Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £84,690, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, and Subordinate Departments, including certain Services arising out of the War."—[NOTE.—£95,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
I hope the Committee will not expect me to give a digest of the Trade and Navigation Returns in making this opening statement. We are able now, some time after the beginning of the crisis from which we are slowly emerging, to take a survey of the industries which have been affected by national and international movements, and to form some view as to the success or failure of the policy which has been applied to them. I need hardly remind the Committee that we are the most highly industrialised country in Europe, that our commercial activities extend far outside this Continent and are still the greatest in the world, and that in transport we take the lead in quality as well as in volume. It is because of our world-wide interests that whatever happens in any part of the world is bound to have an effect, direct certainly, and it may be indirect, upon our great industries, our commercial relations and our shipping. The trade of Europe is much the most important to which we devote ourselves. One-third of our foreign trade was until recently European trade, but with, as one of our publicists said recently, a Europe which is half angry and half afraid, there has been a very great shrinkage in European traffic.
1012 We should have suffered very much more had it not been for the action taken by the Government since last autumn. Our action has not been, as it has turned out, too hasty. We took practical steps in November and December last not a moment too soon, and we are able now to look upon the effect of the policy with some satisfaction. We have cut off the imports of a large quantity of goods with which we could most easily afford to dispense. We have cut down the luxuries imported into this country to a very much lower figure. Non-essentials which we have had to buy have been so diminished that our purchasing capacity has been quite sufficient for the purpose. The Abnormal Importations Orders of last winter appear to have kept down the imports into this country by at least £8,000,000 directly and some £18,000,000 or £17,000,000 directly and indirectly. That has been all to the good, and has enabled us, while reserving our purchasing power abroad for more pressing needs, to give to our industries at home such an impetus as they have not received at any time since 1921.
It is true that the number of industries thus affected is comparatively small, but no one moving about the industrial districts of England will have failed to observe that in the West. Biding of Yorkshire, for instance, there is greater activity than they have known for years past. Not only have most of the mills ceased to work short time, but many of them are working overtime. There appears to be every sign of a revival in some branches, though not in all, of the cotton trade. The manufacture of electrical machinery proceeds apace, and we have retained our foreign as well as our home customers.
If we were to take the measure of the activities of British trade from exports alone it would be found that we have suffered less in the world shrinkage of trade than has any other country. It may not give us much satisfaction to know that the decrease in the first quarter of this year below the first quarter of last year is about £11,000,000, but we get some satisfaction out of a comparison with the shrinkage in the trade of the United States, in the figures published by the German Government, and those which have recently been issued by the French and 1013 the Netherlands Governments. Whereas our diminution has been 11 per cent. in January to March, and taking December to February has been 14 per cent., if we take the latter period and deal purely in dollars, the United States shrinkage has amounted to no less than 35 per cent., the German figures show a fall of 21 per cent., the French a fall of 33 per cent., and the Netherlands of more than 34 per cent. That shows that on the whole we have been holding our own, and rather more than holding our own, in comparison with our competitors.
It is only about eight months since a French author of great ability, and in command of a very pungent English style, wrote a series of articles in the "Times" in which he declared that we had lost a great deal of our national quality, that initiative had passed away from this country, and that we were demoralising our people by paying not only those who were in poverty, but those who were not in poverty, doles of which they were not in full need. He accused us of fostering the weak and the idle, and declared that we were incapable of any national or individual sacrifice; indeed, that we were showing every sign of national decadence. I wish Mr. Siegfried would come to England now and spend some time in Lancashire and Yorkshire and the industrial districts of London; and I would not like him to omit the area of the City of London. Then he would find, first of all, that our industries have adapted themselves to the needs of our time, that our workpeople have shown a tranquility and determination unrivalled in the world, and that in the General Election they made it perfectly clear that they were not going to allow nearer and narrower material interests to interfere with the national well-being. We may be accused of having slid off the Gold Standard, and by that means sacrificed the leadership of the financial world, but it is true, as Lord Revelstoke said yesterday, "While we have given up the leadership, nobody else has been able to take it." I commend to those Members of the House who have correspondence with France the advantages to be gained to our country if the true facts are made known. The advantages to our country were not as published in the "Times" last summer, but as we gather them from the official returns of to-day.
