Motion made, and Question proposed.
That a sum, not exceeding £110,551, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, and Subordinate Departments, including certain Services arising out of the War."—(NOTE,—£100,000 has been voted on account.)
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)
I think that it will probably be convenient to the Committee if, following the precedent of former years, I endeavour to give to the Committee a not too long review of the present trade position and trade prospects. I will deal with two or three matters of administration which are of general interest, and any details of administration raised in debate will be dealt with in reply either by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary or by me. Up till two years ago or less, when we were considering the position of our trade, the only reliable figures which we possessed to give us a picture of our trade position, were our overseas trade figures—official figures of exports and imports, and official estimates of the trade balance. We have all felt that that was an unsatisfactory position for a great industrial country. Before the War, our exports covered something like one-third of our manufacturing industry; to-day they account for less: and, important as exports are, it was extraordinarily unsatisfactory to have no definite figures of production for the whole field of industry between one census of production and another, particularly as the censuses of production came at infrequent intervals, and the 1964 final results came a considerable time after the census was taken. That, I am afraid, was inevitable.
While I have been at the Board of Trade, I have been anxious to get prompt and comprehensive index figures which will show what our production is, and to-day we are able to face a debate like this with much more complete figures than were at our disposal a year or two ago. We have two advantages. We have, of course, the complete census of production in 1924; we have, therefore, a post-War year which we can take as a standard of comparison. Then, thanks to the voluntary co-operation of trade and industry, we are now able to compile a quarterly index figure which covers over 70 per cent. of the industrial production of this country. That is a very great advantage, and I am grateful to those who have co-operated to make it possible. Taking these combined sources of information, the figures show a definite and very remarkable progress considering the set-back which our trade received in 1926. [Laughter.] I am not going to say anything polemical, but none of us will deny that 1926 did give us a set-back for trade.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am ready to debate that on another occasion, and in a few weeks we shall be able to see how the country has allocated the responsibility for that event. I do not want to be drawn into any discussion of that kind to-day, however; what I think the Committee wishes to do now is to devote attention to the immediate prospects of trade. I think we can regard that with reasonable satisfaction, and that the figures we have, while not to be regarded with complacency, give us encouragement to persevere. I will take first of all the figures of overseas trade. We were able to make a more complete estimate this year than ever before, thanks not only to the researches which have taken place in Government Departments, but thanks particularly to the very careful inquiry conducted by Sir Robert Kindersley into the sources and amount of our foreign investments. As a result of all that information we are able to show that our net trade balance last year was at least £149,000,000—I think one can say £150,000,000 with safety. That really 1965 is a very remarkable recovery. In 1924—I have readjusted all these figures in the light of later information—the trade balance was £86,000,000, in 1926 it was down to £9,000,000, in 1927 we had recovered to £114,000,000, and last year, as I say, it was at least £149,000,000. I think that is a very creditable recovery on the part of this country.
When we turn to visible exports, the progress is again satisfactory, on the whole. It was the export trade which naturally suffered most as the result of the interruption in 1926. The home market is always an easier market to recover than a foreign market, where you lose touch and goodwill. If we are to get an accurate comparison of our export trade, obviously we must take account of price changes. We must bring the trade to-day up to the prices of 1924, the index year, the census year, or the 1924 figures down to the prices of to-day. The Committee will have noticed, in the figures about the trade position which are published in the Board of Trade Journal, that in giving our comparison with 1924 we always make it a comparison by volume by bringing the prices to a common level as far as we can. Therefore, I am quoting volume—like with like. Taking 1924 as the base year, because it is the census of production year, we find that in 1928 all our exports were up 4.6 per cent. Our manufactured exports were up by 7.8 per cent. If you take the first quarter of this year, those being the latest figures we have, and compare it with the corresponding quarter of 1924, the figures are more satisfactory still. Our total exports are 109.2—taking the 1924 figure at 100, showing a 9.2 per cent. improvement, and our exports of manufactures are 14.1 per cent. better than in 1924. The Empire takes an enormous proportion of that export trade. I am sure that we are only at the beginning of Empire potentialities, but even to-day the Empire, excluding Irish trade, is taking 42 per cent. of our total export trade, and in manufactures alone the Empire takes very nearly 50 per cent. of our total exports.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
It includes some mandated territory. As the hon. Member is aware, there is a certain subtle difference between A and 1966 B mandated territories. If the hon. Member will put a detailed question I will be glad to answer.
There has always been some interesting controversy as to what is the effect of duties upon exports, and the Committee would perhaps like definite information. If we take the industries whose products are to-day subject to a duty, and compare the export position of those industries in 1924 and at the present time, we find that, rather contrary to certain theories, the exports in those industries have shown a very marked increase. In 1924 the exports of the dutiable articles amounted to £30,000,000, and in 1928 the exports of the same articles amounted to £39,000,000. The exports of other manufactured articles totalled £589,000,000 in 1924, and £539,000,000 in 1928, showing that the increase was in the articles which are subject to duty and the decrease in the articles which are not subject to duty. Of course there has been a considerable change in prices between 1924 and 1928, but if that allowance is made the conclusion is exactly the same. The only result of making that adjustment would be to make the exports for 1928 much larger relatively to those of 1924, but I have compared like with like. Whether you make the adjustment or not the trend is exactly the same.
We are faced here with an interesting position which is worth consideration. I am not going into contentious arguments of post hoc propter hoc, but I have heard a great many arguments addressed to this bench contending that if you put on a duty you must ruin your export trade. It is a remarkable fact that the export trade is to-day expanding where duties exist and shows contraction where duties do not exist. At any rate, those are facts, and I think they are worth the impartial and unprejudiced consideration of the Committee. So much for overseas trade.
Let me turn now to production as a whole. Here again I take the 1924 census figures as the basis figures, and we are able to compare them with our quarterly index figure. In production as a whole, again, there is a definite advance. Industrial production generally is up 5.2 per cent. in 1928 by comparison with 1924, and if we take manufacturing production, those classes which in our 1967 index returns include iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, engineering, shipbuilding, textiles, chemicals, paper, printing, leather, boots and shoes, food, drink and tobacco, gas and electricity, excluding from the list only mines and quarries, the increase is 9.2 per cent., very much more marked. Figures are not yet available for the first quarter of this year, but those for the last quarter of 1928 showed an all over increase. The figures, over 70 per cent. of all our industrial production, showed an all over increase of 7.6 per cent., and in the manufacturing indutries an increase of no less than 11.7 per cent. over the quarterly average for 1924. That certainly shows that trade is steadily taking an upward trend.
May I say a word or two about certain particular industries, the more important basic industries of the country. I will take the steel industry first. In the first quarter of this year steel production, ingots and castings, amounted to 2,400,000 tons, or more than 5 per cent. over the corresponding period of 1924. The March production of steel totals 860,000 tons. Not only has the production of steel increased, but we have seen in recent months a very definite move in the steel industry in the direction of reorganisation and the more effective use of plant. I have heard a good deal of criticism about the steel plant and I made it my business not long ago to see a man who is by common consent probably the greatest expert on steel plants in the world. He is the expert adviser to many of the greatest undertakings in America, in this country and on the Continent, and his considered view of our steel plant is that in many cases in this country from steel furnaces onwards we have a very great deal of plant which is second to none in the world. I think any competent observer in the steel trade would endorse that opinion.
When we come to blast furnace and coke oven practice, I do not think we can say the same thing. Certainly we ought to have larger blast furnaces. I know the difficulties, but I think they may be exaggerated, and we would get beneficial results by adopting a larger size, without adversely affecting quality. I think regional organisation would help 1968 to develop this part of the industry to the best advantage. We want to see better facilities for the production of coke, the use of gas and the distribution of the gas to other industrial users. There is a real need for reconstruction in regard to blast furnaces and coke ovens. I have appointed a committee, presided over by Sir Alexander Walker, to consider the definite question of the technical and economic aspects of a gas supply system consisting of pipe lines connecting gas works, coke ovens, and other gas producers with users over wide industrial areas. I think that committee, in which all interests are co-operating, is making progress and already it has had the advantage of hearing evidence as to long distance gas transmission in Germany. I hope that this inquiry will be of assistance to the steel industry in considering arrangements for the establishment of new batteries of coke ovens.
I understand that as part of the reorganisation which is now proceeding in the iron and steel industry, the export trade is practically in agreement, or is co-operating on an export committee. We already know of amalgamations which have taken place and more far-reaching amalgamations on a considerable scale are, I hope, in sight in that particular industry. That is really the step that is needed; quite apart from blast furnaces and coke ovens we want to get the best use we can out of our plant. Everyone who knows the steel trade is aware that if you are to get the best use out of a modern plant you must run it as nearly full time as possible. If the plant is being used to the extent of 60 per cent. of its capacity it will be far less economical than if it could be run full time.
That is largely a question of reorganisation. In this country we have great natural assets in steel and we are looking forward to an increasing export trade in years to come. We have coal in abundance, convenient to the sites of our steel works. After all, it is a great advantage to be able to put your blast furnaces down with every facility at their disposal and at the same time have the coal mines almost at your door. In view of the movement that is goinig on in the steel industry the prospects and potentialities of that industry are such as to give us encouragement.
1969 One passes naturally from the steel industry to shipbuilding, which is so valuable in itself, so great an employer of labour and so necessary to the other heavy industries of steel and coal. Not only this, but the shipbuilding industry is very important and valuable because it is as good a barometer of the trade prospects of other industries as we can have. Shipbuilders do not place orders unless they think they will be able to use the ships immediately and send them across the seas. At the present time, shipbuilding is not a case of making good the dearth of ships after the War or filling up the gap of lost tonnage. The orders now being dealt with are replacement orders undertaken because shipowners think they see business coming along, and it is worth their while to take advantage of the increasing business that is showing signs of coming forward. The prospects are indeed satisfactory. The total of shipping under construction at 31st March this year is 1,360,000 tons, and 794,000 tons were begun in the last quarter of 1928 and the first quarter of 1929. Side by side with those facts we find that the amount of shipping laid up in British ports on the 1st April, 1928, was 363,000 tons and on 1st April, 1929, that total had gone down to 236,000.
There is another fact on which I think we may congratulate ourselves. All through the bad times our shipbuilders kept abreast of the most modern development, and there has never been a time when the shipbuilding industry in this country was more ready to supply shipowners with every modern development and, indeed, even an embarrassing array of alternatives, whether in regard to the raising of steam or the propulsion of vessels. All of this shows that there has been a great revival in our shipbuilding and marine engineering industries, however difficult the times have been for a while.
