§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
I beg to move,That, in view of the approaching; winter and the distress prevailing in the country, this House regrets the failure of the Government to take any effective steps to deal with the currency and exchange situation and the development of international trade, and to produce any plans for dealing with the position of those for whom normal employment is not available or with the problem of high rents now pressing upon a large proportion of the population.This Motion is one of censure upon the Government for its complete failure to do anything to deal with four very urgent matters which at present face the country. First of all, the question of currency and exchange; secondly, the question of international trade; thirdly, the maintenance of the unemployed; and, fourthly, the scandal of high rents. We are now at the end of a five weeks' Session which was called for the purpose of dealing with urgent matters. There have been, I understand, from all parts of the House expressions of regret that the Government have not acted more rapidly in many 1886 matters, and I hope all those Members who are discontented with the progress that the Government have made will find their way into the Lobby with us on this Motion. I understand the Prime Minister has invited them to do so if they argil distressed upon the iron and steel situation in particular.
I do not propose to deal with any matters which would come within what might be called the long-term programme of the Government. I want to try to concentrate the few remarks that I have to make upon the immediate and urgent problems which in our view should be dealt with before the House reassembles in February. The House is about to be adjourned and, in the time that would elapse before it comes together again, as far as we can see the situation at present, millions of the unemployed and their dependants, and all the lower-paid workers, will have to suffer intense hardships and miseries through the winter months.
It is important to examine for a moment how these five weeks have been used which the Government have had at their disposal. First of all, they have dealt with a number of matters which were wholly unrelated to the economic 1887 crisis. I am not complaining. They were matters which had to be dealt with and which we supported and expedited as far as we could—the Statute of Westminster, the India Debate and the India Pay Bill—but a good deal of time has been occupied by the internal dissensions in the National party over those matters. For the rest, the programme which they have attempted to bring forward to deal with this situation is the Abnormal Importations Orders and the Greengrocery Bill, which has just received the final assent of the House. We have had a two days' Debate upon the administration of unemployment which was marked by the complete lack of interest of the Government supporters except upon one point, the disablement pensions, on which the House was unanimously against the Government. In spite of that, as far as one can see, no steps are to be taken to remedy the position.
The Government, I understand, in their own opinion, were elected to take rapid action with a firm hand to save the pound. It was said on many platforms that if this Government were not returned the pound might fall to 10s. by Christmas—it has reached 13s. 6d. so far —and the excuse for the economies which were brought forward by the previous National Government, at the cost of many people who could not afford them, was that by so doing the pound would be kept at its true and proper value. We have no idea how long the pound is likely to survive as it is now or even whether the Government have any policy whatever for dealing with the present financial situation; nor do we know what effect the fall in the value of the pound has had upon the trade balance or the balance of payments which this country makes and receives during the year.
These are all vital questions and questions upon which the credit of this country in the world is bound to depend. We are largely dependent for our trade internationally and for our financial business upon confidence being created both in this country and abroad, and, unless the Government can make some constructive proposals to deal with the present situation, or at least disclose their mind upon the matter, confidence will become less and less, and the uncertainty con- 1888 cerning the situation will grow greater and greater. One of the most striking things about the return of the National Government was the complete failure of the Government to restore in any way whatever confidence in the financial position. Even those of us who sit on these benches had thought that there would be some psychological reaction to the return of the Government with such a vast majority, but from what one can gather from talking with people in the City of London the state of uncertainty and lack of confidence is as great now as it ever has been during this autumn. Apparently the cure which the Government have in mind is merely to tinker with the situation by Acts such as the Greengrocery Bill. The Lord President of the Council, speaking at Aberdeen on the 4th December, on the position of the pound and the exchange, said:We are taking steps to deal with it. You have seen yourselves what has been done, and I hope that the steps which have been taken may correct in the immediate future what certainly has been a growing peril, not only to the handicrafts of our own people, but also to those foreign exchanges which need such careful nursing at the present time.I should like to ask the Lord President of the Council if he were here whether he really intends to suggest to the country that these two Measures which have been passed are such as to correct the foreign exchanges which are suffering so at the present time. If one looks to see what the opinion is in the City as regards the present position of the trade balance and balance of payments, one finds the following—I quote from the "Monthly Review of Barclays Bank" for December, which is not a particularly Bolshevist concern, I understand:The worsening of the situation, however, is attributable only to a small extent to merchandise trade, as the excess of imports over exports for the first ten months of 1931 at £323,000,000 was little more than £10,000,000 greater than in the same period of last year. In fact, if movements of bullion and specie be included, the position is more favourable than a year ago, the adverse balance for January to October in the current year being only £307,000,000 in contrast with £325,000,000 in 1930. The deterioration of the net position has been due largely to a substantial falling off in the invisible receipts, the income derived from shipping as well as from overseas investments having suffered a heavy reduction.*** 1889 I do not know how the Greengrocery Bill is going to help shipping.Moreover, the causes responsible for the contraction of these items have been mainly outside the control of this country and the restoration of the income from these sources to a more normal level is also dependent upon a general improvement in world trade.In those circumstances, which are accurately set out in that extract, surely, it is nothing but mere eyewash to pretend that the measures which the Government have taken so far during this Session are going to do anything to help the balance of exchange between this country and foreign countries.
The problem, as we see it, is an international problem, and these pin-pricks which are being given to foreigners by putting on these small tariffs—small in area—are accentuating the international difficulty and are not going to assist us at all. To start at this period a tariff war, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has done, in our view, has all the drawbacks that are possible without the advantages of a full protective programme. We can understand those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who believe that there should be immediately full Protection—and there are a great many of them we believe in this House—but to take the middle role of merely playing with a Protection policy shows that the Government have no confidence whatever in the effectiveness of a Protection policy for curing the present exchange position in this country. They are merely tinkering with what is admittedly a terribly grave situation. Their efforts to compromise between those who believe in a policy of Free Trade and those who believe in a policy of Protection may arise from a desire to prove that Protection is futile for this country, but, whatever the reason for it, it is calculated in the present circumstances, we believe, to bring upon this country many more troubles, and not to any extent that is appreciable to cure our trade balance or our balance of payments. The Conservative Members, we understand, are equally cross with the Government for the policy that they are pursuing. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] The hon. Member says "Oh." [HON.MEMBERS "No!"] I beg the hon. Member's pardon; he says "No." Perhaps he does not belong to that great 1890 branch of the Conservative party which has its headquarters in Committee Room No. 14. [An HON. MEMBER: "What branch is that?"] We believe that this vacillation between Free Trade and Protection is a vacillation which is going to do very great harm indeed to the international trade of this country.
When one comes to consider what is the policy of the Government as regards the return to the Gold Standard and examines the statements which have been made, such as that made by the Prime Minister at the Mansion House, one can only come to the conclusion that they desire to leave equally open the two paths of either returning or not returning to the Gold Standard. We believe that it is essential if confidence is to be created in this country as a financial centre that some clear Government policy should be announced, in order that the world may know how we intend to try and control our credit and currency. There are, as hon. Members know, two perfectly distinct schools among the financiers of the City of London. One school desires to return as soon as possible to the Gold Standard and the other says that we should never return to it or, at any rate, not for a long period of time, at any cost whatsoever. Until the Government come to the conclusion that they are going to support one or other of those two policies, we believe that the state of uncertainty will continue not only in this country but throughout the world. We believe that it would be fatal to return to the Gold Standard, that we must have a managed currency, managed by the Government and not by a private bank, and that we must try to get Imperial and international agreements on a managed currency, to which as many countries as possible will conform. Let me read a passage from the Midland Bank Review on this point, which appears in their December issue:We are presented in these days with a hitherto unequalled opportunity for wise monetary statesmanship and management; much can be done, if the opportunity is fully seized, to render our own British monetary policy truly and convincingly subservient to the efforts of British industry and trade, that is, to the interests of the British business man and wage earner and all those dependent upon them.We ask the Government to adopt and to follow out some wise monetary policy, 1891 and to declare to the country and to the world what the monetary policy is, in order to remove any doubt. We think that the present policy so far as the bank rate is concerned is entirely unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman will probably say that he has no control over the bank rate. It is exactly that of which we complain. The time is coming, sooner or later, when this Government or its successor will have to take control of the financial and monetary policy of this country, and we believe that even the most reactionary of the hon. Members who sit opposite will survive long enough to see that happen. That will become an absolutely necessary thing if we are to get out of the difficulties of exchange in which we at present find ourselves. It has been said by many financial authorities that the present position as regards the bank rate is essentially unsound and unwise. It is said that we should not attempt to attract short-term money here, as it will only be to our detriment hereafter if we do so. The high bank rate has many other unfortunate incidences besides that. It is running up an enormous bill for the Government itself to pay in interest upon Treasury bills and similar securities.
May I ask the Prime Minister whether he will not, for the sake of this country and the world at large, declare the policy of the Government upon this matter, as to whether it is desirable or not to continue to atempt to attract short-term money from abroad to this country? Perhaps I may be allowed to quote again from the Midland Bank Review, because the chairman of the Midland Bank is a, great authority on finance:Now that sterling is free to find its own level on the basis of current transactions, there is no good reason for attempting to attract foreign capital purchases of sterling; rather the reverse. The old rule of thumb, that when exchanges are low money rates should be high, has no relevance to present conditions. There is, on the other hand, every reason for keeping as low as possible the charges for accommodation to British industry and trade.I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he endorses that policy, or whether he believes that the persons who are at present in control of the Bank of England should be allowed to continue with a policy which so many people be- 1892 lieve to be of very great detriment to this country at the present time.
Let me deal with the exchange position. There are Treasury regulations under the Gold Standard Act of last September which have been issued and which have been described, I think, in the City of London as the most loosely drafted document that has ever been sent there. It is a document which clearly does not lay down any regulation that is sufficient to control effectively exchange operations. It is a compromise between those who see the necessity for control and those who resist it to the utmost, and it has resulted, as most compromises do, in producing a document which has the evils of both systems. In our submission, you should either leave the exchange position free so that merchants may enter into forward contracts, and may be able to arrange payments under those contracts, or you should have an effective control. At the present time it is perfectly well known that where sales, for instance, are made for foreign currency, that money remains abroad. It may be, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us, that that money which remains abroad at the present time is the money that is causing the damage to the exchange position of the pound.
There was a conference recently at Prague dealing with the exchange position under the Bank of International Settlement, and at that conference the greatest stress was laid on the advantage of negotiating clearing agreements between central banks of countries which had exchange restrictions. So far as I can ascertain, no such agreements or clearing arrangements have been made between our central bank and any other bank, although many have been made on the Continent between continental countries. We should like to know whether the Government intend either to expedite or to authorise such exchange arrangements being made. They are of very vital importance to international trade, because by reason of the clearing arrangements, for instance, between Austria and Hungary at the present time a very large amount of modified barter is going on, and, instead of the currencies leaving either country, they are retained in the same country for the purpose of purchasing goods for export to other coun- 1893 tries. That is not only having the effect of regulating and diminishing the amount of movement in the exchange, but it is also finding a market for Austrian and Hungarian manufacturers and producers of raw material in the other countries, and I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether anything of that sort is being done as regards our control of exchange conditions in this country? It has been stated, in an article dealing with this problem, in words which I cannot improve upon, thatDivided as it is into 27 Customs areas Europe to-day looks like destroying its own economic existence by cutting trade relations in a despairing effort to maintain the stability of currenciesand the reaction between efforts such as the Government are making here to maintain the stability of the currency and international trade, which is killed by doing that very thing, is one to which, as far as we can make out, the Government are paying no attention. The situation, as far as we can see, is getting desperate as regards international trade, and no one knows, apparently, the direction in which the Government are heading It is a problem which cannot be dealt with nationally. We have urged upon the Government time and again that they should try to tackle this international problem in an international way, but whether by conferences or, as the first step, by arrangements such as were suggested at Prague, is naturally a matter which they will have to determine. Apparently, at the moment, the matter is being left entirely to take care of itself.
The Prime Minister told us on a former occasion that this country must first of all see that the ground was fully explored, it was no good rushing into international conferences. Since that date, which is now nearly a month ago, matters have grown very much graver and far worse, and we believe that, unless this country and other countries act quickly, the explorers who are trying to find a way through the difficulties will find that there has been such an earthquake that no way through can be found. We urge the Government to attempt to find some way of encouraging international trade at the present moment, because, as far as the traders of this country are concerned, everything is 1894 being held up by uncertainty. Even if the policy were a bad one, it would be better than uncertainty, because at least it would enable traders and others to know what was going to happen.
Before passing to the question of unemployment, may I say one more word upon the question of international trade I The clog of international trade at the present moment arises largely out of the lack of means of exchange. Owing to the various currency positions in the different countries, it has become almost impossible to exchange commodities. There is no lack either of the desire to exchange or of the commodities to be exchanged, and until some means of regulating international exchange is found which will take the place of the Gold Standard, which has ceased to operate altogether, we believe that there must be some return to barter, either direct or in the modified form suggested at Prague Again, we see no signs of any attempt by the Government to start out on a system of barter, either direct or modified, and yet there are large private trading companies in this country which have already started to do it for themselves. Some of the larger firms have found it absolutely necessary, in order to carry on their business, to adopt methods of barter, and we believe that it is the duty of the Government to try to organise these methods of barter through import or export hoards, or whatever means they might adopt, in order that, while the exchange and currency position is being explored and determined internationally, there may, at least, be some revival of international trade, upon which we so largely depend.
I will now turn to the third question in the Motion, that is, the question of unemployment. The facts as regards unemployment, of course, are perfectly clear. There are some 6,000,000 unemployed and their dependants who have got to live through this winter on unemployment benefit, and there are probably another 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 who have got to live through the winter on public assistance. The question is, how are those people to live in existing circumstances? The cuts in unemployment benefit were in themselves bad enough, but they have had this most disastrous effect. They have resulted, in many cases, in a reduction of the scales of public assistance. Many 1895 of the unemployed who, formerly, were able to get extra assistance from the public assistance committees, now find that the public assistance committees have imposed an artificial limit upon the amount which they will give, the artificial limit being the amount of unemployment benefit. Some Members of the House, perhaps, may not realise how greatly the unemployed have had to rely on public assistance in the past, and what is the effect of the cut in benefits.
Let me give the House one or two figures which I have obtained from Bristol. Bristol is in the fortunate position at the moment, in spite of having a strong Conservative council, that the public assistance committee have refused to reduce the public assistance scales down to the unemployment benefit scale. In the week ending 29th November, 1930, there were 1,852 persons in Bristol on unemployment benefit who had to get additional assistance from the public assistance authority. In the corresponding week of the present year that number had risen to 5,064 persons. That is to say, the effect of the cut in the unemployment benefit had been to raise the number of persons who are destitute and yet receiving unemployment benefit in Bristol from 1,852 to 5,064. That illustrates the position where the public assistance committees are prepared to give additional benefit. If the right hon. Gentleman will envisage one of the many cases where the public assistance committees now refuse to give additional payments to persons in receipt of unemployment benefit, he will see from these figures that in such a town some 3,000 persons would be left destitute on the unemployment benefit.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I am rather surprised that the Prime Minister should rise in his place and ask whether the Government are responsible for people in this country being left destitute.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I asked whether the Government are responsible for this policy of the local assistance committees?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Certainly the Government are responsible. In my submission, any Government, knowing this state of affairs to exist, that did not at once introduce legislation to cure it, would carry the heaviest responsibility. Right hon. Gentlemen apposite laugh. I can assure them that the 5,000 people destitute in Bristol are not laughing. The figures which I have given are figures for 28th November, 1931, when the full effect of the transitional benefit regulations had not come into force, or the full effect of the Anomalies Act, as administered, as regards married women. The seriousness of the situation which is so disclosed is, that in the case of those public assistance committees—and there are many of them; in fact, I think that they are probably a majority—who have taken the cue from the Government s economy proposals that they should not assist persons who are getting the reduced unemployment benefit, there is no hope whatsoever for the unemployed person who is destitute.
The Prime Minister has asked whether the Government are responsible. The Government were responsible for the unemployment cuts. The right hon. Gentleman sees the position. Is he still trying to shelter the Government behind what might or might not have happened last September? Is he still unwilling to accept responsibility for what are the hard facts of the present moment, however they may have occurred? We do not propose, and we do not desire, to enter into any historical arguments. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite seem to be amused. I can assure them that I am not amused in saying that, and I should welcome it if their constituents were now sitting in the Gallery of this House to observe the levity of their behaviour. The effect of these cuts both in public assistance and in unemployment benefit is, we believe, to leave some millions of people in a state of starvation for the, coming, winter, and we believe that that responsibility, however it arises, rests upon the Government. A Government which, in those circum, stances, can adjourn Parliament without taking some power to alleviate that distress in some way or another, is not doing its duty to the country.
1897 There is one other feature of this unemployment benefit which I want to mention. I cannot mention them all, because if I did I should occupy the time of the House far too long. But there is one other feature. The public assistance committees have attempted to obtain directions as to what allowances they may make in arriving at the amount of money which is to be given both in cases of transitional benefit and in ordinary cases of outdoor relief. The Poor Law Act, 1930, leaves the matter in doubt. Looking at the Act as best I can, I believe that they are not allowed to neglect in their calculations anything except the National Health Insurance and friendly societies' benefits as laid down in the Act itself, but there are public assistance authorities who are risking acting illegally because the incidence of the provisions is so hard that they refuse to put them into operation.
On Friday last I was talking to a number of members of the public, assistance committee in Reading, and there I was told that, though they believe it to be illegal, they are making, in cases of transitional benefit, a small allowance in the case of rent up to 1s. or 2s., half pensions and the first 5s. of the wife's earnings. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour will say that those are illegal deductions, that they must be taken into account, and yet you will find all over the country public assistance committees of every political complexion saying that these provisions are so hard that they will not take them into account. Others say that they are bound to take them into account; they dare not do anything else. The Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour have been asked to issue definite regulations stating what may and what may not be taken into account in dealing with this matter. They cannot shield themselves behind the law as it exists. If hon. Members opposite believe, as they do quite clearly from the recent Debate, that pensions in regard to disablement should not be taken into account, the right hon. Gentleman can pass an agreed Bill through this House in half-an-hour. No one will oppose it. If he feels that he cannot make regulations, there is plenty of time still on Friday morning to pass a short Bill to clarify the position. If the Government 1898 do not propose to take that course it is because they are so callous that they do not care about the position of a disabled ex-service man.
Take another glaring anomaly. There is a provision in the Poor Law Act of 1930 that as regards national health insurance the first 7s. 6d. must be left out of account in the case of a person applying for outdoor relief. What about his wife? An answer was given by the Minister of Labour the other day, a perfectly correct answer, that as regards the wife you cannot consider it; that you have to consider it all to be the earnings of the husband. What possible reason can there be for a man who is getting national health insurance benefit to get this allowance because he is the head of the house, but when the wife is getting it she is not to have the allowance? That is one of the anomalies which might be corrected in a short Bill dealing with this matter. What is fundamentally wrong and really doing the damage is the fact that public assistance committees are dealing with unemployment benefit as a limitation on their powers. That has never been done before, and it is the result of the Government's economy policy.
Unless something serious is done by the Government to put these matters right before the House adjourns, we are going to find during the coming winter hundreds of thousands of people reduced to sickness. Their health will be seriously affected. That is not economy, because it will put a vast expenditure on the State to try and regain the health which these people will lose through a winter of unemployment and misery. The unemployed this winter will probably be in a worse position than ever before. You have a time of rising prices. They are already rising as regards essential food products. They cannot borrow from their neighbours. Anyone who has been in the great towns of this country where the unemployed live know that their most generous friend is their next-door neighbour. In thousands of cases they have had the help of a shilling or two, or a few pence from day to day, from neighbours. That possibility has now gone; the neighbour has nothing. The unemployed have sold their possessions; there is not a thing left to pawn. In the winter their expenditure is necessarily higher 1899 than in the summer, because they have to get a little coal and light, and, therefore, they will be in a far worse position than ever before.
I come to the last of the subjects dealt with in the Motion—the question of rents. Everyone will agree that it is the duty of the Government to see that all individuals have some form of roof over their heads during the winter. That is a proposition with which I presume no one will disagree. They will also agree that there is an admitted shortage of houses at the present time. If you look at the last figures of the London County Council you will find that there is a total deficiency in Greater London of 94,800 houses. It has been suggested by one hon. Member in reply to an hon. Member for one of the Glasgow Divisions that public assistance committees are bound to find accommodation for persons who are turned out of their houses. How are the public assistance committees to find accommodation? Are they to start a programme of building workhouses, because at the present moment there is no accommodation available for the people who are receiving outdoor relief No provision is made for this in the system of public assistance.
I am not going to deal with the large problem of slum dwellings, because in present conditions a slum dwelling is better than the open street; and for many people in the coming winter it will mean that the open street is the place where they will have to spend the night. Rents, as regards controlled houses, have in all cases gone up the full 40 per cent., and as regards decontrolled houses there has been an average increase of from 50 to 100 per cent, over pre-War rents. There is also the question of rates, which have to be borne by the tenant in many cases. The policy of the Government as regards cuts will cause a much higher incidence of local taxation, and that is going to cause a rise in rates. The prospect, therefore, is not only one of a great rise in decontrolled and controlled house rents, but of a rise in rates as well. As houses become decontrolled, as people are evicted for non-payment of rent, up go the rents again of the decontrolled houses. And not only is it in houses, but in many cases the profiteering in sub-letting rooms and tenements 1900 is far worse than in houses. These are facts. There is such a shortage of houses that no economic law can bring rents down. That is the proposition with which the Government are faced at the moment.
I ask those hon. Members who have studied the question of rents, how is it possible for an unemployed man with a cut in his benefit to pay the rents that are ruling in the district where he has to live? It has been shown over and over again, day after day in the Press, that these people cannot pay these rents. They are accumulating arrears. They are brought before the courts, and an order is made for them to pay off the arrears, which again acts as an extra rent in itself. Public assistance committees, as regards the ordinary Poor Law relief cases all over the country, are making a contribution to rents. Why ratepayers should make a contribution to these high rents in order that people who have not enough money to live may give an adequate rent to the landlord, I do not know. What is the alternative if rents are not paid? What are these people to do? If they are evicted from their house, where are they to go? There is no other accommodation. They must crowd into the slums; and in order to reduce expenditure in rent many of them club together and occupy a single house. There is a good example of this to-day in Kennington. A house which before the War was let at £1 per week rent, is now occupied by 77 inhabitants who pay in the aggregate a week rent. One family of eight persons occupies two rooms, paying 27s. per week. rent. How on earth are people to live and pay these rents at the same time?
Let me give another illustration. These cases are not picked out because they are very bad—[Interruption.] If hon. Members think they are, I can give them many which are worse. Let me give the case of an unemployed man living at Gravesend with a wife and two children. He gets 29s. 3d. unemployment pay. His rent is 22s., leaving 7s. 3d. for himself, his wife and two children to live upon. How is it possible? But what is he to do? If he does not pay his rent he is turned out; and where is he to go? It is no good saying that he should find a cheaper place, there, are none; and that 1901 is why the problem has arisen, were plenty of houses there would be no problem. A rent of 22s. a week could never be demanded for that house if there were plenty of houses; it would be 5s. or 10s. per week. Let me give another instance of this profiteering. It is the case of four houses at Hemel Hempstead which before the War, in 1914, were let at Cs., 3s. 5d., 4s. 6d., and 3s. 6d,; fair rents. Before they were decontrolled the rent had gone up 40 per cent., but now that they are decontrolled the 6s. house is let for 15s., the 3s. 5d. for 9s., the 4s. 6d. for 12s. 6d., and the 3s. 6d. for 12s. 6d. And in all four cases the persons occupying them are in receipt of outdoor relief from the public assistance committee, which is paying the money for the rents. Surely hon. Members do not think that that is a proper state of affairs.
