to ask something of the League of Nations. It is not only a means of imposing compulsory arbitration, or attempting to do so. It is not only a means of appointing committees to look into the important question of disarmament before you have an agreement on policy. It is a great international body, and it has done very good work already in exposing very bad scandals, such as the traffic in drugs, the traffic in white slaves, the traffic in black slaves, and so on. But it can be used to a very great extent, if used properly, for removing those barriers to trade which are hampering us more than anything else on the Continent of Europe. Why should this Empire of oars underwrite the Covenant of the League of Nations? Why should we enter into the Locarno Agreement guaranteeing the frontiers of two of the most pugnacious and powerful nations in Europe and get nothing in return for it? I would use the League of Nations in a different way. I would use it to its utmost capacity in getting these barriers to trade broken down.
§ Mr. HANNON
How can the Board of Trade do that? I thought that the League of Nations was in contact with the administration of the Foreign Office.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I think the President of the Board of Trade has spoken about the Economic Conference—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I was waiting to hear how the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that the Board of Trade should act.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I think I am absolutely in order. I have plenty of other things to talk about if I am ruled out of order on this. The hon. Gentleman is not going to get his Vote so quickly, if that is his idea. The President of the Board of Trade has answered the question about the Economic Conference set up under the auspices of the League of Nations and whose pious platitudes have not been acted upon. That is one direction in which we can get these barriers removed. There are many hon. Members in this House who have seen a map of Europe arranged by an hon. colleague of ours which shows the walls all round the frontiers of Europe. It shows a terrible state of affairs brought about by the great break-up of that great economic community, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We can use the League of Nations in helping in this connection. Already the League of Nations has done something by its various transport—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was about to say that the League of Nations has already shown the way by dealing with the transport question. Not only has it held transport conferences but it has dealt with shipping questions. We have had two or three meetings at Genoa at which important shipping questions have been considered. That shows the way, and it should be followed to the end, when, I believe, we should get very good results. Another way in which the League of Nations can be used is through the International Labour Office. We are faced with unfair competition.
§ Mr. HANNON
What in the world has the International Labour Office to do with it? On a point of Order, Captain FitzRoy, is the Board of Trade responsible for the administration of our part of the International Labour Office? The hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to kill time.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is not the Board of Trade represented at the International Shipping Conference? I think I am in order in this. We have heard much this afternoon on safeguard- 713 ing. The object of safeguarding was to prevent unfair competition, but the best way to prevent unfair competition is not by depressing our own standards of labour and by putting artificial restrictions on trade which create more unemployment, but by getting the standards of labour raised in those countries where the competition is unfair. Therefore, the International Labour Office could be of immense service. We have had many Debates on the failure of the Government to ratify the Washington Convention, and that is one example of their failure in the matter. They have not taken the International Labour Office seriously and supported it as much as they might. I commend that to the hon. Member for Reading. I think that if he looks into that matter, coming with a fresh mind and undiminished energy and, I hope, faith, to the Board of Trade, his inquiries will bring forth some good results.
I wish also to draw attention to a very great scandal for which the hon. Gentleman had no responsibility, though his party had as the predominant party in the Coalition Government. I refer to the item in Class 9, for which I am very sorry to see a very huge sum. I refer to the Australian Zinc Concentrates. That is a matter of which the Board of Trade must surely have some cognisance. I would like to know, whoever winds up this Debate at half past ten, whether there is any hope of getting this enormous sum reduced. I see that the total under the Estimate of last year was £677,000, and that this year it is going to be over £500,000. This ridiculous and fantastic arrangement entered into during the War with the Australian Government has cost us some millions of pounds already. We have, apparently, been kept to the letter of our bond, and I think it is a very serious matter. In the search for economy it is time that we approached the Australian Government to see if we cannot have some arrangement made with regard to this matter. Next I want to refer to a matter in Class A, Vote 1, which refers to War pensions for merchant seamen. Is it finally settled that there is to be no more paid out of German Reparations to seamen who suffered during the War by enemy action, and for one reason and another have not been able to get their claims made good? We are having the amount paid by Ger- 714 many raised. I think we get something like £14,000,000 this year in German Reparations. It is only a very small point, but I should like to ask whether there is any hope of these belated claims, some of which are genuine, being dealt with.
I think I shall be in order in raising a matter in connection with scientific and industrial research, because, obviously, the Board of Trade must draw on the knowledge of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. May I ask the hon. Member for Reading this question? It is a matter which I and other Members have been pursuing at question time. I refer to the new mixed fuel which has been brought in known as tetraethyl. How is it that only now, after it has been before the public for some weeks, the Government have set up an Inter-Departmental Committee? Why does a newspaper find it necessary to make tests in the public interest, tests which have been going on for weeks, very extensive and expensive tests, for which, I think, they are to be commended. It is not a newspaper which always supports my policies, but, nevertheless, in this matter I support it. Why has this not been done by the Government weeks ago? You have had this tetraethyl extensively advertised. It contains this lead concentrate which is highly dangerous, and we have had evidence given to us already by distinguished scientists of the disastrous effect which will result if any portion of this petrol touches a man's skin, and that it will set up lead blood-poisoning which, unfortunately, very often takes a long time to develop. Only as a result of a Motion made in another place—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was referring to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I only hope the right hon. Gentleman will not use this petrol in his car, because we do not want to lose him. He is one of our best assets.