1014 May I make some reference to the best Measure of all of our industrial activity? The publication of unemployment returns does not do the business well, because the number on the unemployed register is made up of men subject to various qualifications and limitations and the figures of last year are not exactly comparable with the figures of this year. The Ministry of Labour have taken some trouble to find out exactly how many individuals may be regarded as actually in employment. Whereas there was a very heavy diminution in the number of those who were in employment at the end of March, 1931, compared with the end of September, 1930—well over 250,000—there was an increase of very nearly 250,000 at the end of March, 1932, compared with the end of September; 1931. Indeed, the change is so remarkable that compared with what would have happened if the decline had continued, we have improved our position by no less than 486,000. I think that shows that the volume of our trade has been well maintained.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Does that mean that there is that number more people employed in industry this year than there was at this time last year?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
That is exactly what it does mean, and I put it down very largely to the Government policy. While every other country in the world shows a heavy decrease we alone are able to show an increase in the number of persons employed, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is anxious that that should be so, because what he is concerned about is the number of people employed. The policy of the Government has always been directed to that end, and as far as we have been able to ascertain that movement has not yet exhausted itself.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I would like to draw attention to the new industries which have come to this country. Nothing is more, remarkable than the way in which during the last few months and up to this very day applications for industrial sites in this country have been pouring in from abroad from enterprising firms anxious to start operations here, and of course, if they do that, they will employ 1015 British labour. Let me give some instances. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there have been over 390 applications from foreign manufacturers at one time or another during the past few months, contemplating the establishment of factories in this country. No less than 70 British manufacturing concerns in this country are arranging to set up new undertakings with the assistance of foreign experts. These new concerns are very often under the direction of foreign experts, but it should not be imagined that this is detrimental to British interests. But for refugees who found their way into this country from France there would be very little textile industry in this country. It was a refugee at Kidderminster who laid the foundation of the carpet industry, and so we can run through the list of great industries which have been built up in that way. A larger number of people are taking an interest in the direction and organising of factories in this country, and we see some of our great industries growing, and this is bound to increase the employment of our people.
I have here a number of applications which have been made, and let us see what has actually been done. Production has actually been started in 43 of those factories within the last month, partly in factories which have been adapted and partly in factories hastily erected. Those factories have been built here by men of various nationalities, German, American, Belgian, and Swiss. They include businesses like knitwear, ribbons, furnishing fabrics, and other textiles, clothing, the metal trade, electric radio apparatus, leather goods, toilet products, paper, and a number of other articles. As one looks down the list, it will be found that every one of the articles now being manufactured in those factories is covered by the importation orders of last winter, and they have been followed up by a wide range of duties, and I think we can safely predict for those duties exactly the same result.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
A very large number of them are articles which have never been produced here before. What I mean by new articles is that they are new to 1016 this country, and, if that be so, they must be employing more British men and women. That is all to the good, and the hon. Member ought not to express scepticism for that result, but thanks. Most of these new operations are in the area around London. Some people are doing their best to attract these new activities to areas where the older industries are languishing. The manufacturers of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the Midlands and the North East coast have done their best to make it clear to those who want to establish factories in this country that the old districts have a great advantage over the new ones, and they regard it as an advantage to encourage them to the old districts. There are districts where the industries are languishing, and some in which the old industries have died out entirely.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
This is not so much a question of British capital as of inventive skill. As to prices, they have no chance of permanent existence unless their prices are attractive to their customers. May I say that in dealing with these new enterprises I do not shut my mind to the advantages which come to the old industries from this new development. Unfortunately, one of the characteristics of our British industries is that we have so often led the way in the use of new machinery in the past, and then allowed the lead to be, taken from us. I came across an instance last week in connection with what are called fully-fashioned hosiery machines, which were invented in this country by an English engineer, but have not been used here to any great extent although they have been used in Germany and other countries. The number that has been used in this country is so small that the capital involved in it is comparatively negligible. Now the tendency has been to use more of these machines, and a number of second-hand machines have been bought and brought over here. If there had been anything like the enterprise and inventive skill used in the production and regular use of these machines as there 1017 was in their initial invention, they would never been the standard stock machines of Germany and Czechoslovakia.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to fine gauge hosiery machinery now being imported into this country, may I say that the same sort of machines can be made by Messrs. Cotton of Loughborough and by Messrs. Blackburn of Nottingham, quite equal in quality to anything that can be obtained.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I have no doubt that they can make them, but they have not been used as they should be. But now that fully-fashioned hosiery is a much more attractive article than ordinary hosiery, which owes its shape to being stretched out on a board when damp, instead of being woven to fit the limb. My hon. Friend, no doubt, would like to take part in this Debate on hosiery machinery. What I am saying is to show that we have very often ourselves to blame for not using the inventions of our own country and for allowing them to he adopted and used abroad. Now, under the impulse of new and internal enterprise, we are finding many more of these machines coming into use, but they cost about £2,000 apiece, and that involves a factory in a very large capital expenditure if it should proceed with their installation on anything like a commercial scale. These are not the only instances that can be given of inventions made in this country being neglected by those who might be thought most ready to use them.
