HC Deb 17 April 1931 vol 251 cc560-74

Order for Second Reading read.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I believe this Measure is one which is acceptable to every section of the House. Briefly put, the objects of the Bill are that all parties in the House shall be truly informed of the effects of customs duties in the safeguarded industries. Whenever a fiscal question is debated there often arises a difference of opinion with regard to figures, and it has been said that figures can be made to prove anything. Consequently, the only way we can get at the verities is by insisting that a record shall be kept of the number of persons employed in any particular industry before the duty is imposed and again after a reasonable period.

May I, very briefly, endeavour to summarise the urgent need for this information. As hon. Members are aware, many violent Debates have centred round the facts in regard to employment in safeguarded industries. No one will deny that we want the true facts, no matter whether they are favourable to Tariff Reformers or tend to the belittlement of Free Traders. If we can have a return such as is insisted upon in this Bill, then, but not till then, we shall have true evidence before us.

At present there is no true statement available as to the effect of this policy upon these industries. We all know that in the case of certain industries, such as the glove industry, the Government are able to get their information from the joint industrial council, and in those cases fairly accurate returns can be obtained. We know that employment in the fabric glove industry from 1925 to 1929 was doubled, and we know that in that industry at present, since the duties have been removed, employment has been halved. In other industries, however, no returns are available, and I submit that the duty should be imposed upon the industries of this country to give these returns to Parliament, so that we may know what the results are.

In the case of the motor industry, employment, since the Duties were first imposed in 1915, has increased by something like 180,000. That is a very respectable figure, when we look at the results which were considered in the Debate only yesterday. That figure, however, in no way represents the true facts in the various ramifications of the industry. The motor industry has many branch and subsidiary industries engaged in making accessories, which are not included in the returns submitted to the Government. I myself came across an industry in which 700 persons were engaged entirely in making wind-screens, and I discovered that they were not included at all in the motor, industry's returns. We want to get at the real facts of an industry, either beneficial or otherwise, in order that we may give a true verdict as to whether this policy should be ended or increased.

In connection with our employment returns in this country, we find very curious results. Here are three cases which have been brought to my notice. One man, whom we will call "A," was registered as a silversmith, but, when that trade fell off, he trained himself as a panel beater, and he has been 100 per cent. employed on motor body work, but he is not recorded as employed in the motor industry. Another man, "B," was registered as an upholsterer, but, having been unable to get employment in that trade, has been 100 per cent. employed on motor body work. A third man, "C" was registered as a, foundry-man, but he has been 100 per cent. employed as a moulder of motor-car engine monoblocs since he came into the motor trade. It is desirable that we should ascertain from the industries themselves the total numbers of people employed in them, and endeavour to find out how far the effects of this policy may ramify. I hope there will be no opposition to the Bill. It was indicated, when the House generously gave me a First Reading for it, that all parties were as anxious as the Mover that we should have the absolute facts of the position. Therefore, I move the Second Reading with the confident hope that it will receive the unanimous assent of the House, because, whatever our views may be on the effects of this policy, I believe we all want to get as near as possible to the truth.


I beg to second the Motion.

As my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out, there has been from time to time, since these Duties were first imposed, considerable difficulty in getting accurate returns of the numbers of people brought into employment as a consequence of their imposition, and in the Debates in this House it was always a matter of contention as to whether the introduction of Safeguarding had been conducive to the enlargement of facilities for employment or not. On a number of occasions in this House statements from this side have been challenged by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and statements made by them have been challenged by us on this side, as to the extent to which employment had been affected by the introduction of these Duties.

The proposal in the Bill is extremely simple. All that we ask is that powers should be taken by the Board of Trade to compel the people responsible for the branches of industry to which these Duties are applied to make returns of the numbers of workpeople engaged in them at certain definite dates, and also to give statistical details of the numbers of people employed in these same industries before the imposition of these Duties. There is no substantial objection raised on the part of any firm engaged in a safeguarded industry. I think it will be the wish of most of them, provided they are compelled to do so, to give the details that are sought for in the Measure, but we are a curiously constituted people. We are very reticent in giving details which we feel, if made public, would be somehow or other prejudicial to the industry for which we are responsible. Consequently, there is a certain lassitude in giving the necessary details which are so important to fullness of Debate in this House.

My hon. and gallant Friend has presented his case very simply and conclusively. I assume that the hon. Gentleman representing the Board of Trade will accept these proposals. I think the Board of Trade itself, having regard to the number of questions addressed to it from time to time, will be glad to have the means of ascertaining exactly the numbers of persons employed in safeguarded and protected industries, and, in view of the hope entertained so profoundly and so intimately on this side of the House that there shall be a very substantial enlargement of the policy for which we stand in the future, it will be of great importance that we should have exact details of the possibilities of employment offered in the industries to which the State has extended the rights of safeguarding.