If it is necessary to have economy one of the easiest ways in which to economise is to let the public assistance committee pay less in rent in keeping these people who are in receipt of outdoor relief. I suggest to the Prime Minister that one thing which is happening as a result of all this is an increase of slums, where movement is taking place at all, to the detriment of the health of those who are moved, and that a terrible bill is being run up against the country to get them back again into health. The idea of allowing this profiteering to go on in rents, whether by a tenant sub-letting or by a landlord, is wholly and absolutely wrong at the present time. It is indeed wrong altogether, but at the moment when cuts have been made why should not the landlord have a cut as well? What possible justification is there for reducing the benefit of unemployed men and saying that they are still to pay an exorbitant rent? That surely is the greatest waste possible.
I am sure that in his heart the Prime Minister agrees with every word that I am saying. If he does, I ask him to make some effort before this winter to introduce emergency legislation, because it is a matter of the gravest importance to the people who have to live in these houses that they should be given some prospect of having a roof to cover their heads. There has either to be a reduction in 1902 rents or an increase in the money they receive. That is the only way in which they can have enough money left over to prevent them from coming to starvation. We believe that the proper course is either to bring all these houses back into control or else to set up some court or some means of determining what is a fair rent for these people to pay for houses and tenements. The extent to which this has gone on is well illustrated by the figures which have been got out for Glasgow. I do not want to encroach on my hon. Friend's preserve of Glasgow, but there the rent of pre-War houses, mainly working-class houses, has since 1921 gone up by £1,250,000 sterling.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I am afraid that I do not know, nor, with great respect, does it matter to the figures which I am giving. The point is that there has been this enormous increase in the amount payable as rent in the years from 1921 to 1931, and when you have a reduced power to pay rents—
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The calculation is not mine. The calculation was made by one of the officials in Glasgow and has been published and is accessible to anyone who desires it.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will give way I will answer. It does not include rates. That is the answer to the question, and it is perfectly true, because it was I who made the statement here on the authority of the City Assessor of Glasgow, Mr. Walker.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I am glad to have the statement which I have already made confirmed by the hon. Member. Hon. Members who are familiar with Scotland —I am not—will know that as a rule in the ease of small houses of this type the 1903 rates are paid by the occupier and not form part of the rent.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
If there are very few, then the £1,250,000 must represent a still greater increase. I have given that figure in order to illustrate the vast sums by which rents have been increased. If any right hon. or Member will go into the areas in his own constituency, if it is an urban constituency, and will inquire what are the rents that are now being charged for houses and tenements and compare them with pre-War rents, he cannot fail to agree with the proposition that there has been from 50 to 100 per cent. increase at least in the case of houses which have become decontrolled. [Interruption.]
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I can appreciate that some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen believe that the landlord is so sacred and so holy a person that, whatever ill befalls the country, landlords should preserve their rights. I am not disposed to argue with them, but I am disposed to argue with hon. Members who justify the profiteering which is taking place both by landlords and by tenants—by tenants in many cases—in regard to housing accommodation, of which there is an artificial shortage due to the failure of the country to supply a sufficient number of houses for the population. I do not believe that any hon. Member would really justify the cases which I have given as instances, or the hundreds of thousands of similar cases throughout the country.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The hon. Member has his view as to what it is due to, but I am not concerned with what it is due to so much as with the question how the people who have to live in these houses are going to live through this winter. That is the problem. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that by doing away with all control it is going to be made easier for these people to live, no doubt he will recommend that action. I am concerned that the Government should do something 1904 in order to alleviate their position. No doubt the hon. Member will press his views on the Government emphatically, as I press mine on the Government.
Let me sum up for one moment. In our view the Government have taken no steps in this Session to reassure either the country or the world as to what their monetary policy is to be. We believe that it is essential, as a first step towards confidence being regained in the City and in the finances of this country, that the Government should show that they are determined to take control of the financial position and exercise that control in a wise monetary policy. We believe that the action which they have taken has done nothing except to aggravate the position. These abnormal greengrocery Bills merely aggravate the position between us and other countries without bringing any benefit of a substantial nature. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman who is always laughing because these matters are so serious, is one of those who would like to see a full Protectionist policy. We can appreciate that point of view. Whatever its drawbacks may be it can be said that it will have an immediate reaction on trade in this country. The point of view that we cannot appreciate is that of people who fiddle about with Protection, who do just enough of it to make this country unpopular abroad without bringing any benefits in its train at all. As regards the position of the unemployed and the poorly paid wage earners, we say that as far as we can follow the policy, or lack of policy, of the Government, they treat these matters as unimportant incidents of the trade situation, that they are not prepared in the period that must come before there is any revival in trade whatever, to take any steps to see that these people are in a, position to live without starvation during the coming winter.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I can congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman far having performed a duty, and, in the performance of that duty, for having taken a very much wider range of view than is encompassed in this Motion. In one of the eloquent sentences that he used to describe the condition of people the hon. and learned Gentleman was not confining himself to what has happened during the last five weeks, but as I sat 1905 and listened to him telling about the inadequacy of unemployment pay, telling how even when unemployment pay was uncut recipients had to go to the Poor Law authorities, I wondered whether the hon. and learned Gentleman was under the impression that he and his friends have been out of office for the last generation.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I wish that when right hon. and hon. Members go and make these surveys instead of trying to make this Government responsible for what has happened, they would see the advantage, at a time like this, of themselves accepting responsibility with us and helping us to devise schemes which will receive the unanimous approval of the House of Commons, in order to remove the difficulty. But they take the simpler and easier position of irresponsibility. So far as we are concerned, we will go on with ours. The hon. and learned Member spoke for over half-an-hour upon the neglect of the Government to deal with currency and money. Why was it that in this Resolution, when it was brought before me first of all and appeared on the Paper, there was no mention of that at all? For over half of his speech the hon. and learned Member spoke upon a subject which was either not at all present to the minds of those responsible for drafting this Resolution, or was considered to be of so little importance that it was not even mentioned in the original draft.
I listened with great care to what the hon. and learned Gentleman was saying, hoping to get some sort of lead, some sort of suggestion from him. One thing that he proposed he would not carry out if he was here, and certainly the Government will not carry it out. His proposal was that in order to give some confidence to the City the Government should now declare that it is not going to base sterling again upon gold, and that it should make an immediate declaration of what the value of sterling is going to be either as a controlled or as a gold basis currency. We have tried to get advice. It 1906 is not because there has been no attempt, and a very continuing attempt, continuing up to this very morning, to discover opinion, the very best opinion in that respect. The hon. and learned Gentleman confessed that the first difficulty is that you cannot get two or three men gathered together holding the same views upon these subjects. But there is no division of opinion upon this—that to declare here and now the permanent value of sterling, with the conditions which play upon sterling, to declare it without any settlement of those international situations which control the exchange value of sterling—for this Government to declare under these unknown and uncertain conditions what sterling value is to he, is madness, is folly, and gives no sense of security. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman holds that view. Then why did he make his criticism?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I did not make that criticism. The criticism which I made was that the Government ought to declare the policy which they are following in regard to the monetary system.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is exactly what I say. How could the Government declare its policy without saying anything about sterling. But I am more concerned with the Motion itself and the opportunity which it gives the Government of declaring the position in which it is, up to now, at the end of the first five weeks of its office. I understand that a number of Members wish to have a discussion on iron and steel, and that part of the time available will be devoted to such a discussion. That discussion will be replied to by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] To-night—now—in the course of this Debate.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Can the Prime Minister tell us on what part of this Motion of Censure the discussion on iron and steel will take place?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Of course, it is for Mr. Speaker to rule it out of order if it is out of order, but the Motion is so drafted as to include everything relating to normal employment and the 1907 general social condition of the country. That involves the condition of trade and the condition of trade involves the condition of the iron and steel industry.
§ Mr. MAXTON
On a point of Order. While I recognise the very wide terms in which this Motion of Censure is drawn, and while I welcome those wide terms, I want to ask your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether, on a Motion of Censure drawn in such wide terms as these, it is in order to have a discussion, at any period while this Motion is before the House, on the state of a particular industry and to allot a part of the time of the House devoted to this Motion to one particular issue which is a small issue—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—that is small, with regard to the general Motion which is on the Paper.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have had some difficulty with this Motion, but I have come to the conclusion that that part of it which says:and to produce any plans for dealing with the position of those for whom normal employment is not available,would cover almost every industry in the country. Holding that view, I must allow discussion on particular industries.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Then regarding the other points which are specifically mentioned in this Motion, namely rents, currency, unemployment, during to-day and to-morrow the Ministers responsible for the Departments dealing with those subjects will be present, and will be prepared to intervene and give whatever information on details the House requires from them. That will probably be mainly to-morrow. I think that that is far better than for me to attempt to get a number of briefs from the Departments and to pretend to make a speech upon those briefs. What I would like to do would be, in a general way, to state the position of the Government regarding the various points that have been raised.
Every critic, if he is an honest critic and if he goes to his constituents, whether they are employed or unemployed and addresses them upon the situation in which this House of Commons finds itself, must preface every remark he makes and every criticism he utters with 1908 this overruling fact—that this Government was elected to deal with a, crisis, that the crisis was a financial one, and that in the control especially of our expenditure, the Government is not free altogether to follow the dictates of its heart. It has to balance its accounts. Some hon. Members, in that genial humour of human sympathy, such as was very well illustrated by some of the more irresponsible parts of the speech to which we have just listened, go down to their constituents and forget the historical facts, forget the existing facts, forget the existing conditions and do not warn their hearers that the Government, and the party opposite if they happened to be the Government here now, must, whether they like it or not, look at every sixpence they spend and spend it under the most rigid conditions. The hon. and learned Member was like the patron of a tailor who goes to the tailor with a short web and then when he gets a skimpy coat blames his tailor instead of himself. If there is any blame for this, no one party in this House is responsible. Every party that has been responsible for government in this country for the last 20 years shares the responsibility.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The cheering is not a matter of any importance. It is the fact, and everyone here knows that what I have said is true. There is another condition which honest critics are bound to impress upon the public. It is that our problem is not only national. We have a national problem, and we have to deal with that problem, but our problem is not only national. It is international, and, when one talks of international trade, one cannot do so adequately without recognising and emphasising the fact to one's listeners that the international trade of this country at the present moment suffers, not on account of our national policy, but on account of the breakdown of the distributing machinery of the whole world. It is the problem of the world. Low prices, especially of the primary products, agricultural and otherwise, have set up an economic condition which has made the volume of world trade shrink and shrink and shrink. Our special difficulty is, mainly at any rate, or very largely, owing to the fact that, strive as hard as we 1909 can, we can only get our share of that shrunken trade. Therefore, the enlightened policy of any Government is to increase the volume of that trade and then do our best to get a fair share of the increased volume. We continue to do that work and that is the work for which we were elected.
I want to make perfectly clear what the mandate was which we asked for and got. The mandate which we asked for and got is a mandate to continue that struggle to revive world trade and to secure our just share of it, using every resource at our command, and using them with due consideration and after estimating the possible consequences and effects. Let me remind the House of the appeal which was made in the country by myself and taken up by the other parties forming the National Government. I will only quote one sentence.The Government must therefore be free to consider every proposal likely to help, such as tariffs, expansion of exports, contraction of imports, commercial treaties and mutual economic arrangements with the Dominions.That is what we asked for. That is what we got. I ventured at Tamworth to make the point quite clear in another form of language. I said:The election will not give instructions to apply, but it will give instructions to examine, in relation to trade problems, if and how we can consider tariffs advantageous.Then my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, speaking at Leeds, said:I am prepared to examine it"—that is the question of tariffs—in the light of all the circumstances and with the utmost care and impartiality.May I trouble the House with another extract, this time from the leading Unionist paper in Scotland. [How. MEMBERS "Which paper?"] I refer to the "Glasgow Herald." The "Glasgow Herald," writing after the Election took place, said:It is not a party mandate at all. Above all, it is not a mandate either for obstructionist Free Trade policy or for the immediate imposition of prohibitive tariffs. There will not improbably be a temptation to those who hold extreme fiscal views to interpret it in relation to their preconceived ideas and to try to commit the Government accordingly, but any attempt along those lines must he sternly resisted by the re- 1910 sponsible leaders. It is their business to keep constantly before them the terms of their mandate, to act in strict accordance with it, and to allow no sectional interest to stampede them into action for which there exists neither warrant nor general agreement.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, the "Daily Herald" would be much too inaccurate for me to quote. As I appealed for a mandate of that kind from the country on the platform, I appeal to-day to this House and to the country to sustain the Government in carrying out that mandate in the letter and the spirit. I know that occasionally one hears expressions of opinion that the Government are not swift enough in their action. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I did not have the benefit of catching the geographical origin of that "hear, hear," but I am quite certain that it must have come from a new Member. I have been in this House now since 1906, with a very brief break, but I have never known a Government that was more rashly swift in its action, because it had to face conditions that were passing from bad to worse and that had to be faced very quickly—I have never known a Government so quick in action as this Government has been. But I would remind especially the new Members of this House, especially those of you who come in with advantages which are now behind us, and who will be reigning here when we are but shadows, that the Government that acts the most swiftly, the Government that acts with the most determination, the Government that is most determined to face effectively those pressing problems which created this National Government, must consider its plans and think them over, taking consequences, actions, and reactions into account, and you must not deny this Government the right to do that. But when that period has elapsed, then we shall be ready to tell you what policy we propose, and that will be done when we come back after the Recess.
I have really very little to say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—I have very little to say on the terms of the Resolution, and the speech which has just been delivered leaves me nothing of any importance to which to reply. We have 1911 dealt with the currency question in various ways. [Interruption.] We are—
§ Mr. McENTEE
On a point of Order. There is an hon. Member behind me who has just used the expression to me, "Lie down, dog." I have, I think, a right to ask you, Sir, whether that is in order. I think I have a right also to ask the hon. Member who used the expression whether he will use it to me outside.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
The expression of which the hon. Member complains did not reach my ears, but, if it was used, evidently it was not Parliamentary.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I used the expression without any reference to the hon. Member who has just spoken, but in reply to what I considered the most unparliamentary manner in which hon. Members were calling out to the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think it will be better if in future the hon. Member will restrain his exuberance.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I hope that, among the other changes that take place in this House from generation to generation, one of the changes which will not have to be recorded is the change that this House has ceased to be a debating Assembly. We have made various contributions towards the solution of this currency problem. First, and the first essential, is to balance our Budget, and to balance our Budget without borrowing, and to include in our Treasury charges all those charges for social services which ultimately have to be paid for from the Treasury, but which by bad systems appear to be charged to funds which themselves have become bankrupt. That is one of the first essentials that the political power of the State had to do in order to make its currency stable in every market in the world.
We have also done this: As soon as we came in, we were faced with heavy charges upon the pound sterling by abnormal imports. Those abnormal imports have been dealt with, and they have been dealt with not in the way that the hon. and learned Member seems to misunderstand, from the point of view of Protection as it is interpreted by my hon. and gallant 1912 Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). That study remains, but the action which we have taken has been an action to protect sterling in the foreign market, and that has been contribution to the solution of that problem.
Moreover, we have pursued the policy of maintaining the domestic value of sterling. The hon. and learned Member says that prices are going up. I wish he would give us a few figures. They are so excellent at prophecy now, and so bad at facts. Before the hon. and learned Gentleman could have given us figures, he would have had to give us figures for last year, and the seasonal figures, to show whether the movement that is taking place is normal or abnormal. As a matter of fact, the movement of the cost of living figure this year is Better, from the point of view of lowness of prices, than it was last year. It has gone up, yes, but it has not gone up in the way that was prophesied, and it has not gone up in the way that it would have gone up had it followed the same movement as last year.
What is our position? Since sterling went off gold, the wholesale price level was 6.9 up by the end of October, partly seasonal. By the end of November, it was only 7.3 up. Wholesale food prices alone were up six points by the end of October; they were up 5.1 at the end of November. Where is the foundation for this tremendous appeal, which is very good for platforms, where there are no opponents sitting by you to contradict? Where is the foundation in these figures for this great appeal for sympathy for the starving multitudes—especially multitudes starving since we have come in —during this coming winter? I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he goes on the platform, will not repeat the loose errors that he has repeated to-day.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
If the right hon. Gentleman will read my speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, he will see that the only reference that I made to the question was when I stated that prices were rising, which is perfectly true.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There is one kind of truth, and there is another kind of truth. They may both be true, but 1913 it all depends upon how they are meant to be used, and I say that those figures show—and if they are compared with prices for the similar season last year the proof is perfectly clear—that prices are not responding to anything more than seasonal influences and to the ordinary influences that have, nothing whatever to do with the state of currency at the present moment. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will read the facts for himself, I will promise to read his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning.
There was another point to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, and that was lack of confidence. But confidence remains a fact. Who is going to challenge the fact, in view of the demonstration of it at the time, that the National Government did give confidence? Who is going to challenge the fact, with reference to the sort of appeal that was made, in a most extraordinary way, by right hon. Members opposite, about the banking policy, in the middle of a crisis, that the election of this Government did give political confidence, did impress the world with the fact that at any rate in the House of Commons—there might he a minority which would criticise, which might be uncertain in its form of criticism,—but that nevertheless there was such a large majority that whoever dealt with Great Britain financially, economically, or politically dealt with something that was stable for at any rate four or five years? At any rate, that is a contribution to the stabilisation of the currency.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said, as though it was a monopoly of his own or of his hon. Friends around him, that international action ought to be taken. Who doubts it? To whom is that revelation at this late hour? As a matter of fact, I think he borrowed that from some of us who are now sitting here. I would like to say that upon that His Majesty's Government again have nothing for which to apologise. The Government regret the unnecessary delay in bringing the nations concerned around the conference table to settle these questions of international debts which lie at the basis of our currency position. The Government are convinced, however, not out of their own consciousness, not as something evolved from the imaginative stuff 1914 of which lawyers are made, but from their experience, that any move by them to hasten this on their own initiative would have been fruitless. They are sure that the very able experts now sitting as Basle are fully aware of the urgency of their task and that they will produce their reports with the very quickest expedition.
Thereafter, a conference of Governments will be held, and, in the opinion of this Government, that should meet immediately after the report of the experts has been received. In the Government's view, that conference should approach its work in a spirit of realism, examine the whole facts, and aim at an agreement which will not merely tide over difficulties temporarily, but will set the whole world, which is now linked together by the drag of increasing economic, social and political deterioration, on a footing of helpful effort and endeavour. This can be done only by a consciousness on the part of all nations that, whatever their own circumstances may be at the moment, their continuing prosperity and internal peace depends upon the prosperity and tranquillity of the whole world. In that spirit His Majesty's Government will enter the conference, and to that end they will use their influence.
I do not want to take up too much time—the interruptions have made my remarks longer than I intended—but I must say a word on unemployment and then make an announcement with regard to rents. Let us face the very simple fact, which must be in everybody's mind in criticising expenditure on unemployment, that whatever Government was responsible for the administration of this country had to reduce unemployment pay. Any Government, every Government, a Government of pure party or an inter-party Government, had to reduce unemployment pay. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Well our predecessors passed the Anomalies Act.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is reducing the amount of money spent in respect of unemployment. There is something more than that. There was the position of those who were on practically unlimited transitional benefit. No Govern- 1915 ment could allow that to go on. No Government of which I have ever been a Member has been prepared to allow it to go on. Your criticisms of expenditure have to be directed by that fundamental fact. Moreover, the Income Tax returns and the Treasury receipts as a whole show quite clearly that the income of this country has been going down—temporarily I hope, but going down. Make no mistake about it. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that the custodians of the finance of the country, like good housewives, should make their expenditure balance with their income. It was essential that they should do something more. It was essential that they should not put into income and use as income what really was drawn from capital accumulation and was not in the nature of annual income at all. I know perfectly well that the troubles now in regard to Income Tax are the concern of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I will leave him to deal with that question.
I would emphasise to the House and to the country that the action which the Government took, and which the last Government took, was forced upon them by the national conditions and had to be taken swiftly. May I offer one word of warning both to individuals and public authorities. I hope that this cry of economy is not going to be made a stunt.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I repeat that I hope that this cry of economy is not going to be made a stunt. There are too many people, both private individuals and public authorities, who imagine that simply by cutting down expenditure they are doing a service to the nation. There are circumstances under which a cutting down for the sake of cutting down is, especially at this moment, the greatest disservice that people can do to the nation. The most uneconomic place for money is a stocking, and the most uneconomical use for capital is to fail to find employment for the working man. Therefore, the policy of public authorities and private individuals, while economical and while following the same rules that we have had to lay down for ourselves, must always have regard to the relative value of cutting expenditure and reducing demands for labour; and, 1916 unless every public authority proposing to cut down examines its proposals from that point of view, it may not be giving the assistance to the nation which we all wish it to give.
The examination of the subject of rents which we have been able to make shows us that there is a tendency to put up rents and to use the house monopoly in a way which is not fair. It is not necessary on economic grounds, and it is very unjust to the community. This is one of the things which hon. Members bring up on two or three instances and then wish to see action taken at once. That is absolutely impossible for a Government. Observation has to be made over the whole field that legislation is to cover. I am unable to-day to say what will be done, but the Government have decided to produce legislation guided by the general recommendations of the Committee which recently reported upon the subject. May I emphasise that that means that no final decision has been come to; I am not committing the Government to any of the details of the legislation, but I am saying that the Government agree that that report is conceived on the right lines.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The majority report. We agree that it is conceived on the right lines, and that, if put into operation, it will give a great protection to the people who are mostly aggrieved by present circumstances. I hope that I have said enough to show that the Government are not unmindful of or trifling with their mandate. I hope that I have shown that it is the mandate and not something else that we are carrying out. I believe that the rejection of this Vote of Censure will secure the support of every Member who is aware of the conditions under which we have to work, and are determined to see the country most successfully through its present difficulties.
§ Mr. AMERY
Rising, as I do, after the two powerful and impressive speeches to which we have listened, I cannot help thinking of the famous passage in Ezekiel in which the prophet describes how first there came the thunder, and after the thunder the earth- 1917 quake, and after the earthquake a still small voice. The object of that still small voice is to bring the House back from the somewhat formal unreality of the Motion to matters in which the House and the country are at this moment far more deeply interested. To my mind, the procedure under which we are working is by no means the most satisfactory. I should have much preferred that the issues of greatest importance and urgency were discussed direct, so that the Government would be enabled to understand clearly what the strength of the feeling in the House is. I only hope that in the course of this discussion not only the rank and file, but the Government, may give us something more satisfactory as an indication of their intentions than we have had in the speech to which we have just listened.
