§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I propose, at this stage of the Debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill, to open a new subject, namely, the attitude of the Government towards the problem of another depressed British industry, namely, the sugar industry. It is perfectly clear that, just as the cotton industry has been adversely affected by tariffs, so the sugar industry in the British Empire, and par- 720 ticularly in the Crown Colonies, has been most detrimentally affected by the system, which has been developed in many countries of the world, of raising the price to the local consumer by means, not merely of protective duties, but of prohibitive duties, and thereby enabling surpluses over and above home requirements to be dumped below the cost of production in this, the one free market of the world. That is the first main cause of the terrible conditions with which the sugar-producing dependencies—I use that word advisedly—are faced to-day. Over and above that, however, there are two causes which have operated, in particular, this year, and which present to us a special crisis. Two things have happened since the present Government took office during the last 12 months which have resulted in a sudden and special blow to British Colonial sugar production. Those are the particularly favourable climatic season of 1929 in the Island of Cuba, the largest producer of sugar in the world, and the coming into full operation of—and I am going to use a rather unexpected expression—"P.O.J. 2878."
What is "P.O.J. 2878?" It is a new variety of sugar cane invented—I use that word as a term of art—by the scientists of Java a few years ago. It is a new variety of cane which, after three years, culminated last year in putting 30 per cent. on to the yield of sugar per acre in Java, which, after Cuba, is the second largest sugar producer in the world. On the 1st January of this year, therefore, there were two special causes, quite apart from general tariff causes, threatening the British sugar industry, and culminating in the present calendar year. What is the effect of these two special causes over and above the tariff causes? It is that, by the first January of this year, 1930, the stocks of sugar held in the world had increased by over 1,000,000 tons. The result has been a sensational fall in prices. It is difficult to foresee how long that fall in prices is going to persist. It is quite possible, and I have taken such steps as I can to go into the matter, that in this coming season neither Cuba nor Java will be producing the same quantities of sugar with which they have flooded the markets of the world during the last few months.
721 8.0 p.m.
The principal reason for my attack on the Government to-night is that they have absolutely failed to meet the existing emergency for this year. Following the reception, not the publication, of the Olivier Report, they have produced derisory proposals in regard to the financing—I shall not call it the financing, but the bailing out, the half bailing out after bankruptcy had taken place, of the British sugar growing colonies in the year 1931–32 but they are doing nothing to meet the situation presented to them by the Reports of Sir Francis Watts and Lord Olivier on 31st December, 1929. They have produced absolutely nothing to deal with the situation this year, and their proposals for the future are mockery. Why have they refused to act in a single particular on the recommendations of their own late Secretary of State for the Colonies, their own late Cabinet colleague, Lord Olivier? He was specially selected by the Labour party to go out and report on the situation, and he reported that there was a grave emergency. So great was the emergency that it led him to send a 2,000 words telegram to the Government on 31st December. That telegram was published only last week. The Government took no action upon that telegram; they took no notice of Lord Olivier's recommendation, and they have done nothing and are doing nothing to deal with a situation which is really grave. Let me read the first words of the telegram from Lord Olivier to Lord Passfield. It is dated from Jamaica on 31st December:The gravity of the position now immediately embarrassing the West Indian sugar industry as ascertained by us and possible loss of preference further threatening its virtual extinction"—I stress those words—impel us to convey to you by telegram this preliminary report as to the effect of our general finding. Timely appreciation of true situation by His Majesty's Government appears to us essential with a view to early alleviation of the immediate conditions, and consideration of effective Imperial policy. Present costs on reasonably efficient production, excluding any provision for profit, depreciation maintenance or progressive improvement, exceed preferential markets by amounts up to £2 a ton. Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, British Guiana, now suffering diminution of trade and three latter serious diminution of revenue. St. Lucia expects increased deficit on year's 722 finance. Jamaica Legislature already forced to adopt urgency measures to maintain local industry.I shall not quote any more. That is all as to the necessity for immediate action. What was the action of the Government? In spite of being pressed in another place, in spite of being pressed by the Colonial Governments and in this House, His Majesty's Government have refused to publish any documents. We all know the reason why. It is because the peasantry, the labourers and the sugar planters of the British Colonies are to be sacrificed to the pride and prejudice of one man and one man only, and that is the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. We know that the Colonial Office have done their best. We know that the right hon. Gentleman is tied religiously to a doctrine and a dogma. We know that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would rather see the people over whom he says that he is one of the trustees—would rather see them starve than abate one jot or tittle of the religious faith that he has in the universality of free imports or of his hatred of Imperial Preference.
The fact is that the cane farmers of Mauritius and Trinidad are at the mercy of a doctrinaire. The doctrinaire views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are threatening an industry on which thousands are dependent for a livelihood in the tropical dependencies of the Empire. When the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was in office before he took the earliest opportunity, on introducing his Budget, of deriding Imperial Preference, and particularly the preference on sugar, and he said that it went merely to swell the profits of the West Indian planters. What are the facts? Let us examine the situation as it affects an island like Trinidad. Forty-eight per cent. of the sugar grown in Trinidad is grown by some 18,000 negroes, apart from a few East Indians who were brought to the island as indentured labourers and decided to settle there.
In the islands of St. Kitts and Antigua the main producers of sugar are small negro proprietors. Who are these negroes? They are not people who live in these islands because the islands were the home of their ancestors. They were forced there against their will as slaves. Acting in the interests of humanity this House decided that slavery should cease. 723 It compensated the owners for the loss of their property in slaves, and it said that in future the ex-slaves must learn to labour on their own account. Lands were divided up and given to them. What are the Government doing to-day? They are simply leaving the descendants of those slaves at the mercy of markets, without raising one finger to help them, without carrying out the obligations that we have in respect of dependencies to exercise trusteeship for these people.
I have quoted the example of Trinidad. The growers there have to sell their sugar here or in Canada. From other countries they are excluded by hostile tariffs. The Government offer them no help, no dole, no insurance scheme. They are left without any hope or help. At the same time the Government claim to be the trustees of these people. Let us take Mauritius. There 43 per cent. of the Canes are grown by East Indian settlers from Madras and the Malabar coast, and 57 per cent. by French planters, descendants of the French inhabitants of Mauritius, that star and key of the Indian Ocean which was so formidable to us in the days of the wars between France and England in harassing the trade of our East Indian merchantmen and fell to us as a prize of war in the great Napoleonic contest. These French planters are now under the British flag, loyal to the British Government. Have we no responsibility in this House for seeing that these people have an opportunity to make a decent livelihood? I think we have, just as much as in regard to the natives of Kenya or any other protectorate or colony.
The Labour party boasts that it has a special interest in the native races, in the negro peoples of the Empire. It is up to them to make good their claim by doing something. What have we heard from the Government in response to this clear recommendation from Lord Olivier for a definite statement by the Government that it will maintain the existing rate of preference and make it the same rate as that given by Canada to the West Indies? In face of that recommendation—silence and a suggestion that the planters should fall back on making the industry more efficient. Let me examine that question of efficiency. With the exception of Cuba and Java there is no doubt whatever, judging by these two Reports, that the British West Indies and 724 Mauritius produce sugar cheaper than any countries in the world, that their industries are well conducted, that their labour conditions are better than those of their chief competitors, that the machinery is up to date, and that the scientific work now in progress is of a high quality.
What is the answer given by the Secretary for the Colonies to Lord Olivier in regard to further aid in scientific direction? I am the very first to welcome any announcement by any Government to the effect that it will devote more money and more interest to scientific work. We have in this respect a terrible leeway of past neglect and indifference to make up. It is not very easy to build up the scientific development of alternative ideas, still less the scientific improvement of the sugar industry in the West Indies or in Mauritius without very long team work and very large expenditure. Let us look at the broad facts. Admittedly, science is one of the causes why the British West Indies and Mauritius are so hit at present. The fact is that in Java, the second producing country in the world in sugar, they began to develop the great station, which I have had the privilege of visiting, in the year 1885. For 45 years they have been building up an ever bigger organisation of scientific endeavour. They now spend approximately £100,000 a year upon one station alone devoted to one industry. It is a colossal organisation built up gradually and slowly, and it is a most remarkable organisation.
Take this new cane which has had this effect this year of suddenly expanding the production of Java to such an extent. It took five years to breed that cane, and it is breeding of a kind which we rarely have effected even in this country, let alone in the tropical Empire. where hitherto we have been so understaffed in scientific work and in all our scientific endeavours. The new J.O.J. 2878 is the result not of the type of plant cane breeding which we have gone in for, namely, selection of the best type of cane by a process of trial of error, but is the result of pure laboratory work in thinking out beforehand the marriages and cross-marriages on the most up-to-date Mendelian lines of the type of cane which will suit Java climatic and cultural conditions best, and which will be unsuited to introduction in any other conditions. 725 It is one of the most remarkable achievements I have ever seen. One of the ultimate parents of this cane is not a sugar cane at all, but a wild reed in the marshes in Java married to a sugar cane in order to give resistance and speed of growth to a sugar cane grown in the climatic conditions of Java. Before you can produce a cane of that kind in the British West Indian Colonies or in Mauritius, you have to devote not five but 10 years to building up your organisation, and it is idle for the Secretary of State to say that science can be applied here and now to the West Indies to remedy the position.
It has been difficult enough under successive Governments to get the money for the Trinidad College, which is to feed not merely the West Indies but the whole British Empire with the first possible trainees in scientific agriculture. It is not until you have had passing through Trinidad for many years a sufficient number of men of first-class scientific ability that you can say we have attained anything like a level position with what the Dutch have attained in Java in the culture of all these tropical plants. If it had not been for the Empire Marketing Board, created by the last Government, there would not have been even to-day the chance there is for the development of the application of science to the problems of tropical development and competition with our competitors. When I went to the Colonial Office, with the exception of one civil servant, who by accident was a good scientist, there was no one in the office to whom one could turn on any scientific problem. There was no organisation for dealing with agriculture, medicine, medical research or education. There was nothing of that kind.
