§ Considered in Committee. [Progress, 18th October.]
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
§ IMPERIAL PREFERENCES, SECURITY OF PREFERENCES GRANTED TO THE DOMINION OF CANADA, AND GENERAL PROVISION FOR GIVING EFFECT TO THE AGREEMENTS AND ANNOUNCEMENT MADE AT THE IMPERIAL ECONOMIC CONFERENCE HELD AT OTTAWA.
Question again proposed,
That it is expedient—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Yesterday the Agreements arrived at at Ottawa which are embodied in these Resolutions were commended to the Committee in two speeches from the Government Front Bench. There was the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the speech of the Prime Minister, and I think everybody must have been struck by the extraordinary difference between them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke lucidly and at some length, and he told us a certain amount, at all events, about these Resolutions. I do not say that he was remarkably enthusiastic, but he was enthusiasm itself compared with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister comes down here to commend to us the wonderful success achieved by his colleagues at the Ottawa Conference. It is not often in these days that the Prime Minister comes to the House of Commons, but, so great is his enthusiasm, so proud is 177 he of the achievement at Ottawa, that he comes on this occasion to tell us all about it. But you can search his speech from beginning to end without finding a single word of commendation of what was done at Ottawa. There is not a suggestion in the whole of his speech that Ottawa is going to do any good whatever to the people of this country. There is not the slightest allusion to any advantages that we are to gain from Ottawa. There is much of what we have to give to the Dominions, but there is practically nothing of what we have to get from the Dominions. On this great historic occasion the Prime Minister spent most of his time in a harlequinade performance with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), the Prime Minister being the clown, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen the policeman, who was hit over the head with the sausages, as in the harlequinade.
The Prime Minister was very careful not to refer to any of these specific proposals, and I cannot think that he has thrown much light on these Agreements. I listened to his speech or most of it, and I have read it with very great care, and I cannot find in it any particular exposition of principle. He tells us that a Treaty is not a Statute; that it is "part of a policy," that it is "partly a finance affair." That is not very lucid. He tells us that, if this policy succeeds, we are going to "establish certain sources of labour and of income." I have given a great deal of thought to that statement, and I hope we shall be told later on what it means—whether it means labour in this country or in another country, whose income it is to be and from what source it is coming, because that is one of the most lucid statements that I have come across in this speech. It is the only thing that deals with the economic aspect at all. But that is what we have to put up with.
The Prime Minister is faced with a situation which might alarm any statesman, He is faced with a trade situation in this country which is almost unparalleled. He is faced with 3,000,000 unemployed and a state of growing disturbance up and down the country owing to their condition. And all he does is to come here and give us this kind of performance. Of course, his statement has been filled out a, little to-day by the 178 optimistic Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) who, this afternoon, told us to get on with the job because this was going to be a wonderful thing to deal with unemployment. But what did the Prime Minister say about that point? The Prime Minister said that tariffs and Free Trade had nothing to do with unemployment. He said that unemployment is "a social problem relating to the constitution of society itself." The Prime Minister realises that tariffs are no good for solving the problem of unemployment. He realises the problem with which he is faced, and he says that it depends on the constitution of society itself, and yet he sends the principal Members of his Ministry out of this country to spend months and months talking of nothing else but tariffs, and when they come back here they take the first time of the House of Commons in talking about tariffs—which the Prime Minister admits are going to do nothing whatever to deal with unemployment.
It is worth while to examine some of the very peculiar statements made by the Prime Minister with regard to the origin of the Ottawa Conference. The Prime Minister has a curious habit whenever he speaks in this House, or whenever he speaks at a luncheon given to him, or whenever he writes in the "News Letter" which is his chief medium for addressing the general public. He is always endeavouring to prove that his past colleagues are really responsible for everything that he is doing. He seems to have an uneasy conscience and is always trying to put the blame somewhere else. So, when he came to deal with this Ottawa Conference, he appealed across the Floor to us and said:No one knew better than hon. Gentlemen opposite especially those who were at the Departments. They knew the difficulties that would be met with. They knew that when Mr. Bennett issued the invitation which the late Government accepted.He says that we all knew that, if we accepted the invitation to go to Ottawa, it meant that there must be taxes on food. I happen to have been one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues who was present at most of the Imperial Conference of 1930 and I know what occurred. I know the opinions expressed by various Ministers, but I do not believe very much in revealing what happens in Cabinets and secret places. I confine 179 myself to public statements on the matter. The Prime Minister says that his then colleagues were perfectly awarethat this Conference, if successful, could only result in something in the nature of tariffs and that foodstuffs would have to be included somehow or other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1932; cols. 138 and 139, Vol. 269.]The right hon. Gentleman says that the Labour Government accepted the decision to go to Ottawa and that if they wanted Ottawa to be a success they knew there would have to be taxes on food. That was his statement last night. It is curious that he did not say so at the time. What was actually said and what was the actual declaration at the 1930 Imperial Conference?His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom stated that they were opposed to any policy involving duties on foodstuffs or raw materials.That was the declaration of policy and when it came to the question of meeting at Ottawa, the Conference made a special proviso thatthis reference is not to be construed as modifying the policies expressed on behalf of any of the Governments represented at this Conference.So, that policy stood. I have been able to refresh my memory upon these matters by referring to the speech made by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. It was enjoyable reading. It was a speech which he will remember very well, made when we came to discuss here what had happened at the Imperial Conference. I went a little further and looked into the questions which were then put by Members of the Conservative party. Again and again they tried to pin the right hon. Gentleman to a statement as to whether he was prepared to tax food and I admired the skill and ingenuity with which the right hon. Gentleman met them. Sometimes he turned off their queries with a laugh, sometimes he was silent. Of course, when the big Debate on Imperial Preference came on, the right hon. Gentleman had to declare himself and it was on that occasion that he described Mr. Bennett's proposals as "humbug." The whole question at issue at that time, as raised by the Leader of the Conservative party, was whether the then Government were or were not prepared to tax food and the answer came from the right hon. Gentleman the 180 Secretary of State for the Dominions in the most categorical manner, that they were not prepared to tax food. Later on that answer was reinforced by the present Viscount Snowden who said that they were not prepared to tax food.
Yet the Prime Minister now tells everybody that he always knew that if Ottawa was to be a success there must be a tax on food. But he always knew that his colleagues would not agree with that policy. He knew perfectly well that Mr. Snowden, as he was at that time, would not agree, and that others of his colleagues would not agree. I wonder of what colleagues was he thinking? I wonder what colleagues he thought were going to Ottawa when Ottawa came on? I think perhaps he had already made up his mind that he was going to throw over his then colleagues; that he had already decided that he preferred the Conservative party; that he already preferred the "Londonderry Air" to the "Red Flag." The right hon. Gentleman's statement in this respect supports an opinion which has been growing in my mind for some time, that August was only the occasion of a betrayal and was not the beginning. If what the Prime Minister said last night was correct, that when he set up the Ottawa Conference he knew and was persuaded that we must have taxes on food there, then he either deceived his colleagues, or he deceived the Dominion Prime Ministers, or he had made up his mind that if Ottawa was to be a success, he would have to have colleagues who believed in food taxes. Thanks largely to the right hon. Member for Darwen, he got a majority who believed in food taxes, and they went to Ottawa; and now he comes back with the rare and refreshing fruit, but it is curious that he does not commend it with any very great vigour. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for his speech last night, because now we can realise, I think, that we have heard the last about his colleagues who ran away, for it is quite clear that he had changed his views long before the August crisis.
We had a more interesting speech, I thought, as far as matter went, from the Chancellor of Exchequer, but it was rather notable how little space he gave to what this country was going to get 181 out of Ottawa. I do not know whether we shall hear more from the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, but I would advise him to look up the speech that he made in 1930, and I should like him to recall the extremely eloquent sentences in which he told us how dangerous it was to go in for these bargains. He was on the high level at that time, about blood being thicker than water, and how many of these bargains would destroy all that. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us much as to what we are to get from the Dominions, though he talked a good deal about what we are to give. As far as one can gather, we are to give a very large amount in extra prices on most of the food that the workers here consume, but they are to get in return "broad tendencies." Will a broad tendency bring us orders for British goods? Will a broad tendency fill the bellies of the unemployed?
I did not notice much enthusiasm in last night's proceedings until the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary led the cheers. I never expected to see that right hon. Gentleman leading cheers for the present Prime Minister; but I did not see much enthusiasm as the right hon. Gentleman proceeded in regard to the benefits that we are to get from Ottawa. We are to get merely the advantage of "broad tendencies." What do the leaders of industry say about these Agreements? What does the cotton industry say? Sir Kenneth Stewart, a man of some standing in the cotton trade, says:I see nothing in the cotton agreement that is going to bring any material benefit to the industry.Take wool. Mr. Arthur Hepworth, of the Huddersfield and other chambers of commerce, says:The whole of the woollen trade and the heavy woollen industry is disappointed with the Agreements.Another one, Mr. Gray, says:The hopes of Huddersfield for its wool textiles are now dashed, and the worst fears of those who have studied the mentality of Canadians and Australians have been confirmed. The concessions obtained for woollen fabrics are equivalent to lowering a seven foot, wall by one foot to enable a five foot man to see over it.It is curious how, after the return from Ottawa, Ottawa disappeared from the Press. When Ottawa was a hope, it loomed large in the daily Press, but once 182 the delegation had come back and the nakedness of the land had been exposed, it was fortunate that there were other things to take the place of Ottawa and that the papers were able to get on with lotteries and things of that kind.
When one comes to look at these Agreements, one finds that what we are to give is specific, definite, and for a certain period, but when one looks at what we are to get in return, one finds that everything is nebulous, uncertain, and dependent on the interpretation of various phrases. The question of whether an industry is not one that may succeed will arise, and representations are to be made on that point. Of course, we must never say anything against the tribunal. When you set up three men in the position of judges, you must never criticise them. We have set up certain gentlemen in this country with regard to tariffs, and the most notable point about them is that they seem to accept everything they are asked to do with wonderful willingness. It is to be the same in Canada, I suppose. The point of putting on men like that is that they are patriotic, and the whole point of the acceptance on the part of the Dominions is that the Dominions are to come first. I do not quarrel with that, but the question is: What kind of bargain did our Ministers make?