No doubt hon. Members opposite will say that if these factories had been under State control, organised by State capital and run by those especially employed by the State for the purpose, there would have been none of this neglect of enterprise in the past. I do not know on what they would base that hope, but, speaking from my experience of State activity, I have never known any State Department ever dare, exercise the ordinary qualities of enterprise and adventure. On the contrary, the habit of all employés of the State is to play for safety. The only way to embark on new development is to show a spirit of adventure and take risks, which, naturally employés of the State are reluctant to take. They do not like to adventure with other people's money.
1018 They are very careful about that, and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition regards this with great hilarity, I would like him to mention a single case in which industry, as apart from service, has been a success under State control.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to mention one during the War? Sulphuric acid was produced at a cheaper price and more efficiently by State factories than anywhere else.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If we are going to conduct our industry in peace time on the conditions of war, I am afraid we shall make a great many mistakes, and one of the great mistakes would have been to have left sulphuric acid in the hands of the State. In these days of fierce competition, I venture to say the State would not have been able to hold its own. If the hon. and learned Member opposite is going to take illustrations from the War, he will be able to make a very long list, but not a list of industries which are able to live in a competitive world where they have no tied-house business such as a Government concern is, and where they would find it almost impossible to embark on new methods. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the manufacture of sulphuric acid. There was no new departure in the manufacture of sulphuric acid at that time.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
If the right hon. Gentleman will excuse my saying so, two perfectly modern plants which had no like in this country were put up by the State for the manufacture of sulphuric acid, and they resulted in a production cheaper than any pre-war price, although the War price was paid for the raw material.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that during the War a man had to be a congenital idiot if he could avoid making a profit.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The right hon. Gentleman is, or was, associated with an industry which knew a great deal more about profit-making during the War than the sulphuric acid industry. I did not mention profits; I said they were able to produce at a cost which was much cheaper.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I leave the Committee to judge as to whether private enterprise in time of peace can be conducted on a War-time basis. I say that neither he nor his right hon. Friend has mentioned a single instance of an industry in time of peace—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman assumes something which was not in my mind. I was smiling at him because he was proving the failure of certain private capitalists to utilise a certain machine in a proper manner, and I said to myself, "Well, we really could not do worse!"
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If all that my right hon. Friend has to say for himself is that he could not do worse, I make him a present of the deduction. May I say, for my own part, that I do not much mind whether an industry is conducted by the individual or by the State, providing it can be run on a profitable basis and is capable of employing British people. I do not see why we should be doctrinnaire on that subject any more than on any other. One thing is essential—that we should not squander our resources. Unless we leave our resources in the hands of those who are able to employ them with efficiency and by economic methods, and to those who are able to embark on new enterprise, prepared to adventure their own money, or what is entrusted to them, we are bound to live in a country with stagnant industry. I believe far more in the beneficial effects of sound inventions than I do in legislation dealing with industry. The only example we have at the present time of State action as regards industry outside this country, is that it is restricting international trade at a rate far in excess of anything in our own experience. The extension of prohibition and quotas, which have been looked upon with such great anxiety by those engaged in the coal trade, is one of the examples of State action which I do not think right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to copy. I do not suppose they wish to extend the quota system or prevent British coal going to foreign countries. They would be very glad if they could find anyone to buy our coal in any part of the world.
