§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. William Graham)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It may be for the convenience of the House if I outline very briefly the history of recent efforts to deal with food prices, and if I proceed in the second place to the kind of abuse or difficulty with which we have to deal, and in the third place describe the provisions of the Bill. This preliminary statement need not be very long. The Royal Commission on Food Prices in 1925 pointed out that the aggregate sum spent in this country year by year on food, drink and tobacco was approximately £1,700,000,000 to £1,800,000,000. We remember that round about that time and later the total income of the British people was put at approximately £4,000,000,000. So that if there is added to the items in the Bill fuel and clothing and certain other commodities that it is proposed this legislation should cover, there appears to be no doubt that very much more than half of the total income of the people of this country on the side of expenditure is before us in the Debate this afternoon.
During the War there was, of course, an inevitable and profound disturbance of price levels. No country could pour out nearly £10,000,000,000 of expenditure, suffer dislocation in its home and export trade, and be exposed to great disturbances in foreign exchanges and all the rest of the troubles associated with the War, without having violent fluctuations in prices. During the War, as hon. Members will recall, there was either a definite ownership by the State of important commodities, or their regulation, and after the War in particular there were the steps taken by the Profiteering Acts in 1919, the investigations of the Linlithgow Committee in 1922–23, and finally the declarations of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition round about that time, and particularly in 1924, as a result of which he set up the Food Council on its present basis in 1925.
1166 I do not propose to dwell at length on either the War experience or the experience of the Profiteering Acts, because whatever view hon. Members take of the present Bill, that effort was associated with a period of such deep or profound disturbance that to a large extent the lessons of it are not applicable to the present time. But it is relevant to recall both the evidence which was tendered to the Linlithgow Committee in their important investigations, and the recommendations which were made by that body, devoted as they were to the problem of agricultural produce and its disposal. They inquired into wheat, fruit and vegetables, and certain other classes of agricultural produce, including milk, and they directed attention to what they regarded, and indeed, described, as the quite unfair spread between the producers' prices and the price which was charged in the retail trade. In the most emphatic terms they stated, at the end of that Report, that the difference between the producer's price and the retail price was greater than society would permanently consent to bear.
They made many important and constructive recommendations in the field of agriculture, more particularly relating to marketing and the charges of the railways and other forms of transport, and the tolls which were levied at markets. I think hon. Members in different parts of the House will agree that to an appreciable extent the gravity of our existing agricultural problem would at least have been minimised if more of that constructive programme had been applied between 1923 and the present day. But be that as it may, the opportunity has been lost. Nevertheless there was a clear message from the Linlithgow Committee that there was far too great a spread.
That leads us naturally and easily to the announcements which preceded the establishment of the Food Council in 1925. There was persistent criticism of too high retail and wholesale prices, and although I do not want to draw any distinction or to apportion blame either here or there, in the main the criticism was directed to the retail trade. Prior to the General Election of 1924—in some of the declarations of the Leader of the Opposition in 1923, and certainly in 1924—there was a promise of an inquiry regarding retail prices, and more than a 1167 promise of inquiry—a hint that if the investigation did not result in a remedy more drastic steps, which were not defined, would be taken. That was repeated in the declaration that the Opposition made in 1924. Those declarations were re-emphasised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the autumn of 1924, and the Food Council was set up in 1925. But prior to that there had been the investigation by the Royal Commission on Food Prices, into wheat and bread, and other articles in common use. It would be wrong to suggest that the report of the Royal Commission showed manifest or great abuse in many important fields, but a very considerable part of the report went to show that the retail trade was doing comparatively well, and the report underlined in unmistakable terms the message of the Linlithgow Committee as to the unfair spread between the producer's price at one end and the retail price at the other.
What did the Royal Commission recommend? It is a very important point, having regard to the Amendment which the Opposition are to move this afternoon. Apart from the Minority Reports, the Royal Commission recommended unanimously the establishment of a Food Council, and made it perfectly plain that that Food Council should be given compulsory powers for the acquisition of all relevant information; and it said that the Council should be established on a statutory basis, that is under Act of Parliament. Let the House clearly, and I trust carefully, observe that these recommendations, which were moderate in character, were not adopted by our predecessors in office. On the contrary they set up the Food Council by a Minute of the then Prime Minister and gave it no powers of a statutory character as regards information. From July, 1925, down to the present time that Food Council has operated with very great earnestness and with a fair measure of success under the two handicaps that I have described.
Whatever view is taken of this Bill no one disputes the value of the work which has been undertaken by the Food Council. I would like to pay a public tribute, which I think will be generally endorsed, to Sir Allan Powell and his colleagues on 1168 the Council for a great deal of unselfish work which must have involved a considerable sacrifice of time and indeed of remuneration in other fields, because all this work was of a purely voluntary kind. I am glad to have this opportunity of recalling that fact this afternoon. The Food Council made many important inquiries and to some extent they have made their wishes prevail, but there have been important fields in which they have not succeeded, and I trust that I shall be able to show that non-success has been clearly traceable to the absence in part of the statutory basis and of statutory powers for getting information; and I propose to go beyond that and to show that it has been partly due to the absence of sanction in trying to make fair prices prevail.
Let us pause for a moment to look, in the second place, at the kind of difficulty with which we are confronted. It is easy for Members in all parts of the House to produce glaring instances of overcharging in one field or another for retail sale compared with the original producers' price. Let me try to give one or two simple illustrations. If, for example, hon. Members take the price of fish, an article in general consumption, my attention was called, as regards February of the present year, to the case of cod sold at the port of landing at 1.66d. per lb. and retailed, very often not far away, sometimes in the immediate vicinity, at 8d. per lb.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
How does the right hon. Gentleman know it is the same kind of cod? In arriving at those figures, have they taken into calculation the cod landed for salting purposes?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
The hon. Member is going into details into which I cannot follow him in a Second Reading speech. These prices are given after very full inquiry and they are a fair representation of the position, the various factors having been taken into account. In the case of haddock, they point to a price of 2.4d. per lb. retailed at 10d. I am not going to suggest in illustrations of that kind that there are not changes within recent years which, to some extent, account for the spread between the producer and the retail price. I will refer to that a little later after one or two additional illustrations have been given. These illustrations are being given in a field which, while very important, I do not regard as 1169 nearly as important as the great central controversies of, say, London bread, because of the vast population affected, or of London milk prices, the controversy of August last year. I merely refer to those as showing the kind of problem which is constantly presented to the Food Department of the Board of Trade, and which reach hon. Members in their correspondence.
As regards milk prices, this was brought out to an appreciable extent in the Linlithgow Committee. There is a body of evidence applicable to quite recent times showing that the price per gallon of milk on the farm destined for liquid consumption was a shilling to 1s. 1d., but it was retailed in London, and indeed in other areas, at about 2s. 2d., or rather more. In a minority statement to the Linlithgow Committee on this subject, which I suggest is of very great importance to agriculture, Mr. Ashby alluded to an aggregate consumption of 600,000,000 gallons, and suggested that if there could be a saving of as little as a penny in distribution costs, or in the spread between the producer and the retail price, there would be, under that head alone, some £2,500,000 to distribute, either between the producers or the consumers, in relief in one case or in better prices in the other, but that by economies in distribution costs, by reorganisation, which indirectly this Bill should promote, as much as £7,500,000 might be saved. I cannot pledge myself to a strict reading of those figures, which were taken out some years ago, but it seems to me to be beyond dispute that there is, first of all, room for very careful inquiry, and in the second place certainly room for powers to provide a remedy.
So I might go on giving illustration after illustration of the difficulty which undeniably exists. There is the case of petrol prices, the raw material of an enormous industry and of a good deal of public enjoyment—the report produced last year when this controversy was before the House. There is the question as to how far, by the operation of the combine in this country, based upon the determination of the wholesale price related to Mexico gulf prices in the United States, there is too high a price to the consumer, and whether that could be reduced. There is also the case of coal, 1170 which, I am reliably informed, has been considered at some length in this House within recent times. When an analysis was taken out quite recently as regards retail prices of standard classes of coal consumed in London between 1920 and 1929, it was perfectly clear that there had been a very considerable fall in pit-head prices within that period—the problem with which we were immediately concerned in the recent legislation. As regards Derby Brights and nuts for kitchen use, retail prices had varied during that time as between 39s., 40s., 45s., up to nearly 50s. per ton, but there had been practically no variation at all in the price charged to millions of consumers in Central London, and the emphatic conclusion of that investigation, which had no party end to serve, and was merely directed to the facts, was that while there had been that fall in the pithead price, and perhaps to some extent in the wholesale price, the benefit had not passed down to the consumers to anything like the extent to which it should have reached them, if it passed at all. These things demand investigation, and accordingly we seek in the Bill to obtain powers for that purpose.
But I want to concentrate to-day on two leading controversies, because I think they will meet many of the objections to the Bill, and I think they form a true reply to the reasoned Amendment which hon. Members opposite have put on the Paper. The first case, which was within my own knowledge at the Board of Trade in July, 1929, was that relating to milk prices in London. The position there is that there is for all practical purposes a great milk combine into whose exact relations with farmers or producers I need not enter to-day, but in any case, after a most detailed inquiry conducted with the assistance of most eminent chartered accountants, it was definitely laid down that for the milk year 1928–9, that is ending on 30th September, 1929, the new year beginning on 1st October, there should be charged 7d. per quart for seven months, normally called the winter price, and 6d. per quart for the other five months. A report was presented by the Food Council in March, 1929, prior to our taking office. It was hinted from time to time, after that date, that the milk distributors, in this case distributing that commodity certainly to 10,000,000 1171 people or more—the population of the London area is very great—proposed to charge the winter price for August, in other words to alter that to eight months at the winter price of 7d. and four months at the summer price of 6d. A difference of 1d. per quart, no doubt, appears on paper to be a small consideration, but it is of vital importance to millions of people, and certainly to the poorest of the poor, because it is a notorious economic truth that in these essential commodities of human existence it is worse for the poverty stricken classes or those with the lowest rates of wages to be driven to pay more for these primary commodities than it is for other sections of the community.
No formal statement and no definite information could be obtained, although a question was addressed to the milk distributors round about 19th June, 1929, and it was not until the last day of July, one day before they proposed to make this change, that I was able to get any definite statement from them regarding it and to meet them by deputation at the Board of Trade when the facts were placed before me. Hon. Members will be familiar with the controversy that has taken place in the "Times" between the chairman of the United Dairies Company and the chairman of the Food Council. When I discussed the matter quite impartially with the milk distributors, they were quite unable to say at that date, at the end of July, that there had been any change in the contracts or in the circumstances as compared with March, 1929, when the report was made, and therefore there was no justification for the variation made by bringing forward the winter price to August of that year. I endeavoured in the most conciliatory terms—because the House does not normally accuse me of violence—to reason with them and to dissuade them from the increase. I suggested to them that it was unfair to the community and was not justified by the facts. I am bound to say they did not meet that argument in any way. They imposed that price. In no spirit of threat I said to them that the only effect of that would be to encourage the Government to seek powers to obtain information and possibly even to enforce recommendations if a remedy could not be found for that state of affairs, and accordingly they 1172 were fully alive to the consequences of such action.
The other case which I regard as of vital importance is the London bread price scale. Since 1925, or at all events for a period of rather more than four years, there has been a bread scale applicable to the price of the quartern loaf in the London area. This form of regulation, if I may so describe it, is applicable not only to London but reaches out in influence to a fair part of the rest of the country. It is of very considerable importance for areas adjacent to London and even for areas further afield. In this case, there was a bread price list in operation and the price of the loaf was conditioned by the price of a sack of 280 lbs. of what I think they call straight run flour of from 52s. to 48s. a sack, a variation of 4s., at which price the 4 lb. loaf in London was regulated at 10d. For each fall of 4s. it was regulated further. It might go down to 9d., 8d. or a lower figure, if that had been possible. I want to recognise that in bulk during the 4½ years of the operation of that scale it has been observed, but for reasons which I cannot pretend to understand two large associations of bakers in the city of London, covering again an enormous part of the population of consumers, have decided to alter the scale as based on charges per 280 lbs. of straight run flour by 2s., that is, to bring down the maximum point to 50s., and in that way to add one farthing to the price of the 4 lb. loaf.
They profess to have certain reasons for that in regard to distributive costs and other charges, but the question was very faithfully considered by the Food Council and again, with the information at its disposal, the Food Council was unable to agree that that increased charge had been justified. The Food Council has not been consulted by these two associations regarding the change; in other words it has been ignored, although for rather more than four years the terms have been kept within the scale. While I confine myself to the precise figures of the costs to the community, it is true to say that within the area in question this change might mean taking £300,000 to £400,000 from the pockets of the consumers, and taking it at a time of undeniably industrial depression.
1173 These illustrations lead me to a plain and, I trust, clear statement of our proposals. In the first place, we propose to make good what was not done by our predecessors in 1925 and to put this Consumers Council, reduced in numbers to seven, on a Statutory basis. That is, to set it up as a permanent body to discharge the duties of review and investigation which were recommended by the Royal Commission in 1925. That is the first step. In the next place, we propose to make good the second difficulty, and to endow this Council with compulsory powers under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to get information. I pause for a moment to address myself to that part of the argument because I have reason to believe that while hon. Members opposite may resist the price-fixing part of this scheme they may not entertain quite the same view regarding the giving of compulsory powers to get information. I am only making a guess, but there is a difference of opinion or view as between the two propositions.
During the years of existence of the Food Council information has been tendered over a considerable part of the price field with regard to foodstuffs in this country, but there have been occasions, and sometimes important occasions, when there has been either great delay in getting the information or when that information has been withheld. In particular, in June, 1925, the Leader of the Opposition, in a speech to an enormous gathering at Welbeck Abbey, indicated that if the information was not forthcoming compulsory powers would be sought. In May, 1928, in reply to a question by my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the then Prime Minister, admitted that information had been withheld or was not forthcoming, and he warned the interests concerned that if it were not supplied he would have no hesitation in asking Parliament for appropriate powers to compel it. That statement was very clearly and definitely made and I think it had a salutary effect, because certain quantities of information were provided.
But it is none the less true that in regard to certain important commodities there is great delay, or there are incomplete returns. Particularly in the case of 1174 provincial milk, which is the only illustration that I will cite, there has been an inquiry dragging on for two years or more, since, I think, 1927, in which questions were addressed to 53 different bodies or representative traders and only 20 or 30 returns have been forthcoming, notwithstanding repeated reminders. The effect of that is perfectly obvious. It is no use trying to fix a fair price or to arrive at even a declaration of price by the Food Council unless we are satisfied that a reasonable part of the field or the whole field has been covered. Hon. Members opposite will agree—this is part of their own campaign about safeguarding—that unless there is an adequate basis on which to base any recommendation or statement we may do an intolerable injustice to perfectly honest traders in this country—that is an elementary fact—or, on the other hand, we may fail to protect the consumers. So long as that exists there is, in my judgment, an unanswerable case for these compulsory powers. We propose to take these powers in this Bill. That is the second part of the proposals.
I pass now to what is unquestionably the controversial field and clearly the point which has moved my right hon. Friend opposite and others to offer resistance to the Bill. They seem to indicate that the information is all right and should be obtainable, but they regard it as a dangerous exercise of bureaucratic powers in any way to try to make that price obligatory or to bring it into force, once the information has been obtained and the price has been fixed. I am afraid that I cannot agree with that view, and I hope by my explanation to show that the attitude which they adopt is impossible and would only lead to a great deal of ridicule for the reconstituted Consumers Council. May I make it perfectly plain that if the Government were setting out to try to fix the price for every individual commodity or class of commodity in this country, we should be embarking economically upon an impossible task? I make that statement not only as regards the other side of the House, because I believe it is an underlying conviction of the great majority of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, who have argued, quite truthfully, that there can be no effectual 1175 control of prices in this or in any other land unless we either own or control supplies.
During the long discussions on the Coal Mines Bill I endeavoured to be perfectly frank, and on this legislation also I will not put the case one inch higher than, in my judgment, it will properly go. We do not set out for war-time ownership or war-time control. We are not closing our minds to any discussion about import boards or anything like that, but I am obliged to say that we have not, as I have been careful to ascertain, a majority in the House of Commons for a definitely Socialistic scheme, whatever form it might take, dealing with ownership or out-and-out control of prices in this country. We are in a minority in the House, and it would be idle to introduce legislation which was doomed to defeat under that head, but I think we have gone to the effective point, short of a definitely Socialistic scheme. Nevertheless, it remains my invincible faith, and I think I represent the views of my colleagues, that as many of these commodities are subject to combines and trusts they will inevitably become the materials for public utilities and public corporations. That is my economic faith, and I shall continue to recommend it enthusiastically until we get a majority for it.
Taking the situation as it is, what would be the position of the consumers, assuming that the Amendment to be proposed by hon. members were carried? In practice, it would be this: we should get the information which substantially we got in regard to milk prices in 1929, and we should indicate in terms of that scale that the price should be 6d. for so many months and 7d. for the other months, or whatever the case might be. All that could be definitely ascertained and done, but simply because there was no power to make that price, ascertained in that precise way, beyond the shadow of a doubt, by chartered accountants and other evidence, there would be no means of making it ultimately applicable, and every section of trade in this country could do exactly what the milk distributors did. Therefore, we should be in the extraordinary difficulty of having covered the whole ground almost beyond dispute—for my part I think beyond dispute in 1176 the case of milk—but we should not have any ultimate sanction by which we could make the price obligatory.
What is the kind of criticism that the Food Council has had to endure within recent times? The very people who today are denouncing the so-called bureaucratic powers have over and over again ridiculed the Food Council because it could merely make recommendations. Sir Allan Powell has, quite properly, pointed out that that would be the position of the Council unless additional powers were given to it. The same condition is true about the bread price scale. Let the House observe that in this particular argument I am concentrating upon two single commodities, in the case of milk and bread, consumed in an area inhabited by millions of people, roughly one-fourth of the population of the country, and provided, as the ascertained facts have shown, by industries which are very largely of a combine, trust or syndicate character or in the industries I have indicated, if they are not actually federated, then such price regulation obtains as to give for all practical purposes, trust powers. That is the kind of field which we have immediately in view on the Food Council. If I imagined for a moment that this Council was going to dissipate its time on all manner of very small propositions, scattered all over the country, I would say at once that it would not be serving the great masses of the consumers in Great Britain. It must make an effort to discharge its functions properly in relation to the great central commodities. We have here two illustrations, milk and bread, which are clearly in that category. That is the kind of effort we have in view for this fixing of prices.
I think it would be in order for me very briefly indeed to anticipate some of the objections which will be brought forward. I do not propose to waste the time of the House dealing with the old argument about the extension of bureaucratic power, because no proposal is made by any Government which is exempt from that class of criticism. I remember, years ago, when I was a member of the Royal Commission on the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, that I was handed, in one of the Oxford Colleges, a little pamphlet entitled "Fresh Light on Roman Bureaucracy." 1177 That pamphlet repeated the arguments used 2,000 years ago and we shall have the arguments repeated to-day.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Rome fell, but not for the reasons in the pamphlet. It is an old argument, but against it we have to set the needs of millions of our people in this country, and, as I will show in a final word, a very important problem relating to our public administration and our industrial production, although I will not concern the House too much about that. Again, it may be suggested that if by any chance we fix a price of that kind, within the bread scale, the milk scale, or any other large commodity, that will automatically become the price to be charged by all classes of distributors or producers whatever the cost may be. I do not think that follows. Indeed, the very letter which has been written by the great bakers' associations in the present controversy shows that within the bread scale they have, in numerous cases, according to their own argument, charged less than what was permissible under that code. If it be the case, as they suggest, that elements of competition remain, then they will still continue to operate. If it is not the case that there is an effective competition, then the other part of my argument comes into play, and we have that monopoly power against which we must take powers. There are other arguments which suggest that large numbers of the smaller and border-land firms will be forced out of distribution or production. Without seeking to do them any injustice at all, very large numbers of them are being forced out of the field of production and wholesale distribution, or of the retail trade, at present. They are being forced out by all manner of combinations in the retail trade: the power of the great co-operative movement on the one side, and the growth of multiple establishments on the other. We have here before us the broad problem of the price level in certain commodities, which can be ascertained and which, as I have already indicated, is so far under monopoly regulations. I think we can make during the Committee stage an unanswerable argument on all these points.
1178 I trust that these illustrations will remove a doubt which hon. Members may have had as to the precise application of this part of the Bill. Were this ultimate sanction not included, traders could defy the new Consumers Council, as they have defied the Food Council. There is no intention of abusing the powers which we seek to obtain. It is also my faith that the mere existence of powers will be a sufficient deterrent over a very large part of the field, because very few men like to risk prosecution—and a prosecution would never be brought unless a conviction was tolerably certain—because of the odium which would attach to them in their trade, and because of the damage that would be done to them once it got abroad, as it must do in the community in which they conduct their operations. This ultimate sanction is very important and, in my judgment, is a vital part of the Bill.
I have said that I would refer to this legislation in terms of our public administrative practice and in terms of industrial conditions. Hon. Members know that over a wide field in this country remuneration is regulated by the cost of living. I want to see remuneration increased; I do not believe that wage reductions are any cure for industrial disturbance; they aggravate it. It is of vital importance at the present time that we should maintain and improve the real wages or the real income of the mass of the British people; by that, of course, we mean to maintain their purchasing power. If that purchasing power is maintained, not only are the burdens on the public authorities to that extent relieved or improved, but there is a much greater measure of, I will not say comfort, but at all events of satisfaction, or of the feeling that there is not the manifest injustice which I am afraid exists in regard to the production of some commodities at the present time. Take the industrial side. During these nine years of industrial depression, it is a moderate and cautious statement to suggest that approximately 10,000,000 people in this country have lost, in income, a sum of not less—I am under-stating it here—than £700,000,000. That has been admittedly the price to the masses in income of the industrial depression. Undeniably, side by side with that, there 1179 has been a fall in producers' or commodity prices. A full analysis of every field shows that that has not reached the consumer in the retail markets, and accordingly there has been a spread between the producer and the consumer which has been unjust. I am willing to admit that there are injustices elsewhere, and I recognise the purely static element which has been introduced between the consumers and the producers. Transport charges have increased, and other burdens have grown, but it is the considered judgment of responsible economists that, even when the fullest allowance has been made for this new static element between producers and consumers, there is still too great a spread between the one end and the other in this country. That is a manifest injustice to millions of our people.
I want to remind the House of the constructive side of the Bill. This Bill is not designed merely to get that information. It is not designed only to apply that ultimate sanction if it should be required. It is designed to build up a body of knowledge regarding production, wholesale and other, distribution and retail prices; in other words, so far as we can do it, to educate the consumers in this country—one of the greatest tasks on which any man in existing conditions has to embark. That is our constructive purpose. So, in moving the Second Reading, I have not one moment's hesitation in saying that I believe, faithfully and rigorously applied, with all that considered information at our disposal, the Bill will be of very great advantage during the remaining years of our industrial stress, and beyond that in the times of prosperity which we hope will come.
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House, while prepared, where necessary, to give to an authoritative and independent tribunal adequate powers of investigation and report on prices of articles of food of general consumption or other essential commodities, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which creates an arbitrary and bureaucratic power to fix prices over a wide and indefinite range of commodities, the effect of which must be detrimental to the interests of producers and consumers alike.1180 The President of the Board of Trade has explained the Bill to us in a speech of great lucidity, but in a speech which I do not think revealed quite the whole of the powers which this Bill contains. The industry of the President of the Board of Trade is only equalled by his versatility, and by, if I may respectfully say so, his inconsistency. He has spent the last four or five months in piloting a Bill—a rather difficult Bill—through the House, the whole object of which was to give power to Coalowners Councils to fix the price of coal and, incidentally, to fine any dissentient coalowner who sold below the minimum price fixed. Coal, I should have thought, was, in the words of this Bill, "an article in general use and an article of common consumption." The right hon. Gentleman comes to us to-day with a Bill which proposes to give power to the Consumers' Council and the President of the Board of Trade to fix the price of every other commodity in ordinary use, at any stage and at any time, and to send to prison anybody who sells above the maximum price so fixed. These two Bills have only one thing in common. They are both, in the words of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), incredibly bad Bills. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon is going, I understand, to vote for both of them. The President of the Board of Trade mentioned the word "fuel," and that word finds itself in this Bill. I should like to ask him whether coal, which affects every consumer and every industry in the country, and the cost of every industry is a commodity regulated under this Bill?
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I am sure he would wish this to be perfectly clear. Up to the pit-head the price of coal is covered by the Coal Mines Bill, from that point it is covered by the present legislation.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
We have now got it. It will not be open to any consumer or any industry, however high the price of coal may be fixed by the Coalowners Council, to come to the Consumers Council and say, "The price of coal is too high." That is the price at the pithead.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Then I have not in the least misunderstood. It will not be in the power of any industry to appeal to the Consumers Council because the pithead price of coal is too high. Under the provisions of the Coal Mines Bill there is a Committee consisting of coal-owners and miners and independent people, and then a further inquiry by the Board of Trade, and then there is the right, but only if the Committee agree, to appeal to an arbitrator. That is all the right which British industry has in respect of the pithead price. Pithead coal is going to be fixed by a coal-owners' council. If that is all the right that is to be given in the case of coal I ask why is coal given a privileged position like that, and why are the consumers of coal, the most elemental and fundamental article in common use, excluded in that way? If that Coal Bill, to which we devoted five months, is right, why is not every other industry given a Bill of the same kind? You could not have a greater inconsistency than the Bill which is now put before us and the Bill which we were asked to consider for some months. I am of opinion that both are bad, but plainly both cannot be good, and if the right hon. Gentleman stands by this Bill he stands condemned on all the proposals he put before the House on the Coal Bill.
