HC Deb 15 July 1929 vol 230 cc165-77

Resolution reported, That it is expedient,—

  1. (a) to authorise the Treasury, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and on the recommendation of a committee to be appointed by the said Secretary of State subject to the approval of the Treasury, to make advances, either by way of grant or by way of loan, to the Governments of certain Colonies, territories under His Majesty's protec- 166 tion, and territories in respect or which a mandate on behalf of the League of Nations has been accepted by His Majesty, and is being exercised by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, for the purpose of aiding and developing agriculture and industry in the Colonies or territories and thereby promoting commerce with or industry in the United Kingdom;
  2. (b) for the purpose aforesaid to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of—
    1. (i) such sums not exceeding one million pounds in any one year as Parliament may from time to time determine; and
    2. (ii) any expenses incurred by the said Secretary of State in connection with the committee aforesaid;
  3. (c) to make certain provisions ancillary to the matters aforesaid;
  4. (d) to provide for the extension of the Colonial Stock Acts, 1877 to 1900, so as to apply to stock to be hereafter issued forming part of the public debt of territories which are under His Majesty's protection or in respect of which a mandate on behalf of the League of Nations has been accepted by His Majesty and is being exercised by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, and to amend section eleven of the Trusts (Scotland) Act, 1921;
  5. (e) to amend the Palestine and East Africa. Loans Act, 1926."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I am not sure which Minister is in charge of this Resolution, but whoever he may be I ask him whether he can now answer a question which I put to the Lord Privy Seal on Friday with regard to the finance. The Committee on Friday showed, as was only natural, a unanimous bias in favour of the principles of this Resolution, which is apparently not only to aid the development of our Colonial Empire but to do something to help the unemployment problem in this country. Until we see the Bill we are not quite certain how the unemployment problem is to be helped, unless there is some proviso put in that a certain proportion if not all of the work which is to be undertaken in the Colonial Empire is to be given in this country. If it is merely a question of our guaranteeing loans and so forth to the Governments in various colonies, it is not quite clear how the people here are to be assisted. The Lord Privy Seal was unable to reply on Friday. He has since had occasion to consult his colleagues, particularly the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is now present.

In the financial memorandum which accompanies the Resolution, it is made clear that there are two different kinds of expenditure foreshadowed. There is, first of all, a certain expenditure with regard to agricultural research and the development of various institutions for helping agriculture, health and the like; and in the second paragraph of the memorandum there is the guaranteeing of loans. Those two questions are entirely separate, from the financial point of view. With regard to the first I admit that in the Bill I may find the answer. I asked my question from the point of view of the Public Accounts Committee of this House. Since Friday I have had an opportunity of consulting some of the colleagues of my own party on that Committee as well as the hon. Member who as a Liberal served on it in the last Parliament. They agree with what I said on Friday, which was that, as in the Report of the Public Accounts Committee we made certain strictures with regard to the Empire Marketing Board's financial arrangements, we hoped that from the strictly accounting point of view the precedent which we did not consider a good one in the case of the Empire Marketing Board, would not be followed and made the basis of this new fund.

What makes us particularly anxious is the fact that the Lord Privy Seal on Friday pointed out that the Empire-Marketing Board was not a statutory body, but that the Committee which is to be set up under the Colonial Development Bill would be a statutory body and would form the basis of whatever reconstruction was in future decided on with regard to the Empire Marketing Board. In view of the fact that in the memorandum accompanying the Resolution it is stated that there are two sources of expenditure open to this new Committee, what is required is some arrangement in the Bill whereby the two kinds of expenditure are distinctly separated. It stands to reason that anything to do with the guaranteeing of interest on loans is a thing of which the House cannot have the intimate day to day knowledge to enable it to do the necessary checking.

As far as Trade Facilities and similar legislation is concerned, this House has, in the past, left these matters in the hands of a competent committee and abided by such a committee's decision, and I imagine that would apply to this Bill. It is on the other side—on the point about research and education and the rest of it—that what we said regarding the Empire Marketing Board ought to be made to apply to the Colonial Development Committees. The Empire Marketing Board was set up by the last Government, and obviously the finances of a scheme like that had to go through several years of experiment before critics could see any possible leakages from the taxpayer's point of view When we had considered it, we came to the unanimous conclusion, supported by hon. Gentlemen who are now on the Front Bench, that, from the House of Commons point of view—and, of course, it is not a party matter—it is very undesirable to vote, year by year, large sums to be spent entirely at the discretion of any Minister of any party, without the House having any say in the matter. We made certain recommendations, and the Select Committee on Estimates made similar recommendations. We thought there would be no difficulty in the future, once the position of that Fund had stabilised itself, in having detailed Estimates as to the lines on which it was expected to spend money in regard to education, research and the like. The House of Commons will no doubt be prepared to put in the hands o£ an independent committee such safeguards as are proper to the question of guaranteeing loans, but when it comes to expenditure which can be estimated from year to year, on education and research and such matters there should be some kind of detailed statement in the annual Estimates of either the Colonial Office or the Dominions Office. I hope it will be possible to have a considered reply on these points.