There is one question in this connection that I, and no doubt other Members of the House, have watched with particular interest, and that is the development of pulverised fuel. Anyone who has studied questions of this kind with care must hesitate to be dogmatic on them, but I have always felt, and have not hesitated to express the opinion, that on the whole there is an earlier and more certain prospect of helping the coal industry in the world of shipping by the use of pulverised coal than, probably, 1970 is afforded by either low-temperature carbonisation or the hydrogenation and distillation of coal. I think the present experiments show that that is likely to be true. Of course, an industrial revolution of this kind cannot be brought about rapidly. There seems to be an idea in some quarters that all that is necessary is Government money or something else to turn on a tap, so to speak, and then invention will flow satisfactorily, and it will be possible to get oil from coal, or a perfect system of pulverised fuel, to-morrow. Things do not work out like that, but there has been no hesitation in going forward in these matters, and although, as is the case with new processes of any kind, there have been constant chocks, the checks are being steadily overcome, and each experiment is more satisfactory than the last. Those who have made these experiments, and have made comparative tests as between pulverised coal and ordinary coal fuel, or pulverised coal and oil, in the few ships in which such plant has been installed, are increasingly satisfied with the results that are being given by pulverised coal, while experiments on shore with marine engines are also giving increasingly satisfactory results, and, although I am not able to give precise figures, the information I have received encourages me to hope, though it is not wise to boast too soon, that, if the present experiments are as satisfactory as they seem likely to be, larger economies will be effected than most of those concerned even hoped would be possible a year ago.
Turning to coal, the exports, in the first quarter of 1529, amounted to 13,000,000 tons, while the total production was 66,000,000 tons. That is rather better than the corresponding quarter of 1925, which is the period that most people would reasonably take for purposes of comparison. In 1924, the effect of the occupation of the Ruhr was still being felt, so that that would not be a normal period to take. A considerable number of mines have been re-opened this year, and 30,000 more men have been employed. The working days in March averaged 5½ per week, as against 4¾ in October and November; and there is no doubt that the railway freight relief has given very great encouragement to the coal export trade, and also to the steel trade. It is 1971 satisfactory, also, that export prices have risen at the same time. Anxiety has been frequently expressed as to whether the effect of the reduced railway rates was not going to be simply that export prices would go down, but as a matter of fact, concurrently with the operation of the railway freight relief, export prices have tended quite definitely to harden, and in January and February the whole industry, for the first time for a considerable period, was working at a profit, of 73. per ton in January and 9d. in February.
The question may be asked whether this is not entirely due to temporary winter conditions—to the fact that hard weather and difficulties of supply on the Continent caused a large demand. No doubt some part of the increased trade has been due to that cause, and those who were fortunate enough not to have existing contracts, but were in a position to sell spot lots, were no doubt able to get high prices; but—and certainly this is the case in South Wales—forward contracts have been made for long periods on more satisfactory terms than we have seen for some time. I have been surprised to learn the extent to which a number of undertakings in South Wales have been able to make long forward contracts which will cover a large proportion of their output for some time to come. There is, therefore, no doubt that definite progress has been registered.
I only want to speak of one other industry, in which this House has always been interested and which we have discussed from time to time, namely, the cotton industry. There again, while the immediate market prospects do not show any material advance, the development within the industry itself is distinctly satisfactory. The industry is facing its problems, which are not unfamiliar to us in this Committee. The export trade has been curtailed by greatly increased foreign manufacture, but in this connection it must be borne in mind that Lancashire, beside the cotton industry, has also a large textile machinery industry, and you cannot export millions of pounds worth of textile machinery to foreign countries without feeling the result of that in greatly increased competition in those foreign countries. That 1972 is the way of the world, and hon. Members opposite will no doubt want to face it, as I do, with re-organisation of our own industry. Then we have the question of inflated values, but we must remember that in such a case it is extraordinarily easy to job backwards. As I said the other day, I could always back the winner of a race if I were allowed to put my money on the day after, and we can all be extraordinarily wise now and see exactly what mistakes have been made; but most people were making mistakes at that time, and the thing to do is to get them put right. There is also the curious divorce, which has always existed in this industry, between the different sections of buying, manufacturing, finishing and merchanting, all working in watertight compartments, with, in the past, little or none of that inter-relation which is normal in other industries with which some of us are closely acquainted. That may have been all right as long as the whole world had got to come to us for what we had to sell, but to-day the position is different. What is satisfactory is that all these matters have been the subject of inquiry within the industry itself. You have in this Committee of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, all sections represented—every phase of buying, manufacturing, finishing, merchanting and all the trade unions.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Surely the hon. Gentleman is satisfied, as I am, that it should be so. Do not let us try to make niggling points about this. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would welcome this. There is not a representative of the trade unions on that committee to-day who does not agree with all the conclusions at which the Committee has arrived. Therefore, we can say that all interests are agreed upon the lesson of what is to be done in re-organisation, not merely as regards writing down, but everybody standing in on fair terms and by the establishment of units which are large enough to get good service. It is no good, if I may respectfully say so, buying cotton as I buy tea. The purchase must be on a large enough scale to make sure that you are getting the best and the most economic service. It must be an organisation large enough and efficient 1973 enough not only to get the best service but also to give it. Those lessons are being applied, and I am sure that it is an encouragement to Lancashire and a sign to the outside world that when the American section of the cotton trade sets its house in order, when it puts forward a scheme of re-organisation, when it really faces the facts and provides for its buying, manufacturing and selling side being really efficiently organised, that then it is in a position to command all the finance which it requires, and that the Bank of England is ready to stand behind it. I think Lancashire is to be congratulated upon this.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Even when the hon. Gentleman comes into office, he will not find that he can get money for nothing. No one, I think, is complaining, or could reasonably complain, that there is anything at all unreasonable in the arrangement. Indeed, so far from it being unreasonable, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the creditor banks are offering, where companies come into the cotton combine, to forgo the whole of their rights of foreclosure? That is a very remarkable achievement, and if there is any doubt about it and the hon. Gentleman does not wish to join in the tribute which I have paid to that Corporation and those who have initiated it, let me refer to Mr. Boothman, whom he certainly will regard as a competent and an unbiased authority. He will find, as he probably knows, that Mr. Boothman has given on behalf and in the interests of the workmen in the cotton trade, his whole-hearted support to that Corporation.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I should have thought it was a very desirable thing that when Lancashire is re-organising its industry, the workers should be taken into consultation. I should have thought it was a matter in regard to which the whole Committee might reasonably 1974 agree, with the exception, perhaps, of the hon. Gentleman. If these inquiries have taken place, and if action follows these inquiries, surely there is no need for anybody to ask for a Royal Commission to hold up the whole of the action. Inquiries and Royal Commissions are very useful where it is necessary to have information, and you cannot take action without them, but where you find an industry which really does know all about itself, and sets out to make its own inquiry, with all sections coming together and agreeing upon the action which is necessary, then what is wanted is not further recommendations and further inquiries by a Royal Commission, but action by the industry itself.
I am not at all averse to inquiries where they are necessary to supply information for action. Indeed, I think I have proved it. For some years past we have had at the Board a series of inquiries into different aspects of commercial law, in order that, having got the fullest and most authoritative opinion upon a branch of commercial law, that branch might then be brought up-to-date in the light of the best business and legal experience to be obtained. We have dealt with bankruptcy. There we had the advantage of Mr. Hansell's Committee, and the Bankruptcy Act has been passed. I think all commercial interests are glad that that has been done. Then we have had the Companies Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Greene, and last year this House passed the Act giving effect to the findings in their report. We have had an inquiry equally exhaustive by Mr. Justice Clauson's Committee into insurance law. They have made their report, and a Bill has been drafted; so that in that field of law the ground is prepared for legislation.
There is one field of commercial law which has not been covered, and that is patent law and practice. That has not been completely reviewed since Lord Justice Fry's Committee sat in 1901, and there has been in the meantime a great development in patents and patent law in other countries. I am sure that the time is ripe for a full and thorough consideration of our patent law and practice, and I propose to appoint as authoritative a committee as I can to make inquiries into our patent laws. I am sure 1975 this Committee will be glad to know that I have persuaded Sir Charles Sargant to take the Chair of the committee. It is extraordinarily good of Lord Justice Sargant, who has retired from the Bench, to have promised to undertake this work. He has had a very wide experience both at the Bar and on the Bench, and as Chairman of the Committee of Awards for Inventions in connection with the War, he has had very wide experience of patent law and practice. I am sure we could not get a better chairman for such a committee.
There is another Act which we passed as a result of the report of a committee, namely, the Merchandise Marks Act. This Committee would wish to know something about the work of the Standing Committee. Already that Committee on Merchandise Marks has held inquiries covering 42 industries or classes of goods, and Orders have been made covering no less than 35 of these. I think that shows very clearly that the Act has been taken advantage of by the commercial community. Nearly all the Orders have been made by general consent, and there is a not inconsiderable list of cases awaiting the attention of the Committee. While I am dealing with this, I should like also to mention two international Conventions which, in the past year, have been negotiated through the Economic Section of the League of Nations. The first and most important is the Convention dealing with the prohibitions of import and export restrictions. If there is one thing which industry and commerce in this country have been anxious to obtain, it has been the removal of prohibitions upon exports and imports. Under a tariff you know where you are, but the system of prohibition and licences is the most uncertain system under which you can work. That Convention, after a great deal of discussion, has been agreed, and 29 countries have signed. The Convention provides that it is to come into force as soon as 18 countries have ratified, provided they ratify before 30th September of this year. I have been asked before now what we are prepared to do to show that we are willing to give a lead. We have taken a lead. We have not only signed that Convention, and not only asserted that we were prepared to be 1976 among the first 18 countries to ratify, but we have actually ratified it already, and were the first country to do so.