There is another inconsistency in the position of the President of the Board of Trade. He, second only to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the keeper of the Ark of the Free Trade Covenant. He carries it from Geneva to Nottingham and will probably get some bumps on the way, but he produces the most amazing Free Trade measures that anybody has ever seen. I should have thought that if ever you could have a Bill which was the negation of Free Trade it was this Bill. It has almost strained the new Free Trade alliance. I do not know how many times we have heard Liberals in this House and in the country stand up and say that they alone are the friends and defenders of the trader. Where is their defence of the trader if they support 1182 this Bill? Apparently they are prepared to waive every one of their principles in the hope of favours to come. The truth of the matter is that Free Trade, to the President of the Board of Trade, means freedom for our competitors and fetters for our own industry. We have had this out at one election and we will fight it at other elections.
There is another thing which used to appeal to Liberals as champions of Free Trade. They said they were the champions of Parliamentary control and watch-dogs against bureaucracy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) explained in one of his speeches for or against the Coal Mines Bill—[Interruption]. Yes, I say advisedly, "for or against." He said that the only true freedom was to be found in wise control. He is quite firmly in the other camp, but in this country if not in this House, there are a great many Liberals who do attach great importance to Parliamentary control and to the placing of some limits on bureaucracy. The right hon. Gentleman does not. He dismissed all this by saying that he was not going to waste the time of the House by talking about bureaucracy, that it was said about everything that he did. That is just the point. He tells us that he was handed a pamphlet on lessons of bureaucracy in Rome. He learnt his lesson well and improved on everything anybody has ever done before. His Bill is the apotheosis of bureaucracy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Big words."] It is a common enough word. I say this Bill is the apotheosis of bureaucracy. The most bureaucratic provisions are in the most contentious part, which gives the right hon. Gentleman power to fix the prices of any commodity at any time. As the right hon. Gentleman slurred over this part of the Bill I will draw the attention of the House to its provisions.
The Second Schedule of the Bill, which is I think its most important part, purports to lay down the procedure by which prices can be fixed, and it is a fairly long procedure. There is to be a Report to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade considers the Report and prepares a draft Order fixing the prices or the rates of commission. It then publishes this draft Order. It does not give very much notice. It is intended to give time for complaint to be made. I think it is 21 days, and 1183 anybody who is aggrieved is entitled to make representations. The Board has to hear them, consider them, and give judgment and, if the Board of Trade still thinks prices ought to be controlled, it issues the Order in its final form. It then has to lay the Order before both Houses of Parliament. It is only if both Houses of Parliament object that price control is not to take place. That seems to be a novel form of procedure. In that case why trouble to lay the Order before both Houses at all? One would suppose that you could not get this drastic control of prices until that elaborate machinery had been in operation, but that is not true.
The President of the Board of Trade can wipe all that out. He can at any time make an emergency Order without any publication of it, without giving anybody a chance of making representations and without coming near this House, fixing the price of any commodity in common use which, as the President has pointed out, is more than half the commodities sold. He may make an Order which will last two months without coming near the House or giving the House an opportunity to challenge it or any trader a chance of making a complaint. If the emergency Order runs out, I think I am right in saying—I submit it to the Attorney-General—he can make another emergency Order, not quite the same, just a little different, and he will still be within his powers, and he can go on in that way fixing the price of commodity after commodity on a wider range.
It does not end there. He has the power, after the House has approved the Order fixing prices, to make an emergency Order varying what Parliament has done, without laying the Order before Parliament. I have not exaggerated, therefore, in describing this Bill as the apotheosis of bureaucracy. These would be very strong powers for a dictator in an emergency, and they are very remarkable powers to be submitted to what the President is pleased to call a Council of State. It is very disturbing to trade, for there is no trade that will not fear being harassed and that will not be uncertain. Proposals so unusual, so unconstitutional and so disturbing to trade, need very strong and urgent justification.
I listened to the President's speech. It was as clear and lucid as his speeches 1184 always are, but I did not hear from beginning to end one word of justification for the price fixing. He never met one of the arguments founded on all experience of price fixing, and he did not attempt by any proof or any example from past experience to justify the proposals to the House. Indeed he could not do so, because this proposal to fix prices in a bureaucratic way flies in the face of all experience in this or any other country. He said the object of his Bill was to secure that reasonable prices are charged for commodities in common use. That is a very laudable desire, a universal desire, with the exception, of course, of coal. It is a desire we all share, and after the last intervention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer we shall desire it even more fervently.
The President of the Board of Trade does not justify this Bill by standing at that Box for an hour and saying, "I want things to be cheaper and more reasonable prices charged." He has to prove to the House that legislation is necessary, and still more that the particular legislation proposed will be effective. That is the whole test. It is upon that that we shall vote, and we shall discuss it on that basis if, by the working of the alliance the Bill passes into Committee. The President was right in saying that there would be little opposition to a proposal to give to a proper authority statutory powers of investigation. We have always held that view, but what is the right course to adopt? The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Royal Commission on Food. It held a very exhaustive inquiry, and it laid down two things, which, I think, run the whole way through the Report of the Royal Commission and its recommendations. The first thing they emphasised was the importance of carrying traders with them. Everybody will agree—I think that the right hon. Gentleman would—that you are carrying a large proportion of traders with you so far, but after this Bill I very much doubt if you will carry any.
The other thing that the Commission laid down was that the great safeguard to the public was an informed public opinion, and the Balfour Committee, which sat so long, in its final report confirmed this over and over again in everything it said about combinations and trusts. We urged it in the discussions on the Coal Bill without very much 1185 success. I should be sorry to see the Food Council supplanted by any other body. I do not know why it should be. It has done amazingly good work, and as I had to do with the setting up of the Council and worked with it for a number of years, I should like to join in the tribute which has been paid to the members of the Food Council for the unsparing, generous and arduous public work which they have done. I should also like to pay that tribute, not only to the present chairman, but to the man who presided over it for so long, Lord Bradbury. If the President of the Board of Trade had come to us and said, "We want the Food Council or some other independent responsible tribunal to have powers of investigation into the prices of articles of common use, and to have statutory powers like a court when information is withheld"—assuming he could establish a case—I believe that this House would immediately say, "That is all right; you shall have these powers."
As a matter of fact, that is what the Food Council asked for with regard to bread. A great deal of information was forthcoming. It was not for power to control the price of bread which the Food Council asked in their last Report. If they had, I should have disagreed with them. It was an application that they should see the figures which Messrs. Plender, Griffiths see, so that they could ascertain whether the margins and the costings were correctly set out. We should be ready to assent to a proposition of that kind. When we set up the Food Council, we said that we should give that power whenever necessary. I think that we were right in withholding it in the first instance, because we wanted to carry the traders with us, but we always made it clear generally and in the specific instance cited, that we should give those powers. You can do it under the Tribunal of Evidence Act. The President of the Board of Trade has said that the statement that we were going to do that provided the Food Council with a very large part of the information which they required. That is the right way to go to work in this matter. You inform the public, and an informed public can judge, and they can make their judgment effective by dealing with traders who have conformed in this regard. There would always be traders who would insist upon selling at 1186 the lower price unless it was a controlled price. What about the co-operative societies? Is it not a magnificent opportunity for co-operative societies—if they want to extend their clientele—if they find some other firm is selling at a price higher than that which the Food Council believe to be a fair price, to come in and sell at a lower price?
I know that the right hon Gentleman the Member for Darwen has a passion for control and that he is most illiberal in the matter. The ordinary man rightly believes that the housewife is a far better shopper than any Government Department is ever likely to be a trader. The public will get their way unless you do what you did in the Coal Bill, namely, force traders into a combine and make it a penal offence to sell below the price which is fixed. Your coal legislation is the only example I know which makes it impossible for this common law to work. There is less necessity to-day for this kind of control than there has been at any other time. The only occasions when control is necessary are in times of scarcity, and every authority has laid that down over and over again. To-day we have a time of glut. To-day there is an excess of production whether in raw material, in food, or in manufacturing capacity, and, therefore, it is in the interests of the producer to sell the most he can and to narrow his margin. Yet it is at this time and in these circumstances that the Government are trying to force these bureaucratic powers upon us. It is said that by fixing prices they are going to bridge the gap between wholesale and retail prices. It is, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman, to eliminate unnecessary middlemen and to reduce excessive commissions. Is it really believed that by Orders and the slow machinery of making Orders, and by the bureaucratic action of a Government Department that you really can fix the proper prices and the proper rates of commission in all the wide ramifications in trade and industry and the ever-changing conditions? You will very soon find you are mistaken. You can only get proper dealing of that kind by the efficient organisation of industry exactly in the way the right hon. Gentleman said on the Coal Bill. One of the few things with which I agreed was when he said that the only effective way to deal with exporters and coal merchants was by a 1187 combination of owners dealing collectively. He certainly will not do this by orders made in the Board of Trade.
All experience, to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer, shows that control defeats its own object. That is not a dictum; it is the result of practical experience. If you look wherever control has been tried, you find these results. You find, in the first place, that if you fix minimum prices you have to fix them on the standard of the less efficient and not on the standard of the most efficient. In the experience of War time control—I am speaking from memory—I believe that when you were fixing the price of bread you found out what was the cost of the conversion of a sack of flour, and that it varied enormously between the very efficient bakeries and the inefficient bakeries. You did not fix, as the maximum price, the cost at which the efficient baker could do it; you fixed it much nearer the scale at which the least efficient could do it. When you fix prices, the maximum price tends to become the minimum price. There is another phase, and it came out very plainly in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. If you fix prices you will have a complete disregard of all quality. That is the whole experience of the War. I am going to state some examples in a moment. How could the right hon. Gentleman, even with his ingenuity and his energy, fix prices for varying articles of food, for different cuts of meat at every stage and at different times. He gave the example of cod. He said that cod cost so much at the dock side and so much in a shop, and he courteously gave way to an hon. Friend whose experience is second to none. The hon. Gentleman asked the right hon. Gentleman a very pertinent question when he was stating, I think, that a shilling or 8d. a pound was an unreasonable price. He asked what was the quality of the cod, and the right hon. Gentleman said, "I have no time to trouble myself with details of that kind." That is what he said in effect. Those are just the kind of details with which the President of the Board of Trade will have to trouble himself when he gets to price-fixing, unless he is going to put everybody into a worse position than is the case to-day.
1188 Take another objection. There is no sort of elasticity. The one thing you want in trade to-day, and most of all in trade in perishable commodities, is elasticity of action—quick decision. How can you have elasticity when you have to hold inquiries before you can alter prices? This Bill contains the real vice of control without responsibility. There is something to be said for your Socialism if it is straightforward and you really think that you can run industry better, if you are prepared to buy it and run it. There is absolutely nothing to be said for irresponsible control. You are to give an Order and take no responsibility, and if there is a loss the trader loses. This is a nice way of giving encouragement to traders, when the Lord Privy Seal has said that they require encouragement! The last of the vices of control—and it has always been found to be so—is that you cannot fix the price of one commodity in one form without fixing it in all its forms and at all its stages. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not want the House to think that he was taking very great powers in this Bill. There were only a few things of which he should want to control the price. If he only wanted to control a few things in price—and he stated bread and milk—why take power in this Bill to control the price of practically every commodity that exists?
If you try to control any commodity at any stage or any part of any commodity at any stage, you will find that you have to control the whole of that commodity in all its stages and all its uses. You will find that you will not be able to do that effectively because supplies will largely be outside your control unless the right hon. Gentleman takes a further step, which certain hon. Gentlemen are only too anxious to see him take, and obtain control of supplies. By this Bill you take the first step. It is a very short step and it is perhaps an inevitable step, if you use these powers, for the State to take over every phase of marketing in the field which you seek to cover. Into this pit of State control you propose to plunge all the industries serving the public at a time when it is least called for and when industry needs most encouragement. I have given the objections to this price control, objections which, as I have said, all authorities support. The right hon. Gentleman 1189 gives no experience and no authority in support of his proposition. I do not want unduly to weary the House, but I think that when we are asked to make a great experiment of this kind we ought to see what experience has taught and what those who have had most experience have to say about it.
There was a Royal Commission on Food Prices. That Commission was dead against compulsory prices, and in dealing with meat, it said, in paragraph 230 of the Report:The fixing of meat prices may be regarded as a measure to be adopted only in an emergency when there is an acute shortage of supplies and when some form of rationing has to be introduced without reference to variations in quality and individual methods of cutting. In any other circumstances fixed prices for meat are unsound and unworkable.The right hon. Gentleman gave quotations from the Linlithgow Committee which had many suggestions to make. They were not satisfied. We can go through the reports of that Committee without finding any recommendation for the control of prices, and indeed the right hon. Gentleman will find that they definitely turned down the proposal for the control of prices. He spoke of how he could serve the producer and agriculture. The National Farmers' Union have already expressed their gratitude to him for this Bill. They say:The Bill seeks to confer far-reaching powers upon the proposed Council, and if they are to be properly executed it is obvious that nothing short of an army corps of officials will be required to carry the perpetual inquisition into every centre of production and distribution throughout the country. When the Board of Trade, free from Parliamentary control, embarks upon its orgy of despotic price-fixing, it is safe to say that producers and consumers will suffer in the process.That is what one of the principal beneficiaries under this Bill says about the proposals. Let me quote two more authorities. The first is Sir William Beveridge, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Food during the War, and has a unique experience of food control. Considering the difficulties he had to encounter during War time he met with a singular measure of success. Every one of the objections I have raised to price-fixing in this Bill is borne out up to the hilt by what Sir William Beveridge says in his book on "British 1190 Food Control" which he wrote as the result of his experience. He says:The wide extension of control came as the result of experience and conveys an economic lesson. To control the price of food in one form while leaving free some other form in which the same material may be used is futile.… Ultimately it became clear that nothing that mattered at all as food for the people could safely be left free of price control; the Ministry was driven to hazardous and not wholly successful experiments with such perishable and elusive commodities as fresh fish,There you have your cod—rabbits, onions and fruit, and recoiled only before the problem of fixing prices for fresh vegetables.The margins and prices must be standardised, and unless a breakdown of supplies or distribution is to be risked, must be such as to ensure that even the less efficient producers or distributors find it possible to remain in business.Control involved a diminished regard for quality. The better qualities of home-made cheese or of Southdown lamb could no longer command a special price and ceased to be produced.The effectiveness of control depended upon its completeness. Control of prices, if there was any shortage, that is, if there was any need for fixing prices at all, had to be control at all stages from the producer to the consumer. It had to be founded upon control of supplies and had, as a rule, to be accompanied by rigid control of distribution. All this meant an elaborate and costly organisation, worth its cost in case of real need, but not to be lightly undertaken. In control it must generally be all or nothing; half measures are disastrous.And this is by a man in whom I should have thought the Government would have found a favourable critic if they could find one anywhere. He goes on to say:I can only record here, as a result of Ministry of Food experience, a personal doubt of any gain either to consumer or producer from public regulation of food supply in peace, that would repay the cost of the vast organisation involved, or justify diversion to it of any of the limited store of political energy and ability needed for more urgent problems, or outweigh the risk of bribery by subsidies.That is the judgment of a man who had a unique experience of the work of price control of commodities at all stages, and it justifies up to the hilt every criticism I have advanced against this Bill. I will quote just one other authority, and that is the Imperial Conference of 1923. There you got the combined and considered judgment of the whole Empire. They considered in a calm atmosphere whether control was practicable and whether any benefits were derived from it. The committee, over which I had the 1191 honour to preside contained representatives of this Government, of all the Dominions Governments and of India, and it had at its disposal the experience of those who had been responsible for food control during the War in the different parts of the Empire. This is how they sum up their opinions—it was an absolutely unanimous report:War-time experiences demonstrated that under control it is impracticable to let quality govern price, since the variety in quality is too great for the controlling authority to be able to take accurate account of it. Thus, in the case of meat control in Great Britain, it was not found possible to differentiate in price according to varying quality for the same cuts of meat. Control is also costly, in that experience shows that the profit margins fixed must be governed by the least efficient elements in the controlled trade. Present day margins, in so far as they are excessive, are in no small measure a relic of the wide margins which it was in this way found necessary to establish under control. Nor is it feasible to confine price control to any one stage. Once applied it becomes necessary to extend it to all stages. Indeed, ultimately the State might find itself involved not only in control, but in the necessity of taking over every phase of the business of marketing. And, having done so, it would probably find that margins had increased rather than diminished in consequence.That report appears with my name at the end of it, but it was a unanimous report of a Committee on which every Government of the Empire was represented and, as such, no doubt the Prime Minister is proposing to sneer at it. All experience shows that the proposal to control prices will defeat its own object. And what encouragement are you likely to give to industry by it? The one thing industry needs to-day is certainty, and, if there is one thing which this Bill will give, it is uncertainty in all its phases. The only set of people who are to be congratulated on the introduction of this Bill are hon. Members opposite below the Gangway, and I tender to them my congratulations. Before the Recess they were unhappy because they thought their own Front Bench could not be converted to Socialism. I congratulate them on having converted their Front Bench. They have pushed them well on the road, and they have converted the Liberal party as well. If this Bill receives the support of Liberals in this House then Liberalism is not existent in this House, whatever it may be in the country.
1192 We have heard a great deal from Liberals as to the danger of taking one step on the slippery slope of Protection. What about the landslide of control, which will soon land them in Socialism, and Socialism in their time and through their agency? This is not Socialism by the back door; it is Socialism through the front door. It is bound to fail in its purpose, that is the protection of the producer and the consumer. It can only succeed in doing one thing, and that is to discourage trade and create so much uncertainty that more and more you will have to force your control on industry and take over more and more stages of industrial life. The majority of Members of this House were elected to oppose that kind of proposal and we, at any rate, are going to oppose it.
§ Mr. WISE
As I listened to the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) this Bill appeared in a little more favourable light than when I first read it. I was also somewhat surprised by the complete and healthy satisfaction the right hon. Gentleman seems to have derived from the success of the Food Council, which was his own particular baby. Listening to his speech one would have thought that the Food Council had had some effect in controlling prices, that its operations had merited the gratitude of the producer and consumer, that its decisions had been acted upon, that its advice had been accepted, and that traders had regarded it with respect. As every hon. Member knows, the facts are just the contrary: and if any further evidence were necessary that proposals on the lines of this Bill in order to bring the labours of the Food Council in its present form to a quick but not dishonourable conclusion, the letter which appears in the "Times" this morning from the chairman of the Food Council would provide it. Let me draw the attention of the right hon. Member for Hendon to the last paragraph in that letter, in which the chairman says:It must be admitted that … information has been supplied or withheld, and that the conclusions reached have been accepted or ignored as the likelihood of further powers being given has advanced or receded. Almost the only general criticism levelled at the Council during the past five years has been that it could report as much as it liked but that, if traders so willed, the report was the end of the matter.1193 The fact of the matter is that the Food Council has been acting practically without powers in trying to investigate the ramifications of trade in this country. It has been without an adequate staff and it was hardly backed up at all by hon. Members opposite whilst they were in power when it got into trouble with the traders as was inevitable and as it has been most of the time. At the beginning the big traders learnt that it had no powers behind it and might safely be treated with contempt. Then, two or three years ago, the small traders made the same discovery and now hardly anybody at all pays any attention to its somewhat infrequent meetings. It is perfectly obvious that whatever Government is in power they would have to end a situation which was as discreditable to the Government which was officially responsible for it as it was dangerous to the respect for law and its administration in this country.
Listening to the right hon. Member for Hendon one might almost think that there was no problem of food prices; that retail prices give satisfaction to consumers and to everybody else. Everyone who examines the broad economic problems of the country at the moment knows that the wide disparity between wholesale and retail prices is one of the main causes of our present industrial difficulty; that the great drop in the price of production has been accompanied by no corresponding drop in the price which retail traders require and are able to exact; and that the long lag between producers and retail prices which put up the cost of living, and created serious difficulties at the same time for farmers and manufacturers throughout the country, must be dealt with somehow or other before industrial equilibrium can be restored. As the President of the Board of Trade has shown, committee after committee has drawn attention to this post-War phenomenon of retail traders being able to exact quite unnecessary and unnatural margins for their services while, on the other hand, in the domain of wholesale trade, there has been such a concentration of capital and other resources, so great an extension of trustification, that the ordinary economic laws of supply and demand which were supposed to operate, have ceased to have any effect. The problem has to be dealt with, and whether it is dealt with on 1194 the lines proposed by the right hon. Gentleman or on other lines, this House could not for very long have continued to ignore it.
There are two schools of thought as to the method by which prices may be controlled, and two lines of approach to the problem. First, there are those who believe that all that is necessary is to provide powers for careful inquiry to find the facts, whether by voluntary or compulsory arrangement, and then to publish these verified facts and leave public opinion and the possibility of competition to do the rest. The second school of thought believe that those measures, while useful in themselves, are not enough and that some further control must be exercised, directly or indirectly, to secure that traders shall comply with standards of profit and margins laid down by some responsible public body. The Bill goes some distance in both directions. It attempts to achieve both objectives, but in its present form—and I hope that during the Committee stage it will be possible to repair these omissions—it fails in my opinion to achieve either objective adequately.
Take the powers of inquiry. Everybody on both sides of the House, apart from the usual need to make party points on such occasions as this, realises that the Council had to be endowed with powers of full and adequate inquiry, that it had to have compulsory powers behind it. But it seems to me that the powers which the Bill gives the Council are one-sided and inadequate. Its powers are, apparently, limited to examining costs, prices, and profits as they are. But the real complaint in many of the distributive trades is, not that the individual traders are getting too much, not that the particular links in the chain are receiving too large rewards—many of them are not—but that there are too many of them. I recall the case of Covent Garden market, in regard to which the Linlithgow Committee pointed out that, between the grower and the consumer, there were frequently six intermediaries. There was the London Commission salesman who received the goods from the grower; there was the London wholesaler; there was the London Commission buyer, who bought on behalf of the provincial towns; there was the provincial wholesaler, and very often a second provincial wholesaler, and 1195 finally, there was the provincial retailer. The real criticism of that elaborate system, and it is a criticism which can fairly be levelled not only against the fruit and vegetable trade, but against a dozen others, is not that the individuals concerned are getting too high a commission but that three or four of the six would be proved unnecessary by a proper organisation of distribution, and could be eliminated.
There is also the case of the milk combine to which a good deal of reference has been made. The criticism of the milk combine is not concerned with its efficiency as a machine, but is concerned with the fact that it has planted itself in such a position as to be able to exact for itself an entirely disproportionate remuneration out of the amount which the consumer pays. What is wanted is not merely power to examine things as they are, but power to produce schemes for reorganising distribution so that the total margin between the producer and the consumer may be—
§ Major SALMON
Will the hon. Member kindly state what he considers to be a disproportionate remuneration?
§ Mr. WISE
In the case of milk, the Linlithgow Committee pointed out that the margin which the distributing interest receives varies sometimes from 100 per cent. to 120 per cent. of the amount which the producer receives. I cannot conceive that it is at all necessary that the milk distributor, for the service of carrying the milk from the London station and distributing it to the consumers, should receive about as much as, or more than the farmer receives for his capital sunk in stock and farm, for his work and for wages, for the food which he supplies to his stock, for the risks which he takes, for the transport of the milk to the country station and sometimes for the transport of the milk to London. That margin of 100 per cent. or so is, I am convinced, absolutely unjustified. It is not necessary in New York; it is not necessary in Copenhagen, and it is certainly not necessary in London. That is what I meant, that is what the Linlithgow Committee meant and that is what the various other committees have meant by a disproportionate margin of remuneration.
1196 Let me now proceed with my argument until the next hon. Member desires to interrupt. I think that the proposal in the Bill to give compulsory powers to find the facts and figures, with the addition which I have suggested, is a big step in the right, direction. But, then, the whole success of this first method of controlling prices depends on the facts becoming known. The idea is that you find the facts and then bring them to the notice of the general public and you look to public opinion to do what is required. When I read the Bill, however, I begin to wonder what has come over the President of the Board of Trade. A whole page is devoted to what seem to me to be elaborate and extraordinary measures to prevent the facts, when discovered, being of any effective use, or at any rate to diminish heavily their possible use, by insisting that, save with the permission of the interests concerned, complete and absolute secrecy is to be maintained under heavy penalties. I was astonished to find that the Bill insists that the penalty for disclosing facts in regard to any of the inquiries made into profits and costs, shall be 10 times as much as the penalty for profiteering. If any individual present at any committee or a member of any committee, or a person concerned in any way with the proceedings of a committee, discloses what has happened at any of these inquiries, he is liable to a file of £100 or two years' imprisonment or both.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
Will the hon. Member allow me to ask him a question with regard to this matter of secrecy? Do not these Clauses refer to persons who are given power in the Bill to inquire into prices, and to extract from the private books of individuals or companies such information as they consider desirable; and are not these penalties designed to safeguard private information of that kind from being broadcast? I think it is a very reasonable thing to do.
§ Mr. WISE
The provision is very much wider than that as the hon. Member will see if he looks at Clause 4. It concerns anybody who, in any circumstances, happens to be present at any of these committees or any of these inquiries, or who is in any way concerned, and who comes into possession of information which by the machinery of the Bill is required. Without the permission of the 1197 firm concerned or the owner of the trading institution concerned those facts may not be disclosed under the penalty I have mentioned.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
If you are going to give power to people to inquire directly into the private books of any undertaking or any individual, you must safeguard that undertaking or individual against the publication of facts which ought not to be published.