The Prime Minister contrived to keep the House in a growing crescendo of interested expectation up to the point when it gradually realised that he was not saying anything that mattered, and had no intention of saying anything that mattered. As far as the policy for dealing with the crisis is concerned, we have to wait and see, to hope that by February something may perhaps emerge from the Prime Minister's study circle. Meanwhile, "the hungry sheep look up and are not fed." I forbear to carry on the quotation. At any rate, there is one point on which we are agreed both in the Motion and in the Prime Minister's speech. It is that we are dealing with a grave and urgent situation—grave and urgent as affecting the industries of this country and the whole cost of living in future, and grave and urgent as affecting every poor home in this country. The Government made it clear in the election that the gravity and urgency of the crisis was the supreme issue. The crisis was so urgent in point of time that the Government could not even lay a, definite policy before the country, but asked for a "doctor's mandate." If the nation gave the doctor some latitude as to the details of the prescription that he was to give to the patient, there was no doubt as to the malady. The malady which the country asked the Govern-men to deal with, and deal with at once, is the whole economic and industrial situation, the 1918 provision of additional employment, and, certainly not least, the grave exchange position. The speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon described the last-named as an overruling fact. But really we are bound to ask: What have the Government done in these precious weeks to deal with the exchange or with the employment situation?
Turning to the exchange situation, let me remind the House of the magnitude of the exchange problem. It became clear in September that we were faced with an adverse trade balance of something like £100,000,000 a year, and that fact, more than the moneys held here at short call, was the real ultimate, under-lying danger to sterling. The average adverse balance of visible trade was, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite reminded us, something like £32,000,000 a month for the first few months of the year. In October it had risen to £42,000,000, an increase of more than 30 per cent. When the figures for November come, we shall find the position is a good deal worse. Side by side with that, as we have been reminded, we have had a terrible dwindling away of our invisible exports. Shipping, which in 1930 still accounted for something like £120,000,000 of income, will not, I fear, amount to more than £60,000,000 in the present year. It is the same with a good many of our other sources of revenue. If our invisible exports are dwindling away, surely that re-enforces the argument for diminishing the adverse balance of our visible exports. The net adverse balance was piling up at the rate of £2,000,000 a week in September, and I venture to say it is piling up at the rate of £3,000,000 a week at the present time.
I submit to the House that there is only one possible way of dealing with such a situation—by a restriction of our imports along the broadest possible line, and over the whole range of those manufactures and foodstuffs which we can produce or grow ourselves in this country. By no other possible means can we secure a reduction of £100,000,000 to £150,000,000 a year in the adverse balance of trade. From that point of view what have the Government done? The Prime Minister made much of the contribution to the balance of trade effected by the Abnormal Importations Bill and the 1919 kindred horticultural Measure, though I did not know that they even claimed very much in that respect. I thought those Bills were introduced to prevent forestalling of a tariff which may or may not come. I admit that a Member on the Government Benches did claim for them that they might reduce imports by £2,000,000 a month, but what is that against an adverse balance piling up at the rate of £3,000,000 a week? Measures of this sort, brought in by instalments, actually intensify the mischief by encouraging dumping and increased importation of all articles still waiting to be dealt with.
As I say, it is no wonder, in the absence of any measures to the contrary, that the pound has fallen so heavily as it has done ever since this Government came in. Was that what the electors were led to expect? I am told that this position is not due to the adverse balance of trade, but due to forced selling and speculation. All I would reply is that if the balance of trade were satisfactory there would be plenty of buyers for sterling who would take up any sterling sold by compulsion, and under such conditions there would be no temptation to speculators to sell. It is quite true, and there I entirely agree with the Prime Minister, that so far, largely owing to the fact that certain other countries went off sterling too, there has not been an appreciable increase in the cost of living here, but surely the figures that we have are figures in which last fortnight's fall has only been very slightly reflected. When stocks are exhausted, when and if sterling falls further—and I see no special reason why it should not fall a great deal further—will not that affect the cost of living; and if it does affect the cost of living, what becomes of our Budget, what becomes of the cuts, what becomes of the whole internal price structure of this country? Once there is an increase in the price of foodstuffs and raw materials, and in wages, the whole scale of costs is increased, and then either we must provide more currency and inflate or else, by denying it, we strangle still further the exhausted trade of this country.
I know there are those who say that all is well, that this constitutes a tariff of sorts, and that therefore we need not 1920 consider any other tariff. If a depreciated exchange is a tariff, it is the worst conceivable kind of tariff—blind, uncertain, indiscriminate, bound to lead to disaster in the long run. Those Free Traders who prefer to drift on with a depreciated exchange rather than take it under control by the measure of a tariff are very much like those conscientious objectors who would sooner have small-pox and take their chance of being cured by it than submit to vaccination. I believe that as an emergency measure the only effective thing we can do—and we ought to do it at once—is to impose a general tariff restrictive of imports. But I also venture to add that it is the only permanent measure to deal both with the exchange and the employment situation. After all, why has this emergency arisen? It has arisen out of the fundamental and permanent weakness of our whole industrial system. We have an industry which in increasing measure is failing to hold its own at home and abroad.
I do not think I need weary the House with general figures as to the conditions of industry. It is enough to point out that we, who were the greatest exporters of manufactures in the world, who once exported more than all the rest of the world put together, and in 1929 still exported some £270,000,000 more of manufactures than we imported, have actually ceased since August to be an exporter of manufactures at all, on balance, and are now an importing country. The reason for that, and I need not elaborate it, is that the handicaps on our industry are too great. I will not go into the question of differences of wages and hours, but base myself on the substantial fact that in this country we raise from rates, taxes and insurance levies a taxation of more than £1,000,000,000 a year—a terrific burden on industry. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer very truly said that this represented over a third of the total product of industry. This heavy taxation must be reflected in our costs of production, yet we refuse to balance that crushing burden, that crushing handicap imposed upon British production, by any countervailing duties upon foreign competing products. That is not Free Trade. It is an inverted Protection in favour of foreigners in our own markets. Until we arrest that state of affairs, until we put our people at least on an equality 1921 with their competitors, we give them no chance, the balance of trade must continue to go wrong, the Budget must fail to be balanced, and unemployment figures must keep up—until the final crash comes!
My object in rising has been to illustrate, in a measure at least, the general situation of British industry to-day by the case of one great branch of industry, the iron and steel industry. I might well have taken many other industries, as the phenomena are very much the same. I might have taken the no less serious case of the greatest of all our industries, agriculture, and I hope other Members will deal with it. But I take the case of iron and steel, the industry which Cobden once described as the bread of the other industries, that industry from whose fruitful loins has proceeded an immense variety of great industries which have made the name of England famous throughout the world. It is the basis which has carried the greatest superstructure of diversified industries to be found in this land.
I know that there are others who can speak with a much more intimate experience than myself of the well-nigh desperate condition in which this industry finds itself to-day. Less than six months ago the Lord President of the Council referred to that industry as "hanging on by its eyelids." It will suffice if I say the situation is critical and urgent. There are many works, upon whose continuance thousands of families depend for their living, which are likely to close down in the next few weeks if they are not helped. For the last 10 years the whole industry has been living upon its capital, and that capital is now exhausted. Who will be foolish enough to find more capital for it under present conditions? Nor, if I may again quote my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, are we going to secure any effective rationalisation of the industry, as apart from a mere wasteful rationing downwards, until we have security. That industry has in large measure already rationalised itself, is only too ready to rationalise itself. I entirely refuse to subscribe to the cry that it, and all our other industries, is inefficient. There may be flaws in the equipment, there may be defects in management, but it is not for us politi- 1922 cians to say that to our industrialists until we have given them as fair a chance as industrialists in other countries get from their Governments.
What has been the history of the industry in recent years? It has been one of steady and ever-accelerating decline, since the great days when it produced more and exported more than all the other iron and steel producing countries in the world. I hope I shall not be trespassing too seriously upon the indulgence of the House if I quote a certain number of figures, and I would beg hon. Members 'to bear in mind that behind those figures stand human lives. Let me begin with 1913. At that date we were already becoming considerable importers of crude iron and steel and rolling mill products, though on balance we were still small exporters. On the other hand, in the case of finished steel products we had a net balance of over 2,800,000 tons. By 1930 we were importing over 1,500,000 tons more of crude and rolled steel than we exported, and our favourable balance of exports on the more valuable finished products had come down from 2,800,000 tons to 1,800,000 tons, leaving a total net balance in our favour of only some 360,000 tons. For the first 10 months of 1931 there was an excess of imports over exports of nearly 600,000 tons. In October alone the excess was 117,000 tons, and I believe in November the figure was far worse.
No doubt I shall be told that we must not judge by tonnage, because our exports are largely of a highly finished and valuable kind. I will give the figures showing the values. In 1923 the value surplus of the export of the iron and steel trades was £62,500,000; in 1924 it was £52,400,000; and in 1929 it was £43,500,000. In 1930 the total fell to £28,000,000, and for the first 10 months of 1931 it had fallen to under £10,000,000. In October there was no longer an export surplus value, but an actual deficiency of £209,000. But what matters most, of course, is the total of production. I have here the figures of pig-iron production for October, 1929, and for October, 1931, and they show that the production of pig-iron and steel has been reduced by more than 50 per cent. Our imports of steel in October, 1929, were 31 per cent. of our production, while in October last they were 61 per cent. Our exports fell 1923 to 390,000 tons in October, 1929, and to 159,000 tons in October, 1931. Under those conditions, it is obvious that there must be a terrible fall in the employment figures. The percentage of unemployment in the steel industry was 20 per cent. in October, 1929. In October this year it rose to over 44 per cent., or more than double the national average of 21.9 per cent. over the whole of the industries of the country. What actual suffering that involves, what loss of heart, loss of skill, and loss of human equipment in the factories can be better imagined than described. And yet we are told by the theorists that it is impossible to interfere and deprive ourselves of the advantage we enjoy by having cheap foreign steel.
What is this so-called advantage? Users of foreign steel get a few shillings a ton, let us say even £1 a ton, or £1,000,000 on 1,000,000 tons. But let us take the other side of the account. What of the loss of employment in the steel industry and all the subsidiary and contributory industries? It has been calculated that 1,000,000 tons of steel employs in the iron and steel works, in coal mines, quarries or railways 40,000 men. Even at the reduced rate at which we are now assisting the unemployed, it would cost £2,800,000 a year to keep them on the dole. There alone there is a loss to the nation of £1,800,000. That by no means exhausts the real benefit which would have accrued if that 1,000,000 tons of steel had been made in this country, because in that case it would have represented a total wealth production and earning of money in iron and steel and in the contributory industries to the tune of £10,000,000. Under our present system of taxation that would have yielded, directly and indirectly, as Mr. Snowden pointed out, something like £3,000,000 of revenue. There you have another loss of £3,000,000, which really means that the so-called gain which is claimed for the present system is really a loss of very nearly £5,000,000. The objectors to tariffs reply that the iron and steel industry is only the foundation of a vast superstructure of other industries whose total value and employment-giving capacity are far greater than those of the iron and steel trade. And they say, "What is the 1924 good of helping the iron and steel industry if you endanger these other industries?" I think we ought to get away from these generalities, and come down to concrete figures.
What is the actual iron and steel content of our export of engineering products? The average value is £100 a ton of which steel at the most, including special high grade steel, is represented by £10 a ton. If the price of steel is increased by £1 a ton, it will only mean the addition of 1 per cent. to the cost on our exports. But why should the price be increased by any such figure or at all? Even if the foreigner would not bring down his price in order to get under our tariffs, those in the best position to know tell us that if in the making of British steel the works could be kept busy the cost of production could be greatly reduced. If output could be increased from 70 per cent. to 100 per cent. the reduction would be equal to £1 a ton. If we could increase the output of our factories, so far from raising prices I believe you would effectively diminish them. Besides, who are the people who are so frantically anxious to use this cheap foreign steel? It is not our English shipbuilders. The President of the Board of Trade is well aware that 95 per cent. of our ships to-day are built of British steel under the rebate scheme within the steel industry. The bulk of the structural steel used is secured here under a similar national rebate arrangement. The motor car industry definitely insists that at least 75 per cent. of the material they use shall be British steel.
Now I come to the sheet and tin-plate industry, a very important industry which in good years carries 90 per cent. of the world's export trade, but is only doing 70 per cent. of that trade to-day. In the year 1929 only 15 per cent. of our exports were based on foreign material, and in 1930 the percentage was 25 per cent., because our steel works had shut down. I suggest that if in 1929 85 per cent. of our exporters could manage with British steel, why not 100 per cent.? If, however, there is some insuperable objection to the employment of British steel in some branches of the trade, surely there would be no difficulty in having some special drawback arrangement to meet that case. Take the re-rolling industries; 1925 83 per cent, of them are owned and controlled by steel works, and of the remaining 17 per cent, only a very small proportion of them would not support a policy of tariffs. Those who own both steel works and re-rolling works are not afraid of steel being protected, though no doubt they would be glad to see finished products protected as well. Should not the same be true of the nation which in the ultimate sense owns both iron and steel works and finished product works whether under separate administration or not?
The fundamental vice of the whole Free Trade outlook is that it always looks on industries as units instead of upon the industry as a whole. Fortunately those who are engaged in the various branches of industry are less short-sighted than some of those who profess to champion their interests. I would like to give a few extracts from certain letters and telegrams which have been sent to the President of the Board of Trade. On 4th December, 1931, the Midland Steel Bar Re-rollers' Association wrote:As large users of steel they view with great concern the serious position of the iron and steel industry on which they are dependent for their raw material, and in the collapse of which they would themselves of necessity become seriously involved.The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Limited, wrote in March, 1929, repeating the same views on 4th December, 1931, to the President of the Board of Trade:Although British motor manufacturers are among the largest purchasers of British steel, they state unequivocally that they believe that if the same measure of protection is offered to the steel manufacturers as have been extended to themselves, precisely the same results will follow. The safeguarding of the steel industry will prove, in their view, to be as much in the interests of the automobile manufacturer as it will be in that of the country, and the alleviation of the unemployment problem.The Bright Steel Bar Manufacturers' Association say very much the same thing, and in a telegram to the President of the Board of Trade on 3rd December, 1931, they say:Bright Steel Bar Manufacturers' Association representing the trade desire to impress necessity for immediate application of duty of not less than 50 per cent, on bright steel bars. Emphasising that no objection will be raised by them to a duty 1926 on their raw material of black bars and billets.A similar resolution as the one passed by the Bright Steel Bar Manufacturers' Association was passed by the Bright Drawn Bar Association. The British Steel Wire Manufacturers on 1st December, 1931, wired to the President of the Board of Trade:British steel wire manufacturers gravely concerned with continued and large imports of wire and wire manufacturers…Wire manufacturers have no objection to tariff on steel used by them as the raw material if their interests are adequately protected,They all are wise enough to realise that if the foundations go the super-structure is doomed. That is the sound view, held, too, in every other country. The Germans, the French, the Belgians all make not only iron and steel but bars and sections and tubes and machinery and all the rest. The Belgian exports represent 90 per cent, of their production. They have not been overwhelmed by the so-called immense complexity of this problem. Behind all this talk of the difficulties and complexities of the problem, there is a good deal of solemn humbug.
If the Government mean business, they have plenty of material to go upon, whether for iron and steel or for the whole range of our manufacturing industries. A comparison of the German, French and Belgian tariffs would give a good deal of useful material as regards iron and steel on which an emergency tariff here could be constructed. The Government also have at their disposal the tariff worked out with infinite care over a period of years by the late Mr. Hewins, whose death at the moment of the victory of his cause we all deplore. They have also had at their disposal for some months the emergency tariff worked out by the Conservative Research Department, under the chairmanship of the late President of the Board of Trade. Of course it is perfectly true that the members of that committee were all members of one party in the State. But their work was not done for a party end; it was done in order that, if we came in with a mandate authorising Protection, we should be able to see to it that Protection could be successfully introduced—both quickly and effectively.
1927 With a mandate quite as wide as any that we ever expected, why should not that work be made use of in order to help in the successful application of Protection, instead of relying on a number of, if I may say so, very amateurish experiments which bid fair to prejudice the whole cause of Protection That tariff was drawn up after very considerable consultation with all the industries concerned. There is no reason why more consultation should not take place; there is no reason why, with that as a starting point, the President of the Board of Trade should not get the industries together. I venture to say that, if once he is prepared to act upon the principle of giving to our industries fair play in this country, he will within a very few days be able to get the different branches of the iron and steel industry to agree to the extent, of 95 per cent. of all concerned. Why not make a start? There is no mistake in detail that could not be rectified, either by the powers given to the President of the Board of Trade or by a tariff commission which could be set up. There is only one mistake which cannot be remedied, and that is the mistake of being too late.
I cannot see what difficulty there is in acting in this matter. The House of Commons has already given to the President of the Board of Trade the most extraordinarily wide powers that have ever been given by Parliament in this country, whether in regard to range of subjects or in regard to the extraordinary height of the tariffs which the President of the Board of Trade is allowed to impose. There is nothing to prevent him from introducing a complete industrial tariff if he can construe the word "abnormal" sufficiently widely to cover the general abnormality of the whole situation, and, if that be not possible, I am quite sure that all my hon. Friends here would be only too happy to sit for a day or two extra in order to pass a brief amending Bill to enlarge his powers and rectify his mistake. At the very least, if he refuses to do that, let him deal with those sections of the iron and steel industry in which imports are coming in in abnormal quantities, as is the case more particularly with the finished section, and then watch closely during the next few weeks in order to fake such action as 1928 may be required for the rest. In any case, let him act at once. I know that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, speaking at Aberdeen the other night, said:'At once' is what you cannot get in a National Government.If I thought that my right hon. Friend were speaking seriously, and not indulging in a pleasantry, if I thought it were really true that you cannot get swift and decisive action from a National Government, then I would say that the sooner the National Government were got rid of the better. But it is not true; it need not be true. It has been true of sonic Governments, but not of others. I remember that in the Great War that charge was very true of one Coalition Government, and I would add that the disastrous muddle which the Asquith Coalition Government made of conscription offers a parallel to the present situation with regard to Protection which we should be very well advised to take to heart. For over a year after conscription had become an obvious and urgent necessity, for over a year after the nation was ready, and more than ready, to accept it, Mr. Asquith's Government could not make up its mind. We had the veiled conscription of blatant advertisement, cajolery, and scarcely concealed intimidation; we had the Derby scheme; we had conscription for unmarried men of a certain age; finally, by the time that all this broke down and we had honestly to accept the principle, the whole situation had been so messed up and muddled up that conscription inflicted far greater hardship than it would ever have done if it had been introduced on principle from the outset. Moreover, what was far more serious, the delay meant the expenditure of many tens of thousands of precious lives and the addition of many hundreds of millions of money to the burden which we are now bearing. That was the price that the nation had to pay for a "Not at Once" Government.
Happily, there was another National Government in the Great War, a Government whose outlook and temper were very different, a Government which was not merely a coalition of old gangs and old gangsters, of partisans, fundamentally divided when it came to the question of action, but a truly National Govern- 1929 ment, in which all were inspired by the one common purpose of winning the War. That Government owed much to the remarkable personality at its head. No disagreement that I have had in recent years with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has ever impaired my profound admiration for the courage and the swiftness of decision with which he acted during those critical years. I should like, if I might, to tell the House a reminiscence of that time which emphasises the spirit in which the right lion. Gentleman then acted.
I remember, after a certain Cabinet meeting, speaking to the late Sir Henry Wilson, who had been there, and asking him what had happened. He told me that there had been a very awkward situation with the French, and that the Prime Minister had said: "Someone must go over at once and deal with them personally. Henry, you go over." Sir Henry Wilson replied, "Yes, Sir, I am ready to go to-morrow morning." The Prime Minister said: "That won't do; it is much too late; go this afternoon. No, go this morning. No, go yesterday." I should like to say to the Prime Minister and to the Lord President of the Council, "Go and rush through your emergency tariff last month, and you will still be dangerously late."
That Government owed much, too, to its actual form. I believe that a Cabinet of 20 is quite unsuited to these critical and urgent times, and, indeed, I doubt if it is ever going to be suited to modern conditions. A policy Cabinet of five or six, with no departmental responsibilities, is the only system which will give both freedom to come to definite and prompt decisions and the driving power to give them effect. I believe that, before this Parliament is many months older, we may have to come to such a change in the structure of our government. Anyhow, I would ask, looking back on that War experience, are we going to deal with Protection in the same spirit of procrastination and of reluctance to come to a decision on principle as that in which we dealt with conscription in the Great War?
I confess that I have not been greatly reassured by anything that has happened so far, or by the speech to which we have just listened. We have had 1930 the same half-way measures, vexatious to many of the people concerned; duties unnecessarily high, if you are to consider fairness and equity as well as picking out particular articles, and alarming to the world outside, who would understand a broad, general system, such as they adopt, far better than these measures, which in every instance they think are pointed specifically against themselves. As I have ventured to point out, there is no inherent difficulty about taking action in this matter. The real difficulty, as we all know, and we had better be frank about it, is that the Cabinet has not yet honestly faced the question whether it means to adopt the machinery of a Protective tariff or not. The doctor's mandate has in fact become a doctor's dilemma, in which a council of eminent surgeons, anxious to cut to the bone, are deliberating with an equal number of ardent Christian Scientists.
I know of no more illuminating example of this than the curious story of that emergency Conservative tariff to which I have referred. Whatever the value of that document, it must obviously, in present circumstances, have been important, and one would have thought that our representatives—I am speaking as a Tariff Reformer at the moment—would have lost no time in bringing it before the Cabinet and insisting that it should be considered, and its faults discovered in time for action to be taken upon it. One would have thought that it would have been circulated to the whole Cabinet, but I have discovered, to my great surprise, that a month after the President of the Board of Trade had taken office he was unaware of its existence. His predecessor seems to have left it somewhere amidst the archives of the Board of Trade, and discreet secretaries, presumably, avoided bringing it to the President's notice lest they should be suspected of trying to force his hand. I am only presuming; I do not know; but I would ask, how was it that for over a month this important document was unknown to the Minister most concerned? Why was it not discussed by the Cabinet? I know very well how reluctant a Cabinet is to open up subjects that are awkward and controversial, how easily we fly to the agenda and get rid of current business, and say we will raise the more awkward 1931 questions next time. That is all very tactful, but it is not business, and what is needed to-day in the Cabinet is not tactful discretion, but clear decision.
I know that the Home Secretary will dismiss my speech as just part of the "flood of abnormal importunities" which he says has been raised by the weak concessions of the Board of Trade, but, really, we do not want abnormal action; we want normal action, along the normal lines of procedure followed by every civilised country, in order to deal with the situation, and not abnormal measures passed on no other principle than that of avoiding the forestalling of a tariff which you have not yet made up your mind to impose. I know I shall be called an extremist. I am not sure what that word means. I am sure I am not an extremist on tariffs, because I am not prepared to err either on the extreme side of free importation or on the extreme side of 100 per cent. tariffs such as the President of the Board of Trade seems to favour. For me, one-third of that level would be quite sufficient. I think, however, that what is often meant by the word "extremist" is someone who is prepared to face facts even when they are extremely unpleasant. In that sense I am afraid I have often been an extremist before. I was sufficiently an extremist before the Great War to venture in this House again and again to warn the Government of the danger of the war that was impending. I made myself considerably unpopular in the months of the Asquith Government by being extremist enough to suggest more definite action for conscription. I was extremist enough in the middle of September to suggest to the Government, when they were professing that the gold standard was being successfully maintained, that within a month or two, the pound might slip off the standard, and within a week it had happened. I was extremist enough in the middle of last month to warn the Government—and I repeat the warning—that they were taking a grave risk and a grave responsibility if they let the next few months pass by, doing nothing either to deal with the grave state of our industry at home or with the critical situation of the pound.