Look at history. It was not until Mr. Chamberlain persuaded the House to make a grant for the Imperial development of agriculture in the West Indies that there was any agricultural department at all in the West Indies, or agriculture in the Colonial and dependent Empire had any show or any support at all. It is only in the last two or three years, notably during the the period of office of the last Government, that there has been any real move on the part of this country to make up the great lee- 726 way and the appalling deficiency in our Colonial Office at home, and in our Colonial Empire overseas in science and it is impossible in face of the crisis that faces the West Indian Colonies, to turn round and say, "You ought to have applied more science earlier." It is absolutely essential to make it clear to the world that it is not the West Indies' fault. They are controlled by the House and by the Colonial Office. The whole direction of affairs for a long time past has neglected this side of the work, and this side of opportunity, and it is only recently that they have had a chance to get forward in such directions and it must take time for this to develop.
May I say a few words as to the exact way in which this present crisis is operating. It is operating, of course, as the result of the sudden increase in the production of sugar in the world. I have given the particular reason but, over and above that, there is the basic reason. that most of the countries of the world—quite frankly including our own self-governing Dominions—are by high Protection artificially subsidising and maintaining a sugar industry. Take Czechoslovakia, about the biggest producer of beet sugar. The internal price of sugar there is about 25s. a cwt., kept at that price by a prohibitive tariff. That enables them to supply the whole of the home market at that price and to export at 10s. a cwt. What is the position in Cuba? Cuba has the inestimable advantage of a preference in the great markets of the United States. As the House knows, the system means that if you are a sugar planter in Porto Rico Haiti or the Philippines you are treated as part of the United States. If you are in any one of these three dependencies of the United States you are part of the mother country and sugar comes in absolutely free. If you are a Cuban producer you come in on payment of a duty, but that duty is very considerably lower than the duty imposed on sugar coming from any other country in the world. There is a tariff in the United States which absolutely prohibits sugar from the British islands getting in free, and Cuba gets its preference. What is the result? In the last few weeks Cuba has been able to quote a price for a block of 100,000 tons of sugar far below 727 her cost of production, because she can make up in America losses on that bulk of 100,000 tons.
Take the example of the French colonies! It so happens that the British West Indian islands are sandwiched in between the French islands. They have the melancholy spectacle in the British islands of seeing great prosperity in the adjoining French islands, because France admits Martinique sugar free whereas she puts a prohibitive protective duty on the sugar coming from our islands. Similarly, in regard to Mauritius, the island of Réunion is alongside of it. I was informed to-day that a planter of Réunion made a statement that there are many planters in Réunion with a million francs to their credit at this moment owing to the advantage the French give to the Réunion sugar industry whereas ours is faced with ruin. Those are the facts of the world.
You have to face the fact that we are attempting to run, on the basis of free commerce, an Empire and a series of Colonial dependencies in, and mixed up with, a highly protective world. It is a pretty ugly spectacle looked at it from the point of view of the British Colonies and of the natives in those colonies Therefore, I say the Government must do something. They have rejected all the proposals made in the reports; every single proposal has been turned down by them. Have they considered the question alone in regard to the carry over for this year? Let us take Mauritius. The Imperial Government gave a loan on easy terms because a hurricane destroyed the sugar crop. Every penny of that loan has been paid back. In 1903, a disease wiped out all their animal transport. The Imperial Government gave them a loan to replace it by mechanical transport, and every penny has been paid back. Are they willing, if they are not prepared to implement any of the proposals of Lord Olivier or of Sir Francis Watts, to give any help?
I regret that it is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies who is to reply to me to-night. I know that he is anxious to do his best for the colonies and that he knows what distress and misery is going to be brought about to the peasantry and the labourers of the West Indies and of Mauritius by 728 the inaction of the Government of which he is a member. He knows how they will contrast the recommendations of Lord Olivier, whom they knew as Governor and as a leading member of the Labour party, his clear utterances on this subject, with the action of the present Government. All I can say is that I know they will not blame the hon. Gentleman, but they will blame, and they will rightly blame, throughout the length and breadth of the Empire, one man, and one man only, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Great Britain—little Englander all through his history, narrow-minded dogmatist; who imagines that he stands in the same relation to Cobden as Lenin does to Karl Marx.
We have had from the right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) a pathetic picture of Colonial Office administration coupled with a rather unscrupulous attack on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope in the few minutes which I am going to address the House to ask hon. Members to look at the picture from another aspect. The right hon. Member for Stafford made a very excellent speech, but I think his diagnosis is wrong. He went a long way round to say that the cause of the present sugar crisis was really world over-production of sugar. He told us, first of all, that dumping was one of the main causes of the sugar crisis. Was dumping the cause in 1896, 1897, and in 1902 when there were similar crises in the West Indian sugar industry? That is a wrong step in his diagnosis. He told the House that Cuban over-production was a great cause of the present situation in the West Indies. He led the House to believe that Cuba benefits from the present United States tariff on sugar. I am not sure about that. If he goes and asks the Haitian labourers and West Indian labourers working on the plantations, he will find a very different story being told. Why should the right hon. Member lead the House to think of this benefit without telling the other side of the picture? He did not mention the other side of the picture.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I think I said in the earlier part of my speech that the West Indian conditions in regard to labour as set out in the Olivier Report, that the British West Indian rate of 729 wages was double that of Java and superior to that of Cuba, and that undoubtedly bad conditions of labour are one of the reasons why our British production is being knocked out.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that, but he was dealing with the tariff issue at the time and did not stress the point that bad conditions of labour have a very great effect on the present world over-production of sugar. It is not only that the conditions of labour in Cuban estates is bad. The state of Cuba itself is in very great financial straits. It is overburdened with American debt. American capital has been flooded into the sugar industry in Cuba, and they are hopelessly in debt and do not know which way to turn in order to find the necessary interest to pay off the debt. The cost-of-living figure M. Cuba to-day is 196, as compared with the cost-of-living figure in the United States of 140, and in the United Kingdom of 142. Therefore, the cost of living for Cuban people has gone up as a result of the tariff conditions. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a good many things in connection with the labourers in the Colonies and said that they were being sacrificed to one man. He said that that one man would rather see them starve. What did he do when he was at the Colonial Office? He has had four years and a half of it. Let us look at the picture.
I am speaking from the point of view of the West Indian labourer. I am coming to your preference point directly. Take the island of Barbados. What were the conditions of labourers there during the time that he was in office and maintaining preferences and when he tells us that the sugar industry was in a healthy and vigorous state? The wages of the labourers there when the profit upon sugar varied from £3 to £10 a ton—[Interruption.] Oh, yes, in 1920 they were getting it. I know who are the sugar planters in the Barbados and the West Indies, and I know what I am talking about. In certain years, they were making profits varying from £3 to £10 per ton. Now the loss is £2 to £3 a ton. What was the condition of the labourers in the 730 years when the profits were being made? The labourers' conditions have been worsened as a result of the War. Their wages have remained the same, while the cost of living has gone up. The women in the cane fields who, when they go to work, have to carry their babies with them, are getting from 6d. to 1s. a day, while the labourers are getting from 1s, to 2s. a day.
What is the infant mortality rate in the Colony of Barbados, a rich colony, which asks for tourists, a Colony which is regarded as the centre of the convalescent in the West Indies, with a reserve fund of £100,000, an annual revenue of £500,000, and a surplus of £30,000 for its special fund? The infantile mortality is 331 per 1,000. One child in every three dies. That happens in a Colony which has £100,000 in its reserve fund. What does it spend on infant welfare? How many maternity clinics were there in that Colony when the right hon. Member for Stafford was at the Colonial Office? There was one clinic, with a Government grant of £150, although 1,900 births took place there. Now, the right hon. Gentleman comes here and tells us that the conditions of the West Indian labourers are very bad because of one man only. The right hon. Gentleman cannot escape his own responsibility for the maladministration of past years. The illegitimate birth rate in this island, after 100 years of British administration and of the Christian religion, stands to-day at from 67 to 72 per cent. And there is an official majority there, and it is a Crown Colony.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I particularly did not mention Barbados, because it is not a Crown Colony. There is not an official majority. We are not responsible for Barbados, in the same way that we are responsible for Trinidad. We have no power to dispose of any of the revenues of Barbados, there being a Speaker and a House of Assembly, in which the Government are not themselves represented.
With all his experience at the Colonial Office the right hon. Gentleman is giving us information which is quite wrong. I have been to the Island of Barbados.
But the right hon. Gentleman's visit was a temporary visit. I lived in the West Indies for 20 years, from my boyhood.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
The hon. Member surely does not dispute that there is no Crown Colony Government in Barbados? There is no official majority. There is an entirely elective House, which has complete control of the Budget.
I repeat that, despite his experience at the Colonial Office, the right hon. Gentleman is giving the House inaccurate information. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, and I am here to correct him. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members will give me a chance on a subject of which I know something. Wait until I have the Parliamentary experience of the right. hon. Member for Stafford. There are two Houses in the Island of Barbados. It is a Crown Colony. The people of Barbados consider that it is a Crown Colony. The other islands in the West Indies look upon Barbados as a Crown Colony. The Colonial Office are responsible for the finances, and they can veto the spending of money.
Certainly, it has been done. I repeat that there are two Houses in Barbados, a Lower House and a Higher House. They are both undemocratic. One House is mainly elected on a very limited franchise, a property franchise, so that the poor labourer has no chance. The second House is partly elected and partly nominated, with an official majority. Do not come here and tell us that it is not a Crown Colony and that there is not an official majority. There is. There ought to be a decent uniform system of administration in the West Indies; a system of Federation. We ought to get together and see if we cannot send out another Commission to deal not with one particular subject but with the whole situation in the West Indies. They are ripe for self-government. They want federation. Barbados is still a Crown Colony.
