HC Deb 19 February 1931 vol 248 cc1624-8

I beg to move, in page 2, line 14, after the word "Kingdom," to insert the words: provided the British is not substantially higher than the world price. I would like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the many bouquets thrown at him to-night from across the floor of the House, and, if he has finished blushing, I hope he will show himself as will- ing to accept Amendments from these benches as those from above the gangway. This particular Amendment was moved by me in Committee, and I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the answer then given. I cannot see why it should not be accepted, because it carries out what was in the mind of the Government as to the way the scheme would work. The object of the whole system is to create good will for this country in China. I think this is a bad Bill and the wrong way to do it altogether, and that the money would be far better spent on education. I quite recognise that there has been an agreement between China and this country on which we cannot go back, but, looked at from the point of view of the primary object of the Bill, which is to create good will for this country in China, I think that, unless this Amendment is put in, there is a considerable danger in years to come of creating prejudice. I do not think that the insertion of these words would prevent purchases in this country of that railway material which we are all extremely anxious to see purchased at the earliest possible moment, but, if it were found that British material were, in certain circumstances, say, 50 per cent. higher than foreign material, the Chinese Government would buy other material with other money and spend the whole of this money on railway material purchased in this country.

This Amendment is necessary in order to prevent the possibility of a ring being formed by manufacturers here in order to hold up the price, knowing that there was no real foreign competition. The British price is for certain types of railway material substantially higher than the foreign price. Nothing can be worse than that the competitors of our country should go round whispering in the ears of Chinese Ministers that this was all humbug and that the Chinese Government was being forced to pay more than they would be forced to pay in the open market. It is to safeguard a possibility of that kind that I suggest that these words should be put in. If there were only a small difference in price the orders would go to this country, but, if our prices were much higher, then the money covered by this Bill would be spent in purchasing other railway material. Remembering the Under-Secretary's willingness to accept the Amendments from hon. Members on the Unionist benches, his new-found allies, I ask him not to forget his old friends and to see whether he cannot accept this Amendment which is in accord with the declared views and wishes of the Government, and will not prejudice the spending of this money on British materials in this country, but will avoid the real danger of doing an immense amount of harm to the good will of this country in China.


I beg to second the Amendment.


It would, of course, be a great pleasure to accept Amendments from all parts of the House to-night, and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has indeed been an ally of mine in certain aspects of foreign policy when others of whom he has spoken have been on the other side of the trench. It would have been a special pleasure, therefore, to have accepted this Amendment from him, but he moved the same Amendment in Committee upstairs, and I am afraid that, just as he has made the same speech in substance in moving it now, I shall have to make the same speech as I made upstairs in resisting it. The effect of the Amendment, as moved, would either be nil, in which case it is not worth moving, or else it would result in the diversion of orders from this country to foreign firms. It has not been asked for by the Chinese. The Bill represents an agreement. I would suggest that there is really no ground for the hon. Member's apprehension, because, after all, the Chinese Government Purchasing Commission in London will contain not only Chinese representatives but certain very competent British representatives, who will know all the facts about prices, and whose duty it will be, as trustees of this money, to see that the Chinese are not charged unreasonable prices. As to the possibility of rings in this country, I should be prepared to agree that that possibility exists, but there are other bases of comparison that will be available to the Commission. We have, for example, an export trade in steel rails and so on to other markets than the Chinese, and we are open in those markets to foreign competition. But we do sometimes get these orders, and therefore you have a basis for comparison. The prices will be known to the Chinese Government Purchasing Commission. If it is known that British firms are asking a higher price from China than from, say, Argentina for a similar article, the Commission will be entitled to demand that the price shall be reduced. I would also remind the hon. Member of the words in Clause 2, Sub-section (1, ii), whereby the Chinese Government Purchasing Commission in London may so far as those moneys are not immediately required for such purposes, that is to say, the purposes for which this money is to be used as set out in the Bill, establish a reserve fund for the purpose of enabling the Commission to discharge similar obligations and defray similar expenses in future years. I hope it will not be necessary for large sums to be placed in reserve for an appreciable time. I hope the whole of this £3,000,000 will be spent at a comparatively early date in British industries. It will obviously be to the benefit of employers that they should keep their prices down, as otherwise the money might be put to, this reserve. Should British employers short-sightedly endeavour to profiteer as a, result of this Clause, then the resource is available to the Purchasing Commission to put these moneys to reserve until British employers learn wisdom. There is really, therefore, no purpose in this Amendment, and I trust the hon. Member will not feel it necessary to press it to a Division.


I understand clearly from the Under-Secretary's speech that it is not the wish nor the intention of the Government that any of this money should be used on British material if the price is substantially in excess of the world price. Am I right?


It grieves me to disagree with the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Burgin), who is my representative in this House, but I think it very important that we should congratulate the Under-Secretary on his excellent speech. I am sure that, although he may have to suffer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer for making it, many Members will think that the Labour party has at last awakened to the essential merits of using every opportunity to provide work for British people—work at good wages and work that will please the Chinese even if it does not please the Portuguese. But it is an extraordinary thing that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the hon. Member for Luton, representing industrial constituencies, should take up an attitude against both Chinese and British views in this matter. They have intervened in order to send orders for goods manufactured in Great Britain abroad. It is a remarkable thing indeed that Members in whose constituencies unemployment is rife should come down and betray the interests of their constituents. There is the result of an election published to-night which gives no satisfaction to the Liberal party, and I hope that not only my own constituency will repulse the hon. Member for Luton but that Wolverhampton will also show that it objects strongly to the betrayal of the interests of its workmen.

Amendment negatived.