HC Deb 20 March 1929 vol 226 cc1813-20

I should like to digress from the trend of the Debate to say a few words concerning the Empire as there are so few occasions on which a private Member can draw attention to this particular subject. The question as I approach it may not prove so exhilarating as that of herrings in Scotland, but I hope that hon. Members will agree that it is quite as important. As is well known, the Empire Marketing Board was the direct outcome of a promise that was made to the Dominions not very long ago; it was, in fact, a quid pro quo for certain tariff preferences. The time has now come when we should seriously consider the broadening of the scope of the Empire Marketing Board. At the present time its activities are confined to stimulating the marketing and purchase of certain Empire goods in this country; but neither the Empire Marketing Board nor any other organisation, to the best of my knowledge, makes any attempt to place English goods into Empire markets.

I would suggest that there is only one barrier in the way of broadening the scope of the Empire Marketing Board, and that is that many of our manufacturers give the powers that be no encouragement to do so. I should like to give one or two examples of what I mean. What would be the use of spending immense sums of money advertising English motor cars within the Empire when our own English manufacturers refuse to instigate a proper policy of their own—when they persist in sending out motor-cars that, on the whole, are unsuitable to the conditions that are to be found overseas. Either the chassis clearances are too low, or the horse power, in many instances, is too small, or spare parts are not readily available in the various parts of the Dominions. I could give innumerable other exampples in various parts of the Empire. I will take the House, for instance, as far as the Solomon Islands. There, the homely razor is in great demand, but the British manufacturers are only prepared to supply a standard size of razor. The Solomon Islanders, for peculiar reasons best known to themselves, do not require a standard size of razor but an outsize in razor. Unfortunately, the British manufacturers not being prepared to provide them, the French, I am led to understand, have stepped in and are now supplying the islanders with that particular form of outsize razor that they demand. As the Solomon Islanders know nothing of the nimble art of honing and stropping, one can well believe that the number of razors that are required per native per year is not insignificant. In fact, the trade in the South Seas as a whole is a considerable one.

An American commercial traveller told me recently, when I was in Australia, that the only sphere in which the Americans now find difficulty in competing with the English is in the liquor trade in the United States of America itelf. That, undoubtedly, is somewhat of an exaggeration, but the fact remains that we are very slow these days in comparison with other countries in adapting ourselves to overseas conditions. Our industries themselves should show sufficient initiative to overcome this sort of thing. I am inclined to believe that what with export credits, various forms of subsidies and the like, many industries are now content to rely too much upon spoon feeding of successive Governments. If it were not for the unemployed that are concerned, I would welcome in certain specific directions the recent period of depression, brought about to some extent, in particular instances that I have in mind, by the manufacturers themselves failing to move with the times and to introduce modern machinery, in fact by generally allowing initiative to become sterile.

From studying this question—I might even say on the spot, because I recently had an opportunity of taking a comprehensive tour round our Empire—I know that there are markets within the Empire waiting for many of our products. Therefore, I would suggest that for the benefit of those go-ahead, wide-awake industries that are prepared to take advantage of it, that the Government should at the first opportunity—they may not get an opportunity before the election, but I am certain that they will get another opportunity before the year is out—promote a permanent representative committee for Empire trade and development; or, failing that, that they should, alternatively, widen the scope of the Empire Marketing Board. In other words, the Empire Marketing Board should work both ways, as its name leads one to understand; that it should advertise English goods within the Empire and instigate extensive research which will enable our industries to know with more certainty where they can place their products within the Empire, and exactly the class of goods that are required.


It would be very refreshing to me if we had more speeches from the opposite benches of the kind just delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Warrington (Captain Cunningham Reid). There can be no doubt that the present Empire Marketing Board, although it is doing very good work, is a bit lop-sided. There is just as much reason and just as much need for activity at the other end as there is at this end. If we are going to buy the products of the Dominions and the Colonies, it is only reasonable to assume that the same operation should take place at the other end of the scale, and it would be to the advantage of the industries of this country. Whilst saying that, I do not think there can be much doubt, having regard to the illustrations which have been given by the hon. and gallant Member, that our manufacturers are somewhat lacking in initiative.