This brings me to the subject of quotas. Anxiety naturally has been shown in the coal trade regarding the 1020 extension of the quota system in France. The increased import duties led to correspondence between ourselves and the French Government which was consummated by the abolition of the 15 per cent. sur-tax. We are grateful to the French Government for acceding to our request and accepting our reasons. At the same time, the German Government have been extending the pressure of the quota system, and they have now cut down the amount of British coal which may be admitted into Germany to a comparatively low level—the lowest at any time since the War. We, naturally, found ourselves compelled to communicate with the German Government and to express very strongly our view as to the effect that it is likely to have on the trade between Germany and England. We had to point out that it is contrary to the Commercial Treaty which exists between the two countries, and that, moreover, we could not allow any discrimination against this country—for the same strict quotas are not applied to other countries as are applied to ourselves—to pass unnoticed. I am not able to report to the Committee to-day the progress made, except to say that communications are passing between us, of course, on a very friendly basis, and that we hope before long to be able to announce that the German Government have eliminated the element of discrimination from their present policy.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
It is a very simple one. Throughout the whole of last year Germany was anxious to cut down the amount of imports into her country, and, at the same time, keep her miners in employment. It began by a diminution in the amount of coal admitted into Germany, I think as far back as last summer. The figures of diminution, however, did not reach any seriously high level until the winter. They have gone up twice in two stages since then.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am afraid I cannot enter sufficiently far into the mind of the German Government to know the reasons for their policy. The fact is that they imposed a more severe restriction upon 1021 us than upon our competitors. These prohibitions and quota systems are obstacles to international trade, and I am bound to say directly affect one of our biggest industries, the coal trade, which is passing through as severe a depression as has ever been known. The remarkable thing is that the internal consumption of coal keeps up, and if we were to judge purely by employment figures it would he true to say that there were more people employed in the mining of coal in the first three months of this year than in the first three months of last year. I do not know the explanation except only the expansion of the home market, but it is a matter of satisfaction that, while the foreign trade has gone down, there appears to have been some increase in the home trade.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
For the first three months in this year, compared with the first three months of last year, I find that there were 50,000 fewer miners employed in the coal mining industry.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I will get the figures if the hon. Gentleman wants them. We do not want any dispute as to the facts. It surprised me very much when I saw the improvement in the figures. I shall be very glad to get them out in. detail and discuss them with the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Members. The fact that impresses my mind most at the present time is that the industries which have been causing us the greatest anxiety—iron and steel, coal, marine engineering and shipbuilding show no material signs of improvement, especially in their foreign trade. Shipbuilding is down to a lower ebb than we have ever known. It is a remarkable fact that in the month of February only one order for a new ship was placed in the whole of our great shipbuilding yards. That is a very serious fact for those employed in the shipyards and in marine engine works, and there appears to be no chance of a revival in the shipbuilding industry until there is a marked revival in the traffic of the world as a whole. When that comes, it will take some time for the world to absorb the laid-up tannage which is now lying idle, and it is not until that stage has been passed that there is any likelihood of any great improvement in shipbuilding as a whole, although orders of a 1022 special class may quite easily be placed from time to time.
I would like now to say something about a new departure in our Imperial policy, or, rather, an extension of our Imperial policy, which holds out a good deal of hope for us in the future. We are finding ourselves restricted in the trade of Europe; obstacles have been placed in the way of British imports finding their way into India; the state of China, although it has given a temporary spurt to British exports, is not likely to make a permanent demand for Lancashire goods in China towards which we can look with hope unless there is a complete restoration of law and order throughout the whole Chinese Empire. The prospect of our extending our markets in Europe has become smaller as the prohibitions to which I have referred have extended, and as the new States develop narrow, national economic policies without any consideration for their own wider interests or for the state of Europe as a whole. [Interruption.] We are not giving a lead in this matter. It is their own idea that these new States, set up under the Treaty of Versailles, should exist on a self-sufficing basis.