§ Mr. WISE
Yes, against the publication of facts which ought not to be published. That is all right, but what about the facts which ought to be published? A great deal of the information to be procured under this Bill will refer to facts which, most undoubtedly, ought to be published. In any case, why should there be a penalty of £100 or two years' imprisonment or both attached to the disclosure of any information, whereas, if any firm makes a profit by disregarding the council and the prices fixed by the council, the maximum fine is £5 for the first offence and £10, or three months' imprisonment for the second and later offences. That is an extraordinary contrast and certainly requires justification. When the council have made a report to the Board of Trade, the Board of Trade itself is prevented from publishing the facts, unless the case actually comes into Court, without the permission of the individuals or firms concerned. If the inquiry has been of any use at all these latter will be the persons most concerned to prevent the facts leaking out to the public. As a matter of fact, the very interesting letter from Sir Allan Powell in the "Times" would have landed that gentleman in the possibility of two years' imprisonment several times over, had it been published under the operation in this Bill without the permission of the United Dairies—who published, as Sir Allan says, an entirely misleading statement and, therefore, would naturally desire that the facts should not be put up against them.
As the matter stands, the Consumers Council and the Board of Trade, with all the facts in their possession, may be quite unable to defend themselves against the attacks of trading associations or individual firms engaged in a campaign of misleading publicity in order to prevent the practices of which the Board of Trade disapproves, being 1198 stopped. There are cases, I admit, where business secrecy may be defensible, as for instance where a trader is in competition with foreign traders and where the disclosure of the details may assist the foreigner in a competitive business; but those cases might be covered, as they have been covered in previous Acts of this kind by giving the Board of Trade proper discretion in regard to publication. But this limitation does not at all apply in cases where you are dealing with distributive industry or great distributive trades like the United Dairies or the big meat combine associated with the name of Vestey, which is not in competition in these markets at all with the foreigner, but in regard to which the facts are all very vitally interesting, not only to the shareholders of these companies—who very often are not told very much about them—but also to the public generallly.
As a matter of fact, in this strained desire for secrecy, this Bill in its present form goes far beyond what has been recommended by previous Committees. The Committee on Trusts in 1919 recommended complete publicity. The Profiteering Act gave powers to the Board of Trade or the Committees of Inquiry to publish their findings and a good many valuable reports were made available to the public. Even the Liberal Yellow Book goes so far as to say that the withholding of facts may sometimes benefit an individual, but that it can never benefit the community as a whole, and it recommends a very much wider publication of the facts. I hope, therefore, that when the Bill is in Committee, if Amendments are put down on this point, we may have the valuable support of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite.
§ Mr. WISE
And I think that it would give very little satisfaction to the hon. Gentleman, who is always misinformed on this question.
With regard to the fixation of prices I find myself a good deal in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, 1199 though for very different reasons. It is the case that the mere fixation of prices by itself is very often the cause of as many difficulties as it removes, but I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman both in his quotations and in his conclusions. He quoted from the high authority of Sir William Beveridge. I am very familiar with, and have a great respect for, the work that Sir William did in the War and has done since; I happen also to be very familiar with that very admirable book which he has written of his experiences in that connection. I noted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite did not bother to quote something which appears on the same page:The Ministry of Food, suppressing private enterprise, completely accomplished, what private enterprise in the War could never have accomplished, and the British people were fed not only better, but more cheaply than, without the Ministry, they possibly could have been fed in the War.I dare say the right hon. Gentleman overlooked that, but it is very easy to establish a case by one or two sentences extracted from a book of about 450 pages. In leading up to his conclusions, the right hon. Gentleman might have recalled that Sir William wrote that book in 1922 or 1923, and the whole of his final conclusion was largely conditioned on the assumptions which he made on page 343 of the book, that competition would renew after the war the check on retail and other prices which it had exercised before the War. We know quite well that the situation is not as Sir William at that time hoped it might be, and to a very large extent that vitiates Sir William's very cautious conclusions.
When I come to examine the machinery in the Bill for the fixation of prices, I confess that I am very doubtful as to what the effects will be. I am quite sure that the proposals to fix prices are not intended to be much more than a threat. I do not like legislation which proposes remedies which it is practically impossible to enforce. Traders will find it out, just as they found out the Food Council pretence which the right hon. Gentleman set up. All experience in the War and afterwards confirms the view that it is dangerous, if not impossible, to fix maximum prices unless you are prepared to control supplies. Though the 1200 point may be dealt with by other legislation, there is nothing in the Bill which gives any real control of supplies. It is the experience of this and of other countries. I remember a long talk which I had immediately after the War with the head of the German Food Ministry, and we found that our experience in this matter exactly coincided. It was very unsafe and practically ineffective to fix maximum prices unless at some stage or other you had a grip of supplies, and therefore real power to control prices.
I am bound to say that I thought perhaps the President of the Board of Trade understood that central principle thoroughly when in the Coal Bill, the purpose of which was to deal largely with the prices question, he made it dependent through the quota system on an effective control of supplies. The existing system of distribution works by means of very delicate adjustment of prices, and secures distribution by the elasticity under which it operates; and if you are proposing to put a block at any stage on the operation of that reasonable latitude, you have sooner or later to face the problem of controlling distribution. Otherwise, you will have difficulties both in regard to home produced supplies, and in regard to imported supplies. There are, perhaps, exceptions to that rule. There are cases in which you can delegate control to some body like an all-comprehensive milk trust, which in fact would take general responsibility for distribution of individual supplies. But where you are dealing with a host of traders, small and large, you will either have to put your prices so high that they are not really effective, or you will have to provide some other means of securing supplies going to those places where, for transport or other reasons, the maximum price is less profitable than in the great centres of population.
That is the case with home supplies, but the case of imported supplies is very much more difficult. Take wheat for example. Suppose you decide to fix a maximum price for flour. On what are you going to base it? I suppose that the price of flour, to the extent of 80 per cent. or so, is dependent on the price of wheat, which fluctuates from month to month, from day to day, and even from hour to hour. In November, 1929, it fell 14 per cent.; in the next three weeks it rose 1201 again 14 per cent.; by Christmas it had dropped 7 per cent. It then rose again; in the next 10 weeks it dropped 26 per cent., and rose 10 per cent. in the following month; and in only the last three weeks the price of wheat has gone down and up again about 12 to 15 per cent. How, on such a basis, can you possibly fix the price of flour? It is quite impracticable. You cannot have a constantly adjustable price for flour, and if you try to deal with it by fixing a margin within which the miller could sell his flour, having regard to the price of wheat, you will be up against the other point that the miller is buying flour at different times at different prices and adjusting the quantities and prices in his grist. No two millers at any time will be putting wheats bought at the same prices into a particular quality of flour. That is the case of flour, but it is just as difficult with other commodities.
Take the case of margarine, a commodity which the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with in detail, but which would merit the careful attention of the new Consumers Council. It is a very important factor in the food supply of the working class, and is controlled, as to about 80 per cent. of its production throughout Europe, by one great international combine. How are you going to fix a maximum price for margarine? There are various grades and qualities, but in any case, even if you try to standardise a particular quality, into that quality may go at different times refined oils derived in varying quantities from half a dozen different raw materials. Take the case of beef, another of the staple food commodities. Our beef supplies are controlled by two great combines, one of which is British and the other American, who between them agree as to the amount of beef that shall be shipped to this country in any particular week from South America. They say they do not attempt to fix the prices, but they achieve it very efficiently by controlling the amount that comes forward. So far as their organisation in this country is concerned, you will find that the wholesaler, the cold-storage man, the Smithfield salesman, and the retailer are no doubt making quite a reasonably small margin; the real profit is being made by a part of the same organisation outside our jurisdiction in South America. The 1202 machinery of this Bill in its present form is quite inapplicable to that situation.
There is one case in which I think it might be of some special value; that is, in the case of milk, but only then in the event of a deadlock, where the farmers and milk distributors are trying to agree on prices. There distribution is largely controlled by one important organisation. But even there, unless you have very much wider powers of interference and control than the Bill proposes, I doubt very much whether you will be able to effect any very big and substantial reduction for the consumer. Where, as in that case, and as in the case of beef and margarine, a vital commodity necessary for mass consumption has got into the hands of one single organisation whose purpose quite frankly—and there is nothing improper about it as things are—is to make as much profit as it can for its shareholders, I think you have to have—and here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite—very much wider measures than those set out in this Bill. In regard to imported commodities you cannot possibly fix prices unless you have an effective control over the import prices. If you have a stabilised basis for the price of wheat you can fix a price fairly and closely, and you can effect great economies for the consumer in the price of flour and in the price of bread, but you cannot do it unless you have a steady price over a reasonable period of time for wheat.
It is the same with meat, and margarine and other goods. If you want a stable basis for the prices of such commodities you must take charge of imported supplies and see that the miller and other manufacturing elements get their wheat or other raw materials at steady and known prices. Then you can effectively control prices to the consumer. As for milk and other internal commodities, you have to choose between having the food supplies of this country properly controlled or used as a basis for unduly high profits. There is no question that under the milk combine, associating dozens of companies, and dealing with a wide range of commodities, all the bookkeeping is mixed up in such fashion that, as the Food Council and the Linlithgow Committee pointed out, it is difficult to determine the real cost of distributing milk; and you have to be prepared to face up to the alternative of having those 1203 food supplies of vital importance to the community controlled by an organisation whose purpose is the profits of its shareholders or controlled in the public interest by some organisation, some corporation, such as the right hon. Gentleman indicated in the latter part of his speech, acting for and responsible to the public, for the benefit of consumers and the producers alike.
We on these benches, however, do not believe that the way to secure lower prices to the consumer is by lowering the prices paid to the farmer here or elsewhere. It is not the farmer who is profiting, it is the intermediary. The consumer and producer have one common difficulty to overcome, the top-heavy and expensive organisation of the distributing trade, which has entrenched itself so firmly since the War. The measures we had to take during the War to some extent contributed to that, because we had to create organisation where organisation did not before exist. The real difficulty is that these intermediaries in the aggregate, though not necessarily individually, take far too large a toll of the price that the consumer pays. Though I welcome this Bill because of its power to get information, and because it insists on the right to fix retail food prices and clothing prices, thus showing that the Government recognises that it has to take its share of responsibility, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to accept Amendments which would enable him to achieve more effectively the objects in view.
I hope, also, that he will proceed with the parallel legislation to which he referred in the very last phrases of his speech for import boards. These are as vitally necessary for agriculture as for the protection of the consumer. The Government, in its minority position, has a very big problem with which to deal. It must know, however, that half-measures of this sort, though they may carry us a little way along the road, are apt to create as many difficulties as they remove. I would very much rather the right hon. Gentleman had given to the House the sort of Bill which I know he would like to produce and had let the other side take the responsibility of throwing it out. This Measure, unless it is supplemented on the lines I have suggested, will not fulfil more than half the hopes we have built upon it.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
In this Bill the Government are dealing with a problem which is of the first importance, and as difficult as it is important. Obviously there is no subject which should more fully engage the attention of Parliament than the cost of living of the people. Of all the figures published on official authority from time to time, none are more fundamentally important than those which show the variations in the cost of living. Upon the fall in the cost of living depends the comfort of the people, particularly the poorest classes, and upon it ultimately depends also the prosperity of our export trade, by which, in the long run, this country must live and prosper. The central economic problem which faces this island is how to maintain a high standard of living for our people with low costs of production of goods for sale in the world markets, and those two objects can only be reconciled by a very high standard of efficiency and organisation and by keeping down the cost of living to the lowest point consistent with giving a legitimate reward to the producer of the commodities.
In the last five years there has been a remarkable fall in wholesale prices, but a very much smaller and disproportionate fall in retail prices. In the case of cereals and meat there has been a fall of no less than one-fourth, and in other foodstuffs a fall of one-fifth. Taking commodities generally, wholesale prices have fallen between one-fourth and one-fifth, but the cost of living, so far as concerns food, has fallen only by one-eighth, by only half as much. If we take all the items included in the Board of Trade figures of the cost of living—which includes, however, rent—the fall has been only one-eleventh. Therefore, the advantage of the fall has by no means reached the masses of our population. We have restored the gold standard, and in doing so have greatly hampered our export trades, but that disadvantage ought to have been counterbalanced by a cheapening of imports and a rapid fall in the cost of living. Imports have been cheapened, but the fall in the cost of living has by no means arrived. The lag, as economists call it, in the fall in retail prices is partly due, I believe, to the continuance of the very heavy burden of taxation. I agree with what Sir Auckland Geddes said in an interesting speech 1205 the other day that heavy taxation is reflected in prices; one of the reasons why retail prices have not kept pace with the wholesale is that the heavy taxation imposed upon all classes dealing with those commodities in the course of their transit to the ultimate consumer is reflected in a considerable degree in the price.
In addition to that public opinion feels, and I think feels rightly, that much of the difference has been intercepted by the wholesalers and retailers who handle the commodities. They see that while many of our great staple manufacturing industries are exceedingly depressed the intermediate industries are very prosperous. They see great combines controlling important commodities, they see reports of immense fortunes accumulated by the heads of those combines, and they see, also, that many of the retail trading combinations are making great profits. Therefore, this matter does occupy a large share of the public mind, and I am glad the President of the Board of Trade has addressed himself to the problem and is endeavouring to deal with it in a Bill. I welcome his appearance in the capacity of a Minister endeavouring to keep down prices much more than I welcomed his appearance in his former capacity of a Minister endeavouring to keep up prices; but I observe that there is a provision in the Bill, Sub-section (3) of Clause 2, which warns the Consumers Council off any commodity which has been dealt with under another Act of Parliament. I imagine the object of that is to prevent his first child, the Coal Owners Committee, getting into any unseemly and unbrotherly conflict with his second child, the Consumers Council.
The problem of monopolies and combines and their effect upon prices is not a new one. It has always attracted the attention of economists and of Parliaments in this and other countries. So long as there is the free play of competition we may leave matters at that, because the desire of retailers and wholesalers to obtain trade will induce them to keep their prices down to the lowest figure which gives them a fair and legitimate profit. By fortunate speculation they may sometimes get a higher profit, but in the long run prices are kept down to a reasonable level by free competition. Where you have a monopoly or a combine 1206 however, these simple economic rules do not apply. Some monopolies are natural monopolies, for instance, the postal service, telegraphs, telephones, railways, trams, canals, water, gas and electricity, and no one in any quarter of the House would say that the price of those commodities or services should be left to the free play of competition and that there should be no social intervention at all. No one has ever said that these matters should be left to the free play of laissez faire. In natural monopolies of this kind there must be some kind of municipal or State ownership or control, and that has been set up with the consent of all parties over a series of years.
The new problem to which Parliament has to address itself is that the same principle of monopoly and combination is being applied in our day to all kinds of commodities which are not in the least natural monopolies. Combination is able to effect a great economy and there are large profits to be gained by bringing into two or three hands the control of supplies of important articles, and when that control has been established in the case of two or three hands it is often found exceedingly profitable to centre it still further and place the whole organisation under one head. In these circumstances, are the public to have no redress if those who hold this monopoly power exercise it unfairly by extorting from the community a much higher price than would have been obtained if this monopolistic system did not prevail? That is a new problem of our time. It did not present itself to the older economists and is one to which they gave no answer. Those being the circumstances, and I think all Members will agree that those conditions do exist, we must address our minds to them and decide what course it is possible to take.
Not very long ago the current opinion was that you ought to try to break up these monopolies. In America they passed a series of anti-trust laws, because it was thought that combines of this sort in restraint of trade were deleterious to the interests of the company and ought to be suppressed by law. It has since been shown that in certain circumstances such combines may be useful and may give the public the best service, and the public have now come to believe that amalgamations of this sort and all 1207 kinds of trade associations are organisations which ought to be encouraged rather than discouraged. Moreover, any attempt to break up these trusts and combines in America has been found to be ineffective. Such attempts always introduce friction, and may lead in the long run to costs being raised and to higher prices. Such attempts often lead to evasion, and it has been discovered in America that you cannot suppress those combinations and that it is neither practical nor desirable to do so.
There is another alternative, which is that you should apply to these combinations the same rules which you apply to such enterprises as the Post Office, trams, gas, water and so forth, and I am sure that course would be favoured by the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) who has just addressed us in such an interesting speech. I am aware that on this occasion I cannot argue that matter, because it is not dealt with in the Bill, and it would be out of order. But, so far as we are concerned, we do not accept what is proposed as a solution. We think that to purchase these commodities by the State, and to supply them through the State, or any other social organisations to the public, would involve all the disadvantages of substituting political management for business management, and that in the long run the consumers would suffer through prices being higher than they would otherwise be. Or else heavy loss would be incurred by the wheat board, or whatever body was dealing with these commodities, which would have to be met in the long run by the taxpayer. That is what has usually followed from attempts of this character in most countries, but it would he out of order for me to discuss this question at any length.
Then there is a third proposal, in regard to which I think all parties are agreed, and that is that there ought at least to be a large measure of publicity with regard to the operations of these combines. It is one of the purposes of the Bill that you should bring publicity to bear. In the old days, punishments were not confined to fines and imprisonment, but you had the pillory and the stocks, and they were the means of bringing public opinion to bear upon the doings of malefactors, because it was believed 1208 that public opinion would have a considerable effect in restricting their activities. On the other hand, you cannot be sure that such measures would be adequate, but, so far as publicity is proposed in this Bill, I think the House will be willing to agree to it. I do not think that the traders themselves would demur to a Measure of that kind if it is not a policy which is unduly inquisitorial, and I do not think that either retailers or wholesalers would object if they were really convinced that the inquiry was impartial. Such a Measure is needed to satisfy the public mind, and I think it will be received with approval by hon. Members above the Gangway and by us.
Now comes the point of difference. We ask, is that enough? If when the Consumers Council have made their investigation and report and have indicated, as they may possibly do, that there are real abuses, is nothing more going to be done? Is the Council to be left with the mere power of shaking a warning finger at those they condemn, with no authority whatever to take any further action? The late President of the Board of Trade said that it is unnecessary to give them any further powers. When the Council have made their report and published information showing that the public has been charged too much, the public are to be told that they must purchase elsewhere where they will not be charged so highly. But we are dealing with the case where there is a monopoly, or a combine in the nature of a monopoly. If you have one group fixing the price of petrol for everybody and the Consumers Council say that the price is unduly high, what remedy has the motorist or other consumer of petrol? Almost all the milkshops of London are controlled by a milk combine, and if they charge too much for milk, what is the remedy of the consumer in that case? The same argument applies to quite a large number of other cases. These consumers cannot go elsewhere because there is no elsewhere. In this respect the speech of the late President of the Board of Trade, while admitting that there might be grievances so far as the remedies were concerned, was negative and barren, as speeches made from that Bench frequently are.
The late President of the Board of Trade took a keen interest in the attitude 1209 and policy of the Liberal party, and, that being so, in answer to his inquiry I will tell him the view taken on this matter by those responsible for that party. We held an inquiry into all those matters. Our committee sat for many months; we examined in detail these monopoly prices, and we found the question exceedingly difficult. In the end we came to the conclusion that there ought undoubtedly to be publicity, and a large measure of publicity, wherever there is reason to think that there is a monopoly or combine. We recommended that there ought to be a board to watch these matters, and the final words of our proposals were:The recommendations made by the board might in exceptional circumstances include the control of prices.Following on that, and in order to answer further the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry, I would mention that the National Liberal Federation held a meeting in October, 1928, which endorsed generally the proposals of that inquiry, and said that there ought to be greater publicity and the establishment of a trust tribunal. That is the spirit in which we approach this Bill.
But we find that this Measure is couched in very wide terms indeed, and there is a fear in many parts of the country and amongst many classes of the people that it will, in fact, authorise a kind of official supervision of all the retail and wholesale traders in the country and of every broker and dealer. The President of the Board of Trade has made out a good case for an inch, but his Bill asks for an ell, and much more than an ell. So far as monopolies are concerned, and so far as you are dealing with the relations between wholesalers and retailers, it is not an easy thing, but it is quite possible to impose price-fixing, because you are dealing with a few standard articles which are in a few hands. When you come to the further stage of the relations between the retailer and the consumer, it is a far more difficult problem. The difficulties there are very formidable indeed, because price depends upon a great variety of circumstances. You may speak of milk, petrol, bread or clothes, but each one of those terms covers an enormous range of slightly different articles.
1210 Take, for example, the question of quality. A suit of clothes made by a Savile Row tailor is quite a different article and is sold at a different price from that which is made in a Leeds factory. Even the same article may differ in quality and in price at different times. The humble egg, for example, is one thing to-day, but it may be a different thing in a week's time, and a very different thing in a month's time, and the price must vary accordingly. Commodities sold in one portion of a town may command a higher price than the same commodity sold in another part of the same town. The same may apply to an article sold in a front street as compared with the price at which it may be sold in a back street. Articles which are almost identical may be sold to customers at different prices according as they are delivered to their homes or not. With regard to fixing prices, it should be remembered that the profit that may be made by a retailer will vary with the efficiency and cleverness of the retailer. One man may make a profit by selling at a certain price, and another man might not make a profit at the same price. The reason may be that one tradesman knows when to buy and how to sell and the other does not. If you fix your prices so as to meet the needs of the efficient trader, you may impose losses and ruin on the less efficient trader, and you may close his business and stop his source of supply. If you fix a price to meet the case of the inefficient salesman, you must fix it unnecessarily high, and you may be giving a fortune to the efficient at the expense of the consumer.
If wholesale prices are falling, as they are falling now, it may be comparatively easy to fix a range of prices, but we have to contemplate the possibility that some day or other the general range of prices may move upward, and when that is going on, if you have fixed by law a whole range of standard prices for commodities and wholesale prices are going up, your Consumers Council will have to be very nimble to watch the markets. They would have to be continually readjusting prices, which would be an unpopular thing to do. It is a very unpopular thing to raise prices to a higher level, and meantime your traders will be suffering losses. If by experience they find they are suffering such losses, in 1211 ordinary times they will safeguard themselves by increasing their margins. The conclusion is that, while it is exceedingly difficult to fix the price of a few simple standard commodities when they are sold wholesale, although it may be possible in the retail trade, if this power is given to the Consumers Council, it will be found to be a power which it will be exceedingly difficult to enforce and which in practice it can seldom enforce. It would be rather a weapon in the background, intended as a deterrent, and I think that that is really what the right hon. Gentleman has in view. Judging from his observations, it is rather that than any attempt to apply a general State system to the fixation of wholesale or retail prices.
In these circumstances, I venture to suggest that this House would be well advised to pass the Second Reading of the Bill—[Interruption]—there is nothing inconsistent in that conclusion—and that, when the Committee come to consider Clause 5, which is the important Clause in this connection, we should examine that Clause word by word with the utmost scrutiny, with a view to inserting in it Amendments which will make it clear that it is not intended to authorise the estblishment of an inquisitorial body, with inspectors examining every shopkeeper's books and conducting hundreds of prosecutions throughout the country, and that it is not intended to apply where there is real competition and where intervention is unnecessary, but only where the Council has reason to believe that there are combinations imposing restrictions which are prejudicial to the public interest. It will not be easy, I freely confess, to find the right form of words, because, if the restriction is made too rigid, it may impose upon the Consumers Council a burden of proof which they would never be able to bear, and those against whom this legislation is really intended will be able to escape from it through the Consumers Council being legally required to conform to conditions which may not be possible ones. I suggest that the Committee, and all parties in the Committee, should bend their minds to this very difficult proposition, and see whether an effective restrictive Amendment cannot be drafted which will effect the purpose that we have 1212 in view without incurring dangers which everyone in all parts of the House must realise may reside in this legislation.
There is one other proposal which I suggest should be considered by the Committee. The powers which are conferred under the Bill, as they now stand, are of an arbitrary character. The Consumers Council will be empowered to fix prices in certain eventualities, and that may involve in some cases a long and elaborate and detailed schedule of different articles of different qualities sold under varying circumstances. Such a matter as that would have to be dealt with in detail largely by the officials of the Council—by its staff. The parties concerned would no doubt be heard, and fully heard, but, in the last resort, the Council would probably depend upon the advice that it would obtain from its officials and inspectors. If the traders are still dissatisfied, if they oppose the schedule, not as a whole, not in principle, but on certain points, I think they are entitled to a further hearing, and that further hearing cannot be given effectively by the Board of Trade itself, which, as we all know, is a department presided over by a very busy Minister, with a staff of highly competent civil servants, but of persons not necessarily familiar with the details of these trades.
Nor is it enough to say that the Order would be laid before Parliament, and that either House of Parliament could deal with it, because these matters are far too technical and detailed to be suitable for a Parliamentary Debate or discussion. On the other hand, to give recourse merely to a judicial or quasi judicial tribunal like the Railway and Canal Commission would not, perhaps, be suitable, and, therefore, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, for his consideration, whether in this Bill it would not be possible to follow the precedent of a number of other legislative Acts, and provide for the holding of a statutory inquiry under the authority of the Minister himself. Just as the Ministry of Health will hold an inquiry into some matter of local government, or the Board of Trade will hold an inquiry into the extension of Trade Boards or other matters of that kind, appointing an inspector or commissioner to hear the parties, to listen to the evidence, and to make a report, so it seems to me that traders might be given that further pro- 1213 tection. I would, at all events, make that suggestion for the consideration of the Minister and for the consideration, later, of the Committee. Further, it will no doubt be provided that the Consumers Council will make an annual report to Parliament. I suggest that by these means we may succeed in moulding this Bill so as to obviate the dangers which undoubtedly are feared from its operation, while at the same time leaving it effective and useful for the very necessary purpose which these proposals have in view.
