§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has entrusted to me the duty of moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and I notice that there is a Motion down in the name of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) to reject it. It is not surprising that a Bill dealing with abnormal importations should be criticised in abnormal language, and the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley concluded our proceedings last night by informing the House that when the history of this Measure comes to be written, it will be regarded as one of the most revolutionary proposals that has ever been passed by this House. I acknowledge the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid to me, who am moving the Second Reading of this Bill, in yielding up to me any claim that he may have to be considered as the British Lenin. The General Election has evidently had a chastening effect on the right hon. Gentleman, who now comes down to this House in fear of revolution, fiscal, constitutional, or any other; and I am not at a loss for an explanation as to why the right hon. Gentleman should prefer to take his stand with Pym and Hampden rather than with John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith. Those benches opposite will never be the barricades behind which Free Trade is defended, unless it be because of such accession of strength as can come to them from the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), who appeared there yesterday in all the panoply of a diehard warrior.
It is significant that the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley made no reference yesterday to the intrinsic merits of the Resolution upon which this Bill is based, but he told us that he was going to register his protest against it because in days to come it would be re- 858 corded that only the Socialists defended the rights of the House of Commons, and the indignation of the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) was pitched in a similarly high key. He told us that this Measure was a resumption by the Executive of Caroline irresponsibility. Charles I may have lost his head, but in administering this Measure, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is not likely to lose his. Besides, is not the constitutional argument entirely misconceived? In this Measure and by this very discussion we are seeking the authority of Parliament for any powers that we may seek to employ, and it is within the right of Parliament either to concede or to refuse those powers.
In the second place, this is not primarily a taxing Bill; it is a Bill to deal with abnormal importations, and such taxes as there may be are in the nature of fines or compensations which will be exacted at the ports. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse and those who followed him asked what is the emergency. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would have realised it by this time. Goods are flowing into our ports in unusual quantities and are doing damage to those who are employed in British industry. Figures have been given showing that in many groups of goods the imports in the first 10 days of November were at a rate exceeding anything that has been known in a similar period since the War. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke said that that might well be so, but what about our ships? It is not in British bottoms that these goods are necessarily being carried. There has been an abnormal arrival of foreign ships in our ports.
I have some very instructive figures here. For the first 10 days of November in 1930, 364 vessels arrived in the Port of London. This year, in a similar period, 440 vessels arrived in the Port of London. Last year 182 were British vessels; this year 187. Last year 182 were foreign vessels; this year 253 were foreign vessels. So the argument that the restriction of abnormal importations injure British shipping does not hold water. There is an abnormal importation, not only of goods, but of goods 859 coming in foreign vessels. We are confronted with this question: What would be the result of doing nothing? The result of doing nothing would be to steal work from our own workpeople and place an undue and totally unjustifiable burden upon the taxpayers in respect of the maintenance of the unemployed. The country cannot have it both ways; it cannot have both abnormal importations and normal employment.
Which then is it to be? This Bill provides the answer and is an indication of the intention of the Government to shelter, so far as they can, those engaged in British industry from sporadic and irregular importations. That is the object of the Bill. Its democratic character, on the alleged absence of which so much stress is laid by hon. Gentlemen opposite, is at once evident in the Preamble, for in asking for powers to deal with these abnormal importations, we ask for these powersby and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled.I fail to see what hon. Gentlemen opposite have to object to in that. In Clause I the President of the Board of Trade takes power to make Orders in respect of any of the goods in the Import and Export List, Class III, that is to say, manufactured or mainly manufactured goods; and any Order made will have specifically to be approved by this House as a result of a Resolution moved from this Box. Up to 100 per cent. tax may be put upon the goods concerned, and Empire goods are to be entirely exempted. I hope that that will be a happy augury for the visit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs when he goes on his Empire tour. Clause 3 deals with the method of appraising the value of the articles, and is the usual Clause in so far as Sub-section (1) is concerned. Subsection (2) enables the Commissioners of Customs and Excise to require such information as is, in their opinion, necessary for the purpose of ascertaining the value of the goods. Clause 4 deals with the determination of disputes. Nobody will be called upon to go before the courts of law and to brief counsel, but a referee will be appointed by the Lord Chancellor 860 so that any dispute as to whether articles come within the Order or as to their value may be settled in an expeditious manner. Clause 5 makes an exception for those goods which are in transit; and Clause 6 enables anything which the President of the Board of Trade may do to be done by a Secretary of State. Clause 7 lays down that the Bill shall remain in force for only six months, thus emphasising the temporary character of the proposals. They are drastic Clauses, but in our present situation nothing less than drastic action will suffice.
One practical criticism which has come from those who support the Government in this matter is that which came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who took exception to the word "abnormal." He did not suggest any other convenient word which might take its place. That omission was supplied by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), who suggested "excessive." He informed the House that while it might be possible to tell when he had been drinking excessively, it would not be possible to tell when he had been drinking abnormally. Without a practical demonstration, of which I suggest my Noble Friend the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) should be the judge, I am unable to tell the difference between those two conditions, but I can inform the Noble Lord that anything which was excessive would also be abnormal for the purposes of this Bill.
We were returned as practical men and women to deal with practical problems. We asked for a free hand, and this Bill is evidence that the President of the Board of Trade proposes to show a firm hand as well. It is no mean privilege to be entrusted with the duty of introducing into this House the first constructive proposal of the Government. It is conceived in realism, and born in the hope that in so far as determined action may avail, it will be a small step towards setting this country back on the road to prosperity.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Obviously, I cannot answer my hon. Friend's question, because, as we do not yet know what goods will be coming in abnormally, we 861 cannot tell what revenue we shall get from taxing them. But this is not a Revenue Bill; the object of the Bill is to keep goods out.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to give a Second Beading to a Bill which places in the hands of the Executive the power of taxing the citizen without any opportunity for his case to be presented by his elected representative; gives a privileged position to particular private businesses without making any provision for their efficient management or for the protection of the interests of the community; will intensify the erection of economic harriers between nation and nation instead of stimulating international co-operation in the exchange of goods and services; and offers no constructive plans for bringing to an end the grave economic disorganisation of the world.The Parliamentary Secretary was familiar to those of us who were Members of the late Parliament as an acute and persistent critic of the then Government, and, unless my memory fails me entirely, I can recall several occasions on which he rushed into the breach in order to defend the sacred principles of Free Trade.
§ Mr. JONES
I think, perhaps, my hon. Friend and I can leave it in this way, that we will both re-examine the speeches he has made in Parliament in the course of the last two or three years. At any rate, he adopted a very lofty attitude this afternoon in introducing this Measure. He said that my hon. Friends on this side of the House were never likely to take their places behind the barricades to defend Free Trade. That job used to be left to his leader; that was the special function of the present President of the Board of Trade in the past few years. He was in charge of the tabernacle, he was the high priest, and the hon. Member never failed to cheer on the right hon. Gentleman when he so eloquently defended the principles of Free Trade. If abnormality is to be discussed this afternoon, then surely it is to be found in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman who some months ago made a first-class Free Trade speech in this City is now occupying a position on the 862 Ministerial Bench from which he is not defending Free Trade but taking the first steps in the direction of introducing Protectionist measures in this country.
I wish to assure the Government and their supporters that we are not moving this Amendment as a piece of obstruction. I can conceive of occasions arising when it may be desirable, in our time, to have expedition in legislation, occasions when we may find it convenient to carry Orders in Council, and I am very much obliged to the Members of the present Government for giving us such a precedent on which to act. We object to this Bill because, whether there be a state of abnormality as regards our import trade or not, we do not agree that this is a proper proposal to put before the House and ask us to pass it without far more adequate discussion than has yet been possible. I have looked at this Bill somewhat carefully and, as I frequently do, I looked first at its sponsors. Amongst those who back this Bill are the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary, and they are carefully shepherded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Solicitor-General. I wonder why all this elaborate care is taken to see that the President does not go wrong in this matter, and I think I discern something of the reason. I referred a moment ago to a speech delivered on 22nd June this year at St. Ermins Hotel, Westminster, by the present President of the Board of Trade. It is published by the Free Trade Union. Looking over the list of vice-presidents of the Free Trade Union, I observe these names: I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will note them carefully, because they are significant names. First, I see the name of the President of the Board of Trade himself, and then there are the Foreign Secretary and the present Lord Privy Seal, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late Government. They are, as it were, the guardians of the faith. They are supported on the executive committee by another Member on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Harcourt Johnstone) and by the hon. Member for the Eastern Division of Edinburgh (Mr. D. M. Mason). He is the only member of the executive committee now in the House who remains faithful to the principles of the Free Trade Union. It is true he has an 863 understudy in the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot), but, apart from him, the hon. Member for Edinburgh is a sort of Casabianca, left to defend the ship in spite of the oncoming flames.
I congratulate the Tory Members on the benches opposite upon their strategy, because anyone who noted the Ministerial Bench yesterday would have seen that for hours on end there was not a Tory on it. They have left the work of defending this Measure to the Liberal representatives in the Government. If I may adopt a popular expression, they have dumped this baby on the doorstep of the right hon. Gentleman, knowing full well that in this new atmosphere he would fondle it very carefully and see that it was brought up and nurtured appropriately. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman has not shown any excessive reluctance over adopting the baby. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke in this city some time ago he committed himself to a remarkable pronouncement upon Protection and tariff legislation. I will invite attention to it later, after I have made one or two points concerning what we regard as fundamental objections to this particular procedure for dealing with the problem before us.
The Bill we are now discussing is not only unusual as regards its sponsors, but it is unusual also as to its character. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have sought to minimise the case which we have advanced against the procedure embodied in this Bill. But no one can dispute that this Measure endows the Executive with a larger measure of authority and power than any democratic assembly has ever entrusted to its Government in recent times. Even in the most highly protective country in the world, the United States, the President is not endowed with nearly the same power of discrimination and determination in regard to tariffs as the President of the Board of Trade is to be endowed with through the medium of this Bill. I think we shall all be able to agree as to this proposition, that it is in the highest degree essential that the House of Commons should not take leave of its control over the right to determine what shall be the measures of taxation to be 864 imposed on the country. We all know the objections held in this country to absolute monarchs, and the same objection applies to absolute Ministers. If this Bill is passed, the President of the Board of Trade will be endowed with almost absolute powers in regard to taxation so far as these tariff proposals are concerned.
Everybody knows that this question of Free Trade and Protection has been a subject of acute controversy in this country for the last 30 years. Hon. Gentlemen opposite and the President of the Board of Trade himself have stood by their conception of the Free Trade policy. On the other hand, Members on both sides of the House have taken the directly opposite view, and this controversy has split all political parties in the past, and it has ruined many an individual career because of the point of view taken. It has done more. The controversy has ranged around the potential harm to industry. From the very acuteness of the controversy it is obvious that there is a strong case both for and against Protection. If that be so, I submit that it is unjust to force through a Measure of this kind with so little discussion when we know that inevitably the issues of this great controversy must be involved in this Bill. For these reasons, I submit that before a Bill of this sort is passed it is incumbent on the Government to prove beyond doubt the necessity for it. In point of fact, the case for the Bill has not yet been presented, and I submit to the House that even the President of the Board of Trade has not presented a case to justify it. The right hon. Gentleman has made certain statements which are not necessarily accepted on these benches. It is not merely the right hon. Gentleman's job to lay down certain facts, but he ought to defend his interpretation of those facts. But suppose that we admit those facts, surely we are entitled to attach our own meaning to them, and I propose to do that this afternoon. I will quote from a speech made by the President of the Board of Trade on the 22nd of June, this year, when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking as a strong Free Trade defender and as a critic of the Conservative campaign in favour of Protection, and this is what he said: 865And while on the subject of the Conservative tariff let me beg the authors of this doctrine to be a little less secretive. The 'emergency tariff is ready,' we hear on Conservative platforms. Then, in fairness to the manufacturer, the exporter, the retailer and the consumer, let them say what it is, for it will touch not only every industry but every individual person. Why keep those engaged in the coal trade, in engineering, shipping, cotton-wool—the list is endless—on tenterhooks by mysterious indications that an 'emergency tariff' will spring into being after the next General Election?I ask the President of the Board of Trade if he subscribes to that statement to-day? At that time he was all for a vocal confession on the part of the Tory party. Why, then, is he now reduced to the silence of a Trappist Monk? Why does he not tell the House what was in his mind. If the right hon. Gentleman had the right in June to demand information from the Tory party, surely we have a right to ask him now that he is in the National Government for this information. We are considering this problem to-day in a different situation from that in which the right hon. Gentleman considered it in June. After all, this country has gone off the Gold Standard and we all agree that the effect of that has been the cheapening of our products to foreign people while foreign people's products have been made dearer to us. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) admitted that, but it cannot be denied that one of the effects of that change has been the imposition of some form of tariff. I will refer the House to the words used by the President of the Board of Trade in a speech which he made yesterday in which he said:I gave some figures yesterday which showed that, even allowing for all the seasonal variations, there was an enormous increase of imports in the month of October, and a still more remarkable increase in the early part of November. In the first eight months of 1931 the average monthly importations of Class III goods were at the level of £20,600,000. In September the value of those imports had risen to £22,600,000, in October to £27,200,000, and in the ten day period ended on 10th November they were at the rate of £35,000,000 a month."—[OFFICIAJ, REPORT, 17th November, 1931; cols. 723–4, Vol. 269.]4.0 p.m.
Those were the facts given yesterday by the President of the Board of Trade. The first fact is clearly shown in the figure relating to the increase in the month of October. I do not dispute that fact, for 866 it is quite true. But what is the significance of that particular figure? Is it not equally true that in the month of October last there was a similar increase, and in the October before also an increase? In point of fact, there has been an increase in three succeeding Octobers. If someone had pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman last June that there was an increase in October, 1929, and October, 1930, he would have said, "What has that to do with it?" But now that he is in office he has suddenly discovered that there is some significance in the increase in October, 1931. I cannot see that there is anything abnormal in it. There is no difference in the fact this year as compared with the facts of the two previous years which were known to the right hon. Gentleman when he made his speech in June this year.
The second fact relates to the first eight months of this year. Here, again, I do not dispute that, but, in point of fact, while he gives the average for the first eight months of 1931 as being £20,600,000, taking the year 1929 it was £27,800,000, and in 1930 £26,200,000. The imports in those two previous years were vastly greater on the average—I am taking the average of 10 months, by the way—than in 1931, and yet they had no significance to the right hon. Gentleman in June. It is in September, October and November that he suddenly becomes converted to some new interpretation that must be attached to the figures which he gave to the House yesterday.
The third fact which the right hon. Gentleman gave us was in regard to 10 days in November. I think I observe the hon. and gallant Gentleman saying that this was abnormal as compared with previous years. He nods approval, and yet when someone asked a question two days ago as to what was the fact for those 10 days, the answer was that there was no record available. How does he know? He now nods approval, and says that it was worse than abnormal.
§ Mr. H0RE-BELISHA
I did give an answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) which was circulated.
§ Mr. JONES
I will accept that; it is not a big point in any case. But let me take the simple fact per se, as it were, 867 which the right hon. Gentleman himself gave in answer in this House with regard to this very point. He said:My hon. Friends will appreciate that statistics of imports and exports relating to such a short period as one week would be liable to give a misleading impression of the course of trade, and, accordingly, I am unable to adopt their suggestions which, I may add, would involve considerable expense."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1931; col. 648, Vol. 259.]The point I want to make is this: I am not concerned with an abnormal increase, if you like, for the first 10 days of November; all that I am saying is that it is the only piece of abnormality he is able to cite to the House, and on the ground of that simple piece of abnormality we are called upon to rush a Bill through this House without giving an adequate opportunity to those interested even to make proper representations to this House. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he were sitting here and this Bill were presented to him, he would call the attention of the House and the country, with that authority which he possesses in these matters, to the very flimsy foundation upon which a Bill of this sort is presented to the House.
I turn to another aspect of this question. The right hon. Gentleman has chosen to include in this Bill what he calls Class III. I have had the curiosity to examine this Class III in some detail and with some attention. In Class III there are 20 groups, A to T, and in every group but one, which I will particularise in a moment, there is not a moderate, but a substantial drop in the imports in respect of those groups. I call the attention of hon. Members who relate unemployment to the import of goods to that fact. It is not a mere flea-bite, but a substantial drop of millions in relation to 19 out of 20 groups.
§ Mr. JONES
I take value because the record of the Board of Trade does not give quantities in all cases. The only exception is with regard to apparel, group M, and the odd thing about this group is that if you examine it carefully there is an increase, not a decrease, and the biggest increase in that particular group is in respect of artificial silk and artificial silk goods which are safe- 868 guarded, and upon which there is at this moment a duty of 33⅓ per cent., ranging, according to the content of artificial silk and silk in the material, down to 20 per cent.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
May I ask the hon. Member whether he is referring to a decrease in value or in volume, because in the returns there are increases in the volume and at the same time there have been decreases in the value of certain groups of commodities.
§ Mr. JONES
I said that I have taken value because it is the only constant figure you can get in the Board of Trade returns. You get quantities in some cases, but not all, and therefore I take the same standard throughout. Let me now put this point to the House. The right hon. Gentleman takes Class III. He does not tell us—he reserves to himself the right to decide—what is the particular group in Class III upon which he is going to impose duties. He is to decide, I presume, according to the degree of abnormality. All I can say is that it leaves people who are interested in this matter in a very perplexed condition. They simply do not know where they stand in the matter. In order to show that my case is quite fair and sound, although I admit the telegram is against my point of view, I will read it. A telegram was received this morning to this effect:The National Union of Manufacturers"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh‡"] What is wrong with it? Are hon. Members ashamed of it? Very good; I must use it for my own purpose. Has the hon. Member got a copy? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] Then let me read it in case the hon. Member has not read it carefully.The National Union of Manufacturers at meeting to-day welcomed introduction by Government of emergency legislation enabling Customs duty to be imposed on imports of certain classes of foreign goods, but union desires to urge that words 'abnormal quantities' are restrictive and their ambiguity will largely nullify declared intention of Government to balance national trade. Meeting urges that a schedule of goods and rates of duty to be imposed be published without delay and offers its protest to any adjournment of Parliament until the matter has been effectively dealt with.I turn to the quotation which I read from the right hon. Gentleman's speech 869 in June. He accused the Conservative party of being secretive, of being silent, too reserved, too shy and too modest in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman is now in charge of this Bill; now is his chance to say what he knows about it. May I put this further point to the right hon. Gentleman? He told the House, I think, last night, that he was going to be busy over the week-end. What does that mean? It means that he hopes to be in possession of this Bill on Friday, and that he proposes to put it into operation. That is to say, the right hon. Gentleman has now in his mind what he proposes to do by way of tariffs, and if he knows it now, what right has he to withhold it? Has not this House the right to know first what taxes the right hon. Gentleman proposes to impose? If we are not to be told what about the hundreds of people in the country whose businesses will be involved in this matter, and who are told to await the Imperial will of the right hon. Gentleman?
Let me turn to another question which I want to ask, and I am only asking questions which the right hon. Gentleman himself asked some months ago. In the same speech to which I have referred, the right hon. Gentleman used these words:'What is going to happen to my raw materials?' If you go down the list of categories that are provided in the Board of Trade returns you can ask that question over and over again about things so diverse as oil and resin, immense quantities of which are used in this country; about non-ferrous metals and all intermediate stages of non-ferrous metals on their way to final manufacture; about the 30 or 40 different categories of iron and steel which came under the review of the Balfour Committee last year, the consideration of which filled an entire volume in that Report;All these, with the others which follow, are mentioned in this Class III:about apparel, leather and leather goods, woollen and worsted yarns, and so on. And this list, so diverse, actually contains the essential raw materials of a great many industries. Worsted yarn, for example, is a finished product, but for a man who wishes to weave it into his fabrics it is a raw material. The finished product of the tanner is the raw material for Northampton and the boot trade. And so you could go on through all these articles. What is or is not raw material becomes of prime importance when framing a tariff.And yet, when we ask the right hon. Gentleman to be good enough to tell us 870 upon what group he is going to impose his taxes, he refuses to say. He tells us, "Come along to the Board of Trade some day, and I will whisper it in your ear." When the right hon. Gentleman made his speech in June, he had not the slightest anticipation of being in his present position. Let me read this passage:Long before Mr. Chamberlain presides over the Board of Trade or the Exchequer, out of fairness to industry and those engaged in industry and commerce he ought to say definitely whether their raw material is or is not to be subject to import duties.If the right hon. Gentleman had the right to ask in June what was in the mind of the future Chancellor of the Exchequer, surely I am entitled to ask what is in the mind of the present President of the Board of Trade. Does not he know on what he is going to be busy during the week-end? If he does not, surely he is not playing fairly with the House. He is usually very fair, I am bound to admit, and I have always liked to listen to him; he is incisive in his arguments and pertinacious in sticking to his principles. I invite him to-night to be as candid with the House as he demanded that the Conservative party should be before they came into office.
Let me turn to another observation which must be made in regard to these proposals. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the subheads in this pamphlet, but I should like to call his attention to one of them, for it is most interesting. The heading reads:The Importance of the Lobby under a General Tariff.We have always held that the imposition of tariffs, of a general Protectionist system, in this country, would involve trouble in the Lobbies of this House, but, under this proposal, it is not those Lobbies that are going to be crowded; it is the doorstep of the Board of Trade. It is the right hon. Gentleman himself who will sit in state to receive all these deputations. It is he who is going to be the person to determine—[Interruption.] Is it? Who, after all, is any person, however gifted he may be—[Interruption.] Let us follow the argument. Who is anybody, after all, that he should determine in the name of this country what tariffs shall be imposed upon articles, and what articles they shall be? It is too great a power to give to 871 any man, although, if anyone is worthy of it, I admit that it is the right hon. Gentleman; I would much sooner give these powers to him than I would to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The new system, I suppose, is to be this: Every morning, when the potentate arrives at the Board of Trade, men will be sitting there on the doorstep bowing and making the necessary genuflections, and saying, I suppose, "Alms, in the name of Allah‡" There is no question at all that the Board of Trade, under this system, if it becomes either permanent or semi-permanent, will become the rendezvous of every sort of commercial sycophant that this country possesses. If there is to be any lobbying at all, let it be done here in the House of Commons. If there is to be discussion at all on this matter, let it take place here, where we can have it out for and against. When it is removed from the precincts of this House to the corridors of one of the Government offices, it is not only giving undue power to a Minister, but it is indirectly bringing pressure to bear upon a service that ought to be free from this kind of pressure, legitimate or otherwise.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman this other question. When he settles down to examine this Class III, with its various groups, he may decide in favour of Group 1 and let it off, and he may decide to impose a duty on Group 2, or Group 5, or Group 10. He determines which it shall be; he is the absolute arbiter in this matter, and no one can question his right in the matter at all, except that, when it is done, some time within the following four weeks the House may question it, and, perhaps, will refuse to confirm it. If the right hon. Gentleman sets about discriminating between two, three or four categories, taking one and leaving another untouched, what is going to be the effect of that discrimination? We know very well how, within the bounds of our own country, people object to their trade being singled out for taxation when another is not; and, similarly, one country will object when its goods are being attacked, as it would put it, whereas the goods of another country may secure exemption. That sort of discrimination, quite well intentioned, and even legitimate, must inevitably bring in its train retaliation, and I am 872 sure the right (hon. Gentleman will not dispute that a condition of discrimination on the one side and retaliation on the other is bound to engender acrimony, bitterness and suspicion as between nation and nation. I submit, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman, that he does himself, if he will allow me to say so, a great disservice in inviting the House to endow him with these arbitrary powers. It would be far better that the House of Commons, in the name of the State, should accept the responsibility and discharge it to the best of its ability thereafter.
My final observation on this matter is this: Have your Bill; put your tariff into operation. What then? Have you removed the fundamental problem which accounts for our grave economic difficulty? Have you dealt with the biggest abnormality? The question of reparations—the biggest abnormality of all— will remain. There is no means whatsoever, under this Bill, for endowing the right hon. Gentleman with power to deal with that frightful abnormality, with its attendant economic disaster to the countries concerned. If the House were to invite us to tell it what in our judgment will be among the first problems that will cry out for attention, I should, myself, be inclined to say that it is the great reparation problem which confronts this country and Europe at the present moment. But, if this Bill is carried, reparations will remain, indemnities will remain, tariff barriers will be increased, confusion will be worse confounded, and, worse than that, international disagreement, or, at least, exacerbation, will be intensified by the putting into operation of these powers.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite think that this Bill is a Bill for dealing with dumping. In a sense it is a Bill for the justification of dumping—the dumping of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on that Ministerial bench. That is why this Bill is introduced—in order to prove to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) how very keen this Government is to get something done in regard to this abnormality. But, if he expects to salve the conscience of Sparkbrook, I assure him that he has embarked upon a career that is going to land him ultimately in the utmost pos- 873 sible difficulty, for Oliver Twist from Sparkbrook still cries for more. So does Bournemouth; so does every other hon. Gentleman who has retained a constant membership of the Protectionist party during the last 30 years.