Another Convention which, I think, has a substantial bearing upon trade is the Statistical Convention, which is helping to get the commercial statistics of the leading countries of the world on a common basis. There we have come to an agreement. A great deal of the work of the British Delegation on that Convention fell to the lot of the commercial members of the Delegation who were good enough to give their time to it. At the moment we have sitting in London another international conference of great importance—the Conference on Safety of Life at Sea. All those who were represented here before have come again to that Conference. It has a very wide and technical field to cover. We were anxious that it should start on its work with as much ground cleared as possible, and, as this Committee knows, I la[...] a White Paper nearly 18 months ago, which we circulated to all the countries that were likely to be represented, containing our proposals for amending the 1914 Convention. We circulated those in such time that not only would every country be able to study them, but would be able to make their criticisms and counter-suggestions in reply. Other countries made suggestions and we were able to send those to the countries whose representatives were coming here.
The result has been that the Conference has been able to see at the start not only the scope of the work which lay before them, but the views of a large number of those countries which are represented. It is proceeding daily with its work. All the reports I have of the Conference are that it is working in the most thorough and harmonious spirit. All the members are conspicuous for their experience of the matters in which they deal, and I have every hope that this important and humane work may result in complete agreement, which will be of value not only to our trade, but to everyone who sails the seas, whether sailor or passenger, and also be of value to the whole world.
I am sure the Committee would wish me to pay an especial tribute of thanks and appreciation to Sir Arthur Balfour and the Balfour Committee who have now for, I think, almost five years conducted 1977 an exhaustive inquiry into almost the whole field of British industry and commerce. Year by year they have conducted those inquiries. They have produced a number of surveys in volumes covering different industries, which are mines of practical and useful information. They have now produced their final Report which, with two exceptions, is unanimous. It would not be proper for me to deal with any matter in the Report which would require legislation, but on administrative questions I can say with satisfaction, that the action the Board of Trade has taken in recent years has been markedly in line with the recommendations that the Committee themselves have made. In the compilation of an index of production, assistance to standardisation, consultation with industry before and during international negotiations, the support of cotton-growing in the Empire, the continuation and review of the system of export credits, the attitude the Board has consistently taken has been almost exactly in accord with the ultimate recommendations that the Balfour Committee have made.
Their attitude towards combinations and trusts is particularly interesting. It endorses entirely the policy and practice which I have on many occasions commended to the House, whether dealing with trusts generally or in special cases.
As a special case the Food Council is an example of limited action exactly in line with the Balfour Committee's recommendations. I should like to pay some brief but very sincere tribute to the work of the Food Council. It has not been spectacular, but it has not been barren. To-day as the price of flour rises and falls, so on a certain recognised scale the price of bread rises or falls with it. We have never had that in this country before. We have now got it. The Food Council conducted a tremendous inquiry into the whole question of short weight. They were able to present a Report so convincing and practical that their proposals were adopted practically as they stood. They made full inquiries as to tea and bread. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) was a critic of bread. In milk they were singularly successful because both producer and consumer benefit, the farmer being paid winter prices for an extra two months and the consumer only 1978 having to pay them for one month. That was the considered finding of the council and the trade came into line. With regard to their work on meat, I understand that they have all the information they require for that purpose. Since February, 1925, food retail prices have come down by 20 points.
This Committee's attitude towards combinations must be reasonable. We must have rationalisation. It is necessary for efficiency and it inevitably involves the creation of larger units and the making of agreements. Hon. Members must make up their minds which horse they are going to ride. You cannot in one speech lecture industry and say: "It is your duty to rationalise and reorganise and enter into these agreements and combine yourself in the most efficient units," and proceed in the very next speech you make to attack people or cast aspersions on them for doing exactly what you have invited them to do.
One great and complete safeguard exists for rationalisation. It is natural to say: "If you are going to have very large units you are never going to get the best service." This desire for competition still persists even in the most socialistic minds. The community have one supreme safeguard to-day in rationalisation. In practically every industry not only in this country but elsewhere the productive capacity of plant is far in excess of either national or world demand. No one is likely to put forward a scheme of rationalisation with a view to raising prices or curtailing production.
The object of schemes of rationalisation to-day is to increase efficient production, to reduce costs and so to reduce prices, and it is only by doing that that you can fill your factories. If your factories have a productive capacity greater than is being absorbed there is no possible inducement to curtail production. What will induce increased production is more efficiency, thereby reducing prices which will be in the interests of both producer and consumer—large production on a small margin. I am sure that is increasingly realised. The reorganisation that is going forward to-day is evidence of that, and is also evidence of the confidence that industry has. It is reflected in the new capital that is being absorbed in industry at home. I was amazed when 1979 I looked at the return of the figures of new issues for recent years. I should like to give one set of figures. In 1924 the monthly average of new issues for United Kingdom purposes—home, domestic issues—was £7,400,000. For 1928 the monthly average was £18,300,000, and, for the first quarter of this year, £23,000,000. That really is a very remarkable advance. It shows the confidence of industry and of the public in the development of industry. That bears out what I have said about the recovery that industry is making. There is ample evidence in the position as it exists to-day to encourage us to go forward with certainty as to the future, provided, of course, that stable conditions are maintained.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I am sure the Committee has listened to the right hon. Gentleman's statement with very great interest. While we are often diametrically opposed to each other, I have been obliged to him for some years for the clearness with which he presents his annual trade review. I do not necessarily agree with all the deductions from the various facts he has submitted, but at least we appreciate the review he gives us from year to year. I wish I could feel the complete optimism that was indicated at the opening of his review of trade for the year. He says there is reason, if not for complacency, for encouragement to persevere, and he backed that up with percentage figures of volume of production and exports. I have not had an opportunity of examining the trade for the year from that point of view. The right hon. Gentleman has the advantage of a most efficient staff, whose statistical information has undoubtedly been improving from year to year, and can speak with a good deal more authority than one can do at short notice. It is almost impossible for us on this side of the Table to do very much more than deal with value figures.
I certainly think there is ground for saying that there is some improvement in the outlook, and that there is some improvement in the export trade, but there is not that volume of improvement that we should desire, having regard to our need year after year for finding employment for a still growing population. I am certain, although the right hon. Gentleman spoke with considerable 1980 optimism, he would not say by any means that our problems are on the way to solution with the rapidity we desire, having regard to the number of population we have to absorb from year to year in industry. I am very anxious that in the next year or two we should see much more rapid progress than has been possible during the last few years. The President of the Board of Trade did not attempt to make political capital out of the year 1926, and I appreciate that, but he must not expect us in the coming days in the country to do other than lay a due proportion of blame at the door of the Government for the events of 1926, with their very general and, I agree, devastating effect upon trade and employment in the country. We should not be allowed to go into particular details of that, but I think that an examination by any unbiased audience of the country of the events of the very early morning of the 2nd May, 1926, will be sufficient to convince them upon that point.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think that if the hon. Gentleman will look up the facts he will see that our contention is very well-founded. Taking a general review of trade from the time that the present Government took office in 1924 to 1929, and dealing in values—I know that values are not as good a basis upon which to base an argument—we say that, compared with 1924, our exports have considerably decreased. There was one thing to which the President of the Board of Trade did not refer, but which is very important, namely, re-exports. There has been a very serious decrease, and our adverse trade balance, before the right hon. Gentleman takes note of the invisible exports such as investments overseas, shipping services and the like, shows an increase.
I wondered, as I listened to the President's review, whether we were going ultimately to hear an indication from him that there was going to be such a change in the constitution and the work of the Department as has been spoken of in certain papers. I saw a passage a short time ago to the effect that the Board of Trade was to be changed into a sort of Ministry of Development for the development of trade, that there was to be a 1981 general post amongst holders of Ministerial office, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was likely to be installed as the Minister of Development. I am bound to say that, although from my very short experience at the Board of Trade, I know that a very large volume of most useful and helpful work is carried on most efficiently, there is serious need in this country, under whatever Government there may be, for some Department which has more direct powers for dealing with the development of the trade required to meet the increasing needs of our population. As there appeared to be a measure of inspiration about the wording of those paragraphs, perhaps I may express a little disappointment that the President of the Board of Trade has not been able to give us any further and more official information of the plans of the Government in that direction.
To turn to the actual trade position. I think that we are entitled to ask the Government, in view of the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade, what actual measures they have in mind for improving the trade position? I observed that the President of the Board of Trade laid great stress, not for the first time—I am not suggesting that he is not consistent—upon the development of our trade with the Empire. He pointed to the fact that about 42 per cent. of our total exports goes to the Empire. When we compare that with the percentage of exports to the Empire before the War, and remember that the 1928 figure includes a considerable volume of exports to mandated territories which were formerly included in exports to foreign countries, the increase in the percentage is not as marked as would appear on the face of it. I think that we are somewhat in danger of overstressing the question of developing trade with the Empire. I am certainly not against reasonable education and propaganda for the development of that trade, but I think that we should be committing a very grave error in our position as a maritime and large exporting country, if we allowed that education and propaganda in favour of Empire trade in any way to prejudice the maintenance and advancement of our overseas trade with foreign countries.
1982 When you come down to the actual commercial value of any particular transaction, and you have a slogan which is so very often used by the present Government, "Buy from those who buy from us," I think it is perfectly true that we can agree with such a Conservative economist as Mr. Harold Cox—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is a Liberal!"] He seems to find very great hospitality in Conservative papers. I do not wish to discuss in detail what are his political convictions, but I certainly read him with great interest from the point of view of commercial knowledge. I think that, from a commercial point of view, purchases from and sales to a foreign country are in the long run just about as helpful to us as purchases from and sales to the Empire.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I have said already that I am not against education and propaganda for the development of trade with the Empire. But when you consider the enormous importance of our overseas and maritime interest and our position in the world's trade, it would be a matter of great regret if over-concentration upon Empire propaganda prejudiced in any way either the maintenance or the development of our trade with other nations of the world. That, I think, is in accordance with the views of many people who are not Socialists who have been writing upon this matter recently. If the hon. Member for North Paddington (Sir W. Perring) wants a further supporter of that contention, I will quote from the "Economist," which said quite recently:There is no special magic about Empire as opposed to world trade, and a similar poster could be exhibited with equal force if the contract had happened to have come from Czechoslovakia.
§ Sir W. PERRING
The hon. Member does not want to re-distribute our population, help us to spread our Empire in the Dominions and make markets there?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I have already said that I am not against a reasonable amount of propaganda for the development of trade with the Empire, but I am certain that we cannot maintain the position we desire to maintain as a great exporting nation and as a great maritime nation, unless we maintain to the fullest possible extent our relationship with other 1983 countries in trade and commerce as well as with the Empire.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am sure that the point made by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas) is one with which I fully agree. There is no reason why we should not do that. The danger at present is that we are overstressing the position and neglecting our propaganda in other countries.