We can find out why these bargains were made, and why the Prime Minister said so little about the details of the bargains, if we look at his speech. He said that if we were not prepared to have food taxes, it would perhaps have been better to say we would not go, and he went on:However bad that might have been, at any rate it is something you could have faced. But fancy going to Ottawa, meeting the representatives not only of Canada but of South Africa, Australia, India and the other countries and then suffering a breakdown! That would be a calamity which no one, whatever his imagination might be, could adequately describe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1932; col. 140, Vol. 269.]Does he really suppose that that was not known to the representatives of the Dominions? They knew perfectly well that the Ministers of the great National Government could not go back from Ottawa to this country and say, "We have failed." Of course, they were in an extremely weak bargaining position. They had to get something, anything to 183 make a show, and it is obvious to anyone who went to Ottawa or who studied the proceedings there, that they were thoroughly well bullied by the Dominion representatives and that they made an intolerably bad bargain for this country.
I am not in favour of these tariff bargains with the Dominions. I do not think bargaining is necessarily the best way of cementing friendship, but now we have these Agreements presented to the House, and we have been told to-day that we must take them as a whole. Of course, we can move Amendments, but none will be accepted. This mess of pottage has been thrown at us in a very obscure manner. We have a long list of duties, but we have no estimate of what they will bring in, and it takes very great care to work them out exactly and to see whether, as a matter of fact, there will be any real reductions at all over a period of years. It is quite clear that these are being thrown at this House as Agreements which have to be ratified as a whole. This House surrendered the whole control over taxation to the Ministers whom it sent to Ottawa. That was very generous of the House, and the Ministers decided to be equally generous, because they in turn handed over the power of taxing the people of this country to the people in the Dominions. We are now tied up to taxing our people unless we are kindly permitted by Dominion representatives to release ourselves.
I remember, only a short time ago, when we were discussing the Statute of Westminster, that the, right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, I think it was, described this country as a Dominion, and people who had been used to thinking of themselves as a great Imperial country were rather annoyed and began to wonder whether it was not about time that we began to demand actual Dominion status for this country, because it is obvious that in these conditions we are being definitely subordinated to other countries of the Empire. I rather object to considering these matters on the basis of whether Canada is doing this, Australia is doing this, and Great Britain is doing this. It is a reversion to the war mentality, when we talked about France attacking, or Germany attacking. But when they got to Ottawa there was no single entity with a general will called Canada, Australia, 184 or Great Britain. The only country in the world that anywhere approaches that is Russia. In this country trade is in the hands of private enterprise, and Canadian trade is in the hands of private enterprise also.
I should very much like to know a little more—I hope we shall soon—about the various trading interests concerned in these varieties of commodities, because it will make a great deal of difference when we try to size up the kind of bargain the right hon. Gentleman has made. It is possible that he had wonderful concessions, which are, however, being entirely neutralised because our producers have already agreed with producers in the United States that they will not trespass on their preserves. I discussed that matter at the last Imperial Conference with a number of Dominion Prime Ministers and Ministers, and they assured me that over and over again, where they had given a preference, it had been entirely nullified by these capitalist agreements. As a matter of fact, all this talk of trading agreements is out of place under your individualistic system, and the bucket of all your Imperial sentiments is liable to be kicked over by the private, capital interests that run across this world, entirely disregarding matters of national policy. I can understand the Government wanting to make trading bargains to develop the Empire as a whole on certain lines, provided they took control of the industries in this country, and the same with the Dominions, but it is entirely illusory while you have private enterprise in control.
I would like to refer in that regard to a statement made at the beginning of these Agreements, where there is this expression of faith:That by the lowering or removal of barriers among themselves provided for in these Agreements, the flow of trade between the various countries of the Empire will be facilitated, and that by the consequent increase of purchasing power of their peoples, the trade of the world will also be stimulated and increased.How will these Agreements increase purchasing rower if you put a tax on goods coming into this country so that you get a higher price for the food sent from the Dominions? I think anyone will see that they will not get a higher purchasing power, because the whole point of the Agreements is that they will get a better price, and, if that price is to be 185 paid by us, how will it increase our purchasing power? You will increase our purchasing power for some commodities and decrease it for others. That is the most that we can do. The whole of that statement shows that a reality of the world conditions was not present in the minds of those who were at Ottawa. They were considering sectional interests. This interest and that interest will no doubt gain, but as a whole there is nothing whatever to increase the purchasing power of the people. I wonder whether the Dominions realised that the commodities they produce are mass commodities that need mass consumption, and that they cater very little for the highly specialised demand of the very rich and well-to-do; and I wonder if the advice of the Dominions was asked as to how their trade would be affected if the standard of life of the masses of the people of this country was steadily depressed. There is no doubt that in the course of next year a considerable amount of money will be spent on propaganda to buy Dominion fruit and products, and at the same time the Government will carefully see that the people have no money to spend. It is quite clear that the Ottawa Agreement, on the Prime Minister's own showing, is a matter of very little importance in this world crisis. It amounts at the most to a slight shifting backwards and forwards. The actual effect will be to entrench private interests more and more, and the private interest man, while seeking his private profit, will be able to support himself by Imperial sentiments. He will say that it is all bound up in a great scheme and that if we interfere in the least with the arrangement we shall estrange Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
We of the Labour party have declared, and we declare again, that we will not be bound by this Agreement. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen takes the same line. One knows that Mr. Scullin and Mr. Mackenzie King in their respective countries have taken the same line too. Let us get away from the idea that there is something special about this Government that makes it entitled to speak on behalf of the people of this country. They have an enormous representation in this House, thanks to the co-operation of the right hon. Member for Darwen, but the Government at the most represent— 186 or did represent—only two-thirds of the electors, and that number has been tumbling ever since the election. A Government that can cheerfully drop anything from 18,000 to 20,000 votes at the average by-election is not quite as strong as it was when it first came in. In any event, the conception that in these ecenomic matters you can tie down this country beyond the life of the present Parliament is entirely repugnant to us. We do not believe in that kind of continuity. We do not believe in a continuity of capitalist devices. We intend, whenever we are returned to power, to take our own line with regard to these arrangements entirely regardless of this attempt to tie and fetter us beforehand. No doubt we shall be able to negotiate these matters with the countries overseas. We shall probably find by that time that the Governments in those countries have been overturned, and Mr. Scullin and Mr. Mackenzie King equally unwilling to be bound. We cannot hold with the idea that in these matters the Government can come down and say that they are going to bind the whole House to what the Dominions Secretary would call a solemn agreement. There is no special solemnity about this Government that makes it any different from any other Government.
The Prime Minister suggested that the going over of the right hon. Member for Darwen to his semi-detached house across the Gangway was the restarting of party government. There has never been anything but party government. There has never been so much party government. We have been facing in this House a solid capitalist party. We do not mind if it chooses to have three or fair houses slightly separated. We are facing a united capitalist party on all the big issues. The right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway support the Government in everything but Ottawa—in foreign policy, in disarmament., in the means test, in economies, and in the opposition to Socialism. They support the Government in their class attitude towards the problems of this country. We regard this as the best example we have ever had of a thoroughly partisan government. We are in a system of party government. I would like to refer to what I am sure the Prime Minister must have looked up recently, namely, the Debate on the last Imperial Conference, 187 in which Viscount Snowden put the matter very clearly when he said that in these matters unity could only be obtained by sacrifice of convictions. In that Debate, the invitation from the Conservative party to the Labour party was that they should adopt Tory principles. That is what the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs have done.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
May I pass over the criticism by the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) on his late colleagues and devote myself to a topic which is exciting very grave interest in the country. My reason for rising is to draw the attention of the Government to the very critical state of agriculture, and to make a few observations as to how the Ottawa Agreement will affect that industry. I do not think that anyone will differ from me when I say that our most important industry, that of the cultivation of the land, is in an absolutely desperate condition. I have never known agriculture suffer so severely. There is really a crisis, and, if anyone wants evidence of it, it is exemplified by a transaction that took place in Norfolk the other day. A farm of 329 acres, good mixed farming land with a good house, buildings, yard and two cottages, was bought in 1921, on the hopes founded by the passing of the Corn Production Act. of 1920, for £5,000. There was a forced sale on the 16th September last, and that farm made only £520. That is an appalling state of affairs.
When I read in the papers about a boom in gilt-edged securities, it does not give me much joy, because I know that to-day there are thousands of efficient cultivators of the land who, though working lung hours every week and some hours on Sundays, are unable to pay their way. What is even more paralysing, there will be, unless relief is given at once, thousands of agricultural workers thrown upon the poor rate this winter. My anxiety is not for the security holders and people who have fixed incomes; it is for those men and women who are struggling to cultivate the land. I need not draw the attention of the Government to the necessity for the fullest cultivation of our own soil. If we look at the figures, we find that they are becoming more and more disquieting. The arable acreage of 188 this country has decreased since 1914 from 14,000,000 acres to 12,000,000 acres according to the last return. One of the worst features is that the number of agricultural workers has decreased by 189,000, nearly 20 per cent.
No one can look at that picture without alarm. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I draw one or two morals from Ottawa. I am glad that the Ottawa Conference is over, because in the last Session, whenever we asked for anything to be done, we were told to wait for Ottawa. I hope before the Debate closes that the Government will be able to tell us how home agriculture is going to benefit under these Ottawa Agreements. I shall be glad if my right hon. Friend will adumbrate that point a little more fully. I really felt a good deal alarmed when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made this statement last night; I cannot believe that it represents what is in the mind of the Government. He said:There is only one market for surplus mutton and lamb, and that is the United Kingdom, and there are only four main sources of supply. You have the home farmer, you have the Australian farmer, the New Zealand farmer, and the Argentine; and what we hoped for was that it might be possible that the producers in these four cases would come together and make a voluntary arrangement among themselves under which they would regulate their supply according to an agreed programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1932; col. 39, Vol. 269.]Surely my right hon. Friend would never suggest that the British farmers should regulate their production, that they should not produce as much as they possibly can of every kind of agricultural produce. I am going down to an agricultural show shortly. Suppose I said to the agriculturists: "You have to kill off your ewes and discharge your shepherds." I am sure that that is not the policy of the Government.