This is not the Bill they want; they have said so this week. They want a far more thorough-going Measure than this. They want to go the whole hog; and the right hon. Gentleman may mutter"100 per cent. "as often as he likes, but he will not make the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook become quiescent by doing so. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Education have been great defenders of the Free Trade faith. They remind me of the three just young men in Biblical history who were ultimately sent into the fiery furnace. They came out unscathed. But these three people, unlike Shadrach, Meshech and Abed-nego, will not escape. They are going through the fiery furnace of Protection, and they will not come out unscathed, for the party opposite are determined that a full-blooded Measure of Protection shall sooner or later be foisted upon the shoulders of the people of this country. For these reasons, I submit my Amendment to the House, and invite the House to carry it enthusiastically.
§ Sir GERVAIS RENTOUL
In spite of the vigour with which the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) has addressed the House, it is clear that he, like so many of his colleagues, is living in the past. He still has not realised that we are in the midst of one of the most serious crises that have ever faced us in the history of our country, and he still thinks, apparently, that this is the time to make debating points by digging up speeches delivered before the crisis reached its acute stage. That makes all the difference. We have to view the situation to-day with eyes altogether different from those which we might have used even a few months ago. As regards the quotations from the speech of my right hon. Friend, I have no doubt that he will be more than competent to deal with them when he comes to address the House later. The hon. Member, however, seemed to find some consolation in 874 the procedure of Orders-in-Council that is adopted in this Bill, and he appeared to consider that that might constitute a useful precedent at some future period; but, if ever a situation arises when a Socialist Government is faced with an emergency like that of to-day, and is returned to this House with so overwhelming a mandate as has been given to the present Government, I do not think that anyone will have a right to complain as to the methods that it may think fit to apply.
This is an emergency Bill, and nothing else. It is a Bill that is only to remain in force for six months, and I have no doubt that its introduction has been hailed, not only by the great majority of the Members here, but by the great majority of the people in the country, with feelings of the utmost relief. If there is a fly in the ointment it is that the Bill, inevitably no doubt, only deals with part of the problem and that the position of agriculture is left untouched. One can only hope and believe that some definite statement of policy on that matter will be made at an early date, and I am glad to note the suggestion in the Press today that such a statement will be made before the House rises, because certainly no words of any Member who represents an agricultural constituency could possibly exaggerate the gravity of the situation that faces that basic industry. In that connection, I trust also that the position of another important industry closely allied to agriculture will not be overlooked, namely, the fishing industry, because there the problem of dumping foreign-caught fish has been a very serious one for a long time past and is bringing something like disaster upon one of the most deserving and most gallant set of men in the country. However, I should be out of order in pursuing that matter, and I do not propose to do so.
With regard to the present Bill, it is a little difficult to understand the attitude of the Socialist opposition. We naturally make allowance for the fact that they are still smarting under the most crushing defeat that has ever been inflicted on any political party. We make a certain amount of excuse for the explanations that are put forward of misrepresentation and deceit and all the rest of it. I think most of us have a greater admiration for 875 the game looser than for the man who whines that he has been knocked out by a foul blow when in his heart of hearts he knows that nothing of the kind is the case. However, one is glad to detect signs that a calmer view is beginning to prevail, and it is certainly gratifying to note in many of the speeches that have been delivered an admission that the result of the election is a mandate for the introduction of some measure of Protection.
One hon. Member opposite said he had no doubt in his own mind that the results of the election were in the main a mandate for at least an experiment in tariffs. That was a very frank admission. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said that undoubtedly there was a general mandate from the electors to do something in the matter of the restriction of imports and the regulation of the import trade. Other Members on the Socialist benches have made similar admissions. If there is a mandate, and if those Members believe in democracy, in the rule of the majority, as I suppose they do, I cannot understand what justification they can have for opposing the Bill, because the sole purpose of the Bill, as I understand it, is to preserve the position and to prevent it being undermined during the period while the Government are deciding, firstly, whether a general change in our fiscal situation is desirable, and, if so, what the exact nature of that change should be.
If the Government come to the conclusion, as I believe they must, that tariffs are the most practical and the most speedy method of endeavouring to restore our trade balance, and if, as is admitted, there was a mandate from the country to that effect, I submit that they would have been failing in their duty if they had allowed a situation to develop which would inevitably have deprived the country for a considerable time to come of the very advantages which we are hoping to reap from the proposed change. Consequently, if that was the position, it was surely the duty of the Government to introduce this Bill, and there is no justification for the Opposition trying to thwart what they themselves admit is the will of the people. The hon. Gentleman quoted a speech that was delivered 876 last June. Perhaps he can at the same time throw his memory back to the fact that in June no fewer than 52 of his party, the great majority of them the survivors opposite, voted for a Measure analogous to this, a Measure to prevent the dumping of sweated goods. That was a private Members' Bill which had little prospect of being carried; consequently it was quite safe for them to vote for it, but it would not be so safe, they consider, for them to vote for this Bill, because, as a consequence of it, something is going to be done.
It is well known that the amount of alleged dumping that has been going on, however much it may have increased recently, has been causing widespread anxiety, but TO some extent the facts were disputed. We are in the fortunate position that we have now learned those facts from the President of the Board of Trade We have now heard from him on the very highest authority that the anxiety that was manifested was not without foundation and that, in fact, vast quantities of goods, far exceeding the normal, have been for some time pouring into the country. The Bill proposes to stop that. Surely it could do no less, and we hope, when the President of the Board of Trade receives these powers, he will use them not only speedily but drastically.
We are told that this Bill is the forerunner of a general tariff system. I certainly hope it is, because I, for one, do not accept the view of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that nations only impose tariffs through spite, jealousy and spleen. Even if that were the case, I fail to see why they should vent their feelings upon us and why we should be the victims of the spite and the jealousy of other nations, as we have been for so long; but I do not believe it is the fact. I am satisfied that nations impose tariffs for one reason only, that they consider that they are for then-own benefit and advantage and in the interest of their own people, and that is certainly why I believe in them. If I were not convinced of that, I should oppose them. I believe the evidence in support of that proposition is overwhelming. It is for that very reason that I am perfectly content to leave the matter to the unbiased, independent and unfettered decision of a National Government containing representatives of all 877 parties. I have sufficient confidence in my own case. I believe they will decide on the facts and on the evidence, and I think an open mind does not mean a vacant mind. With this Government, there will be no unwillingness to face the facts and no desire to ignore the evidence, as was the case with their predecessors. I remember less than two years ago a visit that was paid to my constituency by the late President of the Board of Trade who, we now note, has placed his great experience at the disposal of what some hon. Members opposite suggest is the worst form of capitalist exploitation. It certainly suggests to one an ex-prohibition agent becoming a manager of a brewery.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Has the hon. and learned Gentleman ever appeared for a trade unionist or a Socialist?
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
Certainly. I am not disapproving of the action of the ex-President of the Board of Trade. I am commending his broadness of mind. But, when he paid a visit in an official capacity to my constituency last year, some of us took the opportunity to interview him with regard to certain local problems, and among the matters that were raised was the question of Safeguarding, which for various reasons into which I need not enter was a matter of particular importance in the area at that time. I well remember the reply he made. He said that, Free Trader as he was, he had to admit that the evidence which had come before him at the Board of Trade in support of Safeguarding was most impressive. In spite of that, nothing was done, and afterwards he actually tried to negotiate a tariff truce. If he had been successful, it would have meant that the Protectionist countries would have stabilised their tariffs against us, and we, as a Free Trade country, would have undertaken to impose no new-duties. The country has clearly shown that it has no use for men who are placed in a position of responsibility and yet refuse to face up to the necessities of the situation.
To my mind, it is some proof of the necessity for this Bill that we should be told of the disapproval of certain other countries, competitors of ours, at its introduction. I believe not the least of the benefits that may accrue from it will prove to be a greater readiness on the part of 878 other countries to enter into arrangements and understandings with us which will be to our mutual advantage. So far from fearing the word "retaliation," I have always held that it is one of the greatest advantages of the Protectionist system that you have a weapon with which you can bargain. If other countries are ready to enter into mutual arrangements which will be advantageous to this country as well as to themselves, I feel sure that we shall be ready to meet them more than half-way.
Another feature of the Bill which I am sure is particularly welcome to the House is that the veto will not apply to products coming from within the Empire. That is encouraging, because it is a definite indication of what I hope and believe will be the policy of this Government, the great importance of developing and sustaining by every means in their power our trade relationships within the Empire. This Bill is dictated by the necessities of the situation as they appear to me. It is a first step towards dealing with that situation in accordance with the mandate of the people. The Government are doing no more than their duty in showing themselves to be guided not by preconceived ideas and by previously expressed opinions, but by the supreme test of national necessity at this grave hour in our country's fortunes.
§ Mr. PERKINS
As this is the first opportunity I have had of addressing the House, I ask for its indulgence in case I should transgress any of its Rules. I think that I can say that all Members in this House welcome the proposals which have been put forward on behalf of the Government to deal with so-called dumping. We were getting greatly worried. We were all very anxious, because we saw the time slipping by and the patient slowly bleeding to death day by day while the doctors stood around and watched the patient and just held discussions as to what was the necessary cure. We welcomed the proposals because we realised that the Government were going to make a genuine attempt to tackle our adverse trade balance, but after hearing the full explanation of the Bill and one or two criticisms of the Bill, and after hearing the answers of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in reply to some of the questions, some of us became a little nervous. 879 Doubts began to creep into our minds. We heard a good deal of criticism. Although I shall certainly support the Bill, I confess that it is rather a grudging support, because I feel that the Bill does not go far enough. I am inclined to agree with some of my hon. Friends below that with this discriminating Bill we may find ourselves in difficulties with certain foreign countries; and also there is no mention at all of the greatest of all our industries—the agricultural industry.
We have been told by the President of the Board of Trade that the Bill refers only to that type of dumping which he has described as a forestalling dumping to that type of imports rushed into this country in anticipation of a tariff. It is the kind of thing which is done by every country in the world. It is a well-known fact that whenever a country—it does not matter which country it is—announces to the world that it proposes to increase its tariff walls, all the other countries make a great attempt to stock that market. We have had the experience in this country of the Safeguarding Duties. Hon. Members will remember how a great flood of imports came into this country in anticipation of those duties. In the case of the cutlery industry, it was the most pronounced. In the course of a single month during the inquiry, between 12 and 18 months' supply of cutlery came into this country, thereby postponing the operation of the duty by 12 or 18 months. Now we find, from the figures which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), exactly the same sort of thing happening in the cutlery industry. We find that in the first 10 days of November very nearly 10 months' supply of cutlery came into the country.
I welcome the assurance from my right hon. Friend that he proposes to stop this sudden rush of imports, but I bitterly regret that he has not assured the House that he proposes to deal with a far more serious type of imports. I refer to the type of imports dumped into this country at prices actually below the prices which are ruling in the country in which the goods are manufactured. It is no new thing. Every Member of the House, and, I think, every manufacturer in the country, realises that the foreign manufacturer prefers to run his plants, his works and his factory at full pressure. 880 First of all, he satisfies, under the shelter of a tariff, the demand in his own market, and then he dumps the surplus at any cut-throat price, even below the cost of production of the article,, into another free market. As this country possesses the most convenient and the easiest free market into which he can dump his goods, he is and has been for many years, dumping his goods in ever increasing quantities into this country. In this practice he is often helped and aided by subsidies, by his own Government in many ways, and a deliberate attempt has been made for many years actually to eliminate the English manufacturer from certain industries. An attempt is being made to capture the English market because the foreign manufacturers realise that once they can capture the English market they will be in a position to demand whatever price they like for their products.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth, the other day, gave several glaring instances, and perhaps one of the most glaring of all was the case of the brick industry. He told us— and I have verified the figures since— that since 1924, in the last seven years, the importation of bricks into this country has gone up by 3,300 per cent. In other words, for every brick we imported in 1924 we now import 33. There are a large number of industries, and another flagrant illustration I might give is the case of the Scottish pig-iron industry. I have a little personal knowledge of this industry. I have looked up the figures relating to the production of that industry in pre-War days. I find that in pre-War days there were in Scotland 110 blast furnaces. In good times 84 or 85 of those furnaces were working, and if times were bad the number dropped to about 65 or 10. I find from inquiries in Scotland that at the moment the number has dropped from 110 blast furnaces to 84, and that out of the 84 which could go in blast to-morrow, only three are actually working. Only three out of 84 blast furnaces in Scotland are in operation at the moment. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House that this is nothing new. It is not due to any sudden rush of imports or to the dumping which is going on at this moment. It is due to the fact that ever since 1907 the imports of iron and 881 steel into this country have been slowly but surely increasing. We shall probably import this year, unless my right hon. Friend brings in his duties, very nearly 3,000,000 tons of iron and steel into this country at a time when, in our Scottish industry alone, we have only three furnaces in blast. This is one of the principal reasons for our steadily increasing unemployment, and, above all, for our adverse trade balance. We should welcome an assurance from the President of the Board of Trade that when we give him these powers he will use them, not only to stop this forestalling and the sudden rush of goods coming into this country, but also to stop, as far as possible, goods pouring into this country at prices with which we cannot compete.
I have made the criticism that this piecemeal Bill might well lead us into international complications. It seems to me that if my right hon. Friend puts duties upon one type of articles coming into this country—the luxury articles coming mainly from one country—and allows goods to come in from other countries free of duty, it is only common-sense to expect that there will be a considerable amount of international complications. Many countries will be most indignant, and rightly so. Therefore, I suggest that by far the best and easiest way of dealing with this subject is to make use of his powers in the form of a general tariff so as to treat all countries on exactly the same basis, and not discriminate between one country and another. I feel confident that if he does discriminate we shall find ourselves in, I do not say very serious international complications, but nevertheless fairly serious international complications. There are many excellent reasons why my right hon. Friend should make use of a general tariff. He should make use of his powers in the form of a general tariff on all imports coming into this country. First of all, it would be much simpler, and our manufacturers would know where they stood. I am getting letters every day. I had two telephone messages this morning from manufacturers in my constituency who want to know whether my right hon. Friend is going to give them a tariff. I had to confess that I did not know; I could not be certain. If my right hon. Friend would tell the House and the people of this country that he 882 proposes to use these powers as a general tariff, it would be doing a great service to the manufacturing industries.
We have been told, those of us who were in the last Parliament, that the leaders of the Conservative party had a clear-cut emergency tariff all ready that that tariff was all ready for application. Now the tariff which we were told was ready has apparently slipped into the background. Instead of that tariff, which would satisfy all these criticisms, my right hon. Friend has proposed the present Bill, which is only a half-hearted Measure. We must, of course, do our duty and support it, but I am frankly disappointed. I do not think that he has gone nearly far enough. But I welcome the promise which fell from the lips of the President of the Board of Trade, and I urge him not to be misled by, and not to toe the line to, an insignificant minority of Free Traders in this House. I urge him not to listen to the wailings of those Free Traders who can do nothing, who can produce no alternative policy, who have never produced an alternative policy and who can do nothing but moan and wail whenever any suggestion of restricting the imports into this country is mentioned. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if only he will go the whole hog, he will have the support of every Conservative Member and the best part of the Liberal Members in this House.
I have already mentioned the question of agriculture. Many of us cannot understand why agriculture has been left out, and it is particularly difficult to understand why it should have been left out when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), in his election address issued to every National candidate in this country, and broadcast by the Press in this country, stated in headlines that farmers must be secured against dumping, which has brought so many branches of their industry to ruin. It is very difficult for some of us to understand why, when the first big Measure is brought forward in this House, the greatest and most important of our industries—the agricultural industry-should be left out. I can only assume that my right hon. Friend is a little nervous of the dear food bogy. Perhaps he is a little nervous of the criticism which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd 883 George), when he returns from his holiday, is going to pour on to the shoulders of my right hon. Friend, but I can assure him that when he has dealt with agriculture and with the dumping of agricultural produce, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has stated in this House that he is actually in favour of keeping out some of those dumped goods. As far back as November, 1930, the right hon. Gentleman, speaking in this House, said:It is not merely a question of fruit, of currants and plums, but it is also a question of wheat. … I have always been against dumping. I do not consider, as I have said before here, that Free Trade is bound to carry that monster on its back."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1930; cols. 481–2, Vol. 245.]5.0 p.m.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that if only he will go ahead and deal with agriculture and treat agriculture in the same way as he is treating British industry, he will not only have the support of all the Conservative Members in this House, but also the support of that section of the Liberal party which is led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. We have been told by my right hon. Friend that we cannot deal with dumping in this Bill. We have been told that dumping does not take place in agricultural products, and that dumping only takes place at certain times of the year, and that it is not possible to dump agricultural produce on many occasions. I would ask my right hon. Friend to explain what is the difference between dumping 20 cwts. of steel into this country and dumping 20 cwts. of tinned milk into this country? If you can apply these powers to keep out this steel—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will—surely it is only common sense to apply those powers in order to keep out some of the immense quantity of tinned milk which is pouring into this country day and night. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the enormous quantity of milk in various forms which we import into this country. If we consider the quantity of milk which comes into this country as butter, condensed milk, cream, or cheese, we shall find that we import very nearly, but not quite, 2,000,000,000 gallons of milk from 884 foreign countries. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to grapple with the problem of our trade balance, he must include tinned milk and a large number of other agricultural products, of which I have a list here. There is the example of bacon. From foreign countries, come between £40,000,000 and £42,000,000 worth of bacon. We are having eggs to the tune of £16,000,000, potatoes to £2,500.000 and tomatoes to £4,500,000. There is even foreign beer to the tune of £6,000,000 worth. If he really intends to restrict imports in order to correct our adverse trade balance, he cannot ignore the great industry of agriculture. I plead with him to give agriculture a square deal and urge him to carry out the promise that was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley when he said:Agriculture must be secured against dumping.
§ Major MILNER
I am sure the House would wish me to say with what pleasure we have listened to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins). I hope we shall often hear from him and have the advantage of his obviously great knowledge of the agricultural industry. I am in agreement with him to this extent, that if Protection be desirable in any way, which I deny, agriculture has certainly as good a claim as any other industry.
If I may advert for one moment to the remarks which the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) made as to Mr. Graham the late President of the Board of Trade, those remarks are a little unworthy of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The matter to which I desire to refer particularly was his reference to conversations he had with Mr. Graham some little time ago, wherein Mr. Graham expressed an opinion that, in some particular matter, Safeguarding was desirable. No one knows better than the hon. and learned Gentleman how difficult it is to deal with hearsay conversations and how unsatisfactory it is to offer them in evidence. In the matter of Safeguarding, for which there may or may not be a case, a procedure is laid down whereby the industry concerned puts its case, in the light of day, before a tribunal. That is 885 an entirely different thing from the proposal in the Bill now before the House.
I desire to speak for one moment about the position of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, which is a very curious one indeed. A short time ago he told us that he was the most bigoted Free Trader in the House, but we have him to-day taking the lead in forcing this Bill, in a very short space of time, both upon the House and the country. Not only that, but the right hon. Gentleman has throughout his business career been a shipowner. Shipowners, of all people, must know—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not be backward in the matter of know-ledge—of the great activity which our Free Trade policy has conferred upon the shipowning industry, how, when this country became a Free Trade country round about 1860, our shipping industry increased to a tremendous extent and that, about the same time, America gave up her partial Free Trade and imposed higher and higher tariffs. From that day until 1900, America's shipping industry decreased.
It is a very surprising thing to find the right hon. Gentleman in his present position. There may be two alternative possibilities to explain that. The right hon. Gentleman—and I take leave to doubt this—may have thrown over the political convictions of a lifetime and have become a whole-hogger. The powers which he asks for in this Bill, to put on duties up to 100 per cent., would lead one to think that that was the case. It is only a month or two ago that he confined his tariff views to luxuries. I remember he mentioned French wine particularly. We have not heard anything in the last two days about French wine. He is very largely confining his attention to what are regarded as necessities, not for the people, but for the industries of this country, in the way of manufactured goods. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have changed his views without any real reason, or without reason sufficient to convince any impartial individual. He seems to base his changed views on a suggestion that abnormal imports have been coming into this country during the first 10 days of November and up to the present time. If that be the case, and I accept the right hon. Gentleman's state- 886 ment on that point, surely the fact that there are abnormal imports during a period of some 10 or 15 days is not a sufficient reason for changing the whole fiscal policy of this country. The right hon. Gentleman has lent colour to the view as to this change within the space of a month in his political convictions, by the fact that he is not dealing with dumping in the ordinary accepted sense, which is price discrimination between different national markets, but has gone ahead, and is dealing with general protective policy.
The other alternative—and the right hon. Gentleman himself has said he has not changed the views which he had before August last—is that the right hon. Gentleman has been put in his present position to safeguard the realities of Free Trade while making a demonstration or a gesture, call it what you will, sufficient, he hopes, and no doubt the Government hope, to satisfy the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and his friends. If so, this Bill must be taken as somewhat similar in its objects and purposes to that article, so much condemned by the best medical opinion, and yet so much in use by unwise mothers, to quieten and satisfy their infant children. I believe it is termed a "comforter" and that it is usually on the end of a string or attached to a rattle. If my view of the right hon. Gentleman's position is a correct one, this Bill is designed to be a comforter to quieten the muling and puking of the hon. Member for Bournemouth and his friends—
§ Major MILNER
Immature youths, as my right hon. and gallant Friend remarks, and is an encouragement to the immature youths in question to ask for something much more substantial in the way of sustenance, something, in our view, very definitely harmful to the lives of the people. It is a very curious thing that in the King's Speech which we were discussing last week, there was a statement that the Government proposed to find ways for restoring the volume of international trade. Yet one thing which this Bill will certainly do is to reduce the volume of international trade, and, indeed, the volume of our own trade. The 887 President of the Board of Trade told us the other day that our foreign trade was dependent on the wealth and poverty of our foreign customers. How does he expect our foreign customers to buy from us if we, by not purchasing from them, do not give them the wherewithal with which to purchase from us? The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I understand from the statistics that one-fifth of the whole world's export trade is sold to the British Isles. It is a very serious matter to propose to take action of the kind indicated by the right hon. Gentleman, and if that action is at all marked—although, as I suggest, it may be merely a gesture and not intended to be operated—in view of the enormous proportion that this country takes of the exports of the world, it will paralyse to a very large extent the international trade which manages to survive. That action, furthermore, may prevent our debtors paying their debts, and, in the words of my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, may make the confusion which exists internationally, worse confounded.
I submit that it in wholly fallacious to expect to redress our adverse trade balance by means of a tariff. The example of America and France clearly demonstrates such a belief to be quite fallacious. In America, in 1930, tariffs were raised to an unprecedented level. The result was two-fold. The first effect was that during the first five months of 1931 that imports, compared with 1930, fell by £110,000,000, but that exports fell by no less a sum than £130,000,000. Taking the latest month for which the figures are available, August, 1931, imports fell from £43,671,000 in 1930 to £33,200,000, and exports fell from £59,623,000 in August, 1930, to £33,000,000 in 1931. In imports there was a drop of 24 per cent. by reason of the raising of the tariff wall, but in exports there was a much larger drop, namely, of 43 per cent. I submit that from these figures, and from some I quoted the other day with which I will not trouble the House now in relation to France, where the same phenomenon was observed, the position of America clearly demonstrates that a tariff does not do away with an adverse trade balance. I might remark in passing that I see from this morning's paper 888 that the deficit on the American Budget is likely to be something like £400,000,000.
The second effect which followed in America by reason of the tariff, was that goods which the United States could not purchase because the goods could not come in over the tariff wall, were sent elsewhere, and to-day exporters of the United States are being challenged in every country in the world by those other nations whose goods could not get in over the American tariff wall. There is another complication to which reference has already been made. It is obvious that the moment one country raises its tariffs other countries are going to raise theirs. France is putting on a 15 per cent surtax in anticipation of the tariffs which they believe will be put on by this country. That happened in the case of America; other countries raised their tariffs, with the result that the trade turnover of the United States today is only half what it was a year ago.