The other matter about which I did not hear very much except the reference to railway freight relief is the question of de-rating of productive industry. I hoped that the President of the Board of Trade would give us a few more detailed estimates than we obtained during the Debates on the De-rating Bill as to how this is going to affect industry. I have been looking into the matter as it is likely to affect our own Co-operative movement. Our experience, of course, cannot be compared with the productive experience of those engaged in the heavier industries who are producing en masse for the exporting market, but we are, at any rate, doing a, very large amount of productive work in our factories. We have 116 factories employing some tens of thousands of workers. Judged by our own estimates, it is very difficult to understand that there can be any very great impetus given to productive industry as the result of de-rating.
I will put this figure to the Government and they can, figure it out how they like afterwards and see if it is the fact. We have, as I have said, 116 factories, and assuming that all these factories engaged in productive work are going to receive the full relief under the De-rating Act, we shall get a gross result of £70,000 a year. There is an offset in regard to Petrol Duty of something like £15,000. We have, therefore, a net relief to these productive industries of £55,000. The suggestion is that that relief will be to reduce the overhead cost to productive industry to such an extent that we shall thereby be able to reduce prices and so induce larger sales; that we shall, therefore, require more production and provide more employment. That is the idea of the 1984 Government. It all depends upon what is the ratio of relief to our present output. For these 116 factories dealing with commodities like boots and shoes, bespoke and ready-made clothing, furniture, about which the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Paddington probably knows more than I do—
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Our production is doing very well, anyway. We get a net relief of £55,000 upon an outturn of £30,000,000 sterling. I ask the Committee whether this remedy of the Government for the improvement of trade is likely to have a great effect upon the demand for our products which we want to see created, if that ratio of relief is likely to be common throughout England—£55,000 relief of overhead charges on an output of £30,000,000 sterling. If I may put it in another way, if you take a boot and shoe factory—and I think it applies to any boot and shoe factory as well as to our own—and pass on, not merely 75 per cent. of de-rating relief, but 100 per cent.—relieve the factory altogether of rates—it will not make a difference of more than a farthing per pair upon boots and shoes turned out from the factory. It is not very likely, therefore, that we shall see any very hectic increase in the demand for boots and shoes as a result of the reduction in prices because of the de-rating relief.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The relief given by the Government will go into the profit and loss account and it will largely depend upon the ownership and management of the businesses controlling that profit and loss account as to how the relief will be dealt with. I am certain that we shall make the best possible use of it, but I cannot answer for other people. Another remedy, to which brief reference was made by the right hon. Gentleman, is that of Safeguarding. He has spoken on that subject much more in the country than in the House.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I should have been entirely out of order if I had started to discuss on this Vote new Safeguarding Duties which would require legislation.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Surely, on this Vote the right hon. Gentleman could discuss the policy of the Government, in explaining the procedure laid down By the Board of Trade in the White Paper. Judging from the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has been making in the country, that is the policy of his Department.
I would remind the hon. Member that the White Paper to which he refers deals only with the procedure for the making of recommendations that would require legislation. That is a matter which has been, perhaps, misunderstood on several occasions. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that if new Safeguarding recommendations are made they would require legislation. Therefore, they would be irrelevant to this Vote and could not be discussed.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the beneficial results to the industry of the country from the existing duties which were imposed under the procedure laid down in the White Paper.
Yes, by legislation. There, the right hon. Gentleman was quite right. The hon. Member can discuss the administration of taxes which have been imposed by legislation; not imposed under the White Paper but by legislation, in Parliament.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Certainly, by legislation; but they would not have been imposed at all had it not been for the procedure laid down by the Board of Trade in the White Paper. Recommendations are made and, apparently, accepted by the Government without much inquiry, and then they are submitted more or less formally to this House and passed into legislation. I am anxious not to be out of harmony with the Chair on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman has said to-day that there have been remarkable results from safeguarding. He says that the safeguarding of industries has resulted in an increase in the exports from those industries which have been protected, without any decrease in the exports of the trades which are not protected. When we compare the volume of the trade of those industries which are protected—not all of 1986 them protected by Safeguarding procedure but some by direct protective taxes—with the whole volume of the trade of the country, one finds that the progress, if progress there be, is very small, and one cannot help wondering, if the official opinion of the Board of Trade is that there have been such wonderful results from the Safeguarding policy, that it has not been extended.
In view of the ruling of the Chair, I should be out of order in discussing generally the wide application of Safe-guarding to industries other than those already covered, but I should like to say that while the President of the Board of Trade holds the view that, on the whole, Safeguarding has been very much to the benefit of the trade of the country, a number of people have been conducting special inquiries into the results of the operations of this procedure and, after a very careful survey carried out by one group of people, it is stated in the "Economist":In many instances imports have substantially increased, and in many cases the flow of imports has not been arrested without an actual decrease of exports.Therefore, I was disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman in giving figures to-day did not give the detailed figures. It is easy to lump together the trades covered by the McKenna Duties and the Safeguarding Duties and to show an increase in exports over the whole, but it would have been much more satisfactory from the point of view of information if the right hon. Gentleman had given the number of trades in which the exports had increased and the number in which the exports had decreased.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I was concerned to throw some light upon the argument, which I have always understood was general, that if you put on a duty you reduce your export trade. If that be a sound argument, it must be a sound proposition over all, and if it be an unsound proposition it must be an unsound proposition over all. Therefore, it would have been wrong for me to have taken one selected article and to have said, "Here is an increase in exports," or to have selected another, and have said, "Here is a decrease in exports." If we want the broad truth, we must take all together. That is what I did.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
If that is to be the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, he must take the whole trade of the country together, and he must not separate from his conclusions the fact that while he claims an increase of £8,000,000 in the export value of the trade of these protected industries, there is a decline of £80,000,000 in the export value of the non-protected trades of the country. It is easy enough to show a particular advantage to this or that selected trade which has received largesse from the State by having been put into a specially protected position, but the fact that these trades are selected in that way and that differentiation is made between them and other industries must come back upon the other industries. Ultimately, the other industries have to pay for the benefits that are conferred upon these specially selected industries.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Herbert Williams)
Will the hon. Member tell us why?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Because you are bound in that way to upset the whole balance of trade. If the Parliamentary Secretary has read the Report of the Balfour Committee as carefully as I have done he will have seen that that Committee paid some attention to this particular point. Although I cannot quote their words verbatim, I think the hon. Member will find that, in effect, they say that it is a poor consolation to the man who has lost business because of the imposition of the Safeguarding Duty, to tell him that somebody else has got increased business.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
What I have said is, I think, the general opinion of the Report. Although from what the President of the Board of Trade has said it would appear that in order to get something like unanimity there had to be modifications here and there, I think that, generally speaking, what I have said was the general view of the members of the Committee.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The net result, whatever they may have said in making this or that comment, is that the recommendation of the Balfour Committee 1988 was that Safeguarding should be continued, and, when they went into details, that the procedure in the White Paper should be extended.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am dealing at the moment with the point raised by the interjection of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I do not want to be drawn away from it. If I were to be asked what is the general view of the Balfour Committee, I think I should be within the knowledge of the House if I say that it is of a very milk and water character. What they say in effect is that they have seen far too little of the experience of the working of this procedure to justify any very definite recommendations in regard to the general Safeguarding position. They point out that the safeguarded industries represent a trade of only about ½ per cent. of the general output of the country, and they say that upon such figures it is impossible to base a hard-and-fast conclusion. Therefore, they think it might be tried a little longer. If the right hon. Gentleman can get any comfort out of that in support of his Safeguarding policy, he is welcome to it. The "Economist" goes on to say:In no single case have exports been increased except where there has been also an increase in imports.It is always urged that the policy of the Government in regard to Safeguarding is necessary because, unless we keep out the imported goods that are coming in from countries where the conditions are such as to constitute unfair competition, we are causing severe unemployment and bad trade in this country. Yet here we have the result of a detailed examination of the working of these Safeguarding Duties, and the statement in the "Economist" that there has been no increase in exports in any one of these protected trades unless there has been an increase in the imports. I am now speaking of the effect of the Safeguarding Duties.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think they say so generally. Speaking from local knowledge so far as the cutlery trade is concerned, I maintain that, if you take out the little improvement in regard to safety razor blades, you can find no part of the cutlery industry which is really better off 1989 to-day than before the Safeguarding Duty was imposed, and you cannot find in any of the local returns of employment in the cutlery industry anything to justify the imposition of the duty which was placed upon cutlery in 1925. Another very important feature of the examination of the working of the Safeguarding Duties relates to our re-export trade. On this point the "Economist" says:In every single case the re-export trade has been damaged.The Parliamentary Secretary will not be able to deny that. We rely a great deal upon our overseas commerce and our position as a maritime nation, and for us to lose seriously in regard to our re-export trade is a matter that calls for grave thought. When we lose our re-export trade we lose not only our trade in the carrying of cargo, but we lose the benefit that comes from the handling of the goods at the docks. We also lose a considerable amount that would otherwise come to us from the purchase of British goods by people who have been in the habit of visiting us to buy foreign goods in British entrepot markets, and who now go direct to foreign centres. I am anxious to know whether the President of the Board of Trade can tell the Committee generally, without contravening the ruling of the Chair, whether the experience of the Board of Trade in regard to commodities which have been protected is such that the Government can go to the country at the Election and say that it is necessary to ask the electors for authority to enable the Government widely to extend a policy which they say has proved of such benefit? If so, I should like to ask one or two pertinent questions on that point.
I must ask the hon. Member to restrain himself upon that matter for some future occasion.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
That is a great pity, because we have been anxious to know whether some of the industries in which we are specially concerned are to be brought within the purview of the procedure laid down in the White Paper. I should like to say something about another matter referred to in the right hon. Gentleman's statement. I was exceedingly interested in the right hon. 1990 Gentleman's references to the iron and steel trade. It is a matter for general satisfaction that there has been an undoubted improvement in that important basic industry, and I am wondering whether the improvement of the last few months in the general position of the iron and steel trade can afford any ground for further pressure from certain hon. Members opposite, like the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) for protection to be afforded to the industry. The importation of iron and steel into this country last year went down by 1,500,000 tons, and, if there was much in the argument used by safeguarders, I should have expected to find that there had been a considerable increase in British production during that year. On the contrary, I find that while the importation of iron and steel went down rapidly in 1928 our production of iron and steel in the same year went down almost as much as the fall in imports. It indicates clearly that we should be exceedingly careful how we change the present policy of giving the freest admission possible to what is, after all, the raw material of some of our great basic industries.
