HC Deb 11 February 1930 vol 235 cc371-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Parkinson.]


I crave the indulgence of the House to call attention to the policy of the Government as regards preference on sugar. In his speech on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his intention of "weeping away all preferential and protective duties on food, mentioning specifically sugar. At the same time, he expressed his sympathy with and his fear" as regards the position in the West Indies. In accordance with that expression of sympathy, he sent out a very admirable and Noble Lord to investigate the situation. He could not have chosen a more suitable person—the Noble Lord whom he selected had great experience of the West Indies—and also he was likely to get a partisan. The Noble Lord with his colleagues went out to the West Indies and carried out their investigations into the state of affairs there, and they have now reported on the situation. The Report has been in the Colonial Office for one month, I think, but we know nothing of it. That we do know something of what is contained in it is due to the fact that the Noble Lord has expressed his views outside this House. He has said that the over production of sugar amounts to 1,000,000 tons, that this over production is produced by tariffs and by subsidies, that it is quite impossible for producers of sugar who are not supported or subsidised to carry on at an economic rate, and he has dotted the i's and crossed the t's of his recommendations in his Report. He has set out his position in these words. I will quote his words, because they are the words of a Daniel come to judgment. One might almost think that they were the words of a Protectionist. If the present situation continues and no further relief is promised, there must and will be considerable reduction of planting and cultivation after the crop now being taken off is completed. It is difficult to see how any except a minority of estates and planters can even carry on in the hope of better prices. If the preference is annulled by the repeal of the Sugar Duties without adequate countervailing assistance the British West Indian sugar industry will be dismantled and come to an end, except for local supplies, as rapidly as estates can be cropped and wound up. I do not think that when Mr. Snowden made that ominous pronouncement of his in July last he can have been fully informed of the actual facts of the situation.' The Government, he says, will have very seriously to reconsider the situation. He also said that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech on the Address has knocked the bottom out of our Imperial market. Is it too much to ask that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the part of the Government, should make some statement of policy? Is it too much to ask the right hon. Gentleman to repair the damage which he did by those ill-advised words in his speech on the Address? Let us think of what will happen if the words of the Noble Lord turn out to be correct and the sugar industry is ruined in the West Indies. It means not only great loss to the employers and the people of this country, but it also means putting into unemployment those people whom we have taken under our protection, and whom hon. Members opposite are always declaring that they are anxious to protect. Under these circumstances, I think I am only doing my duty in calling attention to the terrible danger to everybody concerned in the sugar industry in the West Indies. The West Indies were once a most important source of wealth for the British Empire, and at one time they were more important than all the 13 Colonies of North America. I ask the representative of the Government, who is going to reply, to give some kind of guarantee and some hope to our fellow citizens across the seas.


I wish to occupy the attention of the House for a few moments, because I happen to know the West Indies very well. This is not a party matter, but an attempt is being made by those who want a particular policy adopted to exploit the West Indian situation. I ask the Government to say when the Report of Lord Olivier will be published. We do not know the exact terms of his recommendations. We do not know whether he has advised, as in the past, that a subsidy should be given, or whether a much more practical way of Government credit should be given by way of grants or through agricultural banks to meet the peculiar tragedy of the present time.

The last speaker made a reference to the workers in the West Indies. It is very peculiar that sympathy should now be expressed for the workers in the West Indies. In the boom years when the sugar planters are making profits out of the sugar industry, nothing is heard of the conditions under which the men work. They work for a very low wage—as low as 1s. or 2s. per day. They have a very low standard of life, their housing conditions are very bad, their medical conditions are very distressing, and they have absolutely no votes and no say in the Government. They have nothing to do with capitalistic production, but they are simply there ekeing out a livelihood. The conditions of these men are being exploited purely because the sugar planters have not, in their boom years, so reorganised their industry that one year would equalise with another. That, really, is the way in which industrial economies affecting these Colonies, which have no self-government, should be conducted.

I want to urge the Government not to be stampeded by a partisan spirit for Protectionist tariffs, but to deal with this matter purely from the point of view of the peculiar, urgent, clamant situation in the West Indian Colonies. I hope that they will deal with it, not so much from the point of view of preferential tariffs as from that of subsidies, and, if possible, by credits or advances such as have been granted on previous occasions, in order to tide the industry over, not for the sake of the sugar planters, but for the sake of the revenues of the Colonies, and especially from the point of view of those workers who are unable to speak for themselves.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

I should like to ask why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here to answer the questions which have been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjoribanks). We are accustomed to seeing the Government treating both this and the other House with contempt, but really, in a matter of this kind, arising out of a question put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, it is going a little beyond the limit when he does not take the trouble to come here and reply on the question that has been raised. We do not want a reply from the Financial Secretary; we want a reply from the responsible Minister; from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government apparently, expect this House simply to register their decrees, but it is showing too much contempt for the House to refuse to come here to answer our questions, and I should like to know why the right hon. Gentleman is not here.