The Parliamentary Secretary in his earlier and better days said that tariffs breed economic wars, and it is a curious thing that the President of the Board of Trade, who a few days ago said that we were in a position of greater embarrassment and complexity than we had been for many years, should select this moment to add to that embarrassment and complexity. During the election we saw on hoardings a great number of pictures—fortunately they did not have any great effect in my own constituency—saying that the electors should return a National Government for tariffs and to safeguard wages. I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps he proposes to take to protect wages? Does he anticipate a rise in prices? I presume that he does, and, if so, are the Government prepared to reverse their economy policy and their unemployment policy and increase, as far as they can by their encouragement, the wages of the workers of this country?
In America, when the steel trade asked for and obtained an increased tariff, the Government of the United States extracted a promise from them that if the additional tariff was put on wages would be maintained. Are the Government prepared to take similar action in this country? We are living in a time of a depreciated currency. Some of the things to which the Government propose to apply 889 a tariff already pay a Safeguarding Duty, and the price, therefore, of many of these things is going to be prohibitive. Are the Government prepared to take steps to increase the wages of the workers, who will have to pay more for the great majority of these commodities? The President of the Board of Trade is adopting the wrong course. The right course is to take some rapid international action, by means of a conference, and obtain co-operation between the nations of the world; to do away with these economic barriers and get a freer circulation of the goods of the world. They must organise on the lines put forward by the late Solicitor-General, increase the purchasing power of the people, and, if they did this, they would do a great deal more good than by passing the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. RICHARD EVANS
I am yet another of the supplicants for the indulgence of the House, and I can assure hon. Members that in my case it is not as a matter of custom but as a matter of dire necessity that I make this appeal. I rise as a Liberal and as a Free Trader, yet as a supporter of this Bill. Frankly, I have not come to my conclusion without a good deal of trepidation, and I am not at all certain even now that I may not live to regret my decision. But it is important that we should realise that there is an emergency, a crisis, of the first magnitude; and it is also important that we should distinguish between the case for taking powers to deal with this emergency and the case for a general tariff. I for one should feel a little perturbed if the House were to adjourn for the Christmas vacation without having armed the Government with powers to deal with the emergency. It is impossible to visualise the situation which may develop between now and next March. There are many indications in Europe of a collapse and that a number of countries may go off the Gold Standard and deliberately depreciate their currency. Therefore, it is important that the Government should be armed with powers to deal with that situation and conserve our overseas purchasing power for those things which are the necessities of life. We may find ourselves, as we did in the War, in a position when we cannot afford to import luxuries, and we must conserve our purchasing power for the purchase of the 890 necessities of life and raw material for our industries.
While I am a Free Trader I should be dishonest if I said that I disagreed with the granting of these powers to the Government for the solution of the emergency situation, but, at the same time, I must make an appeal to the Government to play the game. There have been suggestions from certain hon. Members that this is the thin end of the wedge. I am a Free Trader, and I am prepared to give to the Government the benefit of the doubt which has lurked in my mind for a considerable time; and I trust them to play the game and to use the powers we have given them merely as emergency measures. I am exceedingly glad that the Government have avoided using the word "dumping" in connection with this Bill. Nothing would be more likely to provoke retaliation than a deliberate anti-dumping Measure, and even as it is we may have very serious international complications. But if we were to proclaim against dumping surely no country in the world is going to suffer more from retaliation than Great Britain. I was recently in Canada and the United States, and I was able to buy commodities manufactured in this country for something like three dollars 75 cents, which I could not get here under 30s. What would happen to our coal industry? We are huge dumpers of coal, and, if other nations were to retaliate, we might have to close down altogether some of our great exporting industries. But a case can be made out for dealing with abnormal imports. It is wise to avoid the old definition of dumping, as a price discrimination between different national markets, but it may be necessary in the next few months to deal with these imports in order to conserve our overseas purchasing power for the prime necessities of life.
It would be a mistake to allow the Debate to take place without stating that this Measure offers no permanent solution of our industrial situation. You have a special currency crisis, which has a relation to reparations and to international debts, and the uneven flow of the world's gold reserves. There you have a special set of circumstances which will have to be dealt with in a special way, but we cannot disassociate this crisis from the general world economic 891 crisis, and no tariffs will ever touch the real crisis and the economic depression. Surely it is right to point out that we are living in a world of plenty. It has been said that this world is very much a lunatic asylum for the other planets, and there never was a time in the world's history when there was so much unused wealth and idle producing power, and when we had such a huge volume of potential labour dependent on some form or other of public assistance. Surely at a time of common misery and impoverishment throughout the world this country should take the lead in bringing about a saner world, and not complicate the situation with tariffs, which will prejudice attempts which sooner or later will have to be made to bring about a sounder basis for international trade and commerce, and secure for the economic life of Britain a saner and more stable foundation.
The Government have received a mandate for action. Let them see that the action they take is not one which may prejudice the success of attempts which will have to be made sooner or later. I plead with the Government. I like these powers, when they are held in reserve; I trust it may not be necessary to exercise them; and I appeal to the Government, in the common misery and impoverishment of the world that this country should give the lead. Western civilisation has solved the technical problem of production, but it has failed yet to solve the problem of distribution and exchange, and until this problem is tackled we shall never get stability. I support the Bill, as I have said, with trepidation. I may live to regret my decision—I hope I shall not—but in the discussion on these Measures I hope that those Free Traders who are Members of the Government will have the courage and vision and, shall I say, the intestinal fortitude to stand up against the machinations of those who would wreck the economic life of this country. Economic structures in the next few months will be in great jeopardy. Germany and France, and other countries, may crash, and this is not the time to launch a policy which is going to make the situation infinitely worse. I appeal to the Government to go for the big things, to have a big vision, and secure 892 for the world a sounder international policy, and for Great Britain a saner economic life.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The maiden speech to which we have just listened is, I think, precisely that form of maiden speech which deservedly wins the ear of the House. It shows just that absence of certainty that you are right, that deference to the opinion of the House which not only makes a good impression at the moment, but gives us all hope of many subsequent repetitions. It has seemed to me, from many of the speeches that we have heard in these Debates, that it is too much assumed by those who come, perhaps, fresh to this House, fresh from the hustings, that those of us who are Free Traders are not as interested in providing employment for the people of this country as are those new Members. I am perfectly certain that every Free Trader is a Free Trader to-day and has always been a Free Trader because he believes that under Free Trade there will be more employment than under Protection. We Free Traders are as anxious to secure employment for the people as is any Member of the House, and if we are wrong we must be judged on policy and on reason and not on whether we are or are not supporters of a national party.
This is a question of hard common sense. I would urge new Members, in particular those on the other side, to remember that old members of their own party are not quite so convinced as to the very big benefits that will accrue from Protection as they were when they first came to the House. This House, with its chop and change of argument, is apt to take the convictions out of a great many of us, to modify our views and to exhibit the other side in a more favourable light, very often, than one will find in election time at rival street-corners. Once upon a time I was a "maiden" myself. In those days, more than a quarter of a century ago, I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who is now in charge of this Bill. It is a time that I look back to with particular pleasure, fruitful in good work and pleasant in association. In fact that connection would have endured if it had not been for the party Whips. The party 893 Whips informed the right hon. Gentleman that they could stand my vote against the Government, but when it came to telling against the Government they thought the time had come to part.
I learned my Free Trade and all I know of politics from the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, I am not despairing now when I see him introducing this Bill. He told us in his speech the other day that one useful inventor was worth 70 Acts of Parliament. I would, perhaps, phrase it otherwise; I would say that one honest statesman is worth 70 Acts of Parliament. Whatever we may think of some Members of the Government, we do realise that we have in the right hon. Gentleman a man who at least would no more pass a false argument than he would pass a false coin, and when we are dealing with his speeches or with his proposals we can know where we are. It is surprising to find him introducing this Bill. I would remind him that there was a certain Reginald McKenna once, as good a Free Trader as any that sits in this House to-day, and he will go down to history as the introducer and the perpetrator of the McKenna Duties. It would, indeed, be nothing less than a tragedy if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade should be remembered in after years as the inventor of the Runciman Duties. I hope that that fate will not befall him.
But observe what it is that must have gone on in the Cabinet to produce this curious result of the convinced and profound Free Trader taking to himself powers to impose tariffs such as the wildest Member for Bournemouth never thought of in the old days, and under conditions which destroy all control by Parliament over the tariff inflicted and the money collected. What took place? This was not in the King's Speech; there was no hint of it there. It came on a Sunday. The whole of the Sunday Press, with one voice, inspired by the Press barons, told the Government that they must toe the line. And on Monday morning the Cabinet met. Here was this serious position: Beaverbrook and Rothermere insisted on their pound of flesh. The Prime Minister said to the President of the Board of Trade, "What can who do about it? Cannot you do something? Take powers anyway. Has there been any extra dumping?" the Presi- 894 dent of the Board of Trade cannot tell a lie. He said, "Yes, a little forestalling of our usual supplies." "Well," said the Prime Minister, "I think you had better do something. Every one will understand that if it comes from you it is not meant seriously." Other members of the Cabinet looked on, and the Home Secretary, anxious to please the Prime Minister, said, "Well, I think something might be done. It is not a matter of principle, you know; it is a matter of opportunism." I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer said nothing, but that the corners of his mouth went up. I think the Lord President of the Council said nothing, but just kept on murmuring to himself, "A knave-proof tariff," but thinking he would prefer a knave-proof Cabinet. Finally, the President of the Board of Trade consented, without much heart in it—consented, rather than break up a Cabinet called in an emergency. But I would warn him and warn the House that once the Government have surrendered to the Press barons, the next surrender comes so much more easy.
The right hon. Gentleman has got these powers now. Week after week the same people who have forced the Government's hands already will force them again. No public inquiry; the right hon. Gentleman alone holds the key. Already the Board of Trade is besieged. Every industry wants its pound of flesh; every snout is in the trough. They are after the right hon. Gentleman. It is extremely difficult for any Minister or any Ministry to resist pressure such as that. The lobbying that goes on in the House of Commons will be nothing to the lobbying in the Board of Trade. There will be few protesting against the Duties; there will be a multitude demanding their share in the pool. But I must confess that the picture of the Board of Trade and the picture of the right hon. Gentleman passing this Bill through the House is not one on which I gladly dwell. Let us draw the veil. Let me bring the right hon. Gentleman down to his own speech in introducing this Bill, and ask him whether it is not possible, whether it is not conceivable, that in this case he has made a mistake, not merely in action but in argument. The right hon. Gentleman said in that speech:The only permanent way of restoring our trade balance. … is by expanding exports rather than curtailing imports.895 How true‡ We all know that. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will repeat it. But why then spend his first effort on doing that which will not restore the trade balance, on doing that which will not merely curtail the imports into this country, but curtail the export trade as well? The right hon. Gentleman also said:If they buy from us, we want to be quite sure that they can pay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1931; col. 548, Vol. 259.]True. But let me put it in a different way, equally true. If they can pay, if they are allowed to pay, then they can buy from us. If you refuse to allow them to pay, they cannot buy from us, and we cannot export. At the present moment we are all anxious that Germany should be able to pay £70,000,000 frozen credit which falls due in February next. The Government are going to put tariffs, and prohibitive tariffs, on goods coming from Germany. They are going to stop manufactured goods coming from Germany. Yes Then how can Germany pay? It is rather like Mr. Doolittle in"Pygmalion"—"We are willing to pay and waiting to pay, and wanting to pay. "But how can they pay? Gold—we do not want gold any more; it is no longer a medium. They cannot pay by selling us their securities; we are not allowed to buy them. And now the Government are to stop them sending in their goods. How on earth can we receive that £70,000,000 due from Germany next February? If the Government stop these people paying, they cannot pay. Just the problem which has put America in such a difficult position will inevitably affect this country if the Government do the same here.
But there is a much more serious thing. There is the right hon. Gentleman's view of the duty of the Government to the pound sterling. It is evident from his speech that he believes it is the duty of the Government to improve the value of the pound—I will not say to restore it to its parity, but to improve its value. I beg him to remember that that ought not to be the primary duty of this or any Government. He says that he wants to correct the value of the pound—to put it up. He says that the only way in which our currency can retain its value is by seeing that our adverse trade balance does not increase. I put 896 it to him that now that we are off gold, trade will balance itself. It must do so, if left to itself, because there is no other way except that of buying and selling in which the balance can be made good, and if the fall in the pound is not yet enough, a further fall will do it, naturally and automatically checking imports into the country and improving the amount of the exports. The stimulating of exports and the checking of imports are the inevitable results of a fall in the pound. But the right hon. Gentleman is more anxious about restoring the value of the pound than about restoring the trade of the country and employment in industry. That is the difficulty He is still trying the old Gold Standard way of balancing our trade. "You shall not send us imports; you shall pay us in gold." It was possible to say that at one time. It was the only sound argument in the whole propaganda of Tariff Reform, but now if we say, "You shall not send us imports," the only answer to such a statement is, "In that Case we cannot buy from you."
I have a great deal of sympathy with those trades which are producing for the home market, but my people in North Staffordshire are producing for the export market, and every single thing that you are doing to injure imports coming into this country is going to increase unemployment among my people. This is not a question of Protection versus Free Trade, but a question of whether you are going to be driven by the mistaken views of people whom you know to be mistaken, into doing that which is going to make the trade of this country worse than it in at the present time. If these people cannot sell to us, they cannot buy unless they can get sterling. The result of preventing them from importing will be to send up the price of sterling. The pound must automatically rise as imports are prevented from coming in, and, in fact, that is the best way of propping up sterling. If you really want to restore the value of the pound, you can do it in this way. To stop imports coming in, will force the foreigner, in order to get sterling, to push up the price of sterling and the pound will rise. But is it in the interests of the country that that should be done? Exports falling, imports falling and gold rising. That is the Bank of England paradise. That is the principle upon which we have stagnated for seven 897 long years, for seven lean years, on the Gold Standard, while everything was done to keep up the price of gold.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has forgotten the point that appreciating sterling up to a gold basis is the only posible way of safeguarding wages.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I have not forgotten that point, but I would point out that the fall in the value of sterling up to now has been about 30 per cent. That is to say, taking the pound as 15s., there is an automatic import duty of 33 per cent. on all goods coming into this country, including foodstuffs, and yet, mark you, the cost of living has not gone up very much. Because Denmark has gone off gold, because the whole of the Empire has gone off gold, because we have bought so much foodstuffs from the Empire, because South America is off gold—for all these reasons the fall in the value of the pound has not, up to now, materially affected the cost of living in this country. It is does, in the future, if the pound were to fall much lower, and if it were not to be accompanied by a fall in all the other countries that are off gold, then, indeed, the cost of living would rise, and wages would automatically be cut by the rising cost of living.
§ Mr. D. M. MASON
Has the right hon. Gentlemen observed that the price of bread was raised on Monday?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Yes, the price of bread has been put up ½d. a loaf. I am not trying to minimise the drawbacks, but I am trying to show the House that while a fall in the value of the pound must inevitably increase the cost of living, while it is an automatic tariff, just such as is asked for by hon. Members, it has its good side in that it does enable our export trades to win back their place in the neutral markets of the world. Just as we smashed the coal trade and the cotton trade by going back to gold in 1925, so, now, those trades can start their recovery by being enabled to sell 33 per cent. cheaper than before.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Not entirely. At the expense of English people who live abroad. At the expense of English people who go to Cannes and Monte 898 Carlo for the winter; at the expense of people who drink French wine; at the expense of people who use lipstick; at the expense of those people who buy flowers from Nice—yes. All those people have to pay, but, believe me, the working-classes are not suffering from the want of those particular articles. The real difficulty to-day is that there is a mistaken impression on the part of the Government that their first duty is to restore the pound, whereas their first duty is to let trade balance itself at whatever figure the pound may fall to, and to stabilise the pound at that true, new value.
One method after another is being used to-day by the Government to injure the trade of this country and restore the value of the pound. We have obstacles placed in the way of dealing in currency. You may not float a loan now for a foreign country and floating a loan for a foreign country, I need hardly tell the House, means the export from this country of so many millions of pounds worth of goods. That is prohibited. Nobody may buy shares in a foreign country, yet such a purchase shows itself in the export of goods from this country. All these transactions are prohibited and we are staggering along under a 6 per cent. Bank Rate while all our competitors on the Continent are under a 2½ per cent. Bank Rate. That is done to keep up the value of the pound and now we are going to impose import duties in order to support the pound at the sacrifice of the export trades of this country.
This is only the beginning. I am not so fearful that any very great use will be made by the right hon. Gentleman of these abnormal powers. What I am afraid of is the erroneous conception hold by the right hon. Gentleman and the Government of the duty of a National Government. If they conceive it to be the duty of a National Government to support the rentier and the moneylender—the people who have lent money—and to see that those people are paid back in full by the bankrupt trade of this country, then they will ruin the nation. The issue is clear-cut between those who have lent money and those who use money. The working class are those who use money. They are not the only people. The manufacturers, the merchants and all those people who borrowed 899 money when prices were high and are now unable to pay, are praying for cheap money and praying to be relieved from part of this burden of debt which has grown worse and worse for seven years.
If the Government look at this crisis solely from the point of view of restoring the pound instead of from the point of view of easing the burden upon the shoulders of the victims of the debts of the past, then the state of this country instead of improving, as it has shown signs of doing under this fall in the pound which has taken place, will grow worse. Instead of improving the position, this proposal will drive this country into a state of bankruptcy such as has been discovered in South America and in other parts of the world. Where the weight of debt becomes too heavy for any business or for any people there is only one way out, and that is to reduce the burden of debt. I need hardly tell the right hon. Gentleman that when a business in this country is being reconstructed, because the water in the capital has proved too much, there is only one way of producing a successful reconstruction and that is to cut deep. The danger always is that of making too small a cut and then the reconstructed company is unable to pay dividends. We are now reconstructing the finances of this nation and the whole productive system of Great Britain and if you keep on trying to preserve the interests of the moneylender, as against those of the man who cannot survive unless you relieve him of some of this debt, then we shall never manage to pull through.
§ Sir WILLIAM MITCHELL - THOMSON
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) began his speech by reminding us that he was not to be numbered any longer among the Parliamentary maidens. I am afraid that I also come into the category of old maids in the Parliamentary sense, because I am of the same vintage as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. It gives me all the more pleasure to begin my observations by joining with him in what he said about the quality of the speeches this afternoon. We have had a number of maiden speeches all of which attained a high level and all of which gave good earnest that those who made them—and I congratulate them on hav- 900 ing got over the difficult first plunge—will bring distinction to our Debates.
I propose to address myself particularly to the Amendment itself, to the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) and to some observations which have just fallen from the right hon. and gallant Member for New-castle-under-Lyme. I begin by asking the House to observe that the Amendment which has been moved is not the Amendment on the Paper. The Amendment on the Paper is a fine, robust, stalwart declaration on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself and some of his friends asking that the Bill should be thrown out neck and crop. Apparently, overnight, other counsels have prevailed in the party opposite, and so we are presented with a long, argumentative and rather verbose manuscript Amendment which, unfortunately, a large number of those now in the House did not hear read. Probably a large number even of those who will vote for it have not heard it read. I would first call attention to the fact that all the speeches so far in support of that Amendment and against the Bill have come from that part of the Opposition which sits upon the benches above the Gangway. I call attention to that fact because while I have no hope of the hon. Member for Caerphilly and, while I have not much hope of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, I have considerable hope of some of the hon. Members below the Gangway opposite who represent constituencies in the West of Scotland. I carry my mind back to the Debates in 1923 or 1924 when the question of Imperial Preference, and the question of approving the Resolutions of the Imperial Conference came up for consideration. We were voted down by the then Socialist Government, I remember well. I do not know whether any hon. Member representing a Clydeside constituency voted for us, but at all events—yes, I think one of them, the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) did, and some of his colleagues at least refrained from voting against us. Therefore, in this matter I have some hopes. Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
If the hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway do not vote for the Bill, perhaps the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway will. Let me come to the first contention which is put forward in the Amendment, and which was put forward by my right hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last. He said, "You are prejudging the issue without due discussion." Do the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Mover of the Amendment really believe that? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have us believe that these proposals were a bolt from the blue, something conceived after the General Election and suddenly thrust before an amazed and startled House of Commons.
Does not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman really recognise the fact that if there was one thing at all events which was transparently clear at the last election, it was that the mandate which was being asked for was one to use any and every conceivable means which the Government might think fit to achieve their object; and the proof of that fact is to be found—if hon. Members opposite do not believe it, at all events foreign countries believe it—if you look at the comments of the foreign Press on the result of the election. The proof is to be found in the cable files of every importing agency in this country. The loud speakers had not ceased announcing the results of the election when the cables of every importing agency in this country were buzzing with cables from America, France, Germany, and even more distant countries, asking what was the latest date at which they could hope to ship goods in order to get them into Great Britain before the tariffs came. Everybody knows that that is so.
What is the second contention of the Amendment? It is that the proposals in this Bill ought to be resisted and voted down by the House of Commons because they are giving power to the Executive to tax, without the intervention of Members of Parliament. Even accepting that, who are hon. and right hon. Members opposite to make complaints of that sort? What about the political levy in the trade unions? What about the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Land Taxes? At all events, in this Bill the taxes proposed to be levied are taxes upon a fairly 902 ascertained value, declared and ascertained by the Customs, but he was the original supporter of taxes which were to be levied on a value which was not even to be ascertained by the Members of this House or by the Government, but by somebody outside, and which had no real existence in Heaven or on earth, but was to be ascertained on a purely hypothetical basis. In contradistinction to that, these proposals—and let this be remembered—have to come up for approval in the House of Commons.
But the truth is, that although this is in form a taxing Statute, in fact it is not a taxing Statute. What this Bill is designed to do really is not to produce revenue, but to regulate imports. That is the true intent and purpose of the Bill, and if you did have resort to a tariff of 100 per cent., of course the result would be that that particular commodity would not be imported. Hon. Members opposite are really hunting the wrong hare in their present method of opposing the Bill. They are treating this Bill as if this was the end in itself and the final word, but that is not so. If it were so, if this were indeed the final word which the Government had to put forward on this subject, I confess that I and a good many of my hon. Friends would have a great many more words to say about it.
That, however, is not the position at all, and this Bill is, if I may so put it, in the nature of a coffer-dam, a temporary structure being built to keep out water while the ground is being prepared and the foundations are being excavated for the permanent structures which are to follow. [interruption.] I would say, in reply to the hon. Member who interrupts, that it is equally a mistake to assume that the permanent structures must necessarily altogether consist of a system of tariffs. On the contrary, it has been said over and over again that it is highly probable—in fact, I think almost certain—that other means as well as tariffs will have to be resorted to in order to achieve the object, such as licences, quotas, prohibitions. AS to licences, I agree that they are difficult to work, but in certain cases they may be a very apt form of remedy.
As to prohibitions, I would rather like to know what the position is about them. My right hon. Friend, I thought, skated 903 rather lightly over that question in introducing his proposals. I appreciate the difficulties in the way of imposing prohibitions—there are immense difficulties—but at the same time I should very much like to know what is the position in regard to our powers to impose prohibitions, if it should become necessary. There are no such powers really under the Bill, but I believe—I do not think I am wrong—that the Government already have powers under "D.O.R.A." I believe there are "D.O.R.A." powers, if revived, which would enable them to impose prohibitions where they might be found necessary, either permanent or temporary prohibitions; and if I am right in that, we might perhaps, by the use of this female, instead of merely preventing people buying biscuits and chocolates after nine o'clock, perform some useful purpose. If one were assured that these powers were possessed by the Government, some of us would feel more comfortable.
While on the subject of prohibitions, I would like to say that I agree very largely with what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the prohibition of foreign exchange transactions. I must say that I understood that prohibition thoroughly well when we were trying to maintain the Gold Standard, but, frankly, I do not understand it now, and I understand it less—it seems to me extremely illogical—that you should refrain from prohibiting the import of purely luxury articles at present, while at the same time you are preventing people from investing money which will return to this country in the form of interest, not merely abroad, but actually in some of our own Dominions. For instance, you cannot invest money in Canada at the present time; you cannot buy Canadian dollars; you are not allowed to operate on the Exchange. Therefore, I think perhaps the position in that respect does require, and I hope will receive, some reconsideration from the Government.
I recognise that the Government really are getting a move on, and that this is the first step which they have taken. I hope that long before the Imperial Conference takes place in July, the Government will not only have got their own plans ready, but will have got a highly developed system of plans ready to put 904 before the Conference, because if we are only going to begin to consider the question of Imperial Preference in July, it will be a long time indeed before we shall see it in actual effect. I should like to feel that the Government will be employing the interval to build up a substructure, and that the Imperial Conference in July will in fact put the coping stone on it.