I should like to ask the Government one or two questions on matters on which 1932 I think this House is entitled to be informed. The first is: Have the Government decided to adopt the method of duties in order to restrict our imports and to deal with toe exchange situation? If they have not what other method have they under discussion? Secondly have they decided to deal with unemployment in industry by the tariff method and, if not, by what other method? Are they going back to "Labour and the Nation" or to "We can conquer unemployment," or have they something else in a pigeonhole Thirdly, by what method do they propose to deal with agriculture, apart from the wheat quota? It is vital that farmers should know about that at once. Again, by what method, apart from the wheat quota, do they propose to deal with Imperial Preference? It is essential to the whole success of the Empire Conference next July, and to all the negotiations which must precede it, that they should make up their minds on the questions now and let the country and the Empire know. I would ask further: Will they give such an assurance on their policy, at any rate in general character and scope, as to enable farmers to get busy with cultivation and enable industries to find money with which to hang on? Lastly, can they give us an assurance that legislation on these matters will be the very first business when Parliament meets, or are we to hear that international affairs or other matters are occupying their attention and that action may, perhaps, be taken in the Budget? The House and the country are entitled to be told something more than "Wait and See." They have a right to know before the House rises what, in its general lines at least, is the policy of the Government in face of the crisis which they have pledged themselves to the country to deal with.
Let me in all earnestness and frankness make my concluding appeal to the Government. They still enjoy a very substantial measure of good will in this House and in the country. They enjoy the confidence of the House, certainly as against the Motion that is on the Paper. But it is a confidence which, here and outside, is already something very distinctly less than the confidence which they had when we assembled five weeks ago. The damage done is certainly not beyond repair. It can be repaired at any moment by a frank statement in the course of this Debate. It can be repaired 1933 even more effectively by prompt action in the course of the next few days. But, if this House meets again on 2nd February and finds that no real decisions have been taken, that there is no definite, comprehensive legislation waiting for the immediate sanction of the House, I greatly fear that that confidence will have gone beyond recovery.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I am sure the House has listened with great interest to one whom we know on this side of the House as the high priest of Protection. It was very pleasing to Members on this side to discover that he agreed perfectly with the remarks of the Mover of the Motion, so far as finance and currency were concerned, and also the indictment that he has now made against the Government. I have risen to deal with the other phase of the question which he put forward so forcibly, the question of imposing a general tariff on the iron and steel trade. He gave us a large number of academic figures and percentages from which one would imagine that this great question affecting this great important industry was going to be settled. If this question of a tariff could be settled by academic figures and percentages, I should be only too ready to go arm in arm with him through the Division Lobby in order to settle it. He first of all pointed out that the theorists were afraid. I am not a theorist as far as this trade is concerned. I have worked in it for 20 years and have been an official of the Iron and Steel Trade Confederation for 30 years, and I know something about all the branches of the industry.
The right hon. Gentleman simply used the general term "iron and steel industry." He said nothing about the sections into which it is divided. In the first place, you have in the iron and steel industry the blast furnace trade. In the second place, you have the steel department. In the third place, you have the tinplate industry, and, in the fourth place, you have the galvanised sheet industry. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to answer me across the Floor, but I hope he will think of this. Does he suggest that the tinplate and the galvanised industry, using his own figures, that in 1929 they exported from South Wales to the Continent, America and Australia, 90 per cent. of their 1934 exports, would be helped by a protective tariff? The right hon. Gentleman has really not got a grip of the subject. There are employers in this House, and there is also the secretary of the Steel Employers Association, who know something about the practical working of the industry. The North of England trade is nothing like the trade that you have in the Midlands, and the Midlands and the North of England trade is nothing like the trade that we have in South Wales. Therefore, you have to deal with them in three separate parts.
In order that we may get on common terms I say this on behalf of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation—I do not say that I am saying it on behalf of the party. I have no fundamental objection to examining the question of tariffs, but we suggest that you are going the wrong way about it. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that in 1891, previous to the McKinley tariff being introduced, South Wales was the only country in the world that produced and exported tinplates? After the introduction of the McKinley tariffs, hundreds of mills were closed down in South Wales. I say perfectly honestly to the House and to the country that as far as the tinplate employers and the steel employers in South Wales are concerned—and I have been dealing with them for the last 30 years as an official on behalf of the men—they are the most enterprising employers in this country. In proof of that, the tinplate trade and the sheet trade in South Wales are the only two trades in the country which have recovered since the War. I was pointing out that we used to supply the whole of the world with tinplates, but that has been absolutely changed to-day. They make tinplates in France, in Italy, in Germany, and in 1913 when I was in Russia they were actually producing tinplates in Russia. Moreover, we have lost one-eighth of our trade, that is the "18¾ by 14" to the Burma Oil Company in India. Therefore, to-day we have to compete against France, Germany, Italy, America and India in their own countries. I want to make it clear that although I am not advocating the importation of cheap bars, we must have cheap bars in order to produce our tinplates to enable us to compete in the neutral markets of the world.
1935 The proposal is tariffs. We have seen this trade declining and declining until to-day the steel department of the trade is in a worse plight than it has ever been in its history. What is my reply to tariffs I Having dealt with the employers in the trade in regard to fixing wages and conditions, I know of the improvements which have taken place in the trade as far as machinery is concerned. My charge against the employers in the steel trade of the country is that they are proving conclusively by demanding tariffs that private enterprise has failed in the trade. That is the point. We as an association have had to take the matter up on behalf of the men. I wish to say to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman who has been dealing with the employers' side of this case, the question, is of supreme importance to our men as well—more important than anything else. Men who used to be regularly employed earning decent wages and living in a nice, comfortable home have, during the last 10 years, done nothing but walk the streets. Think of the loss of wages, the loss of skill, and also the loss of moral, not only among the men who are idle, but among the men who are employed, because they do not know when they may be thrown out of work. Therefore, you must take all these questions into consideration.
I wish to make an appeal to the President of the Board of Trade. The Confederation say—and we say it in our policy—that we have business men among the employers and the men's representatives with sufficient brain capacity to arrive at a common policy as far as this trade is concerned. I do not expect the Government to put our scheme into operation, but our scheme still holds the field. We have suggested the national planning of the industry, the reorganisation of the industry on the recommendation of the Sankey Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "With tariffs."] No, not with tariffs at all. The proposal was that four regions should be set up, one for Scotland, one for the North of England, one for the Midlands, and one for South Wales. Although these proposals have been discussed by the employers' side and also by the Banks Development Board, nothing whatever has been done to try to come to an arrangement as far 1936 as the recommendation of the Committee is concerned. No move has been made. All that the employers have said is, "The Socialist Government will soon Le out. We shall have a Tory Government, and then we shall have tariffs imposed in favour or the industry." That would not settle the question. If the side of the men is going to be ignored by this Government or any other Government—I say this quite frankly—we can do you more damage outside than you can repair in 10 years if you go in for a tariff.
We have to be consulted. We have to come into the picture here. I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade and ask him to consider our proposal for establishing import and export boards. Let us form them from among employers who understand their business and men representing the employés in the trade, and other business men, if it were decided by such boards that it would be an advantage to the tin plate and sheet trade for the importation of all those bars to be prohibited, then there would not be a Member on this side of the House who would oppose the proposal. We must let such a board decide what would be of advantage to the steel industry without being a disadvantage to the tin plate and the sheet trade. It must be an advantage given to all sections of industry. I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade not to be in too much of a hurry over this question, and not to be rushed by the Protectionists. Let him call together the workmen and the employers who understand this trade, and if we can put our heads together to try to save this great industry —one of the most important industries in the country—I am prepared to do everything I can in order to get our men back to work and to save the industry.
My association is prepared to do it, but we are not prepared to allow ourselves to be forced in the direction indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) of tariffs for this and tariffs for that. We are not prepared to go in that direction. If the Government are prepared to discuss the matter in the same way that we discuss matters at a conciliation board meeting with the object of doing everything possible in the interests of the trade, the Government may rest assured that they will have the support of my 1937 confederation, and I am sure I am also speaking on behalf of the Members on these benches. We are prepared to assist in getting our people back to work, not on the basis of a tariff, but on the basis of the scheme suggested by the confederation. In any effort on those lines, the Government could be assured of our support in order that this great industry could be rehabilitated and put into a better position than that which it occupies to-day.
I had not intended to intervene in the discussions during this Session, because I believed that when the election was over the country expected more deeds and fewer words. I feel very strongly that the National Government are not receiving the freedom of action given them by the large majority at the last election. The Prime Minister asked for and obtained a free hand to take, after consultation, any steps that might be found necessary to restore to this country our prosperity and balance of trade, the only remedies for unemployment. It is unreasonable to expect Ministers to be able to take these steps without having been given sufficient time to go into all the intricate details. The House has given my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture sufficient power to go on with. In matters of this sort it is better to go "slow and sure."
I am one of the Members from Lancashire, and I am hoping that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is considering among other things the cotton industry, which is of such great importance to Lancashire. But we must give him a little time, not too long, to go into all the details and make sure that he does the industry good, and not harm. Personally, I am not going to ask the Government to say what they are going to do about unemployment or about securing the balance of trade at the present moment. They have already taken steps towards this end which give us hope, especially in view of the fact that many of my right hon. Friends have had to adjust their political beliefs. The steps which have been taken give good hopes for the future. It is essential for the welfare of this country, which is undoubtedly passing through a very great crisis, that 1938 the Government should be given as free a hand as possible, and that no person inside or outside the House, by word or by any other means, should do anything that might show that there was any want of confidence in the National Government.
The Government require, in order to be successful, the complete confidence of everybody. I feel sure that every Member of the Government has the interests of this country at heart just as much as any individual Member in the House. I warned my constituents during the election that it was within the bounds of possibility that things might get worse before they got better. I hope that that will not be the case; and we have certainly been preparing for it during the coming winter. I also said I considered that a really National Government, such as we have now, was the only hope of the country at the present time. When I return to my constituents on Friday, I shall tell them that I, for one, have complete confidence in the present Government. I feel sure that they will face the facts and will govern, which is what the country requires at the moment.
I suggest that before we go away for the Christmas Recess we should hang up our empty stockings in the hope that when we come back again after Christmas we shall find them full of good, solid legislation for the benefit of this country. I for one shall leave my stockings behind, and go away in the confident belief that I shall find them full of good things when I come back. The President of the Board of Trade will, I am sure, do something to help the cotton industry and the shipping industry. In Lancashire, and especially in Burnley, we still have a large number of unemployed, although there has been some slight improvement during the last few weeks. Men and women not only in Burnley but throughout the country want work in preference to the dole; ad they are looking to the Government to get a move on. I do not wish the Government to make a lot of false promises to the unemployed which they cannot fulfil. The unemployed are sick and tired of the vague promises made to them during the last two years which have never been fulfilled. It is better to face facts, with confidence in the future. I realise that His Majesty's Opposition have a very definite duty to 1939 perform. We are facing a great crisis, and I would remind hon. Members that when we face a crisis it is well to remember the old saying:United we stand, divided we fall.
§ Viscount EDNAM
I would like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on his very successful maiden speech. His presence among us will add greatly to our Debates, and I hope that in his career in this House, he will be as successful in submerging his political difficulties as he was in submerging enemy submarines during the War. I want to support the admirable speech made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) not only as a maker of iron and steel myself, but as representing in this House a constituency which subsists entirely on the steel industry, and its ancillary trades, and which has 10,000 of its population unemployed as a result of the parlous state of that industry. We have been told there are no fewer than 120,000 men normally employed in the iron and steel industry who are out of work at the present time, and have been for many years past. This figure goes on increasing week by week as more and more works are forced to shut down. The maintenance cost to the country of these unemployed men has been estimated at £8,500,000, and the loss in wealth in the form of wages has been estimated at £16,500,000. Hon. Members have only to read the recent reports issued by individual iron and steel firms to gauge the terrific losses which are incurred continually by all of them due to the shrinkage of production.
I feel certain that the House fully realises the desperate condition to which this industry has been reduced. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook quoted some words which were used by the Lord President of the Council last July when he said that the industry was clinging on by its eyelids. The industry at the present moment has not sufficient strength to perform even that feat of tenacity. What is the countervailing advantage to the consumer about which the President of the Board of Trade is so much concerned? At a conservative estimate it has been computed at not more than £4,500,000. It is not worth the cost. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a ques- 1940 tion yesterday—whether his Department had any estimate of these figures, and also whether there were any figures in relation to the cost of the maintenance of unemployed workers and the loss of wealth generally in the form of wages and production. It is really surprising that the Department has not made any effort to obtain them; they are germane to the great decisions which this House has to take. The House will agree, after having heard the figures of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that it is not worth the cost and consumers themselves now realise that the supposed advantage of cheap steel is a boomerang which recoils on their own business with deadly consequences. That is why 90 per cent. of them are in favour of the protection of the parent, industry.
The President of the Board of Trade has told us truly that upon the basic industries rests a most elaborate and widespread system of ancillary trades, but what the right hon. Gentleman does not appear to realise is that this whole system of ancillary trades responds immediately to the prosperity of the parent industry in direct proportion to the volume of its business and, therefore, when the parent industry is working at only 40 per cent. capacity, as is the case at the moment, and is deprived of the prime essential of economic operation, that condition is reflected throughout the whole of this vast system, resulting in increased costs and widespread unemployment. That is not sufficiently realised by the right hon. Gentleman. In the constituency I represent, besides the basic industry, there are scores of ancillary industries which are dependent on the steel trade and which utilise steel in its semi-manufactured state; it is to them their sole raw material. According to the President of the Board of Trade, the whole of these industries ought to be Free Traders; they ought one and all to be injured by a tariff on imported steel. What, in fact, is the case? At a meeting of local manufacturers in Wednesbury a fortnight ago, every one of them was in favour of the protection of the parent industry. I have in my pocket a telegram sent to me this morning by the Chairman of the Manufacturers' Association at Wednesbury which says: 1941All manufacturers at Wednesbury urge you to do everything possible to immediately safeguard iron and steel.That is the view of my own constituents. They know perfectly well that if the British steel industry continues to shrink, as it is at the moment, the time is not far distant when they will be entirely in the hands of the foreign producer for the supply of their raw material, with fatal consequences to themselves. In some of their manufactures they have to face competition from dumped foreign imports, manufactures sent in at prices far below even the cost of foreign production. Where they have a fair case for protection it is only reasonable that they should receive protection from this unfair competition. I have had an instance sent to me quite recently from the nut and bolt trade which shows that thousands of tons of foreign nuts are being sent into this country at prices far below—40 per cent. below—British cut prices. The same thing applies to the tube industry.
The experience of the iron and steel industry has been that the free market in this country has been nothing but a cockpit in which foreign producers have competed not only with the British industry but between themselves for an outlet for their surplus production. As a result of this, the price level of iron and steel products has been continually falling. In fact, it has been nothing more than the realisation at bankrupt prices of surplus stocks in a free market provided by this country, at the expense of our own workers. There has been a deliberate policy for some years past to break the British steel industry altogether, and I submit that no industry however efficient can compete under such conditions. If it makes any attempt to do so it can only end in bankruptcy. The House must realise that what to foreign importers is only the sale price of a part of their surplus production at bankrupt prices sets a price level for the British industry for the whole of their production, and there are no other markets open to British manufacturers in which they have not to face similar competition. Taking an average over the first 10 months of this year, imports exceed our exports by upwards of 700,000 tons, and this figure is continually increasing. There is no question that these imports are dumped imports. For more than a 1942 year past, Continental producers have admitted that they have been sending their manufactures into this market at a price considerably below their own costs of production. Recently it has been shown that the price is as much as 30s. per ton below cost. The first 20 days of November have also shown that there is ample evidence of forestalling of tariffs in excess of ordinary imports. It seems inconceivable that the right hon. Gentleman should tell us he has not the power to deal with this state of affairs under the wide powers which have recently been granted to him. I was elected to this House simply and solely because I promised to safeguard the industry and employment of my constituents, and because I told them that the National Government would take instant and drastic steps to deal with a state of affairs responsible not only for their own poverty and unemployment, but also for the adverse balance of British trade and its consequent effect on the pound sterling. The electors of Wednesbury gave the Government a free hand; little did they realise it was going to mean an empty hand. The Lord President of the Council came down to the Midlands last June, and at Himley Park addressed an audience of over 50,000 Midland workers, many of whom were unemployed iron and steel workers. He said:There is no capital left in the iron trade to-day, and the industry could not afford to build new works, and barely to replace plant. Wages had been forced down, and unemployment was rife. The Free Trader did not mind that. He said, Well, at any rate, remember you have got cheap steel.' What a fetish that word 'cheap' is! Cheap goods mean cheap men. The word cheapness was born in the minds of the British people by the political economists of the mid-Victorian time, and with difficulty can they shake themselves free from that incubus. Who pays for that cheapness? The men who to-day are walking the streets. That cheap steel is sweated out of the unemployed in Great Britain, blast furnace men who are walking the streets and the steel smelter, the collier, the miner of limestone, the men who ought to be at the coke ovens, the railwaymen, and for what? For cheap steel from abroad. I say the price is too high, and we will never pay it any more. The steel that comes from abroad if made here would give our men wages instead of the dote, and the iron trade, I rejoice to think, has never been a trade with low wages.1943 I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not going back on those words in order that the Free Trade element in the Cabinet should not be embarrassed. They were the first hopeful words those men had heard for a considerable time. I am sure he will remember the cheers that greeted them. I know perfectly well that further delay in this matter would entail consequences of a far more vital and widespread nature than the possibility of embarrassing the Cabinet, much as we want to avoid that. The right hon. Gentleman said in a speech at Aberdeen last Friday that the recent victory at the poll was a national, and not a party victory. That is true, but what could be more national in importance and character than this question of the salvation from disaster of our staple industries? If the Government are guilty of shirking this question, or even of delay, they are guilty of neglecting the primary national interests. I submit that we are approaching this question in a national and not a party spirit. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has said, the Government have an overwhelming mandate for the protection of our staple industries. A vast majority of their supporters believe heart and soul in the efficacy of that method. If there is going to be any betrayal of trust, it will not be from the use of that method, or even from its misuse, but from neglect of using it.
I agree with a great deal of the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths), but I disagree with him on one point. I think the majority of the iron and steel workers of this country are heart and soul in favour of protecting the industry. Why on earth does the right hon. Gentleman delay? He must at least admit the vital danger to the industry of delay. Will he not tell us frankly what is the objection to these methods which we are advocating? Does he believe in them in principle, and will he apply them this year, next year, some time or never? I do not want to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman; we want his co-operation, not his hostility, but he must realise that if we only had the knowledge that he believed with us in principle, it would enable us to tide over a very awkward time between now and next spring, and would help us to 1944 raise the fresh capital so vital to our industry. It would give us fresh hope and confidence from now on. He tells us that we cannot expect assistance from his Department until we have carried out further reorganisation of the industry. I think the House knows that there is a considerable body of opinion which believes that further reorganisation of the industry would be of very doubtful value, either to the industry or the country, and could only be carried out at the expense of considerable further unemployment and permanent shrinking in the productive capacity of the industry. That would be a most dangerous thing from the national point of view.
I believe I am right in saying that the Prime Minister himself quarrelled fundamentally with the scheme that had been submitted for reorganisation. Even if that reorganisation were desirable and necessary, could it not be more efficiently and easily carried out in the bright anticipation of a prosperous future, rather than in the darkness of imminent bankruptcy? I do not believe that this House thinks the British steel industry is inefficient. I think that its present condition is not so much a matter of surprise, as that its very survival is a matter of amazement when you consider the overwhelming attacks to which it has been subjected since the war. I believe our industry is as up to date and efficient as that of any other country in the world. I believe that in many respects, such as proximity to raw materials, supply of skilled labour and proximity to the seaboard, we are more favourably situated than many of our competitors. I believe that if this industry is saved, it has every prospect of as bright a future as in the past it has been a pioneer and model to the steel industry of the world. It is worth saving, but what the Government have to decide, and at once, is whether it is to live or whether it is to die. I hope that every Member of this House who believes in the necessity of its survival will, if necessary, unless a satisfactory statement is received from the President of the Board of Trade this evening, oppose the adjournment of this House until we do get a satisfactory statement.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Let me, on behalf of the House, congratulate the hon. Mem- 1945 ber for Wednesbury (Viscount Ednam). I am sure the House will wait to hear him the next time he joins in the Debate, because he is evidently another enemy in the camp as far as the Government are concerned, and he is not afraid to put before the House his point of view. I might say, personally, that it is about the best maiden speech I have heard a Tory yet deliver. [Interruption.] I wish to criticise the Government from another angle altogether. I wish to support the Opposition and the Motion they have tabled. There is not a man in this House, or a woman either, who can deny the fact that distress and unemployment are rampant in this country. That distress and unemployment are as bad, if not worse, since this Government came into control. Let us see what we are facing here. It is perfectly true that everyone is saying that the trouble is world-wide; that every country is up against it just the same as we are. When the Prime Minister was in charge of the Labour Government in 1929, he was faced with the same problem—the problem of poverty in the midst of superabundance.
That is the problem. It is not a matter of Free Trade or tariffs. Free Trade or tariffs do not touch the fringe of the problem. In 1929 the Prime Minister, and he is Prime Minister to-day, thought that he could get over the matter by appointing an individual to take charge of a scheme for abolishing unemployment. It was proved up to the hilt that he could not do the job. Therefore, the Government disbanded that Department. When they had done away with the Department the Prime Minister, still facing the problem, appointed a committee, and went outside the Socialist movement. He wanted the brains of all parties, because it was a great problem, requiring unity and the best brains, irrespective of political opinion. That committee was called the Economic Committee. We continually worried the Prime Minister for a report so that we might know how much work the committee had discovered, and whethey they had discovered the El Dorado that was to do away with unemployment. It failed. Why? Because in our grandfathers' time this country was the workshop of the world, and it is no longer the workshop 1946 of the world. Countries to whom we supplied the finished article are not only producing that article for themselves, but they are our competitors in an ever-shrinking world market.
Let me give an illustration of what has happened. Three years ago I was a member of a Parliamentary delegation representing the British Parliament which went to Canada as the guests of the Canadian Government. We travelled all over Canada. We saw thousands of miles of prairie land, which was uncultivated when we were the workshop of the world, in my grandfathers' time, with no wheat growing on it. To-day that prairie has been brought under cultivation. You travel in the train at 30 miles an hour for a whole day and you see nothing but wheat. You go to bed in the train. Throughout the night the train is travelling at 30 miles an hour, and when you awake in the morning you are still surrounded by wheat. You travel all through the next day, and still you are surrounded by wheat. Thousands of miles of nothing but wheat. All that cultivation has been accomplished in our time. Canada is not the only place that is producing the necessaries of life in superabundance. The same thing is taking place in the Argentine. Wheat is being produced in superabundance. When we turn to the other necessaries of life, I would ask any hon. Member to tell me of what article we are short? Ships? Too many ships. Coal? Too much coal. Food? Too much food. Too much clothing. This country used to send out £5,000,000 worth of coal every year to the eastern seas. To-day, there is not one pennyworth of our coal going through the Suez Canal, the reason being that India, China and South Africa are now meeting that market. That is only one instance.