One thing is quite clear about the present policy of this country, and that is that we have no intention of trying to exist on a self-sufficing basis. We have within the confines of the British Empire the greatest possible variety of natural products; we have open markets or, at least, markets which are sentimentally inclined towards us; we have within our great range natural wealth of such variety and volume as to enable us, within the confines of the British Empire, to say that we are on a far more self-sufficing basis than other countries dare to aspire to. Before this summer is over, there will be a meeting at Ottawa of representatives of the Dominions and Colonies and of this country. We shall go to Ottawa with sentiment strongly in favour of Imperial action. We want to combine the interests of those who live in the various parts of the British Empire with the sentiment which binds them together. It is possible to do so on a basis which will not be, as some people imagine, merely a sordid haggling between States for preference advantages, but rather the conferring of benefits on those who are citizens of the British Empire.
1023 We speak far too largely of what is done by this country, and by this Dominion and that, whereas in fact trade is conducted, not by States, but by individuals. We want to make it, not only the desire, but the interest of the individuals who are concerned in the organisation of industries throughout the British Empire to trade within that Empire, and particularly with us. We have advantages which we can give to them; they have great advantages which they can give to us. We are already making considerable progress in sorting out the industries in which their benefits can be conferred with the greatest advantage upon us, and they are working as far as they can at their own schedules, in which they are examining certain industries in which they think they can most help. These are simple, businesslike proposals, but they all point in one direction, and that is the direction of extending the area of trade within the Empire, freeing it from many of its obstacles, and making it a common interest for all alike to buy and sell more freely. We can do so with great success, I venture to say, within the confines of the British Empire, but we do not intend to end there. That is the first step. The next step is to extend the area of our world trade among those who are also ready to confer advantages upon us. By the development of an Imperial policy and a freer trade policy throughout the world, we get rid of many obstacles which now exist, choking the channels of traffic in Europe and elsewhere, and we hope to add to the general volume of exchange by buying and selling goods of every kind, raw materials and manufactures alike. These are prosaic matters, and, unless they are inspired by something more than the narrowest self-interest, they are not likely to lead us very far.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I think that all economic matters which concern the various countries composing the British Empire might well be discussed; I would not shut the door on anything. Of one thing I can assure my right hon. Friend, and that is that, in any efforts we make to extend the trade of the British Empire, we are not going to try to do so on a basis which would make us exclusive, 1024 that is to say, would shut us off from the rest of the world. Do not let us put out of our minds the outlook of the Dominions themselves. You cannot imagine Canada, for instance, wishing to shut off her trade from the United States of America. She will, we trust, continue to extend the preferences which are already given to individual traders, merchants, manufacturers and producers alike in this country, but we must not imagine that this policy means that she is going to have nothing more to do with the United States of America, any more than it means that we are going to have nothing to do with the foreign countries in which we have most excellent and welcome customers. We must proceed by stages, and we have chosen the course of making our position secure in this country first. That we have already done. The next stage is to make sure that we can extend our traffic within the confines of the British Empire. That we hope to do, and, ultimately, to extend our trade along freer channels throughout the whole world.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The House will have listened with a good deal of disappointment to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I should have thought, in the situation of world trade, and the situation in which this country finds itself, that when the President of the Board of Trade in a National Government made a statement, we should have had something of a broad outlook, some attempt to explain world conditions, some idea of Government policy, and some appreciation of the things that matter. Instead, the right hon. Gentleman has contented himself, in the main, with playing up to the least intelligent of his supporters. He started on a, note of self-satisfaction and complacency, but, if he is really pleased with the signs of reviving trade at the present time, he is pleased with a very little. He gave us one or two instances, but even in these he was not consistent. He just threw off as a little aside the statement that there were some unsatisfactory signs in the situation. He said that there were no signs of anything happening to our advantage in the coal trade, which is a fairly important industry, or in shipbuilding, another very important industry, or in the cotton trade, but apart from these, he said, things are looking lovely in the garden. In order to fill out his speech, he proceeded to deal with 1025 a number of trivial matters, and tried to trail his coat in the hope that Members on these benches would tread on it, but he got his corns trodden on instead, because he came up against someone who knew a good deal more about the matter than he did.