I might add, in regard to Imperial Preference, that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could see his way, at some reasonably early date, to give, in regard to one commodity at all events, namely, sugar, some hope to the Empire sugar producers, he would be doing a great deal to save that industry in British Guiana and in the West Indies. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about economy?"] After all, the suggestion is to take taxes off, not to put them on. I mention it now, because the new crop season will be starting fairly soon in British Guiana and in a few months in the West Indies, and unless the planters know that their future prospects are going to be brighter than they are now, or unless they have some reason for hoping for increased preference in future, I am afraid the results in those portions of the Empire will be very bad indeed. I support the Bill very heartily, as being, not only the first step towards a reasonable and rational fiscal system, but, as I thoroughly believe, the first step on the road back to prosperity.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
The right hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) has expressed some sympathy with those making a first plunge in this House. This is my first plunge from this Box, and I remember quite well the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), when he plunged from a back bench, expressing the loss that he felt in losing this Box from which to speak. He did not show himself very embarrassed in his new position, and if I were to be as little embarrassed speaking from this bench as he was speaking from his back bench, I should be well satisfied.
The right hon. Member for South Croydon takes objection to the fact that the Opposition have changed the form of their Amendment. He would have preferred if we had stuck to our full-blooded Amendment that is on the Paper. It 905 has been changed because we felt that it was our duty to put forward an Amendment of a more constructive character, as the Leader of the Opposition, on the opening day, promised that we would put before the House our alternative plans. We object to the quick change that has taken place inside the Government. We were told a week ago that they had no intention of bringing forward any legislation to deal with this question, that they did not contemplate any type of legislation, but now we are told that they must act, and act quickly.
When we seek the reason for quick action, we are compelled to take the view that it is the pressure of the back benches that has caused this change. I do not object to pressure from the back benches. I think my hon. Friends below the Gangway on this side complained many times that we refused to bring more pressure from the back benches on to the late Labour Government, and I must frankly say that I think now they may have been right. I think a little more pressure from the back benches might have prevented the disaster that overtook that Government. Therefore, I do not complain that pressure from the back benches opposite has been exercised, but I would be better pleased if the Front Bench would tell us that that is the reason for bringing in this Bill, and not pretend that something had happened within a week that compelled them to change their mind.
All the facts and figures put forward by the President of the Board of Trade were known a week ago. Nothing new has happened during the last week. There are no new facts known to him now. The figures that he used the other day could have been used a week ago. Therefore, we are forced to the conclusion that this is the result of pressure from behind. That is why we are so apprehensive. We are afraid that if pressure from behind can bring forward this kind of tariff, further pressure may bring further tariffs. That is pleasing to those who believe in tariffs for the whole country; whoever believes in that system ought to press for more, and their first successful attempt ought to encourage them to try again. Our fundamental opposition to tariffs is very plain. It is because we do not think that they will serve the national interest or safeguard the standard of life 906 of the worker. If we thought that they would, we would be wholeheartedly in support of them, but we do not think that they would.
We have to examine the Bill from this point of view: Will it benefit the working-class of this country? The answer of the tariffist is that it will. We say that it will not. We have to be clear on a number of questions. What are we supposed to be up against? It is that imports are being sent into this country in increased quantities. When we ask for figures to show that, we are told that no figures are available, but that all that can be said is that in the first 10 days of November the rate of imports suggest that there is an increase. I am not surprised that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) last night uttered these words:I think the Amendment has served its purpose in drawing from the President of the Board of Trade an answer so vague that I hope and believe it means that he is going to use the very widest discretion in his interpretation of the word 'abnormal' and is not going to be restricted to a narrow comparison between the figures of a particular week or month and those of the previous year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1931; col. 799, Vol. 259.]I can quite understand that, because once the President does that, he is in danger. A contributor to the "Manchester Guardian" dealt on Monday with the very matter to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook takes objection. He says that having examined the details of the imports and exports of this year, 1930 and 1929, he finds that the imports of articles dealt with in this Bill were down by £466,584 in 1931 as against 1930. He also tells us that they are down by £2,924,000 in 1931 as compared with October, 1929. In the list of articles dealt with by the Bill—wholly or mainly manufactured articles—there are 20 classes, and in only three and that to a very small extent, is there any increase at all in importation. One can understand the objection being taken to the use of comparative figures as an argument for this Bill, because comparative figures would not substantiate these articles being put into the Bill.
What has created the difficulty? It must be either that the worker in foreign countries is working longer hours or for less wages or that his employer is more 907 wide-awake than the employer in this country, and is able to bring these goods in at such low prices. The Opposition asks whether this Bill will remedy these causes of the difficulty. The Bill creates a possibility of one country securing a favourable balance of trade by a method which must, of necessity, create an adverse balance of trade in some other country. We have to face that position. We on this side of the House take the stand that it is utterly impossible for any country to solve its own economic problems permanently by a method which will aggravate the economic problems of some other country. It may be said that that is idealism, but whether it be so or not, the President of the Board of Trade can have no objection to going along a line which will ultimately secure a favourable balance of trade in this country by a method which will not endanger the favourable balance of trade in any other country. The day has gone when countries can hope to solve their domestic economic problems by methods which aggravate the problems of any other country.
We take objection to this Bill because it will erect artificial barriers between nations. It will cause retaliation, and that is very vital to the industry which I represent. We are sending out, roughly, 20 per cent. of the output of our coal in exports. We are apprehensive that this Bill may endanger that export of coal. No one knows better than the President the fight we have had for years to maintain any export at all. We are very much afraid that the countries affected by this Bill will say, "We will retaliate by stopping the coal exported from Great Britain to this country." If the Prime Minister were here, I would like to ask him why he put in the King's Speech that the Government are making every effort to secure international peace and by this Bill is taking steps which endanger that peace. You cannot have anything which brings about economic war without endangering real peace. Whatever Government pursues a policy of establishing international peace must at the same time pursue an economic policy which will help it to achieve international peace. The policy pursued in this Bill will endanger the grave issue of international peace.
908 I want to emphasise a point which was made by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from this side that we are off the Gold Standard and that that surely ought to make some difference and enable us to rectify our trade balance without introducing a Bill of this kind. I noticed in the leading article of the "Manchester Guardian" yesterday this statement:On these goods we have already levied, through currency depreciation, a tariff of some 30 per cent., and now Mr. Runciman proposes to add, in order to rectify a nonexistent adverse trade balance, an additional tariff which may be as high as 100 per cent.The Parliamentary Secretary said that this Bill was conceived in realism. I fail to see that there is any realisation of realities in bringing in this Bill at a time when we ourselves are off the Gold Standard. The article which I have quoted suggests that many of the goods that are to be taxed come from countries that are still on the Gold Standard. In an organ which is not so objectionable as the "Manchester Guardian" is to many hon. Members opposite, namely in the City columns of "The Times," which is agreed to be a good Protectionist organ, it says:The smaller the amount of our imports the smaller must be the amounts that foreigners will have available to spend on British goods. Any unnecessary restriction on imports is to be deprecated, for it would limit exports and thereby reduce the total amount of international trade. It follows that the economic interests of this country will be best served by keeping UP the total volume of international trade.That is worth remembering at this moment. If we by any means do anything to handicap a country, for instance Germany, we are not helping ourselves: we are doing something which will surely bring Germany and ourselves down. I saw a letter yesterday dealing with the question of the Gold Standard in its effect on the Continent. The general secretary of the German stoneworkers and Monumental Masons Union wrote to the general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers in this country. Here is a sentence from that letter:The development of the differences in the currencies of the European countries has caused a considerable unrest among our employers. They claim that the whole export will be in danger unless an immediate reduction of 15 to 20 per cent. takes place.909 That is an effect of Britain being off the Gold Standard on the standard of life of the German worker. Any lowering of the standard of life of the German worker at once endangers the standard of life of the British worker. That is why we have always opposed any attempt to do anything which may endanger the standard of life of any workman in any country. We now say that we shall further endanger the standard of life of the German worker by this Bill. I still have faith in the right hon. Gentleman, and I do hope that, if the Bill becomes an Act this week, he will use it—as I think he will, though he may disappoint many of those behind him—in such a way as to safeguard the standard of life of the workers of this country.
If the Prime Minister were here, I should remind him of the claim that he made fairly frequently during and since the election of being as good a Labour man and as good a Socialist as ever he was, and as any Member or leader of the Labour party. I believe that many Members on that side of the House are sitting there because hundreds of thousands of the workers of the country believed that the Prime Minister was as good a Labour man and as good a Socialist as any Member of the party. I believe that he himself is here because thousands of people in Seaham thought that he was as good a Labour man as ever he was. I ask him if this Bill will help towards Socialism? Is there any sign of Socialism in it? I want the Prime Minister not to disappoint those hundreds of thousands of people outside the House who still believe him to be a good Socialist. This Bill is a hindrance to the establishment of Socialism, and I ask him, since so many hundreds of thousands voted in his favour, to sec to it that no legislation of this character, which is so anti-Socialist, is brought before the House, and to show by action, not by words, that he is still a good Socialist. We base our opposition to this Bill oh the fact that we look upon it as a piece of anti-Socialist legislation.
§ 6.30 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
In listening to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) I felt he had no reason to complain of the inspiration he got from the Despatch Box. As he went along with his speech I thought of the spirits of the departed who have made brilliant 910 speeches from that place, and I must congratulate the hon. Member on the moderate tone of his own speech. He twits the Prime Minister with having a peculiar type of Socialism. I have heard many descriptions of Socialism. The hon. Member has one idea of Socialism, and the Prime Minister may have a quite different idea; in fact, it is evident that he has. Another hon. Member introduced a historical reference to the three men and the "burning fiery furnace," and said that the Government, or those responsible for this Measure, were like those three young men, that they were now going into the "burning fiery furnace" of tariff reform, but in this case they would not come out unscathed. Had he been here now I would have liked to remind him of another scene, that great feast described in the Bible in the middle of which the writing on the wall appeared:Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin."That reference applies to the late Socialist Government. They have been weighed in the balance by the people of the country and have been found wanting. The reason why so few of them are here is that they have one idea of Socialism, and the Prime Minister has another.
If the Prime Minister be successful in carrying out the policy of the Government of which he is the leader it will be recorded as one of the greatest steps in advancing the welfare of our people. Some hon. Members here, particularly the new Members, have shown themselves to be rather impatient with the House of Commons. They are, perhaps, satisfied for the time being with this first attempt towards restoring trade and industry, but one after another of them has said, "Why not steel?" or "Why not agriculture?" Why not this, that or the other? After they have been longer in the House they will learn to have a little more patience. We must be patient at this time. Everything cannot be done in 10 days. Hon. Members opposite were trying for two and a quarter years, and we are still waiting for their solution of the unemployment problem. This Bill is, I believe, a sincere attempt to solve the problem.
It may seem strange that I, one of those dour Ulstermen, should be found following the lead of a Socialist Prime Minister. We have been twitted with it 911 before now. Conservative of the Conservatives, Die-hard of the Die-hards, and yet following a Socialist Prime Minister‡ We make no apology for that. Why? For the simple reason that we in Ulster believed that England was in difficulty and in danger financially. It was just the same in 1914. The Ulster Division which went out to help the British troops in Frane did not ask who was Prime Minister. They saw the danger in which the country was, and they came to its rescue. It is the same to-day. There are 13 of us. Two have been elected, I have no doubt, to sit and vote with the Socialist party, although my hon. Friend who is one of the Members for Tyrone and Fermanagh said in his last speeh—said it three times during his speech—that he does not belong to the Labour party and never did. But a man is known by the company he keeps, and of 160 votes 159 were given for the Socialist party. At all events 11 of us have been sent over here to assist the Government in this national difficulty. There were two contests only, the other nine Members being returned unopposed.
What does that show? First of all—it is ingrained in the very natures of our people—our attachment to the Mother country. In the second place, we suffer from unemployment, have suffered as you have suffered, and perhaps more so, proportionately. Up to 40 per cent. of the people in the linen industry in Northern Ireland are unemployed. I notice that in the Resolution of yesterday and in the Bill of to-day the words "The United Kingdom" appear. I am taking it for granted that that phrase includes Northern Ireland. Occasionally, in the Bills and Resolutions of this House the words "Great Britain and Northern Ireland" occur, but in this case I take it that the words "The United Kingdom" mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, words which, in my opinion, are not necessary. I am greatly encouraged by a statement made by the President of the Board of Trade last evening:I think I can promise that no case that is brought to the notice of the Board of Trade will remain unexamined."—["OFFICTAT REPORT, 17th November, 1931; col. 798, Vol. 259.]I trust my right hon. Friend. I do not know anyone who has received higher 912 praise for the way he has conducted the business, and I sincerely believe that those words come from his heart. I see from the Press to-day that an appeal is being made from the linen industry of Ulster. We were very fortunate a few years ago. We had a magnificent case, but for one reason or another, which I need not go into now, our case for Safeguarding was turned down. One of the blemishes—if I may refer to a blemish in the business of the House—is that the Safeguarding Duties should have been allowed to lapse. Another blemish in the Bill, and I believe it will be a spoke in the wheel by which the prevention of dumping will be hindered, is that it is limited in duration to six months. We cannot get to work in six months.
In Ulster we have two great industries, with, of course, many minor industries linked up with them—the shipbuilding industry and the linen industry. If ever there were industries for which an antidumping Bill was required, or a tariff, we believe they are shipbuilding, with which the steel industry is immediately concerned, and the linen industry. One hon. Member has said:We want you to prove beyond peradventure the necessity for this Bill.The figures of the linen industry prove beyond peradventure that dumping is going on. Foreign linen is being dumped every day; consignments are coming in which have been sent in order to escape the tariff. That means more unemployment for the workers in the linen industry. Its case will go before the President of the Board of Trade, or the permanent officials, or whoever may be appointed to look into this industry. So far as I can make any impression on the minds of those who are to be responsible, I want them seriosuly to consider the state of that industry. Hundreds of thousands of people in Ulster are waiting impatiently for this anti-dumping Bill to go through Parliament.
I suppose I occupy a unique position in the House in one sense. I never issue an address to constituents. They do not want any address from me; they do not want any speeches. Time after time— for six times in succession—they have said to me, "Go ahead to the Imperial House." That is all they say to me, and I am grateful for that confidence, because I feel they know that I will not let them down in their aspirations and their ideas. 913 I said to them, "No matter who the Prime Minister may be, England is in a difficulty. The National Government is the Government which I am going to support, because I believe that that Government alone can save the linen industry." At any rate, we can all see that the country was tired of whatever attempts may have been made in the past to rectify unemployment, attempts which have been a failure. Now I say to the House and the country, "At least give the National Government a trial. The position of the country can be no worse." I come here as a representative of Ulster and of the two industries to which I have referred, and with all my heart I support the President of the Board of Trade and the National Government in the effort they are making to restore prosperity, and to save us from the calamity of national bankruptcy with which the country has been faced.
§ Mr. BAILEY
I had not intended to address this House at so early a stage, but several other new Members have done so and have met with kindly indulgence, and I venture now to ask the House to extend the same indulgence to myself. There is no subject upon which I would rather make my maiden speech than the present one. I am quite certain that it is not the Press barons alone who are demanding this Measure. A fortnight in a Northern constituency taught me that if there is one explanation more than another of the way in which Lancashire voted it is to be found in the fact that her people cried out to the House to deal, by tariffs as well as by other means, with the emergency which is crippling her trade and with the abnormal situation which has existed now for seven long years.
Let me deal with one or two of the arguments which have been brought forward by hon. Members sitting on the Opposition benches. One hon. Member said that we must do nothing that will injure international relations, and that if we put on tariffs we shall injure international relations. Surely if any country in the world has a right to protect itself by the imposition of tariffs it is our country. For 70 long years we have stood as an example to the world for Free Trade, and the only way in which other countries have responded to 914 our example is by increasing their tariffs against us. In those circumstances, surely we are justified and right in looking after ourselves. I am tired to death of hearing that, in matters of this kind, we should consider the foreigners. I think that we ought to look after the interests of our own workmen first, and; if tariffs will help them, then I am in favour of tariffs, whatever may be their effect upon the rest of the world.
We have been told that the best way to deal with these problems would be by rapid international action, and I agree. If we could get international Free Trade it would be for the good of the whole world, and for ourselves as a great exporting country. If that is so, I would like to ask why was it not done when hon. Members opposite had a Free Trade majority in this House? I know the Labour party may plead that they were a minority Government, but surely every Liberal was in favour of rapid action of that kind, and why did the Labour Government not carry out that policy? It was because the world was unwilling to adopt it. If by this Bill we can show to foreign countries that we are prepared, by imposing tariffs, to look after our own interests, then they may begin to see the necessity for international action. I think that is a very valuable argument when dealing with either foreigners or Englishmen, and my own belief is that we shall obtain a more practical international Free Trade by showing other countries that we are not willing to continue setting them an example as Free Traders if they are not willing to reciprocate.
One argument which has been used by hon. Members opposite is that if we do not buy from foreign countries we cannot expect them to buy from us. That proposition is too obvious. We are prepared to buy from them, but why do they put tariffs on our exports? It has been said that Germany cannot pay what she owes to this country if we do not buy her goods, and that it would be better for this country if our own workmen were making all these imported engineering goods than that Germany should pay. If I had to choose between the two I would choose the course which would give more employment to the workmen of this country. I think it is a very curious argument to come from the Opposition to 915 say that if you put this Measure into force Germany cannot pay. It is a rather curious fact, but is it not true that the members of the Opposition have been saying for a long time that they do not want Germany to pay. If their argument is correct, surely they ought to support this Measure because they do not want Germany to pay. To use an argument like that at the present moment, is merely making a small debating point.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) introduced the argument about the rentier class, and he said that that was the trouble which was facing us, and that their interests are at the present moment strangling industry. Suppose that the rentier class is an evil, that has nothing "whatever to do with dumping legislation, and it has nothing to do with the evil of dumping. The money paid to the rentier class eventually goes back to industry, and, if you try by exactions and confiscations to take their money, you will find that you are only compelling the immediate liquidation of an enormous amount of capital which is to-day the life-blood of industry, and you will further increase prices in this country.
Reference has been made to the coal industry, and it is said that if the Government apply this Measure to foreigners they will retaliate in regard to coal. Of course, foreigners will do everything they can to prevent our goods going into their countries and they will make those goods themselves if they can possibly do so. They have been doing that for the last 50 years. Foreign countries buy coal from other countries because they have not enough coal to keep their factories going, and they buy our coal because it is of a much better quality than that they can get from other countries. My contention is that this Measure will do no harm whatever to our trade with foreign countries.
It is said that the effect of this Measure will be to raise prices, and that it is anti-Socialistic. If that is true, how can the Prime Minister support a principle of that kind when he is a Socialist? During the last election the policy of this Bill was put forward, and there can tie no question about false pretences; 916 indeed, we should be guilty of false pretences if we did not see that our pledges were carried out. This Measure will not put up prices. If we can get our factories running full time instead of working short time, our overhead charges will be reduced. Increased production will tend to reduce prices, and that will encourage our export trade. It is folly to assume that by stopping foreign goods coming into this country you will put up prices. We know that that was not the effect of safeguarding in the silk and motor industries, where protective duties were applied. But even if it were a question of putting up prices that would not trouble me. If there is anything in the solidarity of the working-class in this country, surely a man in work ought to be willing to pay a little more for what he buys if he knows that by doing so he is finding more employment for his fellow countrymen. If we can take men off the unemployment register and put them into work, even if those who are in employment have to pay 10 per cent. more for their purchases, surely it is worth while, because that policy would be getting a large number of men into work once again.
Last year £280,000,000 worth of manufactured goods were imported into this country at a time when we had 2,500,000 people out of work. If those goods had been made in this country, they would have given employment to 1,000,000 men instead of giving employment to 1,000,000 foreigners. Why did this happen? Simply because the foreign workmen were paid less wages and were not subjected to such heavy taxation for social services as the people of this country. Those goods are mostly produced by sweated labour, and surely it is a good policy to stop them being imported into this country by placing a tariff upon them. Another point to be considered is that if the million Englishmen to whom I have referred had made those goods instead of the foreigners half-a-million times 17s. 3d. would have been saved to the State. Consider what could have been done for the coal trade; with that extra money applied to the relief of taxation. Unless we can get our factories opened this country is doomed. We are a great manufacturing country depending largely upon what we make, and we can only deal 917 with the situation by giving manufacturers a chance of getting their factories going once more free from unfair foreign competition.
I agree that other questions are involved. I am prepared to say that the fluctuation of the exchanges due to the accumulation of gold in two countries is probably the fundamental cause of our present trouble. I agree that all we can do by imposing tariffs will not be sufficient of itself to save the country, but it will be doing something. It is a remedy which lies immediately to our hands, and we should use it. I regard the Bill which the President of the Board of Trade has introduced as a Measure giving hope to England and as a first instalment. I think we shall make a great mistake if we press the Government to go forward too rapidly by introducing Measures before they have been fully considered. I regard this Measure as a welcome sign of the Measures to come, and I believe that of itself it will do good if it is wisely Administered. I believe that this Bill is the beginning of that national policy of reconstruction which is once more going to bring back to this country the prosperity which, for the last 10 years, it has been gradually losing.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. COVE
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Bailey) npon the speech which he has just delivered, which I am sure we have all appreciated, and we shall look forward in future with interest to his intervention in Debate. I am sorry for the members of the Liberal party, because, instead of adhering to their Free Trade principles, they have been supporting the Government from all quarters of the House. We have not had much justification for this Measure, and the arguments which have been addressed to the House have not been such as will justify the House in passing this Measure. The arguments supporting the Government from ail quarters of the House have been in the main addressed in a threatening manner, indicating that these proposals must only be regarded as something to meet an emergency and not a full tariff policy. My Liberal friends seems to have become exceedingly anxious as to what will be the fate of the Free Trade principles for which they have stood for such a long time. Personally, I have no sympathy with them, and they ought to have known 918 that when they thought that they were making a concession to secure the unity of the nation they were really making a concession towards a full-blown tariff policy being applied to this country. I can understand the attitude of the Conservative Members, because it is clear from their election addresses that they placed a policy of Protection before the electors. It would be right to charge them with having gone back on their promises to the electors if they did not put into practice the policy which they preached during the election. The Liberals, however, have either to concede the whole policy of the Tory party on Protection or in a short space of time they will have to be cleared out. The right hon. Member for Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) and others this afternoon have asked for Protection for agriculture, for the iron and steel industry, and, in fact, for every other trade one could think of. Are the Free Trade Liberals prepared to accept that policy? The success which the Conservatives have already had is a guarantee that this is not the end of this process and that in a few months we shall have Protection for agriculture and for the iron and steel industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear‡"] Those cheers confirm me in my view that the Liberals will either have to clear out and oppose the Government, or they will have to give away the whole policy of Free Trade for which they have stood in the past. The Conservative party are logical in supporting Protection, but the Liberal party are illogical.
If it is right to tax abnormal imports and forestalling, why is it not right to tax normal imports? What is the difference? It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to separate what is normal from what is abnormal. It is not merely the extra imports which are to be taxed but the whole category of goods. If you are going to tax a whole category of goods because they form an abnormal inflow for a limited period, how are you to escape taxing the normal inflow? Once the principle is conceded on abnormal imports, the concession is made of taxing all the normal imports. That is the policy of the Conservative party, which has always stood for taxing the lot. The Conservatives say that these imports of agricultural produce, iron and steel, and manufactured articles are caus- 919 ing unemployment in this country and, that, therefore, we must tax them all. I understand the perturbation which individual members of the Liberal party feel, because there are still a few Free Traders left among them, and it is perfectly clear that, once they concede the principle of taxing abnormal imports, they have to go back on their whole attitude unless they also concede the principle of taxing normal imports. From an administrative point of view, it is absolutely impossible to separate the normal from the abnormal. The Liberal party is now committed to a full-blooded policy of Protection and tariffs for this country.
I would like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the manner in which he has spoken to-night. He was less voluble to-night than when in opposition, and he has learned discretion already, especially as far as the real meaning of these taxes is concerned. A still tongue has made a wise head on this occasion. I should like to congratulate him on the discreet manner in which he has handled this Debate. He said that we have had an abnormal flow of imports, and he mentioned that we have imported 50,000 rugs. Imagine being concerned with the effect of 50,000 rugs on the unemployment problem of this country. They count very little. He also said that in 10 days we have had these abnormal imports. Has he been studying Russia and "Ten Days that Shook the World"? Ten days to shake our fiscal fabric. What evidence has he that in these 10 days these abnormal imports have caused unemployment? Where is the unemployment caused by these imports in these 10 days? Where are the goods? Are they competing with British goods or are they in the warehouses?
§ Mr. H0RE-BELISHA
If the objection of the hon. Member is to 10 days, I would remind him that the whole world was created in seven.