§ Lord BALNIEL
I do not know whether we should sympathise with the President of the Board of Trade in having again to bring in a Bill so unworthy of his powers, or whether we should not, perhaps, rather congratulate him on being invariably chosen as pilot when the ship is most unseaworthy. I fear that he will find little affection for his Bill in any quarter of the House. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) has already spoken very unfavourably of it. Other hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, thinking that it might at any rate be expedient to fulfil some of the pledges that they gave during the Election, regret that this Bill has been introduced, because they think it means shelving other legislation which they may desire to see introduced. I have not noticed much enthusiasm for the Bill on the part of the party below the Gangway. While the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was giving his reasons, or perhaps I should say, if he will forgive me, his excuses, for the common practice of having his cake and eating it by voting for the Second Reading and against the Bill in Committee—which I take it was the meaning of his speech—he said that his action was not inconsistent. It certainly is not inconsistent with the action to which we are becoming accustomed from his party. He might have made a more consistent excuse if certain events outside this House had not, unfortunately, taken place. He might have been able to say, with his Leader, whom I am glad to see in his place, that he did not wish to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill lest he should embarrass the Government during their delicate negotiations with the Egyptian Government.
The Bill is certainly vague, but one thing is quite obvious, and that is that it 1214 is going to give wider bureaucratic powers than have even been given before, I believe, in time of peace in this country. We are reverting to a war-time act of legislation. I do not see why there should be any necessity for that at all, unless hon. Gentlemen opposite, in their modesty, really believe that their administration causes a state of national crisis and emergency. The scope of the Bill, too, is undefined, but it is equally obviously unlimited and immense, and that was practically admitted by the right hon. Gentleman. It ranges, in the words of the Bill, over the whole field of production, distribution, supply and price of any commodity. What the Government are doing in this Bill is virtually setting up, in all branches of industry, commissions of the scope and range and importance of the Commission presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, but with executive power to fix prices in addition, and, incidentally, to throw into prison people who do not give them the information they desire.
Primarily, no doubt, the object of the Measure is to fix prices, but, as the hon. Member for East Leicester has indicated, the implications of this Bill go incomparably farther than the mere fixing of prices. During the War, prices were controlled, but during the War, also, production and distribution and purchase were all controlled. As I understand this Bill, it seems to me that, unless the State intervenes, and takes over once again all those immense and, in peace-time, impossible functions of coupons, coal control, and all the other relics of the War, this Bill in itself will not work. It is a step toward that; it is a step towards nationalisation, admittedly, on the part of the right hon. Gentleman; it is yet another example of a disguised form of Socialism brought in through the back door which is held so conveniently open by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway.
Who is to form this supreme dictatorship? The Bill and the right hon. Gentleman are on this point extremely reticent. It is to be formed of seven people, of whom two at least are to be women, appointed by the Board of Trade. All men with practical experience are, by another Clause, ruled out from serving. The result is that it is going to be com- 1215 posed of members of the Board of Trade, it is going to be a mere Departmental Committee, with unparalleled and supreme executive powers, not only to override the will of this House, but to supersede fundamental economic laws. These five super-men and two super-women, when, under Clause 7, they have settled what is to be a suitable salary for their work, what are they going to control? A list is given of various commodities, extremely important commodities in the life of everyone, and, after that list, we read the words:any other article of common use.We really ought to have a definition of what the right hon. Gentleman means by this. As I read it, it includes practically every single thing that is produced in this country. Does it include building materials? Does it include tobacco? Does it include raw materials—iron ore and so on? These matters are left completely vague, and I think we need and deserve an answer from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to them. Fuel is specifically mentioned, and, in one's innocence, one imagined that to apply to coal; but the succeeding paragraph shows that this word "fuel" might equally well have been written, "fuel other than electricity, gas and coal." One of my hon. Friends reminds me that there remains wood, and perhaps he may be right; but the fact remains that these words are virtually meaningless, and their insertion seems to me to be a trifle disingenuous on the part of the promoters of the Bill. I suppose what happened was that this Bill was drafted before the Coal Mines Bill had been thought of, and that, when the Coal Mines Bill was introduced, the right hon. Gentleman, with relentless logic, thought that he might be considered inconsistent if he introduced practically simultaneously two Bills, one of which would put up the price of coal and the other of which would put it down.
Does the right hon. Gentleman's logic extend to another category of goods specifically mentioned in the Bill—foodstuffs and clothing? It is quite obvious that the cases in these categories where the biggest profits are made are in the luxury trades. Is the hon. Gentleman going to take the trouble of inquiring into the prices of sables and caviare? The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) 1216 would undoubtedly be delighted if such inquiry were made, but I very much fear that the right hon. Gentleman will be inconsistent enough to confine himself to articles of food and clothing.
§ Lord BALNIEL
In the same categories there are different foods which have been safeguarded by the late Government. Gloves and other articles had to be offered as a sacrifice at the altar of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's fanaticism, and the result of that will be that these commodities will increase in price, and that the home produced goods will be reduced. Are foreign goods of this and every other kind to be controlled by this Board? If so, we ought to know how it is going to be done. The right hon. Gentleman obviously cannot go into details of foreign manufacturers' production. How is he going to stop the foreign manufacturers making a good profit? He wishes to stop the British manufacturer from doing so. There is only one way, and that is by total prohibition of foreign goods of this kind. Does he propose to do that? The hon. Member for East Leicester spoke of the difficulty of settling a profit, and he put it far more clearly than I could hope to do. The Council has to make a statement of the information as to the prices at which each of the commodities should be sold, but hew is the right hon. Gentleman going to settle what is a fair price, and what is a fair profit? Is he going to have a fixed percentage for the whole range of an industry and say, "Yon must go no higher?"
These questions may appear to be unfair. They would be unfair questions in any other Bill but this, but on this Bill they are absolutely vital, for the whole thing has been left vague. If the fixed profit is high it is of no service at all in attaining the object for which the Bill is being introduced. If profit is fixed low the obvious result will be that you will discourage capital from being invested in these industries, and discourage enterprise and good organisation, which alone can reduce in a normal way the prices which we all wish to be reduced; and the other obvious result which experience in the War and a low fixation of profit and prices proved—that the public will be supplied with diluted goods and less fine material. That is not mere 1217 theory; everyone in the War knew that. And these matters of immense complexity are to be decided by the right hon. Gentleman in this little Bill of six Clauses. No wonder he paves the way for certain failure by saying, as a confession, in anticipation, that no objection shall be taken by any person on the ground of any alleged lack of precision in the orders which are to be given.
The Bill, I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite will say, is a consumers' Bill. It is called a Consumers' Bill, and the interests of the consumer are intended to be safeguarded throughout. It is obviously unfair to retailers and shopkeepers and so on, but I believe it is unfair to the consumer himself. It is almost a platitude to say that again and again history has shown that a maximum fixed price becomes the standard price invariably. Under this rigid fixed system the consumer will get no benefit at all from any fall in price such as the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway was referring to. I think the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench will answer the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway by saying that he would make an emergency order to alter the price of any goods without too much delay; but an emergency order, if it is to be fair, can only be passed after prolonged and searching investigation, and by the time an emergency order is brought in the benefit that the public would otherwise have received will be more than nullified and stultified.
Nor is the consumer to be protected against any sudden rise of price. When you have this rigid and fixed system, when the level is fixed, there is very little margin between profit and loss, and you will very soon get to the point when it becomes unprofitable to the retailers to sell their goods. The inevitable result will be a shortage in the most vital necessities of life. Even hon. Gentlemen opposite will find it is impossible for them to force people to sell when they do not wish to sell. Let me say one word about the consumer in his other capacity as taxpayer. In the official memorandum at the beginning it says that it is difficult to estimate the cost to the public of putting these provisions into force, but it goes on to say that probably about £20,000 will be the amount. If inquiries are to be made into industries on anything like the scale indicated, 1218 the estimate is ludicrously short of the mark. Most of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench was concerned with cases of profiteering. I think everyone in this House will wish to do all possible to prevent profiteering in the essential commodities of life.
§ Lord BALNIEL
I think the method we adopted, the Food Council, the publicity and the pillory system, were incomparably better than the method now suggested, and at any rate the onus of proof rests with right hon. Gentlemen opposite and we have had no vestige of proof that this system will work. When a completely new, radically new system is introduced, the onus does not rest upon those who dislike it, but upon those who father it and try to make it the law of the land. This, I believe, is not a system by which we can cure profiteering. I believe it to be a vague and mischievous method, prejudicial to the very interests which the right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to support. I only hope that in Committee on this Bill, if it passes Second Reading, they will allow very substantial and important alterations to be made, and that hon. Gentlemen of the Liberal party will just for this once vote in accordance with their conscience.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
The Government have now brought in four Bills of major importance, two of which are on the Statute Book, the Widows' Pensions, the Unemployment Insurance and the Coal Bill. Now we have the Consumers Bill. I am perfectly sure that of all these Bills the one that will be received with the greatest enthusiasm throughout the country is the Consumers Council Bill. Too long has there been this disparity between the money that is paid to the producer and the prices paid by the consumer. Too long has there been nothing done about it. Too long has the Linlithgow Committee Report been shelved and no action taken. The President of the Board of Trade gave one or two instances of the difference of price. He instanced the case of fish, but the Linlithgow Committee Report showed that in all necessary food of the people you have the same great disparity of prices between what is paid to the producer and what the consumer has to pay. 1219 Potatoes and cauliflower—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or broccoli!"]—or broccoli and all vegetables are over-priced. I will give you an illustration concerning cauliflower. The producer gets less than a penny and the buyer in the market pays 6d. or 8d.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that we should again adopt an inactive attitude. It is true that the producer must be considered, but the woman with a basket who goes weekly to her marketing is one who will value this Bill more than any other Bill the Government has brought in since it came into power. The woman with a small wage goes out with her basket in a desperate effort to get enough food for her family, and with prices ruling high. That woman knows the market gardener has had less than a penny for the cauliflower and that she buys it for 6d. or 8d. She is making an effort, with her poor wages, to buy sufficient food for her family. It often cannot be done. That is one of the reasons why we are producing a C3 nation. It was stated in the House that no less than 60 per cent. of recruits were rejected for the Army because they were not physically fit. It is because so many women are unable to get enough food to bring up strong and healthy children. This Bill will have a beneficial effect, I believe, not only on the economics of the nation, but on the health and spirit of the people. It is said that in days gone by, in times of great depression, people used to say a grace before their meals. It was this:Heavenly Father bless us,And keep us all alive;There are ten of us for dinner,And food for only five.If anyone accuses me of being sentimental for having quoted that, I am content to be sentimental, because it is still a fact in some of the homes of our people. I have seen a dinner table very much like it, scantily provided, with a large family round it. I do not say the children are starving, but they are under-nourished. No one likes to pay more than they ought to for their food. Under the present system, if a man with a family earns £2 a week, nearly all of it has to go on food, let alone clothing. The effect of this Bill will be to add greatly to the value of the wages. We are told farmers 1220 and other employers cannot give better wages. Then at least let us do what we can to make the wages that are secured go further and have a larger purchasing power than they have at present. The President of the Board of Trade reminded us that 10,000,000 inhabitants of the country are earning £700,000,000 less than they did many years ago.
The late President of the Board of Trade tried to frighten the House by saying that this is Socialism. Any attempt to frighten people by saying that this is Socialism is rather out-of-date. Slowly, silently but surely, people are waking up to know that Socialism spells common sense. No one wishes to disparage the work of the Food Council, but everyone will admit that it was futile, so far as affecting prices was concerned. Hon. Members opposite have brought out the old objections. You are interfering with fundamental economic laws. Economic law was long ago interfered with, in the forties of last century. We are told there will be a host of officials. Many a time people have had to bless officials who have come in and put things straight. I believe no Bill will be more welcome than this, and I am immovably persuaded that it will be welcomed, not by the working classes alone, but by all sections of society throughout the country.
§ Major SALMON
I approach the subject from the point of view of one who has had some experience in dealing with the food problem and the problem of distribution. The proposition contained in the Bill, of setting up a council consisting of five men and two women to try to organise the industry of the country, will be disastrous to the country itself. Is it supposed for a moment that those seven persons will be in a position to say what is a reasonable price to charge for a particular commodity? The first thing that will have to be decided is, what is a reasonable profit. You cannot decide what you shall sell a thing for unless you know what is to be considered a reasonable profit, if you are going to approach it from a business standpoint and a reasonable standpoint. The President of the Board of Trade mentioned milk, and said what a huge sum of money it tests the people of London. I have no interest in the milk trade, but I took the trouble to find out a few facts, and the figures I have show, on an enormous turnover, a 1221 net profit of 3.26 per cent. Is that considered to be an exorbitant profit on a turnover running into some millions of pounds in a business organised in a highly scientific manner? The point at issue between the Food Council and the milk combine was the allocation between the two sides of the business. Milk was originally sold alone, and ultimately another commodity was added to it. Fifty-five per cent. is milk and 45 per cent. other commodities, and the argument is, what is the correct figure of overhead charges to charge to milk and what to the other commodity? But the fact remains that 3.26 per cent. is the only profit that is made by adding them both together.
Is the Consumers Council going to say to a combine, "You may make a certain percentage of profit" and, if it is not a combine, say nothing at all? You cannot have one percentage of profit for one and another for another. That is going to be a very difficult proposition. You are going to penalise efficient management, because the more efficiently a business is organised, the greater service it gives to the consumer, and you are going to say that the greater service that it gives is not to be recognised. Take the case of an article that is being produced and the owner has created a goodwill for it. If you come along and say there must be a maximum price for the article, the goodwill is going to be lost, because he will have to reduce his quality to meet the maximum price. It has been truly said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) that a maximum price is also a minimum price. That has been shown every time it has been attempted. You can trace it through the whole period of the War. The very people that you are out to protect are going to suffer by this, because unscrupulous purveyors will charge the maximum price. You do not provide what the quality shall be. He will sell the goods at the price you prescribe but he will take it out of the quality, and you can never control that. The hon. Lady who has just spoken is living in a fool's paradise when she says that the woman with the basket will be thankful to the Socialist Government, because it will be proved beyond all doubt that the very persons they are trying to protect will get less value for money than they do 1222 where there is a, free market and natural competition, which is the fresh air of trade.
The question of raw material will cause a serious point of economics to arise. I think that the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) put the case very fairly when he showed the enormous difficulty of dealing with grades of a particular commodity. If you are going to treat a thing not in grades but at one common price, you are going to reduce the price that the producer will get. The retailer will not be able to pay the ordinary market price, because he is limited to the price at which he may sell the commodity. Therefore you will be reducing competition. The necessary result of that will be that the price will go up on account of shortage of supply. That, to my mind, is a very great mistake. But, above all, you are not going to give the public the service and the quality that they get to-day, which exists simply by reason of competition. Competition forces good value for money. I have been brought up in the school of thought that believes that selling large quantities at a small profit is the best means of doing business. I am not approaching the subject with the idea of justifying exploiting the public. I am very desirous to see that the public are not exploited. The supposed cure that is suggested by the Bill is unreasonable, impracticable and unworkable. Its effect will undoubtedly be to retard the development of industry. The investment of money abroad, to be used in competition with business here, is going to be accelerated, because industry will be afraid to develop when it has hanging over its head such bureaucratic power as is proposed to be given.
If the people who are brought up in industry, and have to live by it, are not capable of reorganising it, do you think seven individuals appointed by the Minister are capable of doing it? The thing is absurd on the face of it. No industry, and no successful business, can be run from an office on theory. You have to know the job and you have to go into details. The Minister made an observation as regards the price of fish and he was asked a question. He said he did not want to go into details. It is details that tell between success and failure. When you are comparing the prices of 1223 commodities you have to have regard to the service that the retailer is giving. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in many of his views, though I do not understand his inconsistency. He has shown an enormous number of difficulties which would arise if the Bill passes as it is at present drawn. He does not like it at bottom, but he says he will vote for it, trusting to luck that in Committee he can get some alterations.
That is an extraordinary way to deal with an important subject which is going to interfere with the whole of industry in this country. We are introducing to-day a system unparalleled in the history of this country by the power that is being given to a Department to investigate and to have a roving commission into people's business and books, for the purpose of trying to show that those who are making the inquiries are better able to run the businesses than those whose business it is to run them successfully. I would call the attention of the House to one particular Clause which struck me as most strange, and that is the heavy penalties to be inflicted upon anyone who discloses a secret. It is not unknown that very eminent officials in the Government service have left the Government service in order to get better positions and find scope for their talents in commercial undertakings. What is to prevent those who learn the secret of the running of a particular business from leaving the Government service and starting a business of their own, and to what penalties will they be liable?
§ Major SALMON
I do not think that anyone for one moment would suggest that a civil servant would do anything that was dishonourable, but if the matter is important enough to make a special provision with regard to secret information, it is also important enough to provide that if an individual leaves the service he should not have a free hand to do what he likes with his information. There is also the question of bread. There has been a dispute as to a difference of 2s. per sack, and it is not unreasonable to show how the increase has been added. 1224 The House should realise what has operated to justify the bakers in putting up the price of bread by one farthing. The cheaper flour that they were receiving at the price level arranged by the Ministry was such that the bread was not good enough, and they had to bring it up to a better level by blending it with more expensive flour. Also they wrapped the bread, and had to deliver earlier to their customers. These improvements cost 2s. extra. To what extent does the 2s. affect the consumer? If you take the 8,000,000 persons supplied in London, it has an effect of 1s. 3d. per annum per person in the whole of London. For that extra money, they are getting service and better quality. It is desirable that the House should be fully seized of the fact. The trade wrote a letter to the Food Council telling them that they were getting out the figures prepared by Deloitte Plender and Company to prove their case, and would be pleased to wait upon them and show the figures; but they heard nothing further about the matter until they saw a letter in the Press which had been addressed to the Minister.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for East Leicester with regard to the disparity of remuneration. It is very important that the House should make up its mind whether it thinks it desirable in the interests of the country that a good profit should be earned by individuals and corporations, companies or firms. There can be no doubt that this is a Bill, the Minister practically admitted it, the passing of which will cripple industry to such a degree that they hope by this insidious means, ultimately, the Government will get hold of the control of supply and distribution. That is the underlying principle of this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] The Minister did not disguise the fact. He said that they had to camouflage it because they had not had a majority, and that if they had a majority they would have deliberately come out and stated their object. If they have that behind their minds, they ought to have the courage to say so, and not to try to hoodwink the people that they are doing all they can to help the consumer when they are out primarily with the idea of nationalising a large number of industries in 1225 this country. The right hon. Member for Darwen could see part of the object, but, as he could not see the whole, he said that he was going to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
We have to-day very large figures of unemployment. I believe that the passing of this Bill is going to increase unemployment, because it will retard and contract the development of industry and prevent its extension. Instead of trying in these days to stimulate industry, the Government are doing everything they can to depress it and to make things much more difficult. I hope that the House will not give the Bill a Second Reading; if they do pass it, they will regret the day they did it.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
I have listened with a good deal of interest to the speeches, and I am bound to say that if the decision I had to make as to whether I would vote for the Second Reading could be altered by the consideration of whether I could wholeheartedly support some of the speeches made in support of the Bill, I should be in a difficult position. The President of the Board of Trade and the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) spoke of trusts, combines and monopolies. If this was a Bill aimed at trusts, combines and monopolies, and if trusts, combines and monopolies did exist and were attempting to profiteer at the expense of the poor, then I should say that something must be done to deal with them, but I see no reference in the Bill to trusts or combines. What I do see is a tremendous interference with the retailing section of the distributing trade. I happen to have been engaged in the retail trade for 20 or 25 years, having worked from the bottom, from the position of an errand boy. Therefore I claim to know something about the retail trade. I am sorry to hear speeches of some hon. Members and speeches made outside this House, based upon the assumption that the retail section of the distributing trade are making excessive profits. They cannot prove that statement; if they could prove the statement, why do they not prove it? The truth is that as a class and as a body the retailers are as honourable as any other class in the community, and they are not making exceptional profits.
1226 We have heard a good deal about the food trade, and how the retail section of the food trade are exploiting the people. There was a Royal Commission in 1925, which went into the question of the meat supply, the retail prices and the profits obtained by the butchers. The Commission came to the conclusion that the average profit per pound of beef sold to the public was not more than one halfpenny. Surely, hon. Members are not going to call that profiteering. The Commission went into the business of the butchers generally and found that the butchers in putting their case claimed that the average net profit, which included interest upon capital put into their business, was not more than £300 for the whole service rendered to the community. Whilst not accepting the £300 figure, the Commission were prepared to accept a figure which was far below £500. To assume that the retailers are extracting undue profits from the public, is to assume something that we have no right to do. It is a libel upon that section of our people.
If this Bill aimed at dealing with monopolies, and we had sure proof that these monopolies were attempting to exploit the consuming public by making excessive charges, I would say God-speed to such a Bill and I would support it in every detail, but the Bill does not aim at anything of the sort. It is a Bill to set up a body whose business it will be to inquire into other people's business, with which they are not conversant. It will set up a, body of men and women who will be given power to spend large sums of public money in order to make investigations into the private affairs of the retailers of this country. That being so, I find it difficult to support it. The retailers are not profiteering, and the new body ought not to be given a roving commission to go from trade to trade and from business to business, without any real evidence that profiteering does exist.
We often talk about the profits the retailers make, but not about the services which they render. We speak of their gross and net profits; but the overhead charges of the retailer have a good deal to do with the profits he must demand. It was said by an hon. Member to-day that wholesale prices have fallen, but that retail prices had not dropped pro rata. There is something else to be re- 1227 membered. The overhead charges on the retailers have increased tremendously. The rent he has to pay is tremendously higher than it was five, 10 or 15 years ago. Taxes are higher, rates are higher, assessments are higher—as a result of the activities of the last Government, assessments are enormously higher. If better wages are to be paid—and I do not complain about wages; I wish they were better—if shorter hours are to be worked—and I wish there were shorter hours—these things are bound to enter into the profits which distributors must make on the goods they sell. That may explain to a large extent why there is not a drop in the retail as compared with the wholesale price. The poor retailer is supposed to be the profiteer, and he gets all the kicks simply because he is nearest to the consumer, but he gets no sympathy for the increased overhead charges that he has to bear. The average retailer is not any more a profiteer in any sense of the word than any other average member of the community. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) complained that the Bill does not go far enough. He wanted a great deal of publicity. While I am not afraid of publicity of the actual facts, he desired publicity, he said, with regard to trusts and monopolies only. I was sorry that I was constrained to interrupt him, but he ought to have known that in Clause 4, Sub-section (2), these words occur:Where the Council acquire information as to any individual business (whether carried on by a person, firm, or company).It is plain, therefore, that there is to be inquiry into the books and accounts of private individuals and firms. Surely there ought to be secrecy when a body of men and women are empowered to enter business premises and see books and make extracts of accounts; there ought to be an undertaking that the information which they get shall not be broadcast to all and sundry. Under this Bill we are to set up a body of men and women, presumably, to protect the consuming public, but it will do nothing of the sort. It is not fair to the retailers or even to any industry that, merely upon the complaint of an ordinary individual and not as a result of definite instructions from any Government department, this body can make the fullest possible investigation into an individual business. 1228 It is absolutely wrong, even if it is meant to protect the consuming public. When you have merely fixed the retail price, you certainly have not solved the whole problem. You cannot solve it in that way. Are you to fix the wholesalers' prices and the price of the producer and to trace the article from the producer to the consumer? No; you are throwing the whole of the onus upon the retailer.
Tremendous sums are to be provided to this Consumers Council. It is to have power to employ the assistance it requires, to employ and pay accountants so that they may inspect books of firms and individuals. Are the Government going to help the retailers to employ accountants in order that they may refute any statements which the accountants of the Consumers Council may make, or is this to be an extra burden upon the retailer? Why is the retailer to be put to the trouble and expense of proving to the Committee that he is not a profiteer simply because a complaint is made against him? I do not see that you can fix the prices suggested in the Bill after you have got the information. You cannot fix a uniform price for many articles. This Bill does not deal with only standard articles; it deals with wearing apparel and almost any conceivable thing can be brought within the purview of the committee. If this were a Bill to strike at trusts and monopolies I would support it; but a Bill which is to interfere in matters which it cannot possibly control I will have difficulty in supporting. I hope that, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, it will be drastically amended in Committee so that retailers and those associated with industry will be protected as well as the consumer. Every protection ought to be given to the consuming public; but it is not sufficient that a person should merely make a complaint whether it can be substantiated or not. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about potatoes?"] I could deal with that.
§ Mr. THOMAS SNOWDEN
Can the hon. Member give us the price at which potatoes are bought from the farms and the price which is charged to the consumer?