I have been tremendously disappointed over the inability of our manufacturers to take advantage of the opportunities that have come their way. It is particularly unpleasant to think that an American gentleman, whose name I need not mention, came to this country and raised capital of £7,000,000, in order to make motor cars here and to export them to Europe and all parts of the world. The reason for that state of things is obvious to anyone who cares to study the motor industry. The reason is that there is no coalition amongst the manufacturers in that particular industry. They are all on their own. They are following the old fatuous English policy of each one looking after himself, and the devil taking the hindmost; but instead of the devil coming along it is the foreigner, and he collars the whole caboodle. The foreigner is doing an enormous business in this country, not so much in supplying this country with his goods but in supplying the greater part of the Continents of Europe and Africa and other parts of the world.

There is a far bigger possibility of trade development, particularly in the motor industry, than is generally realised. I am an engineer by trade and have been on wheels and among wheels, so to speak, the whole of my life and, naturally, I have taken an interest in the motor industry and see its wonderful possibilities. It was only in 1902 that Henry Ford made his first car. I suppose that Henry is not one of the poorest men in the world to-day. That instance indicates the possibilities of development. This country can make the finest motor car in the world. We had an instance, recently, of a Britisher breaking the world record for speed, but he went to America to do it. He put up a record which will take a great deal of beating, and he did it on a car which shows that we are capable of turning out the finest machine and of devising and planning a kind of machine that has never been planned before, and one which delivers the goods when it is put to the test. That is a very high testimonial to the engineering ability of this country, particularly when one considers the disparity between the pay of the workpeople who make motor cars in this country and the pay of workpeople engaged in the motor industry in America. From 25s. to 26s. a day is the average pay of a man in the motor industry in America. That sum would be equal to two days' pay for the highest skilled mechanic in this country, whose wages are 46s. 6d. to £3.

Notwithstanding these different conditions—there may be some difference of opinion with regard to the models which are made in this country, and about the ground clearance and the rest of it—there can be no doubt that in this country any kind of model can be produced to suit any kind of country, provided we have the manufacturing facilities and the capital behind them. What America can do on these lines, the manufacturers can do in this country. What is particularly aggravating to me is to see this country, which was in the motor industry long before America started, in such a position to-day in competing with America that we are beaten absolutely to a frazzle. That is because they work on the mass production system in America. That system has given America a lead in the manufacture of motor cars which will take this country some time to catch up. That system is there to be copied; it is not the patent of anybody. Anybody in this country can take it up, and some manufacturers are doing so, with great success. Good luck to them! My complaint is that there is not greater combination amongst the motor manufacturers in this country. If we had better combination amongst them, not only would they be able to compete with but they would be able to beat the Americans at their own game.

There is a good deal to be done in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and other parts of the world, where this country is directly interested, and where anybody who cares to study the motor industry can see, from the point of view of this country, what enormous developments are possible in the future. It is not a question of a few thousands but millions of motor cars will be required in the next 10 or 20 years. So far as I can see the manufacturers in this country are sound asleep, with the exception of one or two. They do not seem to want to make fortunes but are satisfied to go on making a multiplicity of models to suit the man who can pay the highest price, and to cater for a restricted market, thereby leaving our competitors in other countries to produce an article which can sell in tens of thousands, even in millions. Whilst we carry on in this pettifogging way, our manufacturers cannot make money out of their multiplicity of models in their restricted market, and they cannot pay the wages that are paid by their competitors. A wonderful amount of good could be done on the lines suggested by the hon. Member, that is, to broaden the activities of the Empire Marketing Board. It is just as necessary to call the attention of the Colonies and Dominions to the products of this country as it is to call the attention of this country to the goods which the Dominions produce.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)