To anyone with a broad outlook, the picture given by the right hon. Gentleman was extremely gloomy. After telling us that this country's greatest trade was with Europe, he drew satisfaction from the fact that other European countries were in a worse condition than ourselves—that our principal customers were in a more ruinous condition than we were. Then he proceeded to contrast the condition of this country with the picture painted by the egregious Mr. Siegfried last summer, and said that he wished he could bring Mr. Siegfried over and show him this country. I have no doubt that Mr. Siegfried would be welcomed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, because he did his work, which was extremely successful in adding to the financial crisis, by that steady process of depreciation of all things in this Country which has been carried on by them.
I will deal with one or two of the points which the right hon. Gentleman made, before drawing his attention to some of the things which I think really matter in the present outlook. He talked of new industries. It is, no doubt, very gratifying that new industries are going to be started in this country, but I would like to know why some of those industries were not started here before. The right hon. Gentleman suggests, of course, that it is all due to the tariff, but my impression is that the principal instance which he mentioned was one that I heard of a year ago, before there was any tariff at all.
He proceeded to do what I am sure will arouse the ire of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), namely, to launch a considerable attack on the enterprise of the British manufacturer and the British capitalist. He drew a picture of opportunities passing by our business men. With the hon. Member for South Croydon behind him, he took alarm and so launched an attack on State enterprise, and there he got more than he bargained for. Then he proceeded to talk about 1026 squandering resources, and I was at once reminded of a passage in the Macmillan Report with regard to the squandering of resources. The right hon. Gentleman is now welcoming foreign capital into this country, and he says that British capital must be very carefully used, and must not be squandered. Has the right hon. Gentleman any proposal or information to put before the House with regard to the preservation of the interests of the British investor? We read in the Macmillan Report of companies which had raised a capital of £117,000,000, of which the market value had gone down to £66,000,000, representing a loss of 47 per cent. We read of the huge proportion of these companies which really had no assets at all; and, apparently, we are still to continue to allow the direction of capital into industry to be in the hands of such of these gentlemen as have not now come into State employment in His Majesty's prisons. On every occasion on which industrial matters have been discussed in the House, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government side have always told us that we must remember that there is a crisis on. We have so far had no statement whatever from the Government as to what is their policy for this country. We have only had emergency expedients introduced. They did not cover a Government policy. They were introduced as desirable things by certain Members of the Government, and at the same time they were recommended to us as thoroughly disastrous by other Members of the Government. Perhaps that is the reason why the right hon. Gentleman, who naturally holds a kind of middle position between the dissentient Liberals and the triumphant Tariff Reformers, gave us such a colourless statement. All he could do was to tell us that we were getting through our difficulties and to claim success for some of the legislation that he had introduced. All he has done, as came out at the end of his speech, was to follow the example of the less enlightened States of Europe —a kind of industrial Balkanisation. The attitude of the National Government has been most admirably described in a book by Sir Arthur Salter called "Recovery," which I hope will be very widely read. I suppose he is one of the 1027 most distinguished servants of the world, and he is a man who speaks with impartiality and detachment:Everywhere men fly to new tariffs and restrictions, to nationalist policies, domestic currencies, parochial purchasing, and personal hoarding, like frightened rabbits each scurrying to his own burrow.The right hon. Gentleman, first of all, gave us the scurrying to our little burrow here, and the only mitigation of it that he suggested was that we should all scurry into a larger burrow called the Empire.
I wish to look at this matter of our trade from two positions, the immediate crisis which we recognise we have to meet, the depression in our industry, its consequent unemployment, its difficulties in currency, exchange and everything else. We all admit that storm. I also want to consider the general post-War developments of British industry, what I might call the permanent wave from which we suffer. I want to consider these phenomena from three different points of view: first of all, the economic position of the country as a unit of wealth production; and, secondly, from the point of view of the unemployment problem. Those two are not exactly identical problems. You can have a very great increase in the production of wealth without having any comparable increase in employment. That is what you have been having in the last 10 years and what you have in the world. Thirdly, I want to discuss it from the point of view of the local distribution of unemployment and the local distribution of declining and of new industrial activities.