732 Let me return to the subject of the illegitimate birth rate, which amounts to from 67 to 72 per cent., so that two out of every three of the population of that Colony are illegitimate. Those are the conditions that existed in the Colony during the administration of the right hon. Gentleman, in the most successful year of the sugar industry.
This matter can be looked upon from many points of view—from the point of view of the British taxpayer, the British consumer, the British producer, the British investor, the West Indian sugar planter and the West Indian black labourer and the West Indian citizen. Surely some equitable ground can be found between these various interests on which we might come to a settlement. There can be no doubt about the dreadful economic situation in certain of the islands—not all. It is worse in some islands than in others. Some of the islands, like Barbados, St. Kitts and Antigua, are wholly dependent upon sugar; others only partially dependent upon sugar, and some not at all. There can be no doubt that the present situation has been aggravated and stimulated by dumping, bounties, subsidies, Protection and tariffs which are so rampant throughout the world. There is great need for reorganisation of the sugar industry, with large scale production, even on individualistic lines. The planters in boom years made profits, and said nothing. In lean years they come to the British taxpayer and expect the British taxpayer to foot the bill. They make no arrangements for long-term production, no collective insurance, no reserve fund, no dividend equalisation, no equalisation of years. Supported by the Colonial Office and the local Government, they take no thought for to-morrow. The labourers are the worst hit all the time. The middle classes and the upper classes are not so much touched. In Barbados the upper classes have British investments which bring into the Colony £150,000 a year, and the middle classes have remittances which amount to £100,000 a year, but the poor labourers have no reserves and on their low wages they cannot save. It is for these poor people and not on behalf of the planters, the middle classes or the upper classes, but for the sake of the people who correspond to the people in 733 my Division who elected me to Parliament, the black proletariat, that I am making an appeal to the Colonial Office to see if they cannot adopt some of the recommendations of Lord Olivier's Commission. The Conservative opposition have no policy in regard to this problem. The right hon. Member for Stafford did not tell us what his policy is for dealing with the situation, either from the point of view of the present or of the future or with the object of preventing the recurring periodic crises in the sugar industry. The question is not one of Protection or Free Trade.
I want to come to the Report itself. It is a very masterly analysis of the economic situation. It is a very statesmanlike document, and almost every paragraph in it is thought stimulating and refreshing. I am very sorry it is restricted to sugar. Lord Olivier is Labour to the backbone, and he is one of the four individuals in Great Britain who I regard as an authority on conditions in the West Indies. Yet the Government, following the bad precedent of "safety first" adopted by the last Government, is not going to adopt any of the recommendations of that Report. I want to suggest to the Government that the matter might be reconsidered. I feel sure that they are sympathetic, but sympathy is not a substitute for statesmanship. The Labour Government has a unique opportunity of leaving its mark on Colonial policy, especially West Indian policy, but it looks like throwing the opportunity away. Here was a chance of giving a definite democratic twist, according to the well-known views of the Government and its written programme. What it does is to give a subsidy in the true old capitalistic Tory way. The Tories did that, but it was of no use, and I suggest that it would be a good thing for the Government to adopt the import board scheme suggested by Lord Olivier.
I want to stress that point in the few remaining minutes which are left to me. An import board scheme is one of the recommendations of Lord Olivier's Commission. They recommended a statutory single purchasing agency to deal with what they call Imperial sugar. I think they must mean Crown Colony sugar, because I do not think they meant to include the purchase of Canadian sugar. 734 That recommendation has not been accepted. Why? It has not been accepted principally on the ground of cost, and yet, as Lord Olivier very ably pointed out, it might conceivably be cheaper in the long run to have this import board and finance it than to give a grant equal to 7½ per cent. on the money borrowed. I suggest to the Government that they should deal with the problem in that way, instead of making a subsidy of £300,000 to the West Indies—and some of the Islands like the Windward Islands do not need it as they have reserve funds and no sugar industry.
Let me at this point make the observation that in Great Britain we have a capital debt of £149 per head of population. I have gone through the figures for the West Indies very carefully and I find that their debt per head varies from £6 and £7 to 10s. Yet these colonies, with this small debt per head, are coming to us with our debt of £149 per head to help them; and the British taxpayer, the poor people in my constituency, are entitled to ask why we with such a heavy debt per head should be asked to help people who have a much smaller debt than our own, and who in certain cases have reserve funds. That may be an extraordinary argument, but it has been used in my own constituency. I suggest that the Government should hand this subsidy of £300,000 to the import board as a nucleus on their fund to purchase sugar, and supplement that—on condition that the social welfare services in the West Indies are developed, that compulsory education and old age pensions, which they have not got at present, are granted—by taking at least half of the reserve funds of the colonies affected and supplement it still more by the issue of local stock from local people who have money invested in the Government Savings Banks, guaranteeing the interest at 4 per cent. If the Government did that with their subsidy, and supplemented it by the issue of local stock, I feel sure that the import board would have sufficient funds to start its operations and in that way you would have a scheme by which, at a small additional cost of about one farthing in the pound to the British consumer, the West Indian crisis would be solved in a few months.
That is the way in which we should tackle this problem. It may be beyond 735 the ordinary Member of this House, but I have studied the question, and if the Government adopted the recommendation of an import board and supplemented its funds in this way, the sugar scheme could be so arranged that at a small cost to English consumers you could save the West Indian colonies from what is really economic ruin, especially in the case of the labour population. Such a policy would gain respect for the Government in the West Indies. Here I want to issue a note of warning. I believe there is a deliberate plot to exploit the present situation both here and in the West Indies in order to discredit the good faith of the Labour Government.
The Government should be alive to such a situation. They are doing their best, but there are people in the colonies and elsewhere who are trying to make the local black proletariat believe that the Labour Government cannot and will not help them in the face of officialdom. If the Labour Government go in for a policy such as I have outlined, and announce their intention to appoint a small, vigorous and active new commission to study the political State situation with a view of making the West Indian colonies pay for themselves, as they are very anxious to do, they would at any rate leave their mark on West Indian policy and do something to retrieve the reputation of the Colonial Office. Part of the blame for this must not be put on the present Labour Government. It must be put on the Colonial Office and its advisers; and on local administrators.
They have seen this thing coming for years. Recommendations made 30 years ago have not been carried out yet by the Colonial Office. The high officials have taken those recommendations and pigeon-holed them, lost them, forgotten all about them. Local administrators have not touched the problem and the Colonial Office is simply blocking progress. They have no information; and even when information comes to them they will not act upon it. They allow local governors to do what they like, to intimidate, in a manner which should not be allowed. A local J.P. was struck off the list for daring to criticise a volunteer movement, but I do not want to touch upon that matter as I propose 736 to refer to it on the Colonial Office Vote. I believe the Labour Government are anxious to do well, and they will do well if they are in office long enough. [An HON. MEMBER: "How long?"] As long as your Government was in office. The Colonial Office is standing in the way and the Government, if they have a sympathetic, vigorous and right policy, towards the West Indies can be assured of West Indian support, not from those who hold the power at present but from the people who are rising and demanding electoral franchise and the extension of self-government. If they will pursue such a policy and deal with the financial situation in the way I have suggested, they will have done something at any rate to justify their colonial policy.
§ Sir JOHN GANZONI
I, like other hon. Members listened with a great deal of interest to the last speaker. He gave a good many hard knocks but I am sure that much will be forgiven to him because of the fervour of the zealot. The worst of his speech to my mind was that he sought to turn what I believe to be an industrial issue into a political issue. We must all agree that these very old and loyal colonies, the West Indies, are in a parlous plight at the present time. A large number of them are almost wholly dependent upon sugar, and sugar is a crop which, more than any other, requires a very large amount of labour practically all the year round. There are some of the islands where they produce limes in large quantities, and others, such as Trinidad, where there is a considerable production of cocoa, but neither of these crops gives employment on a very large scale. After all, one cannot make much by sitting under a lime tree in an agreeable tropical climate for 364 days of the year and taking the limes off the tree on the 365th day. It is only for a few weeks that there is any work in connection with the cocoa but in regard to sugar there is the planting, then it requires tending practically all the year round, then there is the cutting, the crushing and the boiling. There is also the work of manuring, and generally speaking there is an enormous amount of work in connection with the crop.
It is a very desirable crop because it not only produces sugar, but there is also the sugar cane with the juice in it 737 of which the negroes in the West Indies are very fond. No part of the sugar cane is wasted. The pulp from which the sugar is crushed is afterwards boiled and can be made use of, while the cane tops are used as green fodder, and a good deal of that delectable liquid which is so much appreciated by the robust seamen of His Majesty's Navy—rum—is solely derived from the sugar cane. These islands, contrary to the statement of the hon. Member who has just sat down, have at any rate prospered to a considerable extent under the policy of Imperial Preference which is favoured by hon. Members on this side of the House. I do not wish to weary the House with figures, but I must give some in order to show the progress made in the American islands where they have advantages not enjoyed by the West Indies. The American islands receive a preference of just under 10s. in the American markets. I compare the figures for 1900–1901 with the figures for 1927–1928. In Porto Rico the production has gone up from 80,000 tons to 670,880 tons in that period. In Hawaii and the Sandwich Islands under the same beneficial treatment the production has gone up from 296,000 tons to 807,000 tons in the same time. In the Philippines the exports—I have only the exports and not the production—were 48,000 tons 30 years ago, and were 622,000 tons two years ago. Those are enormous increases.