§ Mr. BLINDELL
I could give the hon. Member particulars about that, and I could go into many reasons for the prices which have been charged, but I suggest that in order to meet the difficulty, the 1229 right way is not to set up a body to say to the retailer that he must charge no more than a certain rate for potatoes.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I think we are entitled to more than mere generalities from the hon. Member. He claims to be an authority on this subject, and he ought to give us some details.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
A Second Reading Debate is not the time to go into details; that is for the Committee. I submit that by merely setting up a body of men and women you will not solve the problem of the difference between cost of production and the price charged to the consumer. I am prepared to admit, with the hon. Member for East Leicester, that, so far as potatoes are concerned, in many cases they go through too many hands; but you have to remember that this Bill does not deal with that. It is dealing in a very weak way with a tremendous problem. It has been suggested that the powers in Clause 5 with regard to the fixing of prices are to be held in reserve and hardly ever to be used. If these powers are never to be used, why do you want to put them into the Bill? If they are not to be used, the Bill is useless. My complaint is that because certain people may believe that excessive prices are being charged, the trade is to be put to the difficulty and expense of proving that the charge is not excessive. To give the wide powers which the Bill proposes to give is a huge mistake, and on this Bill I will have tremendous difficulty even in following my leader the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. PERRY
The hon. Member who has just spoken, before dealing in such a sweeping manner with the work of the Consumers Council, ought to have told us what frivolous complaints have been investigated by the present Food Council, on the structure of which the proposed Consumers Council is to be built. During this discussion there seems to have been a great deal of unreality. I have listened to critics on the benches opposite on the work of the Food Council; but I have read speeches delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister), in which they have praised the work of the Food Council and have emphatically declared that, if it 1230 were found that the council had not the necessary powers, then the late Government was prepared to take steps to confer those powers upon them. There is agreement as to the Food Council have power to make inquiries, and I suggest that all the retailers of this country are not opposed to this Bill. A few of my hon. Friends on this side are interested in an organisation which is sometimes referred to by hon. Members opposite as one of the chief trading organisations in the country. If that is true, and if we are supporting this Bill, we are fully entitled to claim that that is evidence that all retailers are not opposing the Measure. During the war period, when you were dealing with abnormal conditions, the work of the Food Council for the protection of the consumer undoubtedly created in the minds of the consumers of this country a desire for the development of that work, and time and time again within recent years the work of the Food Council has developed. But we have been told repeatedly that, in spite of the inquiries made and the strength of the case put in regard to profiteering in certain commodities, they have no power to carry out their recommendations. We have two glaring instances in the case of milk and bread. The claim was made by the combine only last year that winter prices must be charged for an additional month to give a fair return. Our co-operative organisation in London was able to sell milk at summer prices for that month and still make a fair margin of profit. In regard to bakers and confectioners, the Council has proved substantially that gross profiteering has been taking place, and its whole object has been to protect the interests of the comsumer. I cannot admit for one moment that the new Consumers Council, when it is established, is going to concern itself with a thousand and one small details that no one really bothers about, but on the big things, which are the main things of life, the consumer will feel that his case is being inquired into and his interests safeguarded.
I have no fear that this Consumers Council, despite the fears of the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow (Major Salmon) is going to consist of supermen and super-women. If we take the personnel of the Food Council, we may assume that the men and women who 1231 would be willing to serve on the new Consumers Council will have as high a standard of efficiency and public service as have members of the Food Council who have served us so well in the past. We in the co-operative movement, who are often held up as one of the largest trading concerns in the country, have a membership of 6,000,000 in Great Britain and, allowing for four persons to a family, it means that indirectly we are catering for nearly one-half of the population. I think, therefore, that we may claim to have some interest in supplying people with the necessities of life at the lowest cost. We welcome the establishment of the Consumers Council with statutory powers. We are not afraid of maximum prices; they will not hurt us. It will be generally agreed that we are well able to look after the interests of the consumers as far as prices are concerned.
I see present my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley). Perhaps he will be able to say why fish which cost one and one-sixth of a penny at the dockside is sold for 8d. at the retailer's. One of the things complained of is the danger of trusts and combines. He will appreciate, with his knowledge of the retail and distributing trades, that one of the greatest dangers to-day is the control of these bodies which fix prices and tell retailers that unless they charge them supplies will be refused. It is one of the great problems that retailers have to face. I cannot share the fear many Members seem to have of this Bill. It is stretching language to say that this is the first step in a policy of nationalisation, but we on these benches do think it is the first step in a policy of protecting the interests of the consumer, and having regard to the success of the Food Council and the tribute paid to it, and the admissions made in the past by the Leader of the Opposition, that if this Council could not carry out its work without further powers, the late Government would give those powers, we should have no hesitation in supporting the Second Reading.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
This is one of those Bills to which that most damning epithet "well-intentioned" must be applied. I am bound to confess as a historian that history from Herodotus down to the present day is strewn with these 1232 well-intentioned experiments which have all ended in failure. The Emperor Diocletian fixed the price of everything from a pint of lentils up through lengths of rope to black negro slaves, putting an exact and what he thought an honest price on all of them. This did not succeed, though documents show the exact price of everything. But the system could not work very long. Robespierre and the Jacobins made the attempt with the celebrated law about food prices which led to the closing of the bakers' shops and Paris riots lasting for weeks. Modern Russia may be regarded as an example of what comes from trying, with the best of intentions, to fix prices for the "proletariat." The unfortunate people who do not belong to the "proletariat," of coarse, have nothing at all. But these are merely warnings in general; they show that the present Government, again with the best of intentions, is going over the old path that thousands of republics and monarchies, either well-intentioned or wishing to appear well-intentioned, have gone over before them, all ending in absolute failure.
I have just three points on the actual provisions of the Bill which I would like to rub in. The first is that it is a Bill to encourage the obtaining of inquisitorial secret information by people with a personal hatred of an individual retailer or inspired with trade jealousy of him. There is no doubt whatever that this Bill is likely to lead to denunciations from personal spite. It is absolutely certain that if Jones thinks that Brown, his rival, is making too much money, he can send secret information about Brown to those who make the inquiry. Point 2 deals with a fundamental point of English justice. When a person is likely to be in trouble, the first thing the policeman warns him is that he need not make any statement dangerous to himself. What is the case with this Bill? The Committee has power to send for anybody, put him on oath, and begin to question him. They suspect him of being a profiteer, and possibly he may be, but is it consistent with the principles of British justice that you should put a man on oath, and then compel him to give all his figures, and even to hand over his books, when the result may be that you are going to prosecute him? It seems to me contrary 1233 to the simplest fundamental rules of British justice.
This is a Bill not only to subject people to this danger, but to compel them on oath to give evidence possibly against themselves. I cannot see how that can be tolerated, and it surely must be struck out in Committee. My third point raises the principle that "time is money." Who are the people who are profiteering in "time"? My bills before the War charged so much for men's time. Since the War they are more than double. The work is no better done, but what I have particularly noticed in recent years is that it takes much longer to do! For the smallest job, repairing a single pipe or putting in half a dozen nails, two men come along, and I am charged half a day's work for two men. That is profiteering in "time," and I do not think this Bill has anything to say to that at all. I am under the impression that if you take seven, 70, 700 or 7,000 people, deal they never so wisely, they will not be able to fix a price for any commodity so that it can be sold at the same price all round the British Isles.
I think the subject under discussion merited rather more serious treatment than that given to it by the hon. Member who has just sat down. He talked about fundamental principles of British justice. I wonder if it is consistent with the principles of justice that at one and the same time there should be confessed and aggravated profiteering in Great Britain, and acute and widespread poverty in Great Britain. Few Members have attempted to deny that these two things are existing side by side, though it is rather a comedy in a serious situation that a Liberal Member should attempt to deny that profiteering exists, and that we should have to go to the Leader of the Opposition for proof, if proof were necessary, of our case—to his election speeches of 1924, and to the Food Council that he himself established in 1925, because he and his party were convinced that profiteering did exist.
I want to say to the Conservative party that they must make a choice in one of two directions. Either they must be guilty of trying to humbug the housewives of this country by giving them the Food Council, which was merely a kind of political window-dressing and which 1234 they knew would not be able effectively to protect those housewives, or—I want to put a kindlier interpretation on their action than that—knowing that profiteering existed, they set up a Council with the object of checking profiteering. If this is the case, surely the experience of the ensuing years must have proved that their Council was completely ineffective, because its powers were inadequate. Therefore, if their election pledges of 1924 were sincere they ought at the present moment to be whole-heartedly behind the Labour Government, who are merely trying to strengthen the work which they began, and to put legal sanctions behind the Food Council which will force bread combines and milk combines, or any other combines, to respect decisions made after very careful and very clear inquiry by that Council.
As for the hon. Member below the Gangway who made a vehement and indignant protest as to the entire innocence and honour of the retail traders, and then pleaded that they should not have any form of investigation, I cannot follow his logic in the slightest degree. It seems to me that if persons were so completely conscious of their honour and innocence, as hon. Members opposite seem to believe, they would welcome inquiry and the very fullest inquiry, so that we could give them a public certificate of merit and free them from what I am afraid are the very substantial and very real shadows of doubt as to the accusation hanging over them at the present moment. We might have expected that from the Conservative Benches, the Liberal Benches and from all benches, there would have been a unanimous desire to have this Bill made an effective instrument against profiteering.
It is rather ludicrous when we find arguments put forward by some hon. Members opposite in order to avoid this conclusion. Indeed, I heard one hon. Member from the back bench above the Gangway declare that it was no use trying to bring in a Bill to check profiteering because if we interfered with prices the profiteer would persist in his evil deeds and would simply get his own back on the community by giving them a reduced quality. It was a very interesting admission. He went on to talk in terms which might have been relevant in pre-War days but which are utterly 1235 irrelevant and frivolous at the present moment. He went on to propound the good old maxim of producing in bulk and getting small profits, thereby giving the widest and the cheapest services to the general community. One really imagined that the hon. Member had never heard of such things as great trusts and combines deliberately restricting the food supply of the people of this country in order to keep up prices. Potatoes have been mentioned in this Debate. The hon. Member must be as well aware as any of us in this House that not long ago 20,000 tons of potaoes were put back into the soil in Lincolnshire and allowed to rot because they could not be marketed profitably. He must be aware that every year there are millions of fish thrown back into the sea.
The hon. Member says "Nonsense." I shall be very pleased to bring to his notice the fact that the grave charge is brought against the industry which he is supporting of deliberately destroying food supplies which, if this had not taken place, might have resulted in cheap food for the poor people of this country. Here is a quotation, not from the "Daily Herald," but from the "Daily Chronicle" of the ninth of the second month of 1929:Yesterday drifter after drifter filed out of the harbour with a million herrings to be emptied back into the sea. One boat's catch was loaded in wagons and taken away by farmers for manure.I have another quotation from a still more reputable source, perhaps, in the view of most hon. Members opposite, the "Manchester Guardian," which informs us—this quotation appeared in 1930—that near Sydney, Australia, there is a spot where the cart of a retail trust may be observed tipping cartloads of good food over into the sea. It goes on to say that those who restrict the output of raw material in order to keep up the price are looking to scarcity instead of to abundance as their friend, and human nature revolts at this indictment.
§ Sir WALTER GREAVES-LORD
Would the hon. Lady explain to the House the difference between restricting the supply of fish and restricting the supply of coal in order to put up the price?
It is rather flattering if the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot think of a slightly stronger argument than that in support of his case. The object of the reorganisation of the coal industry, as I should have thought every Member in this House would have known after the long drawn out Debates, is that the coal shall be so marketed and so organised as at least to attempt to give a decent standard to the workers in the industry and to restore prosperity. There is not a single ton of coal destroyed. It is the deliberate destruction—
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The quotation which the hon. Lady read was with regard to restriction of supply. [HON. MEMBER: "Destruction"!] No, restriction of supply.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I am sure the hon. Lady is perfectly fair. She will see that I am correctly quoting her. The restriction—you may call it destruction—of fish, if it is done at all, is also in order that the men who work on the ships, who are almost entirely share fishermen, should be able to get such a price as would give them an adequate share.
I still believe that the common fisherman, even with the destruction of millions of fish, is not getting the adequate livelihood that he ought to be getting. While food supplies are being deliberately destroyed in order to maintain high prices to millions of destitute homes in this country, the hon. Member, who I am sorry is not in the House at the moment, talked as if the present state of British industry was something of which to be proud, and suggested that natural economic laws should be allowed to operate. In face of the situation in the coal field, in face of the plight of the steelworkers and cotton workers, in face of the condition of the woolworkers and the agricultural workers, there ought to be more humility in the speeches of hon. Members opposite when talking about the condition of British industry. We are all agreed that profiteering does exist, and I hope we are all agreed that we want to deal with it in an effective way.
For my part, I consider that this is an excellent Bill in the sense that, whether 1237 it succeeds or fails, it will at least serve a very useful purpose. If it succeeds in any degree in checking profiteering, it will give a direct advantage to the millions of housewives who are struggling under very difficult circumstances. A penny here, or even a farthing there, on the butcher's bill may seem very small to hon. Members opposite and to most Members of the House, but if a housewife is going out with 20 shillings—and she is lucky if she has got that amount—she suffers very seriously if, after a careful and minute calculation as to how every halfpenny is going to be spent, she suddenly discovers that some big milk combine has put up the price of milk. If we can by our efforts minimise profiteering, we are doing something which is just as welcome to the housewife as if we had increased the wages of her husband at the end of the week. Hon. Members opposite, if it fails, will find themselves in a still more embarrassing situation. Some of us have attempted time and again to tell the people of this country that they will not end profiteering and poverty until they take the industries of the nation out of the hands of hon. Members opposite, who have made such a mess of them, and institute a spirit of service. Would hon. Members opposite like to tell us how successfully they have run agriculture and cotton and wool?
We are out to take the resources of our country, the land, the industries, all those things upon which our livelihood depends, and rescue them from the anarchy and disorder of private enterprise on the one hand and the trusts and combines on the other, and mobilise them for the benefit of the whole community. We have told our people that they will have to come all the way of Socialism with us before they can have real prosperity and security. One ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory, and this Bill is an ounce of practice. In its very failure it is going to be immensely useful to us, because when the housewives of the country discover that, in spite of the best efforts of the Government, profiteering is still going on, they will come to us not only in support of what we are doing to-day but to urge us along much more radical ways; to the control of our imports and exports, to the mobilisation of our industries and resources in such a way that in the future we shall not be debating in this Chamber what are to be the limits of profits and dividends, because they will be immaterial 1238 since the profits and dividends will be shared by all citizens of the country, and in that case we shall all be concerned to have them at the highest instead of the lowest level.
I disagree with the President of the Board of Trade in saying that we were not at the present moment in a state of emergency. He made a reference to the War years, and I want to remind the House that there is a war going on in Yorkshire now—a war of poverty-stricken men and women who are trying to defend their standard of living. There is a war going on in the cotton factories and in the coalfields. There is a war going on all over the industrial world, and in the agricultural part of the country as well. We have not the economic power to protect the people as adequately as we would wish to protect them. I hope we shall use any powers we possess under a Bill like this, but if it fails we shall arouse in the people outside a determination to have a Government which will not simply do a little thing in very difficult circumstances, but a Government which will have complete and sole power to tackle our industrial problems in the big, broad, imaginative and international way in which they should be tackled, and wipe out the anarchy and feuds with which our industrial life had been corroded while in the hands of hon. Members opposite.
I hope that we shall recognise, as we did from 1914 to 1918, that this is a period of national emergency and that our central problem is either by a reduction of prices or an increase of wages to give the working people of this country the power to buy back the goods which they have produced. There is always going to be unemployment and poverty until we can bridge that gap. The present Bill is only a very small, tentative, and rather a feeble step, in that direction but, as far as it succeeds, it will win the blessings of the housewives and so far as it fails hon. Members opposite will win the curses of the housewives. Either way we have every reason to welcome the introduction of this Bill as a definite step, both practical and educational, in the work to which we have set our hand.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am very interested to hear from the hon. Lady who 1239 has just spoken that this Bill is a mere piece of propaganda by the Government. That was the accusation she made against the last Government. She said that the Food Council was a bit of humbug, and this Bill seems to be something of the same thing.
The action of the late Government was deliberate humbug. This is an honest attempt to deal with profiteering, and if it fails then we shall have to go in for more drastic measures in order to succeed.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The difference seems to be that we were conscious humhugs—in that case there is some hope for us, because we can amend—but that the present Government are unconscious humbugs. In that case there is no hope. The hon. Lady perhaps knows Plato's "Dialogues," and the "Republic," in which he defines the lie against the soul for which he says there is no remedy because the person does not know how to speak the truth; he does not know that he is lying. If this is unconscious humbug, there is nothing to be expected from the Labour party in this particular regard. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not Plato!"] Well, it is my paraphrase of Plato brought up to date, and, after all these years, it is possible that this generation may be just as wise as they were in those days. When the Food Council was originally introduced by the late Government, I suspected the proposal strongly. I thought it an exceedingly foolish proposal, and I thought I knew what was at the bottom of it. At that time there were a great number of men who had been busily employed in "mucking about" with the people's food during the War. Anybody who recollects the class of food supplied to us at that time knows the results of their efforts. How anybody could sit down to breakfast bacon of the kind supplied by the Food Ministry during the War, I do not understand. It certainly lasted a long time, because the same piece would do a person all week. It was foul stuff, and thousands of tons of it had to be destroyed. From every corner of the globe, from China and America and everywhere else, we had the rottenest stuff dumped on us by the experts of those days. The only people who really 1240 fattened upon that system were the bureaucrats engaged in administering it.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
They profiteered because the Government were taking Excess Profits Duty from them. The Government were the real profiteers. The Government encouraged profiteering, because they came along and took practically the whole of the profits made by these people. But we had all that huge staff of officials busily engaged in the task of looking after the people's food and supplying them with the most inferior food that the population of these islands have ever been compelled to eat. They certainly fattened in their jobs, and they would like to repeat the process again. I think they set a booby trap for the last Government, and got them to bring in the Food Council proposal, knowing, as I suspect, that the logical outcome of it would be some still more foolish Bill like the Bill we have before us now. One sees that kind of thing happening in every Department on which the Government gets its paws. They got hold of the liquor control in Carlisle and Invergordon, and everybody in those districts knows the result. Get any working man in those places to tell you of what happened there. But these bureaucrats keep on with measures of that kind and engage in propaganda, and try to make the people believe that they are much better off under Government control. All the time, they are working to get a further grip and to get more and more officialdom established until, if it goes on, we shall get to the situation which is described by George A. Birmingham as existing in the Irish Free State. He says that there are two ways of getting on in Southern Ireland. One is to get a Government job, and the other is to get into Guinness's brewery.
That is what is at the back of all this class of business. That is what is at the back of practically every scheme of so-called social service. Examine every one of these schemes, and you will find that in the course of two or three years the beneficiaries are almost entirely forgotten, and the people administering the scheme are the people who are getting the real benefit. Whether they are doctors or officials, or anyone else, all the various people appointed under these schemes are 1241 in the position of tax collectors. They are the people who get the benefits, and this Bill is part of the same game. It seems to me obvious why prices are high. There are several reasons, and one of them is taxation. The results of taxation are astonishing. It works its way right through all departments of life, from the producer to the dealer, the broker, the wholesaler and the retailer. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the middleman!"] These are the middlemen. They are all paying heavy taxation. The landlord of the shop is paying heavy taxation and heavy rates, and all these things go on to the cost of the articles sold in the shop. Then there is the burden involved in the Shop Hours Act, which, undoubtedly, adds to the cost of production. If you shorten the hours, if you shorten the period during which the shops keep open, you diminish competition and cut out the small shopkeeper and leave the big stores and the co-operative societies to earn their dividends. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, they all earn dividends—only what is regarded as a merit in the case of the co-operative societies is regarded as larceny on the part of the ordinary retailer.
All these shopkeepers are being added to the brotherhood of Zacchæus. Zacchæus was a public tax collector who got up a tree, and the shopkeepers of this country are up a tree in regard to matters of taxation. They may be men of small stature like Zacchæus, but they have long prices and they have to meet long charges in taxation. They are all, in fact, collecting taxes. We are really getting back to the position which existed when the Government were collecting Excess Profits Duty and how can anything else be expected than that charges should be high. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said that wholesale prices had fallen by 25 per cent. in the last five years, but that retail prices had only fallen about half of that—I could not hear the exact figure. Of course that is so, because the actual price of the producer is only a very small part of the cost of retail distribution. If you buy a cheap article, like a cauliflower, from the producer, by the time it has passed through all the different hands concerned, the original cost of the cauliflower is nothing compared to the other costs. Water in a Highland lake, if you are beside the lake, costs you 1242 nothing, but if you lead it by a pipe to a town 50 miles away, it costs money. It reminds one of the story of the drover who was told that if he took his cattle to London, he would get five times the price which he could obtain for them in the neighbouring Highland town. His reply was that if he could take Loch Lomond to the nether regions he would get a shilling a glass for it.
These are the real causes of cost and in these cases it is very largely a matter of taxation. In addition, we find that the people in the unsheltered trades like railwaymen, municipal employés, building employés, everybody in a non-competitive trades, through the efforts of their unions—perfectly properly—are having their remuneration put up to a more comfortable figure than that which is obtainable in the producing trades. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like your profession."] Yes, I think 20 per cent. was added on to the lawyer's right to charge and I hope they all deserve it. But it is one of the ironies of fate to see the Lord Privy Seal trying to deal with unemployment because as the representative of the railwaymen he has been extraordinarily clever in getting the best possible terms for his men. Of course it was his duty to do so, but that is very largely responsible for a good deal of the unemployment which the right hon. Gentleman is now seeking, in vain, to cure.
There is no doubt that that has a great deal to do with the unemployment in the coal trade. The sheltered trades are 100 per cent. up and very much above the pre-War stage. I am glad to see anybody get an increase of wages, and I think that everybody should have two or three times as much as he has. If you have one section—the sheltered trades—getting more or less in a gilt state, that makes it all the harder for the other competitive trades. That was why the miners joined together to put pressure on the Government. They insisted on becoming a sheltered trade, and, having become politicalised, they got a sufficient number of members here to intimidate the Government, and they got a monopoly, with the kind approval of their employers, who were of course delighted to join in with the workers to get on the backs of the rest of the community. That will also raise the cost of living.
1243 One has heard a good deal of talk about the milk combine. The growth of these combines is extraordinary, and I think that it is largely due to legislation. You talk about the cost of milk and what the farmer gets. Every morning the housewife expects to have the milk on her doorstep, generally in a glass bottle. There is some cost in that; there is wear and tear, and it has to be delivered at specific hours. Suppose that you were to say that a postage stamp was to be delivered every morning at your house, you would find that it would cost 2½d., for there would be the cost of delivery. A very large part of the cost of milk is due to the handling of it. The costs of the retailer are due to the handling of the goods, to increased standards of wages and to rates and taxes. If retail prices are fixed, how will that help the producer? If the retail price is fixed low, the middleman will inevitably reduce the price to the producer; that will diminish the number of producers, and then there will be a shortage, unless we have communal farming like they have in Russia, and we are driven at the point of the bayonet to live as Communists working on the land. We will wait and see how that experiment succeeds. We are not a nation of serfs yet. We have been used to some liberty for a few generations. I admit that by the joint effort of all political parties, as time goes on it gets more and more restricted, but we have still some embers of the old fires burning in us.
I admit that there are great abuses in the supply of food. I was told by one man, for instance, that in the fish market when the fish comes in in the morning, all the brokers sell the fish consigned to them to each other, and then they get the commission, and then sell the fish at a profit to themselves. There are all sorts of tricks going on, and I have heard that all traders are more or less akin. What is profiteering? Profiteering is the profit which the other fellow is getting and which you are not getting. It is a mere term of abuse. In Clause 5 there are the terms "excessive price" and "excessive charge." What is an excessive charge? It is like a lawyer's account; it is an excessive charge to pay, but far too little to get for the work and worry that you 1244 have. Nobody can tell what it is. I recollect that during the War there were a number of food prosecutions for food hoarding, and it was very interesting to see the superiority of the logic of the law of Scotland as opposed to that of England. There were a number of perfectly decent people convicted because they were a little more anxious than their neighbours, and they were prosecuted for having more than what was reasonable.
What is reasonable? It depends upon the individual. One man may have a different standard of reasonability than another. You have only to be in this House to listen to some of the speeches to realise the immense discrepancies which there are between the reasonable methods of one person and that of another person. In the Scottish Courts a case was taken where a very old law was pleaded that the man must know the offence with which he is charged, and the accused in this case said, "Will you tell me what is 'reasonable'?" Nobody could tell him what was reasonable, and the judge could not. The accused said, "I cannot plead, because I do not know what I am pleading." Do you think that any profiteer, as thoughtless people call him without logical thinking, ever thinks that the price he is charging is excessive? It may be thought so by some official but that does not make it excessive. As the Bill stands, I am satisfied that if a man is accused, in Scotland, with our superior jurisprudence, the conviction would be set aside, because the man could not know what he is pleading.
I am an intense individualist. I did my best in the last Parliament to prevent a great traffic combine in London getting its own way. I wanted to see as many individualists on the road as possible, but a Labour Government in 1924 brought in a Bill that gave the franchise of the streets of London to a combine. Though the public might have been less well served, I would rather have seen more individualists, more men standing on their own feet, and fewer men owning a master, even though the master were a combine. They are wonderful organisations. The milk combine is a marvellous organisation, so marvellous that when I go down to my constituency, a rural one, where one would imagine milk would be cheap, I 1245 find it is a penny a quart dearer than the combine charge in London. Some of the men at Loch Fyne told me that milk there was costing them 8d. a quart, whereas in London it was 7d. There cannot be so much wrong with the combine if that is the state of affairs, though of course, it would be much nicer to get it at 6d. These combines work on infinitesimal fractions. I believe it is a fact, in the case of the meat combine, that the meat imported from South America costs practically nothing at all. I am told that Armours' Combine make their profit out of the hair, hides, hoofs, and horns. I am told they make practically nothing on the meat at all, depending on the by-products. [Interruption.] The hide is a very valuable part of a beast. But unless you are working on the scale of these large combines, it would not be possible to carry on in that way.
These combines do wonderfully well, and it is wrong for the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) to say that they are actuated by no other desire than to make money for their shareholders. There was a time when that was so, but as a great corporation or a great institution grows up it begins to acquire a corporate spirit of its own. It begins to work with the spirit in it that works for righteousness. It tries to do its best for its employés and its customers. It realises the truth of the maxim of Henry Ford, that there are three people to be satisfied; first, your customer, who is the senior partner of your business, and gives you the money with which you can carry it on; and second, the employés, because, if they are satisfied, then your capital can look after itself. That is becoming more and more the spirit of the combines, and if that be so, there is no need for all the dreadful fears which have been expressed.