§ Mr. BATEY
The Lord President of the Council is not a Member of the House, and the President of the Board of Education used to answer for the Department of Scientific Research. The Prime Minister gave us a definite pledge before the end of last year that it would be taken out of the hands of that Department, and that somebody else would answer for it. We do not know who it is now. Is it not the Board of Trade?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
No, the Department which is responsible is the Lord President's Department. Unless the Vote for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is down, and somebody selected by the Prime Minister to answer for that Department is present to answer, then I submit that on this Vote one cannot discuss an entirely different Vote.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Whoever is responsible to answer for him it is not the Board of Trade. The hon. Member must raise this at another time.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Has not this Debate, though technically on the Board of Trade, been a very general Debate on the whole trade of this country, and largely a Debate on Free Trade and Protection? In view of that attitude up to now, why should my hon. Friend be ruled against so strictly now?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
On a general trade discussion, general trade matters may be raised, but what is now raised is a specific matter of administration for which the Department of Industrial and Scientific Research is responsible. If it is desired to discuss a point of administration of that Department, then that Vote can be put down on the, proper occasion when whoever is detailed by the Prime Minister to reply can do so.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I would have liked to have heard how a research department can do administration. Has not the President of the Board of Trade heard of this particular petrol? He has certain responsibilities for petrol in his Department? Has he heard of tankers bringing it? What administrative action is he taking? It is no use his 716 shaking his head, because he will only get hanged, figuratively speaking, if anyone dies on an oil tanker.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Having no power whatever to stop any petrol coming into this country, I would require legislation.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Has the right hon. Gentleman issued instructions that great care should be taken in handling this petrol in oil tankers, or is he going to wait for a coroner's inquest? Perhaps he does not know that the least amount of this petrol on the skin may bring on blood poisoning. That is the opinion of Sir William Pope, the most eminent chemist of this country. If he has not dealt with it already, he had better see to it, and other Ministers should also issue the necessary instructions to their subordinates who have anything to do with this fuel. If anything does happen, do not let the President of the Board of Trade say he was not warned, because I shall produce the copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT to him.
As to mines, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the progress that has been made in amalgamations? I understand that the amalgamations which have taken place so far, outside the anthracite industry, where that high priest of rationalisation the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) has given a very useful lead to the rest of the industry, have been on so small a scale that only 20,000 employés are affected. In this industry there are about 2,000 separate pits, administered by 1,000 different companies. All the reports of Committees on this subject have made it clear that the mining industry is suffering from too many companies getting in each other's way, either physically or in their purchases of supplies, or in the sale of their coal. Is he satisfied that the industry is putting its house in order? This is not the argument only of wild revolutionaries on these benches, but it has been put forward by such eminent capitalists as the right hon. Member for Carmarthen and Lord Beaverbrook, who is a good Conservative with experience in these matters. He has proved that, until this industry rationalises itself, there is no further hope for it.
717 What is the President of the Board of Trade doing in this matter? He has had some experience of mergers. At one time he was a director of a great electric merger. He knows the savings that can be brought about through these large combinations. We do not move from our policy, that it is necessary to bring about control by the whole nation, acting through Parliament, of the coal industry, but in the meantime, while the present Government is in office and they can hold on for 18 months or so, we would like something done by the industry along the lines of rationalisation. If the President of the Board of Trade is unable to do anything, what is the Parliamentary Secretary doing? He has seen something of mergers in the engineering industry. He knows perfectly well that they are efficient and that they are a further defence of the capitalists. Can he look into this matter? His Parliamentary Chief is becoming a tired man. If he will forgive my saying it—I am not speaking personally but in the political sense—he is tired politically. He has been too long in office. He has had four years of office, and it is too much for one of his advanced years. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) has only recently come into office. Will he try to look into this matter?
At the present time, the Germans and the French are very far ahead of us in combine operations of their coal industry, both in the purchase of their stores and in their selling organisations. If you have one thousand companies with one thousand purchasing systems for buying their timber, their tubs, their rails and everything else required for the pits, and if you have one thousand companies with one thousand selling organisations, there must be a great deal of overlapping and waste, and the unfortunate employés in the industry have to pay for it on the one hand, while the people of the country pay on the other. What is the Government doing about it? It is absurd for them to say that they must not interfere with private industry. When there is a great strike or a lock-out in an industry, they mobilise the whole nation, or as much of it as they can, in order to smash the strike or lock-out. The Territorials are called out, the special constables are sworn in and millions of money that belong to the taxpayers are paid by way of subsidy.
Sir W. LANE MITCHELL
On a point of Order. I was called up pretty sharply. Why is not "the other fellow" called up in the same way?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I understand that the merging of mines has been referred to already this evening during the Debate.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir W. Lane Mitchell) wishes to talk about rubber, he should ask for a day.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
On a point of Order. May I call attention to the fact that the hon. Member for Streatham referred to someone on this side as "the other fellow." I was called to order the other day for using that expression.