The British islands in the West Indies and British Colony of Guiana on the mainland have benefited under Imperial Preference. They have gone up from 95,000 tons 30 years ago to 114,000 tons two years ago. Trinidad has risen from 50,000 tons to 81,000 tons in the same period; and Jamaica from 30,000 tons to 63,000 tons. Antigua and St. Kitts—where they have a central factory—have gone from 25,000 tons to 39,000 tons, while Mauritius has risen from 190,000 tons to 215,000 tons. They all have derived direct and appreciable benefit from Imperial Preference, but, at the present time, in view of the great progress which is being made by the colonies of other countries, and also in view of the competition of Continental beet that preference is riot enough. As the hon. Member who spoke last admitted they are now incurring a regular, and I rather fear a progressive loss, and they ask for 738 a preference of about 2s. or at least 1s. per cwt. more, which would bring the 3s. 8d. up to 4s. 8d. or 5s. 8d.—the Canadian preference being 4s. 8d. and the American preference, as I have said, is nearer 10s.
I do not wish to go into any political arguments, and I most certainly do not wish to offend the hon. Member who has spoken last or anybody else; 9.0 p.m. but I want to help, if I can, in this matter, and the best way of doing so is, I think, to point out reasons why it may be worth while to listen to the demand which is now being made from these old and loyal colonists of ours. If we, by our neglect, destroy this trade and if we get no more Imperial sugar from the West Indies, then we shall not have these West Indian English-speaking customers under the British flag for the manufactured products of this country. I believe this market is worth about £6,000,000 a year. They take British agricultural machinery; they take artificial manures; they take our manufactures, our groceries, and our clothing. They have a taste for British goods. They are our own fellow-subjects in every sense of the word. Probably everybody knows that at the present day the trade on the longest passages by sea is still chiefly done in British ships, whereas the European coastwise trade is chiefly in foreign ships. If we have to take foreign sugar, in place of this British Imperial sugar we shall have to pay for it in gold.
Look what a fuss is made—perhaps not wrongly—if, for instance, the Bank Rate is put down and foreign countries immediately take British sovereigns in large quantities and they go abroad. We cannot help that, but we can help deliberately paying over to foreigners good British money, which otherwise would come back again from the West Indies and pay for the manufactures of this country. If it goes to pay for the products of foreign countries, made by foreign workmen, it will never come back to this country in any way or at any time. I have no intention of attacking the Chancellor of the Exchequer any more than I have of attacking the hon. Member who spoke last. Indeed I only wish I had the chance of being at close quarters with the right hon. Gentleman, in order to try to convince him on this matter and to argue and reason sweetly with him upon it. I think if he were fully 739 persuaded of the practical advantages which would accrue, not only to these old Colonies, but also to this country, by at least maintaining the preference which has now been given for many years, I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would insist on the determination which we fear he has formed, to abolish that preference, little as it is, in his forthcoming Budget.
§ Captain PETER MACDONALD
I have just returned from a short tour in the West Indian Islands, and although my stay was a brief one, I have had the opportunity of studying at first hand the economic position of these Islands, and the effect that the removal of these duties will have upon the sugar industry there. I listened to some arguments of hon. Members in regard to the conditions in Cuba and the American islands, and I have no hesitation in saying that, if the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Morgan) who spoke with such knowledge and sincerity, were to consult these people in the West Indies, and compare their conditions with those of Cuba, he would find that, deplorable as he may consider them to be, they are a hundredfold better than the conditions of the Cuban and other American colony workers. I have risen to make a few comments upon the Report of the West Indian Commission, and to ask the Minister responsible if he will be good enough to give us some information as to what the Government's policy is in regard to this Commission, because I cannot think that the statement made in another place two days ago is the last word the Government have to say on the subject.
Perhaps he will be able to inform us why the Report of the Commission, which was made some two months ago, has been suppressed until a few days ago. That is a question which has not been answered by the Government. I think that it is due to the fact that one of the first findings of the Commission was that something had to be done immediately and within two months from the date of the issue of the Report or the industry would be utterly ruined, and the Government, rather than issue the Report two months ago and fearing that public opinion would be so strong as to make them take immediate action sup- 740 pressed the Report until the two months were practically up, and the industry is, as the Commission said it would be, faced with utter ruin and extinction. I fully endorse the findings of the Commission. They demand immediate help for the industry, and recommend that only a guaranteed price of £15 a ton and an increased preference of 4s. 8d. per hundredweight will save the situation. I think that that is a practical policy and one which the Government would be well advised to adopt. I think, too, that it is the only policy which would really help the industry. There are some, I know, who take a different view. Some take the view that an immediate and a continued subsidy is the best solution of the problem, but after careful consideration I have come to the conclusion, for what it is worth, that the best means of dealing with the situation is by giving a guaranteed price, with an increased preference of 4s. 8d. per hundredweight.
Another question I want to ask is why the Government ever appointed this Commission if they had no intention of carrying out their findings. There must have been some reason for appointing the Commission; the Government must have realised the seriousness of the situation in the islands before they appointed them. Having appointed them, why have they suppressed their Report for two months, and why have they turned down every recommendation contained in the Report? I could well understand that, following the policy of the present Government, if this Commission had been appointed by a Conservative Government, they might well have taken the action which they have taken. But this Commission were appointed by this Government themselves, and it had as as chairman Lord Olivier, who holds the respect not only of this House, but of the whole country. Whatever we may think about his politics, we all agree that Lord Olivier has a greater knowledge the conditions in the West Indian Islands than perhaps any man in this country. He was a civil servant of very high distinction, who had been Governor of one at least of these islands. Therefore, he speaks with an experience and knowledge which should commend itself to the Government which appointed him.
A good deal has been said about the conditions in the West Indies, but in the 741 Report it will be found that the Government are not asked to bolster up an industry which is inefficient. The Report says that the West Indies are producing sugar cheaper, with a higher standard of working conditions than perhaps any other country in the world, and yet they are faced with this very serious situation through no fault of their own. The causes are obvious to anyone who has studied the economic conditions throughout the world. They have had to face competition of countries like Cuba and the American islands, which are working with cheaper labour conditions, and are bolstered up by a protective tariff, which ensures them a home market and allows them to dump their surplus sugar on the world. That is the situation which we have to face in almost every industry in this country to-day, and therefore we should have every sympathy with the West Indies, who are faced with it in an even more serious way than we are, because of the fact that they have only one industry to maintain. That, at any rate, applies to Barbados where 66 per cent. of the population are dependent upon the sugar industry, St. Kitts 100 per cent., and Antigua 100 per cent., British Guiana 50 per cent., and so on.
Therefore, it is not due to any inefficiency on the part of the sugar planters of those Islands that they are faced with a serious situation. They are killed by tariffs, by subsidies and, last but by no means least, by the uncertainty caused by the very reckless statements made by the Chanceller of the Exchequer. It is all very well, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot escape responsibility for the statements which he made about preferences and duties; because I had it myself, only a few days ago, from sugar planters in Barbadoes and the other islands, that the uncertainty caused by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has completely ruined the sale of their crop this year. They are faced with a situation such as they have never had to face before; they found their whole market in this country killed, at any rate for the present, by the uncertainty caused by the statements of the Chancellor. Further, they had to store the crop this year instead of exporting it, and as they have not storage room that added to their difficulties.
742 I do not want to be too controversial on this subject because, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sir J. Ganzoni) has said, this is purely an economic question, although the Government are not entirely without blame. The Lord Privy Seal has stated that the only prospect of curing unemployment in this country is by restoring industry to prosperity and restoring our export trade. Row does he propose to increase, or even to maintain, our existing export trade it such a very valuable market as that of the West Indies is to be destroyed by this action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Manufactured goods to the value of £7,000,000 were exported to the West Indies last year. That is a valuable market, but it will be completely destroyed, because we cannot expect them to give us preferences on our manufactured goods if we refuse to give them any consideration in regard to their staple products. Surely this matter requires the serious consideration of a Government who are piling up an unemployment register in the way the present Government are. The proposals made by the present Government are, on the admission of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, absolutely and utterly useless. In the first place it is stated by the Commission that any remedy must be immediate, as anyone who has any knowledge of the situation would agree. On the other hand, it is admitted that the offer, which I consider a very stupid offer, made by the Secretary of State on behalf of the Government, cannot benefit the industry for at least two years, or at any rate not for another year. That being so, what was the point in making such an offer? Why they made an offer at all, if they did not want to face the facts and make an honest offer, is beyond my comprehension. Not one of the islands has accepted it as a feasible or reasonable or workable proposition.
I would emphasise the point that these Colonies are our oldest dependencies. At one time Barbados was our oldest oversea possession, with the exception of Newfoundland. It is peopled with loyal, industrious, hard-working people, who are anxious to be loyal to the British Crown. They have shown their loyalty in the past. They showed it in the Great War. The West Indies sent several regiments oversea. and the West Indian Regiment distinguished itself on more 743 than one front during the late War. They are still anxious to maintain their connection with the Mother Country, they are still anxious to be loyal, but if this industry is killed, as it must be if nothing is done in the immediate future, the East Indians will have to be repatriated from the islands, and that is going to cost something like £2,000,000 and will, in itself, bankrupt the islands. Therefore, unless prompt action is taken, we stand a very good prospect of losing these islands altogether in the quite near future.
I can well understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is not prepared to assist home industries when they are faced with destruction by unfair foreign competition, not doing anything for the West Indies, but I urge upon the Minister who is responsible to this House for Colonial affairs, and whosé sincerity in this matter I know, to impress upon the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer the extreme urgency of this matter and the necessity of acting immediately in carrying out the findings of the Commission. Otherwise these islands will be lost to the Mother Country, and history will record, I am afraid, that as the tea duties lost us the American Colonies the sugar duties were responsible for losing us our West Indian Colonies.