§ Mr. COVE
Yes, but the hon. Member has not yet got the attributes of the Deity. If I were outside this House, I would say that he is not the Lord God Almighty. That, however, does not answer my question. Where is the evidence of unemployment? How many must be out of work before these powers are applied? Is there to be any test as 920 to unemployment or are the Customs officials to have a free hand? The Department can produce no statistical evidence which will justify us in giving these powers to the President of the Board of Trade. What evidence has the Department that the abnormal importations have cut British prices so that the House of Commons should give drastic powers of dictatorship to the President of the Board of Trade to deal with the situation? There is no evidence that these goods have cut prices or have caused unemployment. The only reason for this Measure at this moment is contained in the Conservative election addresses. In all those which I read the first paragraph said something about the prices, the second paragraph said that they would support the Prime Minister, and the third paragraph declared that they were in favour of tariffs and Protection.
I agree that the Conservatives have a mandate. I thoroughly disagree with the proposals, because I do not believe in Protection for private interests. Protection is bad for trade and for employment; it will do nothing to raise the standard of life, either in regular work or in wages, of the people of this country. Nevertheless, this Parliament has a mandate; the Conservatives are here, and they are not going to be satisfied with a puny, paltry sop of this kind. This is only something to ease the consciences of the Liberal Members in going over gradually to full Protection. They have to toe the line. I cannot see what contribution this Measure is going to make to the prosperity of our country or what relevance it has to our balance of trade. There was no need for it at all. It is generally said "by economists that if you restrict your imports too much, the only effect is an appreciation in your pound sterling and therefore an adverse effect upon your home trade. If in that way you get one man in employment, you throw two men out of work in the export trades. This is the full-blown Tory policy and that is the only reason why it is brought forward. I shall watch with interest during the life of this Parliament how, with the evolution of time, the National Government will emerge as what it is, a full-blown Tory party Government. It will be clearly shown in a short time 921 that the Tory party have transmuted party policy and party interest into national policy and interest and have hidden their policy under the mask of national idealism. But they are the Tory party. This Government is the representative of the Tory party, and before long we shall see a full-blown Tory policy put on the Statute Book of this country.
§ Colonel GRETTON
This Measure is the result of pledges given by all candidates, so far as I can ascertain, at the last General Election, to examine the problem and take steps to deal with it in a practical manner. Therefore, the speech of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) seems to me to be irrelevant; he has talked all round the subject, but has not dealt with the question whether the action now offered us by the Government is the most effective that can be taken. It seems to me that there will be considerable difficulties in carrying out this very abnormal Bill. I will not dwell upon the question whether the course proposed to be taken is constitutionally the best course. The House has accepted the principle of giving powers to the Board of Trade to make Orders rather than acting through Orders-in-Council. To some of us that does not seem to be a very good procedure, but that matter has been settled.
Under the Bill, very wide powers are to be exercised by the Board of Trade, though they are subject to limitations. The President of the Board of Trade is to act in cases of abnormal quantities of manufactured or semi-manufactured goods being imported into this country. There may be difficulties in regard to the translation of the word "abnormal" into practical language. That point has alredy been emphasised, and so I do not dwell upon it except to refer again to what has already been said, but cannot be said too often, namely, that the normal process in this country in the last 10 years has been a gradually declining export trade and a steadily increasing volume of manufactured imports. Is that the normal position? Is it going to be taken into account in the interpretation of the Act? Otherwise, if new action is to be taken, what has been normal will have to be stopped on the ground that it is abnormal.
922 I take it that the intention is to prevent a continued and exaggerated rush of manufactured goods into this country until the Government have produced their full proposals. How are the Board of Trade proposing to act, and how will they judge when the imports are abnormal? Of course, if they have to wait for the imports to come in if order to judge, they will be locking the door after the horse has been stolen. Are they prepared to anticipate? I do not think that the vast majority of Members of his House would disagree with a certain measure of anticipation of abnormal importation, but I need not emphasise the technical difficulties in which traders will be placed—not necessarily foreign traders, but those who, following the normal course of their business, have ordered goods abroad for which they have hitherto had a sale in this country, and who, in order to keep up their stocks in correspondence with the flow of their trade, have to entangle themselves in abnormal importation stimulated by others and not by themselves. A certain amount of hardship will be entailed there.
How are the Government going to deal with these isolated duties? There is not, I understand, to be a general scale of duties over the whole range of subjects or over the whole category in the class. If there were, no objection could be taken in any foreign country on the ground of differentiation against imports from any particular country; but, by choosing articles here and there and imposing duties upon them, the Government of this country will be in great danger of raising serious diplomatic protests. We have had experience of that kind previously. In the Safeguarding of Industries Act there was an anti-dumping Clause, but it was never put into operation, for the reason, I am advised, that that could not be done without involving breaches of various commercial treaties. I remember, also, that when the McKenna Duties were established there was a difficulty about certain commodities on the ground that to put duties on those commodities would differentiate adversely against one or another country, and, therefore, would be a breach of commercial treaties. There was one case which perhaps may make the House smile. Hats were supposed to be included in the McKenna 923 Duties, but in that case, owing to the fact that, not the hats themselves, but the trimmings, came from Japan, there were protests on the ground that this particular duty would have differentiated against Japan, and, therefore, would have been a breach of our commercial treaty with that country, and the duty was dropped.
I fear that, by taking these isolated duties here and there, the Government in fact, though perhaps not in form, would be differentiating against the imports of this or that nation with whom we have treaties binding us not to put on duties or take action adverse to the normal course of trade with those countries. One or two hon. Members have said that it would be much simpler and clearer to put on a scale of duties, however low, covering a large range, and they were perfectly right. They foresaw that, if ever a majority was elected to this House in favour of setting up a system of tariffs, there would be a rush of imported goods, and I believe a scheme was brought up in order to prevent that kind of forestalling. That scheme involved an emergency tariff. Of course, any tariff prepared without a long period of experience must be an emergency tariff, and the Cabinet might well have worked out an emergency tariff beforehand; but that is not the method which has been chosen by the Government; they prefer isolated duties.
I have offered these few criticisms because I am afraid, and many of my friends are afraid, that this Measure will not carry us so far as we should wish, in that it will not be effective and will not stop dumping, either in the sense in which it has been generally understood hitherto or in the sense of an excessive importation in anticipation of further measures. The Government, however, are at any rate acting. They are trying to do what they can in order to safeguard the position, and, although this Measure may be ineffective in the respects which I have tried to indicate, I shall certainly give it my support. I suppose we shall not be able to amend it in Committee, but I trust that, as regards vigour of application and promptness of action when action is called for, the President of the Board of Trade, the Parliamentary Secretary and those who 924 act with them will leave nothing to be desired by the Members of this House.
§ Mr. HOWARD
As this is the first time that I have had the privilege of addressing the House, I must claim indulgence for any mistakes that I may make, as the last thing that I should desire would be to infringe any of the traditions which have made this House the respected Mother of Parliaments throughout the world. I rise with considerable pride this evening to compliment the Government on taking the first steps towards-what I feel sure will be a complete change in our fiscal system. For 27 years I have been advocating the policy which was first started by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain in 1903, and I have found-that, although he pleaded that this question should be looked at from a nonparty point of view, he pleaded in vain, for, unfortunately, political parties have made it a shuttlecock for those 27 years, and the question has never been brought to a final decision. Here to-day we are assembled behind a National Government, and we find Liberal, Labour and Conservative Members all united to introduce tariffs as a part of the fiscal system of this country. If only Mr. Chamberlain could have witnessed the carrying out of his proposals in this manner, he would have been the most delighted statesman among us.
Hon Members on the other side have twitted some members with having changed their views in the last few months, but the position of this country in the last few months has been an abnormal one, and I do not think that any Member, even though he were a Liberal Free Trader three months ago, should be chided to-day with having reversed his whole policy. That reversal has been forced upon any man who is prepared to judge this issue upon its merits., and not to stand by old-fashioned party prejudices which should have been dropped years before. I am surprised, as representing the trade unionist element of the Conservative party in London, to find Labour Members in this House giving voice to Liberal Free Trade views on this matter. It seems to me that the trade unionists throughout the country who are engaged in what are known as the unsheltered industries have been changing their views on this matter very considerably, and that the only Labour 925 leaders left to-day who support the free import system are those who represent men holding sheltered positions, and never coming face to face with foreign competition at all. Thus we get hon. Members from West Ham, the leaders of gas workers' and municipal employés' unions, who can talk glibly of free imports as a matter of no concern to the working class, because there is no foreign competition there—
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I venture to suggest that, if the consumers of gas were to persist in demanding cheapness, and a proposal were made that a pipe-line should be laid across the Channel and gas imported from Belgium, those Labour leaders who speak so glibly of free imports to-day would take up the same attitude as the leaders of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation and leaders of the engineers like Mr. Fred Brownlie, who to-day is a convinced supporter of the restriction of imports, or the woollen workers of Yorkshire, who three years ago passed resolutions urging the Government to safeguard their industry from foreign competition. These trade unions in the great productive industries are on our side on the fiscal question to-day. It is only the sheltered industries, the municipal workers, who know not what foreign competition is, who stand upon the old idea of free imports.
I am in the printing industry and in one of the allied branches of that industry trade unionists are being thrown out of work. I wonder if there is a Labour leader who would dare to talk of the continuance of free imports as far as this trade is concerned if he knew the facts. We have in London the strongest branch of the Process Block Makers' Trade Union. In the past that has been a sheltered industry, because an essential feature in the making of process blocks is time, and it was impossible to import them from abroad because of the delay in transport. Science and inventive genius are going far in increasing rapidity, and to-day the aeroplane is able to take photographs from Croydon to Amsterdam, and the photographs are there turned into process blocks and despatched back to Croydon in 48 hours.
926 For 10 years the workmen in London have never been known to have a single member of their union unemployed. The trade union rate is £4 17s. 6d. a week, but not one man has ever received less than £6 since the end of the War. There was no foreign competition. It was completely sheltered, and there was prosperity for every member of the union, and every man is in the union. But to-day the position is changed. Here is a catalogue sent to me only a few weeks ago from a firm in Amsterdam offering to supply me with process blocks 50 per cent. below the London prices. What is the condition of labour in Amsterdam? The wage is £3 a week to skilled men, against the £6 they receive in London. There are over 200 members of the London union out of work, for the first time for the last 12 years.
Dare the Labour party take up the case of the process block makers in London? If they do, they violate their political principles. They have failed to secure that Liberal support that they thought they would have secured at the election by professing Free Trade. The London branch of this society held a meeting four months ago and passed a resolution unanimously calling upon the Labour Government to introduce a tariff against these imported Dutch blocks. The London Trades Council, more concerned with political theories than with the interest of the trade union members, would not allow that resolution to go before the Labour Government because it would interfere with their political nostrums in this Chamber. The unemployed then held a meeting on their own account. They tried to carry into effect some of that international action of which they speak so glibly opposite, and they instructed one of their members to write a letter to the secretary of the trade union in Amsterdam and ask him to bring pressure to bear upon his men not to execute orders for export to London. Was any international brotherhood displayed? Not a bit. The secretary in Amsterdam wrote back to the unemployed process block makers of London and said, "I am sorry but I cannot interfere." There fell to the ground at a single blow any desire on the part of the skilled workers of Holland to come to the rescue of their skilled comrades of London. Is it likely that a man in 927 Holland will sacrifice his job for the sake of a man in London, or vice versa? If we are to wait until that international brotherhood conies about, we shall see the whole of our working-classes living on the 15s. 3d. dole which hon. Members opposite talk so much against but do nothing to rectify. If trade union leaders want to assist their class, let them be practical and do to foreign countries what every foreign trade union has insisted upon their Government doing to us and stop this competition with their own people.
There is another point which I should like to mention. We are often told that, if we carry this Measure of putting a duty up to 100 per cent. on fully manufactured goods, we shall stop imports and, therefore, stop exports, injure our shipping, and throw people out of employment. That is a debating point, but there is no substance or fact behind it. If we stop £1,000,000 worth of woollen or cotton hosiery coming from Germany or Czechoslovakia or Japan, the moment you reduce those imports you automatically increase your imports of raw wool and cotton to make the goods in your own factory instead. You give just as much employment to your shipping industry by shutting out furniture or doors, or window frames, because automatically you import raw timber to manufacture the goods yourselves. There is no question of reducing the total amount of our imports. It is simply using a tariff to try to change the character of the imports. That is the whole object of fiscal policy in every country which has adopted it, whether the country is democratically controlled, whether it is ruled by an absolute monarch, or whether it is a new country with home rule, such as Ireland. In every case without exception the Government introduces scientific tariffs in order to stimulate production within its own area and provide employment for its own people.
When we carry this Measure into law, we shall have laid the foundation for a new era of prosperity. We shall give work to our people in factories and workshops turning out fully finished manufactured goods. A million men in work manufacturing for the use of our people will demand increased importations of raw material. A million men in work 928 spending £3 a week in wages means at least 1,000,000 women buying dried fruits, currants and raisins, candied peel, suet and sugar for the manufacture of Christmas puddings. I would commend this to the Leader of the Opposition, because it should touch the heart of all to see the joy on the faces of the children who consume these Christmas puddings. That will mean the increased employment of our mercantile marine. This change of fiscal policy, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), will bring rare and refreshing fruit to the parched lips of the multitude. I feel proud to be able to speak in support of the change of our fiscal system, because I know the experience we shall get will lead us to extend these duties until we have carried the whole ideal pleaded for by Joseph Chamberlain to be judged on its merits, not from the political standpoint, but carried out by a non-party Government under the name of National. Before many years have passed, half the Members opposite will desert those benches and come over here.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
As quite a new Member of the House, I am sure I am expressing the sentiments of all present when I congratulate the last speaker upon his address. I am under no illusions at all about this Bill. The temper of Members on the other side has indicated that what was said during the General Election was meant, that we are to have a change in our fiscal policy, and no person sitting on these benches is under any dubiety whatever as to what is implied in this change in fiscal policy. I should like to treat the Bill from the background that is responsible for it coming into existence. It is argued that we are in a state of crisis, and that, in order to alleviate and partially solve that crisis, the Bill must have a quick passage through the House. It is well, in the first instance, to examine precisely what the crisis is. I know that most Members by now have begun to appreciate that the crisis, in fact, is not that which caused the late National Government to come into existence, but the fact that there is a majority in the ranks supporting the Government determined that the fiscal policy must be almost immediately changed. There can be no 929 doubt that we are faced with a crisis, and the crisis, as I perceive it, is that this system is completely failing to deliver the goods to the nation, that the economic system under which we are living certainly does not work, that it stands condemned, and that you have 2,500,000 people, who are admittedly the best type of workmen in the world, who are unable to obtain any employment. That, to me, is the real crisis that is confronting the House.
The cause of that cannot be attributed to the late Labour Government, for it is admitted that the late Labour Government were not responsible for the War and for the means by which the War was conducted. The late Labour Government had nothing to do with the Versailles Treaty and all the factors that arose out of it. The Labour Government were not responsible for our getting back to gold, and, as was rightly said by an hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench, at almost one fell swoop destroying substantially the export market for the South Wales coalfield, causing an increase in prices within a matter of three months, as revealed in the ascertainments of the coal trade, of practically 1s. 9d. per ton. Certainly they cannot be charged with all the immediate facts that have been brought to light. They cannot be charged with the collapse of the Austrian banks and with the sterilisation of German credit. They cannot be charged with the policy of the Bank of England. I am inclined to believe—and in this I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood)—that the Bill still foreshadows their gold policy, and that it was the lending long and borrowing short which was responsible for the crisis breaking almost immediately prior to the Dissolution. For these things the late Labour Government could certainly not be charged.
That there is a crisis, I am prepared to admit. The crisis, in short, is that it is impossible to-day, as society is organised, to produce an effective market that will enable the world's productivity to be consumed. That is really the substance of the Bill. Goods are coming in from other countries because the people of those countries are, to a large extent, unable to consume their own products, and we are faced with pre- 930 cisely the same factor in this country. The world's effective market is being slowly but surely destroyed while the World's productivity, with the aid of science and the application of technique, is continuing to expand. The nation will have to face up to that problem. I do not believe that it can be solved within the regime of private enterprise. I do not believe that by permitting individuals to come to this House carpet-bagging for vested interests, of which we have recently had evidence in the collars which were handed round by the hon. Baronet last evening. Other things will be sent round in order that the President of the Board of Trade may inspect them at his leisure. Turning this House into an assembly of carpet-baggers for vested interests will not help to save the crisis which faces the nation.
As far as I am able to visualise the situation, the crisis must deepen. Unemployment, it is postulated, will tend to increase. In regard to the Measures which have already passed through this House, it is postulated that next year we shall be faced with the problem of 3,000,000 unemployed in this country, and provisions require to be made to meet the position. The fact that there has been a slight diminution in the numbers on the register is attributable to a number of causes, possibly to the Anomalies Act. The crisis will continue to obtain as long as we have practically 3,000,000 persons idle in this country. It means that potential producers of this country, the producers not only of sufficient to keep themselves but sufficient to keep a surplus value, become dependent upon a speedily diminishing number of persons left in employment. It means, in effect, practically a threefold loss to the nation. It means that the individual in the first instance does not produce his own keep, if I may speak in colloquial language; secondly, that he has not surplus value whether it is in rent, interest or profits; and, thirdly, that he is not producing anything at all and has to depend upon the surplus value of those left in industry. The crisis has been caused by the threefold loss arising from unemployment.
A very pertinent question has been put as to whether there is any evidence that during the last 10 days upon which the computations were made necessitating the 931 Bill being placed before the House of abnormal increase in imports has caused unemployment. That is a very pertinent question, particularly in view of the fact that the Press of this country says that unemployment has been reduced since the National Government came into existence and that the National Government have been responsible mainly for the decrease in the unemployment figures. We desire to have a reply—and I think we shall receive one—as to the pertinence of that question.
In dealing with the question of imports, are the Government prepared to undertake measures which will enable specific industries in this country to produce commodities at a cheaper price? Are they prepared to advocate measures which will remove almost immediately the payment of practically 8d. a ton upon every ton of coal produced in South Wales by way of royalties? Are they prepared to advocate measures to bring down the price of steel which contains as an inherent factor in its cost practically 10s. a ton in royalties and way-leaves? In short, are the National Government, composed as they are of 160 rentiers, 44 with banking and financial interests, 150 with business interests and 44 persons who are heirs, prepared to face up to the fact that it is impossible to save agriculture, to absorb the unemployed, to free the mining industry from the tax known as royalties paid to people for doing nothing, and to free the steel industry of practically 10s. a ton unless they can absorb the unemployed in industry, which, in fact, is the crisis with which this nation is faced? Or are they prepared to carry on the policy which up to now implies what, I think, was very clearly stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall)— that out of the revenue we are receiving of slightly more than £800,000,000 per year, £503,000,000 can be spent in order to meet the interest upon War Debts, £50,000,000 to meet the Sinking Fund, and £110,000,000 to meet present services, that is, the fighting Services. Are they prepared to continue a policy of spending two-thirds upon meeting the cost of past wars and upon the preparation, I am afraid, of future wars?
We define "rentier" to mean a person who lives upon unearned income and not 932 the old widow who invests £200 and receives in return a £l or so. She is not of the rentier class. She cannot live upon that small investment. The rentier class are those who live upon unearned income and live exceedingly well, and they are well represented in this House. They receive in interest upon War Debts every year more than the total amount paid in Income Tax, Sur-tax and Supertax. Is that policy to be continued? If it is to be continued, the crisis must inevitably deepen, and none of these measures can hope to save the nation.
To come down to South Wales in particular, in my county we have 87,000 persons unemployed, everyone of whom is normally attached to the mining industry. In South Wales, in normal times, we export, roughly, 73 per cent. of our total productivity. I ask Members of the House whether by putting duties upon these comparatively trivial things, in regard to which we have no statistical evidence that they are coming into the country in greater quantities this year than was the case in 1930 or 1929, we are not going to damage the one great staple industry which now employs about 150,000 persons in South Wales? We can also turn, of course, from South Wales to Scotland, Durham, Northumberland and Lancashire. Are we to increase the number of miners who are unemployed— now 310,000 in this country—to a greater proportion? If these goods are kept out of the country, does it mean that the goods are in fact thrown into the ocean and lost, or shall we not have to meet these goods in the international market somewhere? Assuming that we can keep them out, we shall have to meet them somewhere else. The large tinplate industry of Llanelly, Pontypridd and other places would close if we were not importing steel bars. Assuming that it is possible to keep them out, shall we not meet them in the international market? Further I put it to the House: how is Germany to pay reparations, and to continue to create international good will in order to enable her to increase her borrowing powers and so avoid a great collapse? About two months ago we took it upon ourselves, with America, to suspend reparation payments that fall due a few months hence. I am afraid that the hon. 933 Member who made his maiden speech just now failed to appreciate that the bankers of this country have been maintaining German industry for a long time, and that they have been advancing capital to Germany, to Austria, and to other peoples, at the expense of starving British industry. There is no hope for us to obtain repayments of their borrowings by keeping from this country the abnormal imports that are spoken of in the Bill.
These are, in my estimation, very pertinent questions. It is impossible to keep the goods out, and at the same time to maintain the good will that these peoples must maintain, in order that they may obtain the cash which has to be paid to us for borrowings received from us. We cannot in that way maintain anything like concord and harmony among the nations of the world. It must inevitably lead to trade rivalry, bitterness, and ultimately conflagration. We must face up to this issue. I am not afraid of tariffs, but I am afraid of the nationalism underlying tariffs, and of the philosophy that it is possible to solve an international problem by a national economy. It is admitted that the question of reparations and inter-Allied debts are the cause of all the difficulties that have been cited, and yet it is put to us that it is possible to solve this international monetary problem along the lines of pure national economy, and that we should adopt the principle of autonomy and not interrelationship and interdependence. We are to hope by mere national economies to save this nation. That must create trade bitterness and trade rivalry, and lead to another war. I do not know that that will concern the rentiers because the last war pays them splendidly; they get more in interest upon war debts than they pay by way of taxes. That is admitted in official figures: more than the total taxation of this country.
One of two things must happen. Either the rentier class in this country must, as a class, be destroyed, or the unemployed must increase in greater numbers and go down into deeper depths of degradation. I endeavour to face up to this issue, and I trust it will not be believed by hon. Members that we will not give these questions sincere thought. I have no 934 time to deal with personalities, whether about the Prime Minister or the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is not the time for personalities. I am concerned with matters of policy. I look upon this Bill as the initiation, the first step, of a policy which means that this country, through this National Government, has made up its mind that it must save itself, independently of the nations of the world, and independently of the phenomena that it has faced during the last six months.
Hon. Members on these benches are not prepared to accept the philosophy that underlies that policy. We do not believe that it is possible to save the industries of this country while you have to give so much surplus value out of the product of industry to people that merely lend money for a certain time. We do not accept the philosophy that it is essential that capital should be engaged purely for trading-profit purposes. Hon. Members who have really thought over this, on the other side as well as on this side of the House, know that that is really the point of divergence between us. We believe in the utilisation of science and technique, that land ought to be freed from the landlords and would be if they had any regard for the unemployment problem in the national interest. They ought to forego their royalty of from 6d. to 8d. upon every single ton of coal and so help the mining industry to revive, and they ought at once to volunteer to forego practically 10s. per ton upon finished steel, We should then be able to win our export markets by being able to produce at a lower cost so far as overhead charges are concerned that now go to the landlord and to other people. I am afraid that that is too much to expect, particularly—and I trust I am not offending anyone when I say this—that we now have their representatives in the present Government in such enormous numbers.
That philosophy we challenge. We believe that hon. Members should be prepared to say that they put the nation first. In putting the nation first, they would be prepared to place their brains at the disposal of the nation rather than at the disposal of vested interests, and they would say that everything had to be done in such a way as to produce a distinctly national return. If that were done, vested interests would be heard of 935 no more. The land of Britain and its capital would be at the disposal of the people of Britain. All the scientists and technicians, and the great agencies of Production and distribution, would be at their disposal also. That is the intrinsic feature of our faith. If people were inspired by that aspiration, they would make a success of running Britain in the interests of the whole of the people. "We differ in our philosophy and consequently we differ distinctly in our policy.
I support this Amendment because it is the only means by which we can get out of the crisis. We have to endeavour to assess the effective demand for goods in the world, and we have to ration the world's market. We have to assess, with the aid of science, the productivity of man, in order to say that, if he is given time, he can fulfil his contracts and meet this market demand. I do not believe, while the effective market is advancing and the producing capacity of the world is becoming less, that it is possible to avoid unemployment and crisis. Crisis must break while the market is contracting for the want of buyers without the means to buy, and at the same time the productivity of the world is expanding year by year.