With regard to the Food Council protecting housewives, I wish housewives would protect themselves. I do not think they are all such good housekeepers as they may believe. When I was staying in Kilburn a lady told me that she used to go to the shop of an ex-service man who had opened as a fish dealer because fish there was much cheaper than in the other shops and also was very good. After a time, however, she found that the prices he was charging for his fish were up to the prices in the other fish 1246 shops. She asked the reason for this, and he said, "Madam, I will tell you. The people here are so stupid that when I was showing the fish at the old prices they came and looked at my shop, said the fish could not be fresh because it was cheap, and went away; so I have had to increase my prices." Great numbers of people, even the poorest, have no other standard of value than the money price, and if you offer them something cheap they will not have it. One of the heads of the Disposal Board told me that they sold aeroplane silk to a great drapery company, which made it up into beautiful gowns and priced them at a guinea or two when displaying them in their windows. No woman would look at them! So they turned them round, put a flower on them, and labelled them at 15 or 16 quineas each, and they were sold out in a week!
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
That is the nature of the sex; and that is the nature of men also. I have been told by clients of mine in the licensing trade that when they have wanted to get a good price they would put up a "special whisky"—the hottest and cheapest they had. Most of the customers would come in and, ignoring the ordinary whisky, would ask for the special whisky, and the hotter it was the better they were pleased. That was the standard. Occasionally one finds an anxious mother with a large family bargaining over prices, but really there are very few keen purchasers to-day. We are abolishing the small shopkeeper and replacing him by the big stores, and women are frightened to go in and attempt to bargain with the supercilious shop assistants there, though they would do it with an old wife who kept a shop in a back street. Great indignation was expressed because trawlers had destroyed fish, but those men want to make their living. If they bring in a mass of fish for which there is no sale and have to give it away, they have had all their labour for nothing. There is no money either to pay wages or to pay for the coal for the trip. The position is the same as it was in the Clyde Valley. There they were not able to grow strawberries because if it was a good strawberry year they were not able to make the cost of 1247 picking; but since then jam factories have come along to take surplus fruit off their hands, and so now they are able to carry on.
The only remedy for the present situation, in my view, is to go back to the old laws against restraint of trade. If we had those old laws dealing with both combines and trade unionism and everything else of the kind, it would be the best way of disposing of the difficulty. By the course we are taking we shall create more and more officials, a greater bureaucracy. The President of the Board of Trade incautiously quoted the example of Rome. Rome perished for no other reason than that huge numbers of people began to try to live on the productive classes. We here are carrying far too large a load of governing machinery, both Parliamentary and municipal—[An HON. MEMBER: "And legal!"] Yes, half these things result in lawyers getting jobs—but they are also eagerly competed for by trade union secretaries. The last time I was in South Africa I read the history of the Boers from the Dutch point of view, and my heart went out to them. Their one desire was to get away from government. They said, "We are God-fearing citizens, we do no wrong, and we do not want the machinery of government. We do not want courts of justice, police officials, rent collectors and tax collectors. Let us live our own lives." But the British, with their zeal to govern somebody, pursued them and pursued them right away into the back country. Some of us still have the old spirit: we do not want to be governed. If we do not put a stop to this constant growth of more and more costly governing machinery then we shall share the fate that all civilisations have suffered; they grew more and more complex, with more and more officials, until ultimately they were broken down by the sheer weight of their own machinery.
§ Mr. SINKINSON
I welcome this Bill because of the possibility it affords of bringing about a fixation of prices, and when that fixation of prices takes place I wish to see it applied in the most important industry in the country, that of agriculture. Its importance should be measured by the fact that it is the only industry which gives us food, which is the staple and fundamental of life. It 1248 should be regarded as an industry of some importance, and its workers should be paid wages which are commensurate with the importance of the work they do. I think it will be generally agreed that the agricultural worker is paid the most disreputable wages of any industry in the country, and the fact that the most important industry in the country is paying the least wages is something for us to think about. We are supposed to be national housekeepers and we ought seriously to consider a situation of this kind. Here we have this industry employed in such an important work and paying such miserable wages, and we are told that they cannot pay better wages because the farmer cannot get a fixed price for his goods. I never heard such an argument, and it is not true. The farmer will tell you that he has a fixed rate, and when he buys seeds he has to pay a fixed price for them. The wages paid by the farmer are fixed, and yet when he produces his goods he has not got a fixed price for them. There is something radically wrong in an industry worked on those lines.
If we look at industries where success obtains, I think we shall be able to find the remedy. Take, for example, the Ford car industry, which pays good wages and produces a cheap article. There is not the slightest doubt, as far as the material is concerned, that it is a good article. In that industry, rent, wages, and all the materials have fixed prices, and there is one important factor which is that Mr. Ford has fixed a price for the manufactured article. Mr. Ford never dreams of selling his car at a higher price, and he never allows anyone to sell it at a lower price. Here is an industry which has fixed prices for everything, and because we wish to bring about a better state of society by applying a principle which has been successful right and left in some of our industries, we are told that we are wrong. Take wheat, as an example. The farmer has not got a fixed price for wheat, and the price may be anything between 38s. and 55s. a quarter.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
I do not think that there is anything in the Bill in regard to the fixing of prices for the producer. It is a Consumers' Council Bill.
§ Mr. SINKINSON
The Consumers Council will have power to control prices, 1249 and I was only following the arguments which have been put before the House by other hon. Members who have been discussing the price of wheat. This variation in the price of wheat goes on and it means ruin to the farmer. It is a rather curious thing that, although the price of wheat is always varying, we have a fixed price for the loaf. I think it would be generally agreed that right through the year we have had a fixed price of 9d. That is the price the consumer has to pay. If a Consumers Council is formed, and it can find out what is causing the great disparity between the miserable wages paid in industry and the price paid for certain articles by the consumer, then it will be doing a very good work. On those lines I think the President of the Board of Trade is justified in introducing this Bill.
There are certain other ways in which we find the price is fixed to the consumer. Let me give my own experience. Not long ago we had a Housing Exhibition in Edinburgh, and there were baths there being sold to the consumer at £14 10s. apiece. One man who had been to this particular exhibition found a bath that would just suit his bathroom, and he went to the exhibition with a plumber to buy it. When the plumber asked the price he was told it was £14 10s. The plumber replied, "My friend is not buying this bath but I am buying it, and I am in the trade. What is the price to me?" The price to him was £8 10s. The plumber told me afterwards that he could have made £5 out of the bath without putting a hand on it. If the Consumers Council could put a finger on a wrong like that they would be doing a very good thing. No retailer need be ashamed if he is doing the honest and fair thing, and if he is doing that, why should he be afraid of showing his books if he is only getting a fair margin of profit? The retailer is justified in making a certain amount of profit because he keeps his store going for the distribution of goods. I know an instance where a man received a letter telling him that his landlord had put up his rent by £150 a year. An increase of that kind would deprive him of £3 a week, and as he is still going to keep his shop open he must have been making a decent profit.
1250 I am not justifying the landlord in taking an increase of rent like that, but I am showing that excess profits are being made. When I was visiting a crystal glass works I happened to pick up a beautifully chased tumbler, and I asked the price of it and I was told it was 3s. 6d. It was a beautiful thing. I was afterwards told that the same article could be seen in shop windows in Princes Street and they were being sold at 7s. I protest against such prices. This is the case of a company with a capital of £1,500,000. That company has to pay good wages and build furnaces and go to heavy expense in order to make this beautiful article, and yet the man who puts this article in his shop window makes more profit out of it than the man who produces the article. If the Consumers Council can find out what is actually wrong in a business like that, and can put the thing right so much the better.
In the engineering trade in which I have been employed, it was necessary to use a tremendous amount of copper piping. Copper pipe can be bought in two places in this country. Then we got it from France, and we found that the copper pipe from France was supplied, to Admiralty tests and requirements, to the firm in Edinburgh at 7½d. per lb. cheaper than it could be produced in Yorkshire or Birmingham. In other words, the English price was £70 a ton dearer. If the Birmingham factory or the Leeds factory had to pay no wages at all, they could not produce their copper pipe at that price. On coming to this House, one of the first things that I asked the President of the Board of Trade was how much raw copper was produced in the mines of this country in 1927 and 1928, and I was told that in 1927 it was somewhere in the region of 320 tons, and, in 1928, 68 tons. That meant that our copper mines were practically finished in this country, as copper mines. When, on the other hand, I asked what were the imports of raw copper into this country, I was told that they were 40,000 tons, and the firms in this country were purchasing raw copper from the same place as the French people. If the Consumers Council can see that there is something wrong here, and can assist industry by bringing these abnormal prices down to rock bottom, they will be doing a service to the industries of 1251 this country. I could give more instances, but I think I have given sufficient to, illustrate the point that I want to make.
§ Sir WALTER GREAVES-LORD
I sympathise very much with the hon. Member for Berwick (Mr. Sinkinson), but he has got, in one sense, a little wide of this Bill. He was discussing the comparative prices of manufactured copper piping produced in this country and in another country. Whether his intention was to suggest that the producers in this country were profiteering or not, I know not—
§ Mr. SINKINSON
I pointed out that the people in this country were actually purchasing their raw material from the same place as the French people, and that was why I wanted to know why they were charging £70 a ton more.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The hon. Member has forgotten that he gave us the answer himself, namely, that, if the manufacturers in this country paid no wages at all, it could not be produced here for the price at which the French people were selling it. I can only think that he must look, for a remedy for that state of affairs, to something very different from this Bill. I may say in passing that he will not get that remedy from the Government which at present he is supporting, but he may get it at some time from another Government, with the support of a large number of Members of his party.
The real difficulty with regard to this Bill is not so much to prove that there are certain cases in which there may be profits which some people think excessive, or to persuade people that there are cases where it may be thought that there is too large a discrepancy between the price received by the producer and the price which the ultimate purchaser has to pay. The real question with which we have to deal is whether this Bill is going in any way to remedy that position. I could not help thinking, when the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee) was speaking a little while back, that, had she devoted the very great ability which she possesses to thinking out and stating, in the very clear manner in which she does state things, what the real effect of this Bill was going to be upon industry, she would have been rendering a much 1252 greater service than merely stating, say, the difficult position of the housewife, for whom this Bill provides no remedy at all.
The whole case for this Bill was destroyed by the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), in his very interesting speech earlier in the Debate. He pointed out very clearly and conclusively that you cannot deal with so-called profiteering unless you can control, not merely prices, but the supply of material; and he pointed out that this Bill must fail because there was nothing in it which rendered possible the control of the supply of material. He did not go on to point out, however, that even in the remedy which he suggested there was still no real control of supplies, and, therefore, it was no remedy at all; but he did make us realise that when you are dealing with trade you are dealing with an extremely delicate thing. Dealing with profiteering is always a delicate thing. Profiteering is not confined to the mere difference between the purchase price and the selling price. Profiteering which affects the ultimate price to the purchaser is taking place in a great many different ways. You may have 15 or 20 men working together in a shop, all receiving the same rates of pay per hour and per week. As hon. Members opposite know perfectly well, you may have men in a shop like that who do not pull their weight, and those men are just as much profiteering as the man who may take a rather larger percentage than other people think he is entitled to. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rot!"] The hon. Member may think it is rot, but he knows perfectly well, if he thinks it out, that there are only two people who are called upon to pay the wages that these slackers have not earned. One set of people who are called upon to pay the wages of the slacker are the other people working in the shop, who pay by reason of the fact that they themselves are not properly paid. The others are the purchasers of the articles produced by these men. They have to pay an excessive price for them because there are men who are not pulling their weight in the workshop.
Are we going to have an inquiry into that sort of thing under this Bill? I suppose it is possible, but, so far as one can see, there is no direct reference to that matter in the Bill itself. What the 1253 Consumers Council is asked to do is to report that an excessive price is being paid or that an excessive charge is being made by way of brokerage. If the inquiry into what is called profiteering is going to be limited merely to the so-called excessive percentage by which the ultimate selling price exceeds the first purchase price, or to the rates of intermediate brokerage, it is not going to touch even the fringe of the question of profiteering—
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
As the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones), who often enlivens these discussions, has called attention to Woolworths, I will give an illustration from Woolworths to show the difficulty of arriving at what is and what is not profiteering. Some time ago, a man whom I know was manufacturing in his works a certain article, which he sold at 3s. 9d. a dozen. The articles were retailed at 6d. per article. Woolworths came along to him and suggested giving him an order. He asked what was the size of it, and they said that it would be a large one, for a million gross, and they asked him at what price he could make the articles if they gave him an order like that. He said he could make them at 2s. 9d. a dozen. Woolworths gave him the order for a million gross, and sold the articles at 3d. each, making a profit of only ¼d. on each, but a very much larger profit in the bulk than the other people who had been retailing the articles at 6d.; and yet I doubt very much if any Consumers Council could have found that the people who were retailing the articles at 6d. were getting an excessive percentage, having regard to all the circumstances of their particular trade. I have only alluded to this instance because the hon. Member referred to Woolworths, but I have alluded to it for the purpose of showing how exceedingly difficult it is to arrive at an answer to the question whether there is profiteering or not.
The point upon which I wanted to follow the hon. Member for East Leicester was this: As I say, he knocked the bottom out of the Bill and pointed out how delicate a matter it was to interfere with trade, and that obviously, if you have to take into consideration the large number of stages in production and distribution, 1254 you have to be very careful that you fix the limit in each case so widely and at such a height that you will not interfere with either the process of production or any of the intermediate processes so far as they are necessary. The result of that is that you are bound, in fixing a wide margin, very often to take a very much higher price as your fixed price, when you are fixing things by law, than if you leave the matter to competitive business. The result of that is that the effect of a Bill of this description is really to bring about excessive prices rather than to reduce prices. The other side of that is that if you do not fix those margins widely and prices sufficiently high, you reduce supply, and thereby bring about a worse evil than that which exists at the present time under free competition. The result of the position put by the hon. Member for East Leicester was that the effect of this Bill must be one thing or the other—either it must reduce your supplies by making it not worth while for people to bring them on the market, or you must fix prices which are likely to be far in excess of the prices charged at the present time.
The hon. Member went on to suggest that you could get over that difficulty by controlling supplies. That might be very true and very effective if all your supplies were in this country and could be produced without the intermediary of human agency, but how any Government in this country is going to enforce production of supplies is a matter which would baffle most people, and even the party opposite. How are you to control supplies which are in the hands of foreign competitors is another matter to which hon. Members opposite, however much they may talk about it, have never really applied their minds. The result is that one can understand now why the Liberal party are taking up the attitude they are taking. They have accustomed themselves to a dear Coal Bill, and now they are supporting this Bill because in the end, if put into operation, it would be a dear Food Bill. I am not going to refer to the Bill at any length, but there are one or two things in it which certainly strike one as being a little bit odd. It is suggested that the Council is going to deal with questions affecting so-called profiteering. I would like to point out, first of all, that the inquiry which is to 1255 be made is to be a one-sided inquiry. It is to be brought about either from complaints made or from other information. As has been pointed out, that means that the tribunal which is going to inquire will inquire upon secret information and upon complaints which are put before them.
Then they are going to summon certain people before them and ask for such information as they think fit, but inasmuch as there is a specific requirement that the people who inquire shall not be people who are interested in a business and therefore have no practical knowledge of the business, the inquiry is to be conducted by people who have no practical knowledge of the matter in which they are inquiring. Therefore, there is not the slightest guarantee that they will enter into all the phases of the matter. The man whose prices are being attacked does not in one sense even know his prices are being attacked, because he is merely called as a witness to give information, and there is no guarantee that the inquiries will be directed on the right matters or on all the matters which may affect the ultimate decision.
You might say that would be all right if later on, when the price was going to be fixed, a trader had some right to be heard in connection with the matter; but he has nothing of the kind, because the Bill provides that the Council may report and then the Board of Trade, without making any further inquiry, may make such Order as it thinks fit. They first of all call to the notice of the persons affected the opinion of the Council. The persons to whom that notice is given have no idea whether the Council has taken into consideration the right things or not, and if they do not comply with the opinions which the Council has formed, probably on wholly inadequate material, the Board of Trade may make an order prohibiting a person of any particular class or description from charging any greater price than the price fixed in the order. The result, with the Bill as it now stands, is that prices may be fixed in any industry which have been fixed without any regard to the conditions affecting that industry or the sale and distribution of the things which it produces. That is an entirely vicious principle and, when in operation, is far more 1256 likely to be an engine of injustice than to be an engine of relief to any part of the community.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said that the Liberal party would pay very great attention to Clause 5 because, he said, "You will have to restrict these inquisitions and put into Clause 5 some provision which will restrict them so that they are to be allowed only where there is some sort of prima facie case." Really, as a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman was starting a little late, because the inquisitions and the powers of inquisition are to be found in Clauses 2 and 3, where there is no limitation of any kind upon the conditions under which the council may start inquiries. Under Clause 3 there is no limitation of any kind as to the kind of question the council may ask of the persons whom they may summon before them.
When one comes to Clause 5, anything more sloppy it would be impossible to find. First of all, Clause 5 suggests that the recommendations of the council shall be detailed and clear, and that they are to describe with precision the commodities to which their recommendation applies. It is not a matter free from difficulty in the case of a great many articles of food, such, for example, as margarine. Surely margarine as a compounded article would be extremely difficult to describe with precision, and yet, unless you can describe it with precision, it is an extremely difficult matter to fix a price which can be applied with justice. But notwithstanding the obligation to describe the matter with precision there is just this difficulty: If the council, having made a rash attempt at describing the article, see fit to apply the description to an article which is not of the description which they have laid down, the poor unfortunate tradesman has no defence at all under Clause 5, because he may not object on the ground that there is lack of precision in the description. Anything more sloppy, when you are inventing a criminal offence, it is impossible to imagine. After all, one has heard, quite rightly, from those benches protests against uncertain administration of the criminal law. Could anything be worse than a penal statute which is expressed in terms so indefinite as Clause 5 of this Bill?
1257 But the objections to the Bill do not rest upon any mere matters of detail of that kind. They rest upon this fact, that there is only one cure in the end for profiteering, and that is a cure which is largely unknown to a lot of Members opposite, unknown to some of the hon. Ladies who have spoken but known to their own mothers and wives, namely, in choosing the shop at which they deal. That is the only effective way in which profiteering can be stamped out. You cannot stamp it out by interfering with the reasonable flow of trade. You cannot stamp it out by inquisitorial inquiries. You cannot stamp it out by fixing prices which are bound to be wide of the mark. Any interference of this kind with the ordinary free flow of internal competition is bound to do very much more harm than it can do good, and the apportionment of cursing and blessing which the hon. Lady opposite made at the end of her speech will be found, if the Bill passes, to be rather the opposite to what she suggested, namely that the housewives will bless those who oppose the Bill and curse those who promote it.
§ Lady CYNTHIA MOSLEY
The result of the Debate on my mind is that every speech I have heard from hon. Members opposite, with one exception, has made my enthusiasm for the Bill grow stronger and stronger. My respect for human nature, however, through the eyes of three Conservative speakers, has grown lower and lower, because it was suggested that, if we took the steps that are outlined in the Bill, and undue profits were somewhat reduced, the persons who control big private enterprises would manage to diddle the consumer by diluting goods and making them of poorer quality. To hear those arguments put up by Gentlemen who support the present system and say private enterprise is the only possible system rather surprised me. But I will not enter into a discussion with them. No doubt, they know the people who run the concerns a good deal better than I do. Another speaker implied that the housewife was so foolish a creature that, if prices were reduced and commodities were offered at a very much cheaper price, they would turn their backs on them and get the more expensive ones. The housewives they know may do that, but those in my constituency are not in a position to buy anything but the 1258 cheapest they can possibly find, and if they can buy a decent article at a cheap price, they will buy it.
It seems to me it is high time some such method as this was introduced. The Food Council has been found to be inadequate and helpless. It has been flouted. Everyone has paid a tribute to what it has tried to do, but what it has tried to do has not been sufficient. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said publicity was very valuable. It is valuable up to a point, but it is not enough. It is only a limited weapon and, unless there is power behind this Council, or any other body that is set up, it is futile and inadequate. We must be realists in these days. It is so like the Conservative party to pay lip service to waiting subjects and set up a Food Council to try to make the people believe they are thinking of their interests, but after all is said and done, they give their Food Council no powers and they object to our giving our Food Council any powers of any description. They would limit the effect that any Food Council might have and see that anything it could possibly do is null and void. They can get information, they can inform themselves, they can make recommendations, but they cannot do any more. The Conservative Amendment shows how they will go up to a point but will go no further. It says it is all right for an authoritative and independent tribunal to have adequate powers of investigation, to report on the prices of articles of food, but any further than that they are not to go.
Of course, we on these benches want to go further. Under present circumstances with the shortage of markets and the difficulty that not only this country but other countries have found in getting markets for their goods, the charges for commodities of general consumption and the retail prices charged for them bear a very important relation to the larger economic problems. Look at all the efforts that have been made during the past eight or nine years to extend our markets. There has been a great deal of talk about combines and amalgamations and new processes of technical efficiency in an effort to extend our markets. Then there have been further efforts by the party opposite to extend our markets by reducing the wages of the workers. That was their panacea. 1259 All these great efforts have been made in order to reduce the cost of production. We all know the argument. If the cost of production is less, more goods will be sold and ultimately more men and women employed to make them. What has actually happened? I have here the figure that was given in the "Economist." Taking the figure in 1924 as 100, at the end of 1929 wholesale prices have fallen by 20 per cent. The latest figures given in the Ministry of Labour Gazette show that retail prices have only fallen 5 per cent. It does not matter what reasons are given. It does not matter what justification or arguments are advanced to try to make that difference understandable. There you have it. Wholesale prices have fallen 20 per cent. and retail prices have fallen 5 per cent.
The late President of the Board of Trade said it would be more justifiable if we had introduced the Bill because there had been a shortage of commodities, but now with the glut in the market it was not understandable. To me it makes it very much worse that we have such a discrepancy between wholesale and retail prices when there is an actual glut of commodities, and there must be more reason than ever for introducing such a Bill as this. If all the efforts that have been made in the past few years to reduce the cost and to reduce the charges, are being eaten up by the people who come between the producer and the consumer, it is high time that something was done. There have been a good many different reasons advanced this evening why there is this great discrepancy. One reason given by an hon. Member below the Gangway opposite was that rates and taxes fell heavily upon the retailer. If they fall heavily upon the retailer they fall just as heavily upon everybody else; they fall heavily upon the producer, but it still leaves us with the figures of a 20 per cent. decrease in wholesale prices, and only a 5 per cent. decrease in retail prices. What interests me is what happens to the 15 per cent. that under present conditions gets dissipated between the producer and consumer. So far as the consumer is concerned, when we go to the shops to buy the goods we have had only an approximate drop of 5 per cent. in the last nine years.
1260 I am convinced that this Bill, contrary to the expectations on the other side of the House, is going to help the housewife, and that it is going enormously to improve the prosperity of this country. Retail prices can and must be reduced. Obviously, when the prices are reduced that will mean a great deal more consumption, and the more things that are bought the more goods will need to be made. The Food Council has been found to be inadequate without the further powers we are going to provide by this Bill. I do hope that those further powers will be fully used and that the consumers will feel that, on the whole, there is going to be a better certainty in the future that they will get the commodities of life which we all must have at a fair and reasonable price. I am convinced that the passage of this Bill will bring about that improvement, and I hope that events will prove that hon. Members opposite have been absolutely wrong in their contentions.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I rise to refer to certain matters that have been brought forward in this Debate. It is only fair and right that in regard to the fishermen some explanation should be given. I will deal, in the first place, with the statement made by the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee). She made a general sweeping statement against the fishing industry that it is a common practice to throw fish back into the sea, in order to get an increased price for the fish that is landed. I remarked that that was nonsense, and I repeat it now with greater emphasis. It is a libel upon a class of men who are the salt of the earth and the salt of the sea. What was the evidence upon which she brought forward that statement? It was based upon a quotation from a newspaper, which I understood her to say was the "Daily Chronicle." I do not deny that it appeared in that newspaper. Even if there was an isolated case reported by that newspaper, it did not state that that fish was thrown into the sea in order to cause the price of fish to rise on shore. I think I remember the incident referred to, and it happened because it was absolutely impossible to get the fish away to the inland towns; there was no transport at that particular place, and rather than the fish should become a menace to the health of the people it was sent back into the sea.
1261 Let us have a thorough understanding about this matter. It has been thoroughly investigated by a committee, and the evidence is not merely that of a newspaper report. The Imperial Economic Committee went into the question very thoroughly. A statement by the chairman of the committee, Sir Holford Mackinder, refers to this very matter and shows the absurdity of the charge which has been made again and again against the fishermen of this country.
I made a statement that it was not the fishermen who were to blame, but the middlemen. I said that my whole attitude to this Bill was one of measured support, and that much more had to be done to organise the whole industry in such a way as to give the fisherman a living that he is not getting at the present time.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The hon. Lady said nothing of the kind. I was here and I listened to every word she said. She is now trying to qualify a sweeping statement by an explanation which is no explanation at all. If she blames the middlemen, does she say that the middlemen ordered the fishermen to throw this fish into the sea? Is she aware that the fish has to be sold in open auction at the quay side, and that even the man who owns the boat has to go into the crowd and bid along with the rest? That is the custom of the trade. The hon. Member says, "Hear, hear," so she evidently knows about it. Does she mean to tell the House that the fishermen who are depending upon the sale of their fish for their living will throw their fish into the sea as a common practice? Let me quote from the chairman of the Imperial Economic Committee:The fluctuations in wholesale prices at present"—He was referring to fish—are enormous. It sometimes happens that cod from the North Sea will vary in price from 15s. to 40s. per cwt. in a few days. That is because the fish, when landed, must be sold at once. Gluts and scarcities govern the market. The whole of the United Kingdom is a single market for fish. Nobody dare hold up fish at Grimsby, for instance, lest there should be a glut of fish brought in, say at Aberdeen.How do the fishermen, when they are at sea, know whether there is going to be big supplies or poor supplies? The 1262 quotation which was read by the hon. Lady is the sort of thing that is published by the newspapers when there is nothing better to report. I resent very much the aspersion upon the men who man the fishing fleet.