It has been most interesting to a West Indian to listen to this Debate, and if full reports of it reach the West Indies they will be read there with even greater interest. In the first place, it may be as well to emphasise the fact that the West Indies are not coming here cap in hand, as though asking for a favour. We are coming here with a claim for damages. That is the line which we had better take, and which will undoubtedly be taken in the West Indies. During the last few months, as a result of statements made here, we have been absolutely denuded of the market for sugar in this country; our main buyers, the refiners, have been demanding a clause in all contracts stating that any change in duty shall be for account of the seller, whether the sugar has been melted or not. It will be seen, therefore, how utterly impossible it has been to do business for some time past. This has been the case not only in this country 744 but also in Canada, our alternative market, and for a similar reason. The Canadian refiner is no fool, and, when he sees we have no market in this country, he realises that he can put the screw on the other side as well.
In another place, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, after holding up Lord Olivier's Report for a most scandalous length of time, has made one or two statements which need modification. In the first place, he practically said that he would do nothing for us, because that is what his offer amounts to. In doing so, he made two statements, one of which is very disingenuous. He said that the preference cost the British taxpayer £2,500,000. If all the sugar entering this country was full duty sugar would it save the British taxpayer £2,500,000? I ask, was it a fair statement as to facts? Secondly, he said that the British West Indies and Mauritius had promoted the world's over-production by increasing their crops by 60 per cent. I should very much like to see his figures in proof of that and how he thinks, if the West Indies have increased their crop, any small increase we make is going to make any difference.
Another point which has been mentioned by other hon. Members is the effect of this sugar business on the employment of this country. Does the House, particularly the Clydeside Members—and I am sorry to see there are none present—realise the amount of industry which is brought to them from the sugar colonies? I wonder whether any of those gentlemen from the Clydeside realise the amount of business that goes to the Clydeside owing to the sugar machinery orders which go there to all the big firms, such as Mirrlees, Watson and Company, McOnie, Harvey and Company, John McNeal, Colonial Iron Works. Govan, Potts, Cassels and Williamson, the Glebe Refinery, and so on. In the Lord Privy Seal's own constituency there is the firm of Fletcher and Company, of Derby, which has a good deal of work connected with sugar. People such as these, hon. Gentlemen opposite are casting out of employment by not realising that sugar is a mainspring of employment. I should like to say one or two words with regard to the Report itself. The sugar planter's business is, naturally, to get as much sugar as he can economically from the 745 cane. He does not go in for such academic considerations as getting the last ounce of sugar out of the cane when it would mean a loss to do so. It is the same kind of problem as in shipbuilding. Every shipbuilder knows he can build a ship of a certain speed to burn a certain amount of coal, but if he wants an extra knot he has to make machinery which will burn a great deal more coal.
That is the kind of problem with which we are faced. We can get more sugar out of the canes. In the criticisms in this Report, it says that we get a low extraction from the cane and could get more, but it would cost us more than the value to get it. That is why we do not do it. We are not here to produce for academic purposes. We are in business to make money. Let me give one or two instances, since we are criticised for it. The distinguished member of the Commission who makes the criticism is a machinery manufacturer and makes very good machinery, too, and from his own point of view, no doubt, his criticism is fairly justified. It is said that planters in British Guiana could increase extraction, but it is not an economic proposition. The canes with rich juice are not generally of as vigorous a constitution as those with poor juice. The Report mentions that Seedling D. 625 provides the bulk of the crop. So it does. It is a highly vigorous cane, and gives juice which polarises 1.3 lbs. to the gallon of juice. The Report mentions another cane, the Diamond 10, which gives very much better polarisation and yields three tons to the acre. There are other seedlings, such as the Barbados B. 208 which has now gone out of cultivation, but which gives juice polarising at 2 lbs. to the gallon. That cane has gone out of cultivation to a certain extent, because it was not sufficiently vigorous.
I mentioned these points because they all bear on the suggestion that we could get more sugar from the cane, though it is not an economic policy. Similarly with regard to the manufacturing process, there is a process known as maceration. When you have juice of a certain richness it is sprayed and crushed again a second time and you get more sugar out of it. That process with rich juice is sometimes worth while when the sugar commands high prices, but it is no good doing it with sugar at the present price and when you in fact have to pay more 746 for the fuel than you get by the sugar you recover. Hon. Members will excuse me for having ventured into these details, but I think some criticism of the Report was necessary. In the main, I thoroughly agree with the recommendations, and I wish they could be put into effect. On the whole, what is wanted is not dope but some permanent cure.
§ Mr. MARJORIBANKS
When the Noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies began his policy by a cynical smile, one was reminded that history repeats itself. This is not the first time that a Government has been ruined by its policy with regard to the sugar industry. I was reading the other day the words of a very famous Member of this House, Mr. Disraeli, and this is what he said:Sugar is an article of Colonial produce which had been embarrassing, if not fatal, to many Governments. Strange that a manufacture which charms infancy and soothes old age should so frequently occasion political disaster.I would ask hon. Members opposite to believe my sincerity in this matter. It is not for us at this moment to try to embarrass the Government with regard to this question. We are concerned for much more practical purposes to get something done, and I think we have every right to say that something must be done. This Debate, if one can call it a Debate, has been going on for some time, and up to the present there has not been a Member of this House who has dared to defend the policy of the Government. There was one hon. Member, the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Morgan), who spoke from below the Gangway on the other side. One must always admire political loyalty in this House, but he began his speech with a general reference to the class warfare question. He knew the situation of the West Indies sugar trade, and it was perfectly apparent before he sat down that he was speaking from exactly the same point of view and with exactly the same conviction and purpose as the right hon. Gentleman who has spoken from the Front Bench on this side.
I suppose in the course of the evening we shall hear a speech in defence of the Government's attitude. My hon. Friend nods his head. I think it will be a very difficult case to make out, and I have the 747 greatest sympathy with him. We on this side know a large number of hon. Members opposite who share the convictions of their colleague and one of their late chiefs, Lord Olivier. We have no desire on this side to generalise this issue. Of course, it is a perfectly typical issue of the world situation, but we want to take this as an isolated instance and to help a part of our Empire which is in dire distress; and in this respect one cannot help criticising with very great bitterness the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Representations have been made to us not to irritate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter for fear he might harden his heart, but I think we know him, and I think we all agree that he has not a mind so small that his policy could be changed by criticism, however bitter and however strong.
It is exceedingly relevant to consider the attitude of Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer. Ever since he made his statement on the subject, on the Address last July, I think it was, the greatest anxiety has been prevalent throughout our West Indian Colonies. One has only to read the statements of Lord Olivier himself, and one cannot acquit the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who ought to be here to-night, and who had an opportunity of speaking on this question on the Adjournment some months ago, of very grave responsibility in dealing a deadly blow at one of the oldest industries in the Empire. I would like to read a quotation from page 19 of the Noble Lord's report. The Noble Lord was sent out because, I suppose, he was in sympathy with the policy of His Majesty's Government—he had no prejudices—and this is what he said about the policy and the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer:The market for West Indian sugar for future delivery has already been for the present destroyed by uncertainty as to the policy which may be contemplated by His Majesty's Government, possibly in connection with the next Budget, with regard to the Sugar Duties. The utterances of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 9th of July and of December last have rendered it impossible to obtain any quotations.That is what the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has achieved for the West Indian sugar trade. Ever since he made those statements, representations 748 have been made almost daily to him to declare his policy, and he has persisted in obstinate silence. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that fraud lies not merely in active misrepresentation, but in wilful suppression of material facts. One cannot acquit Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer of doing very great harm to this industry merely by his silence, but let us see what his silence means. It is not a passive silence; it is an active silence. He sent out the Noble Lord to investigate this problem, and his conclusions were virtually in the hands of the Government last December, but they have not been published till the other day. Nobody has had an opportunity of really studying the Report. No reason whatever has been given for the suppression of this Report. No reasonable, proper ground has been given for withholding it.
The only reason that so far has been given was that the Secretary of State for the Colonies wished to publish this Report in toto with Part [V. He persisted, I believe, in that statement a short time ago, till it was pointed out to him that Part IV had not made its appearance, and it is announced in the Report that it will be published late. Of course, that was not the reason Why the Report was withheld. One very unwillingly attributes evil motives to any Government in suppressing any Report, but one has to draw the necessary inferences. Throughout this Report there runs one note, and that is the necessity for immediate publication and for immediate measures. Let me read from page 6 of the Report, from Lord Olivier's telegram in December. He said:Without immediate help or encouragement. … the industry will at once be further depressed and diminished, undeservedly and uneconomically for the world and the Empire, while, if preference is summarily withdrawn, it will undeservedly and uneconomically quickly perish.Notice the word "immediate." Then let me read one more quotation, from page 13. I think this was in the hands of my hon. Friend on the 1st February:How far the risk may materialise in the abandonment of sugar production after the coming crop, or the efficient handling of that crop be impaired through financial difficulties, would, in our opinion, depend upon whether any assistance or guarantee of support to the industry can be given within the next two months.749 What has happened "within the next two months"? The right hon. Gentleman has suppressed the Report for the whole of the two months, so that the people of this country could not be aware of the Report of the Commissioner sent out to inquire into this matter. When the Noble Lord said that the one important thing was to take action in the next two months, how can we acquit the Government of negligence or fraud in this matter? Let us read how the Report winds up:Unless the assistance can be guaranteed and the promise of it made at an early date, we see no probability of the extinction of the British West Indian sugar industry being prevented.Those are the last words in the Report, and it has been withheld for the last two months. The Government have delayed, and then they produce this wonderful statement of policy, which amounts to nothing whatever. It is, of course, a policy of despair. It is in effect the policy of the dole, so familiar and so dear to the hearts and ingenuity of hon. Members opposite. It is not in any way a subsidy; it is a loan, not to the borrower, but to the lender, to the bank, in certain contingencies which will probably never come about. At any rate, these proposals have been universally rejected by every competent authority in the West Indies. It really does nothing to justify the flaunting boast of the new capitalist newspaper of the Labour party, which describes the West Indian sugar industry as being saved by these proposals, a prophesy that is superficial and a little premature.