For these reasons we place the Amendment before the House and hope that we will get the support of some Liberals who have not yet lost their Liberalism. We must plan to live. We must coordinate all the factors of physical life. These things must be done if society is to be kept intact. If we continue this anarchistic policy much longer, we shall ultimately fall into complete collapse. Mid-Europe is falling into collapse. The repercussion from that may mean the total destruction of civilisation.
§ Mr. LEWIS JONES
Nothing has impressed me more since my advent to this House a fortnight ago than the generosity and courtesy which its Members and officials, from the Speaker to the messengers at the door, have shown to new Members, and the courtesy and indulgence shown by hon. Members whenever a new Member has stood on his feet to address them for the first time. Is it too much that I should hope that that indulgence will be extended to me? My only excuse 936 for intervening in this Debate is to show my appreciation of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, in introducing his Bill, and my appreciation of the Bill itself as evidence that the Government intend to deal with the present serious trade situation.
We have heard a great deal, during the last two or three days, about such questions as abnormality and acceleration of the importation of foreign manufactures. I am particularly interested in both those matters, because I am interested in the position of the iron and steel trades during the last few years. We, in the iron and steel trades, claim that we have been subjected to a considerable amount of abnormality, in the form of illicit foreign competition, for a number of years, and we are perfectly certain that, during the last few years, there has been a substantial increase in the importation of steel from the Continent of Europe into this country.
I am privileged to represent the Swansea West division, which was honoured for many years in having as its representative the President of the Board of Trade. The town of Swansea is the centre of a very important steel-producing district. Within a radius of 12 miles we are responsible for the production of one-sixth or one-seventh of the steel output of the whole country, and our product takes the form of tin plate bars which are the raw material of the tin plate industry of South Wales. I have looked up certain figures and I find that during the seven months ending 31st October, 1930, there were imported into South Wales 112,737 tons of foreign steel in the shape of tin plate bars, and that during the seven months ending the 31st October, 1931, there were imported 185,468 tons of foreign steel, an increase of 68 per cent. I need say no more about accelerated importation than to quote these figures. When hon. Members of the Opposition ask for evidence of accelerated importation there it is, so far as the steel industry of South Wales is concerned. We are very seriously hampered in our industry by this importation of foreign steel. During the last completed year there were imported into South Wales 235,000 tons of foreign steel bars. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths) stated last night that 937 the importation of foreign steel is essential to the welfare of the tin plate industry of South Wales, and the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) has said the same thing in this Debate. I hope hon. Members will believe me when I say that more than 75 per cent. of the tin plate manufactured in South Wales is manufactured from Welsh steel bars; all reputable firms making the best class of tin plate in South Wales use Welsh bars at Welsh prices. I have the authority of Mr. H. C. Bond, the President of the Tin Plate Association of South Wales and the chairman of probably the largest tin plate producing company in the whole of Europe, who says definitely that the importation of foreign steel had not benefited the tin-plate trade by a single box. I hope the House will accept that as the definite statement of an authority on the tin plate industry.
The question arises, why is it that South Wales is importing foreign steel? There is only one answer, and the answer is that it is a question of price. Our foreign competitors are able to put into South Wales large quantities of steel at prices which are 25 shillings per ton cheaper than the Welsh steel maker can put it on the market. We know that the Welsh tinplate maker did make, to say the least of it, satisfactory profits last year when making his tinplate from Welsh bars and, therefore, those who were using Continental steel bars were making very, very substantial profits. To me as a Liberal, as a Radical, there is nothing illogical in an attitude of mind which argues in this way. If it wrong for a Scottish landowner to drive crofters off his land in order that he may satisfy his own private whims so far as the shooting rights are concerned, then, surely, I am entitled to hold the view that it is wrong and illiberal for a person to import foreign steel bars in order to enhance his profits, and by doing so to throw steel workers on to the streets who would otherwise be employed.
The question of importance to me is the question of employment, and I fancy it is the question which is uppermost in the minds of all Members of the House. When we talk of the importation of foreign steel bars we have to look at it from the standpoint of the community at large. The importation of foreign 938 steel bars is not a matter for the steel trade alone, it is a community problem, not a steel problem. The importation of 235,000 tons of foreign steel into South Wales last year meant the failure of the collieries of South Wales to supply 750,000 tons of coal for the steel industry. The failure of South Wales to produce this 235,000 tons of steel last year meant the failure by the railway companies to convey at least six tons of freight for every ton of steel. The importation of foreign steel is not a problem which merely concerns the steel trade; it is a problem which affects the community at large.
The question naturally arises, why is the foreign producer able to produce steel and export it to South Wales at prices considerably below that at which it can be manufactured in South Wales? It has been suggested by one hon. Member that one of the greatest obstacles to the resuscitation of the steel industry is the fact that there is a cumulative cost of 10s. in royalty charges on every ton of steel. That hare has been set going for many years now and on every occasion possible I have tried to stop it. I have no doubt that the hon. Member who made the statement believes it to be true, but it is as well that the House should know that there is absolutely no foundation for it, that it has no substance at all. When the Sankey Commission was inquiring into the condition of the coal trade evidence was given by Mr. Smillie with regard to certain iron ore mines in the North of England, where there was a sliding scale figure, as far as royalties were concerned, based on the price of the iron ore or pig iron. At that time the price of pig iron, immediately after the War, was very high, and Mr. Smillie was able to prove to the Commission that the cumulative cost of the royalty was about 10s. per ton. But it was the only instance in the whole country where the royalty approached that figure, and it is a little unfair that that particular instance at a particular period, when the price was very high, should be used to-day as the basis of an argument as to the effect of royalties on the steel industry. The hon. Member for Pontypool last night said that the introduction of Safeguarding, as far as the steel industry is concerned, would lead to inefficiency. His words were: 939It will bolster up the inefficiency which exists in the steel industry of this country, and in bolstering up inefficiency it will tax the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1931; col. 777, Vol. 259.]It is remarkable how easily people will still make these charges of inefficiency. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Pontypool said it, because he happens to know something about the steel trade and has been closely allied with it for a large number of years. But it is quite a habit that is growing up in this country, where British industry is up against a bad patch, immediately to charge those in control with inefficiency in management or technique. The Prime Minister at a party meeting held in Birmingham this year made a similar statement. But it did not become necessary for any steel maker to challenge him. The trade union of the hon. Member for Pontypool, through its leader and its manifesto early this year, tackled the Prime Minister for having made that statement. So that when the hon. Member for Pontypool still persists in that statement as regards inefficiency, I am glad to think that the principals in his own organisation do not agree with him.
Why is it that the Continent of Europe can send steel into this country at prices considerably below those of our own steel districts? One of the principal reasons is the difference in labour conditions, wages and hours, on the Continent. Let me make myself clear. I am not criticising for one moment the wages system in the British iron and steel industry. I have no complaint to make about it, nor would I depreciate the standard of living which the steel worker of this country has. I would like to maintain it where it is now. It would be very difficult in ordinary circumstances for one man to quote information about conditions on the Continent and expect it to be accepted by all parties. But the late Government appointed a committee of inquiry into the state of the iron and steel trade of this country. It was presided over by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Sankey. It was decided by that committee that it would be very useful to get some information as to the state of the labour market in the iron and steel trade of the Continent. Lord Sankey thought that foreign competition was so 940 serious that the committee ought to have some definite information as to labour conditions on the Continent.
It was decided to send out a mission, sponsored by the British Government, to the Continent. That commission was made up of one representative of the employers, the assistant secretary of the Iron and Steel Trade Confederation, and certain representatives of Government departments. They reported, and fortunately we now have an impartial report which cannot be said to be the report either of an employers' or of a labour organisation. I am not going to weary the House with details as to rates of wages and hours of labour in all the countries concerned, but I will give two or three instances to show the serious differences between working conditions on the Continent and here. Our biggest competitor, in South Wales in particular, at the present time, is Belgium. If hon. Members read the Report of the commission they will see that the wages paid to Belgian steel workers are 44 per cent. of the average wage paid in South Wales and that the hours of work in Belgian steel works are 18 per cent. longer than those in South Wales.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. JONES
As the hon. Member says, it is a tariff country. The cost of social services per head of the population in this country is 79s. 6d. In Belgium it is 5s. 6d. Those are some of the reasons why the Belgian steel maker is able to export to this country steel at a much lower price than ours. The hon. Member for Pontypool said last night that if the Welsh steel worker offered to place his services at the disposal of the Welsh steel maker for nothing, even then he would not be able to compete with the foreigner. That is true if we were concerned only with wages paid in the steel works. But what we have to remember is the cumulative cost of labour in the product, from the raw material to the finished article. The cost of labour in a finished ton of steel is not the cost of labour paid to the steel worker only. It is an accepted fact that 90 to 95 per cent. of the selling price of a ton of steel is represented in cumulative labour charges. Therefore, when we talk of Belgian wages and wage costs we have to remember the report put forward by Miss Bondfield last June in this 941 House, in which it was pointed out that, calculating the standard of English wages as 100, that in Belgium was 55. We have to take into consideration not the wages in the steel trade only, but the cumulative costs. That is the main reason why Continental steel makers are beating British steel makers in the cost of production.
There is one other question—dumping. We have definite evidence that the steel exported from the Continent to this country is sold at prices considerably below those at which the makers sell their product in their own market. In September of this year foreign bars were quoted at Antwerp at £3 2s.; in Germany free on truck, not free on board at Antwerp, £6 5s.; in France, £4 3s. 3d.; and in Belgium, £3 7s. We are a very remarkable nation. Reference has been made to the fact that we came to the rescue of Germany some time ago when her credit was sagging. It is quite true that this country and other countries helped to finance Germany, and made it possible for German steel producers to pick up money at the banks and to pay wages to their workmen. The first step of the Germans, after getting these credits, was to give a bounty to German steel producers to the extent of 36s. a ton to help them to compete in the South Wales market for bars.
I have taken a little longer time than I intended. I want to thank the Members of the House for the very patient hearing they have given to me as a new Member. All I ask of the President of the Board of Trade is that when he goes forward to consider his scheme of taxation under this Bill, he will give an opportunity to those engaged in the steel trade of the country to put their views before him, in order that the industry may receive some consideration.
I am sure that the House will wish to join with me in paying a very sincere tribute to the hon. Member. He has so obviously informed himself completely as to the steel and iron industry in South Wales, that in a House which must largely devote itself to economic and industrial subjects it is a most admirable thing that we shall have the frequent advantage of his long experience. I have been listening to practically all the Debates on this Bill and on cognate subjects, and on the whole I think that the President of the Board of 942 Trade can congratulate himself that his Bill has been received with a certain amount of gratitude. I admit that the gratitude has been tinctured with mild disappointment in some quarters. But it has depended largely on what the expectations were. If some of my friends' expectations have been high, in the case of a National Government formed to deal with national problems, they naturally seem slightly disappointed if the Government have not gone far enough. On the other hand, those who expected little or nothing from a Liberal and Free Trade. President of the Board of Trade have been considerably uplifted by the thought that they are to have anything in the nature of Protection at all. On the whole, the President of the Board of Trade has the balance on the right side. Some of my hon. Friends who sit in front of me are, of course, rather sick at the failure of their angling expedition for Liberal and Free Trade votes a couple of months ago, and they, naturally, must take a strong line against the Bill. I do not blame them for that, but we can attach the right amount of importance to their objections to the Bill.
There are two or three points on which the President of the Board of Trade can be pleased. It is not altogether a question of what this Bill will do for industry. It may be some time before we see any tangible results from it. But the right hon. Gentleman ought to be pleased that it is bringing to an end an epoch which, certainly for years past, has meant loss and disaster to British industry. We are starting now under this aegis a new system and a new policy. We are starting on a new line of country and, if all goes well, and if all the high hopes which are held out materialise, who believe that we are starting with the help of the right hon. Gentleman on the path which will eventually lead us back to prosperity, There is one thing about which I am more than gratified and it is that this Bill means to the people of the country and to us that we are justified in the Government of our choice. This Government was elected to act quickly and decisively. Troubles were beginning to arise in the mind of men and women; it was felt that possibly the Government might fail to realise the urgency of the situation. That feeling has now been dispelled. We are now confident that the Government are acting and are prepared to go further.
943 I am not going to follow some of my hon. Friends who have spoken previously into an academic discussion on the rights and wrongs, the merits and demerits of Free Trade and Protection. That sea has been charted often enough. We all agree that, in theory, Free Trade is an ideal policy. The free flow of trade, unimpeded and unhampered, along all the oceans and highways of the world is a desirable ideal. But as one hon. Member has already remarked, we have tried to inculcate that policy by the nobility of our example for 70 or 80 years. We have now a condition of affairs which is draining—which has drained, almost—our national resources, and we have to face up to the necessities of the situation. Even die-hard Free Trade Liberals have to realise that now is a time when the country is in danger and that these proposals represent in the eyes of the country, as well as in the eyes of this House, the only means by which it can be saved.
I used to feel sorry for the poor Liberal Free Traders in the last House. They have practically disappeared, but I used to wonder what was their philosophy in life. Was it. just that they would be happy in any kind of clothing as long as it was made of wool from the Argentine? Was it that they were content to wear any kind of under-garments as long as they were made of cotton from Japan? To follow my little allegory further, I conceived that even when they were going to a better place, at the end of their sojourn here, they would be perfectly content if they went in coffins made of timber from Norway. That atmosphere has disappeared with the General Election and with it the practising Free Trade Liberals. A lot of us are, as I have said, theoretical Free Traders, but when we are up against the practical difficulties of the present situation we see that the theory will not work. I believe that the General Election convinced the practising Free Trade Liberals that Free Trade, in our time anyhow, is dead; that we have emerged from the epoch in which it had its uses and advantages; that we have a new situation which must be dealt with, and that there is one weapon and one lever by which we shall get back the trade and prosperity of the country.
944 There are two or three features of the Bill which cause me a little concern and disquietude. The first is the interpretation of the word "dumping." According to the Bill, this means abnormal imports or imports above the normal average say of a year or of two or three years past. I believe that to be a dangerous interpretation. Increases above our normal may come from many varied sources, for many varied reasons. They may arise from a change in fashion or from the temporary prosperity of the country or of some particular section in the country, which would give a greater capacity to buy. I think it would be dangerous to adopt that interpretation, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will bear that point in mind especially when the Measure is being administered. Then, certain political economists have described dumping as the importation of goods at a price lower than that at which they are produced in the country of origin. That, I think, is also a dangerous interpretation. There are goods from Russia, for example, the price of which is not based on any system of profit and loss at all. The price of those goods may be any price at which the Russians are prepared to send them here. The price has no relation to labour conditions, to overhead charges, to the standard of living of the people.
I, myself, think, and I am sure that many hon. Members agree with me, that the only fair interpretation to put on the word "dumping" is the importation of goods at a cheaper rate than that at which we ourselves can manufacture them in this country. That is how the matter commends itself to me, and I believe that is how it commends itself to the people of this country generally and to the unemployed in this country. By accepting that interpretation of dumping and proceeding to act accordingly, we shall be safeguarding the wages, the standard of life, the conditions of labour of the people employed in this country. To my mind, that is the only clear way of bringing back the trade of the country. We have to remember that 370 Members of this House have been elected for the purpose of putting that policy into operation—the policy of keeping out goods such as I have described. That at least is my view.
945 It is all very well for some of my Liberal friends and many of my Socialist friends to say that the cost of living will go up. What is the advantage of buying cheaply from the foreigner, if the difference means keeping a British worker out of employment? That is the fundamental issue as far as I am concerned. You may buy an automatic lighter made abroad for 2s. 6d., when a lighter manufactured here would cost 3s. 6d. If, for the 1s. difference, you prevent the British workman making that lighter, you are following a path which is going to lead to early economic destruction. That is how the issue strikes the British working man. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to bear these matters in mind later on when the larger structure has to be built, in six months time, and when the foundations will have to be well and firmly laid by the present Government. I ask them to bear in mind that the present Bill in itself is not intended and is not designed to bring about the objects for which they are seeking. Let them bear that in mind and build their more permanent structure on a better basis, designed to improve on a more definite scale the working conditions of the people of this country.
I would like to say one word with regard to three things that the Government and the President of the Board of Trade might do very shortly, that is, within the two weeks during which we are still going to be here. One is to prohibit dumping, as under this Bill. The second is to prohibit luxuries, and that will teach us to economise. None of us want French champagnes in this country, and such a prohibition would prevent a lot of dinners being given at which champagne is served which is wanted neither by the guests nor by the hosts. The third is to prepare a permanent tariff, scientifically devised, to be applied purely to those industries which need it, which deserve it, and which would justify it.
The question of the Empire has not been dealt with in this Bill except to leave untouched such goods under Class III as come from the Empire, but there is more to be done than that. The question will not brook delay. Already we see South Africa and other Dominions making trade arrangements with European countries. Already we see that some of our West Indian Colonies, 946 through distress that is beyond words and through frustrated hope because of our cold attitude in regard to a bounty on sugar and so on, will eventually be forced by circumstances into the tariff union of the United States of America, unless we do something quickly. They can see that that is the only means of maintaining their livelihood. If we do not give them any help, there is only the one solution for them, and I press upon the Government to bear that point in mind and to give us some hope before this part of the Session ends. It is not good enough to say that they will reassemble the Imperial Conference at Ottawa next July. We cannot wait for that. The present Government was formed to deal with a national crisis, and seven or eight months' delay is not the way in which to do it.
With regard to agriculture, I cannot sue why we cannot have some more definite information as to the Government's intentions. We have now given the manufacturing industries a little hope, a little help, and a little encouragement by this Bill, but we are leaving the greatest of all industries, on which all the others depend, absolutely without hope and in despair. If even one point could be dealt with, it would be better than nothing. It would be so easy to ascertain the total productive capacity of the British farmer to-day in wheat. Suppose it is 15 per cent. or 20 per cent.; then the British loaf must contain 15 or 20 per cent. of flour milled from British wheat. If only some indication of the Government's sympathy were given before this part of the Session ends, it would give such an encouragement to the farmer that he would feel fresh hope. If the Government were only to deal with those three points quickly, urgently, and sufficiently, it would have the greatest effect of all; it would show the people of this country, of the Empire, and of the world, that the National Government mean business.
§ Mr. CAPE
I rise to support the Amendment. I have listened to a large number of the speeches that have been made, apparently in favour of this Bill, but one thing that has struck me very forcibly is that all the Tory Members of the House who have spoken have been complaining bitterly because the Bill does not go far enough to please them. 947 Each of them has put before the House what he wants for his own particular trade in his own particular constituency, and although this is a National Government that they are supporting, apparently all the other parts of the nation can go where they like if only the constituents of each of those hon. Members are all right. The Liberals have been trying to find excuses for supporting the Bill. They say there is a crisis, and that when there is a national crisis surely their principles have to be laid aside, and expedients adopted. We have been going through a crisis since August last, and we have tried to balance the Budget by saving the pound. Then we have lost the pound, but I do not know whether we have balanced the Budget. Now we are trying to balance trade, and this Bill is introduced as the first instalment, but it does not seem to have met with much approval in this House.
We on these benches oppose it on principle alone, and we say that this Bill, with the subsequent Measures that will have to come behind it—because coming events cast their shadows before them—cannot save this country from its present economic position. One or two interesting speeches have come from hon. Member a who have made their first speech in this House, and as a matter of courtesy it is not good to comment on those speeches, but some of them dashed into very controversial matters, and one in particular, the hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Howard), painted a glorious picture of what would happen when we had a full-blown fiscal policy in operation. He told us about the women being able to eat dried fruit, apples, pears, and so on, and he talked about the smiling faces of the children. I wonder if he has ever been on the Continent. If these things would come from Protection, as he says, are all the faces of the children on the Continent smiling and happy? Has he been into some of the cities and industrial areas of Germany, of Belgium, or of France? If he has, surely he cannot talk in that way about the results of tariffs and Protection, because what he said is quite contrary to the facts.
I therefore suggest to the hon. Member that when he begins to talk about these things, when he is painting this 948 glorious picture of what tariffs will do for the country, how they will bring everybody to a sort of Utopia, he ought to tell the whole story, but the majority of those who have spoken have not told us the side of the story that really affects the workers. The only hon. Member who did so, the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones) made a very nice speech, and I would like to compliment him upon it, but I think he got on to dangerous ground, because he began to tell rather too much truth. He has not got the political acumen yet which would enable him to make evasive statements, so he told us the real truth. He said it was true that in Belgium the steel-worker has not got as good a wage as the steelworker here and that his conditions are not so good. He did not tell us that the same thing applies to Germany and France. Are we to assume that the real desire in the minds of those hon. Members who stand for tariffs is to bring the British worker down to the same level and standard as the Continental worker—[HON. MEMBERS: "No‡"]
I hope that I am not making a mistake in saying that the hon. Member to whom I am referring is an employer of labour. When he meets a deputation of trade unionists in regard to wages and conditions, he will always put to them the conditions of the workers which prevail in other countries. He will tell them about the low wages paid in Belgium, Germany and France, and he will point out to them that so long as they demand certain wages he cannot compete with the foreigner. If that be so, I mist be right in my assumption that with all your tariffs and Protectionist policy, the wages and conditions of the workers must come down to the Continental level, and we shall be in as bad a position as they are.
I want to deal with the position of the farmers. It has been lightly said that farming is one of the largest industries in this country and it is entitled to some consideration. I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that, generally speaking, if the agricultural industry is in a bad position, it must be attributable to their party, because ever since I began to take an interest in politics, which is a long time ago, I have always been told that if the Conservatives were returned 949 to power they would do something for agriculture. I can go 45 years back, and ever since I can recollect, the Conservative candidate was always out to do something for the benefit of the agricultural industry. Through every election we have had the same cry. What have they done?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I hope that the hon. Member will not be led away from the confines of the Bill which we are discussing.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
I was only commenting on the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I will bow to your Ruling. Derating is the only thing that the Conservatives have done for the farmers. We have been asked what we have done. We were in office for only two and a-half years, and we made a definite attempt to try and do something for the farmers. The farmers have relied on the Conservative party in the past, and it has let them down. If they are relying on that party again, it will fail them again. The hon. Member for West Swansea dealt with the inquiry into the iron and steel industry. I am subject to correction when I say that when the Safeguarding Duties came into operation about. 1925, a committee was set up, and on one or two occasions the steel manufacturers applied for a Safeguarding Duty. They stated their case before a committee of competent persons selected by a Conservative Government, and invariably they were turned down.
There has been another inquiry into the steel industry, and we are told by 950 the Prime Minister that it is not the intention of the Government to make public the findings of the committee. Why cannot the House have the right to see the results of that inquiry? If there is nothing to be afraid of, there is no reason to keep the report as a secret document. If the iron and steel trade would benefit from tariffs as much as hon. Members think, they ought to make a pressing demand on the Premier to divulge the committee's findings. I suggest that to hon. Members opposite, because if they put pressure on they will be able to get it. The Prime Minister is in that condition at this moment that any section that puts pressure upon him can demand practically anything. I represent a division where a large number of iron and steel workers are employed. It is an important industry in my locality because a large portion of the coal mined in the county which I represent is directly consumed by it. If this tariff is to bring such joy and prosperity and such abundance to the people engaged in the industry and in the subsidiary industries, we are entitled to see a copy of the report of the competent committee which investigated it.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I, too, must claim the indulgence of the House for the first time that I have the honour to address it. I may make many mistakes; if I do, I crave the forgiveness of the House. I intervene because of the speeches of two hon. Members, the hon. Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) and the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove). The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh put forward the claim of the Irish linen industry to be assisted in the difficulties with which it is faced at present as a result of excessive imports from countries on the continent of Europe, and I, being a Scotswoman, and representing a Scottish constituency, cannot forbear to say something for the Scottish linen industry and other Scottish textile industries, including the jute industry and the carpet industry. All those industries are suffering grievous unemployment, all are up against what we call unfair competition from the Continent. Linen piece-goods and linen yarn, jute piece-goods and jute yarn, and carpets are coming in from Russia, from Czechoslovakia and Belgium at prices with which we cannot compete, 951 in view of the level of wages in this country.
The hon. Member who has just sat down seemed to think we were anxious to bring down the standard of living in this country, and that therefore we welcomed this Bill. He has misunderstood us completely. We welcome this Bill because we believe that by it we can help to protect the standard of living of our people. It is our policy to protect their standard of living and protect their work. That is why we are here. The hon. Member for Aberavon seemed to think there was great disagreement between the Liberal Members on these benches and the Unionist Members. I come from a constituency which returns two Members. My Liberal colleague and I fought the election quite separately, never once did either of us appear on the other's platform, but both of us fought in the interests of a National Government, both of us fought word by word for the manifesto of the Prime Minister, a free hand to use every means to bring this country out of the great financial crisis in which it is at present.