I should like to deal with a matter which was raised by the President of the Board of Trade. He was singularly unfortunate in the instance which he gave of a case which he considered was one of gross profiteering, and which justified the bringing forward of the Bill. I will take the point about fish. I interrupted him at the time, and I apologise, but I was startled that a man of his logical mind should make such a statement. He said that cod was landed from the boats and sold at the port of landing at 1.66d. per lb. and that the fish was marked in the shops at 8d. a pound. That may be perfectly true, but let us have the real explanation. The price quoted for cod landed at the port is a far different thing from the price quoted for prime cuts in the shops. There are four grades of cod.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) cannot restrain himself, he must leave the House.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
It is one thing for a statement to go out in the newspapers that there is profiteering in this line, but it is different when the statement is made here, because people receive the impression that fish is being sold dear and they say they would cease to buy fish and buy other things. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, if he had made inquiries or even if he had looked at the report of his own Food Council, would have got the explanation. There is fish of the best quality that is got from the North Sea; there is fish from the Faroes, fish from Iceland and from as far away as Greenland. That fish is divided into different qualities. A small price is got for the fish that is bought for salting, but for North Sea cod the price of the prime cut is considerably higher. You must remember that the price at the 1263 port is for the whole fish, head and tail and all the rest of it, and the 8d. per lb. you are charged is for the prime middle cut. Then there is cost of transport to London, the cost of packing, cost of ice and price of labour. You have to pay a man at Billingsgate a shilling to carry a small package. The people I represent are the people who catch the fish, and if the Bill would enable the catcher of the fish to get a better price, I believe I might be an enthusiastic supporter of it. But it does nothing of the kind.
Inquiries under this Bill are to be extended to almost anything and everything. Powers are to be given to the Council to ask people to disclose trade secrets. It has been said that it is no hardship on the retailer, if he does not profiteer, to be called upon to disclose his books. But the small trader has his work cut out to earn a living without being harassed by inspectors. The charge of profiteering has never been substantiated. The hon. Lady who spoke last said that the Food Council had found people guilty time and time again. They did not do anything of the kind. The complaint against the Food Council by the Labour party is that it has not done so. It has been the judge who has heard the case and found the prisoner not guilty. It is because the retailers have been found not guilty that all this outcry is being made. How are you to fix prices for commodities like fish and meat when the prices fluctuate from day to day? The price of North Sea cod has fluctuated from 15s. to 40s. a cwt. in less than three days. You will have to get a report from the Consumers Council, which goes to the Board of Trade, and the Board of Trade will have to make an order fixing prices, and the order has to be laid on the Table of this House. How can you do that with prices fluctuating from day to day by such enormous amounts? The price fixed, as experience of the War shows, will be altogether to the disadvantage of the consumer.
The prices fixed during the War gave people in certain branches of the fishing industry over 30 per cent., although they were glad before to work for 5 per cent. This Bill has been brought forward without any intention of putting it on the Statute Book. It is pure window-dressing, trying 1264 to placate a certain section of the community. Let me warn the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that they are getting up against an important section of the community which was beginning to think that the party opposite might be of some use—I refer to the small shopkeepers, who would suffer most under such a Bill. Instead of this being a popular Measure, it will prove one of the Measures that will be the undoing of the party opposite.
§ Major NATHAN
The startling and, to my mind, sinister feature of the Debate, has been that the main burden of the argument from the Opposition benches above the Gangway has been devoted to the question of the fixation of prices, whereas the main emphasis of the Bill is not directed to the fixation of prices but to ascertaining whether a definite mischief exists, and providing a remedy for that mischief. Fixation of prices is merely the ultimate sanction, the weapon held in the background, in terrorem, over those who are unwilling to comply, if the mischief is found to exist, with the remedy prescribed. It looks very much as if right hon. and hon. Members above the Gangway were apprehensive that the inquiry contemplated by this Bill had only to be held and profiteering would be found to exist universally. I am not suggesting that profiteering is universal. I am not suggesting that unduly high prices are charged; but the whole contention of the Opposition above the Gangway is concentrated, not on making the case that the mischief does not exist, but that the sanction, which comes into operation only in the last resort, would make things worse than before and would be inoperative.
When the people of the country read this Debate and note these speeches they will be filled with alarm. This Bill cannot affect any retailer or any wholesaler until it has been first proved, as a result of inquiry, that excessive profit is being made. The sanction in question will not come into operation unless the remedy which the Bill prescribes is ineffective, and that remedy is not the fixing of prices; the remedy prescribed is publicity, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) described as pillorying the malefactor. Hon. Members above the Gangway talk as if we were living in a world of free 1265 competition. They deceive themselves very much who think that that is the case. Free competition is becoming less yearly, monthly, weekly, daily. You have the great vertical and horizontal trusts, and price rings, which are open to the public gaze, and the concealed trusts which can be found out only by such investigations as are contemplated by the Bill.
There is much virtue in combines and trusts. I believe, and it is clear that the Lord Privy Seal and the Government also believe that it may easily be that in trusts and combines lies the best hope for the future of industry in this country. But I believe also that the public must have an appropriate weapon for limiting undue exploitation by such combines. This is a Bill which of all those that have come before the House during the present Session is warmly called for by the country. It is not a case of the Government forcing the Bill on the country, but rather of the country forcing the Bill on the Government. There is a growing demand arising out of a grave apprehension that things are not always what they seem. The hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) suggested that if a housewife was not satisfied with the price asked for goods in one shop she should choose her own shop, and that was her best safeguard. I do not know whether it is 3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000 shops in this country that are under the control of the Meat Trust, but I do know that more than one shop under that control may be found even in the same street. In some cases those who are actually managing the shops themselves do not know in whose service they are, that they are indeed part of the great meat combine. [An HON. MEMBER: "Virtues of combination!"] There are great virtues in combination provided the facts are known and the public can defend itself by knowing that it is dealing with a trust or combine, and act in an apropriate way.
I believe that this Bill contains the root remedy for high prices. That is not the fixing of prices, but publicity. It was because the late Tory Government withheld from the Food Council the power necessary to enable it to function fully that it was unable to do so. There is in to-day's "Times" a very significant letter from Sir Allan Powell, the Chairman of the Food Council. He says: 1266It must be admitted that the Council has been stronger or weaker, information has been supplied or withheld, the conclusions reached have been accepted or ignored, as the likelihood of further powers being given has advanced or receded.The tendency hitherto has been for the dealer to say that the proper price is the price the traffic will bear, and the public is now demanding that it shall know what that price really represents in profit to those who are selling. The new Consumers Council will have the power to obtain information, subpoena witnesses and call for books. I am glad, unlike the previous speaker, that the power will not be limited to foodstuffs, but may be applied to other commodities as well. In the case of the Food Council publicity was obtained only when those asked to disclose their books were willing to do so, but now the information can be obtained whether they wish to give it or not, and that is a great safeguard for the public.
If I thought the price fixing provisions of this Bill were to be in continuous operation and that there was being established an inquisitorial system to investigate the books and transactions of every trader, retail or wholesale, small or great, I should say an intolerable burden was being placed on the business community which the public does not desire and certainly would not itself demand. I believe the threat of publicity will be effective and that the price-fixing powers entrusted to the Board of Trade will never come into operation, or only in the most flagrant and glaring instances. In fact by the nature of the case these powers can be used only in a very broad way, and in dealing with single articles in regard to the prices of which there is a genuine and vocal public feeling.
In any event some pretty disturbing questions are raised by the price-fixing proposals, and it is no use blinking them. I shall be glad to know what the President of the Board of Trade considers a fair price. Fair to-day may not be fair to-morrow. The conditions of industry are not static but dynamic, and even during the time the inquiry is being conducted and the decision reached conditions may become entirely different. I believe the price-fixing proposals will be used only in the broadest sense, because every possible economic consideration 1267 must be taken into account, the conditions of supply ranging from glut at one end to scarcity at the other. There are other considerations. The wholesaler and manufacturer ought to reap some extra reward for having produced goods efficiently, for having had the forethought to calculate the trend of the market, for his skill in meeting the public taste. There are 101 reasons which have to be taken into consideration before a price can be fixed, and only as a last resort should that machinery be put into operation. It is necessary however, that the Government should have powers of that kind at the present stage of our industrial development. Let it not be forgotten that there is always an appeal to Parliament, before which even the powers of this terrible Council must bow.
Obviously these powers must be carefully scrutinised in Committee. It may very well be that they must be pruned down where they appear to be overbearing, but the main point is that the Bill is an effort, and I believe it will be an effective effort, to protect the consumer against exploitation. It will do even more: it will enable him to ascertain whether or not he is being exploited. I believe that the growth of suspicion in the minds of people that they are not getting a fair deal, is the cause of much of our social unrest. It is not a question of paying a penny more here or there. It is a feeling that they are being cheated, that they are being done, and that they have no redress. The great virtue of this Bill is that it enables the ordinary people engaged in the everyday humdrum business of life who buy a loaf of bread, their meat for the family table, and all the rest of it, to make a protest against exploitation and to know that their protest can be made effective.
I welcome any legislation which has for its purpose the protection of the consumers. One has not to be in this House long to understand that the people for whom many Members speak in this House are not the consumers, but the profiteers. This Bill, if belated, is very necessary, because there is a class who want protection and need such a Council with powers to regulate prices as is provided under this Bill. A great deal has been said in the discussion on this Bill as to whether or 1268 not the Bill is really needed. If one thing has come out more than another in the discussion from the benches opposite, it is that they are concerned lest this Council should really be effective. I think that it is a very fair maxim for young Members of this House to take for their guidance that if a Measure is stoutly opposed by the Opposition they may be pretty sure that it is good for the common people of this country. One hon. Member said that in industry the two people to be considered primarily were the customer and the employé. I know how heterodox that philosophy is to the members of the Conservative party. This is a Measure, first and foremost, to consider the consumers.
It has been argued that there was no need for this Bill because this country was not at the present time in a state of emergency. The previous Government at least set up the Food Council but that Council, in all its work, has suffered from one thing and one thing only—the lack of powers to deal with the problem for which it was formed. This Bill is an attempt to give that Council adequate powers to go into the question of prices. There have been three distinct periods in the history of this country. There was first of all the period of grab, when the early settlers took what they could lay their hands upon under the legal dictum that possession is nine points of the law. There is the second period of competition, a blessed work which in recent years has run riot, gone mad; and then there is the third period, in which it is essential if prices are to come down and the standard of living to go up that there must be a new spirit and a new co-operation in industry. That is the outstanding feature of the Coal Bill. There must be more co-ordination in all industry. Under this Bill the profiteer is not to be the first party to be considered in industry. Even Socialists will not deny him a profit, but it must be adjusted, and it certainly must not be emphasised and exaggerated and extended so that all enterprise is used for the one sole purpose of making profits.
We want to arrive at the time when production will be more useful and profit, if there is any, will be appropriate profit and will fall into its correct place in the organisation of production. In these problems it is the practice of hon. Members opposite to forget all about the in- 1269 ordinate profits which are extracted from industry and they turn in every other direction in order to find excuses for bad trade and everything else. It is usual for them to talk about high wages as the great factor in prices. The greatest factor in prices in this country is profits. We were reminded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day that in order to maintain profits at a certain level in the coal industry £25,000,000 had to be thrown in, not to bring wages up but to maintain profits at a certain level. This Bill sets out to protect the consuming public, the people who have to buy food, which is now taxed by the demands of the profiteer in a way in which it cannot be taxed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Everything that we eat and wear and use is inordinately taxed by the insatiable demand for profits and nothing but profits.
I welcome the Bill because it is an attempt to put the highwayman and the marauder and the profiteer under control. In war time we experienced the necessity of placing these people under control, and I welcome any Bill which will help in that respect. There is of course much to be done by organising, by examination, by elimination of waste. Sometimes the retailer is blamed, sometimes the manufacturer is blamed, and sometimes the middleman is blamed in connection with high prices. This Council will have the power and the opportunities of finding out who is to blame in these matters, and they will be able to take steps to protect the consumer, particularly in regard to foodstuffs and the other essentials of life. I hope the Council's first job will be to tell the Board of Trade and, through the Board of Trade, to tell this House and the country, what is the explanation of the difference between the 20 per cent. reduction on wholesale prices and the 5 per cent. reduction on retail prices and where that margin of 15 per cent. has gone. If the Bill does that, it will do something towards bringing down prices and making the cost and the standard of living for the people of this country what they ought to be.
§ Major TRYON
The President of the Board of Trade made a speech so moderate in its wording that the House may not have realised, owing to his careful expressions, how sweeping is the change 1270 which this Bill proposes to introduce into the trade of this country. The right hon. Gentleman at the very beginning made an interesting point. He told us about the distributing trades, and he alluded particularly to the commodities of coal, bread and milk. He went at some length into the course of distribution and proceeded to argue that he had made out a strong case for inquiry. On that, he asked for additional powers for the purpose of getting information. We are entirely in favour of helping the right hon. Gentleman to get information, but personally I am in strong agreement with the attitude taken up by the distributors in my own constituency, and, I understand, in other parts of the country, who suggest as a not entirely novel plan, that if there is going to be an inquiry, that inquiry ought to be concluded before legislation is introduced or carried through Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman is asking us to pass this Bill into law before the inquiry has even started.
I propose to deal with one or two of the comparatively minor points in the Bill before coming to the main issue, which, of course, is contained in Clause 5. We are now setting up a considerable number of new offences, and people will be put in prison for things which were not against the law previous to this Measure. The people who seem to come worse out of the punishment scale in the Bill are the people who are to try to operate the Act. The members of the Council and their staffs will be liable to a punishment of a £50 fine or three months' imprisonment if they refuse to carry out or refuse to take the declaration of secrecy, but when they have taken the declaration, should they proceed to break it, the scale rises until the punishment is anything up to two years or a fine of £100. This does not apply to the traders but to the people who are endeavouring to work the Bill. I am sure that the advocate for equal citizenship will be glad to hear that two women are going to enjoy the labours and the perils of serving on the Consumers Council.
Then we come to the traders, distributors and producers who are to be encouraged to an activity and success which are not at present available by the knowledge that at various points in their work they will be liable to a number of penalties to which they cannot at pre- 1271 sent attain. There will be first an offence for selling a thing at too high a price, for which, I gather, they are liable to a fine of £5 for each article. For a second offence the fine will be £10 and anything up to three months' imprisonment, or both. That seems to be a somewhat discouraging prospect before a struggling body of people who are already in some difficulties in carrying on the trade of the country, and who will have to devote a good deal of their time in studying the latest edition of the regulations which may come out at frequent intervals, lack of knowledge of which may land them not in any increased trading success, but in prison.
I do not know how the two crimes instituted by the President of the Board of Trade—the one crime being selling coal in its early stages too cheap, and the second crime selling coal in its later stages too dear—will compare. At all events, it will be interesting for two persons in prison to have a talk as to how they got there. One may be able to say, "What I did was to sell coal in its earlier stages at the pithead too cheaply, and here I am in prison. What have you done? "The other one will say, "I was engaged in the coal trade at a later stage, and I am in prison for selling coal too dear." They will be able to say, during their period in prison, "We are, at any rate, getting Socialism in our time." These two gentlemen in prison will also have a further point to consider as to what is the Parliamentary authority behind their punishment, because some of the orders have to be put on the Table of the House for 21 days and can be cancelled, but the Board of Trade keeps in reserve the power to bring out emergency orders, which do not have to appear on the Table at all. Those that do appear on the Table can only be cancelled if both Houses within 21 days agree to cancel them. One House might be against the Order or the other House against the Order, but it could not be cancelled, however unpopular it might be, until both Houses agreed to cancel it and even after it had been cancelled the Board of Trade could still proceed against a person who broke the Order before it was cancelled, although both Houses of Parliament had said it 1272 was a bad one, and it had proved to be one that ought not to have been brought in at all.
Passing from the constitutional question to the graver issue of what it is we are asked to embark on, I would allude first to the title of the Bill. It is called the Consumers Council Bill, a most innocent-looking title, but the real purpose of the Measure is to give authority to the Board of Trade—in emergency cases without any reference to this House—to fix prices. That is a tremendous departure from the trade practice of this country except in time of war, and I cannot help thinking the title of the Bill ought to have stated its main object much more frankly. Another thing which appears to me to be incongruous is the date of it, 1930, because this is the year in which the President of the Board of Trade set out for Geneva to ask all the other nations to have a tariff truce and to agree that Governments should no longer interfere with trade. Apparently the Free Trade views which he put forward so enthusiastically and skilfully at Geneva, though without much success, have evaporated, and he hurried back to Westminster to introduce a Measure which is not Protection in the political sense, but which is Socialism, State interference in its extreme form with commerce. This Bill and his Free Trade views at Geneva do not seem to go well together.
The date is an odd one for other reasons. I should have thought that B.C. would have been a better period for the introduction of such a Bill. I believe the people who are now mummies in Egypt, who governed Egypt many thousands of years ago, made the attempt which the President, of the Board of Trade is making now. We had to-night, in a speech which I am sorry to say I missed, an allusion to Diocletian, who 1600 years ago brought in an Order attempting to fix prices. He did not have exactly the same schedule that we have here, because, as I told the House of Commons last July, the things of which Diocletian endeavoured to fix the price were orators and beer and schoolmasters. At all events, the attempt failed. I would also like to allude to a pleasing little, incident which happened to me after I made that speech.
A political opponent in my constituency, who is an enthusiastic and 1273 logical Free Trader, and who would naturally be opposed to this Bill, sent me a pamphlet recounting an historic incident under one of the early kings of England. Inexperienced people, whether they are parties or kings, who have not had much training, are apt, when they get autocratic power, to try to use it. So it was with this English king. He tried to fix the prices of food. Amongst the items of food appeared a goose, the price of which he fixed at 4d. That was a considerable sum in those days, but it was regarded as too low, and as a result, as was the case with rabbits during the War, no geese came into the market. Eventually a few geese did arrive at market, but they were old and tough, and nobody would eat them. It became a question as to whether they were geese at all, and how was one to define a statutory goose. That is what we shall be up against.
The President of the Board of Trade was exceedingly careful to leave out of this discussion what happened during the War. I should have thought that if you were going to discuss State control, the very thing we should have to consider was what happened within the lifetime of this generation when this plan was tried. It was tried under somewhat unusually favourable circumstances. During a war people will submit to a great deal of restrictions which are very irritating to those who believe in a Free Trade policy. Then there was a general acknowledgment that rationing was right, and that you must do everything you could to distribute fairly the very limited amount of supplies. We are now in a period of over-production, and surely that is not the moment to introduce restrictions on trade. If you are going to introduce legislation so closely allied to what happened during the War, surely it is necessary to consider what took place when that system was working during the War.
I have been reading a history of what happened during the War, and there are a number of lessons which we learnt that are vital to the present issue. The first lesson we learnt during the War was that it never worked when you attempted to fix prices before you had obtained the control of supplies. That was the point made by the hon. Member for East Leicester. He, of course, did not oppose the Bill; in fact, he welcomed it because 1274 it was consistent with the Socialism which he advocates. The hon. Member for East Leicester was quite right when he said that this Bill can only lead to a far greater extension of State control and State management. But you cannot stop there. During the War the Government got control of supplies, and then had some success in controlling their distribution and the price. We had an economic union with our Allies, and we were able to control suppplies from America and other distant countries. Under this Bill you cannot control all our supplies, because they are not produced in this country.
There were three notable cases in which the mistake of this Bill was made, that is to say, where the control of prices was attempted before the control of supplies was secured. The first was in the control of home-grown meat where certain orders, hastily made without proper provision for control, brought chaos into the meat trade. The second notorious case was the attempt to fix the price of rabbits at 2s. in January, 1918, without assuming the control of the rabbits, with the natural result that the rabbits disappeared, and there were no rabbits on the market. I am told that the defence set up by the Socialists was that it was spring time and the rabbits were engaged in the spring in that production which is part of the Socialist programme. We were told that there were no rabbits because they were multiplying, which is one of the things rabbits do, but the order was issued in January, so I do not think that the Socialist excuse was a sound one.
The last case, and it is an extraordinarily interesting one, was that of milk. In the case of milk, during the War, an attempt was made to fix the price before control was obtained of the supplies, and from that we come to a number of points which bear vitally upon the operation of this plan. In the first place, it was found necessary, for fear of stopping the production of milk, to fix the price, not very low, but very high—[An HON. MEMBER: "Too high!"] The hon. Member says that it was too high, but it was fixed high because of State control—because the State was so afraid of stopping people from having more cows and producing more milk. The price was fixed at a high figure and we ultimately came to this extraordinary 1275 situation, that in the control of food—which I may remind the House lasted longer after the War than it did during the War—while the Ministry was doing its best to decontrol prices, some producers were trying to maintain the guaranteed prices and control, not because of cheapness, but because of the dearness which had been reached.
There is also this further point with reference to milk, and I make it definitely on one issue, but it applies over the whole range of articles affected by this Bill. It is no use trying to force down the price of milk very low unless you do two things. In the first place, you must operate over all the alternative uses or products of milk, such as cheese; and, secondly, if you merely fix a low price for milk sold in the towns, that low price will come back to a low price for the producer, and in the end you may achieve, not large supplies of milk, but a milk famine through having put the price to the producer too low. If I may criticise a speech for the clearness of which I have so much admiration, I should like to say that I do not think the President of the Board of Trade, in the whole of his speech, took sufficient account of the importance of the producer's side of this question. There was a great deal about the consumer, and a great deal about the distributor, but very little about the producer; but, after all, the producer is absolutely essential before any of the other processes come in at all, and, throughout all this intervention of the State, the great danger is that you may so discourage production as to achieve in the end a shortage and higher prices.
With reference to the actual items which have been scheduled, I find that they include articles of food of general consumption, wearing apparel, clothing material, fuels—with which we have already dealt—and any other article of common use. That is an enormous extension of the powers of the Board of Trade. I gather that this council will make its recommendations, and then the Board of Trade will be enabled to fix arbitrarily—on an emergency Order if it likes, and not subject to any control by either House of Parliament—the price of all these articles. Bearing in mind the invariable failure throughout history of the attempts of 1276 autocrats of all kinds to use their power to fix prices against the operation of economic laws, I cannot think that this Government, which, if I may say so, does not seem to be dealing very successfully with some of its other problems, is likely to be very successful with this one.
There is this great danger in reference to prices, that you cannot presume wisdom or accuracy in the decision of the Board of Trade or of those who fix prices. It is true that they may fix the price at the right level, and I am sure they will do their best to do so, but they are trying to fix something which is essentially, in its nature, mutable. Better harvests, bad harvests, varying production, foreign trade, dumping of goods—all sorts of things bring their effects from day to day upon the prices of commodities, and, by the time that the Board of Trade has inquired and considered fully, as I know the right hon. Gentleman will, the price may be wrong almost before it is fixed, and, at the end of a few weeks, it will become hopelessly wrong. But there is another alternative which must not be lost sight of. It is conceivable that this Government may make mistakes, and, supposing that they fix prices too high, they will impose a wholly unnecessary charge on the consumer in whose interests they are endeavouring to act. Suppose that they fix the price too low, the price, through the various distributing machinery, comes back very rapidly on the producer and the result is a shortage in the commodity. You may do what you like, but if you produce a shortage of any commodity in the end you bring about a rise of prices and hardship to poor people.
There are certain other points on which I should like to touch. For instance, what is going to, happen when the prices become obviously wrong? It is no part of my duty to protect this Government from errors, but suppose that this Government fixed the price of the loaf or of milk or a number of other essential commodities at a certain level, and then there was a bad harvest or a shortage of milk or some world-wide cause entirely outside the control of the Government. The Government has to go overseas to buy if it buys itself, just as the individual importer has. The Government cannot control prices in the long run, and a Government which has taught 1277 people to look upon prices as the act of the Government may find some day that people will say that the Government has put up the prices. It is not going to be very easy for the President of the Board of Trade, supposing a General Election comes along, and, because the price of corn has gone up, the price of bread is put up. Or is there going to be some sort of subsidy to carry them through the election?
Suppose that the prices are going down. You get more difficulty. Retailers who may be endeavouring to carry on business will know that at any moment and without warning the Board of Trade may suddenly lower prices, and the people who have been buying stocks to supply the community may suddenly find that the retail price has been artificially lowered at short notice by the Board of Trade. Naturally the result will be that they will go very slowly in buying stocks, and you may run the risk of dislocating trade and creating all sorts of difficulties for the community by the very action of the Government which is seeking to avoid these dangers.
Then we come to the position of the Liberal party. I can recall the days when there would have been no more determined opponents of this Bill than the Liberal party as a whole. I should like to know what some of the great leaders of the Liberal party would have thought of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). I am sorry that another Liberal leader, the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), is not here, because some of us well remember the speeches that he made on this subject during the War. He made most convincing speeches against Government action, though they were followed by Government action on his part very shortly afterwards. They were extremely good speeches, and it does seem a very great pity that we have not had a really whole-hearted exposition of Liberal policy from the Liberal benches. If there is one thing to which all Liberals ought to have been opposed, it is the intervention of the State, on this colossal scale, in almost the whole trade of the country, and more particularly, in the essential food supplies and the necessaries of life, and the idea that the 1278 State can come in and overrule the laws of supply and demand.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh, but can the State intervene, say, in the harvest of America? It is perfectly obvious that you cannot fix the price of a thing which you import because that depends upon the price that you have to pay to the foreigner. It is also obvious that the hon. Member for East Leceister was right in saying that this was a half-measure of Socialism. I think it is beginning at the wrong end. If you are introducing Socialism you ought to begin by trying to get some control of supplies, and then you could make some attempt to control prices. But it is none the less Socialism, and the fact that the Socialism has been badly done only makes it the more dangerous.