The position in this matter is extremely simple—the world position as regards the sugar trade. The position is that, owing to subsidies and to tariffs in other parts of the world, we have an over-production of sugar. The Government, in their reply, may well seek to put responsibility upon the West Indies themselves for this over-production, but if they will look at their own colleague's Report, they will find that Lord Olivier goes behind the mere fact of over-production, looks at its causes, and attributes it to preferences and subsidies; and he says that in a Free Trade world the British West Indies would be producing sugar at a high profit. He urges the Government to bring about a better position as regards these tariffs and subsidies, and in the meantime he 750 proposes definitely to increase our own tariffs. That is the only reasonable policy in this matter. There is already an over-production of over 1,000,000 tons a year, and somebody has to go to the wall when there are other rivals trying to drive one part of the industry out of the trade. In the meantime it is absolutely essential to subsidise this trade. It is not a mere palliative that is required, because every year the consumption of sugar goes up by 4½ per cent. Gradually consumption is drawing nearer to production, and we have only to hold our own for a short time and better times will come to the British West Indies trade.
It is absolutely necessary that we should protect these, people. If you are optimistic, you may look upon what is proposed as an investment. I believe it would be a good investment. I believe that the British West Indian sugar trade will look up, especially if it is rationalised, in the sugar industry of the world. Attempts are being made at rationalisation all over the world, and there is no reason why this sugar trade should not be rationalised as a whole. If you cannot look upon what is suggested as an investment, you can, at all events, look upon it as an insurance against worse things happening. I think what has been suggested is a £2 per ton subsidy on the West Indian sugar, which, in spite of the extravagant remarks which have been made, would be less than £1,000,000.
What would that sum mean compared with the liability we should have to face if the prophecy of Lord Olivier comes true? In respect of the return of indentured Indian labour alone the cost would amount to £2,000,000. What about the rest of the island, which would have its revenues destroyed and its social services rendered impossible. Think of the cost that would be necessary if the whole of this great community had to go without work and subsistence. Think of the cost that would be placed upon the taxpayers of this country. We cannot afford to neglect this question, and it is our duty, from every consideration of reason, duty and sentiment, to look after these people before actual disaster comes. I had the experience this summer of visiting America and being the guest of the American army in Panama. The officers there rely for their service on West 751 Indian negro labour. It was very pathetic, considering the circumstances, to understand their great loyalty and pride in regard to the British connection. I found it very refreshing on that occasion to hear from some of these people the English accent, and it was quite a change from the well-known American twang. They are very sensitive at the smallest disagreement with their masters. They produce British passports, and say "We are British subjects." They despise base-ball, and prefer to play cricket. They are British citizens and ought to be treated properly. Many of them desire to go back to the island which they love so much, and where they have spent most of their lives. T cannot defend the method by which the people were brought to those islands in the first place, but there they are. It is our duty to look after them, and it would be a monstrous crime if any Government were to run the risk of ruining them. What is their crime? Their only crime is that of belonging to the British Empire. Had these people belonged to any other country, had they been like the people of Cuba wrested from their European connection by a war, or had they been part of the French Empire or even attached to the Portuguese, they would not have been in their present distress. Their one crime is that they belong to the British Empire, and under those circumstances it seems to me that it is the bounden duty of the Government to see that they are protected.
This is not merely a one-sided affair. It is obvious that the West Indies bring to the workers of this country very great benefit indeed, because they imported last year;£7,000,000 worth of manufactured goods from this country. Supposing they go bankrupt, where will that source of employment be? Last year they imported from the United States another £7,000,000 worth of goods. The people of these islands are prepared to do anything to save themselves, and they are prepared to give a preference to the manufactured goods of this country, which would cause an immense increase of trade from the West Indies. If you go to the West Indies you will not see a single British motor car. Imagine the stimulus that would be given to the British motor car trade in this country if we had a substantial preference in 752 favour of British motor cars. In all these matters we have an absolutely unanswerable case on merits, and in some measure I think it is the duty of the Government to do something to recompense the West Indies for the disaster which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by his obstinacy and dogmatism, has brought upon them during the last year.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Dr. Drummond Shiels)
We have had in this discussion a number of interesting speeches, and it might be thought from some of them, perhaps notably that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) and that of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjori-banks), that the Government have shown no sympathy with the West Indian Colonies in their plight, but have shown, indeed, a cynical indifference, and have made no great effort to meet the need which actually exists. That, however, is not so. The condition of things in the West Indies and in Mauritius has been a matter of very great concern to His Majesty's Government, and if we have not been able to accept heroic remedies, it is not because we have treated the subject lightly or have been without a realisation of its great importance. We have been criticised to-night on account of the delay in the publication of this report. I think, however, it is obvious that the bulk of the information in the report was already well known to those whom it concerns, and the important matter was to know what the policy of His Majesty's Government was in regard to this subject. I do not think it can be said that the delay in publication has had any bad effect at all.
§ Dr. SHIELS
It is, as have just explained, that we were enabled by the delay to publish at the same time the policy of the Government. A great many points have been brought forward in this discussion, but the main facts are simple. For various reasons, more sugar has been produced during the last few years than could be consumed, and the West Indian Colonies have contributed their share to that over-production. They are not to blame for that, because it is the result of the disorganised condition 753 of the sugar industry as a whole, but stocks of sugar have been accumulated, the world price has gone down very low, and has gone down lower than the cost of production. Our sugar Colonies get a preference of about £3 15s. per ton, and, were the market price normal, that preference would be sufficient to make production profitable; but under present conditions it still leaves the bulk of the producers on the wrong side, and it is declared by competent authorities that, if the preference were removed, the industry would be in a very serious condition.
When the Government were apprised of the state of things in the West Indies, they sent out a Commission to make investigations, and a previous one had been arranged for Mauritius by the last Government. The publication of the Reports of these Commissioners, and the Government's response to them, are the subject of our discussion to-night. With regard to the West Indies, I think it will be agreed, whatever our view may be, that the West Indian Report is a valuable document, and that, apart from its recommendations, it will be very useful to all concerned with the Colonies and their main industry. Hon. Members will agree that it is a mine of information, and will be a very valuable work of reference.
What are we asked to do by the West Indies Report? There are four recommendations. There are two main alternatives, and hon. Members on this side have listened without success to find out which of the recommendations hon. and right hon. Members opposite would ask the Government to accept. It has not been at all clear which part of the Report hon. Members opposite were anxious to see adopted. It was stated that we had accepted none of the recommendations, but hon. Members will be glad to know that at least we have considered that His Majesty's Government should make a resolute effort to eliminate, in concert with other Powers, the disturbing forces of high tariffs and subsidies. [Interruption.] I was just going to point out that my right hon. Friend and colleague, the President of the Board of Trade, has been very actively engaged in that work during the last few weeks. We agree that, while that course is desirable, and will be 754 pursued by His Majesty's Government, it is not of any immediate benefit to the sugar Colonies. As is pointed out in the White Paper on policy, the third and fourth recommendations of the Commission which concern the preference, really arise on the Budget statement, and cannot be anticipated by any announcement now In regard to an increased preference, that was definitely excluded by the instructions to the Commission, which are printed at the beginning of the Report, and it was rather surprising to see it included as a recommendation. There has been a good deal of criticism about the failure to intimate whether the preference was to be maintained or not, and I think the hon. Member for Waver-tree (Mr. Tinne) pointed out that that gave rise to a great deal of uncertainty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has on numerous occasions pointed out that uncertainty is associated with preferences and subsidies and bounties, and hon. Members opposite, while they admit that, will feel that there are other compensations. I think it will be agreed that it would be a very undesirable precedent to start to intimate Budget statements prematurely. It might be said that this is an exceptional case, but there are many exceptional cases, and, if we started this policy, the day might come when the unfortunate Chancellor of the Exchequer would be without material for making any Budget statement at all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has a full knowledge of all the facts of the situation, which have been placed before him by the Departments concerned, and also by the large and important deputation which waited upon him yesterday. and we must now await his judgment. I am sorry that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to-night made such a very unmerited attack on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and described him in lurid language as the villain of the piece. It must be obvious, that every Member of the Government is responsible for the decision that has been made, and the Government is not only unanimous in this matter, but has the support of hon. Members behind me.
The most important and interesting recommendation is the second, in regard to the Import Board. That is a recommendation which is in line with sugges- 755 tions that have been made from another aspect by some of my hon. Friends, but, however much we may sympathise with the idea, we have to have regard to the state of this country at the present time, and to consider whether from that point of view the proposal is practicable. The fixed minimum rate suggested by the Commission was £15 a ton, and, at the time when the Commission reported, that represented an increase of £3 per ton on the market price; but, with the change in prices, it now represents a difference of £3 10s. per ton. The Commission contemplated a single central authority to buy and distribute the whole of the sugar consumed in Great Britain. It is, however, impossible to distinguish between sugar imported for consumption and imported sugar for subsequent export after refining, and possibly after being changed into the form of manufactured articles. The enhanced price would accordingly have to be based on all imports of Imperial sugar.
In 1929 the imports of non-Empire sugar were 1,400,000 tons, which represented 58 per cent. of our total supply. The imported Empire sugar amounted to 710,000 tons, and the home-grown sugar was 290,000 tons, which made a total of 1,000,000 tons, or 42 per cent. of the total supply. The whole of the imports of sugar, with the home production, amounted to 2,400,000 tons. For 1930 the home production is estimated at 375,000 tons. If a minimum buying price of £15 per ton for Empire sugar were adopted an increased amount of Empire sugar would certainly be offered to this country, and on the assumption that the higher price would be paid for Dominion as well as Colonial sugar, and that similar terms would have to be given for home-grown sugar, it is estimated that not far short of two-thirds of our total supply eventually might have to be bought at the enhanced price.