I should be sorry if my right hon. Friend misunderstood anything I said. I hope that he will take that statement, in conjunction with the other statement that I made, which was that the policy we laid down at Ottawa was that we looked after the home farmer first and then the Dominions farmer. When I spoke of a voluntary arrangement for the regulation of sup- 189 plies, I should have said, perhaps, that that contemplated that the needs of the home farmer had to be supplied first.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement. I thought I had misunderstood him, because I was quite sure that nothing would be further from the mind of the Government than suggesting in any way that the British farmer should restrict production. An increase of our agricultural products is vital to this country. May I also draw attention to this point? He said, as we have all known, that the great fall in mutton prices was due to Dominion competition. I have got out figures on the subject, but as my right hon. Friend stated the position so clearly yesterday there is no necessity to labour the point. I ask the Government what they have done to restrict Dominion competition in mutton with the home farmer? I do not see anything in the Ottawa Agreements to assist that end. I put it to the Government that the drop in sheep prices is of vital import to all sheep farmers in the country. I could give the figures, because I have them here. Unless we bring relief to our sheep farmers they must inevitably discharge their men, because they cannot carry on. Sheep have been sold in Devonshire and elsewhere at quite unheard-of prices. I heard the other day of sheep being sold at 1s. a head, and though that may be exceptional prices have dropped to such an extent that it is impossible for the sheep farmer to make a living and employ men. I would like anyone who is to reply from the Government Bench to show the sheep farmers of this country how the Ottawa Agreements will affect them, and whether they will bring them relief.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must have read the Australian Agreement, under which the Australian Government undertake to restrict the importation of frozen mutton.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
If I read the Australian Agreement aright, the exports of mutton from Australia are to be of the same amount as for the year ending June, 1932.
Yes, but that is accompanied by a diminution in the foreign imports, and therefore on the whole there must be a considerable diminution in imports.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I have not got the figures here, but the imports of foreign frozen mutton are small as compared with the imports from the Dominions. I cannot help thinking that it is the large imports from the Dominions which have brought down prices, and if they are to come in at the same rate as they did last year there is not much hope for sheep farmers in this country for a long time to come. Then as to butter, producers in Devonshire have complained to me that they have not been able to sell their butter because there has been such a glut in the market. Exports of butter from Australia and New Zealand have increased enormously. Take the figures for the first nine months of 1929 and of 1932 respectively. In the first nine months of 1929 we imported 1,800,000 cwts., and that increased in the first nine months of 1932 to 2,800,000 cwts., and the price of butter slumped enormously. The dairy farmers here cannot go on. Of course, there has also been a similar increase from Denmark. When the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Minister of Health he made all sorts of regulations concerning the production of milk in this country—the byres were to be limewashed twice a year, the hands of the milkers were to be washed, the flanks of the cows cleaned, and the utensils kept clean. I do not know whether any such regulations are in force in the countries from which the British farmer has to meet competition, but I do know that in many of these respects our dairy farmers have been prejudiced. I was interested to hear the other day, and I candidly confess that I did not know of it before, that many of the foods given to cows for milk production are being taxed.
Now I turn to the pig industry. Here the Ottawa Agreements will have an indirect effect. Everyone knows that the price of pigs has fallen, until it has become almost quite impossible to sell them. That is due largely to the very great increase in the exports of bacon from Denmark to this country. The price per score for bacon pigs in 1929 was 15s. 7d.; to-day the price per score is 8s. 7d. I am sure the Government do not want to prejudice the producers of pigs in this country, but they may be prejudiced. According to the Ottawa Agreements there is to be a duty of 2s. a quarter on foreign wheat, but there is to be no duty on Dominion flour 191 coming into this country. That means that Dominion flour will come in free but the offals of that imported flour will not be available to the British farmer. Millers here will have to pay 2s. a quarter more for their wheat. I am pointing out these facts to the Government, because I want to help them. I do not want this Government to become unpopular.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I will take that risk. I am trying to put facts before the Government, because I want them to realise that they have done the pig breeding industry considerable disservice up to now by taxing foreign feeding-stuffs. I asked a gentleman in my division who is a very well-known pig breeder what really had been the effect of the action of the Government on the pig-breeding industry. He is a man with 1,500 pigs. I am coupling this point with the question of the increased price of feeding-stuffs, because millers say quite clearly that if Dominion flour comes in there will not be the same quantity of offals available for British farmers. In his letter, which is dated 15th October, this gentleman says:I find the amount of import duties I have already paid on feeding-stuffs for my pigs is £132. This would not really represent the total extra cost of my feeding-stuffs owing to tariffs, as I have been feeding mainly foods that are not taxed, and those have naturally advanced in price, as there has been a greater demand for them owing to other foods being taxed.These are facts, and they cannot be denied, and I put them before the Government, because I cannot conceive that there could be a greater disservice to the British Empire—and we all of us wish well to the British Empire—than that British agriculture should be sacrificed on the altar of Imperial sentiment. There are people who say that agriculturists in this country are not efficient, but none of those people are prepared to take a farm and show how to carry on the work profitably. Farmers to-day are suffering under great disadvantages. Wages are fixed; I do not complain that they are fixed too high, but the farmers cannot pay them. Tithes are fixed—fixed for 70 years. 192 Also, manures have been taxed, feeding stuffs have been taxed, and implements have been taxed. I say to the Government that if they are to help British agriculture they must enable British farmers to get a fair price for their produce.
§ Major NATHAN
We had a revelation of an interesting piece of political history last night when the Prime Minister, in the closing speech of that day's Debate, made it clear that even at the time when he was head of the late Labour Administration he was committed to a policy of Tariff Reform and food taxes. It. is all very well for the Prime Minister to say that his colleagues of that time must have been aware of that to which they were committing themselves, but he is unable by that statement to evade the responsibility, which rests upon him as the head of that Government, and from which he cannot dissociate himself—be its works good or evil—of having apparently, with his eyes open, committed himself to food taxes, and to a permanent, or more or less permanent., system of tariffs. Last night we had, I think, the first indication that that was part of the considered policy of the Prime Minister as head of the late Government as of the present Government. Just as the country now finds itself confronted with the Ottawa Agreements imposing food taxes on the people, so it would have been had he still been the head of a Labour Government. Although the Prime Minister made some references last night to his election address and to certain broadcast speeches he delivered during the course of the General Election, I have been unable to find any reference, in the policy which he placed before the country at that time, to the fact that he was contemplating any permanent tariff or the imposition of tariffs upon foodstuffs and raw materials as part of a scheme of Imperial Preference. I have searched, as far as I have been able in the short time at my disposal since last night, in every utterance made by the Prime Minister in the course of the election campaign, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, in no single instance did he suggest at that time that the tariff proposals were to be other than temporary. Indeed, he reinforced that suggestion by making it clear what was 193 the purpose of them. He said that the purpose of any tariff which it might be found necessary, after study, to introduce at the time of the national crisis was the express one of restoring the adverse trade balance, so-called, and for no other reason whatsoever.
What a different position the Prime Minister adopts to-day. Having led the country, throughout the election campaign, to believe that any tariff imposed would be for a specific purpose and for a temporary period, and knowing nevertheless, as he now reveals to us, that he was committed to a more or less permanent tariff and to taxes more or less permanent upon foodstuffs and raw materials, he was content to sit silently upon that Treasury Bench while the President of the Board of Trade assured the House of Commons that after the Import Duties Act had been passed it would be open to the House at any time by a Financial Resolution in connection with the Budget, in accordance with changed circumstances and possibly the changed view of the electors, to alter the duties as they were set down. The tariff was to be temporary; that was stated by the President of the Board of Trade, and by the Lord President of the Council, and the Prime Minister sat silently by and allowed the House of Commons and the country to take that view of the situation and to accept import duties upon that footing for all time.
The Prime Minister now reveals to us that he was conscious in his own mind and determined that the tariffs would be more or less permanent and that they would involve the taxes against which we on these benches, at all events, have so long protested and shall continue to protest. If the scheme which is now placed before Parliament in the Ottawa Resolutions was foreshadowed at that time, as the Prime Minister now tells us, what was the object of the grandiose phrases about our domestic scientific tariffs and the establishment of—I think the phrase was something about "the touchstone of the policy"—a judicial and independent tariff advisory committee, whose duty was to be to consider what alteration should be made from time to time in the tariff system of this country, according to principles which, whether or not we accept them on all sides of the House, were the principles set out in the 194 Import Duties Act? What was the use of asking the House of Commons to limit the functions of the Tariff Advisory Committee to the making of recommendations as to alterations in the duties, having regard—and I quote the words—toThe interests generally of trade and industry in the United Kingdom, including those of trades and industries which are consumers of goods as well as those of trades and industries which are producers of goods.What was the object in creating a Tariff Advisory Committee, and giving it those functions so defined and limited, if all the time it was in the mind of the Prime Minister that there should be a permanent tariff, embodying modifications of the duties imposed by this House under that Act, in the way set out in the Ottawa Agreements, without regard to any of the criteria that were laid down by and to this House?
Let me give one practical example as to how the thing works out. When the Import Duties Bill was originally before the House of Commons, there was no reference in the Free List to copper. Copper was to be subject to a 10 per cent. ad valorem duty. That duty seemed to the Government, after further consideration, to be inappropriate, and on almost the last day of the Committee sittings on the Bill the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on his own initiative, suggested to the House, and the House assented to the suggestion, that copper should be placed on the Free List. Six months ago, a 10 per cent, duty on copper was too much for His Majesty's Government, and the position was modified. To-day, without any reference to the Tariff Advisory Committee, without any inquiry as to the effect upon British industry, whether producers or consumers, and by the mere signing of the Ottawa Agreements, following upon discussions far away from the immediate conditions of this country, the duty upon copper is to be made 55 per cent. Ten per cent. was too much six months ago, and copper was placed on the Free List; to-day, with no explanation, a duty is imposed which, with the ad valorem duty, amounts to 55 per cent. That is an illustration of the way in which this Government, in the autumn of 1932, disregards the whole operation of the structure which was erected so recently as March, 1932. What of the safeguards 195 upon which this House insisted, so far as any effective safeguards for a policy so disagreeable could be suggested?