Our ingenuity, our reorganisation, instead of being for the good of our people, seems to be worsening the state of affairs. It was a fellow countryman of mine who was concerned with the Suez Canal, Lord Inchcape, and it was another fellow countryman of mine who discovered that you could smelt steel otherwise than by the open-hearth system—by the Siemens process. By that process the brown coal in the Ruhr and Saar valleys was made of commercial value. Before that process 1947 was discovered that coal was of no use, of no commercial value. Because he discovered that by coking, by taking the gas off that brown coal, it could be used to commercial advantage, the result has been that those coalfields, which ought to be contributing to the welfare of the world, are being used, under the capitalist system, a cut-throat system, to aggravate the conditions that prevail. Instead of the ingenuity that has been displayed within the past 100 years being beneficial to the common people, it has turned out to be a curse. Because of man's ingenuity in tapping the sources of nature and making nature do man's work, we have the unemployed. They are unemployed through no fault of their own.
We were told by the Minister of Labour in 1929 that 1,250,000 men and women were unemployed and that no work could be found for them. We stated then, and we repeat it to-day, that if the Government could not find work for these people—to-day the number is about 3,000,000—they had no right to treat them as criminals; they should treat them with respect. How does the present Government face the situation? Has the Cabinet any idea of looking for work for the people? The British Government is the most powerful Government in the world. There never was such a powerful British Government as the present one. They have tremendous support, and they will have to answer for their actions all the more because they have a free hand. There is nothing that they desire to do that this House will not support them in carrying through, with hundreds of majority. If they think that they can play the game of doing nothing, with all that support behind them, they never mad a bigger mistake. The day of reckoning is coming, And it cannot long be held back.
Instead of facing the situation as they should from the Socialist point of view—they are led by a Socialist—instead of walking the road towards Socialism, they are trying to run capitalism. They have changed their method of procedure. The Prime Minister has tried this way and that way, and now he is trying another way. He has been driven to try tariffs. He is Trying to be it Joe Chamberlain in an age which does not know Joseph. Instead of facing up to an age of which 1948 we are the joint heirs, they are trying to run capitalism and tariffs. There are some very able men in the Government, but the most able men cannot run capitalism. Angels from heaven could not run capitalism, because the working-classes of this country and of civilisation are going to demand a comfortable living. We are living in an age of which the poets and prophets dreamed. Man, with the least amount of labour, can produce the maximum, because we have tapped the sources of nature, and he ought to be able to enjoy a comfortable existence. But instead of the problem being approached on those lines, it is being approached by a policy of tariff pinpricks.
I entirely agree with the phrase that was used by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). It ill becomes a powerful Government and a body of men who are recognised as capable, with all the ability which they possess, with all the backing of the wealth that is represented here and with all the brains that are supposed to be represented here, to produce this feeble, weak, trembling attempt at tariffs. They are not weak or trembling in their attempts when they attack the poorest of the poor. There is no weakening then. Down they come with all their power, as if they were a host charging the enemy. That is how they act when they are attacking the interests of the working-classes. What has happened in regard to tariffs? One of the representatives from France came over here, and he was taken for a day's shooting to soothe his savage breast and to tame his heart and fire. Afterwards, the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs sought to console him and to assure him that we were not getting up against France. But there is nothing surer than that we are getting up against France and against every other country as a result of tariffs.
The day is past when the British Government should do anything that will embitter any other Power against Great Britain. We ought to be big enough, as we are strong enough, to extend the hand of fellowship to every other Power. We ought to be able to send our representatives abroad, not on secret missions, not as ambassadors to courts to find out this and the next secret; we ought to send 1949 our ambassadors into every court asking other nations to co-operate with us and telling them, "We will send to you what you cannot produce, and what you can produce best you will produce; we will act co-operatively." That is what is wanted. It may be wonderful, but it is what every man desires to have done, and it is our duty to make a beginning. There is a chance here for the Government to do that. They have the power. The plea always put up by the last Government was that it was a minority Government. The plea of this Government is that it has too big a majority. That will not satisfy the people who are outside.
It is not simply the unemployed who are dreading this winter; it is every individual who has to work for a living. As a result of the policy of the men behind this Government, every man has received a cut in his wages. Every individual who has to earn an honest penny feels that he has had his standard of living reduced. There never was such a black Christmas looming before the public as the coming Christmas, and all because of the actions of this Government. The Prime Minister has tried to get out of the responsibility, but he must share the responsibility for this idea of cuts. I hold the Government responsible. They frightened the working-class about the £2 or £3 that they had saved. God help the Government if they do not make some attempt to change their attitude before the winter is out. That is all I want to say about unemployment.
Let me now conic to the question of rents. We have raised this question time and time again. I originally put a question to the Prime Minister, and because of the unsatisfactory reply I got from him I said that I would raise the matter on the Adjournment. He then sent me a letter saying that he had handed the matter on to the Minister of Health, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. Last week I again put questions to the Minister of Health and to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I understood the Minister of Health to give a definite promise that the Government were going to do something about reducing rents. The Prime Minister to-day gave us a promise on the rent question, but said that the promise was embodied in the 1950 report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Rent Restrictions Acts. We asked him whether it was the Minority Report to which he referred, and he replied, "No, the Majority Report." I want to tell the Prime Minister and the Government that that is no use to us. It is perfectly true that the signatures of Members of the Labour party are appended to the Majority Report, but that does not alter our view one iota. Nothing in that report is of any use to the working classes.
There are two Ministers now on the Front Bench, and I want to appeal to them. Surely to goodness we shall not let it be said that German statesmen are better to their folk than British statesmen are to ours? If the Government do nothing about rents now, it will be said truly that German statesmen look after their working classes far better than British statesmen do. During the War the Germans had the same difficulty as ourselves with the rent question. They had to declare in 1915 that for the duration of the War and six months afterwards there would be no increase in rent. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) got a wire from Germany at the time, but those are the facts. Rents were increased in Germany in ratio as they were increased here. But last year the German Government reduced rents nationally by 10 per cent. and last week the German Government reduced rents again by 15 per cent. If the British Government wants to do something that will justify its existence and justify the confidence that the British people place in it, it should step in and reduce the rents of working-class houses by 25 per cent. Then I am satisfied that tens of thousands of people this winter would be blessing the Government. If the Government do not do that, tens of thousands will have every justification for cursing them.
The one item in the household budget that the working-class mother has to struggle with is the rent. It is something that she must meet. She can curtail food or clothing, although the unemployed among whom I live I often see threadbare, with never a new suit of clothes, never a second-hand one, with no bedding, and no blankets. Think of 1951 the responsibility that rests on the British Government in a land that, metaphorically speaking, is flowing with milk and honey, a laud in which there is every necessity of life to provide comfort—blankets, bedding, furniture, clothing, boots, and food in abundance—and yet the Government sits idly by and makes no attempt whatever to get down to the problem, not of increasing production, not of retarding production, but of saying to every nation, "Do not send your goods here. Away with them. Do not bring them here. You will smother us." Yet people are starving for those goods. Surely the time has arrived when statesmen not only in our country but of all civilisation should think out ways and means of distributing this great power to produce, this superabundance that is already produced. If they would think along lines of that kind, I am satisfied that there are enough hard brains in Britain to solve the problem. If they will not do it, the time is not far distant when the people will rise in their might, and chase the Government from the place of power.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
In making a maiden speech I have a feeling which is little short of terror. For one thing I cannot emulate the vigorous and magnificent invective of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who has just sat down; and, in the second place, I have had such extraordinary varieties of advice as to how to make a maiden speech that I am in some confusion now. Hon. Members have said that I must not be controversial, that I must not be impudent, that I must not be provocative, that I must not be concilitaory, that I must not be too brief, and that I must not be too long. One hon. Member said: "Besides, remember that you are a barrister and that you should know the kind of reception three-quarters of the House will give you." It is a little difficult, I find, to avoid something in the nature of impudence and controversy in dealing with a Labour Resolution containing the word "unemployment." I know that no one but a fool would argue by proverbs, but there is a proverb hammering at the door of my consciousness and it relates to people in glasshouses.
1952 There have been various reasons advanced why the Labour party was virtually extinguished at the last General Election, and why the National Government achieved its prodigious and almost mastodontic majority. In my humble opinion, the chief reason is that the electorate were able to recollect—the electoral memory is increasing with each election —the amazing promises made by the Labour party in the General Election of 1929. They remembered perfectly well the unqualified pledge to deal immediately and practically with unemployment. That is the reason why there is this amazing majority against the Labour party now.
I know it is commonly said that it is not the province, of an Opposition to suggest policies, but when we are in a condition of admitted crisis it would be an act of small patriotism, to say the least of it, if some attempt were made at combination and constructive suggestion from the opposite side of the House. All we get, however, is a melancholy credo from the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) which helps us not at all and advances us nowhere. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs told us what we have heard on many former occasions, namely, that supply is exceeding demand. That has happened many times before in the economic history of the world; it is bound to happen again, and it will even happen in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics when their industrial machine reaches its maximum efficiency. That is inevitable and self-evident.
What is the truth with regard to the unemployment position to-day? At this season, almost every year since the War without exception, the graph of unemployment has shown a steep curve. Yet what is happening this year? The curve has ceased to mount to any appreciable extent—except over this last week-end, and, if we take the last two months, the curve has shown a steady decline which cannot be entirely accounted for by the operation of the Anomalies Act. Suppose that we had a continuance of undiluted Socialist Government. Suppose that the Socialist Government had remained in office without a major financial crisis. I know that that may be straining the bounds of credibility to a limit which is beyond possibility, but suppose that it 1953 had happened, I do not think any hon. Member will deny that by now, or at least by Christmas, we should have had a, figure of unemployment of over 3,000,000. On many Labour platforms all over the country during the summer there were confident predictions that by Christmas we should have a figure of 3,000,000.
I think that the unemployment position at least is to the credit of the Government. Whether it is, to some extent, due to going off the Gold Standard I know not. That also may be regarded by some as self-evident, but it is at least wholly to the credit of the Government that, instead of approaching the 3,000,000 figure, we are progressively moving away from it. We on this side are as well aware as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs of the fact that unemployment is the chief social evil of to-day, with the possible exception of over-population which is inseparably connected with unemployment. We know that there is nothing more demoralising to skilled labour than a state of enforced idleness. I would add that one of the worst features of unemployment is the fact that the children of the unemployed are necessarily living in the worst possible environment. What chance have children who are brought up in that environment, with the head of the household in a perpetual state of unemployment? Nothing could be more unhealthy.
Because we on this side believe in tariffs as a means of alleviating the situation, we put that solution forward with a certain amount of ardour. We are constantly being told from the other side that the last General Election was won by panic. I wish to repudiate that suggestion. Speaking for my own part, and I can only speak for one of the great northern industrial cities, I did not fight the election on any panic but almost exclusively on the question of tariffs. The suggestion that the electorate has been stampeded seems ridiculous. In the North it is a little difficult to stampede the electors, because the Sam Oglethorpes and the Jess Oakroyds are the last people to respond to any kind of hysterical appeal. Speaking for myself, it is only because of its value to deal, as I believe it can deal, with the problem of unemployment that I am so wholeheartedly a supporter of what we call a scientific tariff. I am not interested pri- 1954 marily, although of course I am interested secondarily in other aspects of the advantages of tariffs. It is primarily because I believe that such a system is progressively becoming more and more inevitable as days go by, that I am such a keen supporter of tariffs.
We on this side recognise that you cannot apply tariffs now in such a direct and easy manner as might have been possible, say, last summer, supposing we had not had the financial crisis and had not been forced off the Gold Standard. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs referred to a "Ministry of all the talents" and said the Government contained a large amount of ability. I should like to throw a bouquet in the direction of the President of the Board of Trade. Clearly, if there is one man of outstanding ability in the Government it is the right hon. Gentleman. Remembering his former political career and convictions, extending I believe back to the end of the last century, I should say of him, "There is the man who preeminently is competent to carry this country from one fiscal system to another." It is constantly said that tariffs ought to be taken out of the realm of party politics. Supposing that that for the moment is impossible, then the President of the Board of Trade is the man who is more competent than any other in this House to take a detached point of view. He clearly has thrown away the doctrinaire Free Trade convictions of former days and is now likely to approach the subject impartially and simply on patriotic grounds.
Another point on which I should like respectfully to compliment the Government is the fact that they have made it more than ever possible, in fact have put it almost beyond doubt, that the coming Imperial Conference is going to succeed. We have in that circumstance alone a great chance of alleviating a large body of our unemployment. Optimists say that we could divert to our own factories about £200,000,000 per annum of manufactures if we got full agreement with the Dominions for the mutual interchange of goods and commodities. Even supposing that we only got 100,000,000, it would go a long way towards alleviating our unemployment. This Government has not banged the door in the face of the Dominions but 1955 has opened it wider than ever and for that reason, and because we have been given a sure and certain hope in this respect we have, in my humble submission, every ground to congratulate the Government. We now hope with a strong basis of confidence that the July Conference will yield good results.
I would respectfully stress what has been said by the Prime Minister to-day. No Government in peace time has ever moved with a speed comparable with that of the present Government. It seems therefore to be a little out of place to attempt to censure it during the first five weeks of its life. The time to censure the Government, in my opinion, would be next April or at any rate after the next Budget, if by that time the figures of unemployment have not sunk below, let us say, 2,000,000. We know that this Government are no purveyors of magic; also that they have not at their disposal any sovereign remedy to relieve our present distresses. I suggest to any supporters of the Government who may be discontented with the degree of speed with which the Government is acting that five months might be a reasonable time in which to seek to censure them but that it is unreasonable to rush in and try to execute a Government which has only been alive for five weeks.
May I mention one or two advantages as they appear to me of the tariff system —which I repeat is inevitable,, whatever the speed with which it is applied, or the method by which it is applied. One of its great advantages is that it is a flexible weapon and if it is found to act mischievously in one direction a particular tariff can be lowered or removed altogether. That has already been shown in our industrial history. Ardent Free Traders seem to have forgotten the history of the McKenna Duties and how when they were restored prosperity returned immediately in some measure at least to the safeguarded industries. There we have almost complete evidence of the advantages of tariffs. One of the most familiar arguments against the tariff is the case of America. Hon. Members say "Look at America, with its vast number of unemployed." They seem to forget that America had that amazing post-War boom which, I suggest, was due almost entirely to the fact that she enjoyed an 1956 impregnable home market, in which she could build up her home trade. This Government has moved and moved very fast. Indeed, compared with other Governments it has moved at an amazing speed and in my humble and obscure capacity as the least of back benchers I am going to give it my strong and loyal support. I should like it to move faster and even faster, to accelerate its speed in the New Year but, so far, I say and I know that in saying so I speak for the great body of my fellow Members who support the Government "We are well content."
§ Mr. LOGAN
I must congratulate the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) on his admirable speech though I feel that he has yet much to learn in regard to this House. He did not show, to us on these benches at any rate, any of that timidity which he said, at the outset of his speech, he experienced. In spite of that, I think he has contributed some of his knowledge to this Debate and we shall be pleased to hear him on other occasions. I should like to call his attention to the indictment of the Government by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). I think we ought to bring our minds back to the subject matter of the Debate. This Vote of Censure is in specific terms. It mentions that this Government have failed in their duty by not bringing forward any solution of the present distress and unemployment. What we are discussing is not possible lines of argument which may be adopted in the future but the question of existing distress and the Government's failure to deal with it. The fact that the Debate has not been kept to that subject may he due to the subtlety of the Prime Minister's language. Perhaps hon. Members opposite are better able to understand the right hon. Gentleman than we were able to understand him. Perhaps they are better able to extricate from his mind some idea of what the future is going to bring. If they are able to do so, then they may perhaps claim to be a truly National party.
We are suffering from the sins of omission of the so-called National party. The hon. and gallant Member for Burnley (Rear-Admiral Campbell) said he was not altogether confident that the Government were acting quickly enough. He told us, 1957 in language reminiscent of Santa Claus, that he was going home in the hope that when he came back he would find something in the stocking of the National Government and in the hope that there were good things in store. At the end of this week I am going back home, where Santa Claus may also appear, where the stockings of our people will have no feet in them, and where the hardships of the Christmas time and the New Year will be well known to each and every one of them.
I want this House to get back to the actual position of to-day, and, whether or not you are pleased with the huge majority that you carry, you must remember that that huge majority carries with it responsibility. As our responsibility has ceased because we were not able to deliver the goods, it is your responsibility here and now to deliver the goods to the people whom I represent and in particular to those whom you represent. Brevity of speech or longwinded rhetoric is no use in this House. Actual matters of fact have to be dealt with, and I want to bring the House to the position that is clamant throughout the whole of the Mercantile Marine of this country, and to ask the President of the Board of Trade what action, if any—and if not any, why not—he has taken with regard to shipping matters that have been raised in this House.
I come from the City of Liverpool, which has a dock line of seven miles long, the finest seaport in the world, and when I see the docks idle and find that the shipping is not coming in, and when I find that 50 per cent. of the shipping that does come in is manned with black, Lascar and Arab labour, and that those Britishers who went across the seven seas to fight in the Great War are now, through no fault of their own, walking the streets of Liverpool and other great seaport cities and towns, what answer have I to take back? The Prime Minister has said, "After the strenuous exertions of a great national campaign, we will now have a little holiday and then come back replenished and refreshed," and the House of Commons that is talking about deflation and the depreciation of the pound is to-day talking about going on holiday at a time of national crisis.
1958 I have to go back, not Santa-Claus-like, but like many more hon. Members who go back to factory towns and seaport towns, and what is the answer that can be given as to what the National Government have done in a crisis? This House could never adjourn if men were sincere and honest and knew that they were facing a great national crisis. Why should we, faced with the great difficulties that confront us to-day, go to our electorate to tell them the glad tidings of Christmas and that this nation is in extremis? It is absurd. I do not want to rage and rant; I do not want it to be stated from the Government Benches that this is all the claptrap of a Labour man, but I want anybody to deny what I am saying that 50,000 men of the best blood of our land, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, who have manned our ships in the past, are to-day walking the streets of our great cities unemployed, while foreign labour is being put in their places.
Last week I had to draw the attention of this House to the case of a ship's crew sailing away from Birkenhead, in a British boat, who landed at Shanghai and then discharged again in Birkenhead, and although they have been discharged in Birkenhead, Chinese have been put in their place at £4 10s. per month, the Britishers who were discharged here having received £9 10s. per month. When I approached the President of the Board of Trade on the matter, I received a letter which stated that, owing to the difficulties of the present situation and his being so busy, he could not find time to deal with the question, but that later on, when times are easier, I suppose, when our men, who are walking the streets of Liverpool and other ports of this great country, have gone into the workhouse, and when their homes are broken up, he will consider the question of whether the Government will send a wreath by request to the burial of these men.
The fetishes of Free Trade and Tariff Reform are not, to me, any solution of the problem. These are academic discussions. They put me in mind of men and women looking on at a person dying and never sending for a doctor. "A doctor's mandate"—to one who does not know how to handle physic. You do not trust him yourselves, on the Government Benches. To-night an indictment has 1959 been made against the Treasury Bench, and if you had courage, you would come into the Lobby to-night and vote with us, because every word in our Motion is true, and the Government have done nothing whatever in regard to curing distress and unemployment.
§ Mr. LOGAN
They have gone up. Unemployment to-day is 2,666,000, with nearly 1,000,000 turned from the Employment Exchanges into the Poor Law. There is an increase this week over last year of 12.5 per cent. in regard to boards of guardians. You cannot get rid of them from the Employment Exchanges and send them to the Poor Law, and then think you are getting rid of your difficulty. What are you doing with regard to the question of normal occupation? One would think that this nation only had to deal with the problem of Tariff Reform and Free Trade, and the economic condition of the country would be settled. You are strangling the life of the nation. Machines have taken the place of men, and your Free Trade and Tariff Reform will not get rid of the question of mechanisation. Your robot will not take the place of mankind. It is impossible for a House like this to deal with the problem by considering whether or not one factory town has more spindles than another, when we are already suffering from too many things and cannot find a market for them, and yet you want a speeding up.
I want to abolish from my mind this question of Free Trade or Tariff Reform, and I want to know, as well as other hon. Members, what is the policy of the Prime Minister and the National Government, and when we shall honestly get to grips with the National party that came in, as the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) informed me, with a mandate from the people. There have been three indictments to-night from the National Government Benches. Is that any indication that those hon. Members and the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook are in agreement with the Government as to the mandate? The Prime Minister does not know why he came in. All that he knows is that he is there, and there he is going to stick as long as you will have 1960 him sticking there. You want a policy, and so do we. We require to see if we can bring better things. Let us get down to facts. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] I will give you more than you like, and if any hon. Member likes to contradict me, I shall be only too, pleased to deal with his contradiction. You will get clear, honest facts.
We were dealing a few days ago with the question of unemployment, and it was my pleasure to ask the Minister of Labour whether we could have a regulation framed to deal with the matter. We said —and I think hon. Members opposite must agree—that the Regulations were not explicit, that they laid down something very ambiguous indeed; and we have a right to demand, as we did, that we should have an explanation of what was meant. We find up and down the country that whatever the spirit of the regulation means, when it is acted upon in the Employment Exchanges it is interpreted in a different manner. This week I had occasion to raise a question with regard to normal employment. I brought in a card of one who has been denied her unemployment benefit. She had 47 weeks' contributions paid in 1929 and 37 contributions paid in 1930. She had been in a job for eight years, and she was discharged from her job because the firm was very slack in business. She has eight contributions this year. I like a joke very much, and if Front Bench Members opposite want to treat this matter as a joke, they can have as much joking as they like, but I am serious about this business, because I had to ask hon. Members last week whether they could explain it, and they could not; and they cannot explain it yet.
I want an explanation with which to go back to Liverpool, and if you cannot give it, perhaps we will try to make you give it in another way, because the people are asking and have a right to know. You frame a regulation with regard to unemployment., and you make a statement to the guardians that they must judge on that statement, and it is most unfair to deny benefit to a person who has been employed for eight years, who has had 47 and 37 contributions in the last two years to her credit, and who, through no fault of her own, had to take seasonal occupation—facts which I have 1961 verified and which are in the hands of the Minister now. Those regulations are damnable and never had any right to be issued unless there was a full explanation given with them. Have I no right, seeing that no one can doubt my figures with regard to 50,000 British sailors, not all Labour, or Tory, or Liberal, but composed of all three, and British officers too, walking our streets unemployed—have I no right, when I see this great poverty, to say, "What have you done as a National Government?" If we had had a majority, we should certainly have done something to redress some of the grievances of which we have been complaining to-day. Why will no Minister deal with black labour? Why has no Government ever dealt with the question of black, Lascar or Coolie labour that is not British, the employment of which has kept our men walking the streets?