The hon. Member for Aberavon said that we in the Unionist party were a great worry to the Liberals. I hope that my Liberal colleague the other Member for Dundee has found me to be no worry—either during the election or since we have met here in the House. Had it been so, I feel sure that he would have told me so, or I should have found it out. I was told also by the hon. Member for Aberavon that with Unionists and Liberals working together one or other must toe the line. I suggest from my experience in this two-Member constituency that neither my colleague nor I toed the line; we topped the poll. We did that because in Dundee, as is the case all over the country, there is great unemployment, and the electors, 47,000 of whom voted for myself and my Liberal colleague, cast aside party prejudices, cast aside party labels, and supported the policy of the free hand to use every means in order that any emergency in which the country finds itself shall be dealt with and dealt with speedily. That is why we on these benches welcome the Bill now before the House.
May I deal more particularly with the details of the linen industry and the jute 952 industry. The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh spoke about the linen industry of Ulster. The people engaged in the linen industry both in Ulster and in Scotland are in entire accord regarding the necessity for some help being given to their industry. If they get that help, I am absolutely certain that we shall find the mills in Scotland and in Ulster again working full time and giving employment to the men and women who are now walking our streets unemployed. Large quantities of linen have been coming in from the Continent. The figures for October are of great interest. In October of last year there came in from abroad 905,132 square yards of linen piece-goods, and in October of this year there came in 1,274,241 square yards. Of linen yarn 254 tons came here in October of last year, and this year the figure has gone up to 700 tons in the one month of October. In the jute industry 14,000,000 square yards of jute piece-goods came here in six months. That would have kept three mills in Dundee working full time for a where year if it had been manufactured there.
It is because of the principle behind it that we support the Bill, the principle being to support a British Government in finding work for British people first before we give that work to be done abroad. That is what we have been sent here to do. That Dundee should return a Unionist Member of Parliament is certainly abnormal. The party to which I have the honour to belong have fought that constituency for 100 years; but the people have rallied to our policy to-day, and have sent us here in order that we may give them back their work, so that they will not suffer from having to live on unemployment allowances of either 17s. 6d. or 15s. 3d. That is what the people in Scotland, at any rate, are asking for—their independence, their right to earn their own living, their right to live on a wage which they will earn by their own industry, and which they are skilled to earn. Throughout the whole of the Debate it has never once been suggested that the skill of our working people is less than the skill of the workers on the Continent. They can do the work, and can do it well. I believe that the linen industry will be revived throughout Scotland and the North of Ireland if only we can give it what it has the right to 953 ask, a fair chance in competition with the other countries of Europe, and we protect not only the work but the wages of the people in the industry from unfair competition from a lower standard of life on the Continent.
§ Mr. D. M. MASON
I have listened with great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), and while I may not agree with her I am sure that I express the feelings of all present when I congratulate her on her very admirable first speech. I am very sorry that I did not hear the speech of a colleague whom she associated with herself in support of the principles which she enunciated. I sympathise in many ways with what she said about the grave position in which industry finds itself to-day, and if she could guarantee to myself, who am a Free Trader, that the unemployment of which she speaks would be remedied by keeping out goods from abroad, I might be willing to consider her claim. It is vain to think that if you kept out a sufficient quantity of goods the same orders would flow. I was very much interested the other day to hear the Leader of the Opposition refer to myself as a furious Free Trader. The right hon. Gentleman is an old friend of mine, and it is 13 years since I crossed swords with him on this subject. I am going to support this Amendment, and I will try to persuade some of my fellow Liberals to support the proposal which has been put forward by the Opposition. I know that there are many Liberals who are by no means enthusiastic with regard to these proposals, and who, in their heart of hearts, are the reverse of enthusiastic when they see the President of the Board of Trade, who has always been regarded as one of the most brilliant supporters of Free Trade, associating himself with a Bill of which I never imagined in my wildest dreams he would be a sponsor, or would have introduced to this House. After all we are the Commons of England and I feel sure that there are many tariff reformers in this House who resent a Bill like this which suggests that we:have freely and voluntarily resolved to give and grant unto Your Majesty the duties for the imposition of which provision is hereinafter contained.I think that is reducing the Members of this House to the position of mere cyphers. Before my hon. Friends were 954 enthusiastic Tariff Reformers they were Englishmen, and by supporting this Bill they are surrendering their ancient rights to control the public purse. I am surprised that a proposal of this kind is sponsored by the President of the Board of Trade. In Sub-section (2) of Clause 3 it is provided thatThe Commissioners of Customs and Excise may make regulations for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of this section and in particular for requiring any person concerned with the importation of articles into the United Kingdom to furnish to the Commissioners in such form as they may require such information as is in their opinion necessary for a proper valuation of the articles, and to produce any hooks of account or other documents of whatever nature relating to the purchase, importation or re-sale of the articles by that person.I think I carry hon. Members with me when I say that that is a very serious statement. It must add to the burdens of a trader to say that he must produce his books of account or other documents in order that the commissioners may decide whether it is advisable to clap a 100 per cent. duty on his importation. Surely a proposal of that kind is the very last straw to place upon the camel's back. We are all aware of the difficulties of the trader at the present moment. Those difficulties have been expressed by many Tariff Reformers, and I suggest that to subject the persons interested in industry to an examination of this sort by the commissioners under the control of the President of the Board of Trade is an undue interference with the rights of the subject.
§ Mr. MASON
I know that there are certain provisions of this kind applied to goods coming into this country, but the examination to which I have referred is insisted upon before the right hon. Gentleman puts on his customs duty. The right hon. Gentleman might spend his week-end examining the books of any hon. Member. He may go to any trader and insist upon him producing his books and documents before he suggests the imposition of a 100 per cent. tariff. It is true that the Order containing this extraordinary provision has to come before 955 this House, but let me recall to hon. Members the wording of this provision. It is provided in Clause 1 (2) that:Provided that in reckoning any such period of 28 days as aforesaid no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which the Commons House is adjourned for more than four days.Imagine legislation of this kind being reduced to such a haphazard method that the days may be increased according to whether the House is sitting or adjourned. Hon. Members who give their time and such talents as they possess to the carrying out of their duties in Parliament are reduced to the position that the powers of the Commons of England are to be handed over to the President of the Board of Trade, who will be empowered to examine the books of traders.
I would like to say a few words about the defence of this Measure by the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman told us, when introducing this Measure, that it was put forward owing to a desire on the part of the Government to support the pound and our currency, and he told us that we must do everything possible to meet this great emergency. What is the emergency I A great deal has been said about the adverse balance of trade, but what does that mean? There is no such thing as an adverse balance of trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh‡"] I say that with all due respect to hon. Members. It is not an adverse balance of trade that affects the pound; it is the adverse balance of payments. To call it an adverse balance of trade rather clouds the issue. Let us get down to what it really is. It is an adverse balance of payment. We are told by many hon. Members that the adverse balance of payment is estimated at between £80,000,000 and £100,000,000. It is a pure figment of imagination, and I have never been able to find any figures which show that there is this adverse balance of payment at the present day. It is purely an estimate. I appeal to the sense of this House and I would ask, does this House, which consists of men distinguished in many walks of life and men of the world, really, in its heart of hearts and innermost mind, believe that there is a body of lunatics abroad who are willing to give this country credit to the extent 956 of £80,000,000 to £100,000,000 for various goods which they send to this country with the prospect of not being paid? It is absurd.
I ask traders—and there are many around me—if they really believe that the foreigners are sending goods to this country to the tune of that adverse balance of payment? The adverse balance to this country means that after you have taken into account the invisible exports and interest on investments, there still remains an adverse balance due for payment. We are not quite down and out in this country, although we have suffered as a result of the depression—on a fair estimate something like £4,000,000,000 is invested abroad. The dividends from that have been reduced, but not all of them, and insurance companies in this country still derive huge incomes in revenue from investments abroad. If you take that into account and also invisible exports— which it is true have been reduced as well, for shipping is not what it was; there has been depression in the shipping industry and in shipbuilding—even after allowing for that, I ask hon. Members do they really believe that to-day there is an adverse payment against this country of between £80,000,000 and £100,000,000?
§ Mr. JOHN WALLACE
Is it not the case that the hon. Member is a supporter of the National Government, and was he not returned because the Conservative candidate in Edinburgh retired?
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. MASON
I am sorry that my arguments have been interrupted by an interruption which is quite irrelevant to the point I was making. I have no objection to replying to the interruption, though it has nothing to do with my argument. The circumstances of my return to this House may be of interest to the hon. Member and others, and I have no hesitation in replying briefly. I gave way in the Western Division so that the Conservative might defeat the Socialist. [An HON. MEMBER: "You would have been beaten, anyhow‡"] As the result of that action, the Conservative in the Eastern Division very gallantly withdrew in my favour. The result was that we were able to win two seats against the Socialists. That has no relation whatever to the point I was making. When I 957 withdrew in favour of the Conservative, who very gallantly won the Western Division, we Liberals asked no pledge from him, and the Unionists asked no pledge—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Personal references cannot, perhaps, be avoided altogether, but I must call the attention of hon. Members on both sides to the fact that we are discussing the Second Reading of the Bill, and it has nothing to do with personal explanations as to why or how one Member did or did not stand.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I respectfully point out that it is not on all sides of the House but among Members of the same party?
§ Mr. MASON
I take no exception to the interruption, but I am sorry that I devoted some time in endeavouring to answer the hon. Member. The purely personal reference had no relation to the point I was discussing, and I will now pursue my argument. The right hon. Gentleman based his argument on the suggestion that by curtailing, by some means or other, the adverse balance of payment, he is in some way or other going to improve the value of the pound. What governs the value of the pound? The amount of currency in any country is largely governed by trade. If there is expanding trade, obviously there will be more currency required to move the trade, and if trade contracts, it follows that to maintain the parity of your pound your paper should be contracted accordingly. I think it will be admitted that one of the principal reasons for going off the pound was largely the profligate finance, and the waste and inefficiency of the late Socialist Government. It follows, therefore, that this Measure which is proposed with the object of curtailing imports will,, in the nature of things, curtail exports. [HON. MEMBERS: "No‡"] If that is not admitted, is it not a fact that you can only export by imports? How any civilised country can carry on trade with exports and no imports, I fail to understand.
If you introduce the crowbar or bludgeon, such as this action on the part of the President of the Board of Trade is, you will tend to retard, cripple and 958 curtail your general trade, and it follows that your pound will go down still further. That is self-evident. By curtailing imports, which obviously tend to cripple your trade, you will not, therefore, be able to improve your pound. There are many tariff reformers here and they are entitled to advocate tariffs, and many do in a controversial fashion, but I would ask them not to confuse the issue, as the President of the Board of Trade has, by dragging in the pound, for that has nothing to do with it beyond the fact that if you contract your trade, obviously less currency will be required to move your trade. If, therefore, as the result of this action, you at once create confusion and bring chaos and added complications to traders, you will not improve the value of the pound, but will drag it down still lower.
Perhaps I may be allowed to offer a few observations on what will improve the balance. The pound has fallen today, and, although some hon. Members have said that there has been no increase in the cost of living, I would point out that the price of the 4-lb. loaf was raised by ½d on Monday last. If we go back to the period after the Napoleonic Wars, we can find ample demonstration of the truth of what I am saying. It was demonstrated in the famous Bullion Report of 1810. The test has stood the test of time, and it is a very simple test. The proof that there is inflation is that it is necessary to-day to use more currency than is represented by the Mint price of the sovereign, that is to say, at the rate of E3 17s. 10½d. per ounce of standard gold. In the money articles of the "Times" newspaper will be found appearing regularly the market price for the ounce of standard gold, and when it is necessary, as it is to-day, to pay more for an ounce of standard gold than the Mint price of £3 17s. 10½d., that is proof which no one can dispute that there is inflation and depreciation.
If it is our wish to restore, as I hope this Government intends to restore, our currency to its proper basis, it is the business of this House and of all of us to see to it that that is done. It is even more the business of the Conservative party than of the working class. An American statesman well said, "He who tampers with the currency robs Labour of its bread," and, indeed, the wages of the 959 worker are in the same position as the dividends of the rentier—the two interests are alike. If the Government are to restore the value of the pound, there must be fewer pounds—in other words, the note issue must be gradually contracted until it is equal in value to the notes and gold which is represents. That is the way in which we came back to the Gold Standard in 1925, by a gradual process. It must be gradual. Nobody suggests that it should be done to-morrow, or next week, or next month, but, if this Government desire to improve British trade, and to enable this country again to stand on the same level with the United States of America—and I must point out, without any disrespect to France, Germany, or other Continental nations, that we are a great banking and creditor nation—I hope we shall take our stand with the object of restoring our credit and bringing the pound back to parity. As I believe that this Bill will tend rather to depreciate and lower our credit, I shall give my vote with the Opposition.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I was exceedingly sorry to hear the speech of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. M. Mason). As I listened to him repeating almost seriatim the arguments that I heard him use from the same place in this House nearly 20 years ago, I realised that he has come back here having learned nothing and forgotten nothing. I regret to see that apparently he has not even learned how to play the game. His speech will be read to-morrow with considerable astonishment by the many thousands of Conservative voters to whom he owes his seat in this place.
§ Viscount WOLMER
If the hon. Member says that what he is doing now is entirely consistent with his election pledges, and that he intends in this Parliament to insist on his election pledges to the very letter, I would merely say to him that, if the National Government is to be maintained with its present 960 majority, there will have to be a large measure of give-and-take on the part of those who support it, and, if the hon. Member is going to insist on the letter of election pledges and speeches, I would remind him that there are other hon. Members who might be tempted to take the same stand. It certainly seems to me that it is carrying the principles of political rectitude very far when the hon. Member says that he is not even prepared to trust the President of the Board of Trade—a life-long Free Trader, and, if I may say so with all respect, a better Free Trader than he is himself—with powers which are given to meet an unexampled emergency and which are a great deal more limited than many Members on this side of the House would like to see.
The hon. Member for East Edinburgh, apparently, feels that it is contrary to his conscience as a Member of Parliament to vote for such novel procedure, but I would point out to him that we are dealing with an economic crisis, and, just as this House had to meet a crisis in 1914 by exceptional procedure, so we are forced now to meet by exceptional procedure a crisis which in many ways is similar. To say that we should go through the old procedure of the House of Commons, which, of course, is necessary and suitable for ordinary Measures, in a situation like this, is, I venture to suggest, nothing but the merest pedantry. This is not a taxing Measure, but a Measure to enable the Government to do something to redress the adverse balance of trade. The hon. Member does not believe in the adverse balance of trade; he thinks that it is a figment of the imagination. He wishes to stand aside and see the value of the pound sterling go down and the cost of raw materials which come to this country go up. We are not prepared to follow him on that path. We are prepared to give the Government a free hand to deal with this emergency. That is what they stood for, that is the mandate which they asked the electors to give them, and that is the mandate which they got from the whole country.
As an agricultural Member, I should like to express my very deep regret that this Bill limits the powers of the President of the Board of Trade in such a way that he will not, under its provisions, be 961 able to give any direct assistance to the farming industry. I am sure that that fact has been realised with the keenest disappointment by farmers throughout the country. It really is a terrible discouragement to them at a time when it is above all things necessary that the farming community should receive encouragement and take new heart to grapple with the problems and difficulties, which must necessarily be very acute for many months to come, and the specific exclusion of agriculture—because that is what the drafting of the Financial Resolution and the Bill comes to—is bound to have a most discouraging effect.
I listened to the Minister of Agriculture on the Address, and he told us that he made no apology for the fact that agriculture was not mentioned in the King's Speech, because he said it was considered by the Government to be part and parcel of the great national problem. I was delighted to hear him say that, and I think it is absolutely the right way to look at the agricultural problem. But, if that is so, surely this Bill ought to have been so drafted that agricultural products could be included within its scope. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade why it is that he has confined this Bill to Class III and excluded certain agricultural products which are of profound importance to agriculture and certainly, to my mind, come within the scope of the objects of the Bill. Why is it that the Government have so narrowed the scope of the Bill? He really did not make that very clear the other day. He said:At this stage we are asking the House to give us powers with regard to Class III. … We do that for a special reason. As far as we can see, we shall be able to make a large and effective selection without any detriment to either industry or the Cost of living in this country.That does smack a little bit too much of the old fallacy that you cannot help the countryside without hurting the towns. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not look at the problem from that point of view. He gave us another reason why agriculture was excluded. He said:We have not included agriculture, because forestalling in agricultural produce, from its nature is scarcely practicable to any serious extent."—[OFFICIAI REPORT, 16th November, 1931; col. 551, Vol. 259.]962 Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure about that? I do not know what the facts are and, no doubt, he does, but agricultural Members would be very grateful if he would tell us what they are. Let me take a case which was very much present to the mind of the House a year or two ago—the case of dumped oats. Does he know any facts which lead him to believe that there is no possibility of a large dumping of Russian oats such as we experienced a very few months ago, because, if there is any danger of that sort of thing happening, this Government, by the speeches of the Lord President of the Council, is certainly committed up to the hilt to prevent the importation of dumped Russian oats, and, unless the President of the Board of Trade can tell us from the facts at his disposal that that is not a danger which we have any reason to fear, it seems to me that he ought, at any rate, to arm himself with powers to deal with such an event, which would have very serious results to the farmers of Scotland, who are at present labouring under such serious difficulties. I merely give that as one example.
Then you have the question of hops. Hops, of course, are already protected, but we import about £250,000 worth, a large amount of which comes from America. That is a pure luxury importation. There is a glut of hops in this country. The Government have practically destroyed the beer trade by increasing the Beer Duty and, although it is only a small branch of agriculture, I see no reason why that particular branch of agriculture should not be assisted by the Government taking powers under the Bill to give adequate protection in that respect. No one can say that the importation of American hops is a national necessity. Beer can be brewed perfectly well with home-grown hops, and I should like to see the Government take powers to increase the duty if, having examined the facts carefully, they think it desirable to do so.
May I take another and a much more important crop, namely, sugar. I am not going into the whole question of sugar-beet, because that would not be in order, but I think I am entitled to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. What are the Government going to do about sugar beet? Again, I say the Lord President of the Council is pledged up to the hilt 963 not to let the sugar-beet acreage go down seriously. There are only two ways by which that result can be achieved, either by increasing the very costly subsidy, which the right hon. Gentleman himself severely criticised, or by increasing the duty on imported sugar. If the Government do not take any powers under this Bill to increase the duty on imported sugar, what is there to prevent any astute foreign importer from largely increasing his imports of sugar into this country during the next two or three months, forestalling the Government—sugar is a commodity which will keep for a very long time—and, if that was done on any appreciable scale, it would render absolutely nugatory any increased protection to the sugar industry which the Chancellor of the Exchequer may find it desirable to do in the next Budget. In regard to the sugar crop, certainly the Government ought to have drafted their Bill in such a way as to take powers to put an end to forestalling in respect of sugar if it occurs between now and when the House meets again in the spring.
Then, surely, there is another class of commodity which we ought to consider. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us that he is absolutely satisfied that there is no danger of the home market being glutted by commodities of which normally we always import a great deal, such as beef, mutton and poultry, simply because foreigners will be anxious to send their produce here as soon as they can under the fear that in the spring a protective tariff may be imposed? Can the Government tell us any reason that they have for believing that that danger does not exist? If this House is to adjourn within the next fortnight and we are not to meet again till next February, if there is any danger of undue importation of these articles, the Government certainly ought to take powers under the Bill to prevent it, because the agricultural industry is entitled to protection just as much as any other industry. It is in as great a difficulty as and even greater difficulties than any other industry, and, although abnormal importation about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke is not likely to occur so much in agricultural products, yet I think, unless he can bring to our attention facts of which I am not at present aware, there is very great danger of undue importation in regard to the crops 964 that I have mentioned and to others which the Government certainly ought to provide for either by this Bill or by some other.
The last branch of agriculture to which I would draw attention is one of the most glaring instances, and that is the market gardening and the glass-house industry, which employs an enormous number of men per acre. Although the acreage is small, well over 20,000 men are employed in the industry. Their chief harvest is in the early spring, and they are threatened with abnormal competition from France, Italy and Algiers in respect of early flowers and veg3tables. Next February and March Till be the time when they will be requiring protection from this House. The glass-house industry is in a state of greater distress than it has ever been before. Many proprietors are bankrupt, and many men have been turned out of work. I am assured, on the very best authority, that if the Government could give now some guarantee to that industry, it would lead to the immediate employment of several thousand men to grow crops that would be produced in the spring. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, or some other Minister, will give us a statement before the Bill passes from the House as to exactly what protection of an emergency nature the Government intend to give to agriculture. Has agriculture to wait as the Cinderella until everybody else has been satisfied? I hope not. I hope that when the Government are piloting this great Measure through to enable the President of the Board of Trade to deal with abnormal imports as an emergency, he will be able to tell us that the Government have not lost sight of the danger that there may be abnormal imports of agricultural products within the next three months, that that will be as much an emergency as this one, and that the Government will be prepared to take the steps necessary to deal with it.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
The gracious sentences with which the Noble Lord greeted the speech of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. M. Mason) showed the temper of accommodation which is persisting inside the National party. I was rather surprised to hear the Noble Lord say that he considered it to be almost a mean and despicable action for anybody to come to this House and 965 say that they intended to carry out their election pledges. Presumably he is about to erect over the portals of the National party some such sentence as this:Cast aside all pledges, all Liberals that enter here.10.0 p.m.
We are delighted that one Liberal at least has had the courage of his convictions, and has been prepared to stick out, in spite of the big stick, and state that he stands for a continuance of the constitution of this country as it was before the National Government introduced this Bill. We are not so much concerned with the inter-party trade in seats which was referred to during the hon. Member's speech, nor do I suppose that the country is concerned with it. But the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, after criticising, very justly, the President of the Board of Trade, proceeded to criticise, I think unfairly, the Lord Privy Seal and the Prime Minister for their conduct of affairs a few short months ago. Whether he has now not only ceased to follow the President of the Board of Trade but also the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy Seal, I was not quite able to understand. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), when he was introducing the Amendment which I am now supporting, gave, I think, to the President of the Board of Trade sufficient cause for thought and for explanation as regards the attitude which he is now taking up contrasted with his attitude in June of this year. We are waiting with interest to hear how then it was unjust to the manufacturers of this country to conceal from them the objects which were to be taxed, and how now it is just, although the right hon. Gentleman already knows the clear instances in which those taxes are to be imposed.
It is time that this House realised the true facts of the position as regards the Bill. May we not come down to what is the real basis of it—that it is a frankly Tory Protectionist Measure. The protestations by one-time Free Traders that it is an example of the free hand, that there is to be investigation and inquiry, or, as the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) said, one could rely upon the Government to act impartially upon the evidence that was put before them, are surely now a mere 966 farce. We have watched the farce being played in the last few days in this House and we certainly realise very fully that this is merely the first step in a full Protection programme which the Conservative Members of this House are going to force upon the country in spite of their election pledges. The Noble Lord has explained to us why it is those election pledges are of so little account to the Conservative party. [Interruption.] The election pledges, as I understand them, were pledges that the Government would be given a free hand, and it is obvious from the proceedings so far in this Parliament that the Tory party are determined to have a full programme of Protection, free hand or no free hand.
The arguments which have been put forward with regard to the necessity for this Bill, in my submission, have no relationship whatever to the crisis. They are exactly the same arguments which have been repeated year after year ever since 1919. It has always been alleged that there has been dumping in this country. It has been alleged for various reasons, because of currency difficulties in foreign countries, because of lower-paid labour in foreign countries, or, perhaps, foreign countries wanting to sell the excess of their manufactured products here. There is no new factor in the arguments as regards dumping which has been put forward in the course of this Debate which would not have entitled any Government in the last 10 or 12 years to come before this House and say that there is a case for dumping, and that they must take immediate steps to stop it. "Dumping" is not a new word. One would imagine, from some of the speeches that have been made, that this is some terrible state of affairs that has been discovered since Monday last for the first time by the President of the Board of Trade. Statistics, ever since 1900, could be used and have been used, in order to show that this country is suffering from dumped goods from foreign countries.