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and others too, I believe, have emphasised on the Floor of this Chamber what has been obvious to all of us who have attempted a perusal of the Ottawa Agreements, that it was extremely difficult for anyone to gather anything like a definite impression as to what their effective result in terms of trade will be, or what changes in duties and in tariffs are imposed by those Agreements. It would be foolish to suggest that there may not be some advantage to inter-Imperial trade, and in the flow of trade from this country to the Dominions, resulting from those Agreements. As far as I understand those Agreements, I think that there will be some increase in trade flowing from this country to the Dominions, though it will be very small compared with the flow of trade from the Dominions to this country. Already the money markets of the world have shown the apprehension which they hold in that regard. Those who have considered the Agreement with Canada were so fearful that it will mean a flow of goods from Canada to England, with no reciprocal flow of goods in the other direction, that as soon as the Agreement was published, sterling, relatively to Canadian dollars, went down in value. To what extent the depreciation of sterling to-day in relation to the United States dollar is due to apprehension as to the effects of the Ottawa Agreements, I cannot say, but that they are entirely without their effect is unbelievable.
It is difficult to calculate in figures that, with our present information, can be put before the House with any complete degree of confidence, as to the amount of trade which is likely to flow from this country to the Dominions, but I believe that a sober and balanced estimate is that the net turnover is unlikely to exceed £5,000,000 sterling in any year in the immediate future. In many cases, nothing will be gained by the removal of a duty on British imports, so far as regards Canada, and Canada is by far the most important of the Dominions concerned, as the items added to the Free List are trivial in the volume of trade, while all sorts of conditions are laid down, which, 196 even when you have the Free List established, will largely take away from its benefits. In a great variety of cases even the reductions achieved by the Ottawa Agreements leave the duties at a prohibitive level.
If the Committee will allow me, I will give two or three examples, although I know that the House of Commons dislikes to be worried with figures. I will give but a few. Let me take, for example, wool piece-goods. The old duty was at the rate of 52 per cent.; the new duty is 50 per cent. and still, I think, it is prohibitive. In regard to hosiery, the old duty was 74 per cent. and the new duty is 65 per cent. With regard to blankets, the old duty was 86 per cent. and the new duty is 63 per cent. No wonder, as the hon. Member for Limehouse pointed out earlier in the afternoon, the hopes of producers of these goods in the North are finally dashed to the ground. It is true that we shall get some advantage from the new iron and steel schedules, negotiated largely outside the Ottawa Conference proper. In regard to other items such as plate-glass, cutlery, linen goods and fine chemicals there will be some increase in trade, but the preferential tariff as a whole will still remain higher than the 1931 tariff. As regards Australia, the Tariff Commissioners, subject to whose approval or, indeed, initiative, all changes must be made, have already operated in the direction of increasing the duty in, I think, 400 cases. The advantages which are gained from Ottawa are extraordinarily small and without value. Certainly, they are without any conspicuous value so far as Canada is concerned. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in the terms of commerce, as nowadays, apparently, when dealing with Dominions, we are always to speak, asked, what is the price which we are to pay for these concessions? I do not think that any public statement has yet been made, but I have had a calculation prepared, with this result: I believe it will be found that we are obligating ourselves to keep a 10 per cent. tariff on £100,000,000 out of a total of foreign imports, on the 1930 basis, of approximately £610,000,000. We are perpetuating a preference of 10 per cent. on £100,000,000. That, of course, is quite 197 outside the £130,000,000 which was liable to taxes before ever the Import Duties Act came into operation. But what about the position under the free list of the Import Duties Act—a list prepared with very great care, and safeguarded by the consideration that the Act was originally drawn so that no articles could be deducted from it, although afterwards, of course, under the Finance Act, the Committee was given the power to recommend deductions from that list. At all events, it was a list prepared with very great care, and safeguarded in this way, that alterations were only to be made having regard to certain specified considerations. What happens with regard to that list?
In 1930, out of total imports of £1,032,000,000, only £150,000,000 were actually taxed, leaving £882,000,000 free. In the period between the Import Duties Act of this year and the Ottawa situation, the taxed proportion amounted to £568,000,000, but £464,000,000 were still left free. To-day, in the post-Ottawa situation, under these Agreements, the free imports will mount to only £428,000,000, and £604,000,000 will be taxed. That is to say, the post-Ottawa free import percentage will be only 41.4 per cent., whereas, even in such highly protective countries as the United States, the percentage in 1930, the comparable year, amounted to 67 per cent. The truth of the matter is that by the Ottawa Agreements we become a high protectionist country, with tariffs of enormously far-reaching scope, and we have gone very far beyond the object that was in mind in March of this year, the protection of manufactures. I think it is significant that, taking the Free List as it was left by the Import Duties Act, the increased dutiable goods amount to £36,000,000, and the whole of that is upon food and raw materials. I do not know if it is fully realised that there has been no increase, as the result of Ottawa, in the proportion of taxed goods that are manufactured; it is entirely limited to food and raw materials; and the proud privilege which the President of the Board of Trade—an erstwhile Liberal—the Lord President of the Council, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have as leaders of that delegation, is to come back to the House of Commons and to say, through the representatives of the people to the people, that the only taxes 198 which have been introduced as the result of the Ottawa Conference are taxes upon the food and the raw materials of the people, and no other taxes. That is to say nothing of this new-found zest for dear meat, which will indeed impose upon the working-class people of this country hardships which some of us find it difficult fully to appreciate, because they are so far from us that we can only observe them with such sympathy as we can in others.
It would be tempting to range over the scope of these Agreements, and to refer to their effect upon our relations with other nations—in regard, for instance, to the denunciation of the trade agreement with Russia. I think one may very well fear the withdrawal of that trade delegation from this country, and the consequent loss, in some likelihood, at one fell swoop, of £7,000,000 of exports from this country which we can certainly not at this juncture, if we could at any time, afford to lose. The Prime Minister, in his speech yesterday, expressed himself as gratified that the Ottawa Agreements should have been concluded and he voiced what would have been his fear had no such termination been reached. But this would not have been the first time that a Colonial conference endeavouring to attain the same ends had failed to reach an agreement. No disastrous results followed previously, and I see no reason to believe that disastrous results would have followed on this occasion. The Prime Minister says that these Agreements will help him in his negotiations. I wonder if they will. Some say perhaps the Prime Minister believes that, though our tariff is now, as the result of our ill-advised arrangements in March and of the Ottawa Agreements, very wide in scope, yet on the whole it is not very high. Many people say that. It is simply not true. On the basis of the 1930 trade figures, our imports from Europe—and of course Europe is the key of the situation for this purpose — amounted to upwards of £400,000,000. After Ottawa, only £80,000,000, or 20 per cent., will enter this country free, and only 35 per cent. will get off with a duty as low as 10 per cent. The remaining 45 per cent. of our imports from Europe will bear duties ranging from 15 per cent. to as high as 33⅓ per cent. I should have thought that the Prime Minister would have said, with 199 these Ottawa Agreements and these figures before him, that to enter the World Economic Conference proclaiming to Europe that we remain even a low-tariff country is simply to court ridicule.
§ Mr. ATKINSON
It seems to me that, in considering this matter, it is necessary to remember the circumstances under which these agreements were made. The first circumstance is that tariffs were an accomplished fact, and that those tariffs had been forced upon us. I think it is necessary to remember how and why they had been forced upon us. Unlimited imports did not matter very much so long as the world was ready to take payment for them in our goods and our services—the only way in which we could pay. In face of refusal to take payment in the only way in which we could pay, we had no option; we were forced to do something to put a limit upon those imports, and there was no other way of doing it than by tariffs. It also became essential, because the great bulk of our imports we must have, as raw materials, to divert our imports of food and raw materials, so far as we could, to countries which are ready to take payment in the only way in which we can pay, namely, by accepting our goods and services. Therefore, it seems to me that when we approach these agreements we have to remember that we were forced to do something to divert our imports from those countries that would not take payment in our goods to those countries which are ready to do so.
The next point that has been forgotten is this: When you are considering agreements of this kind, it is necessary to weigh up all the advantages and disadvantages. It is no use, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) suggested yesterday, approving the main part and then pulling a long face at what you have to pay for it. After all, objecting, as many do, to duties at all, is it not a great thing that at any rate we should remain free to import from some quarter of the world without any import duties? Is it not something that we should secure a reduction of the tariff walls against us in some quarter of the world? I venture to think that, if these agreements had been made with foreign countries—countries which were not part of our Empire—hon. Members would have been delirious about it, and 200 I am certain that the church bells in Darwen would ring for a week. It is because these agreements have been made with our own people that they seem to be regarded with so much suspicion.
What are the objections that have been urged? One objection—and it is the objection which, I understand, has led to the retirement from the Government of certain of its Members—is that something has been done which commits the country for five years, that the hands of this country have been tied for five years in certain respects, and that it is unconstitutional to attempt to tie a succeeding Government. I do not believe that it is unconstitutional at all. I should be much more concerned if that criticism were well founded—if it were indeed the truth that the British Government cannot make an agreement with any country in the world which is to be binding for more than six months or 12 months, or the present life of the existing Government. We already hear of negotiations pending with other countries, and it would have been an astonishing position if we had had to go to them and say, "We now learn from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen that we can do nothing with you which is to be binding for more than six or 12 months." I venture to think that we should not get very far with those negotiations. Certainly Members of the House of Commons would feel very uneasy if it were indeed true that the hands of our Government were fettered in that way. In this case, surely, the point is purely academic, and hardly a point on which to have tried to break up the Government. I think we must all agree, if we are honest, that this Government is going to last for another four years, so that, when the succeeding Government comes in, it will only have this bargain hanging over it for another 12 months. The right hon. Gentleman says that he would not have objected if it could have been denounced in 12 months, and, as far as the next Government are concerned, the Agreement will come to an end just as soon as it would have done if we had been free to denounce it in 12 months. In this particular case, therefore, everyone must feel that that criticism is without foundation.