There is another point in connection with the iron and steel trade upon which I should like to say a word or two. The President of the Board of Trade indicated his view that, generally speaking, the iron and steel trade is efficiently equipped. He used words to the effect that there had been a good deal of uninformed criticism.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
My actual words were that from the steel furnaces onwards our equipment is as good as any in the would.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I have been looking up one or two of the criticisms which have been passed on the present equipment of the iron and steel industry and I am sure that they cannot be described as uninformed. In the Report of the Industrial Fatigue Research Board published in 1920, they say:There are tremendous variations in the efficiency of the plant employed in different works and in the efficiency with which human labour is utilised. It seems probable that if all the iron and steel works in the country adopted the most efficient methods, they could, on an average, improve their output by something between 50 and 100 per cent.1991 That is not uniformed criticism. Take one or two more recent criticisms; take the Report of the Balfour Committee. They say:In the efficiency of its coking plant and in the organisation of the coking industry Great Britain still undoubtedly lags behind the United States and the Continent of Europe. In respect of the kind of oven in use Great Britain is broadly where the Continent was before the War. It is scarcely disputed that blast furnace practice in this country lags a good deal behind Continental and American practice.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
But, generally speaking, the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to attach much importance to the need for improvement in the efficiency of the industry as a whole. If he presses the point that a real move should be made to get improved efficiency in coke ovens and blast furnaces, I shall be glad. I read the speech he made the other evening at the dinner of the Iron and Steel Institute. He did not then, or this afternoon, seem to place any importance on an improvement which some of us desire to see, that is an improvement in the efficiency of the main section of the iron and steel industry, including better provision for coke ovens and an improvement in the output of blast furnaces.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
When the right hon. Gentleman reads his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, he will find that he did not lay a sufficient amount of emphasis upon it.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
In that case, it was most unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman was not more fully reported. The right hon. Gentleman has set up an inquiry in regard to the development of the coal, gas and steel industries in a kind of joint development in this country and, apparently, the Committee will have as a basis for their inquiry the recent experience of these industries in Germany. I have read with a great deal of interest the development in this direc- 1992 tion in Germany, but there is considerable doubt whether the same type of organised development can be applied in a country like our own. In Germany you have wide expanses of country, great distances from the coal centres, along which it would be profitable to convey gas by long lines. In this country the coal fields are spread very fairly over different parts of the country and you have a very important coastwise shipping trade for the conveyance of coal to local centres for gas manufacture. It is rather doubtful whether this country is as suitable for the development of long distance gas lines, such as are now in use in Germany. I recognise that the inquiry is proceeding and that all relevants facts—that is the usual official reply—will be taken into account, but I cannot see that we are likely to get the same extent of development work in this country as has taken place in Germany because of the actual difference in physical conditions.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's optimistic account of the shipbuilding trade. During the last 18 months there has been a heavy and disturbing increase in the volume of unemployment in the shipbuilding industry, and if the figures of new tonnage under construction which have been given to-day by the right hon. Gentleman indicate that there will be a progressive decline in the volume of unemployment in the industry, everyone will be delighted. I must express some disagreement with the general statement of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to rationalisation. He rather twitted hon. Members on this side of the Committee on trying to ride first one horse and then the other. That is not, indeed, what we try to do. For years past we have been saying to those who believe in private enterprise and competition that it is necessary to eliminate all waste, adopt scientific methods and avoid unnecessary competition, and, speaking from the co-operative point of view, some of the things which are now being put into operation by rationalists have actually been done by co-operators for years past; that is, endeavour to relate your production to your known demand, not by starving your demands but by preventing unnecessary production where it is going to be wasted, and eliminate unnecessary competition. It is most illuminating to hear 1993 hon. Members opposite praise the cotton industry because it is now proposing to buy in bulk collectively and to eliminate all the old competitive speculation. That is one of the things we have been preaching from these benches for years past, and one of the things we have been practising as co-operators for decades. It is indeed illuminating to find that those who have always supported private enterprise against these great collective arrangements are now supporting the theory.
There is no real remedy for the position in this country or in any other industrial country merely by securing immediate economies by an industrial reform of existing businesses, unless you can deal with the central economic problem of how you are going to maintain the consumption of goods and services in the same ratio of increase as the productive capacity of industry increases. Until you deal with that problem you will not get lasting trade prosperity nor begin to deal with the real problem of poverty and unemployment. That is the real point to which the Labour party are devoting their attention. What is going to happen as a result of rationalisation? Is it going to mean, as the President of the Board of Trade seemed to understand, that the one main result will be such a cheapening of the product that an increasing level of demand for the output of industry will be maintained? If I could believe that this rationalisation process was going to be under public control, or a control which was not out for self-interest but for communal interest, either co-operatively managed, or under the control of the State if you like, then I could imagine that rationalisation in all its various departments would ultimately lead to a solution of the control economic problem which I have just stated. But that is not what is going to happen, judging by the experience of Germany. Let hon. Members read the accounts we have had of the rationalisation processes in Germany for the last four and a-half years. One would imagine that as a result the workers of the country would begin to acquire a position of prosperity, stability and happiness which was not possible before. Read the speeches of the leaders of the coal syndicate, and the iron and steel syndicate during the coal dispute last year. When the German workers struck last 1994 year in order to obtain a small share of the increased prosperity which resulted from rationalisation in Germany, the answer the German worker got was: "It is impossible for us to share any of the benefits of rationalisation with you because of the cheap coal produced in Britain."
Unless you can distribute the increased profits or the benefits of economies resulting from rationalisation to the whole of the community you are not going to deal with the central problem which faces every statesman who is in charge of a trade department, whether in this country or in any other industrial country. No remedy is going to be lasting and permanent unless it keeps a ratio between output and the reward of labour, or prices, one or the other, in such a way that the increasing output of industry can be consumed by the mass of the people. Unless you do that, you will have constant unemployment and repeated cycles of trade depression. I know that when I mention co-operation, members of the Government think that I am bringing in the proverbial King Charles's head, but even the President of the Board of Trade has sufficient interest in the great industrial co-operative movement to know that what I am saying is true. After all, we co-operators are putting into daily practice the theory that I have put forward. It is a theory which must be put into practice if we are to get a solution of the trouble that is facing every industrial country—of productive capacity always outstripping the organised consumers' demand. You will have to prevent the sort of development that is always leading to new speculation, not of an ordered and scientific character, but solely with a view of getting more profits out of a business from which large profits have already been obtained. We work on the principle—I should like to see it operated in all industries—that the return on capital should be limited, and that in the long run it shoud be limited to two main purposes.
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great care. He has been on very thin ice, and I must ask him now not to deal with any subject that would call for legislation.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
What I have been talking about is what could be done without legislation. What I advocate is practised now.
I understood that the hon. Member was advocating what would call for legislation, and he knows quite well that such references are not permitted. I merely ask him to be careful not to be led astray into talking of things that need legislation.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
If we can get the people engaged in industry to agree to the principle we shall be very glad for them to agree without legislation. What I wish to see adopted is what we are actually practising, with a turnover of £300,000,000 a year, with a limitation of the return on capital, and a use of the whole of the surplus from the industry, apart from that, for increasing the purchasing power of the people or for maintaining the purchasing power of those engaged in the industry. If that principle were generally adopted there would be some chance of arranging matters so that consumption would keep pace with the constant increase in productive capacity. I remember being at the Imperial Trade Conference at Wembley in 1924. At an afternoon session one of the Indian delegates said, in reply to something that I had stated: "You talk about developing trade within the Empire. I come from the United Provinces, where our peasants earn on the average from £3 to £4 a year. If you could arrange for the real purchasing power to be £4 instead of £3, or £5 instead of £4, we could keep the whole of Lancashire busy." The fact is that the problem of the world is the low purchasing power of the mass of the people, because the product of industry is unfairly distributed.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
Is the low earning-power of the Indian due to the demand for very large production or to the very low productive efficiency of the Indian?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am not saying that the efficiency of the Indian peasant is all that could be desired, but the general low purchasing power of the Indian is not entirely undue to the unequal distribution of the products of industry. However, if I went into that subject I should be again out of order. I am anxious that we should not go to 1996 the country with the condition of trade not placed clearly before the people. It is useless to go and tell the country that things are hopeful, that trade is improving, that unemployment is coming down, and to say, in the vulgar phrase, that "everything in the garden is lovely." I want to warn hon. Members and the country generally that there is no cure for trade depression that comes in regular cycles, and that there is no cure for unemployment so long as you persist in an arrangement and management of industry and commerce which prevent distribution of the product of labour and capital being such as to maintain the consuming power of the people on a level something like equal to the increasing powers of production. Until the country is prepared to face that position, it will go on hearing the long tale of woe about trade depression and unemployment.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I want to correct a piece of wrong information which I gave the Committee earlier. The hon. Member asked me which mandated territories I included in my distribution of the 42 per cent. and 50 per cent. of our total exports, as mentioned in my speech. I was under the impression that some of the mandated territories were included. I now find that absolutely none are included. The whole of them are excluded in order to provide an absolutely accurate comparison with what was British territory before the War.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am much obliged, for it is very important that we should be quite clear. In some of the statements from the Dominions and Colonial Office mandated territories have been included.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
In the case of the Board of Trade the Empire includes no mandated territories whatever. It includes what was British territory before the War, and we keep that standard of comparison.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I would like to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade upon what I would term a most businesslike speech, and upon his incorrigible optimism, which seems to have been augmented considerably since he has been joined by his very able Parliamentary Secretary, who happens to be a fellow-countryman of mine. Welshmen are famous for their optimism and hope- 1997 fulness. The right hon. Gentleman has been coming to this House year after year with most hopeful figures on the improvement of trade. I am one of those who happen to be in business and have to meet hard facts and stern figures. I am not one of those who is always misled by figures. Figures are apt to be very misleading if not properly used. I am afraid that the President of the Board of Trade year after year has been—not intentionally—using figures which have been somewhat misleading. I will say this for him, that to-day, not on figures, he has mentioned the cause of his optimism, and that I concur with him. I believe that he has ground for his optimism.