The Government interferes with an industry in case of a strike or lock-out, but they do not interfere when the men's wages are so reduced, as they are in Durham, where I went the other day, that a man would have to work six days before he could take £2 to his wife. While this sort of thing is going on, the President of the Board of Trade puts his feet on the Table, looks sagacious, and that is all that happens. What is the Parliamentary Secretary going to do[...] Is he going to allow the matter to drift along?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not mind whether he has his feet on the Table now or not. If he will only do something in regard to this question, he will do something for the country and for himself. With regard to Russia, the hon. Member for Mincing Lane or, rather, the hon. Member who speaks for Mincing Lane, I mean the hon. Member for Streatham, if he has a grievance on the question and he is interested in rubber, he should ask for time to discuss it. I only wished to say that, if the hon. Member is interested in rubber, he should ask for time to discuss it. The truth is, that hon. Members on the other side of the House are too docile; they 719 take everything lying down. They are afraid to criticise their own Government. They have a greater majority than the Conservative party have ever had or will ever have again. Of course, they can make a row at Question time, but nothing happens. They are afraid of the Government, as we saw the other day on the Economy Debate, when they ran away from the Division. [Interruption.] I beg pardon. The hon. Member for Stroud (Sir F. Nelson) had the courage of his convictions, but what are four out of the economy group, which I believe is 300 strong? What happened to the 296 colleagues of the four hon. Members who did not run away? Hon. Members on the other side of the House who have grievances will never get anything, so long as they are prepared to bow down and to worship the Government Bench, and refuse to go against the Government in the Lobby. By acting in that way, they are not serving their constituents or the country. What this Government wants is a little ginger from their own side.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to come back to the subject before the House.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have mentioned one or two things to which the Parliamentary Secretary might apply his knowledge and energy. I particularly recommend him to visit the International Labour Office at Geneva and see whether he cannot find some means of giving some help in the way I have suggested. It can be done through the International Labour Office. I would ask him to remember that when the final history of this Government comes to be written, it will be embedded in coal, like some of the fossils which are found in the deeper levels of our coal-pits to-day. The grave of this Government will be in coal. Its monument will be in coal, and it will only be remembered by coal. Let the Parliamentary Secretary see to it that he is remembered by trying to do something practical in the office which he holds.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I have often said that if it were possible for the electorate in this country to come to the House of 720 Commons one evening and listen to the Debate, there would not be one member of the Socialist party returned to this House in future. Those who take an interest in our affairs would do well to read the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, and I feel sure that they will realise what regard the Socialist party have for trade in this country. I rise chiefly to say a few words on the question which was raised at the beginning of the Debate. I had the pleasure of listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas), who raised the really important question which we ought to consider to-night, namely, the question of the safeguarding of industries. I think he did that because he thought that by beating the Free Trade drum he might be able to gather together some of the scattered remnants of the Liberal party in the country. Unfortunately for him, that is impossible because there is a rapid change of opinion in the country from the Free Trade point of view to that of safeguarding.
I have risen in order to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he will not revise in some way the White Paper which he published at the beginning of this Parliament. Under that White Paper it is necessary, in order that the industry shall be safeguarded, to prove that there is a large amount of unemployment in the industry. As a matter of fact, that is the reason why the first appeal by the hosiery trade of this country was refused by the Board. It was entirely because they could not show that there was an excessive amount of unemployment in that industry. I contend that it should not be necessary to prove any unemployment in an industry in order to have it safeguarded. If you can prove, as we can in many cases, that by methods of safeguarding we are able to increase employment in an industry, it should be entirely unnecessary to prove that there is one single man unemployed in the industry. I would remind hon. Members of the Liberal party, in spite of the fact that they think they are a united party on this one issue, that as a matter of fact they are nothing of the kind. In the second inquiry in the hosiery trade, which has just been held, the president of the Liberal Club in the town of 721 Leicester gave evidence on behalf of the hosiery trade. He said this:I appear as a volunteer witness, impelled to give evidence by foreign competition by which my firm's products are assailed.And be went on:In my opinion the decrease in the machinery which I use is accounted for by the fact that goods are coming in from foreign sources at prices with which we are unable to compete. We have at the present moment 108 machines entirely idle which are available for the production of cotton socks. Year after year our output of these goods is decreasing until it has almost reached vanishing point.If that is the opinion of the president of the Liberal Club in Leicester, then we who are supporting safeguarding are at least making some considerable converts to the cause we advocate. Our trade union friends are also supporting this application for the safeguarding of the hosiery trade, and the joint secretary of the Leicestershire Amalgamated Hosiery Union at the first inquiry used these significant words:The English manufacturers were equipped to produce the class of goods which has been mentioned at the inquiry, but it is futile to attempt to do so in face of the unfair competition which has captured the home market.When we consider exactly what is the effect on that part of the hosiery trade which is already protected by the Safeguarding of Industries Act—I mean the artificial silk trade—we have two compatible figures from which we can draw some conclusion. Take the stocking trade. The imports of artificial silk stockings, which are safeguarded, have decreased by 49 per cent., while the imports of ordinary cotton stockings, which are not safeguarded, have increased in two years' time by 100 per cent. If you take exports as a criterion of that trade, then artificial silk stockings have increased in the last two years by 38 per cent., while cotton stockings, which are not protected, have decreased by 20 per cent. These are striking figures. The people who are unemployed and who are looking to this Government, or any other Government, to alleviate their position, must realise, in view of these and other figures which have been given in the motor trade, that the only possible solution for an improvement of trade in this country, and thereby a decrease in the number of the unemployed, is by some in- 722 crease in the safeguarding procedure. I do not speak on the question of safeguarding the iron and steel trade. Personally, I think it is the only way in which we can deal with the coal situation. There is no other way of increasing the use of coal in this country except to produce a larger amount of steel and engineering goods, and I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to use all his influence with the Government to make other opportunities for imposing these safeguarding duties.