Let us go a little further. If there were anything in this constitutional objection, it would be that one political party ought 201 not to try to fetter the hands of another political party. As to whether that is rigid constitutional practice or not there might be something to be said, but I wholly dissent from the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate to-day, that the position is no different when you have a National Government in power, because it seems to me that the very raison d'être of a National Government was that it would have a freer and stronger hand than the Government of a political party. It was recognised that there were many big questions which had to be settled in a big way, and a way which should not leave them the shuttlecock of party politics. For my part, I dissent altogether from the suggestion that what has now been done has been done by a single political party. It has been done by all three political parties. I dissent altogether from the suggestion that might be made that I merely represent Conservatives. I do not. I represent one of the biggest constituencies in the country. I was not opposed, and I was not opposed after I had made.a declaration of what I stood for. I can fairly say that I represent the Liberals as well as the others in my constituency. I am here with their approval just as much as with the approval of the Conservatives in my constituency. Many others must be in the same position. I am certain that the bulk of them received many Liberal votes. It is a very pitiable position if it is to be said that a National Government elected in this way has no greater rights than a Government of one political party.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
The hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that, because he was returned unopposed, he represents all the electors in his division, Liberal as well as Conservative. I also was returned unopposed, and I represent Tories and Liberals in opposition to these duties.
§ Mr. ATKINSON
I have no objection to that. I was dealing with the suggestion that we do not represent anyone but Conservatives. The next criticism that has been urged is that it was not necessary to bind ourselves to retain these 10 per cent. duties. I thought the answer of the Prime Minister was conclusive. When you are asking the Dominions to increase their production, do you think they are going to do anything of that sort 202 unless they can be secure of a market when their production is available? We are asking them, for example, to increase their production of butter. We know that it takes three years before a cow is producing milk. If you ask them to increase their production, it takes time and involves the laying out of capital. It is absurd to suppose that the Dominions will make a great effort to increase their production unless you give them some security that, when their goods are ready for the market, the market will be waiting for them.
The next criticism I heard was that it will not bring work to a single unemployed man. One does not want to go too much into detail, but what is the broad intention of these Agreements? The Empire imports £500,000,000 worth of manufactured goods a year, it has only taken two-fifths of it from the United Kingdom, and we want to get a big slice of the other three-fifths. It is said by the Leader of the Opposition that this is a. mere diversion of trade, as if that meant nothing. If we can divert a proportion of that three-fifths, does it not mean something to us? If we could divert another fifth of that export—another £100,000,000 worth of goods—it would be a Godsend to us. For every bit of it that we divert from foreign countries to ourselves we are surely doing something that is going to find employment for our people here. That is the broad object. It is all very well to say you are going to accomplish nothing. That is mere prophesy. It is what it is designed to do, and I can see no reason why it should not attain success to some extent. No one can foretell to what extent it will achieve success. If you want the Dominions to take from us goods which up to now they have got from the rest of the world, we have to make it possible for them to pay for them in the only way in which they can pay, by sending more of their production here.
There is no other way in which we can hope to increase our exports to the Dominions. A couple of years ago Canada missed the wheat market here, and see how that handicapped Canada in her ability to place orders in this country. If you want to put Canada in a position to place more orders in this country, you must make it certain that they shall send more of their produce here to enable 203 them to pay for the orders that they would place here if they were in a position to do so. The one is the corollary of the other. You cannot get their orders unless you make it certain that you are going to take more of their production.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
Does not that apply to all other countries, and especially to Germany and Russia?
§ Mr. ATKINSON
No, for this reason. Those countries have been making it more and more impossible for us to turn to them. They were raising their tariff walls and they were expecting us to pay them when we were not allowed to pay in the only way in which we could. In 1930 America sent us £153,000,000 worth of stuff, but only took from us £23,000,000 worth. Denmark sent us £54,000,000, and took from us £10,000,000. How can that go on? The thing is impossible. They were expecting to send their stuff here and refusing to take payment from us by building up their tariff walls, and it was that kind of thing that has forced us on to tariffs.
The next point I want to deal with is the statement, made yesterday and repeated to-day, that what has been done is going to raise the cost of food, and the last speaker referred to this taxation which has been imposed on wheat, the food of the people, and on raw materials—copper, lead and zinc. It is extremely unfair to leave that criticism at that point, because the conditions under which these duties are imposed are of extreme importance. You are only going to tax wheat if you continue to buy it from foreign countries. In so far as it comes from the Dominions, it will not bear the tax. Is it not really absurd to talk about taxing wheat and raw materials when the duties are imposed only as long as the Dominions are willing to supply all we want at the market price of the world? As long as those conditions prevail, the duties can do us no conceivable harm whatever.
There is one point of considerable importance to which I should like an answer from the Government. The Canadian Agreement imposes two conditions on the observance of which these duties may continue. The Dominions must be able and willing to supply at world prices and in quantities sufficient to supply the requirements of United Kingdom consumers. If 204 you turn to the Australian Agreement, which contains what I think is intended to be a similar clause, that last condition does not find a place. The duties are to continue conditionally upon the Empire producer of wheat, grain, copper, lead and zinc continuing to offer these commodities at prices not exceeding the world price, but the second condition, which is of really very great importance, that they should give us all we want, is omitted. If you look at the South African Agreement, it is omitted there as well. Obviously it ought to find its place in each of these Agreements.
Supposing there is a shortage of wheat and the Dominions are not able to supply all our requirements and yet are selling at the world price, and we say we are going to take the duty off, Canada could not object but Australia could, and you would not be able to remove the duties. I think that omission must be due to an oversight. I do not think it has been intended. I hope that the point will be dealt with at some time, and that it is not too late to put it right. It rather nullifies what I consider to be a provision of very great value where you are imposng a tax on an article of food or raw material. I have always said I will agree to no tax on raw material or food unless accompanied by a provision which secures our full supply at world prices. I attach great importance to that provision, and I think the Australian Agreement should be rectified and brought into line with the Canadian Agreement.
There is one other point which seems to me to emphasise the vital necessity for this Agreement. The great cause of our unemployment is the contraction of our export trade, which is due to the contraction of the purchasing power of the world. There has been a complete breakdown of the machinery of exchange—the means whereby one country can pay another. The great credit structure on which the trade of the world has been carried on has collapsed and, until something is rebuilt, there can be no revival of foreign trade. At present there are, I believe, 40 countries which are not allowed to pay because they are not allowed to export money and have no means of buying sterling. I heard recently of a long string of most valuable orders from foreign countries none of which could be accepted because the 205 countries from which they came are not in a position to pay. They are not allowed to export money and they cannot buy sterling because no one will take their currency. This is not a national but an international matter. A nation can create means of exchange only within its own borders. It is an international matter to recreate the medium of exchange in sufficient quantity to enable world trade to take place. When is that going to happen? Until that happens there can be no real hope of a revival of export trade. Therefore it is doubly essential at this time that we should do all that we possibly can to increase our export trade in the one direction in which it is worth while trading. With the rather hopeless outlook for the rest of the world it is indeed doubly important for us to do all that we possibly can to increase our trade with the Dominions, and it is because I believe in that vital necessity and that these Agreements will achieve that object, that I am whole-heartedly in favour of them.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) knows perfectly well that when he and I and others went, through Canada in 1928 as the guests of the Canadian Government, every Province which we visited appealed to us to get this country to advance it money in order that it could develop its own industries in Canada. That was the situation at that time, and it is the situation to-day. I have sat here for two days listening to this Debate, after having spent 13 weeks' holiday, or 13 weeks, at any rate, during which the House was adjourned in order to give the Government of the day untrammelled authority to work their will upon the people of this country. The principal object was to allow them to go to Ottawa. I am glad to see the Prime Minister in his place, because I would remind him that before they went to Ottawa I asked him across the Floor of the House if he expected any good thing to come out of Ottawa. There was no answer forthcoming, but we got the answer yesterday in his speech to the effect that he does not expect anything to come out of Ottawa which will be beneficial to the working classes of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "He did 206 not say that."] Allow me to go on. You can have your say when I have done. Read the OFFICIAL REPORT, and you will find that I am right. The right hon. Gentleman himself can contradict me. He is quite capable and does not need the hon. Member to defend him.
What is the state of this country about which there is all the trouble? It must be remembered that all the conditions are exceptional. There never was such a state of affairs existing in Britain. The result of those conditions, for good or ill, produced the present Government, who claim that they have the best brains in the country. How long have they been in control? Twelve months. Is the country any better? It is worse. What is the situation? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) a few minutes ago told us about agriculture, which the Tory Government, with all their hypocrisy, profess to represent in this House and over which they have had control for 100 years. The right hon. Member for South Molton said that the condition of the agricultural worker in this country had never been as bad as it is to-day. We must remember that he stated that he would not say anything which would be detrimental to the best interests of the Government, but agriculture, which is supposed to be the backbone of this country, is fading away. He said that there are 129,000 fewer workers on the land to-day than there were in 1824. It is no wild Socialist who said that, but an ardent Tory. He may call himself a Liberal if he likes, butA rose By any other name would smell as sweet,because they are Tories—as good Tories as Philip Snowden. But agriculture is in rack and ruin.
While the House was up—I have not had a holiday during those 13 weeks; I do not require a holiday—I visited the cotton area. How is that faring? Cotton, like agriculture, has never before been in such a deplorable state. Even after the Prime Minister and those who support him have used all their influence in this country for the last 10 years to bring about peace in industry, and the trade union movement has endeavoured to do away with strikes because it was said that if you have peace in industry you will get round the corner—we have had peace in industry, as there has been no strike since 1926, at any rate—the work- 207 ing-class in the cotton industry are, metaphorically lying bleeding at the feet of the employers. That is in Lancashire. I go to Yorkshire—the woollen industry. What is the state of affairs there? Contentment! How can they be content under conditions such as have existed in Bradford? All over Yorkshire rebellion is the order of the day.