I think that my hon. Friend who raised this question is not quite accurate in his statement of the number of tons. He said that there was 1,000,000 tons of over-production of sugar in the world to-day, but the overproduction is something like 5,000,000 tons, whereas the total world consumption is 25,000,000 tons. These figures alone will show the seriousness of the situation. I should like also to support the protest of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte). The only thing that will satisfy us will be a very satisfactory answer from the Financial Secretary.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)

The point made by the last two speakers reminds me of the occasion when an audience were asked to join in prayer that they might be supported in having the present speaker in place of the gentleman who was expected to address them. I can tell the hon. and gallant Members that my right hon. Friend has an important public engagement, and has deputed me, as he is perfectly entitled to do, to give an answer on this question. I listened with attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjoribanks), who raised this question. I was anxious to find out what was the case that I had to meet on behalf of my right hon. Friend, and also to see to which section of the Tory party the hon. Member belongs on these matters of tariffs. I was anxious to know whether he reckons himself as a supporter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), or of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), or of his new leader, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer). As I anticipated, we do not get much enlightenment on that question—


On a point of Order. Is a discussion on what part of a certain party an hon. Member belongs to germane to the topic which is now before us?


I should not like to give an opinion on that question.


It is not unnatural that the hon. Member should wish to avoid such a topic; but what does the complaint against the Chancellor of the Exchequer really amount to? I think it amounts to two things. In the first place, it is that the Government have not yet published a Report which has only been in their hands for a few days; and, in the second place, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not prepared to anticipate his Budget statement. I have been in the House for some few years, and I have no recollection of any occasion of this kind being taken to make a complaint that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not prepared to anticipate his Budget statement, nor have I ever heard it suggested that the Government were expected to produce and publish a Report within a few days of it being in their hands. It was said in another place last week that it had only just come into their hands. I do not know the exact number of days, but it is not much more than a week. [Interruption.] That is quite untrue; they have not had it a month. It is a most unnatural request to suggest that the Government should be reprimanded for not publishing a Report within a few days of its reception.

On the other matter the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not expected to anticipate his Budget statement, and if he did, the consequences might be sometimes unfortunate. It is true that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer frequently anticipated his statement before its time, but this was due to his impatience. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjoribanks) quoted in an abbreviated form what the Chancellor said in the debate on the Address. So that there may be no mistake, I will read what he actually did say: We were pledged when we were in office to maintain these preferences as long as there were duties upon these articles, but I hope—and I am not anticipating any Budget statement—that before we leave office, if ever we do leave office, we shall have swept away all duties upon food—upon sugar, upon dried fruits, and upon all articles of food which are subject to duty at the present time and on which there are preferences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1929; col. 756, Vol. 229.] That is quite different from the abbreviated form that the hon. Member suggested. I do not imagine that anyone who has been a Member of the House for any time believes that I can be expected to add or that my right hon. Friend if he had been here would add anything to the statements he has already made on this subject. This is a matter that properly belongs to the Budget so far as Preference is concerned and if he has any statement to make as regards that, he will no doubt make it on the proper occasion, when the Budget is introduced. If there is any other proposal to be made in regard to this Report, it will be made by the Government at the appropriate time, which is certainly not after 11 o'clock on the Adjournment of the House.


Will the hon. Gentleman promise that the Report will be published, and when will it be in our hands?


I could not give a definite promise. Lord Pass-field said he had no doubt it would be published and I take it that is still the policy of the Government.


I am rather surprised at the line of defence adopted by the hon. Gentleman. He has taken refuge in the old saying that the Chancellor of the Exchequer must not anticipate his Budget statement. In fact the Chancellor of the Exchequer did last year anticipate the Budget statement. He broke in its spirit the canon which has been so often quoted. This rule was laid down for the obvious purpose of preventing anticipation of duties by withdrawing from bond and also in order not to cause anxiety and lack of security in industry and production. The right hon. Gentleman last year went out of his way to stir up these fears and it is absurd now to take refuge behind that rule which they have been flagrantly breaking ever since. The truth of the matter is that, owing to a pedantic and fanatical belief in obsolete doctrines, they prefer to make these speeches and play up to the gallery rather than think of British industry and production. I think the House owes a debt to my hon. Friend for having raised this matter and for having shown that the disquiet and the lack of security which are playing such havoc with the safeguarded industries of this country have their counterpart throughout the Empire in the fears which have been deliberately and unnecessarily aroused by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the speeches which he made last year, and which did, in fact, in a mischievous way anticipate the decisions of the Government.