We have heard a good deal from hon. Members opposite in the way of attacks on the distributing trade. While the attack is obviously directed against the small shops and the great distributing shops, I hope they will be interested in the vote given by the Liberal party. I am afraid we shall see a great many Liberals definitely voting for the principle of State control of prices. While we hear speeches about the distributing trade, we must not forget that that does not limit the action of the Bill. I believe it is also going gravely to injure producer and consumer alike. It will injure the producers because it will discourage them. They will not know where they are under the Bill. They will be liable to have prices forced down by State action and, therefore, to have their production decreased, and at the other end will be the consumers, who may think they are going to get something from the Bill but who may find that, in the shortage and in the high prices which followed Government action during the War, all those evils will be reproduced in peace time under this Bill. I regard it as a reactionary Measure. It is an attempt to revive in peace time legislation which was possibly appropriate and necessary in war time. I do not think we want any more of these war-time regulations. Certainly we do not want them introduced in times of profound peace, and it is because I believe it will injure producers, consumers and distributors alike, that I hope the Bill will be rejected.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. W. R. Smith)
Many of the speeches to which we have listened would seem to suggest that the issue we have been discussing is one that was entirely new and had never been before the House before. In fact, judging from some of the observations, it might be assumed that this issue had arisen out of some ill-conceived thoughts and ideas of the party on these benches. One Member went so far as to say it was produced out of spite and prejudice. It is very difficult to understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite towards the Bill. I suppose if there is one question which has been in the mind of the people of the country, and indeed before the House, both during and since the War, it is the question of prices from the point of view of their being higher than was felt to be justified. In fact this question has formed part of election campaigns, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not entirely unacquainted with this issue as part of the campaigns they have fought. I find that in 1924, in a Conservative manifesto published in the "Times" on 13th October, the cost of foodstuffs occupied rather a prominent part and it is stated that the problem is one that demands careful investigation by a Royal Commission. The importance of any reduction in these costs and the effect both directly upon the cost of living and indirectly upon our industrial position, is obvious. The late Prime Minister, speaking on 15th October, 1924, sought to make party capital out of the fact that the Government that was then going to the country—the Labour Government of 1924—had, somehow, failed in its purpose and object in dealing with this question of food prices. He said:In spite of the promises made a year ago, in spite of the Election which was won on these promises, in spite of the tenure of office by the present Government, the price of foodstuffs to-day, after a considerable amount in duties has been taken off some of them, remains practically where that price was a year ago.He said that if returned he would investigate the causes, and added:I do not pretend myself to know what these causes are. I am only determined that the causes shall be discovered, and if it be possible to deal with these causes, they shall be dealt with.1280 It seems rather strange that right hon. and hon. Members opposite should to-day talk as if this was a new issue with which they as a party had had no relationship whatever. The late Prime Minister also said, in October, 1924, that investigation should take place and that steps, if possible, should be taken to stop a rise in prices. We have been told to-day that that is an impossible position to adopt. What is the cause of this change in the party opposite? This was part of their election programme. In 1924 they asked the country to return them to power so that they might deal with food prices and reduce them because of their bad effect upon the industrial life of the country. Further, in 1925, after the Food Commission had reported, the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), referring to the Report of the Royal Commission, said:The spirit animating that report is the desire that the committee (the Food Council) should have before it, accurate and continuing information as to supplies and prices and possess means of expression and investigation, and if all concerned will co-operate in that spirit, it may well be that they will require no compulsory powers, but if experience shows that compulsory powers are necessary, the Government will not hesitate to ask Parliament for any powers that may be required.That statement was made in a speech at Welbeck Abbey. The Food Commission which was appointed by the Government under the right hon. Gentleman made its report in 1925 and, as a result of that report, the Food Council was set up. I want to examine the situation that has arisen and has evolved from the setting up of that Food Council. It is perfectly clear, from the speeches I have quoted, that the Tory party, in the setting up of the Food Council, were firmly persuaded that this question of food prices could and should be dealt with. It is quite true that they did not give the Food Council any compulsory powers, although I see that the right hon. Gentleman the late President of the Board of Trade asked a question as to whether there was any authority for the position which we were now taking up, and read an extract from the report of the Food Commission to the effect that they were not in favour of compulsory powers. I should like to read to the right hon. Gentleman in that respect an extract from the Food Commission's Report, paragraph 342, page 139, in which reference 1281 is made to the position which the right hon. Gentleman was developing in regard to monopolies. This is what the Commission says:Yet because of the power which such amalgamations and absorptions place in the hands of a few persons, it seems to us that the time has come to equip some body with power to deal with monopolies, trusts, and combines which charge unduly high prices for the services they render to the public or suppress competition merely in order to maintain or expand their profits. We doubt whether public apprehension will be set at rest until the State has armed itself with the necessary powers to deal with antisocial actions by monopolies, trusts and combines. But the danger of the abuse of monopolistic power is not confined to the food trades, and it would in our view be unwise to set up special machinery for dealing drastically, by the application of sanctions, with anti-social actions in these and not in other trades.So that, therefore, the Royal Commission on Food Prices did realise the dangers of the situation, and did express views very definitely in favour of the position that monopolistic trusts and combines would have to be dealt with. The justification for this Bill going beyond the question of food is also contained in that paragraph, when it states that it would be unwise and improper to limit these powers and sanctions merely to food and not to other commodities.
§ Mr. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman asked where there was any authority that could be quoted in regard to this Bill. He quoted the Royal Commission's Report to support his point of view; I am quoting that paragraph to show that in the evidence brought before the Royal Commission they did find sufficient to justify them in saying that the time was coming, if it had not arrived, for some such action to take place, and that when it did take place it should not be limited to food alone, but would have to deal with other articles.
Let us consider the position that has developed since the Food Council was appointed. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken in very high terms of the Food Council; he has praised its work, and paid a very high tribute to the services it has rendered. Therefore, one is entitled to assume that everything they have reported upon, or any recommendations they have made, have been the result of careful investigation and close 1282 scrutiny. The right hon. Gentleman says the Royal Commission on Food Prices did not recommend fixing prices. I would like to put a question to him. Two questions of very great importance have arisen out of the work of the Food Council. The first concerns milk prices last year. The right hon. Gentleman says he is in favour of compulsory powers of investigation, although nearly every Member behind him has repudiated that point of view.
§ Major TRYON
I am in favour of every possible means of inquiry, including compulsory investigation.
§ Mr. SMITH
I am sorry. I must have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman and I withdraw. I thought he was speaking against compulsory investigation; but, of course, I accept his word. But here is the situation that has arisen. The Food Council have investigated very thoroughly the question of the price of milk. The cost of the milk to the customer purchasing it day by day may not be much, but in the aggregate it reaches a very substantial sum of money for the year. They have not got compulsory powers now, but they discovered as a result of their examination that there was no justification in the facts relating to the cost for certain prices being charged for a certain month out of the 12. Suppose they had had compulsory powers of investigation, which my right hon. Friend is willing to give them, the situation would have been exactly the same.
I want my right hon. Friend to tell me how he would meet that situation without power to deal with prices. That is the merit of the Bill; it is the central point of the Bill. Our contention is that all the resources of voluntary effort have been tried and they have failed. The Food Council themselves say that the position has become a farce. You can go through the whole of their work during the years they have been in existence and steadily and surely there has developed a situation which the Food Council themselves feel renders their work useless. This attitude is confirmed 1283 even up to this very day by a letter which the Chairman of that body has sent to the "Times." The concluding paragraph means, if it means anything, that whatever they do and however exact their examination may be, however valuable the results of their analysis, however big the offences in regard to charging unreasonable and unfair prices, they are hopeless and helpless and cannot deal with the situation.
What I want to ask again is this: Take the question of bread, the other of the two classic cases in the experience of the Food Council. This question has been dealt with very carefully. I do not think it can be denied that as a result of the work of the Food Council the price of bread has been kept lower than it would otherwise have been. They have been able to fix a scale which determined what the price of bread should be at any given time according to the price of flour. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in opening this Debate, said the price of flour might vary, and the price of bread might vary from 10d. down to 8d., according to the price of flour. That has worked very satisfactorily for several years. Two of the leading associations of master bakers in London decided that they would get out of that agreement or understanding with the Food Council. They altered the scale or range of prices of flour to their own advantage, and they flouted the Food Council. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow (Major Salmon) is not in his place because he made a statement that they did not flout the Food Council, but gave the Food Council notice and offered to give reasons. This is the most remarkable thing about the matter. In the letter they sent to the Food Council, which was on the eve of the change in prices and conditions, they stated that they had been persuaded since 1929 that the decision was wrong. They considered this matter for 12 months, and after having considered it, altered the arrangement, notified the Food Council and then offered to give the information after they had altered the prices. The hon. Member for Harrow said they treated the Food Council with courtesy and offered the fullest explanation. There again is 1284 an illustration of the traders dealing with a very important commodity in the life of the people varying a condition to their own advantage and against the consuming public, and charging the public more than the price which had been determined by the Food Council to be reasonable and fair.
I want again to take that case and the case of milk and to ask the right hon. Gentleman who believes in the Food Council, who says that it has done excellent work and who is prepared to give them compulsory powers of investigation, how, unless he gives them the power to limit or regulate prices, he is going to deal with cases like the two I have just quoted in order to protect the public?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Gentleman has asked that question three times. I did not want to interrupt his speech because I had addressed a long speech to the House in which I dealt specifically with those points. But I will, as he has asked for it, repeat my answer. In the first place, what you require, apparently, is further information. Certainly, that is what the Food Council said. They said they could not get from these master bakers the precise figures on which to give a decision, and that is the case for further inquiry. That is the first thing. Secondly, when you do get a well-informed public opinion, I am certain they will bring their weight to bear—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have been asked by the Minister to give him an answer. I would ask hon. Members to listen. I confirm that by saying that an hon. Gentleman who addressed the House about an hour or so ago said he spoke for the co-operative societies who catered for half the population of this country. If the co-operative societies cater for half the population of this country and wish to increase their clientele, why cannot they come into competition by selling at the proper price. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have done!"] If they have done, there you have the answer, that when public opinion is informed you get a very much larger number of traders selling at the proper price, and that certainly is going to have its effect. In the third place, I am sure that if you control prices at all, you have to control them all through, and, as the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) said, not only control 1285 prices, but undertake the business yourself.
§ Mr. SMITH
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not given a more complete answer to my question. He is relying on the pressure of public opinion. Let us examine that. In 1929 on the milk issue the facts were clear and unmistakable. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that the Food Council was wrong in their conclusions; and he has paid a tribute to their efficiency and the thoroughness of their work. They examined the matter and said that the price was too high. What about public opinion? The milk traders snapped their fingers at public opinion. They said, "We are going to raise the price of our milk as we said we would." The President of the Board of Trade had a consultation with them and pointed out the seriousness of the position and the possibility of a revulsion of public opinion against it. They said, "We do not care"—or that at least was the meaning of their attitude—"we are going to raise the price of milk as we said we would, and take the advantage to ourselves." If hon. Members opposite are prepared to give the Food Council compulsory powers for investigation they will have to go further. Plenty of instances might be given in regard to this matter. The Conservative Agricultural Committee of this House asked that the question of the difference in the wholesale and retail price of market garden produce should be investigated—an important question. I do not know a subject which will stand investigation with more profit to the general public. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Co-operative Society?"] I am sorry the hon. Member has not had the opportunity of addressing the House, as the House would then have had his views with regard to that society. The Food Council took up this investigation and they had to abandon it because they could get no information. They had to report back to the Conservative Agricultural Committee of this House who expressed astonishment that no information was forthcoming, and they decided, with regret, to let the matter drop.
What is the use of pretending? Either this House intends to deal with this problem along the line that it is going to meet the public need or continue to trifle 1286 with it. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) had to use his position and threaten traders with what would happen if they did not give information. In reply to a question, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley said in 1928:The Government are prepared to give the Food Council all the support required to enable them to obtain essential information and they are so informing the Council. Unless, therefore, within a reasonable period, the requisite information is supplied to the Food Council by those traders who have so far failed to do so, the Government propose to ask Parliament to grant the necessary powers to the Council, by means of a Resolution under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May. 1928; col. 1221, Vol. 217.]The Food Council found that that intimation had effect for a time, but then it fell away again, and the procedure was found entirely useless and unavailing in that respect. That is the kernel of the situation. There is plenty of evidence to show That voluntary effort and even compulsory powers of investigation will fail to achieve the desired result—a result which is desired by hon. Members opposite, according to the language which they have used. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley said that food prices must be kept down and that where prices were excessive they must be checked. Very well, if that be the objective, I suggest that this Bill is timely and that it is the natural consequence of the experience gained during the period covered by the Food Council.
§ Sir DENNTS HERBERT
On a point of Order. Ts the hon. Gentleman in order in making a second speech and going far beyond answering the questions which have been put to him?
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
I am endeavouring to answer the various points which have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Wise) criticised the proposals in regard to secrecy, and said they would result in essential facts being suppressed. I suggest that the hon. Member has not properly gathered what is intended in the Bill, but if the situation is as he has interpreted it, that is a matter which can be more fully examined in Committee. It was not in- 1287 tended that the Bill should operate in the way suggested by the hon. Member, although we say clearly and unmistakeably that where secret information is obtained in regard to a specific business, that information should not be divulged to the detriment of that business. I do not know that I need deal with his other point as to the Bill being inadequate, because he partly answered his own criticism when he asked the Government to bring in further legislation—presumably because the points which he had in mind were rather beyond the scope of a Bill of this description and really belonged to legislation of another class. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) thought the Bill was rather too sweeping in the range of commodities which it covered but I ask him, how can you draw a line in this matter? The Bill must be widely drawn in order that the work of the council may be effective. The right hon. Gentleman's further point about the inquiry is also a matter for consideration in Committee, and I think he may be assured that it will be fully and sympathetically considered at that time. There is another point, arising out of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow. He said that competition would settle
§ this if we left competition alone. On the Royal Commission on Food Prices, of which I was a member, we had a case where a baker in South Wales was selling bread at a lower price than the other bakers, and the millers of the area combined and refused to sell him flour. As a result of the action of the Commission, that was stopped, but it has come up again. In the same district the same question has arisen, and the millers are refusing to sell a certain baker flour because he is selling bread at a lower price than other bakers in the district. Therefore, what is the use of talking about competition solving this problem of giving the people food at prices that are reasonable and fair when you have combinations and monopolies preventing supplies reaching the people? I hope that I have covered fairly and reasonably the points of criticism that have been raised against this Bill. I can only suggest now that the House might let us have the Second Reading, and that any points of difficulty that have been raised so far as the details are concerned can be amply dealt with when the Bill is in Committee.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 266; Noes, 202.1291
|Division No. 278.]||AYES.||[11.33 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Caine, Derwent Hall-||Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Cameron, A. G.||Gill, T. H.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Cape, Thomas||Gillett, George M.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Glassey, A. E.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Charleton, H. C.||Gossling, A. G.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Chater, Daniel||Gould, F.|
|Arnott, John||Church, Major A. G.||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Clarke, J. S.||Gray, Milner|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Cluse, W. S.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)|
|Ayles, Walter||Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Compton, Joseph||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Daggar, George||Groves, Thomas E.|
|Barr, James||Dallas, George||Grundy, Thomas W.|
|Batey, Joseph||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Bellamy, Albert||Day, Harry||Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)|
|Bennett, Capt. E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Dickson, T.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)|
|Benson, G.||Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Hardie, George D.|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Dukes, C.||Harris, Percy A.|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Duncan, Charles||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Ede, James Chuter||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Edmunds, J. E.||Haycock, A. W.|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Hayday, Arthur|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Egan, W. H.||Hayes, John Henry|
|Bromfield, William||Foot, Isaac||Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Bromley, J.||Forgan, Dr. Robert||Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)|
|Brooke, W.||Freeman, Peter||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)|
|Brothers, M.||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Herriotts, J.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.)||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)|
|Buchanan, G.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Hoffman, P. C.|
|Burgess, F. G.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Hollins, A.|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Gibbins, Joseph||Hopkin, Daniel|
|Horrabin, J. F.||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Mort, D. L.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Moses, J. J. H.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Johnston, Thomas||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Muff, G.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Murnin, Hugh||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Nathan, Major H. L.||Snell, Harry|
|Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Kelly, W. T.||Oldfield, J. R.||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Kennedy, Thomas||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)||Sorensen, R.|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Kinley, J.||Palin, John Henry.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Lang, Gordon||Paling, Wilfrid||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Palmer, E. T.||Strauss, G. R.|
|Lathan, G.||Perry, S. F.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Law, Albert (Bolton)||Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Law, A. (Rossendale)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Lawrence, Susan||Phillips, Dr. Marion||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Lawson, John James||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Pole, Major D. G.||Tillett, Ben|
|Leach, W.||Potts, John S.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Price, M. P.||Toole, Joseph|
|Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Pybus, Percy John||Tout, W. J.|
|Lindley, Fred W.||Quibell, D. J. K.||Townend, A. E.|
|Lloyd, C. Ellis||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Logan, David Gilbert||Rathbone, Eleanor||Turner, B.|
|Longbottom, A. W.||Raynes, W. R.||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Longden, F.||Richards, R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Walkden, A. G.|
|Lunn, William||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Walker, J.|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Watkins, F. C.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Ritson, J.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Romeril, H. G.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|McElwee, A.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|McEntee, V. L.||Rowson, Guy||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|McKinlay, A.||Salter, Dr. Alfred||West, F. R.|
|Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Westwood, Joseph|
|Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|MacNeill-Weir, L.||Sanders, W. S.||White, H. G.|
|McShane, John James||Sandham, E.||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Sawyer, G. F.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Scrymgeour, E.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Mansfield, W.||Scurr, John||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Markham, S. F.||Sexton, James||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Marley, J.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Mathers, George||Sherwood, G. H.||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Maxton, James||Shield, George William||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Melville, Sir James||Shillaker, J. F.||Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Messer, Fred||Shinwell, E.||Wise, E. F.|
|Millar, J. D.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Mills, J. E.||Simmons, C. J.||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Milner, Major J.||Simon, E. D. (Manch'ter, Withington)|
|Montague, Frederick||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Morley, Ralph||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.|
|Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Sinkinson, George||Charles Edwards.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Buckingham, Sir H.||Crookshank, Capt. H. C.|
|Albery, Irving James||Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Butler, R. A.||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)|
|Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.)||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Carver, Major W. H.||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Castle Stewart, Earl of||Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey|
|Astor, Maj. Hon. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.|
|Atkinson, C.||Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Davies, Dr. Vernon|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)|
|Balniel, Lord||Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton||Duckworth, G. A. V.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||Dugdale, Capt. T. L.|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Eden, Captain Anthony|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Chapman, Sir S.||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Batterton, Sir Henry B.||Christie, J. A.||Elliot, Major Walter E.|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Faile, Sir Bertram G.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Colfox, Major William Philip||Ferguson, Sir John|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Colman, N. C. D.||Fermoy, Lord|
|Boyce, H. L.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Fison, F. G. Clavering|
|Bracken, B.||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Ford, Sir P. J.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Cranborne, Viscount||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.|
|Buchan, John||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Galbraith, J. F. W.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Long, Major Eric||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Lymington, Viscount||Savery, S. S.|
|Gilmour, Lt-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Macquisten, F. A.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Grace, John||MacRobert, Rt. Hon. Alexander M.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Marjoribanks, E. C.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Meller, R. J.||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Morden, Col. W. Grant||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Morris, Rhys Hopkins||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Tinne, J. A.|
|Hanbury, C.||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Muirhead, A. J.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Train, J.|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||O'Neill, Sir H.||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Peake, Captain Osbert||Wardlaw-Milne, J. S.|
|Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Penny, Sir George||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Hudson, capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Power, Sir John Cecil||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Ramsbotham, H.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Kindersley, Major G. M.||Remer, John R.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Withers, Sir John James|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch't'sy)||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Womersley, W. J.|
|Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Ross, Major Ronald D.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Ruggies-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Salmon, Major I.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Llewellin, Major J. J.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Commander Sir B. Eyres Monsell|
|Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||and Major Sir George Hennessy.|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
Bill read a Second time.
§ "Motion made, and Question put, "That the Bill be committed to a Com-1292
§ mittee of the Whole House."—[Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 184; Noes, 248.1295
|Division No. 279.]||AYES.||[11.44 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel.||Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Elliot, Major Walter E.|
|Albery, Irving James||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||Falie, Sir Bertram G.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Ferguson, Sir John|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Chapman, Sir S.||Fermoy, Lord|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Christie, J. A.||Fison, F. G. Clavering|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Ford, Sir P. J.|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.|
|Balniel, Lord||Cohen, Major J. Brunei||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Colfox, Major William Philip||Galbraith, J. F. W.|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Colman, N. C. D.||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Cranborne, Viscount||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft.||Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Grace, John|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.|
|Boyce, H. L.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Bracken, B.||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Dalkeith, Earl of||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Buchan, John||Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Butler, R. A.||Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Hammersley, S. S.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hanbury, C.|
|Castle Stewart, Earl of||Duckworth, G. A. V.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Eden, Captain Anthony||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Muirhead, A. J.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||O'Neill, Sir H.||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Peake, Captain Osbert||Tinne, J. A.|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Penny, Sir George||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Kindersley, Major G. M.||Power, Sir John Cecil||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Ramsbotham, H.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Remer, John R.||Wardlaw-Mline, J. S.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch't'sy)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Llewellin, Major J. J.||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey||Ross, Major Ronald D.||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Lymington, Viscount||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Salmon, Major I.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|MacRobert, Rt. Hon. Alexander M.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart||Womersley, W. J.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Marjoribanks, E. C.||Savery, S. S.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Meller, R. J.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Smithers, Waldron||Captain Margesson and Captain|
|Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Wallace.|
|Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Ede, James Chuter||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Edmunds, J. E.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Egan, W. H.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.|
|Alpass. J. H.||Foot, Isaac||Kelly, W. T.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Forgan, Dr. Robert||Kennedy, Thomas|
|Arnott, John||Freeman, Peter||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Kinley, J.|
|Ayles, Walter||Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.)||Lang, Gordon|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Gibbins, Joseph||Lathan, G.|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Gibson, H. M. (Lancs. Mossley)||Law, Albert (Bolton)|
|Barr, James||Gill, T. H.||Law, A. (Rosendale)|
|Batey, Joseph||Gillett, George M.||Lawrence, Susan|
|Bellamy, Albert||Glassey, A. E.||Lawson, John James|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Gossling, A. G.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)|
|Benson, G.||Gould, F.||Leach, W.|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Gray, Milner||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||Lindley, Fred W.|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Lloyd, C. Ellis|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Longbottom, A. W.|
|Bromfield, William||Groves, Thomas E.||Longden, F.|
|Bromley, J.||Grundy, Thomas W.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.|
|Brooke, W.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Lunn, William|
|Brothers, M.||Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Buchanan, G.||Hardie, George D.||McElwee, A.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Harris, Percy A.||McEntee, V. L.|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)|
|Caine, Derwent Hall-||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Cameron, A. G.||Haycock, A. W.||MacNeill-Weir, L.|
|Cape, Thomas||Hayday, Arthur||McShane, John James|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Hayes, John Henry||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Chater, Daniel||Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Mansfield, W.|
|Church, Major A. G.||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Markham, S. F.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Herriotts, J.||Marley, J.|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Mathers, George|
|Compton, Joseph||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Maxton, James|
|Daggar, George||Hoffman, P. C.||Melville, Sir James|
|Dallas, George||Hollins, A.||Messer, Fred|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Hopkin, Daniel||Millar, J. D.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Horrabin, J. F.||Milner, Major J.|
|Dickson, T.||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Montague, Frederick|
|Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Morley, Ralph|
|Dukes, C.||Johnston, Thomas||Morris, Rhys Hopkins|
|Duncan, Charles||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)|
|Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Mort, D. L.||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)||Tillett, Ben|
|Moses, J. J. H.||Sanders, W. S.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Sandham, E.||Toole, Joseph|
|Muff, G.||Sawyer, G. F.||Tout, W. J.|
|Muggeridge, H. T.||Scrymgeour, E.||Townend, A. E.|
|Murnin, Hugh||Scurr, John||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Nathan, Major H. L.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Turner, B.|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Sherwood, G. H.||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Oldfield, J. R.||Shield, George William||Viant, S. P.|
|Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)||Shillaker, J. F.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Shinwell, E.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Palin, John Henry||Simmons, C. J.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Paling, Wilfrid||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Perry, S. F.||Sinkinson, George||West, F. R.|
|Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Smith, Alfred (Sutherland)||Westwood, Joseph|
|Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Phillips, Dr. Marion||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)||White, H. G.|
|Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Potts, John S.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Price, M. P.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Pybus, Percy John||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Quibell, D. J. K.||Snell, Harry||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Rathbone, Eleanor||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Raynes, W. R.||Sorensen, R.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Richards, R.||Stamford, Thomas W.||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Stephen, Campbell||Wise, E. F.|
|Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Strauss, G. R.||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Ritson, J.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Romeril, H. G.||Taylor R. A. (Lincoln)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.|
|Rowson, Guy||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)||Charles Edwards.|
Bill committed to a Standing Committee.