I only rise to ask when the Bill will be available so that Members may have an opportunity of studying the various aspects of the Measure.


Like the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), when the Money Resolution was in Committee I tried to get some information on certain aspects of this question which particularly interested me. If the hon. and gallant Member was unfortunate in not having his question answered, I was equally unfortunate in my efforts to extract some information as to the conditions under which these grants were to be made. I asked particularly whether any of the sums to be dispensed under the Resolution would find their way into the hands of private enterprise concerns, and from the Lord Privy Seal I got this reply: The White Paper has been issued and it says nothing about private enterprise. It states very clearly that there shall be grants and loans to certain Governments for certain things including harbours and railways."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1929, col. 1301, Vol. 229.] The plain English of what the Lord Privy Seal said in his reply was that this money would not find its way into the hands of private enterprise concerns, but on looking again at the terms of the White Paper, I find this sentence: Advances will be made to the Governments concerned, who may either use the money directly or re-issue it to any person or body of persons. 10.0 p.m.

To put it differently, there is nothing in the terms of the Resolution or the Memorandum which prevents any Colonial Government in receipt of a grant under the terms of the Financial Resolution from passing on that grant to private individuals or groups of private individuals in the Colony of that Government. In my opinion, this Resolution can be looked at from one or two points of view. It can be regarded either as a scheme for Colonial development or as an urgency measure designed to facilitate the solution of the unemployment problem at home. If it is to be considered solely as an Empire development scheme, I should offer the strongest possible opposition to State monies being so dispensed that they may go into the hands of private enterprise concerns without any condition being stipulated by this country. If it is to be treated, however, as a means of alleviating unemployment in this country, I think there are two comments to be made. One is the comment made by the right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Health in the Labour Government of 1924, in the speech which he made upon housing this afternoon and the other is this. Even granted that the necessities of the unemployment situation impel the Government to make grants which will go into the hands of private enterprise, then those grants ought not to be unconditional. The matter arises now on a comparatively small sum of £1,000,000 a year, but later this week we shall be dealing with a similar Resolution under which much larger sums of public money will be issued from the Exchequer for the stimulation of various enterprises in this country.

It may be true that the necessities of the unemployment situation compel the Government to do a thing for which Labour Members attacked the late Government very severely during the last Parliament. I refer especially to the Debate which took place on the Government subsidy for the beet sugar industry, when the principle of handing out State money for the assistance of private enterprise was sharply attacked from Labour Benches in this House. Even if the circumstances of unemployment impel the Government to do something which would not normally be done, then I affirm that conditions ought to be attached to the issue of that money. I suggest that the first condition to be applied is that money shall not be invested in industries which may compete with corresponding industries here at home. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Zambesi Bridge!"] When I intervened in the discussion the other day, I was rebuked by the right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), who told me that pretty well all the enterprises into which this money would go would be publicly owned enterprises, and he described this as practical Socialism. The hon. Gentleman opposite who interjects "The Zambesi Bridge" knows as well as I do that that scheme is one of the schemes which is not a publicly owned scheme, but into which, under the terms of this Resolution, British money may be put in the way of grants. I submit, secondly, that there should be attached to any grant or loans which are made from the public Exchequer conditions as to the labour conditions of the men who are going to be engaged on the schemes. The idea of a Government making grants without attaching conditions of that kind, either at home or abroad, does not commend itself to me as being a reasonable disposition of public funds.

It may be that all the points that I have mentioned, and those that were contributed to the discussion by the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. C. Buxton), are already prominently in the Government's mind. If they are, then, with great respect, I think that some Front Bench representative ought to tell us what is in the Government's mind on those particular points. I tried the other day to put my case as fairly and as temperately as I could. I was told at the end that I was lecturing the House, and if that charge were true, I should be sorry. It is not my desire to lecture the House. It is my desire, however, legitimately to ask for information on points which seem to me to be material, and I hope that it will be possible for back benchers on this side of the House to put such questions temperately and respectfully without the assumption arising that they a/re necessarily in conflict with their own Front Bench or that they are trying to make difficulties for their own Front Bench. The Prime Minister appealed recently that we should regard ourselves as a Council of State. I assume that that invitation was not confined to the two front benches on the other side. It there is to be a Council of State, with great respect but with some firmness I claim my position in that Council of State, and I think it entitles me to ask for information on the points that have been brought out in these Debates.