What did we see in the newspapers during the last two days? I find that the French Government are going to put an increased tariff on boots and shoes coming from this country. What is the position of the boot and shoe operatives in the county of Leicester? If we were in a position to put on more stringent safeguards we could say to the French Government that if they try to keep out English boots and shoes, we shall take some steps to prevent some of their goods coming into this country. In that way we could uphold the standard of living of the workers in the boot and shoe trade. There is no time to talk about trade from the point of view of Imperial Preference. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman realises the importance of this matter, and that all members of the Conservative party realise how vitally important it is to increase our trade with the Dominions. The only possible way in which we can extend our trade with them is by giving them every possible consideration in our own market.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I had not intended to take part in this Debate but the speech of the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) moves me to say a word or two. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) talked about lucidity. There is no question whatever that this Debate, as far as I have been able to follow it, has shown that there is something about which there is considerable lucidity. The remarkable thing in all the Debates about safeguarding is this, that having applied that method to a number of articles, which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called the staple trades of the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Well, I will take three, motorcars, lace, and artificial silk, and I say that there are three other industries, 723 which I am going to mention, which stand far above them in relation to the total national trade. They are coal, agriculture, and iron and steel—
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. and gallant Member has answered my call. One of the things you cannot do with regard to coal is to safeguard it. When hon. Members talk about increasing the prosperity of the country by safeguarding industry, I retort, here is our country with 1,178,000 unemployed this week, and of these 227,000 are in the coal industry. The interjection of the hon. Member proves conclusively that the arguments of the hon. Member for Melton is entirely irrelevant.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I do not think the hon. Member understood what I said. What I said was that I was trying to impress on the Government the necessity of using some form of protection for the steel trade in order to increase the production of coal in this country.
§ Mr. BROWN
If the hon. Member will read his speech to-morrow he will find that he said something about employment and British workers too. Here is a great key industry, coal. An hon. and gallant Member interjected that we do not import coal. Therefore the extension of safeguarding has nothing whatever, to say to the distresses and unemployment in a great basic trade of the land. Enough has been said in this Debate and in previous Debates about Ford cars and other musical instruments, like gramophones and jews' harps, about silk and artificial silk stockings, and about pottery, including mugs of all kinds. Permit me to say a word or two about trades which, with all respect to other trades, are much more important to this country. In regard to agriculture, the last speaker talked about divisions in the Liberal party. He chose as an illustration one private member of the party in the City of Leicester. I would point out that there are very grave divisions, not only outside but inside this House, among Conservatives, on this very problem of safeguarding. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] My word is not accepted. Per- 724 haps I may be allowed to read a quotation. It is dated 8th July, 1927, and this is the quotation:We cannot, either by the safeguarding of industries method or by any form of Protective tariff, increase our food taxes. How could we hope to stand on an election platform and appeal to the people on a policy of dearer food for the benefit of one section of the community?The speaker of those words was the President of the Board of Agriculture, who sometimes sits on the Treasury Bench. The fact is that hon. Members themselves have illustrated the fundamental fallacy of their plea. It is one thing to go to the country, as they have done on previous occasions, and ask for an all round tariff, always with one exception—in the year 1906 that exception was a tax on food—it is one thing to argue a general case and another thing to put up "One tariff, one trade." The very fact that this method of safeguarding cannot be applied through the Board of Trade with regard to coal, because we do not import it, and with regard to agriculture, because this Government, though Protectionist at heart, dare not face the electors either in rural or urban constituencies on a policy of safeguarding agriculture, is proof of my point. [An HON. MEMBER: "Wait and see: "] An hon. Member says "Wait and see." The pity is that some people cannot wait, and those that do cannot see. I shall be only too happy if hon. Members opposite will include taxes on food under safeguarding, because I am positive that they will get from the country the same answer as they got before.
Let me pass to iron and steel. I had expected to hear a good deal about iron and steel, but all I have got is hosiery. Last night I happened to be in Middlesbrough. There is considerable unemployment in that town and blast furnaces are not working. If the case of hon. Members opposite is accurate, Middlesbrough is a perfect example of the need for safeguarding. But what do I find there? I find that the Conservative candidate, although some of his friends in this House are very freely talking from the Back Benches about safeguarding iron and steel, is very chary in giving answers as to what his policy is about iron and steel. More than that, the policy has been turned down. May I ask the President of the Board of Trade or 725 the Parliamentary Secretary whether there is any intention on the part of the Government to ask for a new inquiry in place of the old inquiry which turned down the application? I should have thought that with an election going on at Middlesbrough, the benches opposite would have been ringing with demands for a new inquiry regarding the protection of iron and steel. Instead of that we get just a few sentences about iron and steel, but no pledge from the Government that there will be a new inquiry.
The fact is that the Government are in the dilemma that, having selected the method of "one tariff, one industry," they are now up to the point where there are no more new industries likely to expand and show favourable figures, no more great luxury trades which are appropriate for this particular method of "one industry, one tariff." They are approaching the time in their administration when they have boldly to face the application of their system to the great stable trades, and then they will get, as the Prime Minister said, "repercussions," for when they are dealing with iron and steel they are not dealing with luxuries; they are dealing with products that are the raw materials of nearly every great industry in the land. The reason why hon. Members opposite have said so little about iron and steel is that they know quite well that the Government are going to abide by the declarations of the previous Committee of Inquiry, which turned down this application, and for the reason stated by the Prime Minister. The Government choosing this method may be able to dress up a partial case to suit their own purposes temporarily, but here we have the "affinity" that the Prime Minister referred to in 1922, when he said that there were certain affinities between Protection and Socialism. At the moment, with regard to coal, nationalisation at Blackpool is in the background.