We do not question the crisis. We never have questioned the crisis. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but, if they look at the speeches that have been made, they will see that the crisis has never been questioned. What we do question is whether this Bill is any remedy for the crisis. We agree 967 with the leading article in one of the leading morning papers, which I have no doubt the President of the Board of Trade a short time ago looked upon as one of the best morning papers, the "Manchester Guardian." That paper says this of the right hon. Gentleman's view:Unfortunately his speech on this Measure"—that is the Bill before the House—suggests that he is the victim of delusions on the state of the currency and the balance of trade which are almost as bad of their kind as the rabid Protectionistism of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth.We believe that the fundamental misunderstanding of the effect of this Bill is what is wrong with the majority of the hon. Members who apparently are going to support it. Exactly the same crisis, on the same question, arose in the autumn of 1919. At that time, there was a Coalition Government in power, a "National" Government, as it termed itself. A Bill was brought forward because the position, as regarded the balance of trade of the country, was almost precisely what is alleged of it now. The imports in that year were estimated by Sir Auckland Geddes to exceed the imports by £600,000,000. The invisible exports were estimated to make up £450,000,000 of that £600,000,000, leaving a deficit of £150,000,000 on the trade balance of the country. At that time, when there were gravely depreciated currencies in various countries in Europe, dumping in every form was alleged by members of the Conservative party. The Government produced a Bill, an antidumping Bill, in order, as they said, to safeguard the country from what was going on. They proposed to set up a tribunal under that Bill consisting of four Ministers, three civil servants, and ten Members of the House of Commons. They were going to give them power to act, after making full inquiry, in the case of any article. If the goods were sold under foreign costs of manufacture, and the production here by manufacturers was likely to be affected adversely, they were going to give them power to stop those goods coming in.
That Bill never even had a Second Beading. The Government were wise enough, when they came to consider the 968 difficulties of applying the Bill, to withdraw it, in spite of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) supported it and said that it was a Measure intended to strengthen the whole line of Free Trade. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary who tore it in pieces. At a great meeting in Manchester on 12th December of that year, he made so damaging an attack upon it that it was subsequently withdrawn within a few days. I have no doubt that, at that time, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who I think was not in this House then, was thoroughly and completely opposed to it. The poor Bill, though it died, never had any words of regret at its passing. The only words that were spoken on its passing were by Lord Inchcape at the time, and these were his views on the proposal:Every business with a foreign country was to be surrounded with masses of affidavits, certificates and red tape, and to be dogged by a mob of meddling mandarins, and the British merchant and manufacturer, instead of attending to his job, would be dancing attendance on the Board of Trade, filling up forms, interviewing inspectors, chasing after consuls, and wheedling Members of Parliament and officials for permission to get on with his business. I believe every man of affairs thinks as I do, that we have bad enough of this foolery.Those were Lord Inchcape's words as regards the anti-dumping proposals in 1919.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
He may have changed his mind, as the hon. Baronet says, but the facts haves not changed. It is the object of every hon. Member to improve our industrial position. Different hon. Members in different parts of the House have different theories as to how that may be done. Let us look for one moment at how this Bill proposes to do it. Is it going to open freely the doors of international trade? Is it going to stimulate the exchange of commodities, remove the economic barriers, of which the Prime Minister has spoken on many occasions, or further to clog the wheels of international industry upon which we largely depend? Our view is that it will seriously jeopardise our international 969 trade. Hon. Members and right hon. Members will remember that our international trade has been built up over a century by means of a series of trade agreements and conventions, every one of which is based upon the fact of our being a Free Trade country. Hurriedly to throw this pickaxe into the wheels of complicated international agreements is a very heavy responsibility indeed. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will consider carefully the effect which this is to have upon those trade agreements. There are, of course, careful reports by his Department, which show conclusively that, if we are to put taxation upon the importation of certain specific articles, many of which come from one or two Specific countries, we shall be laying ourselves open to a charge of breaking our trade agreements. Once we lay ourselves open to that charge, we shall find that the markets of the world are quickly closed against us. To do that in the course of a week-end, if the right hon. Gentleman has not already considered it—and if he has, no doubt he will tell the House the result of that consideration—is, we suggest, a very rash thing to do for the trade of this country.
Apart from the international situation, I would ask the House to consider for a moment the position as regards industry in this country. Millions of people will be concerned with the trade in these Class III commodities. They, at least, know what their position is. It may be a good position or a bad one, but they know what it is. Raw materials for manufactures are included in large numbers in this Bill in addition to the goods dealt with by merchants and goods manufactured here. What will be their position after this Bill is passed? They will be in complete uncertainty as regards what is to happen. Any morning a manufacturer or merchant may awake to prosperity or ruin. He will have no notice as to whether the President of the Board of Trade is coming in the night as a good fairy to put sovereigns in his stocking, or whether he is to come as an evil sprite to steal away his ewe lamb. How is it possible, in these circumstances, for a manufacturer or a merchant to arrange his forward contracts? How is it possible 970 for a manufacturer to quote for foreign business?
Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman to take such a case as the boot trade. Tanned leather is one of the articles included in Class III. After to-morrow, or after the end of this week, leather will be subject at a moment's notice to a tax by the right hon. Gentleman without any merchant or manufacturer knowing it until he sees it in the paper in the morning. How is he in that state of affairs to arrange for the manufacture and sale of his boots at a fixed price in foreign markets? It is absolutely impossible. It will throttle his trade, because he will be afraid to enter into any forward contracts or sales not knowing where he is to be as regards his raw material. Take another industry, the tinplate industry. How is the manufacturer of tinplate to know what he will have to pay for steel bars next week, or the week after or the week after that.
The House will appreciate that the only certainty that can ever be achieved under this Bill is when the right hon. Gentleman has put on the 100 per cent., the merchant and manufacturer will then know that he can go no higher. If he starts at 50 per cent. there is nothing to stop the right hon. Gentleman saying that he will make it 60 per cent., or 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. And in that degree of uncertainty the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the industries of this country can be carried on. It has been said by everyone who has dealt with this tariff question that one of the greatest drawbacks of a tariff is the uncertainty, and the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in inventing a Bill which gives the maximum possible amount of uncertainty as regards the amount of the tariff and opens out the most appalling prospect to the manufacturer and merchant, who have to try and carry on their business in that uncertainty.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said to-day in his speech that the constitutional argument was misplaced. I am not certain what he means by "misplaced," but I think his argument was that because Parliament has power to revoke these Orders some three months after they are made that therefore one cannot say that the power of taxation has been taken from Parliament. May I point out to him, he knows 971 it very well, that it is an absolute farce to suggest that there is any power of control in Parliament if the only thing it can do is to revoke a duty already imposed and which has been in force for a considerable time. One of the great difficulties, as regards duties of this sort, is that they are irreversible, and that once they have been imposed the whole course of the trade of the country is altered in accordance with those duties and it becomes almost impossible to go back on them. If it is suggested that they are going to be revoked by Parliament, or may be, we have only one more element of uncertainty for the wretched manufacturer and trader in this country.
Then the hon. Gentleman said that he thought this was not a question of taxation. In 1919 the framers of the then Bill used the words which he used, I noticed, in his argument to-day. They were at least cute enough to put up the camouflage of using those words in their Bill. Fortunately the draftsman of this Bill was too honest to do that; he stated that what are Customs Duties were Customs Duties. The Bill states perfectly clearly in its title that its object is the imposition of Customs Duties. It is quite idle for the hon. Member to suggest that this is not a taxing Bill, that it is merely imposing a fine or a compensation. All breaches of constitutional practice have always been excused on the claim of urgency. No doubt James II, when he had the fight as regards the constitutional practice of this House controlling the supply of money, remarked to his Ministers that his want was very urgent. Every tyrant always bases his tyranny on. necessity. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like the land taxes‡"] An hon. and learned Gentleman remarks, "Like the land taxes." Will he kindly go and say that to the Lord Privy Seal? The truth is that this Government only dared to make this great break in constitutional practice because they have behind them a vast majority with which they believe they can steam-roller the practice of the House of Commons. I should have thought that the very majority would have made them, as trustees of the constitution of this country, the more careful in the way in which they treated it.
Let me now turn for a few moments to one or two of the provisions of the Bill. 972 First of all there is the use of the word "abnormal," that word which the President of the Board of Trade told us he had chosen with great discretion. Let me remind him that "Discretion is the better part of valour." What is the meaning of the word "abnormal"? The President of the Board of Trade desired to put in some word which means nothing, but will he tell us whether the question of the price of the article supplied here is to be taken into account? Are we to be assured that no tax will be put on unless a similar article is available here at a fair and reasonable price to the public? Or are we to have prohibitions, or taxation which amounts to prohibitions, when there is not even an adequate supply of the goods in this country already? Those matters are not mentioned in the Bill in any way. I am afraid that the President of the Board of Trade will get very little comfort out of looking at Clause 1 of the Bill.
Will he also tell us whether Orders-in-Council under this Bill are intended to last beyond the term of the Bill-that is to say, whether Orders-in-Council may be made during the six months, which will remain in force for ever, or until revoked, or whether it is intended to put into the Bill some provision which will make the Orders terminate at the end of the six months when the Bill terminates. As regards Clause 2, if Empire products are to be protected—if there is to be such a scheme as this—we are certainly delighted that the Empire is to get a preference; but is the President of the Board of Trade content that the present definition as regards Empire products should remain? Is it sufficient that 25 per cent. of the value of the goods is to be related to Empire manufacture, though 75 per cent. may be foreign? The right hon. Gentleman will remember the case of Kodaks under one of the existing duties, when Kodaks, 75 per cent. manufactured in America, were sent for finishing to Canada, in order to get the advantage of Empire preference. Is that to continue? We believe that if an Empire preference of 100 per cent. is to be given, there should at least be a most material alteration of that provision, and that what is protected 100 per cent., should be 100 per cent. Empire when it comes here.
973 As regards Clause 3, I am quite unable to understand what it means, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us. The value of the imported articles for the purposes of the Act is to be taken to be the price which the importer would give for the articles, if the articles were delivered to him, freight and insurance paid. Does that mean the price, assuming that there was a duty of 100 per cent. on them, or does that mean what he would have given, before the duty was imposed? The valuation under Clause 3, as I read it, will not have to be made until after the duty has been put on. If any importer is asked what he would give for these goods in bond, he will say, "Seeing that a 100 per cent. duty has been put on them, I would give very little indeed"—in which case the President of the Board of Trade will find that he will not collect the duty nor prohibit the goods.
There is another point of great materiality to manufacturers in this country. A great number of people have entered into forward contracts for the supply of goods from foreign countries. Are they to wake up on Tuesday morning, having, perhaps, goods delivered, on Tuesday under contracts made months ago, abroad, and find that in the night a duty has been put on which is intended to make it impossible for them to sell those goods, because it is a prohibitive duty? If so, the warehouses of this country are going to be pretty full of goods which cannot be returned to foreign countries, because there are contracts under which delivery has to be taken of them in this country, and they are goods which cannot be sold because the President of the Board of Trade has prohibited that by the duty which he has imposed. I ask him to explain to the House the arrangement which he intends to make concerning those people who, in the ordinary course of their trade and in a perfectly natural way, have purchased goods perhaps weeks or months ago for delivery during this autumn and winter. Unless some provision is made for them they are going to find themselves completely ruined. Now if I may close with just one general word, we say that this Bill shows very effectively the impossibility of reducing vague and general proposals into practical provisions. It always has 974 been the difficulty as regards tariff legislation, and it is because of that difficulty that the right hon. Gentleman desires to choose with such discretion words like "abnormal," which no one can understand. That is what drives this sort of legislation underground, eventually to be worked out in a hole-and-corner manner away from the public eye; and this scheme will no doubt go underground, and there it will fester and poison the whole trade of the country. Once it gets launched on this country, some more capable doctor will be required to cure the disorder, and many of those who voted for the National party at the last election, when they experience the effects of this ill-advised and ill-digested piece of fanaticism, will regret the course which they then took.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
The course of the discussion to-day has been marked by a feature on which the House has every reason to congratulate itself. There have been more maiden speeches made since a quarter to four this afternoon than at any other time in the history of this House, and I would venture to say that there have been no maiden speeches made at any time on a higher level. We who are old stagers have reason to be glad to think that the succession is falling into such able hands.
I need not pass through all the points that have been raised in the course of this long discussion, but they have covered a very wide field. We have discussed the machinery by which this scheme is to be operated. We have heard the case put of industries which at the present time are suffering from great depression, and the case of the employés in these industries has been voiced most eloquently from many quarters. I have had inquiries made of me personally from my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), who at one time had charge of our Post Office organisation, as to the position of agriculture. [Interruption.] I have no doubt that what he had charge of he did very well, but he asked in particular about the position of agriculture. I am afraid I can only repeat what I said yesterday and the day before on that subject. The agricultural problems of this country will be treated by themselves as a whole. The Government are at work on those 975 problems now, and if my Noble Friend will be a little patient, I hope that he will in a short time have reason to express his satisfaction.
He knows as well as I do how very complex our agricultural industry is. I often hear people speak of it, as I have myself at this moment, in the singular. It is indeed a group of industries, and every one of those groups is equally entitled to consideration. It would be a pity to make a mistake with regard to our agricultural industries which, while doing good to one, might do harm to two or three. It is therefore necessary but, I think, not unfair that the Government should ask that they should be allowed a little time in which to co-ordinate their proposals and bring them before the House as a whole. I hope my Noble Friend will not think I am burking the question when I deal with it in that way, but we have decided, that it is not germane to this Bill, which has a special object and is really framed with the intention of covering a comparatively narrow ground, and covering it effectively. What the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down wants is that we should cover it ineffectively.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Oh, yes. The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks with great contempt of our taking action to-day. It is only six days ago that he was reminding the House how necessary it was. He went so far as to say that he would not trust the head of this Government to take action. The head of this Government, he said, was out for inquiries, committees and commissions, and, when the head of the Government, along with his colleagues in the Government, do take action, the hon. and learned Gentleman finds fault with them. No longer is the head of the Government wasting time in inquiries, committees and commissions. He takes action, and the hon. and learned Gentleman says, "That is all wrong; he ought to have done nothing."
If he is agitated about the Bill, let me clear his mind of the doubts that have arisen. First he wants to know what is meant by the six months limitation. If he will look again at the last Clause, he will find that it means exactly what it says. The Act will come to an end in six months unless Parliament cares to 976 renew it, and with the lapse of the Act, the Orders must lapse too. I hope that that suffices for him. At any rate, the evil that he foresees is to be limited to half a year. He asks what is meant by the qualification in Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 with regard to Empire produce. Exactly the same phrase has been used again and again, year after year since 1919. It means exactly now what it meant in 1919, and what it meant in 1920 and every subsequent year. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to know what that means, I must refer him to the records of his own courts, where the point has been clearly defined. He asked what is meant by the value. The value of the articles for the purpose of this Bill is, of course, the value before they are taxed; otherwise, how are you to know what the 100 per cent. ad valorem duty is to be?
With great respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he has asked questions which are not worthy of him. I would remind him of exactly what has been the experience, not only of the Government Departments, but of the traders of this country on this very question. The definition of the value, which I presume is one of the things which he wanted to get at, has been adopted for all ad valorem duties since 1915; that is to say, the McKenna Duties enacted in that year, the Safeguarding of Key Industries Duties in 1921, the German Reparations levy in 1921, the Silk and McKenna Duties in 1925, and the later Safeguarding Duties. Its working is perfectly well known to traders, shipping agents, and Customs House officers. Therefore, the hon. and learned Gentleman need not feel at all anxious about that subject. Now I find, greatly to my surprise, that the hon. and learned Gentleman is standing up here tonight as the protagonist of Free Trade. He welcomes the Free Traders, because he no doubt holds exactly the same view. Only six days ago, speaking for his friends, he said:We believe that the question of Protection or Free Trade has no special application to the present critical state of affairs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1931; col. 285, Vol. 259.]If that be so, why does he object?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will wait until next week, he will see something different. The fact is that what the hon. and learned Gentleman detests is that we are doing anything at all. The time has arrived when we cannot allow the movements of even the last few weeks to pass without notice. We have been, asked whether we have any reasons to justify a departure from the views which we held, which I held, in June and July of this year. My views as expressed in the months of June and July were quite correct—for June and July. But many things have altered since then—[Laughter.] I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite are thinking about the position of parties in this House, but what I am thinking about is the trade and commerce of this country.
Let me point out, in case we have forgotten, what has happened since July. We are on an entirely new system of currency; the gold basis has gone. That in itself would justify our taking a new survey of the situation, and, if necessary, taking new action. Our foreign investments are now yielding a mere fraction of what we got out of them two or three years ago, and that is providing for us an entirely new problem in the payment of our foreign debts. The margin of our merchanting profits, which are another important item of our invisible exports, is, owing to the world-wide fall in prices, down to a lower level than has ever been known in the history of this country. Finally, shipping profits have reached a lower level than has been known since the era of steam arrived. Everyone of those things provides sufficient justification for our taking a new survey and facing new problem without allowing the predilections of the past, or, if you like, the ideas of June and July, to interfere. What hon. Gentlemen opposite do not realise is that trade is never the same year after year. A very wise man, from whom I learned nearly all that I know about commerce, used to tell me over and over again, "The trade of to-morrow is never the trade of yesterday." We have to adapt ourselves to new conditions if we want to keep our heads above water, and it is about time that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have passed through many "vicissitudes, should realise that when we are living under a set of new conditions we must apply remedies which only a few months ago would have been unnecessary.
978 I turn to one or two of the important questions put to me in the course of the Debate. I have been asked whether it is true that there is an abnormal increase, or, indeed, any increase, in importations into this country. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out earlier in this discussion that although in some instances values have gone down that was very largely due to the worldwide fall in prices. In point of fact, the quantities imported have gone up. In Class III articles, which we are about to deal with, importations have increased. If we take 100 as being the unit of 1924 quantities—[Interruption.] I take 1924 because it happens to be a suitable year. [HON. MEMBERS: "For your purpose ‡"] No, to afford a general comparison and a fair estimate of how we stand to-day. I do not take 1920 or 1921 figures, because everybody knows that the values of 1920 and 1921 are out of date. The drop went down 200, 300 or 400 per cent. in many commodities. I do not take the figures of 1923, because things were still not settled. By 1924 we had reached what we thought was rock-bottom. I will compare the 1924 quantities with the first three quarters of this year. Taking the unit for 1924 as 100, in the first quarter of this year the unit worked out at 120½, in the second quarter at 127½, and in the third quarter at 133½, and it is still rising.
How far is it to rise before we are to take action? Are we to allow this abnormal flow into this country under all sorts of influences, international as well as mercantile, with destructive effects upon our own interests, merely because the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite says, "This raises some question in my mind as to whether or not we are infringing some commercial treaty "? There is nothing proposed in this Bill which will infringe any commercial treaty into which this country has entered, but we do claim for this country the same freedom in regard to our trade and our fiscal system as is enjoyed by every other country in the world. It is within the limits of that freedom that we ask the House to give us these powers, and I can assure the House that they will not be abused, because we are just as much alive to the delicacy of British industry and commerce as any hon. Gentleman opposite We know how narrow the margins are by which prosperity is retained. We are 979 well aware of the fact that you must not ruin the bootmaker by putting an abnormal price on boot leather. Those are the simple things which we learned in the schoolroom. What we claim is that this House should have the ultimate say in these matters. We shall be answer-
§ able to Parliament, and I am prepared to come here once a week if necessary to stand my trial.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 376; Noes, 47.981
|Division No. 7.]||AYES.||[10.46 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Colman, N. C. D.||Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Colville, Major David John||Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. p. G.||Conant, R. J. E.||Hanley, Dennis A.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Cook, Thomas A.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Allen, Maj. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd, W)||Cooke, James D.||Harbord, Arthur|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Copeland, Ida||Hartland, George A.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Craven-Ellis, William||Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)|
|Aske, Sir William Robert||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cross, R. H.||Herbert, George (Rotherham)|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Crossley, A. C.||Hlliman, Dr. George B.|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. B.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Holdsworth, Herbert|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Davison, Sir William Henry||Hornby, Frank|
|Balniel, Lord||Dawson, Sir Philip||Horobin, lan M.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Dickie, John P.||Howard, Tom Forrest|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Donner, P. W.||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Dower, Captain A. V. G.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Beaumont, R. E. B. (Portsm'th, Centr'l)||Drewe, Cedric||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Duckworth, George A. V.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Duggan, Hubert John||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)|
|Bernays, Robert||Duncan, James A.L.(Kensington, N.)||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Dunglass, Lord||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Denman||Eales, John Frederick||Inskip, Sir Thomas W. H.|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Eastwood, John Francis||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Edge, Sir William||James, Wing-Corn. A. W. H.|
|Blindell, James||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Jamieson, Douglas|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Elliot, Major Walter E.||Janner, Barnett|
|Borodale, Viscount||Ellis, Robert Geoffrey||Jennings, Roland|
|Bossom, A. C.||Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Jesson, Major Thomas E.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Elmley, Viscount||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Erskine-Boist, Capt. C. C. (Blk'pool)||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Ker, J. Campbell|
|Briant, Frank||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Kimball, Lawrence|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Everard, W. Lindsay||Knight, Holford|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Fraser, Captain Ian||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Fremantie, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Fuller, Captain A. E. G.||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Leckie, J. A.|
|Burghley, Lord||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Burnett, John George||Gibson, Charles Granville||Lees-Jones, John|
|Butler, Richard Austen||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Butt, sir Alfred||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Caine, G. R. Hall||Gledhill, Gilbert||Levy, Thomas|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-|
|Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley)||Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Goldie, Noel B.||Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Gower, Sir Robert||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. G'n)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R.(prtsmth., S.)||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Granville, Edgar||Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Graves, Marjorie||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Lyons, Abraham Montagu|
|Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Mabane, William'|
|Chotzner, Alfred James||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Guy, J. C. Morrison||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Seaham)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hales, Harold K.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||McEwen, J. H. F.|
|McKeag, William||Pickering, Ernest H.||Soper, Richard|
|McKie, John Hamilton||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Pike, Cecil F.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|McLean, Major Alan||Potter, John||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Pybus, Percy John||Stanley, Hon. O. F, C. (Westmorland)|
|Magnay, Thomas||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (M'dlothlan)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Stewart, William J.|
|Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Ramsbotham, Herswald||Stones, James|
|Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Ramsden, E.||Storey, Samuel|
|Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Rankin, Robert||Stourton, John J.|
|Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Ratcliffe, Arthur||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Marjorlbanks, Edward||Reed, Arthur C, (Exeter)||Stuart-Crichton, Lord C.|
|Martin, Thomas B.||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Reid, James S. C. (Sterling)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Mayhew, Lieut-Colonel John M.||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Remer, John R.||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Millar, James Duncan||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.||Taylor, vice-Admiral E. A.(Pd'gt'n, S.)|
|Mills, Sir Frederick||Renwick, Major Gustav A.||Templeton, William P.|
|Milne, Charles||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Thorn, Lieut-Colonel John Gibb|
|Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw-||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)||Thomas, James P. L (Hereford)|
|Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Robinson, John Roland||Thompson, Luke|
|Mitcheson, G. G.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Molson, A. Harold Elsdale||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Thomson, Mitchell-, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Ross, Ronald D.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Rothschild, James L. de||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Moreing, Adrian C.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Train, John|
|Morgan, Robert H.||Runge, Norah Cecil||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Morrison, William Shephard||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Muirhead, Major A. J.||Russell, Hamer Field (Shef'ld, B'tslde)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Munro, Patrick||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Nall, Sir Joseph||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Nall-Caln, Arthur Ronald N.||Salmon, Major Isldore||ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Natlon, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Salt, Edward W.||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Wedderburn,Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Normand, Wilfrid Gulld||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|North, Captain Edward T.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Nunn, William||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|O'Connor, Terence James||Savery, Samuel Servington||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Scone, Lord||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Selley, Harry R.||Wilis, Wilfrid O.|
|Palmer, Francis Noel||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Patrick, Colin M.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Peake, Captain Osbert||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Pearson, William G.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Peat, Charles U,||Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's Unv., Belfast)||Womersley, Walter James|
|Penny, Sir George||Skelton, Archibald Noel||Wood, Major M. McKenzie (Banff)|
|Perey, Lord Eustace||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Perkins, Walter R. D.||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Petherick, M,||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Somervell, Donald Bradley||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bliston)||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)||Mr. Russell Rea and Lieut.-Colone|
|Sir A. Lambert Ward.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maxton, James|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hicks, Ernest George||Milner, Major James|
|Batey, Joseph||Hirst, George Henry||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hopkinson, Austin||Price, Gabriel|
|Buchanan, George||Jenkins, Sir William||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, J. J. (West Ham. Silvertown)||Thorne, William James|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Kirkwood, David||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Joslah|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, John James||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhouqhton)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Duncan, Charles (Derby, Claycross)||Lunn, William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Edwards, Charles||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||McGovern, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Mr. Duncan Graham and Mr. John.|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.