We are asked to pull in our belts and to he patriotic. You ask the unemployed to drop 1s. 9d. out of 17s. Ships' officers are walking the streets of Liverpool to-day looking for ships; they have to take that reduction and see other men taking the places of British sailors in the ships. You talk of patriotism, but it is a patriotism that pays, the patriotism that means more profits but is not a question of the souls of men. This is a living problem; the bodies and souls of men have a true value, but not a commercial value, and in the sight of God they have a right as citizens and free men to get a living. Why are the Government afraid to face this problem? Can any Minister get up and say that they have made any attempt., with all their patriotism, to deal with the shipping interest and the men who serve in the ships, who did great things in the War, some of them being torpedoed six or seven times? Some of them live in the very street where I live. I live in a very salubrious spot; our gardens are on the window sills. All the flowers we have in the world are in the window boxes, but we have the flower of the world in the Marine in the Scotland Division.
Why should not this Vote of Censure pass? We make no apology for moving it. Forty-six Members though we be, we represent the backbone and the spirit of the Labour movement outside. Front Bench Members in the past may have failed in their duty, and those on the 1962 Government Front Bench now will fail in their duty as they failed on this side. I ask hon. Members opposite to have what is commonly known as "guts" and to say, "It is a rotten Government, and all they have done is to pay us one month's salary less four days' pay. We do not know why. We are going home to have a jolly good time, and when we come back, the cork will be out of the bottle and the medicine drunk, and the physician will have some other prescription made up ready for us." I ask hon. Members to get rid of bluff and to recognise that they are men, even though they are Members of Parliament. I ask them to analyse the Motion that has been put forward by the Labour party, and then to go out if they do not want to vote, but to come with us into the Lobby if they do want to vote.
§ Mr. LEWIS JONES
I rise to support the Government on this occasion, and I agree with what an hon. Member behind me stated in his commendation of the actions taken by the National Government since they came into Office. I speak, therefore, in no spirit of carping criticism when I impress on the President of the Board of Trade and his colleagues the urgent necessity of doing something for the steel industry. We have heard a great deal about the state of the industry this evening, and when the House discussed the Abnormal Importations (Customs Duties) Act a number of hon. Members spoke of various aspects of the industry, and, in particular, of what was termed its inefficiency. I would like to impress upon the representative of the Board of Trade that there is a strong case for dealing with the iron and steel trades under the terms of the Abnormal Importations Act, because we can honestly say that, judged from the standard of abnormality from the point of view of accentuated imports and the dumping of foreign products, the industry comes within the definition of abnormality in that Act.
When I asked a question of the President of the Board of Trade the other day, I discovered that the importation of foreign steel for October was 61 per cent. of the total production of the whole country. Surely that is an abnormal state of things. Taking the South Wales area alone, the importation of tinplate and sheet bars into the South Wales 1963 ports for the seven months ending October this year, compared with the corresponding seven months of the previous year, showed an increase of 65 per cent. As one who knows the steel trade rather thoroughly, I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that these facts are only indicative of the general state of foreign competition, and that the two sets of statistics which I have given very definitely support my contention of abnormality. So far as dumping is concerned, it may interest the President of the Board of Trade to know these figures. Taking the importation of French sheet bars, in October, 1931, we find that the export price was £2 16s. per ton, while the f.o.t. price for home consumption in France was £3 11s. Taking joists, the French charge for home consumption was £4 8s. 6d., while for export the price was only £2 19s.
These are two instances of a general differentiation in prices as between exports and home consumption, giving clear evidence that the foreign steel producer is dumping into this country large quantities of steel at prices very much below the cost of production. We are perfectly satisfied that sheet and tinplate bars are being poured into South Wales from certain steel-producing districts in Northern France at from 30s. to 35s. per ton less than the actual cost of production. It is important that the House should appreciate that the British iron and steel industry cannot possibly compete with the foreign steel producer in the cost of production, and that the British steel industry cannot possibly survive the dumping of steel products from the continent of Europe. Just a fortnight ago I had to reply to certain charges made on the Floor of this House about the efficiency of the iron and steel industry. I am glad to think that the hon. Member for Ponty-pool (Mr. T. Griffiths) who has had an experience of that industry extending over 50 years, has not to-day followed the course adopted by him a fortnight ago of talking about the inefficiency of the industry.
§ Mr. JONES
That gives me an opportunity of putting my point. The hon. 1964 Member has referred to a report published by his association, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, the principal union of the iron and steel industry—and remarkably well led—which was published about May of this year. I am assuming that the hon. Member for Pontypool, as a member of the executive of that organisation, was at any rate a party to the publication of that report, that it received his approval as an important official. If the hon. Member spoke with one voice a fortnight ago regarding the inefficiency of the iron and steel trade, he spoke with a totally different voice when he put his sign mark of approval to the report published by his own organisation. That report stated:Some of the main causes for the present situation in the iron and steel trade are outside its control. Others have arisen from the War and the financial policy of this country.Further, the report says:The inevitable slump that followed 1920 and 1921 was gravely accentuated by two national coal stoppages.That report, which puts the trade union point of view, explains the reasons for the difficulties of the iron and steel trade, and exempts the employers from at any rate the whole of the responsibility for that trouble.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. JONES
I will tell the hon. Member. It says:It is frequently asserted, and has been a feature of discussion in political circles, that the industry is altogether out of date in its plant, technique, methods and organisation. Such sweeping generalities and condemnation are not justified by the facts, but may too readily be made an excuse for the failure of Parliament to recognise its share of responsibility with regard to the position of this great basic industry.That is a report issued by the hon. Member for Pontypool and his colleagues. Reference has also been made to a deputation which visited the Continent and was representative of both sides of the industry and of Government Departments. The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, which the hon. Member for Pontypool represents in this House, confirms what that report stated about the efficiency of British plants. The Confederation say: 1965The conclusions of the delegation which visited the Continent last year are justified. They said that on comparison they found that the modernity and equipment of certain units of plant here was equal to and in some cases superior to the iron and steel plants which they had seen on the Continent of Europe.Is it too much to hope that even now hon. Members on the Labour benches, especially as they have among them an experienced steel worker in the hon. Member for Pontypool, will cease to talk about the inefficiency of British industry 7 The report of the Confederation to which the hon. Member referred states that a very important factor in the difficulties with which we have to contend at the present time is to be found in the labour conditions on the Continent. I wish the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) would be frank enough to do what he was asking hon. Members on this side to do when he appealed to them, if they had got something which he defined as—
§ Mr. JONES
—to vote with him. The appeal which he made to us on behalf of sailors is one which I make to him on behalf of steel workers. If he is sincere in his appeal to the House he must come over and support me and others on this side when I make my appeal on behalf of the men employed in the steel trade. The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation the union of the hon. Member for Pontypool, states:We do not discard the competitive effect of unorganised labour in such countries as Belgium, France and Poland.In putting forward their policy that the iron and steel trade of this country should be controlled on a public utility basis the Confederation stated:Labour conditions on the Continent are seriously undermining the welfare of British workers in the iron and steel industry.They ask that the industry should be secured against this unfair and aggressive form of competition made possible only by the exploitation of labour and the degradation of healthy commerce and inefficient industry. What evidence is there which makes it possible for the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, which the hon. Member opposite repre- 1966 sents, to make a statement of that kind? Hon. Members will have had circulated to them Command Paper 3601, and I hope they will take the trouble to read it. They will find it is a startling document, describing labour conditions in the steel works on the Continent. They will find that the wages of steel workers in France, Belgium and Poland, the three principal competitors with this country, do not amount to 50 per cent. of the wages paid to steel workers in this country. May I repeat to the House, and to the Labour party in particular, an argument which has been used on many previous occasions? Let us assume that we could import into this country a body of 500 workmen, from, say, Belgium, to man one of our iron and steel works, pay them the wages they would receive in Belgium—which are about 44 per cent. of what is paid in South Wales—and let them work 18 per cent. longer hours.
§ Mr. JONES
Yes, I understand that interruption. Let us also give them the benefit of our social services, which are worth considerably more per head of the population than the social services of Belgium, which are reckoned at 5s. 6d. per head. If we were to attempt to bring such a body of men to this country there would be a hue and cry throughout the land. Fortunately, our immigration laws prevent us from doing such a thing. But we are doing something worse. We say to the Belgian workers, "Produce your steel in your own country. Work at your low rates of wages—wages such as no trade union in this country would tolerate—spend your money in your own markets, follow your own standard of living, and we will then take the products of your labour. We will import the products of your labour into this country and throw our own workmen on to the street to live on the dole, with its 10 per cent. cut—in short, to be supported by our own workmen and not by you." That, apparently, is the policy which would appeal to hon. Members who are continually opposing this proposal to safeguard the standard of life of British workmen against the sweated conditions on the Continent. The Prime Minister, speaking at a conference of the Labour party at Birmingham in 1928, I think, said: 1967Where there are examples of sweated goods produced under conditions against which British people cannot compete without lowering the standard of living, the remedy is not in safeguarding but in prohibiting the entry of such goods.I respectfully suggest to the Members of the Labour party that the conditions under which steel is manufactured on the Continent would not be tolerated for a moment in this country. Those conditions are such that if they were introduced in this country they would constitute a complete reversal of labour conditions, and cause a very serious lowering of the standard of life of the people. If we can make out a case proving that the Continental conditions are such as would not be tolerated in this country, then I suggest that there is ample justification for doing something which will safeguard, not only British producers and consumers, but will also protect the standard of life of the British worker. In 1925 the Iron and Steel Trades Federation passed the following resolution:That the executive committee calls the attention of the Prime Minister to the parlous state of the iron and steel trade of this country, and to the adverse competitive facts outside its control, and urges the Government to take immediate steps to protect the iron and steel trade against the competition of countries where the hours of labour are below the British standard.I suggest to the members of the Opposition that the state of the iron and steel industry to-day is worse than ever it was before, and that the wages conditions are much more serious than they were in 1925 when the Resolution which I have just quoted was sent to the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Pontypool dealt with the conditions prevailing in the tinplate industry and suggested that the importation of cheap foreign steel bars was absolutely essential to the welfare of the tinplate trade.
§ Mr. JONES
The hon. Member for Pontypool said that it was necessary for cheap bars to be imported in order to enable Welsh manufacturers to compete in the markets of the world. That is a point which should be cleared up. The President of the Board of Trade has already met a deputation representing 12 per cent. of the tinplate manufacturers 1968 of South Wales. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) stated this afternoon that 90 per cent. of the tinplates manufactured in this country were manufactured from Welsh bars. The deputation which saw the President of the Board of Trade recently representing the tinplate manufacturers were afraid that some action was going to be taken by the Government to shut out foreign bars. May I point out that the people who have been using these foreign steel bars are the people who have been making fabulous profits by their importation? It is well that the House should know that until the general slump in this trade took place all over the world every manufacturer in South Wales using Welsh bars was only making a small profit while those who used foreign bars were making fabulous profits.
§ Mr. JONES
In this trade prices have gone down all over the world, because those who have been able to buy the steel bars at less than the Welsh price have cut into the market, and they have taken a larger proportion of the trade than that to which they were entitled. The result has been that they have cut down the natural level of prices lower and lower in order to gather in as much of the trade as they could for themselves. Those manufacturers who have been using foreign bars have closed down their steel works, and in that way they have secured most of the trade. The importation of cheap foreign bars, instead of securing a larger export trade, has had the effect of depreciating the market price of tinplates. The deputation which was received by the President of the Board of Trade represented less than 10 per cent. of the tinplate manufacturers, and I am satisfied that the other 85 per cent. of tinplate manufacturers in South Wales are anxious that the President of the Board of Trade should take some steps to prevent the importation of these foreign bars. I have met people in the Lobby of the House this afternoon who have implored me to ask the Government to take some steps to stop the importation of these foreign steel bars.
I am not myself a Protectionist as Protectionists go, but I am very definitely a Safeguarder, and to me there is a great 1969 difference between Safeguarding and Protection. I am a Safeguarder because believe that it is just as necessary to safeguard the consumer as it is to safe-guard the producer. It is also just as essential to safeguard the workmen as the employers. I honestly believe that if and when any safeguarding regulations are applied to any trade or industry the application of those regulations should be conditional upon any scheme of reorganisation which the President of the Board of Trade may require. I do not suggest that there should be a 100 per cent. efficiency, but I do suggest that the President of the Board of Trade should insist upon a certain standard of efficiency. I believe that the iron and steel trade, as far as efficiency is concerned, has kept pace with the other industries of this country. The iron and steel trade may be said to be well nigh on its last legs, and I hope something will be done to revive the industry in spite of the difficult times through which we are now passing.
§ Major OWEN
I have no intention of following the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones) on the question of iron and steel, but I was very much interested when he said that he was not a Protectionist. I should be very glad to have a definition from, him of what a Protectionist really is. It appears to me that his idea of Protection is protection only for his own trade—
§ Major OWEN
I do not wish to pursue that matter any further at the moment. My only object in rising is to put to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour the difficulty which has arisen in many seaside and holiday resorts in this country as a result of the new regulations which have been issued by his Department under the Anomalies Act. It would appear that these regulations are being exercised in an extremely harsh manner in many seaside and holiday resorts in this country. The chairmen of the courts of referees are allowed practically no discretion in dealing with individual cases, and in many Seaside resorts an unemployed man, whatever may be the nature of his employment, is im- 1970 mediately classed as being in seasonal employment. No distinction is made, for instance, between a holiday resort and an industrial area where the conditions are entirely different. I could give the hon. Gentleman many cases which have come to my personal notice in towns like Llandudno, Criecieth, Abersoch, and Llanberis, in my own county, and I believe that it applies to the rest, of the country just as much as to the holiday resorts of North Wales.
The Act was intended by Parliament to remove anomalies, but, in fact, it has succeeded, in many instances, in creating fresh anomalies. Take the case of the man who is really anxious to seek work of whatever kind he may be able to get. If he takes, for instance, a job on his own account on commission, or starts a little wood-selling business, or whatever it may be, for a few months, what is the result? His job ends; he applies for benefit; and his benefit is immediately disallowed. It matters not what the nature of the work is in these holiday resorts, every trade is being regarded as seasonal, and that is the almost invariable interpretation of the chairmen of courts of referees. Take the case of a man who has pursued a regular calling without intermission for many years up to two years before his last claim, and who then, because of local circumstances, consequent upon trade depression in the country, which in turn has had its effect upon seaside resorts, takes up what must be a seasonal job. That at once puts him out of court so far as these regulations are concerned.
One case which has been brought to my notice is that of a man who had been employed as a motor driver and mechanic for 27 years, including 12 years in engineering shops in one firm alone. That case was proved definitely before a court of referees. This man had never done any other work in his life but that of a motor mechanic or a motor driver, but in the past two years, because of slackness of trade, he had been compelled to take work only for the summer or for the holiday season. His benefit was stopped. Another man whose case was brought to my notice was a boiler scaler, who had been employed at a colliery for 26 years. Owing to slackness of trade, he had fallen out of employment, and his 1971 local Employment Exchange sent him to take up seasonal employment at Llandudno. That man's application for benefit was immediately turned down. In another case, an ex-ship's steward, who had been regularly employed for over 20 years, was out of work owing to an accident. It is true that compensation had been paid to him. He was sent, through the official channels, to a hotel job in Llandudno, and as a result, according to the decision of the court of referees, in accordance with the regulations issued by the Ministry, that man has become a seasonal worker.
My appeal to the hon. Gentleman is this: Is it not possible for the Minister of Labour to give fresh consideration particularly to the case of these holiday resorts, where, undoubtedly, the regulations are working more harshly than the House ever intended them to work. The whole object of the House, in the legislation which was passed in the last Parliament, was to do away with abuses connected with unemployment insurance, but the men to whom I have referred do not seek to abuse the unemployment insurance scheme. These are cases in which, as a result of the regulations issued by the Department, a great deal of injustice, unfairness and harshness is being created for a large number of men and women who have paid their contributions regularly over a long period of years, but who, owing to the present depressed state of trade in the country in general, have been compelled for the time being to accept seasonal employment. As a matter of fact, a person who may have been out of work for a considerable period before the last two years, but who has been lucky enough during the last two years to get employment fairly frequently, is infinitely better off than people who have contributed for a very long period. I do urge the Minister to give fresh consideration to these cases particularly, and I feel sure that, after he has considered them, he will modify to some extent the regulations which are now in existence.
§ Mr. GODFREY WILSON
In rising to speak on this Motion and to say that I am going to support the Government, I do not want to consider any question connected with the iron and steel industry or to deal with any of the points 1972 that have been raised, but I wish particularly to urge a point of view which is in serious danger of being overlooked. I have absolutely no sympathy with those members of my own party who are girding at the Government for the slowness with which they are carrying out their business. I do not think I am alone in this opinion. I believe a considerable number of Conservative Members have the same point of view that I have, and I think, therefore, it is very desirable that the country should appreciate that there is not a considerable body of Conservative Members who are anxious continually to criticise the Government and to maintain that they are moving too slowly in the action that they are taking. The steps that the Government have already taken have been taken with remarkable rapidity and, so far as they have gone, I give them my unqualified support, and I would also urge them to consider very closely the problems connected with the iron and steel industry before they come to any conclusion.
I dissent from sonic of the expressions which have been used by members of my own party and I think there is a serious danger that some of them may consider that the recent election was one that meant a Conservative victory. I want to dissociate myself entirely from that point of view. It should be remembered that we owe the result of the election to the rallying of a considerable body of different political opinions, and that it was only owing to the rather peculiar circumstances that the members of the party which I represent have been returned in such very large numbers. I feel that it is necessary to remind some of the members of my own party that, if an endeavour is maintained to harass or to embarrass the National Government or to replace it by a party Government, it can only have the very gravest consequences to the views that I represent, and the Conservative party will probably disappear for many years to come from any serious influence in the politics of the country. I will support the members of the Government and follow the leader of my party and his Liberal and Labour colleagues so long as he is willing and expresses his determination to work with the National Government.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LOUIS SMITH
I am very pleased that time is allowed to-night to discuss 1973 the iron and steel industry. Sitting, as I do, for one of the largest steel-producing districts in England—Sheffield—I would ask the House to allow me a few minutes. It is not unknown in the country that the trade is going through a most desperate time. In Sheffield we have at the moment an unemployment figure of 50,000, and, though in many parts of the country the figures of unemployment have gone down recently, unfortunately in Sheffield during the last few weeks they have tended to increase. One has naturally wondered why there was, on the part of the President of the Board of Trade, any hesitation in giving that assistance to the iron and steel industry which he has already given to other smaller and less important industries. I should like to express appreciation for the assistance that he has given to the industry of cutlery and the manufacturers of spoons and forks, and there is no doubt that we shall immediately see the figures of unemployment decrease. But I am wondering whether there are good reasons for the right hon. Gentleman withholding his hand in the case of iron and steel. I should like to ask him whether he is not by now fully convinced that there have been abnormal importations of steel products during the last few weeks. I should also like to ask whether he does not consider that the figures of importations during, say, the last year or two are not in themselves to be considered abnormal as compared with the figures, say, for 1913, as recently the figure of imports has been approximately 3,000,000 tons whereas in 1913 it was only 2,500,000 tons. Is it not to be considered an abnormal position that to-day we are importing as much as 700,000 tons more than we are exporting?
Another question I should like to ask is whether there may be at the Board of Trade some hesitation in putting an ad valorem duty on iron and steel. If that is so, would he not consider, as in Germany and other countries which have found it necessary to put tariffs on their steel industry, putting on in this country a figure of so much per ton? If the fully manufactured products in the steel industry were protected by, say, £2 per ton and the semi-finished products by £1, there is little doubt that that would meet the case. I am wondering whether 1974 the right hon. Gentleman has sufficient confidence in the steel manufacturers to satisfy himself that there would not be any attempt to exploit the consumer. I believe that, if the Government would put more trust in the industrialists, they would find that they would absolutely play the game and would consider the position of the country as a whole before their own selfish interests. We must have more co-operation between the Government Departments and business generally, and I feel sure that, if more trust is given to industry, industry will certainly show the Government that it can be trusted. I am wondering, too, whether the right hon. Gentleman is fearing that there will be so much opposition from the consumers of steel or from those who make certain steel products into other finished articles. I should like to read the resolution passed by the Re-rollers Association the other day, which shows that the members of that association, who have for some time been hesitating on this question of Protection, are now convinced that it would not interfere in any way with their business.That this meeting of the Sheffield and District Rollers and Tilters view with concern the possibility of deferrment of the question of Protection for the steel industry (by Duty or Imports or otherwise) until the re-assembling of Parliament next year. Accordingly it urges the Government (through the President of the Board of Trade) to take immediate steps to place a Protective Tariff on all finished bars and sheets of carbon and alloy steels.I have another letter in my hand which has come from the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Sheffield a man who was a Member of this House for some little time and who, practically the whole of his life, has been a convinced Free Trader. I speak of Mr. Arthur Neal. In a letter he has written to me to-day saying that a special committee of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce had been set up to discuss the question in the interests of the whole district, he sums up by saying:The Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and the special Imports Committee above referred to have certainly not expressed any opinion against some form of Protection for the iron and steel industry, and the President of the Board of Trade would, I think, he acting under mistaken advice if he framed his policy from the point of view that the attitude of the Sheffield trades 1975 concerned placed him in any difficulty in the imposition of such tariffs as the Government may decide to be in the national interests.I feel that there is no real evidence of considerable opposition coming from those who will use the steel, and, therefore, I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to give this matter very serious consideration before the House rises. Time, in the opinion of many, is the essence of the case. The foreigner is now watching the position, and as from time to time, we have been talking about tariffs, in my opinion we should bring them in if we feel sure that they are welcome.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to two sections of this industry which have specially been brought to my notice. One is the crucible steel makers, and the other the wire industry. These two very important industries are having a very difficult time at present, and when you consider that the crucible steel industry, making high speed steel and other tool steel, originated in Sheffield, that we were the pioneers in this particular trade, it seems indeed a calamity that circumstances in other parts of Europe should allow supplies from those who have been taught by Sheffield how to make steel, and that they, owing to their very low rates of wages and their specially cheap costs of manufacturing, call flood the market with those particular steel supplies. The fact that the wire industry, which is capable of producing 450,000 tons per year, has to-day only an output of about 250,000 tons, shows that there is a very great field for the Board of Trade to consider. When one knows that we have to-day about 12,000 men engaged in the wire trade receiving wages more than double the wages paid in Germany, and about three times those paid in Belgium, one realises that our manufacturers in that industry have really an impossible job.
The Prime Minister said earlier in this Debate that the Government have moved more "rashly swift" in this connection that previous Governments. I was in this House during the two years of the Labour Government, and many of us who sat on the Opposition Benches felt that certain matters were rushed through which were to the detriment of 1976 industry. I am sure that many of us have had the feeling that the Socialist Government were very rash during those two years. Many of us could not visualise any rashness in the present President of the Board of Trade, and I feel therefore that we can trust him to do only those things which are wise, and which will help the trade generally in this country. But I urge him to consider that, in the case of the iron and steel industry, it is high time that we had the advantages which he is able to give to other trades. Many of us have seen in offices all over the country, a motto of which we try to get workers in offices and works to take notice, namely, "Do it now." May I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that in the interests of the iron and steel industry, with such terrible unemployment figures as we have to-day, and the terrible difficulties with which firms have to contend in making both ends meet, that he should take note of the motto, "Do it now."