§ Mr. BROWN
I will produce the quotation another time. The hon. Member is rather uneasy about it, but with regard to Protection the Government's dilemma is this. Having chosen this method, and having in the country behind them a party which is honestly Protectionist and which would like nothing better than to go out and argue the general case—always with the exception of a tax on food—they have now exhausted fruitful experiments in safeguarding. Their own Members on their back benches and their canvassers in Middlesbrough look vainly for some sign which may help them to say near the eve of the poll, "After all, the Government are going to give an inquiry, and we shall get safeguarding for iron and steel." They have to face the fact, that Protection, whether by a general tariff or by safeguarding, will have one of three effects. It will either raise prices or it will intercept a fall in prices or it will cause—(HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] There are some hon. Members in this House who never speak up themselves and who naturally desire that others should do so. The third possible effect is that it will produce an inferior article. With regard to hosiery, I gather that it has produced a most inferior article. [HON. MEMBERS: "How do you know?"] I propose to quote my authority. I read the other day a very interesting speech made by the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who explained in Epping that the tax under the Safeguarding Acts on stockings had not raised the price, all it had done was to—[An HON. MEMBER: "Raised the stockings!"] No, it had not; it had only given them longer cotton tops. Mrs. Churchill said that was the result of the tax. I am no authority in this matter, but I wondered whether the duty did not mean an inferior article in this case. I was told that I had better be careful in making statements on this, but an authority who is entitled to be an authority told me that it would depend entirely upon the length of the skirt.
727 This is the position in which the Government find themselves. The effect of every protective tax is to widen the area and therefore to lessen the benefits to each individual protected industry. In the course of this Debate one has drawn the conclusion that the Government are unable to make out a case of great benefit to the mass of the trades safeguarded. They have been able to choose certain trades which would improve whether there had been taxes or not, as was shown when the taxes were wiped away in 1923 or 1924. They have now reached a position where those behind them desire to push forward, while the President of the Board of Trade, who is willing in his heart to go forward, sits cheek by jowl with the Minister of Agriculture who has told the farmers plumply that it is impossible to safeguard that great basic industry of agriculture. Nothing in my submission could better expose the hollowness and sham of this policy.
If the Government desire to have a record of honesty, they will challenge an election, not on "one industry, one tariff," but they will ask the nation for a verdict on the whole tariff system. If they do that, the result will be just as it was in the early part of last century, when they called it "Protection," and it was turned down. Then they called it "fair trade," and the late Lord Randolph Churchill said it went down like butter, but they found it too slippery when the election came. Then they called it "reciprocity," but it was found that a man who had had three drinks could not pronounce that word, so that was not a winner at the election. So they came to call it "Tariff Reform," and they challenged the electorate on a whole-hog policy for the first time in 50 years, when the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain had the courage of his new convictions and asked for Protection, not merely for industrialists, but for agriculturists and the taxation of corn and wheat. If they make that challenge, in whole or in part, the bluff they have been able to make with these carefully selected industries and these carefully docketed figures will be detected by the electors and the result will be the same as it was when they committed suicide, politically, in 1922. I have always thought that the late Mr. 728 Bonar Law must have been reading Wordsworth on the eve of the 1922 Election, and must have drawn his inspiration from "The Prelude" from those beautiful English words: "Rest, repose, tranquillity." At that time, the party, as I say, committed suicide on this appeal for Protection. If they do it again, we shall be happy and so will the country, because we shall be rid of this incompetent Government.
§ Mr. DIXEY
I only intervene because some of the remarks made by the hon. Member who has just sat down are absolutely contrary to what he must know are the intentions of the Government and of the party which supports the Government. His statements are perfectly preposterous. The hon. Member and his party condemned these Safeguarding Duties all the time and told us that they must result in the articles being dearer to the consumer and must have naturally bad results on general trade. Now he and his friends occupy a different position. They cannot dispute that the industries which have been safeguarded have not only paid the manufacturers better but have employed more workpeople.
§ Mr. DIXEY
Not only has safeguarding had these results but the consumer has got a cheaper and better article than before. I can understand the feelings of hon. Members on the Labour benches. They have begun to appreciate the fact that Safeguarding has more in it than they thought. In the old days those hon. Members used to follow the Liberal party blindfold in the paths of Free Trade doctrine, but to-day we find a difference in their views. They now say they are not rigid Free Traders but are open to be convinced. Of course there are cer-right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway who will never be convinced, but the more reasonable Members of the Labour party are beginning to realise that Free Trade is not quite the haven of rest for industry that it has been represented to be. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood)—I shall be greatly surprised if he is not one who takes the view I have indicated—objected to the statement that his leader was putting nationalisation into the background. I take it, he denies the soft im- 729 peachment made by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Brown). We agree that nationalisation, evil as we think it might be, is some sort of suggestion for the improvement of the industries of the country—however absurd we may regard it as a proposition—but the hon. Member for Leith has no proposition to offer. I take it that the hon. Member's leader is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs—
§ Mr. DIXEY
Whoever may be the Leader of the Liberal party at the present time, we never have a concrete industrial policy put up to us by the Liberal party on the Floor of the House. We have read illustrated books on Liberal industrial policy and on agriculture but these propositions never appear as concrete proposals on the party platform or on the Floor of this House. So far as the Government are concerned, a lot of us on this side—I am perfectly frank about it—think they have done well up-to-date in their policy of safeguarding, but we feel, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxtor) said, that we are only touching the fringe of the unemployment problem—in fact, only in the small industries that we have safeguarded so far. I speak with great respect in the presence of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who, we all know, sympathises with us. I do not know that I can say quite the same of certain of his colleagues in the Cabinet, but, we are hoping and trusting that the influence of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams), joined with that of the President of the Board of Trade, will remove some of the obstacles, possibly, that exist in the Cabinet on the question of these bigger trades.