When the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal introduced this Resolution on the Committee stage, he referred to the Empire Marketing Board and the Development Fund which is to be raised in connection with this Resolution. There has been a good deal of difficulty brought about, particularly in Lancashire and Cheshire, by the fact that the operations of the Empire Marketing Board in the past have been entirely confined to agricultural produce, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether, under this scheme, it is the intention of the Government to extend the operations of the Fund, so as to develop the sales of textiles and even of engineering products in our Colonies and Dominions. I hope the Government will go even further than that. I think it is very necessary to bring the products of our country within the purview of those who are potential buyers in our Colonies and Dominions. I should like to see a far-reaching scheme brought forward whereby the goods which we manufacture here are brought prominently to the notice, through Government efforts, of people in the capital towns of our Dominions and Colonies. If I may use an illustration, we have a British Industries Fair here annually, to which we attract from overseas a few visitors—I mean a few, comparatively with those who are buyers. Would it not be possible, through the medium of this scheme, to have a miniature British Industries Fair in the capital towns of all our Dominions and Colonies, so that we could bring our goods more prominently to the notice of buyers in those countries?

There is one other item to which I want to refer, because I notice that in the Memorandum dealing with this Financial Resolution afforestation is mentioned. Afforestation is a very wide term, and I do not know whether by that is meant the planting of trees or the development and marketing of the trees which are already to be found in our Dominions. Perhaps I may be allowed, as one who has been closely connected with this matter in my own business, to say that I think there is a very great possibility of the development of our Empire forests which have not yet been touched. If we exclude India, with its teaks, West Africa, with mahogany, and the Canadian and Australian forests, there are many woods outside those which could be of great use. Perhaps we could follow the example of the United States Government in the Philippine Islands, where unknown woods have been brought into the market, which are being used to-day in the construction of railway wagons and such like, and have been passed by the railway clearing house in this country. I am quite sure there are woods in our own Empire which could be brought into use through this Development Fund. There are two things which are necessary. One is a continuous supply of these woods, and the other is that they shall be graded in such a way that they will be found of value to the users in this country. I hope the Under-Secretary will bring these matters before the notice of the Minister so that they can be of some help not only in developing the works of this country, but in bringing about the development of our Empire in other directions.


I entirely agree with the idea of finding money for colonial developments, but although we are asked to vote £1,000,000 we are, if I read the Memorandum correctly, committed for 10 years to that amount per annum. The House should, therefore, understand that our commitment is not merely £1,000,000, but may be £10,000,000. I hope that heed will be taken of the observations of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) with regard to the Public Accounts Committee recommendation. It is undesirable that large sums of money should be handed over to Ministries for them to dispose of as they think best, without Parliament having an opportunity of criticising the expenditure. I notice in the Memorandum that provision is made for experiments in the science and practice of the agricultural industry, and for the organisation of co-operation in the marking and grading of produce. Unless the attention of the House is called to these matters, there might be a great deal of overlapping between the Empire Marketing Board and the new Development Committee, and it is to be hoped that the Minister will take heed of the points that have been put forward this evening.


After what was said on Friday and again to-day by the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown), I feel it my duty as Member for East Wolverhampton to rally to the support of the Government, and to assure them that they have a few friends left, even though they may not be on their side of the House. We on these benches seem to be the only united party in this House, and we are hoping that by a gradual process of absorption our numbers will be very largely increased. Reference has been made to the using of this money for the same purpose as that for which the Empire Marketing Board used the money voted to them. That Board has done excellent work, but they have scandalously wasted a great deal of the money allotted to them, and I want the Under-Secretary to assure us that none of this money will be used on expensive hoardings, posters and Press advertisements. If the precedent of the Board is going to be followed in that respect, this proposal ought to be resisted. The money ought to be confined absolutely to essential purposes where it may be usefully employed.