I come to my own industry—shipbuilding and engineering. What is the state of affairs? I go to the Tyne, where, I believe, conditions are worse than on the Clyde. What is the condition of my class, of men as good as me—and I am as good as the best men here—of men of high aspirations? They have not had the right to work for the last three or four years. It is no exaggeration to say—I know it personally—that there are no finer workmen in the world. They are anxious and willing to work. They have accepted up to the present moment the idea of peace in industry, and have been prepared to accept those hellish conditions which have been imposed upon them by society, working for a mere pittance whenever they get the chance. It is the same with shipbuilding and engineering all round our coasts. There is not an estuary around the British shores that is not packed with the finest ships ever afloat. Yet the Government, the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, along with the rest of a well-fed body of men, come here and you would think that all was better than well in the country, and that they had got right up against it in no uncertain fashion. There is the Clyde. What is going to happen there God only knows. Before I have done I hope to tell the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council, if they are not aware of it, what is likely to happen.
Take the building industry. Where is all this great intelligence and great experience? During my 30 years' knowledge of the Prime Minister, and of the awful conditions of the working classes in this country I have hammered at the problem. In the West of Scotland, and, indeed, practically all over Scotland, 65 per cent. of the people still have to live in two-apartment dwellings, while 28 per cent. in the native land about which the Scotsman is always boasting live in one-apartment dwellings. The right hon. Gentleman has been in control of this country 208 for a number of years, and yet we from that country have had to fight as if we were fighting for our very lives for any little concession which we have wrung from the Government on the Floor of the House of Commons on behalf of our native land.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I do not know whether the hon. Member is going to relate this distressing state of affairs to the Ottawa Agreements, but. I think that it is time he did so.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I submit with respect that all this has a bearing on the Ottawa Conference, because the Prime Minister told me it was because of the hellish conditions which I am describing that he had the Ottawa Conference. In the building industry we are up against it. We want houses. The people are desperate. Everything is going wrong with family life, in my own constituency, for lack of accommodation—no homes.The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man bath not where to lay His head.Where? In Russia? No. In Britain. At the same time, the building industry sends me a pamphlet and a chart. They have 250,000 house-builders unemployed, 28 per cent. unemployed, while the people are wanting houses. Where are the brains of those who are prepared to pay men—I admit that it is a pittance—unemployment insurance for walking the streets doing nothing while houses are wanted? Because of private enterprise, because of the system that prevails they are prepared to allow these men to be unemployed, and the great mass of the people to be living in bad conditions.
At Ottawa the Conference had before it all the time the terrible spectre of unemployment in every industry. There is not a single industry in this country solvent. Every industry in time country is on the verge of bankruptcy. What is being said on the subject in this House and outside? We find the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) making a speech in which he says that we are round the corner. He sees a rift in the lute. He says that London has regained its position as the chief centre of finance in the world. If we have got round the corner and the Prime Minister has satisfied himself that there is no good to come out of Ottawa, I say 209 to the Prime Minister: "There is no good that has come out of anything that you have tried since you left Labour." Everything has been a gigantic failure so far as the working classes are concerned. Remember this, that I do not give a damn for the other class. I am only interested in the working class. Everything has acted detrimentally to the working class, although the Prime Minister has always held that his first interest would be the working folk of this country. He says "Hear, hear." If that is the case, I ask him whether he will now try another method instead of Ottawa and cuts. Will he try something else instead of reducing the purchasing power of the people. There is no doubt that this Government instituted the idea of reducing the purchasing power.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am asking now if he will not reverse the engine and go along other lines for increasing the purchasing power. If he does not, what will be the outcome? We are going to be faced with the worst winter that this country has even seen. This country never before carried 3,000,000 unemployed. This country never before carried so many men who will stand by the unemployed. Never before in the history of this country were there so many men and women who will see to it that no longer is it a case of the lone voice of Keir Hardie advocating the cause of the unemployed. It is a body of men who know what it is to be unemployed and who know what it is to solicit employment and be turned down. If the Government continue along the lines suggested by the Ottawa Conference what will happen? You have indications of it all over the country—rebellion breaking out and men revolting against being crushed. The beast in the field will defend its young, and that is what these men and women will do.
Read what happened in Belfast. I saw it in the pictures. I was not in Belfast. They would not allow me in. I saw in the pictures children gathering the stones. Good luck to them. That is what you are inculcating. That is what you have to face. For God's sake, do not kid yourselves. What was said by the Home Secretary to-day in his report? 210 I did not want to quarrel with my leader, but I know what it is to be bludgeoned by the police. I know what it, is to be in gaol. It is not hearsay with me. I do not want anyone else to go through it, because it is terrible.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I hope the hon. Member will try to do something before he finishes to put in order and make relevant what he has been saying, because, in spite of three references to Ottawa, I have not heard a relevant sentence in his speech.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
With all due respect to you, Sir Dennis, I hold that it is because of what I am portraying that we had the Ottawa Conference. If there had not been this terrible poverty there would not have been the Conference. My complaint against the Prime Minister is that he is trying everything except Socialism, everything but that which he has advocated all his life. He is trying anything. He is prepared to try anything. He has tried Ottawa. Ottawa is going to be a failure. They tried reduction of wages. That was a failure. Under the Premiership of the Lord President of the Council they tried to increase the hours in the mines. We were going to get the wheels of industry going again. That failed. It made conditions worse. Unless the Prime Minister and Ids colleagues take warning, they are going to be faced with the same state of affairs as existed in 1912. I am taking this opportunity of warning them, because I would not for the world that it should happen, that they will find there will be numbers of my class shot down, murdered. When I came to this House I impeached Asquith as the murderer of the miners of Featherstone. He told me afterwards that he would never forgive me for reminding him of it. He tried to deny it, but he was Secretary of State for Home Affairs at the time.
I hope that the Cabinet will change their tactics because of the trend of development to-day and the spirit that is abroad in Britain, a spirit which I have done my best to press on. I do not want the workers to go under. I want them to stand up against the powers-that-be. I want them to do the best they can, even if it means the sacrifice of their lives, to have the means test abolished— 211 the means test and all that it means. Unless the Government reverse their method of procedure, they are going to be the murderers of the working class.
§ Mr. LYONS
I do not propose to attempt to reply, however sorely one might be tempted, to the provocative statements made by the hon. Member opposite, the latest recruit to the official Opposition—[Interruption]. I desire to make one or two statements upon the Ottawa Agreements. Many of us think it would have been a catastrophe if the Conference had ended without any such Agreements having been entered into. We believe that all the countries present at the Conference had a common purpose and a real desire to achieve it and that by the Agreements that have been made as an outcome of the Conference we have commenced a new conception of Imperial trade. There is one omission that I should like to bring to the notice of the Government, in the hope that one of the Members of the Front Bench will reply to what I have to say, and will, I hope, be able to tell me that the omission has been remedied.
At the beginning of the Conference the question of Empire Content was discussed, but it was not found possible to unify the differing ideas of the different countries. Consequently, no unifying percentage was brought about. It is well known that many industries have been faced with a new difficulty owing to the entry through Canada of foreign goods made substantially in American territory, by American labour and American capital. These goods have been sent into this country through the Canadian corridor, with a certificate saying that there has been expended upon them 25 per cent. of Imperial labour. It is well known that many men and women working in our industries have been put into jeopardy through this new form of Canadian trafficking and they have made representations at various times to responsible departmental heads, but I have reason to believe that on each occasion they have been told, not that their case or their request is a bad one, but that the matter must wait until after the adjustment at Ottawa. Now that the Ottawa Conference is over and no arrangement made to deal with the matter, I respectfully ask that some such arrangement should be made 212 to prevent goods entering into this country, fully manufactured, at the expense of our industries. I realise that in the vast undertakings which have been accomplished there must be an anomaly here and a mishap there, but industries have suffered from such mishaps and anomalies in the past, and I hope that in this particular case the matter will be attended to and that a new arrangement will be made to stop this kind of traffic and thus prevent the present flagrant evasion which in one trade which I have in mind may be fraught with dire consequences. We have been told that the official Opposition intend to deal with these Agreements upon their own lines. We have yet to learn what those lines are. As one who has listened to most of the speeches made against the Ottawa proposals I have failed to appreciate a single alternative by way of colonial policy. In the manifesto by the Socialists of 1929 a good deal was said of the intentions of the Socialist party to put into force economic arrangements for inter-Empire trade. In the 1931 manifesto not a word was said about Empire trade from first to last, although there was a complete adoption of the 1929 manifesto. Are they waiting for another Leicester conference?
I have had the advantage of travelling over the whole of Canada and of seeing her industries and interests, and while I realise that the Dominion is commencing upon an industrial era there must nevertheless be tremendous room in that great country, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, for many of our own trades to expand and take the place of foreign trades which get the benefit of Canadian markets to-day. We must also remember that in whatever way we may benefit Canada we are increasing the purchasing power of Canada to buy from us. The same thing holds good for our other Dominions. If we are going to promote trade with other countries surely there is no better way than to promote trade with our own Empire countries, under the same flag and institutions as ourselves.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in one of his various explanations as to why he thought fit to leave the Government at this juncture, said that he would like to have seen a great migration policy as part and parcel of the Ottawa Agreements. Any- 213 one who has been recently to Canada, or to any other Dominion, must know, however much we regret the fact, that in the present circumstances any such migration scheme is not in the realm of practical politics. It may be brought into the realm of practical politics, to the great advantage of all parties, when trade in Canada is rather different from what it is now and when we have by trade agreements brought about a very much better era than that which has been enjoyed in recent years in this country and in our Dominions.
Let me refer to the point forcibly made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) with regard to the omission from the Australian Agreement of the complete safeguard which Article 4 of the Canadian Agreement gives. I ask that, this omission should be remedied. The safeguard in the Canadian Agreement seems complete. I should like to think that in the cases attempted by hon. Members opposite against the Ottawa Agreement the fact that no reference was made to the complete safeguard in Article 4 of the Canadian Agreement was due to a bona fide omission and not with a desire to keep back what was the final feature of this Agreement. Article 4 safeguards the position of the consumer at home in price and amount, and by a little verbal adaptation I think that the Australian Agreement could be made precisely similar in language as the Canadian Agreement. I hope this adoption will be made. Nobody will deny, nobody can deny, that we are entering upon the World Economic Conference as a united Empire in a much different position than if there had been a failure at Ottawa. Many of us believe, and most people who support hon. Members opposite believe, that it is only through the British Empire that the world can be led back to prosperity. If we are going to enter into trade agreements, and I hope there will be many, there can be no better start than by making trade agreements with our own Dominions and Colonies.
The hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) looked with horror upon the taxes upon copper. May I remind him that it is a tax upon foreign copper only. That really applies throughout. We have safeguarded products of a sufficiency and at a price equal to our requirements, and any 214 foreign copper is therefore unnecessary. The same thing may be said of many other articles mentioned in the Schedules. We can keep in check by way of the Duty unnecessary importations from foreign countries; and by these means trade again will follow the Flag. These Agreements are not the end but the beginning of a great policy of Imperial co-operation. Completion must be yet far away. With that object in mind, and believing that these Agreements are not the end but the beginning of a new conception of Empire trade, many of us will go with great satisfaction into the Lobby in support of these Ottawa Agreements made by a Cabinet united in one common aim, to bring about within the Empire an equitable, fair, and lasting trade to the betterment of the countries which share the same flag and the same heritage.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
The hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson), in the course of a somewhat ingenious speech, put forward a statement which I want at the earliest opportunity to refute. Speaking of the Socialist Opposition and the Liberal Opposition to these Agreements, he said that they were under suspicion because they were made with our own kith and kin. There was the suggestion that we were criticising the Agreements merely because they were within the British Empire. There is not a member of the Liberal party who has criticised these Agreements on that ground and, as a matter of fact, in the Debate so far as it has gone it is not the Liberal party or the Socialist party who has cast any doubts on the strength and enduring qualities of the Imperial connection. All the criticisms of the strength of the Imperial connection have come from Conservative speakers. I was shocked at some of the utterances on the subject of Empire which came from Conservative speakers yesterday.
First of all, we had the Chancellor of the Exchequer who told us that, in his view, the ties of Empire had worn dangerously thin in places. Then the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) decided that he would go one better, and he put forward an entirely new view to me of the ties which bind the Empire together. He said that the Empire was being held together mainly by two 215 things, the Navy and the Trustee Act. That is really a novel idea to me, but coming as it does from one of the younger and rising members of the Conservative party I can only accept it as good Conservative doctrine. When in future meetings are held of the Primrose League or the Junior Imperial League all the members will rise and with hands uplifted swear that as long as they have breath in their bodies there shall be no alteration, amendment or repeal of that great Imperial charter, the Trustee Act.
We on these benches take a much higher view of the nature of the British Empire than some Conservative hon. Members. We regard the Empire as the greatest and the most successful experiment in the world's history of government by consent and of free institutions. That is not the view of Empire taken by the present administration and the Conservative party. They have adopted the view which is embodied in some well-known lines of Mr. G. K. Chesterton:So that Lancashire merchants whenever they like Can water the beer of a man in Klondike, Or poison the meat of a man in Bombay— And that is the meaning of Empire Day.In the course of this Debate a number of criticisms have been made not only against the Leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), but also against his followers because they have chosen on this occasion to detach themselves from the present Government. The question is asked both in the country and in this House, why it was that Liberals were able to swallow the Tariff Act, with the help of the agreement to differ, and now have strained at the Ottawa Agreements? The reason I think is to be found—at least one of the principal reasons—in Section 7 of the Tariff Act, which provides for the making of trade agreements with countries outside the Empire. We believed when the Tariff Act was passed that the Government meant what they said in that respect, and when we spoke on the possibility of trade agreements we were told to wait until after Ottawa. Many members of the Liberal party, although they did not like the Tariff Act or the system which was rushed upon us in the beginning of the year, nevertheless 216 felt that if the machinery under Section 7 of the Tariff Act was used with energy and determination it might be possible to get back to Free Trade by the road of trade agreements. Some of us hope that it is still possible to get a mutual lowering of tariff barriers. I believe that would have been possible. If this great market of 45,000,000 people had been used in bargaining, it would have been possible to get many other countries to make advantageous agreements for the mutual lowering of tariff barriers. I do not say that that policy has been entirely destroyed, but it has been considerably handicapped by what has been done at Ottawa.
In his broadcast speech the Foreign Secretary said that we were still free to make trade agreements in the matter of manufactured articles. After all, is that very much use? We are ourselves a great manufacturing nation, and the most advantageous trade agreements must be between those countries whose industries are complementary to one another. The sort of trade agreement which is of most use to us must be with the countries that produce primary commodities and are prepared to exchange them for our manufactured articles. That is the sort of agreement which we could have made, but such an agreement we shall have very much more difficulty in getting as a result of Ottawa. What is to happen now? Suppose that Denmark is prepared to make a trade agreement with us. The chief things that the Danes send to us are butter and eggs and bacon, and in respect of all those commodities our hands have been tied at Ottawa. Take the Argentine, that great and growing market. If it wants to make an agreement with us what will happen? The Government would have to say, "We are very sorry, but first of all we must go cap in hand and ask the permission of Mr. Bennett or the Prime Minister of one of the other Dominions."
Some of my hon. Friends on the Conservative benches seem to have had a little difficulty with what I thought was the very clear constitutional argument raised yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen. That argument was put perfectly clearly in one or two sentences. Perhaps the greatest authority in the last 80 or 90 years on the working of the British Constitution was Walter 217 Bagehot. In his book on the Constitution Bagehot put forward one maxim which everyone will accept. He said that the ultimate authoriy in the British Constitution is a newly-elected House of Commons. Our objection, on constitutional grounds, to the Ottawa, Agreements is simply that with regard to certain forms of taxation the ultimate authority will no longer be a newly-elected House of Commons, but the ultimate authority will be the Governments of some of the Dominions.
Those are some of the reasons, but not the chief reasons, why we on these benches are opposed to these Agreements. We do not object to bargaining within the Empire any more than to bargaining outside the Empire, but we do object to unsuccessful bargaining. We have had to give away a great deal. In the last 12 months, I have developed a very considerable admiration for the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council. In the events of the last 12 months I think he has quite honestly tried to play the game and has tried to keep the Government together; but I think that in future we ought to try to keep the right hon. Gentleman on this side of the Atlantic, because it appears to me that his excursions to the other side of the Atlantic are always fraught with disaster. We object, not because of his bargaining, but because of his unsuccessful bargaining. We have had to give away a great deal, and what have we got in return? One does not need to mention the commodities; that was done by my hon. and gallant Friend a few minutes ago. One has only to read the announcements in the Protectionist newspapers and to study the schedules.
We have been told with a great flourish of trumpets that in future 40 per cent. of British imports into Canada will be on a lower tariff. A simple conclusion is that 60 per cent. will not be on a lower tariff. We have been told of a class of free imports. We have been told that the total value of this class of goods—not of the British goods that go in, but the total value of the goods in respect of which Great Britain will be allowed free entry—is in the neighbourhood of £6,250,000. Suppose that Great Britain is able to get the whole of that £6,250,000 of trade. Canada will be admitting between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 worth of 218 British goods free of duty. At a low estimate we on our side will be admitting in the same year something like £40,000,000 worth of Canadian goods free of duty. We have been told of a great number of articles on the Free List. But after all that may mean anything or nothing at all. Some of the articles on this Free List clearly mean very little in the way of trade advantages to this country. I take an example at random. On page 29 there appears on the Free List "Comic periodicals for juveniles." I hope that whoever replies for the Government will explain the great advantages which are likely to accrue to British, trade and industry as a result of the unfettered export of the "Rainbow" and "Comic Cuts."
There is one aspect of the Agreement upon which sufficient emphasis has not yet been laid. To some extent there has been created an Imperial zollverein. What is going to be the policy to be pursued within the Imperial zollverein What is to he the orientation of industry within the tariff wall that will surround the Empire? It appeals to me that the present policy, as a result first of all of the Tariff Bill and then of the Ottawa Agreements superimposed upon it, makes absolutely the worst of both worlds. No one would deny that there are certain advantages which accrue, whether we have a system of Protection or a system of Free Trade. The question has always been one of the balance of advantage. I do not think anyone denies that there are certain advantages and certain drawbacks about either system. But in the completed policy of the Government as a result of the Tariff Bill and the Ottawa Agreements we are getting the drawbacks of both systems and getting the advantages of neither.
The chief advantage of Free Trade is that both our manufacturers and our consumers are able to buy in any market in the world; they are always able to buy in the cheapest market. Protection cuts that away, and the alleged advantage of Protection is that in return the home 'market is kept for the home manufacturer. In fact, we have not achieved either of these things. We have cut off the cheap imports, and they have ceased to be counteracted because of the fall in the general level of world prices—a change that will be very much felt by the masses of the people. We have cut 219 off our free imports, but in several cases we have not assured to British industries the value of the home market.
Let me give one specific example of the kind of thing I mean. I represent a constituency which is dependent, not wholly but mainly, upon one great industry, the jute industry. Ever since the Abnormal Importations Act was passed that industry has in fact been protected against the foreigner, but in spite of that, since it first had the benefit of tariffs the unemployment in the industry has been in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent. Occasionally it has risen as high as 50 per cent., and occasionally it has fallen below, but generally it has been in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent. ever since tariffs first came in.
§ Mr. FOOT
And before. I am not suggesting that that is the result of tariffs. I am simply saying that tariffs have not cured the unemployment. We do not suggest that the recent increase in unemployment has been caused by tariffs. We do say that it completely disposes of the claim that tariffs are a cure for unemployment. In this specific case you have this very high proportion of unemployment in the jute industry. It is not due to foreign competition in any way. It is largely due to the fact that the jute mills of Dundee are not able to meet the competition that comes from Calcutta. The British prices, in the case of Hessians, are 37 to 45 per cent. higher than the Indian prices. Take jute bags. The British prices are from 75 to 80 per cent. higher than the Indian prices. Compare wages. In Dundee a woman spinner has recently been receiving 32s. a week for attending 80 spindles for 48 hours during the week. As far as I am able to secure accurate information on the subject, an Indian male spinner for the same time, working the same number of spindles, receives a wage of Os. An Indian male weaver on piece work receives on an average 11s. 8d. per week, while a woman weaver in Dundee on piece work is paid 35s. a week.