The two speeches to which we have just listened contain valuable suggestions, and it cannot be too often repeated to all concerned with industry in this country that there are still great opportunities in our Empire markets which have not yet been sufficiently realised. I am not personally familiar with the details of the motor industry but I do know that in the part of the Empire which I visited—namely, the British Colonies—a very commendable effort has been made by British motor producers to meet the demands of these Colonies, more particularly in regard to lorries and commercial vehicles, in respect of vehicles for use in tropical climates with larger radiators, special spring requirements for going over rough roads, and the necessary type of hood which we do not want in this country. In these respects great efforts have been made by a few manufacturers in this country which deserve all praise. At the same time I agree that the tendency in this country has been the production of high speed engines which are very useful on our type of roads. With the exception of the Malay States there is no other country in the Empire which has roads as good as those in this country. You do not get the modern car road overseas, which is partly responsible for the creation of the modern light motor car. You do not get conditions in any part of the Empire which encourage that type of car to be put on the market. The far rougher land stronger machines which are produced in America have an advantage in our Dominions and Colonies where the roads are rough.

The question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Warrington (Captain Reid) was an extension of the activities of the Empire Marketing Board. My hon. and gallant Friend is still under a misapprehension as to the exact dividing line between the Board's work and its expenditure. The limit of the Board's work and expenditure is a limit as to the type of article, rather than a limit of geography. It is often though that the function of the Empire Marketing Board is to encourage the better production and sale of all types of goods from the Overseas Empire into Great Britain. That is not so. The dividing line is one of material. The Empire Marketing Board is restricted by the terms agreed upon with all the self-governing Dominions to the marketing of agricultural produce. We extended it to include raw forest products, and a question was raised as to whether cocoanut palms was a raw forest product or an agricultural product. Its functions do not include the marketing of the manufactures of Canada or Australia or South Africa; they are confined to the marketing of agricultural produce only; not merely for the encouragement and better marketing of overseas agricultural produce but also for the better marketing of home-grown agricultural produce as well.

An extension of the functions of the Empire Marketing Board to cover all manufactured articles not merely in this country but throughout the rest of the Empire, would, of course, change the whole character of the Board, and I am sure that it could not be done by the existing Empire Marketing Board. You would have to have a Board on which industry was represented, and you would have to associate it quite definitely with the Department of Overseas Trade and not merely with the Dominions Office, the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. But the idea is certainly one which is being canvassed up and down the country. I think we can say that not merely on the advertising side, which after all is only a very small side of the work of the Empire Marketing Board, but that the encouragement and stimulus it has given to research institutions connected with agricultural production and better transport of agricultural produce throughout the Empire, that the extremely valuable work of the Empire Marketing Board might be reciprocated if you could get the necessary structure.

The matter is essentially one for the next Imperial Conference. When it comes to spending public money in the self-governing Dominions, it is obvious that you cannot do that merely by the will of His Majesty's Government only. Obviously, you must have the willing assent and co-operation of the Overseas Governments as well as that of the British Government. I have no doubt that the question of the further development of British overseas trade in the Dominions and reciprocal trade between the Dominions will be one of the main questions for the Imperial Conference next year. The question has many ramifications, and I am satisfied that the experience of the last three years in the development and working out of the Empire Marketing Board will be extremely suggestive and helpful in guiding and stimulating an interchange of products of all kinds between the different parts of the Empire. In saying that I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend and the hon. Member for Claycross (Mr. Duncan) on raising a matter which cannot be too often debated. However we may differ in this House as to how industry should be internally constructed and how the profits should be divided, we can never get away from the fundamental fact that in these islands we are absolutely dependant on an ever-increasing overseas trade, and with the rapid development of markets in our own Empire and in our Tropical Dependencies every effort should be made by all connected with industry in this country to get the best share of these developing markets. This can only be done by vigilance, energy, perseverance and the pioneer spirit.


I listened with interest to the Under-Secretary's statement regarding the limitations of the operations of the Empire Marketing Board. The member of the Government who last spoke from that Box told us about the film which the Empire Marketing Board was producing in regard to the herring industry—


As we have a Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, fisheries and agriculture have always gone together.


You seem to have extended it through agriculture into fisheries and then into the cinematograph industry, and I am just wondering whether you have the power to extend it into the motor industry.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir F. Thomson.]