I would like to say to my right hon. Friend the President that there is a strong feeling in his own party that the Government should tackle the bigger industries. If he had been present at the Conservative Conference in London the other day, my right hon. Friend would know that a unanimous vote was passed in favour of tackling the question of these bigger trades. My right hon. Friend knows far more about the intricacies of the White Paper than I do, but I suggest that something should be 730 done at the earliest possible date in order to eliminate some of the stringencies that exist in that particular White Paper. There are big and important trades which, if they have a case at all, ought to have the privilege of making out that case before the Committee, and I think they ought to be given a chance to prove their case. I feel very strongly on this question of the iron and steel trades. It may be that nothing can be done in this Parliament. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but we believe that it is an appropriate and practical suggestion to do something for unemployment in this country.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is not a point of Order. If a speaker does not give way, the hon. and gallant Member cannot rise.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
It is a point of Order arising out of the hon. Member's speech that I wish to put. In view of, the fact that it has been held that the existing procedure for applying Safeguarding Duties cannot be applied to iron and steel without an alteration of the Statute—
§ Mr. DIXEY
The hon. Member for Melton Mowbray was dealing with the effect of a tariff duty on iron and steel in increasing the production of home coal for home consumption. The hon. Member might do me the courtesy of realising that if there is an impetus in the iron and steel trades, if, instead of merely producing 60 per cent., we get up to 100 per cent. production in our iron and steel works all over the country, it will make a very considerable difference to the amount of coal necessary for consumption 731 in our home furnaces. It is not a point that any party concerned with the unemployed question should deem unworthy of practical consideration, when possibly a Safeguarding Duty on iron and steel would have such a big result on the coal trade and on the people who are suffering so badly in that industry. I do plead with the President of the Board of Trade to remember that there are loyal supporters of the Government who would like something more definite done, particularly in view of the satisfactory duties that have already been given effect to by the Government.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
A good deal of time has been taken up by levity, and there has not been a sufficiently serious consideration of things to-night. In a previous speech I made reference to certain Board of Trade figures, bearing on the output of no fewer than 80 different industries and trades. From these figures, which are based on returns made up to January this year, I find that these industries and trades show a net value of output of £1,271,307,000. The number of people employed is 5,418,677, and the net value of output per person employed £235. The comparison I would make is with the brewing and malting trade, which has an output of the value of £121,812,000. The number of people employed in the trade is 66,069, and the output per person is £1,844.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
That figure, I think, will be found to include duty, which has nothing to do with value of output, and therefore the comparison is of no significance at all.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
The duty is there, but it is paid for by the customer, and as the customer is in the same predicament as other people who buy other legitimate commodities, the comparison is perfectly fair in this way. The expenditure of money in regard to these trades is identically the same in so far as the people who are finding the money are not able to produce that which would affect all those trades and needs about which we have been hearing. I can give further evidence that warrants me in making that statement. I made the comparison during the Debate on the King's Speech and I give it again to-night.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
The Parliamentary Secretary has his own views, I know. The basis upon which we present the case to the Board of Trade is that Sir George Paish, the international financial adviser to the Government, has put it on record that if he had control of this money—I do not know what I am talking about, according to your opinion, but I reckon that Sir George knows somewhat better than the Parliamentary Secretary. He will surely allow me to introduce the name of a man of substantial credit in matters of this kind. We will allow him to speak through me, as it were. [Laughter.] Yes, quite good. An official smile does not affect the in the slightest. I have got somewhat familiar with this peculiar attitude, with feet up on the table and all this kind of thing, and I am anything but impressed by it. What Sir George Paish says is that if he had control of the money expended on this particularly protected trade, and were able to turn the money into the channels of these other trades and industries which you are pottering about with your safeguarding business, he would guarantee that not a single man or woman would be unemployed within the next 12 months. Surely that statement is worthy of some serious consideration by the President of the Board of Trade. I am presenting it purely and simply from the point of view of employment. There has been actual experience on this point in the United States of America. The companies which were engaged in the drink trade were able to rearrange their businesses so as to produce legitimate products, and it is found that they now employ four men where formerly they had work for only one.
It will be within the recollections of the House that during the War representative business men made it perfectly clear to the Government of the day—they were not teetotallers, so I am not talking about teetotalism, I am talking purely in the interests of trade—that it was essential to cut out the drink trade.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is what I was waiting for. Legislation will be required to do that, and therefore it would be out of order to discuss it.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I quite see that. I know it will require legislation, and it will be a very deep-cut when it does 733 come. I will not pursue that point any further; but those gentlemen did maintain that for materialistic interests, for business interests, it was essential to stop this particular trade entirely, for the time. There is not a doubt that this particularly protected and thoroughly safeguarded trade does cause national wastage. It depresses the labour market, preventing many of those who are waiting at the Employment Exchanges from obtaining the work which otherwise would be ready for them. It is a remarkable fact that with all the discussion about trades and industries in this House this particularly serious aspect is scarcely ever referred to at all. There are powerful interests not only in the Government party, but directly and indirectly involving all the important parties in the House, which prevents this situation from being dealt with. I submit that those who make professions of vague concern from various temperance platforms have to face this question from an economic point of view. The business interests have to face this question and not only bring it before the Board of Trade but before the various responsible political parties in order to secure that legislation which I quite admit it is not possible to secure now.