Considerable reference has been made to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Debate on the Address. In that speech he said he was aware of the difficulties of the sugar producers in the West Indies, but that he did not intend to deal with them by way of preference. He was, I suppose, actively considering in what way he would help them to meet world-wide competition by financial or other means. I think it is due to the sugar industry that he should anticipate his Budget, which by that statement he had already to some extent anticipated. It is not fair to the sugar refining industry, in which preference has produced a very large increase in the volume of employment, that he should throw it and the producers in the West Indies into a state of the utmost uncertainty and fore-, boding. It is not fair and it is not generous. He should either state definitely that he is going to waive the Preference or else take the measures he intends to take in order to assist the sugar industry. There is no policy which the Dominions and the Colonies desire more earnestly than the widest extension of Imperial Preference. I was in East Africa a little more than a year ago, and I found that desire deep and widespread all through-British East Africa; and I came back to this House and heard the Chancellor pour scorn on that great principle—a principle which, above all others, is going to help build up the Empire and produce employment in this country.

It is very disappointing to find that the party which now tells us that it is in favour of Imperial and Colonial development should be led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is taking a course to stunt and stop that development. In the Debate on the Address the President of the Board of Trade said that opinion in all parties had greatly changed with regard to Empire development in the past ten years. I suppose that he meant that his party had greatly changed its opinion on the matter. We were delighted to hear it. There is no part of the policy of the Lord Privy Seal which we welcome so warmly as his efforts in the direction of Empire development. All those efforts are neutralised at every turn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade, and I do think that it is due to the sugar industry, to the motor industry, and the other industries that have been referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a definite pronouncement should be made and an end put to the state of uncertainty and confusion in which these industries have been thrown.


I observe that hon. Members opposite desire to push this particular point of view about Empire Preference. I note from the speech of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) that the Tory party is still wedded to the view that you can only develop the Empire on the basis that some form of bribe in the way of Preference should be given to the Colonies and the Dominions—an extremely low estimate of Imperial values. The way in which the Labour party distinguishes itself on that matter from the party opposite is that we believe in a state of Empire development not based upon the question of a bribe given to other parts of the Empire, but upon a common effort to secure by every means that we can adopt a better state of things both for ourselves here and for the Dominions.


The hon. Member speaks of a bribe. If it is a question of a bribe, the bribe is much greater on the part of the Dominions and Colonies than on our side.


Not at all. The bribe is in order that they may have an opportunity of giving us a preference, and that we should submit to a process of Imperial taxation which in the long run would be a burden upon us, because we in the long run would have to pay for the benefit which we receive. I am glad to see that the Tory party, officially led by the late Patronage Secretary, has dropped all its interest in this matter. I object to the attitude adopted by hon. Members opposite regarding the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his refusal to say what his Budget statement will be. If anybody is responsible for the refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement upon this question, it is the party opposite. They have embarked upon a policy of Protection. They were warned years ago by a late Conservative leader that once they tried a policy of Protection, they would bring into being all sorts or hugger-mugger processes by which political influence would be used to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state what the Budget would be. The Tory party are responsible entirely for having introduced into British politics that state of uncertainty. The only people who are to blame for it are hon. Members opposite. If they desire to apportion blame, they might, instead of wasting the time of the House until half-past Eleven, and trying to put the blame upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, put it upon their own shoulders. I do not know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to do, but I hope he will by son e processes in the coming Budget put an end to a state of things by which this uncertainty is the inevitable consequence. Until he has done that we shall be subject in future, as we are now, to the complaints of hon. Members opposite, and the time has come, in my judgment, when by a clean sweep of most of these tariffs we should rid ourselves of the nuisance that the hon. Member's proposals have created for all of us.


There is just half a minute, which will enable me to express my dissatisfaction with the reply of the hon. Gentleman. It is so unsatisfactory that I give notice that I shall raise the subject again to-morrow so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have a reasonable chance of being here and of giving an adequate explanation. If we had had a useful and helpful explanation there would have been no necessity for me to take this course, but as we have had no attempt or pretence at an explanation, and as the explanation we have had is most thoroughly and absolutely disappointing, I must take this course. There are other matters in the hon. Member's speech with which I want to deal. I want to find out to which particular wing of the Socialist party he belongs—

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.