On the figures that I have given this result would represent an increase in the retail price of £2 12s. per ton, or 28d. per lb. Further, in order not to prejudice the sugar export trade, something in the nature of a rebate corresponding to the amount paid for the sugar in excess of the market price would need to be given. The exports of sugar and molasses in 1929 amounted to over 200,000 tons, and 756 the cost of the rebate would be somewhere about £600,000. If this cost also were passed on to the British consumer, the increase in the retail price would represent, not 28d. per lb., but about 31d. per lb. It appears, therefore, that an increase of ¼d. per lb. in the retail price would not suffice except for a short period, and the retail price might have to be advanced by ½d. per lb.
As the Government see the proposal, it could be carried out only by imposing an extra charge on the consumer in this country, amounting, on the basis of current prices and supplies, to something like £4,000,000 a year in the first place, and in the fairly near future probably reaching as much as £6,000,000 a year. As stated in the White Paper, the Government are unable to agree to the imposition of this burden on the consumers of this country. It must be remembered that you cannot take this industry of sugar purely as an isolated case. There are other Empire industries which are not in too happy a position. There are home industries which are also in difficulties. The question which to some hon. Members opposite appears to be so simple, when considered in the light of these possible ramifications, is seen to be a very serious one indeed.
In regard to the Mauritius Report, I think that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that we were again fortunate in our Commissioner. Sir Francis Watts has made a very clear and very succinct Report, and has described very well the position of the industry in that interesting colony. He recommends a definite grant-in-aid, based on the losses of the previous year. The estimate for the first, year was £235,000, and that was based on the price when the Report was made. But on the basis of present prices the figure would amount to something like £600,000 for next year. Further, it would not be possible to differentiate in methods of assistance between different colonies, and if a grant-in-aid of this kind were given it would have to be applied generally, and would amount to a very serious figure.
An attempt has been made, not only to-night but at other times and in other places, to make this a party matter and to make party capital cut of the attitude of the present Government. But there is very little party capital to be 757 made out of it. Prominent members of the late Government who have denounced us both here and in another place, had the same problem before them at the beginning of last year. They were definitely and specifically asked to raise the preference to meet a similar situation, and, be it noted, the policy of preference, as we have heard to-night, is one which is very dear to their hearts and is in line with their principles. Yet, although that was the case, their Chancellor of the Exchequer, against whom nothing has been said to-night, did not find himself able to increase the preference, and the late Government did nothing at all to meet the situation. All the vituperation that has been poured on us to-night could quite well be made retrospective and poured on the heads of hon. Members opposite.
§ Dr. SHIELS
They were not quite as bad, but it was practically the same position in a less advanced stage, and one can say that it would have been easier then to have dealt with it. If it had been grappled with, as it would have been by a vigorous Government, we would not have had this problem to deal with now. Our financial position in this country is certainly not less serious than theirs was last year. While we do not look for consistency in opposition, I think the remembrance of these facts might at any rate have helped to tone down a little the criticism that we have had, but it has not had that effect. Fortunately, politicians forget easily, or their lives would perhaps not always be worth living. Not only are the facts in regard to the position of the late Government as I have stated, but we have had no guidance to-night as to which line of policy we ought to adopt. There has been a great clamouring for something to be done immediately.
§ Dr. SHIELS
Every suggestion we have had has been very vague. We suggested an interim arrangement, which had nothing to do really with the main policy, to assist the banks to give credit to the industry, but our proposals have not been received with any great 758 enthusiasm. That was partly because it was thought that we put those proposals forward as a solution, which we did not, but we thought that they would assist to tide over a difficult time. I believe, in spite of all that has been said here and in the Press, it will be found that these proposals will serve a very useful purpose, and I hope they will be found to be of some service and that, along with the co-operation of the small producers and the making available of better credit and marketing facilities, the undoubtedly difficult and serious position of the West Indian authorities may be abated.
I should like to associate myself with some of the remarks that were made by the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Morgan). It is interesting to notice that Lord Olivier's report made very definite and specific reference to the condition of the workers in the West Indies. I was very glad that the hon. Member referred to it, and it is to the credit of Lord Olivier and his colleagues that he called attention to those conditions. They were called attention to by the 1897 Commission, and it is a very remarkable thing, in reading the Report of that Commission, to find how very similar was the language used, not only about the condition of the industry and the importance of immediate help but also about the social conditions of the workers. Lord Olivier and his colleagues say in their report that, although there has been some improvement since 1897, the conditions are not generally satisfactory. There is no doubt that the wages are low. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford seemed to suggest that the workers in the West Indies were paid good wages. He suggested, at any rate, that they were paid higher than in Cuba. That is not my information. In regard to Java it is very difficult to make a comparison. One requires to know what is the value of the real wages.
§ Dr. SHIELS
Yes, I know, but you have to know the living conditions. I believe in Java the workers have free rice fields allotted to them, and the value of that in regard to their wages, of course, is not mentioned in these comparisons. I think the West Indies have always had a low wage policy and the method of em- 759 ployment is not good. I have made reference here to the Report, but I have other opportunities of finding out what is the position in the West Indies. I have been very seriously concerned, not only about low wages but about the labour laws, the master and servant ordinances, the lack of workmen's compensation, the state of the health services, the absence of factory legislation, which, I believe, only exists in one Colony, and also about what is. perhaps, one of the main causes of all these things, the restricted franchise. As to some of the things, however, which my hon. Friend the Member for North West Camberwell said, I must, to some extent, associate myself with my predecessor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford in regard to the relative position of these Colonies and the Colonial Office. The West Indian Colonies have a great deal of autonomy, and they have power to put many of these things right, and I hope that the references in the Report, which are very well put, and which could not be taken as offensive, will have the result of stimulating them in an endeavour to put these things right.
Will my hon. Friend tell us what he really means by the West Indian Government having autonomy? I put it to him very briefly and courteously that the West Indian islands have not autonomy. There are influential minorities who can veto anything which the elected Members can say or do. It cannot be said that the West Indies have autonomy at all, or anything approaching self-government, or anything of the kind.
§ Dr. SHIELS
This is not a subject on which we want to spend much time at this moment, but, undoubtedly, what, I think, the right hon. Gentleman meant, and certainly what I mean, is that, compared with other Colonies, the West Indian Colonies have more autonomy. They have more power to do things for themselves, and less control and overlooking by the Colonial Office. I think that that is undoubtedly true. I am not saying that there is no power of influence, but I say that if you had an initiative in the West Indian Colonies to do all these things, or any of them, it would be possible to get them done. The important point I want to make is, that if 760 the West Indian Colonies, in trying to improve their economic condition, would realise at the same time that low wages and bad working conditions are not really economic but are wasteful and bad business, and that improvement in all these things, especially in regard to some of the things to which the hon. Member called attention, would naturally bring happier economic conditions. I think it is true, and it is one of the things which make one optimistic, that where conditions are more humane, the conditions are most economic. When you have removed low wages and all these other things, you have, at the same time, done an act of true economy. While we have not been able to do all that we would like to do in this crisis to help the West Indies, we hope, as stated in the White Paper, that they will increasingly avail themselves of the opportunities which the Empire Marketing Board and the Colonial Development Fund afford from the British Exchequer to give them a real help.
I am prepared to admit the claim which the right hon. Member for Stafford made on behalf of the late Government that they were the authors of the Empire Marketing Board. They must, at least, give us credit for the Colonial Development Fund. We are coming on very fast in that connection. These are interesting facts of which many West Indian people are not aware. The right hon. Member for Stafford spoke about the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture. Although that is an Imperial college and is intended to serve the whole Empire, it has special associations with the West Indies, and special claims and responsibilities in connection with the West Indies. In aid of the maintenance and development of that Imperial college, the Empire Marketing Board have given £21,000 of capital and £55,000 spread over a period of four years. They have also given to the college for research in the production of a variety of banana immune from Panama disease, over £5,000 of capital and £3,806 per annum for five years. To British Guiana they have given £200 per annum for five years in connection with plant investigation, and they have also met the cost of an expert to go to British Guiana and to advise them on rice production, a very important matter in connection with the alternative industries which have been mentioned to-night. 761 Money has also been given to the Jamaica Producers' Association for the co-operative marketing of bananas, citrous fruits, etc. to the extent of £1,200 per annum for three years. They have also given £1,900 spread over three years in Jamaica for the development of the silk industry. The Board have also met the expenses of a visit to Jamaica and other parts of the West Indies of a citrous expert from South Africa, and there has also been a visit by an expert from Cambridge, at the expense of the Board, for the purpose of investigating the inheritance of milk yield. For promoting the marketing of St. Vincent arrow-root in the United Kingdom, a grant has been made of £250 per annum for two years. In regard to the whole of the West Indies, there have been various visits paid by biological and entomological experts in order to assist them in various branches of agricultural production. The total amounts provided by the Empire Marketing Board for West Indian scheme, such as those which I have described, for the full period involve a sum of £115,394. I think it will be seen that there has been very considerable and very important expenditure from British funds. In regard to publicity, full opportunity is given for the advertising of West Indian produce. Opportunity is taken to give free space at exhibitions, to give free lectures on West Indian production and in every way as far as possible to assist in making known the products of the West Indies. It is interesting to note, also, that Mauritius has obtained from the Empire Marketing Board a grant of £2,000 for five years for sugar research, which makes a very definite connection with the problem we have been discussing to-night.