§ Miss WILKINSON
It is interesting to note that we have had this Debate to-night on the Board of Trade Estimates initiated by the Liberal party, and it has proceeded largely on the basis of what is really the academic question of Free Trade and Protection. I think it is rather interesting to remember that if it had not been for the Labour party this Debate would have finished about quarter past seven. After what has been said in this Debate about the iron and steel trade I think it will be very interesting to see whether the Liberal party are going to force this Amendment to a Division. I raised this question of the iron and steel trade because those of us who are so interested in that problem know that these questions really ought to be considered from a much more fundamental point of view than has been the case in this Debate, which appears to have developed into a discussion between a rival set of manufacturers on the question of Free Trade and Protection.
734 The hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Dixey) talks about the iron and steel trade without defining what section of the trade he is dealing with. In my constituency there is an immense re-rolling industry. I happen to represent in this House one of the heaviest iron and steel producing areas in the world—I know I do not look like it, but I do. In the great iron and steel trades those engaged in it are fully alive to the fact that this question of tariffs is not going to affect the terrible unemployment that exists in the iron and steel producing areas. We want to ask the President of the Board of Trade why he is sitting so calmly surveying this appalling problem and saying, "We cannot interfere unless we are asked." The Government are not going to be asked by the big manufacturers to interfere because they are taking advantage of the present situation to stabilise the industry at an appalling cost to the workers in unemployment, short time and low wages. It is the workers who have to pay the appalling cost of the change from one type of production to another. When people are talking about putting tariffs on iron and steel, we want to ask the Board of Trade whether the industry cannot be reorganised so as to make it an asset rather than a liability—I mean from the workers' point of view.
Why is it that British costs in the iron and steel industry are so high? To begin with, we have certain gigantic burdens that are badly waterlogged, as a result of the speculations that took place between 1918 and 1920. The buying up of subsidiary firms at inflated War prices, the giving of bonus shares, and various other speculative dodges, have left the industry with an enormous amount of capital on which it has no hope of ever paying dividends. We have seen a classic example of that in the reorganisation of Vickers and Armstrongs.
Then we have the position in the industry itself. It is a fact that, owing to the extraordinarily wasteful competition for orders that goes on in the foreign market you have the change-over from one type of quite small order to another, which involves, very often, the reorganisation of an entire mill. You have two or three orders which mean a change of rollers each time, an operation which costs both time and money. In Germany, as the result of 735 the operation of the Steel Cartel, you now have groups of firms where one firm takes one type of orders, and keeps its mills going on that the whole time. It is not a question of difference in wages, but is definitely a difference in better organisation. It enables them to get through that particular order at much less cost than one mill in this country, perhaps doing three or even four orders in a day, with all the cost and waste that a change-over of rollers means.
I think it was the chairman of the Re-rollers' Association who, in a speech at Glasgow, called attention to some of these points, and said that certain parts of the iron and steel industry in this country are hopelessly inefficient. I am not, of course, blaming the whole iron and steel trade. There is one huge firm on the North-East Coast, not far from Middlesbrough, which is certainly one of the most efficient steel producers in the world, but, taking the industry as a whole, it is waterlogged both by over-capitalisation and by out-of-date plant. There is plant in Middlesbrough, and there is still more plant in places like Motherwell, which is years out of date, and which could never be properly operated unless there were another war.
Surely it is no use going round crying out about tariffs when you do not even define the part of the industry on which you propose to put a tariff—whether it is proposed to put a tariff merely on imported ingots, or whether it is proposed to put it on every kind of imported steel, whether it be manufactured or whether it more nearly approaches the raw state. If you are in that position, surely it is the job of the Board of Trade to undertake a full and scientific inquiry into the whole industry, to get down to the job of discovering what really is the cause of the trouble, and then, even from the capitalist's point of view, not to mention our point of view, getting the manufacturers together and saying to them, "You have this position in your industry; is it not possible for you to get together and see whether it can be reorganised, and whether your costs can be cut without cutting wages?"