The first industry in this country that feels the oncoming slump in trade is shipping, and it is the first industry that feels the rise. Some experienced shipowners cleared out of shipping when they felt the oncoming slump. When the cost of shipbuilding was about £60 a ton most experienced shipowners knew that something had to happen, and, being wise men, they cleared out. Many unfortunate men got into shipping at the wrong time. Of course the shipping industry has been blamed for the indiscretions of these men in buying ships at the wrong time. They must cut their losses. Our friends in the cotton industry of Lancashire have cut their losses. There were those who bought mills at the wrong time and paid fabulous prices for them. They have had to cut their losses and to decide to trade on a capital which may be considered as normal. I am not a tramp owner, but I have a great respect for the tramp owner, for he is one of the shrewdest individuals I know. The experienced tramp owner to-day is placing orders for ships, and that is why there is an improvement in the shipbuilding trade. The tramp owner sees looming in the distance an improvement in trade. That is the best argument I have heard from the President of the Board of Trade as to the prospects of trade. The tramp owner sees the prospect of more cargo to be carried, both outwards and homewards. It takes a great deal of courage to build ships to-day, even at £10 a ton. A shipowner must be fairly sure of his ground before he will embark on the building of a ship costing £100,000 at £10 a ton.
1998 I wish to put a point to the right hon. Gentleman which I have raised on previous occasions in Questions in the House of Commons. It is that the British tramp owner is enormously hampered. He gets no Government help. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has ever heard the shipowners in this country asking for a subsidy. We do not want it. We consider that it is demoralising and that it is no good, but there are other things which are most injurious to the British shipowner and one of these is the over-loading of ships by foreign shipowners. I do not say that there is not a single British shipowner who has ever overloaded, but it is not a custom of British shipowners to overload their ships—far from it. It is, however, done systematically by foreigners and the worst culprits in this matter are the Greek owners. They are penalised by Lloyd's—thank goodness—and, sooner or later, perhaps the insurance premiums will be so heavy that they will not be able to run at all. They pay at least 50 per cent. more in premiums to-day than the British shipowners. It shows what we are up against when I say that an owner of that type might very easily by overloading a ship of, say, 8,000 tons and submerging the Plimsoll mark sufficiently low, carry from the Argentine or the River Plate 200 tons more cargo than a British ship and that process repeated several times over a series of years would make a very considerable difference.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman comment on the enterprise and up-to-dateness of the British shipbuilder. Obviously, when ship-owning is bad, shipbuilding is bad, but, notwithstanding the circumstances, the enterprise of the British shipbuilder has been marvellous and the experiments which have been carried out will, some day, serve them in very good stead. I quite agree that the internal combustion engine has had its day and I am sorry that so much British capital has been put into it. I believe that the future propelling power of ships will be derived from pulverised coal, which will mean not only an enormous economy in the running costs of ships, but a tremendous impetus to the coal trade. Instead of importing fuel we shall be using our own coal which we have in abundance. I am glad to learn that my optimism in regard to the future of pulverised coal is shared by the right 1999 hon. Gentleman. I know that he and the Under-Secretary have been paying a great deal of attention to the matter, and I am very grateful to them, and also to the First Lord of the Admiralty who has carried out experiments in that direction.
There is one thing which I would like to say to my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches. They could help considerably in the improvement of trade. I am a believer in trade unionism, and I suppose I am one of the few Members of this House who has been returned, as a Liberal, by trade unionists. The town of Holyhead, which is the chief centre of population in my constituency, is almost entirely trade unionist, and the local chairman of the National Union of Railwayman is the chairman of my local committee. I am not without hope that some day trade unionists will treat politics as a thing apart from their unions. They do it now in my constituency and I wish to make an appeal to trade unionists in this country to help trade and industry. It is amazing to find some of the effects of trade union restrictions and rules. In regard to ships for instance, when it is a matter of squaring yards and balancing accounts, they have to go to the cheapest place in order to undergo the periodical surveys which are necessary. A ship has to be surveyed regularly in order to retain its class at Lloyd's, and that survey may run into a figure of anywhere between £6,000 and £10,000, which is a big item, especially when the ships-are not making very much money. Consequently the shipowner in this country is often compelled by force of circumstances to have his ship repaired in the cheapest market, with the result that, during the years of depression, one could hardly get a turn in a dry dock at Antwerp or Rotterdam, whereas the dry-docks and ship-repairing yards of this country were starving for work. Much as I believe in trade unionism I am sorry to say that a large share of the responsibility for this state of things is upon the trade unions for the severity of their rules and regulations.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
My authority is the fact that on the Continent, when necessary longer hours will be worked and 2000 the wages will be lowered when necessity requires it. I do not ask any favour from the ship repairer, or the ship builder, but I do ask trade unionism to shape its policy in order to suit competition abroad. Surely that is not an unfair request.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I cannot say that I have read it word for word. I am afraid I could not stand an examination on it, but I have dipped into it. I am speaking now, however, as a man engaged in this trade. We are calling for peace in industry. Let us also have a little common sense in industry.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I entirely agree—on the part of the employers, and also on the part of the trade unionists. I ask it not for the sake of the employers but for the sake of all the workers engaged in the industry. I submit to trade unionists that they ought to study more closely conditions abroad in the interests of their own people at home. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one further question. What is being done to reorganise our system of representation abroad? Germany has been, and is going to be again, our severest competitor in markets abroad. The hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. Alexander) said we had too much propaganda and were liable to overdo Empire propaganda. I ventured to interject that we might do as much in foreign countries, and I mean that, but we want to do it scientifically and not in a haphazard fashion. Undoubtedly, Germany has a better equipped commercial representation abroad than we have and that statement applies to every foreign country that I know. I pay the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary the compliment of saying that he has studied the interests of trade during his term of office, and I wish to ask him if any improvement is taking place in the organisation of our trade abroad?
§ Sir R. THOMAS
Yes, certainly, and every Service. For instance, many of our representatives abroad—our Consuls—are not British. I had that statement in reply to a question which I put in the House of Commons. Is it wise to have foreigners acting as British Consuls? Blood is thicker than water, and I think British commercial interests abroad should be represented by those who have a keen concern in the welfare of the British Empire as a whole, and of this country in particular. The hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to Safeguarding and tried to make out a difference between Protective Duties and Safeguarding. Of course there is no difference at all.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I did not go into any question of that kind. I was simply dealing with one section of Safeguarding.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I understood the hon. Member to say that there had been no improvement in exports where Safeguarding had been applied, and I interjected that there had been such an improvement in the motor car industry. I understood the hon. Member to object to that statement, but we must admit it. Of course there has been an improvement in that case but my point is that that trade, and other particular trades, have shown an improvement in spite of safeguarding. We have enterprising men in that industry like Mr. Morris who has adopted the Ford principle of cheap and mass production and who has built cars suited to different parts of the world, and that is the reason for the improvement. It is not because there has been Safeguarding.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
Of course, Mr. Morris is a Conservative. I am prepared to give Safeguarding credit for the fact that it has not killed trade. What I do say is that it has done no good to trade. In fact, without it, trade would have increased still further. In conclusion, may I say that I am very delighted to have had this opportunity of intervening in this Debate, which will be my last in this House, on the question of trade.
Sir W. LANE MITCHELL
I am sorry to hear that this is the swan song of the hon. Baronet the Member for Anglesey (Sir B. Thomas), and I am sorry that he has not spoken more often in this House on his own particular line, because we get too few Members, who know a particular business, telling the House about it. The other question that brought me to my feet was that for the first time I have heard it stated from the Front Opposition Bench that the Government were to blame for the General Strike. I hope that that is not to be taken as the attitude of the Labour party in the contest now coming on, because those of us who remember back to 1926, when the General Strike was called, know that it was called because the country would not be held to ransom by the gentlemen who were promoting it.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
I do not know what may have been said before, but this is a matter, good or bad, for which I do not think the President of the Board of Trade was responsible.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member assures me that he is replying to something that has already been said, he is in order, but he must not range over that subject longer.
Sir W. LANE MITCHELL
It was claimed by the hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) that the Government were to blame for the General Strike, and if that is to be the attitude of any party in this House, surely it is for those who are on the other side, and who know all about it, to express regret that any party should be so reduced as to say what is not true. I know the hon. Member for Hills-borough, and I like him—you never chip a man unless you know him personally—but to find him straying so far from the truth in a matter of that kind is to be regretted; and I hope it is not to be the attitude of the Labour party on that question in the coming contest.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir W. Lane Mitchell) talked about the General Strike or the alleged General Strike. As a matter of 2003 fact, there was no such a thing as a General Strike in 1926, or anything like a General Strike.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that reference has been made by two hon. Members to the General Strike in 1926, but it is not a subject which we can discuss any further on the Vote for the salary of the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I am sorry for that, but I must obey your ruling. I am, I suppose, in order in complimenting the President of the Board of Trade for his optimism. He is not the Micawber, but he is certainly the Mark Tapley, of the Treasury Bench, because I heard much the same kind of speech last year and a very similar speech the year before that. I do not want to carp at or criticise the hopes of the President with regard to the restoration of trade. If it be true that trade is reviving, that there are greater possibilities of revival in the future, it is something to be very thankful for indeed, but I should like to say something upon some of the problems involved in this idea of the restoration of trade.
First of all, I would like to reply to the hon. Baronet the Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas), who said that what was wanted as an aid to the restoration of trade was fewer restrictions of a trade union character, and who instanced his own branch of trade, that of shipping. It comes down to this, that from the spokesman of the Liberal party what is required is that wages and hours shall be elastic enough to correspond with the conditions on the Continent. That attitude of mind is probably typically Liberal, so far as Liberalism has an economic history, because Liberalism does stand for Free Trade, in labour as well as in goods; but this is the sum total of the contribution of the Liberal party to this Debate, that wages should come down, if necessary, and that hours should be extended, if necessary. At the same time, the Liberal party are telling the country, in view of the approaching General Election, that unemployment will be conquered by putting people upon road making, land reclamation, afforestation, and so forth. There is at least this possibility for the trade unionists in the shipping industry on the Clyde, that they can be taken 2004 away from their families down to Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire, given a pick and shovel, and told to reclaim land—if you do reclaim land by means of a pick and shovel—at the trade union wage of an agricultural labourer, which is practically what the Liberal proposal amounts to, so far as industries like the shipping industry are concerned. It is very interesting to get this idea from the Liberals, that we have always to be controlled economically by the lowest denominator on the Continent. I am not going to enter into an economic discussion about that, except to point it out and to emphasise it. If it be true that it is necessary for wages and hours to become more elastic in that particular way, it is the greatest possible condemnation that we could find of Liberal philosophy and of capitalism.