It is not often that I find myself in complete agreement with the two hon. Members who have spoken. Whatever may be our opinions in regard to Free Trade, or to Safeguarding or Protection, we shall not do either cause any good by shirking the real facts of the situation. If I have a complaint to make about the hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced the Bill, it is that he is four or five years too late. If this had been introduced four or five years ago, we might have had more reliable information as to the exact effect of the Safeguarding Duties. While welcoming the Bill, one can see difficulties. It is said that the information has already been sought to be obtained voluntarily, but only with a small degree of success. I believe in all sections of industry the more facts there are available for those concerned, either on the side of the employer or the worker, the better for the industry itself and for the prospect of amicable relationships. I heartily support the Bill.


I do not rise to oppose the Bill, but I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will consider well whether the wording of paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1 is not perhaps a little ambiguous where it refers to the "number of persons employed in such business." It is not quite clear what that means. If a business has a rapid change in its personnel, it might employ a certain number of people during one month, they might all be dismissed and another lot taken on, and the number under the wording of the Bill would be the total number, which might be three or four times as great as the average number employed. Some attention will have to be given to the wording there in order that we may arrive at figures that are really relevant. With regard to the figures under paragraph (a), in a good many industries it is going to be very hard to arrive at a correct estimate of the exact numbers employed. Being in complete agreement with the object which the hon. and gallant Member has put forward, I merely make this suggestion as a matter for further consideration on the Committee stage, and I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.


This Bill is one in respect of which the House is quite free to determine its own policy in giving it a Second Reading or otherwise. It has been stated that it is difficult to oppose the principle contained in the Bill because the Measure does not establish a principle as far as Safeguarding is concerned. It merely seeks to elicit information so that the results of Safeguarding may be shown in order perhaps to permit of a more definite opinion being expressed in regard to it. It is therefore difficult to refuse to have this provision in that respect. I think it is true to say that if information has to be collected it ought to be under compulsory powers and that it should be complete. Obviously, if it were left to voluntary effort there might be adjustments and arrangements which might defeat the objects behind the Bill. Therefore, it will be necessary to have compulsory powers for the Bill to be effective.

At the same time, it is also necessary to point out that, if returns are to give the result which is being aimed at, the Bill will have to receive rather careful examination in Committee. The situation is hardly as simple and clear cut as the hon. and gallant Gentleman asserts. I do not know how far, as a matter of fact, the Bill extends beyond the mere policy of Safeguarding itself, and as to how far it embraces what may be called the McKenna Duties. Those Duties have never been considered under the same heading, but that is by the way.

In regard to Safeguarding, it is quite possible to have parts of an article manufactured by a firm also connected with other classes of manufacture. It would be a mixed business, and it would be very difficult to say exactly how many of the employés were engaged upon the article safeguarded and how many were connected with the other part of the business. That is a point which must be considered so that any figures which are to be ascertained, assuming that the Bill becomes law, shall be as accurate as possible and the objective aimed at realised. That, of course, is a Committee point. It is not a point which can be submitted very largely against the Bill being given a Second Reading. It is a point which must be examined.

Again, there will have to be some kind of Schedule prepared. I suppose that firms will have to be notified that they come under the provisions of the Measure, and therefore there will have to be very clear definitions as to what is intended in order that the Department involved in securing the returns may understand what duties devolve upon firms in that respect. That, again, is a Committee point. I only mention it in order to make it clear that these are phases of the situation which must be submitted to very close examination. If a satisfactory way out can be found, I do not think that any section of the House will demur at ascertaining the fullest information, so that the returns may be reliable and that they may be used or quoted in whatever way they may affect the issue which may be involved.


I should like to welcome the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. We appreciate that speech and the intention of the Government to co-operate with those who are promoting the Bill in the effort to arrive at the facts. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is what we want to know. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that there are points in the Bill which will require clarifying and elucidating in Committee. There is the point as to how far the inquiries into the employment in various industries must go. Whether it goes so far as the McKenna Duties is somewhat open to doubt. There seems to be a little contradiction between the provisions of Clause 1 and Clause 3. Clause 3 specifically limits the Act. It says that it shall remain in force until the Safeguarding of Industries Act, 1921, ceases to have effect. That would appear to limit it entirely to the special industries that receive Safeguarding under that Act of Parliament, but in Clause 1 the words are wider: … either by the Safeguarding of Industries Act, 1921, or by any other enactment, special provisions for safeguarding against competition by industries in countries outside the United Kingdom have been made. … That would clearly seem to imply that any industry which received this measure of protection under any other Act would have to be inquired into. I hope that in the Committee stage we shall not contract the provisions of the Bill. What we want to get at are broad principles. Those who support the Free Trade view and those who support the view held on these benches are both equally interested in clarifying the position so that in our controversies we shall know where we stand because the facts will be on a sure and ascertained basis. That being so, we do not want to have the information only from one particular little group of industries and to leave out particulars from other industries. What we want to know is, broadly speaking, whether the principle of safeguarding has done or can do anything for unemployment. Anything that can throw light on the matter from any other aspect of the question is all to the good. Therefore, it is very pleasing to find from the benches opposite and from the Treasury Bench a consensus of opinion that we do want to get at the facts.