For such purposes as workmen's houses, water supply, and medical services in the West Indies, the Government, on the recommendation of the Colonial Development Committee, have already undertaken to provide financial assistance to various development schemes to a total amount of £82,000, of which three-quarters represents grants of capital and the remainder loans, free of interest, for five or 10 years. Of this amount £60,000 has been allocated to Colonies in which sugar is extensively cultivated. The Government will be glad to receive suitable applications for either of these 762 funds in the hope that something will be done to assist in the development and prosperity of the Colonies. It will be evident from all I have said, and from our general policy, that we wish to help, and that we are helping, the development of alternative industries, which is one of the most important remedies we can pursue. In the islands where they have alternate forms of work the stress is not nearly so severe. We must hope for an improvement in the market price of sugar, and for such improvements in the cost of production as are possible without low wages. That is all I can contribute to the discussion. We must await now the Budget, which will be here before long, for the next chapter.
§ Major ELLIOT
No one will have listened to the speech of the Under-Secretary of State without the deepest sympathy. Never has this House heard a worthy man struggling with adversity more vigorously and more unsuccessfully. We know very well that the Under-Secretary is the whipping boy of the Treasury. He has been sent here to be flogged for the benefit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that these uncertainties are inseparable from Preference, and he is going to take good care that if uncertainty does not exist, he will make sure that it begins to exist very shortly. It is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has produced this uncertainty. It is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has suppressed this Report, and he is responsible far the condition in which the West Indian Islands remain to-day. All that the Under-Secretary can say is that he has told us all that he can do and that we have now to await humbly until the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes down to the House and opens his Budget shortly before Good Friday. In the lame and impotent statement he has been able to give the House, all that we are told for the benefit of the West Indies is that a day will come when the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be good enough to open his Budget speech.
Is this the defence which is to be brought forward to the House of Commons on the Consolidated Fund Bill, when we are about to vote millions of money away under the trusteeship of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Where is the Chancellor of the Exchequer? We 763 know where he is. He is away making sure that the state of uncertainty which he has produced is continued. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has produced a situation in which the Under-Secretary for State has no defence at all to offer the House, save this, that these are good Reports; Reports paid for entirely by the unhappy islands which the Chancellor of the Exchequer still continues to hold upon the rack. The hon. Gentleman tells us that the Report is a mine of information. A mine of information indeed! It indicates how bankruptcy and disaster are approaching with rapid steps our oldest Colonies, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer instructs the hon. Gentleman to say: "It is a very good Report. It tells us that disaster is coming. Just wait and you will see the disaster coming." [Laughter.] That is a very fine proposal and no doubt amusing to hon. Members opposite, but to the oldest British Colonies it is not nearly so funny, as it appears to be to them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has instructed the hon. Gentleman to say that he hats given considerable sums already, and that the Report brings forward cases where improvements in the conditions of the workers could be made. The hon. Gentleman has quite rightly pointed to the fact that improvements in the conditions of the workers should be made, but has he quoted from the other parts of the Report? Let me call his attention to paragraph 61:If the cultivation and manufacture of sugar were suddenly to be killed by the withdrawal of the preference protection … such progress as has been attained would be largely lost and the social conditions of the labouring population, in so far as they are dependent on the sugar industry, would infallibly be deteriorated.Then paragraph 63 states:We are confident that His Majesty's Government would not allow such a development while it lies in their power to prevent it.They reckoned without their host. They reckoned without the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No doubt, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies would not allow this deterioration in the conditions of the labouring population, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrapping himself in his Cobdenite mantle, says: "This disaster is inseparable from preferences and I am going to make sure, 764 even at the cost of the deterioration of the conditions of the labouring population of the West Indian islands, that the gospel according to St. Cobden, shall be fulfilled." The right hon. Gentleman might have read the Debates in this House, nearly 100 years ago, when the conditions in the sugar islands were under review and when the conditions of the labouring population of those islands were under review. The Tory party of that day pressed upon the Whig and Radical Government which had assumed power, with the support of certain renegade Conservatives, the condition of these islands. Disraeli and the Conservative Members pressed on the Government of the day the condition of the sugar islands, and the very gospellers and the apostles of Free Trade agreed that a preference ought to be given and that there ought to be Protection for West Indian sugar against sugar coming from countries with inferior labour conditions. That protection was in fact given at a time when the gospel of Free Trade and Cobdenism was being preached with full fervour from every platform in the country, and that concession was made for the specific purpose of maintaining the improved labour conditions which had been given to the West Indies by the freeing of the slaves.
It is not true, as the hon. Gentleman has said, that the policy of the West Indies has always been a low wages policy. The policy of the West Indies has always been one of free labour as against slave labour, and is still a policy of high wage conditions against the low wage conditions in other sugar-growing areas of the world. That case was made and defended and established in a House, at least as much attached to Free Trade principles as the present House—a House which contained gospellers of Free Trade, a great deal more powerful and effective than the present defenders of that faith on the Front Bench opposite. The maintenance stabilisation and extension of the principle of Colonial Preference, for the purpose of maintaining wage rates in our ancient British Colonies—that concession which was given by the Free Trade gospellers of 100 years ago, surely ought to be maintained to-day.
For all we know, apart from the arguments and the abuse which the Chancellor of the Exchequer hurls across the Table, he may be going to maintain that 765 preference; he may even be going to increase it. He does not deign either to inform the House, or to come down to the House when these matters are under discussion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is busy; he has greater things to think about; he has to confer with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade upon the recent proposal for the stabilisation, not the reduction, of tariffs. The recommendation made by the Commission was to eliminate the disturbing factors of high tariffs and subsidies. The President of the Board of Trade has gone to Geneva to stabilise them. That is his real achievement. He has eliminated nothing, and reduced nothing. All that he has succeeded in doing is to nail the banner of high tariffs to the mast for other people, and the hon. Member has the effrontery to come to the House and suggest that in doing that the Government are taking steps to eliminate the disturbing factors of high tariffs.
§ Major ELLIOT
The hon. Member takes a childlike and simple view of world politics for which, as a Scot, I blush. There must be something about the air of Edinburgh which produces this childlike simplicity. His right hon. Friend and colleague the President of the Board of Trade also apparently shares this childlike belief. He says that he agrees that the tariff banner has been nailed to the top of the mast by the action of his right hon. Friend, but that that is the first step. The next step is to lower the flag. It is nailed up there so that we can all see it, and then his right hon. Friend is going to see that it is brought down. Does he really think that that highly Protectionist body, the League of Nations, is going to reduce these tariffs on account of the beautiful eyes of the President of the Board of Trade. The arguments which were brought forward by the hon. Member brought no conviction to himself, and how could they bring any conviction to the rest of the House? He admitted that they held this report up, and the only argument for holding it up was, he says, that it enabled the Government to publish their policy. Then he went on to say that the policy had been greeted 766 with whole-hearted condemnation and derision in every part of the British Empire. That was a grand success to secure by the suppression for two months of a report for which other people had paid, and to which other people were looking for an improvement in their conditions.
The Report recommends certain very definite steps, but the most definite that it recommends is the maintenance and increase of the British preference. Can the hon. Member tell us whether that preference is to be maintained and increased? It is surely a simple question. It is the most immediate recommendation of the Commission, and it is a recommendation which can be carried into effect immediately. It is not a recommendation, like the sugar purchasing agency, requiring the setting up of elaborate machinery. The difficulties are not great. It could be done by a stroke of the pen. The uncertainty which exists only exists in regard to the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He could remove it by a single sentence, and stabilise for ten years what was granted under previous Governments. It certainly would be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he had some regard for continuity in foreign policy and in Imperial policy, and that he would extend that preference for the ten-year period which was granted by his predecessor in office.
Uncertainty can be created at any time by saying "We will tear up and reverse the action of our predecessors." If the Chancellor of the Exchequer bases his argument against Colonial preferences on the ground that whenever there is a Socialist Government in power those preferences will be in danger of being swept away, he is giving the country a very good hint how to maintain those preferences, and that is to make sure that hon. Members of the Socialist persuasion do not occupy the Government Benches. [Interruption.] Hon. Members, happy—full-fed—well paid, can laugh at the unfortunate condition of the people of the West Indies.
§ Major ELLIOT
They do not care about the condition of this industry. They do not care about the conditions of labour. They do not care about the market for our manufactured goods which the West Indies provides.
§ Major ELLIOT
Producers in the United Kingdom are rapidly realising that unless the consuming power of other portions of the Empire is maintained it is useless for production to be increased by rationalisation or any other step taken within these islands. We must look to our markets as well as to our productive areas, and inside the British Empire we have the greatest single market for the manufactured goods of these islands. Hon. and right hon. Members above the Gangway fully realise the importance of these facts, but hon. Members below the Gangway are perfectly willing to worship the Treasury, to worship the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to worship the banks! The policy brought forward by the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies is this: "We are offering facilities to the banks. They will save the colonies. Let us go to the banks! Let us give the banks advances! Let us trust the banks! "We have heard this story from hon. Members before, but it is an astonishing thing to find the banks—this super-capitalist organisation—are all that is to be aided and assisted; and for a policy of that kind the Chancellor of the Exchequer can find wholehearted support from hon. Members below the Gangway. Let it be so! They agree that disaster is coming upon the islands. They agree that they are not going to do anything practical to avert that disaster, not even going to state their policy. They are not even going to demand the presence of the responsible Minister before the House of Commons. Be it so! It is one more count in the long indictment which not merely these islands, but the Empire, has and will have against the present Government. Hon. Members below the Gangway—
§ Major ELLIOT
Yes, I will separate the two. The hon. Members on the front benches below the Gangway differ from the supporters of the Government on the back benches, who are not deceived by Cobdenite delusions and are perfectly well aware that the Treasury, which has sunk more than one Government, is in the act of sinking this Government. Those hon. Members on the Front Bench below the Gangway find the state of the West Indies a matter for laughing just now, but they will find it a matter 768 for regret before these Debates are over and this Parliament is ended.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.