I was very much interested in what the President of the Board of Trade said on the subject of rationalisation. I do not know why he should have suggested, in reference to myself, that I did not accept the fact of rationalisation or that I was opposed to it. I am not opposed to the inevitable. Rationalisation in industry is as inevitable as was the introduction of machinery 100 years ago, and to oppose rationalisation would be as stupid to-day as those were stupid who broke up machinery in the early days of the modern development of capitalism. But there is something more to be said. Evidently it is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman and his party that all that you have to do is to rationalise industry so as to be able to produce in larger quantities at a smaller expense, thus being able to compete at a cheaper price in foreign markets. That is all very well, but the objection to that, looking at the thing with, I think, a longer sight, is this. I do not say that you do not get temporary advantages by temporary changes, but if you look at the thing from a longer point of view, the disadvantage of that idea about the future of industry is that other countries are quite as capable of rationalising as we are.
You are not improving the position so long as you have a condition of production for profit the world over. You are going to have competition in rationalisation, and merely by reducing your prices as a result of rationalisation, you are not going to achieve the necessary result of getting rid of your 2005 product, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander). You must not forget that rationalisation, however it may be done and whatever branches or departments of industry it may affect, means more product with less labour. Costs of production come down somewhere to a question of labour power. It may be that you reduce your overhead charges, but you are really reducing your wages, in the long run; you are really decreasing the amount of human effort required to produce the same or a bigger result. If that be the case, then you have that problem inevitably; it is a problem inevitable to capitalism, a problem that was dealt with and about which a great amount of prophecy was made, even by Karl Marx 50 years ago when he was writing in this country. That is the fact of the whole system of production under private ownership, that the more you increase your productivity, the fewer wages you are paying relatively.
Then comes the thought, "But if we can produce more at a cheaper price, we can compete better." That may be all very well for the time being and in particular markets, but rationalisation is not going to stop with this country, and it is not going to prevent rationalisation elsewhere. It is not going to stop the development of international rationalisation, and you have evidence of it in existence to-day. You have international combinations in finance and in steel, and you have the approach towards international organisation in chemicals. Only last year, I think it was, Sir Henry Schroeder went to America in order to investigate the banking system of that country with a view to international arrangements to finance international industry. If you are going to have international rationalisation, what guarantee have you of those cheaper prices which are going to have the effect of absorbing the product? As a matter of fact, there can be no equivalent cheapening as a result of rationalisation, because the purpose of rationalisation is to increase profits. There may be some amount of cheapening, but certainly not an equivalent amount, and you still have that central problem, that unless you rationalise your consumption as well as your production, you must necessarily have the difficulty of getting rid of your product.
2006 What, after all, ought foreign trade to do? What is the philosophy of foreign trade? Foreign trade should be the exchange of surplus products. If one country has an advantage in resources or in manufacturing skill, it can produce more efficiently and more cheaply than other countries because of the advantages which it possesses, and it is perfectly entitled to export its surplus product under those circumstances; and, in exchange for that, the other countries, which have a different kind of advantage in resources and manufacturing skill, have also the right to export from their countries to the rest. That is a normal, natural exchange and the right kind of trade, but that is not the kind of thing that is talked of by the President of the Board of Trade as the only thing that it is possible to conceive of in world commerce. What he has in mind when he talks about foreign trade is the right of this country to produce any kind of article, without restriction at all, in order to compete, out of existence, if you can, competitors in other countries, where the same article can be produced just as well as it can be produced here; and it is because of that lack of scientific co-ordination that you have your difficulties with regard to this question of foreign competition.
Take the case of Empire development. I am not opposed to the idea of developing trade within the Empire, particularly if you admit that Great Britain is part of the Empire, but there will be no solution of this question unless you attack the problem of getting rid of the product—the problem of production as against consumption power. The Empire has the same problem. They are competing with us in manufactures to a large extent. We can get food from the Empire, and we can sell commodities to the Empire, but they have these same conditions of production for profit, which lacks scientific co-ordination and does not mean production for use at all, and will lead to an intensification of the same problems within the Empire. The best way of developing Empire resources is to regard this country and the Empire as an economic unit. If it is good enough for American manufacturers to develop their own productions in foreign countries by putting their own capital down and establishing 2007 their own plant, what is to prevent this country having an agreement with, say, Canada or Australia, for the production and sale in bulk to this country of the amount of foodstuffs that we may require to obtain from these Dominions?
Why should not the idea of scientific trade and economics be applied to the Empire in the same way that the capitalists of this country are endeavouring to apply it within their own organisations? After all, this rationalisation idea, if there is no public control of it, simply means that a few people, with the aid of highly scientific methods and machinery, will employ the youth of the world, the highly nervous producer, who can carry out mass production efficiently, and leave the average men and women upon the industrial rubbish heap. The time is coming quickly when, with the aid of machinery, and with a fraction of the world's population, you can produce all that the world can really consume—that is, if we allow this development of rationalisation and capitalist co-operation. If rationalisation is to remain in capitalist hands, it will intensify all the economic problems from which we are suffering.
The President of the Board of Trade took a great amount of credit to the Food Council, and said that food prices were down by 18 per cent., suggesting that that was the result of the work of the Council. As a matter of fact, that 18 per cent. reduction has been due to a reduction in foreign prices. It has had nothing to do with the Food Council at all; it is due to the ordinary economic development of post-War conditions. We shall gradually get down to lower food-prices, with the inevitable result under present conditions of getting down to lower wages correspondingly. With regard to milk, the London Co-operative Society were responsible for the reduction in prices. In April last they reduced their prices, and it was not until that had been done that the Combine was forced to follow suit. The Food Council's Report shows that the Co-operative Society had a trade of £580,000, and were making the profit of 10½ per cent., while the Combine, with a trade of £5,500,000, made a profit of only 2 per cent. I suggest that nothing could better demonstrate the futility of the Food Council 2008 with its present methods of work. The Council have not the power to get at the facts, and do not get them, and until they have power to compel private traders to show the whole of their accounts and to put all their cards upon the table, it is nonsense to talk of the value of the Food Council to the consumers.
The question is a much deeper one than a mere question of prices. A great amount of wages in this country is controlled by a sliding scale, and all the wages of the workers are in the long run controlled by what is called the iron law of wages. You can reduce prices as much as you like, but as long as you have one class that labours to produce wealth, while another class owns the means of producing wealth, those who labour without owning will get upon an average, and in the long run, about enough to keep them as working animals in society. It is a much more fundamental question than a mere question of prices. Until we get down to the necessity for organising consumption as well as production on co-operative lines, by the people for the people, we can talk with all the optimism we like about fluctuations in trade and improvements in trade, but we will always have these fluctuations, and the reverse of improvement will come presently. It is admitted that the unemployment figures are normal at 6 per cent. This means that six people out of every 100 workers are to be unemployed under the capitalist system, and that is supposed to be a normal thing. It is a normal thing under capitalism, and it is normal because people do not get in consuming power enough to buy back their potential producing power.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
There are two points in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade which I should like to bring back to the recollection of the Committee. If I understood him aright, he said that we have already signed, and, I believe, ratified an international agreement with a view to doing away with prohibition of licences in connection with international trade. I should like to ask how that is affected by the existence of the Dyeing Industries Act in this country. The second point is this. I interrupted when the right hon. Gentleman was telling us the position in the cotton trade, and when 2009 he told us that the Cotton Corporation had received the approval of a certain Mr. Boothman who is a respected leader in the cotton industry. I want to apologise for interrupting and to give my reason for doing so. Surely the opinions of trade union leaders in the cotton industry upon a scheme of finance on a large scale are not views of any particular value. It is neither more nor less than cant to quote the approval of people who know nothing whatever about the subject, and then to bring it out in the Committee as a conclusive argument for a certain point of view.
§ Mr. W. BENNETT
In discussions on the Board of Trade, it seems to be a habit to throw bouquets and compliments. I do not want to do that, but I would like to commend the Department on the Annual Report of the Registrar of Limited Liability Companies. It is a document of inestimable value, which could, I think, be greatly increased if, in addition to the columns of figures which are now given, such as the amount of paid up capital of companies, there were also columns of figures showing how much has been paid in bonus shares; and also if there were some indication of the average rate of interest or profits on the shares of the various companies.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am not quite clear whether what the hon. Member desires can be done under the existing Companies Act. I understand the Under-Secretary to think that it cannot.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Under the Companies Act, companies are required to return certain information, and only that information can be put in the Report. What the hon. Member is asking is not required by Statute and, therefore, cannot be incorporated in the Report.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am not quite clear about that, for the information might be obtained from books of reference.
§ Mr. BENNETT
The Board would have no difficulty in getting the information, and it is only a matter of administration to put it in their Report. The President deduced a great improvement in trade from the amount of money 2010 that is annually invested in business and commerce. The figures which he quoted were of new shares or of new companies, and he did not deduct from them the amount involved in the companies which had been removed from the register and had gone out of business, nor the amount of money that has been lost during the year. If you use the new money as proof of prosperity, you must take into account also the lost money. The money lost in limited companies has been many millions. The Report proves that private enterprise in this country is a complete failure; it contains the records of private enterprise. People talk about rationalisation; as far as I can make out, rationalisation means the elimination of the ordinary shareholder in private business for the benefit of the debenture holders or banks. An hon. Member on the Liberal benches said that in regard to the shipping and other industries in this country, it was necessary for them to cut their losses. Whose losses? As far as I can see with private enterprise, the people who have to cut their losses are those who have invested their money—the ordinary shareholders. In the cotton textile industry, it was the ordinary shareholder who was induced to invest by specious prospectuses and by wise old birds who knew when to go out, and these are the people who have to cut their losses.
I will call the attention of the President to the figures published in his returns to the effect that the larger proportion of the money invested by private shareholders in private enterprise has been completely lost, whereas those who have invested in co-operative societies or lent to any municipal or national or Socialist undertaking have never lost a penny piece. [Interruption.] The report on limited liability companies issued by the Board of Trade last year showed that £10,000,000,000 had been invested in private business and that more than £5,000,000,000 had been totally lost, only a matter of £4,500,000,000 remaining. That is not the case when really scientific and sound finance is adopted. I think the President of the Board of Trade can hardly be pleased with the purely administrative side of his Department during his time of office, and although I believe his Ministry and other Ministries mean well 2011 and have done their best, I can only think he wishes fondly that he might have the opportunity of being President of the Board of Trade under a Socialist Government, where there would be real power for the Food Council to call forth all the figures relative to costs and profits, and real power to have a new organisation.