I can assure the President of the Board of Trade and his most efficient understudy that you cannot cut wages any 736 further. There are labourers in the iron and steel yards working for a little over 30s. a week, and you cannot cut that. The workers have been cut to the bone, especially in the lower grades; they have been cut, and cut, and cut again. The position, of course, is that, whereas when the War ended we had in this country some of the most highly-efficient steel workers in the world, those men have been driven to emigrate—men whose trained knowledge was such that they could tell the exact moment at which the steel ought to be cut, who could tell almost to an inch and to a second the details of their work. These men are scattered all over the world; they cannot be got together; and they have been scattered because of the tremendous unemployment and the hopeless disorganisation in this industry. Therefore, from the workers' point of view, and even from the trade's point of view, it is up to our Board of Trade not to sit there in an elegant and decorative fashion and occupy the time of the House by making a few casual, cheerful and kindly remarks, hoping that we shall finish early, that the Liberals will possibly show their usual lack of interest in the proceedings of this House and will go home to excellent dinners, and that everyone will be perfectly satisfied. The position of this industry—
§ Miss WILKINSON
I think my record of attendance will compare with that of anyone in this House. We say this position is too serious for this casual, kindly, and what has become typical method in this House of Commons. We plead for the Board of Trade to wake up. We ask them not to sit still while manufacturers are muddling along, but to get them together. You talk about getting us together. It is the workers who have to make all the concessions. You have pleaded to us about peace in industry, and in this very iron and steel industry you are dealing with an industry which has had hardly any strikes in the last 30 years. Whenever it has had strikes they have been merely local matters due to some employer not carrying out a particular agreement. This is an industry where you have peace as the result of what the workers have done, and what is the 737 result? It is one of the worst managed, most inefficient—I am sorry I am boring the hon. Gentleman—
§ Miss WILKINSON
But this is the position, that while he sits on that bench and yawns these men are out of work and have been for four and five years, his brother Department the Ministry of Labour is turning these men off the unemployment list, and his other brother Department the Ministry of Health is depriving them of poor relief. He sits there and smiles sweetly and says nothing further can be done and the Board of Trade cannot interfere unless they are asked to. I say the position of the Board of Trade is a scandal. It is one of their worst run and inefficient of the Departments. They do not even attempt to give any information to the House. They assume that they are dealing with matters with which the House is slightly bored, but I can assure them if the present heads of the Board of Trade are going to justify themselves to a disgusted country, they will have in the course of the next year to make some effort to justify their titles and their position as President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I think it is necessary to raise a protest against what the President of the Board of Trade said to-day. I have listened to his most brilliant speech for almost an hour and I have nothing to say about it, viewing it from his point of view, but he went out of his way to make a very serious blunder. He said one thing that endangers our trade in South America and in this country was the articles written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He has not fully appreciated what happened on that occasion because I understand the right hon. Gentleman got something like £20,000 or £30,000, and surely that would encourage trade.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The tax paid upon it might encourage the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I do not think it would in the least encourage our export trade.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am glad to have extracted the right hon. Gentleman's opinion that there was at least some advantage to the country. There is a 738 point I should like to raise with regard to this question of advertising. It was said we are very inefficient in advertising trade abroad. I have two experiences of my own. In South America we discovered that the motor car trade, more especially in Rio de Janeiro, was almost entirely in the hands of Americans. When one asked why this should be the case one always received the answer that it was owing to the different standard of the traffic lines in the streets and the Americans and others who dumped cars there adapted their gauge whereas the British persisted in sending a gauge quite out of keeping with the requirements of the city. I think this is one of the things that ought to be looked into. I know that superimposed on that is the other difficulty that the Americans have a reception place where they very liberally entertain those with whom they are seeking to do business, whereas we had our Ambassador locked up in a hotel with no office to take anyone without endangering life from an escape of gas from a little gas ring.
There is no doubt that many Members have received protests from men who wanted to open an agency for different makes of British cars in India. I received this complaint, that they found that India seemed to be parcelled out into districts in the keeping of certain manufacturers of cars, with the result that competition was barred in certain areas. These enterprising men who wanted to carry business into the further areas of India found that they were faced with complete opposition because of the corporations representative of motor firms with districts entirely under their control. Those are the complaints I have received, but the first complaint to which I drew attention was in relation to something I myself experienced, and I hope the Department will look into it. The Debate could go on all night, and Debates on this kind of Free Trade and Protection are very entertaining and bring us back to the early days. As I listened to the speech of the youthful Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Mr. Dixey), his enthusiasm to bring Protection of any kind to redeem mankind from the iniquity of Free Trade and economic degradation reminded me of the Glasgow man who went to a woman's door and said, "You know if you go in for Protection, Mrs.…, your 739 husband's trade will develop, and you will be busy all the time." She replied, "That is very strange, because my husband is a funeral undertaker."
I think it is interesting to note in a discussion on Protection and Free Trade how the good sound Free Traders on the Liberal benches argue against Protection. I have much admiration for their arguments, because I believe there is much to be said for them, but it is not enough merely to demand negative Free Trade, while we still have stalking in the country hunger, starvation and unemployment. They have not correlated their Free Trade with anything else. I fully appreciate the Protectionist, who is usually a man who never digs very deeply into economic thought. He says, "Here is unemployment; here are men that must be found work." He sees goods coming in from other countries and flies to the conclusion that the only way to give employment is to keep out those goods. One can understand the enthusiasm of the Conservative for Protection, but I can never understand the Free Trade which comes from my dear Friends on the other side of the House—my old colleagues, if I may say so. Never once do they logically link up that Free Trade with something which is more fundamental—the question of free production. I do not know how far the President of the Board of Trade would be prepared to go, but if there is any man in this House who is an uncovered, unhidden Protectionist it is the President of the Board of Trade. I admire him for that. What I cannot understand is the Conservative who carries the camouflage of a Protectionist pasteboard-covering in front of him all the time he is taking steps in that direction. It seems to me to be lacking in courage for a Conservative to say, "We will get Protection by steps, because it is rather a dangerous political adventure to have it all at once." I cannot understand that. Before I sit down, let me say I deeply regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is not here to-night to correct that little error which the President of the Board of Trade made, and which prompted me to rise to my feet to take part in the Debate.
§ Question, "That £110,067,000 stand part of the Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.