Although there are certain questions which require to be considered and clarified in the Committee stage, they are not many. I hope that the Bill may have an easy passage and become law at the earliest possible date. It is a great pity that we have not had the desired information during the last three or four years. It would have been of enormous advantage in our discussions and would have been helpful to everybody in forming an opinion one way or another if we had had a reliable basis to go on. My hon. and gallant Friend in moving the Second Reading referred to the glove industry. In that industry there is not one federation only which produces figures, but there are two trade organisations, one dealing with the fabric glove side of the industry and the other covering both leather and fabric gloves. The figures that they arrive at are by no means identical, in some respects they are contradictory. That shows the absolute necessity if we are to have any reliable figures that they should be collected by the Board of Trade under powers given by this House and, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, they should be compulsory. That is absolutely essential. I welcome the reception the Bill has received and I hope that we shall find the same unanimity in trying to get the measure through further stages and on to the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.


I do not propose to say anything in opposition to the Second Reading, but in view of one or two arguments which have been advanced, I should like to point out that it must not be understood that any increase of employment shown by such figures as may be obtained is any evidence that it is additional employment to the total employment of the country. No person who advocates the principle of Free Trade has ever suggested that you cannot by a heavy Duty improve the conditions of that particular trade. What we have always maintained is that the advantage obtained by that trade has to be offset by the disadvantage to the whole body of users in the community, and I enter a caveat if it is taken for granted that additional figures in safeguarded industries are a proof that it is additional to the total employment of the country. That, however, is no reason why we should oppose the Second Reading, and as one who has always taken a keen interest in this great public issue I say that we cannot have too much reliable information.

The main difficulty that I see is the difficulty of collecting accurate information. You are asking a body of persons, which will not merely include large responsible firms but a large number of small producers, to supply the information. You do not ask only great firms, with officials and clerks and accountants, who can be relied upon without any bias whatever to give perfectly clear and accurate figures. I am not quite sure, unless you have clear regulations and are sure that you have covered the whole industry, how far these figures when collected can really be relied upon. The Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out one essential difficulty and the greatest drawback to a suggestion of this kind, and that is the case of a firm that is producing in its factories goods which are protected and goods which are not protected. You have a scale of duties in the hardware trade, in the cutlery trade, in the silk trade and in the artificial silk trade, which have wide ramifications.

If there is any question of an extension of safeguarded industries or further articles to be safeguarded, which would enter into the production of a factory producing on a large scale, then I have no hesitation in saying that I doubt whether the return would be of any value in forming an accurate opinion as to the actual amount of employment that was being used on the production of those particular goods where the firm in question was producing a variety of goods of which safeguarded goods were only a part. I must enter a caveat against the underlying fallacy of hon. Members above the Gangway that such figures as may be obtained in regard to safeguarded industries is any evidence that it is additional employment to the total employment of the country. I do want the House to have at least that caveat entered in considering the Bill. But I shall offer no opposition to the Second Reading. If this information can be obtained reliably and without undue expense, I think it would be well worth having.


I was very glad to hear the speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken. Thoughts like his were running through my mind in looking at the Bill, and particularly in looking at the backing of the Bill. When I think of what I at least believe to be the fiscal views of the majority of those whose names are on the back of the Bill I look at this tiny and very innocent looking Bill with a certain amount of wonder as to how the information would be obtained accurately and for what purpose it was required. I hope that in Committee the Bill will be so tightened up that there will be no possibility of information being put on record that carries anything of a wrong idea or is possible of any wrong interpretation. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has agreed to accept the Bill, and is willing to see it go further. I hope that although the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has received instructions along that line from his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, those who are backing the Bill will not think that it is any sign of weakness or is due to the fact that at Question Time the hon. Members who have to-day so persuasively and in such an urbane manner produced reasons for the Bill, think that the President of the Board of Trade is afraid of the rather heated remarks and pointed questions put to him on fiscal matters.

I can assure them that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, although perhaps he does not carry the weight or the inches of some hon. Members, has no lack of courage. They need not think, therefore, that agreement to the passage of the Bill is due to any fear on my right hon. Friend's part. I hope that when the Bill becomes law and these facts are collected, there will be a cessation of the heat that is sometimes engendered at Question Time on fiscal questions. As the Bill is welcomed on all sides of the House, per- haps I may be allowed to say that you, Mr. Speaker, will not be indisposed to welcome relief from the responsibility of sometimes wishing to intervene in order to protect my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade from the heat and verbal fiery darts of the hon. Members who to-day have been so very reasonable and persuasive in putting forward the claims of this little Bill.


Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I do not propose to offer opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill, but one or two reflections occur to me as a result of these proposals being made by certain hon. Members who sit behind me. For many years past the alleged success of the safeguarded industries has been the staple of Protectionist propaganda, and the country has been advised to go further and to adopt a general system of Protection for the reason that the experiment already made has led to a vast increase of employment in the industries affected without raising prices or in any other way acting with detrimental effect. Now we have the same hon. Members who have used that argument saying that we do not know what the effect has been upon employment in those industries, that there is not now and never has been any reliable information on the subject, and that it is necessary to legislate in order to obtain the actual facts—thereby confessing that all this propaganda hitherto has been resting on a wholly insecure basis and has not been justified. I hope, at all events, that during the interval which must necessarily elapse between the passing of this Bill and the collecting of the information hon. Members will refrain from telling their audiences that there has been such a vast increase of employment in those industries.

Another point occurs to me which has already been suggested. It will be exceedingly difficult to obtain any statistics, even under this Bill, which are reliable. You have in the first place to try to reconstitute what was the state of employment before the Safeguarding Duties came into operation. Most of them came into operation in 1925—that is to say you have to get returns from these trades of what was the state of employment in 1924, a very difficult thing to do. Some firms may have disappeared altogether even though safeguarded. All kinds of changes may have taken place, and, while you may get full particulars of those employed to-day, you may have very much smaller figures given as regards seven years ago. Then how far are you going to collect material with regard to accessory trades? The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) gave instances of people engaged in the by-ways of the motor industry, making accessories and products at several removes from the main factory in which the motor is produced. Are you going to trace out all the leather workers, cabinet makers, scientific instrument makers and others engaged in making products some of which in course of time will be used for motor cars, and some of which may be used for other and unprotected industries? Will you succeed in distinguishing between the people engaged in those trades and the people engaged in similar analogous trades? If you can succeed in those cases now will you be able to trace back what was done in those industries in 1924 and so arrive at a just comparison?

Then how many fresh forms will have to be filled up by harassed manufacturers? Hon. Members on the Conservative Benches protest against bureaucracy and the increase of officials and the evil of requiring manufacturers to divert their attention from the arduous duties of their own business, in order to fill up the increasing number of statistical tables required by Acts of Parliament. Yet here they are proposing to set up a new branch of the Board of Trade with all its officials to try to allocate what are the industries concerned, how far you are to pursue their various ramifications, how you are to get the information of 1924, how many manufacturers and home workers these forms will have to be sent to, and how you are to enforce the return of those forms? This is bureaucracy and interference in excelsis proposed by Conservative Members. Let them take the responsibility for the grumbling and anger which will ensue when all these various industries receive these floods of new statistical forms at their instigation. Of course, these safeguarded industries will have brought this upon themselves. It is they who have clamoured for the hand of the State to be applied to them, it is they who have invited the interference of Parliament, the control of bureaucracy, and it is they therefore who must share the responsibility for the result.

Lastly, it was said by one of the hon. Members supporting the Bill that what we wanted to get was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I quite agree, but whether we shall get the truth, for the reasons I have mentioned, I have some doubt. That we shall get the whole truth, I am certain will not be the case, because all that will be shown will be chat in particular industries, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedford (Mr. Gray) has said, a comparison will be made in the number of persons employed before and after certain duties were imposed, but there is no statistical investigation that can be made which will show the numbers who are thrown out of work in other industries through the stoppage of export trade, which is the inevitable result of the stoppage of the import trade, and there is no estimate suggested by this Bill which would indicate the burden placed upon the community by an increase of prices above what they would otherwise be.

I should very much like to see an impartial statistical investigation into the effects of Protection in all these industries, comparing the prices charged in these industries with what those prices would have been if there had been no duties, that is to say, taking into account the fall of prices in other industries and the prices of raw materials. That is not proposed by this Bill, and I can imagine that the title of the Bill would exclude any Clause being inserted to include that, but I wish the Board of Trade could some day see its way to making a statistical investigation into this matter of prices in order to trace what the effect has really been—


On a point of Order. Is the right hon. Member permitted to go into a general discussion of prices?


I fancy the right hon. Gentleman was stating things that might be brought into the Bill, but I think he was going a little too far.


I was only animadverting on the observation of my hon. Friend that we were likely to get the whole truth. I suggest that we certainly shall not, and in acceding to this Bill it must not be supposed that those who are Free Traders would for a moment agree that if and when a certain increase in employment is shown to have existed in certain industries, that is a whole statement of the case.

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