§ Mr. BENNETT
I bow to your Ruling, but I certainly think it would also require better administration than we have had.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
My task is a fairly light one this afternoon, because in the existing situation there is not the usual desire to speak. I do not think there is a great deal in the speech of the hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. Bennett) which calls for a reply. I would refer the hon. Member to the fact that last year we passed a Companies Act and this Session we have consolidated the company law legislation in a Bill which, I presume, will receive the Royal Assent this week, and if he will study that legislation he will find out exactly what duties are imposed upon the Registrar. The Registrar can carry out only the duties imposed upon him by Parliament after full consideration.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
But the hon. Member was here the other night when we took the consolidating legislation; at any rate, if he was not here he ought to have been.
§ Mr. BENNETT
But I would not have had the chance of amending that legislation under the consolidating measure. It was the House that lost the opportunity, and not me, because I was not here.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
We discussed that subject at very great length and a variety of reasons were given why we should not do most of the things which the hon. Member desires. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) referred to the Prohibitions Convention in connection with the question of dyestuffs. In view of our existing legislation, which runs till 1931, that particular prohibition 2012 is exempted from the general provisions of the Convention, and, of course, there are provisions which apply to prohibited drugs and a few things of that character. As far as any future prohibitions are concerned, the Convention is quite definite.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Are we to understand that the only case in which we do impose an objectionable licence duty is exempted from the provisions of this international agreement?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am not concerned particularly with the treaty side of the Board of Trade, and I do not like to speak at great length without consultation, but we have a prohibition which under statute will run till 1931. No doubt, in due course, consideration will be given to the question whether that prohibition should be continued or whether the industry is to be safeguarded in any way. Having regard to the peculiar situation in which we found ourselves, surely it was reasonable to safeguard that prohibition during the run of the Act of Parliament which regulates it.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am afraid I must ask for notice of that question. My hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) made an interesting speech. I always like listening to him, because it reminds me of many speeches to which I have listened at street corners and debates in which I have taken part in which we have heard what I would call the scientific Socialist laying down his thesis. I even anticipated some of the older phrases which are so familiar. I had written "The iron law of wages" before he mentioned it. I had put down "Production for use and not for profit" before he mentioned it. I was able to forecast with some success the speech be was going to make. It is an interesting subject to debate, but I do not think this is quite the occasion to debate it. The scientific management of this, that and the other is a phrase covering an amazing amount of ignorance. When in doubt, play "scientific"! It is just like the word "rationalisation," which is a modern adaptation of a phrase and covers a good deal of nonsense, though when sensibly used it has 2013 much to commend it. Rationalisation is nothing new. It means at this moment, perhaps, a more intensive application to bring things up to date. Do not Jet us ran away with the idea that a new word solves a problem. That is the greatest curse of the age—to imagine that we can solve problems by phrases; though if one discovers a method by which improvement can be effected and that method is of general application and you can conveniently describe it by a word, there is no objection to using that word, provided you do not push things too far.
The Debate has rather tended to be a general one concerned with the solution of our many problems, and I do not think to-day is the occasion for answering many of the arguments put forward. I once wrote a book in which I summarised the replies to most of the arguments I have heard, and those who really want to get a reply to their arguments can buy that book.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I just wanted to excuse myself from making a long speech in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington, whose speech, as I fully recognise, is entitled to a long reply.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The President of the Board of Trade spoke for quite a long time about rationalisation. Surely one is entitled, even if one uses old-fashioned phrases, to deal with the economics of rationalisation, and an answer requires something more than a little smart repartee on the part of the Minister.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Perhaps there may be time to deal with one or two of the points raised. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), in his speech, expressed the same views in rather different words. He reminded us of a speech by an Indian who said that if we could only make the Indian peasant richer there would be no trouble, because his purchasing power would be so great that we in this country would become prosperous as a result of the immense purchases he would make here. That is summarising briefly what the hon. Member for Hillsborough said. Just 2014 before, however, he was complaining that our real trouble was that production is constantly ahead of consumption. Let us examine the case of the Indian. The Indian lacks consuming power because of his deplorably low production.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The low earnings of the peasant are not wages at all, because he is a peasant proprietor. [Interruption.] He is the man whom I am discussing. The bulk of the inhabitants of India belong to that class. We are dealing with the peasant proprietors, and are not concerned directly with the wage system. They have a low-standard of living because their level of production is low. How can anyone seriously contend, as the hon. Members for West Islington, Hillsborough and South Battersea have contended, that anything you do to eliminate waste and to raise the standard of production aggravates the problem before us? That argument seems to take us back before the days of Noah. Why is it that the great mass of our people have a standard of living incredibly greater than people had 600 or 700 years ago? [HON. MEMBERS: "They have not!"] Of course they have. If you want to apply the test, examine any part of the world where capitalism has not yet had a free chance to develop and compare the standards of the people there with the standards here. Then you will be able to get some kind of picture of the standard which existed here before we carried through our developments.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The Parliamentary Secretary refers to this country 500 or 600 years ago. Is he aware of the fact that in the 15th century the average wage was higher than it is now, reckoning the value of money relatively?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The plain truth is that nobody knows, in any acurate terms, what was the value of money and what was the cost of living. Five hundred years ago no sugar was consumed in this country and no tea, no coffee, no potatoes; no one could buy the "Daily Mail"; nobody could go to the pictures; nobody could ride in a public vehicle. What is the use of attempting to make any comparison?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The test you have got to apply is what was at the disposal of the people in those days, and the only records we have got are the few possessions left by the very rich of those days. That is all that has survived—the habitations of the rich and a few of the possessions of the rich. Therefore, it is no good challenging the administration of the Board of Trade on the ground that, unfortunately, the most difficult thing in the world to-day is to maintain the balance of production. Anyone who cares to examine the causes of unemployment in any age in any country in the world will find that in the long run you can trace it to the difficulty of maintaining balance of production. I suppose the hon. Member for West Islington and those who think with him would say, "Ah, that is where we want scientific planning." For some time people have attempted scientific planning. They adopted it in Moscow, they have a planning department there; and I know that the hon. Member has not much sympathy with the success of their efforts. Wherever it is tried they get only failure. Despite the fact that we do not achieve complete success, it is true to say that, taking any substantial period of time, one finds an ever-rising standard of life amongst the people of this country.
Unfortunately, most of the Debate has not dealt with the administration of the Board of Trade, but with what I would call the general political and economic situation, and there is very little to which I have to reply regarding the Department. The hon. Member for Hills-borough made some comment on the decline in our re-export trade. I would ask him to examine the statistics, which are published only once a year, of transhipments in bond. In 1924 they amounted to £24,600,000, and in 1927 to £33,300,000. I have not the figures for 1928 with me, but the figures I have quoted show an expansion of nearly £9,000,000 in transhipments in bond. What happens when goods are transhipped in bond instead of going through in the ordinary way? They vanish from our import figures and from our re-export figures. They are cut out twice from our trade returns, and they appear only once a year in the transhipment figures. Those must be taken into account in making any fair examination.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
It weakens your case by £8,700,000, because if the transhipments in bond had not gone up by that amount the re-exports would have been improved to that extent. [Interruption.] If an article is transhipped in bond it takes place as a re-export, but is not included in the re-export figures. This increase of transhipments in bond must be added to our re-export trade in order to make a real comparison of our re-export trade between 1927 and 1924. The re-export figures include only those cleared inwards through the Customs and outwards through the Customs, and therefore this increase must be added. That, in fact, demolishes the whole of the argument of the hon. Member for Hills-borough, and it also demolishes a great deal of the argument that our re-export trade has suffered through Safeguarding. In the case of lace where there was a special investigation, it was clearly shown that the bulk of the apparent loss consisted of the transfer of re-exports to transhipments in bond.
The hon. Member for Hillsborough did not express a high opinion about derating, because he said that in 116 co-operative factories their gross benefit amounted only to £70,000, and it amounted only to £55,000 if they deducted the cost of the Petrol Duty. All I wish to say on that point is that the total benefit of de-rating to industry is in the neighbourhood of £25,000,000 a year, and if the same proportion applied to all industries as applies to co-operative societies, the total industrial output would be £11,000,000,000 a year, whereas it is actually a third of that amount. For some reason or other it appears that the co-operative factories are getting off very lightly at the present time in regard to the rates, and that is probably the explanation.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
That may be a clever debating point but it is a very unfair one. I explained that the co-operative illustration could not perhaps be used as generally applying to all industries, for instance, the heavier and larger trades like iron and steel production.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member for Hillsborough used that argument at the beginning of his speech, and he developed his argument with such success that be blotted out all recollection of his earlier statement.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid I cannot allow the Parliamentary Secretary, in replying to this Debate, to develop an argument relating to de-rating.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I was doing so only because your predecessor in the Chair allowed the hon. Member for Hills-borough to show how little benefit the Co-operative movement would get from de-rating, and I was anxious to show that the rest of industry would do better than the Co-operative movement. In face of your ruling, however, I will not press-that point any further.
I do not think that any other points of substance remain to be dealt with. I am aware that a certain number of hon. Members are disappointed that trade is not better, although we are all pleased to see a very marked improvement in trade during recent months. I remember the last time I took part in the Debate on unemployment last November, I said that during the spring and summer of 1928 we suffered from an unexpected slump of which there had been no adequate explanation. Some people seemed to think that the slump of 1928 was a secondary reaction from the events of 1926, and they say that there was an artificial boom in 1927 while 2018 orders which had previously been received were being worked off; and that was followed by a slump and the nation was feeling the loss of purchasing power arising from the events of 1926. That is probably a sound explanation. It is quite clear that from the beginning of October last a moving forward of trade in this country has been the result, and there has been a steady expansion in most industries. Altogether we have every reason to be hopeful. It may be that we shall suffer towards the end of the summer temporary seasonal reductions in industrial activity which we get every year, but comparing season with season I think we have every reason to be satisfied with the great drop in unemployment at the beginning of this year. I think there is evidence to show that this nation is moving forward to better times.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.