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I was much interested in the speech of the hon. Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Mr. L. Smith), who has great knowledge of the industry to which he has referred. I should like to emphasise what has been said in one or two earlier speeches, that we do feel it unfortunate that His Majesty's Government were not able to give us time for a Debate on this very vital question to industry, and that we have to sandwich our speeches between speeches in regard to this so-called Vote of Censure. I believe it is known to the authorities that a very large number of Members of this House are keenly anxious with regard to the situation of British industry. They are dreading that things are going to become worse unless action is taken. I only wish that we could have had a continuous Debate on this subject, so that we might have got to grips with the question and might have been able to produce continuous evidence before the Government.
The Socialists are, in fact, censuring their own Government. They seem to have failed to realise that the state of the country as we found it at the beginning of August was such that one cannot get out of that position in a few weeks. It would have been better if the Leader of the Opposition and his friends had 1977 censured themselves in private rather than have brought this Motion here. I cannot support them in their delusions in trying to convince the country that their sins were originated by their successors. I think I am voicing the opinions of large numbers of hon. Members when I say that we would have liked a free vote of the House on the only remedy, as we believe, which can save the pound sterling from falling even lower, and most certainly the only remedy which can correct the adverse balance of trade. I have been waiting to hear from any other section of the House any other remedy for correcting the adverse balance of trade, other than the policy which we are anxiously waiting for His Majesty's Government to announce. So far as the Government have attempted to do that through the Prime Minister, up to date, they have no policy, and I do suggest to the Prime Minister, with his democratic upbringing, that he might be sufficiently democratic to allow the House at least to indicate the policy that the nation wants, and the policy which we know the nation intends to have.
The Prime Minister read us to-day admirable words from his manifesto at the time of the election in regard to the balance of trade. He told us that the mandate that he received was a mandate for consideration. He told us, and we were much encouraged by it, that he is fulfilling that mandate now. But what is to be said for a doctor's mandate when the doctor announces that only after six months will he be able to give us his diagnosis. I think the country will rather dread that there is great danger to the patient, who may possibly die while this very long consideration takes place. I must remind the House that 2nd February will he something like six months from the time when the Prime Minister took the helm. Here we are, hove to in mid channel, with a gale of wind blowing, and we are waiting for orders to go down to the engine room, not knowing whether we are to go ahead or to go astern, or what is going to happen to the ship. That is what we are concerned about. We feel that it is high time that the Government who have been elected with a free hand should indicate on broad lines what their national policy is. If they can do that, if the President of the Board of Trade this evening can do 1978 it, it will have a remarkable effect in restoring confidence, because many of our troubles are psychological.
At the present time, wherever we look, we find that industrialists do not know how to plan for next year or the year after, and are, in consequence, in great difficulty. We are told that the Government are acting with great speed. I congratulated the President of the Board of Trade on the pace with which he got to work when he introduced his Abnormal Importations Bill, and I am sure there is not a Member in this House who does not thank him, not only for his speedy action, but for the courageous and broadminded speeches which he delivered, and which impressed every one of us. It is to be six months before we are to hear what the Government's policy is. It is a long time to wait. The Prime Minister to-day quoted from the "Glasgow Herald" the opinions of that journal as to what the mandate was about. An hon. Friend on this bench, to whose party I do not belong, wanted to know if he was quoting from the "Daily Herald." That was denied. The "Glasgow Herald" apparently imagines that there was no sort of definite mandate either for or against a change in the fiscal system. I say, in all friendship to the Government, that so far as the Conservative party are concerned there was an overwhelming mandate for action. I think the Prime Minister will agree also that those who are not associated with our party hut who support him also deliberately gave him a free hand for action.
Before the fall of the Labour Government—and this is a fact known to a large number of his followers as well as some of his colleagues in the Cabinet —we were as a party committed up to the hilt to an emergency tariff. There can be no doubt about that. Our leader made three speeches, just before the fall of the Government, in which he made our policy quite clear. In two of those speeches he declared, with all the emphasis possible, that action speedy and effective would be taken, more especially with regard to iron and steel, which industry, he made quite clear, would be protected. I know that we have to look at things somewhat differently as the supporters of a National Government, and that we have to try to play together in every way, but I do beg Members of 1979 the House to realise that when our party agreed to join and to support the National Government our leader called a meeting at the Kingsway Hall, and we agreed to support the Prime Minister and his Government on the speech that our leader made on that occasion. That speech indicated the lines of policy which he was going to follow, and so convinced was I at the time that I most joyfully seconded a vote of confidence not only in his leadership but in our going to the support of the National Government.
In the election we went as separate parties. That was made perfectly clear, and as Members of our party we fought on our policy and our policy swept the land. On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and I make no complaint, and his organisation, in 82 selected constituencies ran candidates against Conservatives, and they were swept out of the land. Only six of the 82 survived, and one or two of them only came through because they sheltered under the umbrella of the Leader of the Conservative party. What was the result of the election? 471 Conservatives and Unionists were elected. Does anyone imagine that we were elected to consider? We were elected to take steps at once, and try to save the pound, to correct the trade balance and to find employment; for our people. No one will dispute that the correction of the adverse trade balance was the supreme issue at the election. Most able speeches were made during the short Session of the last Parliament. We were told that there was one great problem with which we must deal, and that was the correction of the adverse trade balance. The leader of our party, in a most eloquent speech, described that as the paramount issue of the Election. I wonder what hope there is for correcting the adverse balance of trade other than by restricting imports or increasing exports. You can only restrict imports either by tariffs or prohibition, and in the opinion of myself and my friends you can only increase exports by going right ahead with the policy of Empire economic union, and seeing to it that our traders have preferential opportunities in the markets of the Empire.
1980 No one blames His Majesty's Government for having no policy at the election. Obviously, there was no time. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman who now leads the Opposition and his party brought this country to the edge of the abyss and there was not time to sit down and work out a policy. We bad to get out the lifeboats to save the nation from their folly. I think the right hon. Gentleman must realise that. However, that is some time ago. Probably at the back of their minds His Majesty's Ministers have some idea of what their policy is going to be. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will indicate to us this evening the broad lines of that policy. Are we really going to set to work definitely to put our agriculture and our industry generally on an economic basis, and to give them, at any rate, the security which every other country in the world is giving to its industries? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give an answer to that question.
I can well understand that the Prime Minister wants to carry with him some of his rather reluctant colleagues, but if he is going to wait too long I am afraid that he will not carry the country with him. I want him to carry the country with him. I want the National Government to be strong, with the nation behind it, because I believe that we can achieve great success, but not if we sit down, like so many Buddhas, and merely contemplate. He was referring this afternoon to extremists on both sides, and he gave a pointed look in my direction when I was sitting next the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I was longing to see somebody else on our Front Bench on whom he could cast his other eye as, perhaps, an extremist. My views are well known, but I have never gone ahead of the policy of the party to which I belong since that momentous change of policy of my leader at the time of the last Imperial Conference and, though I am an extremist, there are nearly 500 extremists in this House belonging to my own party. There are many Liberal Nationals also who have gone nearly as far as I and my hon. Friends in indicating what they mean by the free hand and the policy which they desire to see carried out. I cannot help asking how long four or five bon. Members here, who are more responsible for the parlous con- 1981 dition of this country than even the Socialists themselves in the last Parliament, are to be allowed to hold up the national will and thwart the people's verdict?
We should like to hear some word regarding agriculture before this Debate is concluded. We were all delighted when the Minister of Agriculture indicated that he was going to have a wheat policy, and was dealing with early spring luxuries, and so on. That is a policy I, for one, do not wish to belittle, and I believe that when hon. Members have studied it more, they will find it is going to give great employment in many industries at seasonal times of the year—and I speak with some knowledge of those industries. But when you come to the policy on agriculture, what is the outlook? Is it wise to leave agriculturists all these months, not knowing what they are to plant, when we know there is greater distress in that industry than has been known in our lifetime, and when, wherever you look, you find hundreds and thousands of farmers who are facing bankruptcy, and who hardly dare go on with the tilling of their soil, because they simply have no conception as to what the Government's policy is going to be Why cannot the Government definitely say, "We are going to see that you have economic life, and are allowed to exist and prosper in the future and that, definitely, we are going to deal with this problem of cereal crops and livestock"? What better way of improving the adverse balance of trade is there when you know that if you tackle pig production alone, in three years, on a scientific basis, you can find employment for 250,000 more of your countrymen in an occupation for which you can train almost anyone with any intelligence at all?
The great industries of this country at the present time are hanging on by their eyelids, if I may use the descriptive words of the leader of the Conservative party. Does anyone now deny, after the powerful speech we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), how serious is the position of steel? This country has been the home of steel. We discovered all the great original inventions and various steel processes. Ask of Mr. Schwab and any other great man in the 1982 outside world from which country the secrets and discoveries of the steel trade came, and they will tell you that they came from this country. We allowed all that to go by. We were so complacent, and our industries were prosperous. The United States passed us many years ago, Germany has passed us and France has passed us. We are now fourth, and by whom are we being beaten in this steel race of the world? We are being beaten by the most highly protected countries who have Protection in developing the cheap production of steel, and are under-selling us. Is there any trade in the world which has been so steadily undermined as the great steel industry of this country? If we go on considering much longer on this subject there will be no steel trade to consider. Before the War, we exported from this country large quantities of iron and steel, and our exports exceeded our imports by 2,738,000 tons. For the first 10 months of this year the imports from foreigners exceeded our exports by 715,000 tons. In other words, our imports are now 61 per cent. of our output. Could you have greater abnormality than that? Why have an inquiry? You have had four great inquiries—the Departmental Committee of 1917, which recommended Protection, the Balfour Research Committee of 1925, the Civil Research Committee of 1925, and the Civil Research Committee of 1929. I have the greatest respect for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, as a journalist, as an astute politician and as a coming statesman, but, really, if he is going to tour these industries so that the right hon. Gentleman can make up his mind, and is going with a telescope to look at the rust on the machinery, is it worth while, and will not the great iron and steel industry be rather injured at this suggestion of an inquiry? It may be said, "Oh, yes, let the steel industry rationalise first; then we will give it security." What man can rationalise to-day unless he knows where he is going to be in the next five years? I have been in business since 19 years of age, and is there any business man who really supposes you ought to spend a vast amount of money on renovating your machinery, expanding your works and your output. when your whole future is so uncertain? Give security to the industry, and then you can 1983 bring pressure on it to rationalise. My belief is that if the industry is prosperous, and has a chance, you will find that the captains of industry to-day, as of old, are as ready to renovate their plant as they have ever been.
One more word with regard to the users of steel. The President of the Board of Trade, quite naturally, will be looking at the question not only in its immediate reactions on the steel trade and whether he can employ 100,000 men in the steel trade and coal industry and other industries, but he will be considering what effect it may have on the using industries. I beg him to believe me when I say, having gone into the subject very carefully from the time the last Conservative Government was in office, that in this campaign they have had the support of 80 per cent. of the users of steel in this country. Who are the hostile users? The shipping trade are no longer hostile, for their ships are made of British steel. Is the motor industry hostile? They are the greatest users of steel, and I know they are sympathetic and want to see the same advantage given to iron and steel as is given to their own great industry under the McKenna Duties. Is the engineering industry hostile? It is not, or why would it be entertaining me at lunch to-morrow? Then there are the electrical engineers, but I can find no hostility amongst them. There are the light castings, tubes and wire, but I cannot find any hostility there. They all seem most sympathetic, though they would like to see their own industries safeguarded as well. It is a small section of the re-rollers who have been very vocal. What, is their contention? They say that they can get on only if they can import foreign steel so that they can export their products cheaply. It means they are importing this foreign steel from protected countries more cheaply than we are producing in this country.
What is the truth of it? It is that in 1929 we exported from this country something like 70 per cent. of the total exports of this product consumed by the whole world, and of that amount only some 8 per cent. of our total production in this country was made from foreign steel. It is a comparatively small section of this industry which is holding up the right hon. Gentleman. You would require the 1984 hewing of some 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 tons more of coal per annum and give immediate benefit to the whole railway system of axis country, which is being so grievously affected owing to the fact that they are carrying one ton of foreign steel instead of 10 or 12 tons of partly manufactured steel from one district to another in this country. I estimate that the railways alone have lost £30,000,000 during the last 10 years because we have been so foolish As to allow this foreign steel to come into our midst.
I have not time to go further into these subjects, but I urge the President of the Board of Trade to give us some hope for the future. If he is simply going to give a blank negative to our appeals he is asking a mighty hard thing of hon. Members from the industrial North, who are pledged up to the hilt on this matter. He is asking a very difficult thing if he is going to say that all he can tell us is that on the 2nd February, or soon after, the Government, who have been considering this matter for six months, will come forward with some proposition. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to let us go back to our constituents with hope and to be able to tell them that His Majesty's Government are going to push ahead at once; and that in relation to the twin concerns of agriculture and industry they are going to act in a national spirit. The Prime Minister has been given a free hand by this country, a mandate such as has never been given before. Do not let that hand become tied by two or three obstructionists. If that should happen, we are going to meet our electoral doom.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) commenced his speech in a more soothing manner than usual, but we rather expected that, as he developed his case, there would be a threat to the President of the Board of Trade that unless he swallowed the whole of the medicine of the unofficial leader of the Conservative party there is no doubt as to the trouble that is brewing for him and some of his colleagues in the Cabinet. At any rate, the hon. and gallant Member has been consistent in his advocacy of Protection and has every reason to be proud of his achievements since the Government came into office. It is said that a little Protection makes 1985 a Protectionist mad, and that is very evident from what we have seen already. It was first of all a question of iron and steel. Then the hon. and gallant Member went on to discuss agriculture.
§ Mr. HALL
I am not complaining. We certainly know where the hon. and gallant Member stands, which is more than we can say of some hon. Members. He is not going to be satisfied with iron and steel and agriculture; he wants a general tariff. [interruption.] I do not know what the Prime Minister will say to that, and I am not sure what the President of the Board of Trade is going to say about it. I have no doubt as to what the Home Secretary will say—[Interruption]—notwithstanding all the pressure that has been brought to bear upon Members of the Cabinet in the Lobbies and corridors and in the Committee Rooms and private rooms of this House. The Prime Minister, in reply to the late Solicitor-General, excused his inability to state the policy of the Government on the ground that the Government have only been in office about five weeks. The right hon. Gentleman has been Prime Minister of this country for two years and six months, and Prime Minister of a National Government for nearly four months. During the two years and three months the late Government were in office we had no end of difficulty in getting him to state his policy to us and to the House of Commons, and I have no doubt that the present House of Commons, powerful as it is and assisted by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth, will also have no end of difficulty in getting him to declare his policy. I do not think that the Prime Minister or the Government have a policy.
We have been told to-day that whenever we address our constituents we should always preface our remarks by telling them that we are still facing a grave national crisis, but that we must not blame the Government because they spent all the time before the election in discussing a formula and all the time since the election in discussing the protection of some pettifogging articles under the Orders of the President of the Board of Trade and carrots and asparagus under the Orders of the 1986 Minister of Agriculture. These things are very cold comfort for the working people, and in our Motion to-day we say definitely that, in view of the approaching winter and the distress prevailing in the country, this House, not only those who have tabled the Motion but the House as a whole, regrets the failure a the Government to take no effective steps to deal with the problems which are responsible for the condition of the masses of the people. There is more anxiety now in the homes of working people than at any time during the last generation. In hundreds and thousands of homes the breadwinner is unemployed. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Socialist Government!"] Whatever may have been the responsibility of the Socialist Government in that matter, it is the present Government which is responsible for reducing their standard of living by cutting down unemployment benefit by 10 per cent, We have now low wages and high rents, evictions, anxiety, poverty, indeed, I have never known such concern as exists at the present time among the masses in our industrial areas.
The Prime Minister and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are departing on Friday for their Christmas holiday, and I understand that the House will be up for nearly two months. During the worst of the winter months no hope, no prospect of any improvement at all in the conditions of the great masses of the people. It is true to say that millions voted for the return of a National Government, expecting it to do something to improve their conditions. Already they can see that they have been disillusioned. They are asking what the Government has done—this array of talent on the Front Bench opposite, this unprecedented majority, this wonderful Government with wonderful achievements. One has only to look around to see what those achievements really are.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in a very able speech reiterated his position regarding a general tariff. He inferred that he was not an extremist, not such an extremist that he wanted a 100 per cent. tariff. The right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with just one third of that amount, on condition that the tariff was a general tariff and not confined solely to iron and steel. In hearing some of the speeches 1987 made by right hon. and hon. Members this afternoon; one would imagine that a tariff was the only solution of the difficulties with which this country is faced, that all that is required is to apply a tariff. I ask those who hold that view whether they can point out a single tariff country in the world where conditions are better than the conditions in this country.
§ Sir H. CROFT
With the exception of Germany there is no single protected country in Europe which has not had lower unemployment than this country for two years. That is excluding Russia.
§ Mr. HALL
The difficulty is that there is no country in Europe where the statistics of unemployed are collected as they are collected in this country. I rather expected the hon. and gallant Member to refer to America, for that is the usual cry. I would ask him to direct his attention to one of the leading newspapers of this morning, and to ascertain what the conditions are in America now—America where are the high priests of tariffs and a very high tariff wall. What do we find? In a very sick world America is a very sick country. President Hoover in his message to Congress said yesterday that unless taxes are increased the United States Government will amass a deficit of some £850,000,000, reckoned at par, in three years. The decline in the volume of trade and the rise in the figures of unemployment have both been more spectacular in the United States of America than in any other civilised country. There has, however, been nothing to match it in modern history.When I was in America in the late summer"—said this writer—unofficial but well-informed estimates placed the number of unemployed in the coming January at 12,000,000. The position has now so greatly deteriorated that the number is likely to reach 15,000,000 before the spring. The hunger marchers at Washington this week have already given the President and the Government an tin-pleasant reminder of the existence of this enormous workless army, and it was deemed advisable not only to try to tame the marchers with hot dinners and beds, but also to barricade the approaches to the capital itself and to put on some hundreds of police armed with rifles and tear bombs.Is that the kind of condition to which the hon. Member for Bournemouth and 1988 his tariffist friends desire to bring this country? Reference has been made to France. There are at the present time quite a large percentage of unemployed persons in France—36 per cent. of the men are intermittently "out." One could deal with the question of Germany and other countries.
§ Mr. HALL
Then the hon. Member should know that Debate in this House is carried on by speeches and not by interruptions. I want not only to deal with the question of the condition of the workers. Let me deal with the general volume of trade. The Prime Minister rightly said that we are passing through a world crisis, a crisis that is not only affecting this country but every other country. I have here the report of the League of Nations showing the volume of production in the various countries of the world, and with but two exceptions the reduction in the percentage of production is lower in this country than in tariff countries throughout the world. Let me give an example. Taking 1928 as 100, in the United Kingdom the production for the three months ended August was 87.3 per cent., as compared with 100 in 1928. In Germany it was 73.2 per cent., in the United States 74.8 per cent., in Canada 77.5 per cent. and in Poland 71.8 per cent. That is the position, as far as the actual production in all industries in those countries is concerned. If tariffs are a solution of the difficulties with which industry is confronted, why have they not been a solution in those countries?
I do not want to go too fully into this question of production of iron and steel. One would imagine that it was only in this country that there had been a reduction in the production of iron and steel last year. Taking the position since January, there was an actual increase of 50,000 tons of steel in October compared with January. In the United States the reduction in the month of 1989 October compared with January was from 2,483,000 tons to 1,592,000 tons. With one exception there is a reduction in the production of iron and steel in almost every steel-producing country in the world. Take the figures of the importation of steel into this country for the last 10 months. They are much lower than the imports of steel for a similar period of last year. I know that hon. Members opposite have a case in dealing with importations during part of October, but, spreading the imports over the first 10 months of this year, and comparing them with the corresponding 10 months of the previous two years there has been a reduction.
I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade and almost all the Ministers will be very pleased when Friday comes. We have been told that the Labour Government held the record for the appointment of committees and commissions. It can be said of the present Government that, since it has been in office, it has set up a record in the matter of receiving deputations on these questions of tariffs. A record was created yesterday when there were 70 questions on the Order Paper address to the President of the Board of Trade, almost all dealing with Protection. I repeat that a little Protection is making the Protectionists mad. They are worrying the right hon. Gentleman almost to death on this matter. I am not sure that it is not having the effect of almost shaking the right hon. Gentleman's faith in himself. I read of a deputation which waited upon him on Monday and Tuesday of last week. They were not satisfied with what took place on Monday, and they saw him again on Tuesday, and we read that at the meeting on Tuesday:Mr. Runciman, President of the Board of Trade, explained the present position in great detail"—That is in connection with the question of the protection of iron and steel.and marshalled impressive statistics and arguments"—No one could do that better than the right hon. Gentleman.for not taking a hurried decision in a matter of such vital importance. He indicated that the figures in the possession of the Board of Trade have been most carefully examined and without undue delay, 1990 and that he has a perfectly open mind in connection with this question.'[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Why not? Because lye know the right hon. Gentleman's consistency during almost the whole of his political career. We know too, that the President of the Board of Trade is not concerned with one industry only but with the aggregate of the industries of the country. We know the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has delivered in this House. Had I the time and the means I would like to collect the right hon. Gentleman's speeches on Protection and present him with a volume of them so that he himself might read them. Some two years ago dealing with Safeguarding he said:Hon. Members who support Safeguarding argue that if you stimulate the iron and steel industry by Safeguarding you will shut out the importation of 3,000,000 tons of iron and steel into this country and it is claimed that the iron and steel industry would consume 10,000,000 tons of coal more per annum, which I think is a shameless exaggeration.He went on to ask whether the House was aware of the other industries which were dependent on the steel industry. He enumerated those industries, and he said:If you are going to shut out 3,000,000 tons of iron and steel you are going to shut out the raw material required by hundreds of industries in this country.That is just two years ago, and the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion went on to explain the real cause of the difficulties in the iron and steel industry. He pointed out that the only way that we would be able to hold our own in the markets of the world and supply cur industries with the material required was by the application of efficiency methods and by putting our house in order. Is the right hon. Gentleman of that opinion to-day? He said that we would have to follow the example of enterprising men in Germany and the United States, and he gave some examples. He said:In the United States there is 12¾ horsepower per man employed in handling these heavy metals while we use only 9 horsepower.… I turn now to another aspect of the same problem. One of the reasons why we are not able to produce as cheaply as the United States and Germany is because our blast furnaces are too small. In the United Kingdom at the present time we have 159 furnaces in blast and the output is 6,700,000 tons a year. In the United States with only 219 blast furnaces in blast, 1991 their output is 40,000,000 tons per year, and in Germany, with 102 blast furnaces in blast, the output is 12,000,000 tons a year. The capacity per furnace in the course of the year in the United Kingdom is 45,000 tons, in Germany 120,000 tons, and in the United States 181,000 tons.Thus the right hon. Gentleman two years ago supported the policy which has been put forward from this side as the policy of the Steel Federation, namely, to deal with this problem by a system of reorganisation and not by the process of tariffs. In the same speech two years ago, he said:I was sent here, like many others, to represent the consumer and the consumer has been neglected in the past on these tribunals.Those were the tribunals set up under the Safeguarding Act. He added:Let it be stated hero that neither the wages of our working classes nor the incomes of the lower middle classes are such that they can afford to pay one penny on cutlery, clothing or any other commodities that might be saved if we were rid of these artificial increases. The fact is that we have found by our European experience that wherever tariffs are higher the cost of living is higher.… The fact remains that we are the most Free Trade country in Europe. The International Labour Bureau take us therefore at the level of 100 and they say that the value of real wages is 100 in London."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1929; cols. 774–778, Vol. 229.]The right hon. Gentleman went on to point out that in most of the tariff countries it was considerably below this figure, this country being taken as the basis in fixing the standard of wages in other countries. While my hon. Friends here are not hide-bound Free Traders in the real sense of the word, we certainly say that we would like to see examples from other countries which have been quoted to us because, in the words of Johnson:Words are the daughters of earth and deeds are the sons of Heaven.We would like to see more improvement in the conditions of those countries which certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen wish this country to emulate. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is going to undertake a tour round the various industrial centres of this country, but I hope the Government are not going to depend on the findings of the hon. Member. It is not that I minimise for a moment the ability and the capacity of 1992 the hon. Member for dealing with a position of this kind, but I hope the Prime Minister, before he comes to a decision as important as this is, taking into consideration the dependency of other industries on this particular industry, will do as the Prime Minister in the Conservative Government in 1925 did, and not leave this even for a decision of the Cabinet, but refer the matter to the Civil Research Committee. As a result of the findings of the Civil Research Committee in 1925, notwithstanding the fact that we had a Government made up of the right hon. Member for Spark-brook and other right hon. Members echo are now leading the agitation for the imposition of tariffs upon iron and steel, they themselves felt that the repercussions upon other industries in this country were such that they could not put into operation what was asked for by so many Members of the Conservative party at that time. I hope that the Prime Minister will consider adopting the same course.