What we are discussing to-night is really the preliminary to a Bill which is to be introduced after the Money Resolution has been passed. I have been asked when the Bill will be obtainable. I believe that it is the custom of the House not to print a Bill until the Money Resolution has been passed, and if the Money Resolution is passed to-night, I think that I may safely say that the Bill will be obtainable to-morrow. The Second Reading is to be taken on Wednesday. With regard to the questions put by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), his first was one that was hardly to be expected from an hon. Member on that side of the House, and I question whether it would have been put three months ago. I refer to the question whether we would impose a condition upon the Colonies that they should make their purchases in all respects from this country. I do not know that that has ever been imposed in any legislation before. I remember that it has been discussed on many occasions with regard to the Dominions, and I know the resentment that there has been when we have sought to place such a Measure before them and ask for their support to it. With regard to the Colonies, it is hardly necessary, because without having the figures before mo I think I am safe in saying that 90 per cent. of their purchases are made from this country, and I am convinced that I could give an assurance to-night that the purchases made out of the money guaranteed under this Bill, if it becomes law, will be purchases from this country.


Will the purchases be made through the Crown Agents for the Colonies?


I suppose they will be made in the ordinary way after full inquiries have been made by the expert committee—I think the ordinary course will be taken and that no new Department will be set up for this purpose. I think the hon. and gallant Member will find, if he looks through the accounts of the pur- chases by the Colonies of which we have record, that they have been very loyal up to now in that respect.


I hope the hon. Gentleman does not think I was making any criticism of them. I only wanted to make sure that the previous practice would continue.


Well, I would not like to say what I think about that. I would rather leave out my opinion on that matter. I am not to-night in a position to deal with the objects of the Bill, so I do not propose to go over the questions which were put to and dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on a previous occasion. Most of the questions raised to-night were dealt with by him. I am not in a position to say what is to be the future of the Empire Marketing Board or its constitution, but I think I remember my right hon. Friend saying that it was going to be put on a statutory basis, and I sincerely hope and believe that after this Bill has been passed efforts will be made to prevent all overlapping between the Board and this Committee which is going to consider what schemes shall be supported out of the guarantee fund.

With regard to the question of the loans and how they are to be dealt with, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to leave that until the Second Reading of the Bill, when I will endeavour to see that his points are answered. As to the two hon. Members for Wolverhampton, one of them rather contradicts the other, as I have seen happen on many occasions in regard to representatives from the same town. One of them is very critical, while the other criticises only the posters. I think I may say there will be no provision for posters in the Bill. If the hon. Member criticises the Empire Marketing Board with regard to its advertisements, I should like to say in passing that there have been compliments from all over the country on the way the Empire Marketing Board are displaying posters and assisting the development of art on the hoardings.


Who told you that?


I would not set my opinion against that of my hon. Friend on this matter, but I do not always listen to experts upon matters of this kind.


It is a pure waste of money.


The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) has repeated the questions he asked on Friday as to whether guarantees will be given to schemes which may benefit private enterprise. I think he got an answer from the Lord Privy Seal on Friday. The Money Resolution provides and I think the Bill will provide that the guarantees are to be Government guarantees, but as long as private enterprise does exist this House will endeavour to develop trade and work for our people, even though it means developing private enterprise. In 1924 I was at the Overseas Trade Department of the Board of Trade, and at that time I was anxious to see work found by people engaged in private enterprise. I am a Socialist myself and if anybody on this side can suggest any means of providing work that policy would be much better than paying for people who are idle. I cannot say whether this proposal will encourage private enterprise or not, but if my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) will visit some of the colonies, as I have done, he will find that they are far more socialistic than many other parts of the world.


May I have a reply to my question as to whether there will be conditions attached to these grants.


On this question, I claim the indulgence of the House, and I do not think I should be expected to give a further reply than that given by a Cabinet Minister. I am not prepared to extend the answer which was given by the Lord Privy Seal and I will leave it there. The guarantees will be given to the governments concerned, and opportunities will be given later on to hon. Members who wish to raise these matters. My hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton will have an opportunity later on of raising the question of labour conditions. Trade unions are not very strong in the Colonies, and there are not fair wages clauses in all parts of the world. This is a matter which will come largely under the Colonial Office and so far as I am concerned with these matters, I shall endeavour to see that the standard rate of labour and proper conditions obtain as far as possible. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) wanted to know if the Empire Marketing Board or the committee of experts was going to deal with the sale of textiles. I do not know that either of those bodies will deal with textiles, and consequently I cannot answer that particular question. I hope the House will now be prepared to agree with the report of this Money Resolution, and if hon. Members desire to raise a discussion upon the many points for which the guarantee is to be given in the Bill, I hope that discussion will take place on the Second Reading of the Bill.


The Under-Secretary has not replied to the question put by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly).


I have already stated that the Bill will not be printed until after the Report Stage of the Money Resolution has been agreed to. I think I can now safely say that the Bill will be available before the meeting of the House to-morrow.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolution by Mr. Thomas, Sir Oswald Mosley, Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, and Mr. Lunn.