Take, first of all, the question of the immediate crisis. We have followed in the crisis the habits of what we used to consider the least experienced and enlightened nations in restricting imports. During the last three months, judging by the last returns that we have had, our imports have fallen by £16,000,000. You may say that is a great effort to try to restore our balance of trade, and that although we managed to increase our importation of raw materials by rather more than £2,500,000. At the same time, in those same three months, the export of the produce of this country has fallen by £11,000,000, so that, when you look at that £16,000,000, all but £5,000,000 merely means that our busi- 1028 ness as a trading nation has gone down, and that only £5,000,000 represents any redress of the balance of trade. It is merely a fall in international trade.
I have been looking at the figures to see what is happening in the world generally. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a series of figures about what is happening in Germany and other countries, and he seemed to take comfort from it. I cannot conceive why he should. I suppose, if he was carrying on trade as a village baker, the bankruptcy and failure of all the other people in the village would cause him to dance with joy. See what has happened. Imports and exports in January, 1932, as compared with the average for 1931, show a general decrease all the way round. Germany's imports go down by 23 per cent., and her exports by 31 per cent., Austria 27 per cent. and 46 per cent., France's imports go down by 35 per cent. and her exports by 29 per cent., and Canada's imports go down by 35 per cent. and her exports by 25 per cent. The story is repeated right the way through. In the scramble for the trade balance the only real effect is that you are steadily bringing world trade to a standstill. The imports that are falling off are broadly from those nations that are our best customers—Germany, the Argentine, Australia, France, India, Canada and so forth. It is apparently some cause for rejoicing because we are not so badly off as they are. The real trouble all through with regard to the crisis and the balance of trade has been the falling off of our exports, visible and invisible.
The next point to which I call attention is that we have this fall in international trading all the world over and that, of course, has had an enormous effect on our unemployment figures. What is the good of the right hon. Gentleman playing with the unemployment figures and making little suggestions about this and that trade? He has not dealt in the least with the broad problem. The broad problem is that, during these two years of economic blizzard, of our increased figures of unemployment, 900,000 are directly due to the falling off of our export trade. I want to know what the right hon. Gentleman is doing in the way of policy to try to restore our export trade. It is no good saying it is true we have lost a great deal of our export 1029 trade in coal, iron and steel, but cotton is slightly better—though even so it is £1,000,000 below 1930—but only because of the anti-Japanese boycott. What is the good of making a great parade of those figures and not facing the real question which is the very heavy fall in our big exports? What is the good of telling us that two or three factories are to be built here and there? It may be a nice little swallow, but it does not make a summer.
Have the Government any idea of whither we are tending in industry? I should like to know whether the Cabinet has ever sat down seriously to discuss the trade position. If not, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will insist that they should do so. I know the Prime Minister will not like it, but the right hon. Gentleman must try to bring him up to the scratch. Further, has the right hon. Gentleman any industrial plan for the future of the country? Having built up this country on the basis of certain great industries, mainly for export, we are utterly failing to recover our trade and to bring employment to the people in those trades. Our export of cotton piece goods has come down to 1,716,000 as against 7,057,000 in 1913. That is a terrific fall. There is a slight pull up this year, but, taking the peak year, 1929, we scarcely exported half in quantity of what we did in 1913. Our iron and steel exports in 1929 were 4.3 as against 4.9 in 1913 an actual decrease in volume. You have a similar shrinkage in coal.
We sometimes hear people talking as if everything would be all right if we got back to 1929 prices and 1929 conditions. It only shows what comparison can do. If you are living in very miserable circumstances and see some circumstances which are not quite as miserable as your own, you begin to think that is quite palatial by comparison with your own. Let us suppose that we manage to get back to 1929, or even to 1913, and recapture the markets that we lost for our coal, iron and steel products, cotton, wool, shipbuilding and the chief export industries. Suppose that we produced actually as much as we did in 1913, we should not have solved the unemployment problem because of the extraordinary increase in productivity. I do not know what attention the Government have given to the Macmillan Report. It 1030 was overshadowed by another report that came out shortly afterwards, but the figures with regard to productivity are most extraordinary. In all the principal industries, coal, iron, steel, engineering and textiles, you find the productivity per person employed increasing in a short space of time by an enormous percentage. That followed on a very big increase from the pre-War days to post-War days—
§ Whereupon the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod being come with a Message, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.