The worst of these tariff controversies, such as we are having now, is that they are taking the mind of the nation away from an examination of the real difficulties. After all, the thing that matters is the real development of the resources of this country and the real improvement of the conditions of the people of this island. I certainly do not regard this nation as being down and out, and having to follow the very bad examples of some of the other nations. We have natural advantages here that no other country in the world possesses, advantages in climate, in the vigour of our people, in the fact that our coal measures are within easy reach of the ports—all these; and all that we want is the will and the courage of the Government so to reorganise industry in this country that they can bring happiness and contentment to our people.
Since we went off the Gold Standard, since we have had this agitation for tariffs, there is scarcely a country in the world that has not interfered with goods going in from this country. Tariff walls have been raised higher and higher, and some 18 to 20 nations in the world are becoming in some way hostile to us. We hate this economic, tariff war. After all, important as our home trade is—and I do not minimise it—this country is still 1993 dependent, and will have to depend very largely, on. foreign trade. I come from a district where foreign trade is the very life of that particular industry.
Take the coalmining industry of this country. There are fewer men employed in it at the present time than there have been at any time during the last 35 years, and there is a gradual falling-off in the use of coal. We must export from this country something between one-third and one-fourth of our total output to have anything like regular work in the industry. At the present time we have over 300,000 of our men unemployed, some of whom have been unemployed for the last 10 years, we have low wages, which bring such debts and poverty that the outlook before our miners is as black as ever it has been; and what has happened? In every coal-producing country in the world there is over-production of coal. There are stocks of coal in Germany of from 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 tans, and in France, in Poland, in almost every coal-producing country in the world we find this difficulty.
There is such a scramble for the export trade that this scramble is unfortunately, as a result of this agitation, affecting this country worse than any other coal exporting country in the world. The French Government imposed till the 1st December of this year a restriction upon the import of coal into that country of something like 80 per cent. of the average based on the previous three years, and since the 1st December of this year they have further reduced the amount to 72 per cent. What is even worse than that, as a result of our going off the Gold Standard, they have imposed a surtax amounting to 3s. a ton on all coal imported from this country. Mr. Evan Williams, with whom I do not usually agree, had a very interesting letter in "The Times". of yesterday, in which he pointed out the difficulties with which the coal export trade of this country is confronted.
Let it be said that no industry in this country has benefited more during the last six years as a result of what has been done for it by previous Governments —subsidy in 1925, extension of the working day in 1926, law wages in 1927, de-rating in 1928, and 1929—and yet to-day the condition of the mining industry is 1994 worse than it has ever been before. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quota!"] Hon. Members who talk about the quota ought to know that, with the quota in application, at the present time there are 6,000,000 tons of coal stored in this country, which cannot be sold. Let them ask the Secretary for Mines whether the quota has in any way impeded output in this country, and he will tell them at once that that is not so. There is something fundamentally wrong with the coal industry of this and other coal-producing countries, and I would ask the President of the Board of Trade if he could now indicate what has been the result of the representations which have been made by this Government to France with regard to this question of a surtax, for other exporting countries have an advantage over us in this matter, and it is very unfair for this restriction to be imposed against us. I hope the Government are now in a position to give some indication as to what the reply to our representations has been.
I certainly would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government are going on with the question of the scientific treatment of coal. I have no time to develop the argument now, but I know that the late Government, under the present Prime Minister, did a considerable amount of work both with regard to the testing of oils produced from coal and also in conducting negotiations with certain of the owners of the various processes in this country. That, in my opinion and in the opinion now of a large number of those who are interested in the coal industry, both owners and workpeople, is the only way of dealing with the difficulty; and one of the ways of dealing with the balance of trade, which the Government are so anxious to do, is by endeavouring to reduce the importation of oil into this country by the production of oil from coal in this country and using up large supplies of coal in that process.
The words of the Motion of Censure have been referred to by the Prime Minister, and I would beg of the right hon. Gentleman to give more attention to the conditions of the working people of this country. We are not satisfied that everything which could be done is being done at the present time. Before 1995 the right hon. Gentleman came in, I referred to the fact that the conditions of the working people of this country now, as a result of cuts, of irregular work, and of low wages, have brought about greater despair than I have seen during the whole of my lifetime. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government have a mandate. The right hon. Gentleman said to the working people of this country—and he did get hundreds of thousands of their votes—"Trust me, and we will endeavour to get things done." Well, the Government have been in office for five or six weeks. [Laughter.] Well, the late Labour Government were in office only three weeks or a month when there was a Vote of Censure—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and that was a minority Government, and almost every other day the Prime Minister was questioned in regard to policy. I ask the Government to realise that lots of people have placed their confidence in him, and I would remind him of the saying of one of whom he has heard so much that you can deceive same of the people some of the time, but you cannot deceive all the people all the time.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
My hon. Friend who has just sat down made a very full statement of his views to the House, and has done me the honour of quoting from speeches which I have delivered in the past. I can express my gratitude to him for having read those quotations, because it will now make it unnecessary for me to verify my references, and we may as well pass on to the business of the evening. He has put to the House a number of examples of the troubles which he foresees if the Government are induced to take reckless action under pressure from outside. He is quite entitled to say that I have during the last few weeks received what I should think is a record number of deputations. I am delighted to see the representatives of any trade, for I cannot profess, like some hon. Members, that I have a complete detailed knowledge of every industry and can assess accurately the burdens which might be placed upon their shoulders. I am therefore delighted to hear from anybody who has information to impart, if it is accurate.
1996 I come to the business before the House, namely, the position of the iron and steel industry. I have received assistance from those engaged in that industry up to as late as last night, and information which has been supplemented not only by their evidence, but by details provided in documents, official publications, and the like. I have seen also a number of the users of steel, and I would remind some of my hon. Friends that the users of steel have as much right to pour out their woes to the President of the Board of Trade as anybody else, and I need hardly tell the House that they do it. It is no use our running away with the idea that the only people who are passing through a period of depression are the ironmasters. I have been long enough engaged in the practical affairs of life to know how distressing a long period of falling prices can be for the heads of any industry. A low steady and stable price level does nothing like so much harm as a continually falling price level. It makes it impossible for manufacturers to make their engagements ahead or for merchants to dispose of their goods or open up new markets. We have, unfortunately, had that experience during the last few years, and a continually falling price level is the embarrassment not only of the iron and steel industry, but of every one of our major industries.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said that there was a higher percentage of unemployed in the iron and steel trade than in any other industry in the country. I think that he was mistaken. This is not the only time he has been mistaken this afternoon. He quoted from the First Book of Kings earlier in the afternoon, and attributed the quotation to Ezekiel.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am afraid it is very difficult to make a comparison of that kind. It is quite enough for our purpose that very nearly one-half of those who would be employed normally in the 1997 iron and steel industry are at present out of work. That is the ugly fact with which we are faced. But let me point out that there is an uglier fact in the shipbuilding industry, where more than one-half of those normally employed are out of work. That is equally true of marine engineering, and it is true also of the transport services, of those who are engaged in the maintenance of communications. This is, unfortunately, one of the disasters which has overcome nearly all British industry I do not know that we can get very much comfort out of that, but though it does not point to any clear course for us to pursue in the next few years it does make it clear that, while we are considering this question, we must not leave out of account the interests of other industries as well. I deprecate making it out that things are any worse than they are. The position is bad enough, Heaven knows; do not let us exaggerate it.
If my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook had been a Deputy in France, or a member of the Reichstag in Germany, he could with far greater truth have pointed out that the fall in the production of both countries had been greater than in the United Kingdom—quite easily and quite truthfully. I have the figures before me. I do not want to quote them, but, roughly, they may be expressed in this way. In comparison with the monthly average of 1929, the fall in the production of pig iron in the United States of America has been down to less than one-third; in Germany to forty per cent.; and in Great Britain to well under one-half. That may be cold comfort, but it is true. If we turn to crude steel production we find that very much the same thing has happened. There has been a larger reduction in output in the United States and in Germany in proportion than there has been here, and there has been a larger reduction in fact. That at once brings us face to face with the complexity of the iron and steel trade. When my right hon. Friend was speaking this afternoon he said that for the Government to shelter themselves behind the plea of complexity was sheer humbug. There is no industry in this country one-half as complex as the iron and steel trade, and to say that that is humbug is a misuse of language for which there is no excuse. Unless you recognise the 1998 complexity of it, you will not be able to understand the simplest iron and steel trade problem.
Let us see how, in all these branches of the iron and steel trade, the proportion of the home market has in some miraculous way been preserved to the home producer. I will point out where it is bad and where it is good, dealing first with where it is good. So far as steel ingots are concerned—I mean those other than special crucible steel—99½ per cent. of the home market in 1930 was held by British-made goods—a very satisfactory result. It is a great credit to the producers of steel ingots. It shows that they are not the incompetent creatures that some people would describe them to be. They won this on their merits, and, let me add, without the assistance of any tariff. In steel blooms, billets and slabs—again I am excluding special steel—no less than 86 per cent, of the home market was held by home-made goods. When we come to sheet bars a much smaller proportion is held by British goods, because sheet bars have been imported very freely from countries which have been able to sell at prices below those prevailing in this country. In this case the figure is 62 per cent. Oddly enough, tinplate bars which have played a large part in these controversies are nearly all produced in this country. [Interruption.] I have got the official figures, and I daresay that some of them were supplied by my hon. Friend. The figure for 1930 was 92 per cent. of the home market which is held by British tinplate bars, and that figure will be found in the census of production. The hon. Member will find those figures embodied there as a result of the information provided by the tinplate trade itself. In the case of wire rods, there is a very heavy proportion of imported material, and 71 per cent. of the home market is held by British-made goods and nearly 30 per cent. by imported goods.
Let me point out, in passing, that this may not be altogether a disadvantage to us, for this reason. I find as I receive deputations, read their documents, and use whatever knowledge I have picked up in a short lifetime, that there is a good deal of the wire bars which are imported into this country from abroad which are actually drawn into wire and then sent back into the country 1999 from which the rods originated. I think that is a very remarkable feature, showing how in one process at all events the British ironmaster and wiredrawer is able to hold his own in some of those markets where it would be imagined the wire could have been more cheaply drawn. I do not know what is the explanation of these facts, but they are facts which have come to my knowledge and which I think it only right that the House should know in order to enable hon. Members to come to a decision on this complex problem with a full degree of knowledge.
I will give other classes. There are steel bars, rods, angles, shapes and sections not specified in the categories which I have mentioned. In those instances the amount supplied from home production is only 76 per cent. and 24 per cent. comes from abroad. In the case of hoops and strips for tubes and for all other purposes the figures show a very remarkable drop from 91 per cent. only six years ago to 60 per cent. I make no comment on that, and I simply present that fact to the House. I turn once more, as I have in another gathering in these premises, but not strictly in the House itself, to a very rough and graphic description of the area which will have to be covered by any legislation if applied to the iron and steel trade. I take three categories—first of all, forge pig iron, foundry pig iron—a totally different article—acid pig iron (hematite), basic pig iron, alloys—as to which I will not say anything now, although they are of great importance—steel ingots, electric steel ingots, crucible steel ingots, castings of various kinds, shapes and sizes, blooms, billets, slabs, sheet bars, tinplate bars, wire rods, girders, beams, joists, pillars, bars, rods, angles, shapes, puddle bars and scrap bars. In the case of every one of these articles special knowledge is required, special machinery for equipment, and special care in buying and selling, which, after all, are a part of the industry. Then there are baling and barrel hoops, hoops and strips for tubes, and iron and steel plates and sheets which are used for various purposes in the building of ships, of corrugated iron dwellings, and so on. There are black sheets and plates, and all the railway categories, like rails, sleepers, fishplates, tyres, and axles. It cannot be 2000 expected that all of these will be made equally well by every firm, but in the case of all of them there are some firms who are pre-eminent as the world's manufacturers. You cannot apply the same medicine to every one of them.
When I plead here, as I have pleaded elsewhere, for care in dealing with these problems, I do so in the interests, not only of those employed in the heavy branches of the steel trade, but of other equally deserving people who are employed in the industries which are attached to the iron and steel trades in one way or another. I think that this House, however it is composed, would be rash indeed if it were to say, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, "Let us sit for two or three days more and dispose of this subject." If we were to attempt to deal with this vast congeries of problems in two or three days, we should do far more harm than ever we should do good. I must tell the House that, open as my mind is, it is closed firmly against the taking of great gambling risks in this as in other matters. [Interruption.] My mind is a great deal more open than those of some of my hon. Friends. Some of my hon. Friends cannot believe that any truth can come from the lips of a Free Trader. Let me tell them that, if they want really good sound business sense, they should get hold of a. Free Trader who is not too securely wedded to the shibboleths of his own faith.
Let me turn to another section of the industries with which we are now concerned. Some people seem to think that we can supply, and do supply, in this country, everything that is required for the iron and steel-using industries. I have tried to make a list, from the information available in the highest quarters, in the most learned circles, scientific and commercial, of some of the kinds of steel which are not made in the United Kingdom. It is almost impossible to get basic Bessemer steel from the United Kingdom, but the tube makers tell me that it is essential for certain classes of work. I do not know whether it is possible for a steel works to carry on a basic Bessemer steel plant at a profit, but I would point out that, if we were to make a mistake over that category of steel, we might be doing 2001 harm to the tube makers, who are just as much entitled to our consideration as any other people.
Again, charcoal pig iron is not made in this country, but it is required by some of the makers of special steels; and, as some of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Sheffield are aware, we have to be very careful that Sheffield shall not be deprived of any of the special steels which are necessary for its requirements. I hope, therefore, that the House will think twice before it puts any burden upon these special steels upon which the industry of Sheffield is largely based. Representations have been made to us, also, that steel bars must be imported to some extent, as material made in the United Kingdom with the same analysis has so far not proved quite so suitable as some foreign steel. It is also said—I do not know with what truth, but. I got it on what I believe to be the best. authority—that hot rolled steel strips of certain dimensions for the motor industry, etc., cannot be obtained in the United Kingdom, and it has previously been obtained from the United States. Other steel strips are said to be imported from Sweden, because there is no other source of supply in the United Kingdom. So you may run down the list, and you will find new facts coming up and new difficulties being disclosed.
§ Viscount EDNAM
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of the total imports these represent? I submit that they are only an infinitesimal proportion, and no one would suggest that they should be subject to a tariff.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
recognise that they are a very small proportion, but in many cases they are very costly and you cannot do without them, and if we were, through not having sufficient knowledge of these branches of the trade, to put obstacles in their way, we might be doing a great deal of harm. So far as the proportions in these categories are concerned, I have mentioned four or five where nearly 100 per cent. has to come from abroad.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I know one has to take these things comparatively, but do not let us forget that some business men 2002 might deem them of very great importance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Let them in!"] Is the hon. Gentleman going to tell us that, within two or three days, he or anyone else is going to be able to make a schedule of the things that you must not touch? If exemptions are to be made, let us examine them first. I hope the House will not mind me taking it back to the means by which we have to measure the relative importance of the steel-producing and steel-using industries. It would be a very great pity to ignore it. There is no country in the world which makes such a large part of the iron and steel for the things that it requires in the course of its manufacture. If you make a comparison, for instance, between British imports and exports of semi-manufactured goods, or, if you like to go further, of manufactured goods, you find that the balance is still on the right side in value and in quantity.
But what I want to draw particular attention to is that you cannot make a comparison or a survey of the steel industry merely by these percentage calculations. Every one knows that, when you come to a comparison of years, if you choose your years suitably, you can prove almost anything, but that is no use for our purpose. We want to know as nearly Is we can what is the truth, and what is the latest truth, because the facts have changed so rapidly in the last few years that a good deal of the information of a few years ago is already out of date, just in the same way as a good many of the doctrines which were appropriate for June and July, 1931, are out of date. Let us see how we stand. The total number of insured persons engaged in the production of pig-iron in blast furnaces, steel melting and iron puddling, iron and steel rolling and forging in July, 1930, was 202,000. Of these, 85,000 were out of work. In the following year the number engaged had fallen to 188,000 and the number of unemployed had increased to 85,000. Those figures alone naturally give us cause to think very seriously about the state of this great industry. The tendency appears to be backward rather than forward. We get what comfort we can out of exactly the same tendency being followed in Germany, the United States of America, and, to a lesser degree on France. There it is. 2003 There is the tendency, and I would not on any account overlook this most essential and salient fact.
When you compare them with the number of persons in insured trades who are also in industry which depends upon steel in various sages and in various classes for its raw material, you will see how marked the contrast is. I take the latest figures we have, and in July there were engaged in the heavy trades 188,000 individuals; in the using trades 1,825,000 individuals. Similarly, if you take the case of the unemployed. The unemployed in the heavies were 83,000, according to the latest date in October; among the using industries they were no less than 537,000. I just put this simple appeal to the House. When we are dealing with this question do not let us underrate the 1,800,000 and give the whole of our sympathy to the 188,000. That would be an ill-balanced judgment. Let me also add that if we did anything blindly or unwisely for the benefit of those who are in the heavy trades and endangered anyone in those various industries, anyone engaged in the using trades, the net advantage to this country would be less than nothing. We should actually be harming our country and lowering the total output of our industries.
I do not want to weary the House by going over these long lists, but when we come, if we do come, to the making of a tariff on iron and steel products, do not let us forget what happened in other countries. It is not a simple matter. It is not even as simple as the document from which my right hon. Friend quoted this afternoon. When the French were making up their categories their customs tariffs had some 27 main headings of iron and steel products. A great many of these headings are split up into subdivisions. For instance, one heading alone is split into 22 sub-divisions, another into 15, another into n, and so on, and for each category of these iron and steel products mentioned in each of these sub-divisions a separate scientifically ascertained rate of duty is scheduled. When they were making their ascertainment as to what they believed to be just and fair they took into account, not only those industries themselves, but the drawbacks which have to play such a very large part in the export branches of 2004 the French industry. Quite apart from those items which I have just read, the French tariff contains an entire chapter of metal wares and that chapter contains no less than 230 main headings.
I hope that it is not unreasonable to ask the House that in a matter that spreads over such a wide area there should be no attempt to rush a decision. I ask it in all seriousness, and, if I may say so, I think I may have some claim upon the indulgence of the House in this matter, for I have not been negligent or lazy, and I have done what I could within the narrow limits along which you could act in this very rapid Autumn Session to keep the field clear for the future and to prevent evil being done now. It is quite true that in the course of our legislation and of our administration we are making discoveries with regard to the little Schedule which now appears in our two Orders. We are going to rectify that as rapidly as we can by the issue of new Orders. We are going to keep an open mind in regard to those various things. We are learning as we go along. We must learn by experiments of this kind. Therefore we should be unwise in rushing, in the course of a, few days, into an economic tariff.
I hope that we shall not be kept here, as the Noble Lord the Member for Wednesbury (Viscount Ednam) suggested, till Christmas and long after Christmas and that we shall not be released until we have produced a full-blooded tariff. I hope that he will be a little patient and give us time to make a complete and full survey covering all these various interests. One of the reasons why I beg the House to grant this privilege, this right, in the interests of the country, is that we are discovering that those who are the producers of steel are much more vocal than the users of steel. It was only with the greatest trouble during the last few days that I have been able to collect views of some gentlemen who are large and important users of steel. Because they are not connected with some organisation which covers a very large area of the steel trade they have not had their representations put before the Board of Trade or before other Departments. It may be that lack of organisation is their fault, but, whether it be their fault or not, it means that because the heavier section of the industry is highly 2005 organised and the other sections of the industry are not so well organised, we are finding it difficult to get hold of a, sufficient amount of information in order to be able to work on perfectly sure and certain lines.
I cannot look on this matter as being purely one in isolation connected with the iron and steel trade, and with nothing else. I know how anxious those who are responsible for the administration of our iron and steel companies must be, when they see their overdrafts mounting up and they know that the banks cannot go on for an unlimited length of time giving them assistance. They see no prospect of the depression lifting as rapidly as we might have hoped. But do not let us get it into our heads that the depression is never going to lift. I cannot imagine a worse attitude in which to approach business problems than the idea that it is all hopeless. This country has a great deal to be thankful for. Many others are more unfortunate than we are. We have, at least, some inalienable assets left. We have a very fine stock of technical knowledge. I believe that our metallurgists are the best in the world and that our chemists are in the very front rank. We have some of the finest physicists. Let us see that we are guided in our action by what is clone by the best and not by what is the fault of the worst. We must keep our standards up, and, while we are keeping our standards up, we must keep our spirits up.
The suggestion that I make to the House is, that, when we disperse, as we shall very shortly disperse, for the Christmas holidays, we should carry away the idea that we are not as near the edge of tile precipice as some of my hon. and right hon. Friends suggest. We are not going to starve. Let me remind my right hon. Friend who referred to this subject that a great deal of our meat and other essential foodstuffs come from countries which are on a sterling basis. That is a very great strength to us. I wish the area of sterling were wider. The second thought that we might take away with us is that the character of our business remains of the highest. A tremendous amount of the business transactions of the world are carried out on the principle of trust. When you have belief in the truth of a business man it means A great deal, especially if you are to have 2006 rapid transactions and you are to retain your world market. That character, thank God, we maintain. If by depression we give a false impression to the world, we shall do injury not only to ourselves but to the workpeople who are depending upon us. Let us therefore approach these problems in future not with the idea that they all can be dealt with in the twinkling of an eye, but that we can, by assiduity and thought and by taking a complete and impartial survey of all these various aspects, look forward with some hope to solving our problems ere long. If we do that, let us do it with a certain amount of good spirits and good hope, for, unless we are prepared to keep our own spirits up, we shall receive no cheers from outside.
§ Motion made and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to—[Mr. C. Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.