HC Deb 31 January 1929 vol 224 cc1273-8

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister.]


Before we part from this Bill I should like to address a question to the President of the Board of Trade. This is a Bill to extend the provisions of the Act of 1920, the object of which was to re-establish overseas trade by a system of export credits. In the Act it is provided that the Board of Trade may, by order, add to the Schedule the name of any country the industrial and financial condition of which has been disorganised by the War When this Bill was before the House pre- viously, the Secretary for the Overseas Trade Department made the declaration that he did not intend to permit any application for the use of the Bill in connection with trade with Russia to go before the Advisory Committee.

I wish to put before the right hon. Gentleman in that connection the present condition of the herring trade. I first draw his attention to a resolution which was recently passed at Yarmouth, where a very successful fishing season was suddenly brought to an end, because the curers decided that, if they cured any more fish, they would not be able to dispose of them owing to the absence of the Russian market. The resolution, which was passed by a conference of fishermen, fish-curers a:ad fish salesmen engaged in the herring fishing at Great Yarmouth deplored the premature closing down of fishing as a result of the available markets being fully supplied; expressed the opinion that no substantial or permanent improvement in the industry could be secured except by reopening the Russian market, and demanded that the Government should take steps to facilitate trading relations with Russia. I am not asking the Government to reopen diplomatic relations with Russia, but I am asking that they should not stand in the way of any application for export credits for trade with Russia coming before the Advisory Committee. If the Board of Trade can trust their Advisory Committee at all, surely they can trust that Committee to say in what matters it is safe to trade and in what matters it is unsafe. Certain sums of money have been lost in trading with other countries, and it is possible that certain sums might be lost in trading with Russia, but these are questions with which the Advisory Committee have to deal. Only a short time ago a Conservative Member of Parliament was speaking in Scotland, and I think his words will commend themselves to every business man in the House: He could not see how any sensible person could contemplate with equanimity an indefinite breach between Great Britain and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, carrying with it an indefinite delay in the economic recovery and disarmament of the old world. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] Those are the words of the Parliamentary private secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he is brought into close connection with the herring trade and knows what a serious matter this is for that industry. I should like, shortly, to point out that every person connected with this trade is of the opinion that a fleet which cannot get credit to replace its boats and its gear is handicapped, and will be handicapped out of existence, unless this old market can be regained. I am not asking for any great political movement by the Government I am only asking that any application which may be made—and I do not say that an application will be made—should not be prevented from going to the Advisory Committee.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)

The hon. Gentleman has criticised the Bill not for what it contains, but for what it does not contain. He is referring to a matter which has been debated in this House over and over again, and in which the Government are carrying out the policy which was announced to this House by the hon. Member's own leader, and was approved by this House. It was the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who put, more explicitly perhaps than anyone, to this House, on more occasions than one, those conditions which were essential before the Government of this country could extend credit to Russia. The hon. Gentleman has talked about the re-opening of the Russian market. The Russian market is not closed. No obstacle is put in the way of trade with Russia. Everybody is perfectly free to trade with Russia, and, what is more, Russia is perfectly free to trade with this country. Russia is at the present moment trading with this country on a very considerable scale. Russia has a large trade balance in its favour, when you consider the exports from Russia to this country and the exports from this country to Russia, and it is perfectly open to Russia to do more trade with this country, and the more trade the more we shall welcome it. There is absolutely no obstacle in the way of the Russian Government making more purchases in this country.

It would be a very different proposition for Government credit to be advanced. I am not going all over again what has been so often stated as the policy, not only of this Government, but the policy that was pursued when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was Prime Minister, but it, has been repeatedly said that it would be an improper thing to extend Government credit until those conditions were secured in Russia upon which credit and the basis of credit must rest. More than that, I believe that for the Government to adopt any other attitude would be a thoroughly unsound thing for trade generally, because we do not only trade with one country; we trade with countries all over the world. We trade on credit, not Government credit, but the credit of our race, with countries all over the world, and it is enormously important that that credit should be maintained, that the maximum of business should be done on credit. But that maximum of business cannot be so done unless throughout the world those countries to whom credit is given maintain those conditions upon which alone credit can safely be given.

I have been invited by the hon. Gentleman to make a constructive suggestion, and if I might venture to do so, it would be this: While I think it would be improper of His Majesty's Government to extend, at the expense of the taxpayer, Government credit in this matter, I understand that there is, at the disposal of the hon. Gentleman's party, a not inconsiderable fund, held upon what I understand to be a reasonably elastic trust, and if this is so sound a proposition, possibly some part of that fund might be used for this purpose. I must maintain in this matter the position which has been maintained consistently by this Government for the reasons so often given, and in which indeed we are following the action of our predecessors.


It is a fortunate thing for the reputation of the right hon. Gentleman that probably his speech will not receive much notice, otherwise I can conceive of no greater condemnation of a man occupying the position of President of the Board of Trade than that he should, on a subject which is of vital importance to a great many people who are engaged in industry, indulge in a ribald jest in allusion to the funds of the party to which we belong, which funds have been collected in precisely the same way as the funds of his own party. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] No man who has any knowledge of the political life of this country will challenge my statement, and, if he does, he will be very sorry for it. Apart from that, the right hon. Gentleman has completely evaded the point put by my hon. Friend. It is no good talking about risking the credit of this country. All we are asking is a very simple thing. The Board of Trade has already an organisation and machinery of industry known as the Advisory Committee. My hon. Friend did not ask the President of the Board of Trade to commit himself to promising a penny piece. All he said was that you have this machinery in existence, and it is open to certain industries to appeal to that body that credit should be given by the Government. All we ask is that, if such an appeal is made by this particular industry, it should be open for that appeal to be heard by that Advisory Committee. There is nothing revolutionary about that. It is no good talking about destroying the credit of Britain by a simple proposal of that character, or to run away with a little lecture upon the way in which the business of this country had been created and the dangers which might be involved in a simple proposition of this kind. That is making a farce of a subject which seriously concerns the livelihood of many of our people.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.