There is an enormous disparity between conditions and wages in Calcutta and in Dundee. Really it does not make very much difference to the workers of Dundee whether they are unemployed because of sweated labour in central Europe or be- 220 cause of sweated labour in India; the result is the same. There you have the case of an industry which is getting the worst of both worlds, getting the advantages neither of Free Trade nor of Protection. Therefore, I ask in all seriousness, what are the future intentions of the Government as regards the orientation of industry within the Imperial zollverein which they have set up? Is each industry to be left to work out its own economic salvation? Is it to be left, as it were, to find its exact economic centre? That is a question the answer to which is of the highest importance to industries that have to compete with cheap Asiatic labour, not from outside but within the Empire.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Is the hon. Member now arguing in favour of protection for the Dundee jute industry against the Calcutta industry?
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. FOOT
I am not arguing in favour of protection, but I am asking, why should you protect an industry against lower standards in one part of the world and not in another? What, difference does it make to the workers of Dundee whether they are driven out of the field by sweated labour in Europe or by sweated labour in India? You have not even got a logical policy of Protection as a result of these Agreements. I suggest that a policy of logical Protection and the policy of Imperial Preference are policies that in the end will probably be found quite incompatible. I am not stating that it was open to the Government at Ottawa, or that it ought, to have imposed a tariff against India. I think there were other ways in which they could have assisted the jute industry, if they had pursued that end with sufficient industry. In the whole world there is practically only one source of raw jute, and that again is India. The Indian Government imposes on raw jute an export duty of 38s. per ton, and that applies equally whether the jute is exported to this country or elsewhere. It was hoped by those concerned with the jute industry, a great industry upon which many thousands of people depend, that some preference might be given in this respect. Here I really think the British representatives had an extremely strong case. I admit there is also a countervailing duty on the Indian finished product, but even so I think there is a 221 strong case for asking for some preference with regard to this country.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say now that countries outside the British Empire should not have access to raw jute on the same terms as Great Britain?
§ Mr. BEVAN
I understood the Liberal case was that all nations outside the. British Empire should have access to the raw materials of the British Empire on equal terms with those within the British Empire. Does the hon. Gentleman say that at Ottawa we should have made an agreement that the consumers of raw jute in Great Britain should have preference over others?
§ Mr. FOOT
In the Liberal party we are in favour of a general lowering of duties, whether import or export duties. Since the duty is in existence, from our point of view or any point of view, it is better it should be lowered in respect of this country. I do not think it would be possible, from any point of view, to argue against lowering duties which already exist to help industries in this country. What I would like to ask is whether this matter was ever put before the representatives of India at Ottawa? Were representations made? In fact, was anything done to help the jute industry at Ottawa? It is an industry which has been very hard hit by the recent depression, and I would like the representatives of the Government to tell us what was done on behalf of this important industry on which a large part of the population of Eastern Scotland depends. In my view, most hon. Members would consider that the greatest blunder in our Imperial history was when, in the eighteenth century, we taxed certain parts of the Empire for the benefit of ourselves. It appears that by the Ottawa Agreement we are reversing the process and taxing ourselves for the benefit of certain outlying parts of the Empire. I would like to express the hope that the one policy will not prove as disastrous as the other.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
It has been my good fortune this evening to follow the 222 senior Member for our constituency (Mr. Dingle Foot) and I do so with the greatest possible pleasure and gratitude to him for what he has said. He commenced his speech by telling us how profoundly shocked he had been by what some member of the Conservative party had said in a previous speech. I am profoundly delighted with what the senior Member for Dundee has told us this evening, and I am looking forward to the time when I may welcome him to these benches. It has already been pointed out that, after all, our senior Member has been pleading for Protection in some form for the jute industry. I have pleaded for it for a long time, even before the senior Member had come to see the plight of that industry. I would like to express my admiration for the ability and agility of a Free Trade speech, condemning the Ottawa Conference, condemning Imperial Preference, but not taking the worst of both worlds, but, with due respect to the senior Member, getting the best of both worlds. I am very pleased, indeed, to know that there is now in the House of Commons a champion for the protection of the jute industry.
I would put, if I may, in even more graphic language the difficulties of that industry. I quite agree as to the difficulties our delegates had to face at the Conference. They were enormous. I realise fully the enormous amount of business they had to undertake, but I do say quite frankly that I am disappointed we have not got as much at Ottawa to help us in the jute trade as I hoped. But I still hope for better things to come, as my voice will not now speak alone for the industry. As has already been pointed out there were two definite ways to assist the industry. We had hoped that Imperial Preference would have worked to our advantage. We have here an industry which is struggling for its existence. It is an industry which gives employment to about 40,000 people, 38,000 of whom are in our constituency of Dundee. That industry is suffering grievous unemployment. It has been suffering competition from continental countries and, above all, from India. Indian retained imports are about 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of the retained imports. As long as the Government of Great Britain was determined to pursue a policy of Free Trade there 223 was not the slightest hope for the recovery of the jute trade. As long as there was no scheme of Protection or Imperial Preference the industry was without hope. I believe that was the reason why the senior Member and I were returned at the last election by the 47,000 people who voted for both of us, and voted for the clear manifesto we both put out. They voted for the policy for which we both stood—for "the free hand," for the contraction of imports, the expansion of exports and mutual trade agreements within the Empire.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
The hon. Gentleman may have mentioned food taxes. I did not. Being Scotch, I was more cautious. The policy I stood for, and unfortunately I addressed many electors and asked them to support my hon. Friend, was for "the free hand." I believe that was why I got their support. I was delighted it was for that reason, and for the protection of this trade, which was doomed to despair if we carried on Free Trade. This year the industry has been helped by the action of the Abnormal Importation Duties, and other duties, which have been put on, but only 20 per cent. of the imports come from foreign countries, and only 20 per cent. are affected. We have seen a distinct improvement because of these import duties. I should be delighted at any time if he would come with me to some of the factories—if the hon, as it were, would walk out with the lamb. He would then see certain factories, and parts of these trades, saved by the duties put on. What we call the Brussels carpet industry has been entirely saved by foreign competition being stopped. But 90 per cent. of the trade is still suffering from Indian competition. We had hoped that the Ottawa Agreement would help us. We have realised our case was unique, and that in no other case was a British industry asking for what we were asking. All other industries were asking for more freedom in selling their goods to the countries of the Dominions. We were asking that a small industry in this country should get some protection from a bigger industry in the Empire.
224 The production of jute goods in India has gone up by 47 per cent., and of foreign jute goods by 21 per cent., while our production has gone down by 35 per cent. The amount of goods coming to Great Britain is 3 to 5 per cent. of the Indian production, and 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of our production in this country. We have agreed that it is quite right and proper that a small industry in any part of the British Dominions should not be crushed out by exports from this country. In our case this is a small industry. In this country it is smaller than in the Dominion and we ought not to let it be crushed out. I did hope there would be a small duty against jute goods from India with a preference over the foreigner. By Imperial Preference, we should get some preference by the export duties being taken off raw jute imports. One section of the Liberal party can put before us that India should do that, and they still keep their Liberal principles, wherever they may be. If you are going to go right up to the end of your Liberal principles and say "Take off this export duty" you must, if you are going to keep your principles, take that duty off manufactured goods also. This trade cannot be saved except by Protection and Imperial Preferences. No Liberalism and Free Trade can help us.
The senior Member said he had hoped there would be no agreements with the Dominions because then other countries would be coming and asking for agreements, and now our hands were tied. It seems that foreign countries were not coming to us and asking for agreements until we made this Agreement. We waited to see foreign countries coming to us for agreements. Were they coming to us for business agreements before we changed our fiscal system? To-day we see a change. To-day we see foreign countries anxious to get such agreements because they realise that they can no longer use our markets as dumping grounds. And surely, if we have to make Agreements, the first places with which to make those agreements are the Dominions. Why should those who have told us that their policy is to make agreements, object to agreements being made with the Dominions?
I have tried to put the case as briefly as I could. I have spoken longer on one 225 particular industry than on the general ease, because that industry is, I think, an example which shows what I would call, if I may be allowed to do so, the sham of some of the Debate which we have heard in the House of Commons. It seems to me that Liberalism and the Free Trade theory may be useful for the public platform. No doubt that theory has been of great use already—for instance last week in the City of Dundee—but, when we come to actual facts and practical suggestions, I put it to every hon. Member of this Committee, is the theory of Free Trade, that glorious obsolete doctrine, still useful? I put it, is that theory of any use when we come to discuss the facts of unemployment and of art industry such as ours, where there is absolute under-cutting, both from the Continent and from within the Dominions? I ask the people who know about that industry, whether there is any way of dealing with its condition, until wages have been raised in other countries, other than by a scheme of Protection and Imperial Preference such as we are now at last going to see.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
Seldom has the House of Commons had the experience which we have just had, of finding two Members, sent here by the same people, taking different sides on a question of this kind. One of them is more satisfied with the Ottawa Agreements than the other, and, strange to say, the junior Member is more satisfied than the senior Member. That seldom happens in life. Usually the junior Member is more difficult to satisfy than the senior Member, but here things are different. It is not, however, new to have such a. situation in the case of Dundee. Those who were in the last Parliament will recall that on several occasions the two Members for Dundee were not in agreement. One Member was a rather strong Prohibitionist while his colleague did not seem quite so convinced on the subject. I do not think it would be wise for me to attempt to decide which of the two hon. Members who have just spoken represents Dundee, but I have a feeling that Dundee itself will decide at the next Election that neither of them does so.
This Debate has been interesting from many points of view. I am very pleased that the Ottawa Conference took place, if only for two simple reasons. First, it 226 has brought about the resignation of a number of Cabinet Ministers. That fact may not please everybody on the other side—though I know it pleases many—but it certainly pleases me. I was anxious that sooner or later someone should, by some definite action, show that the policy pursued by the Government is pure Conservative policy. The Prime Minister last night objected to the action of the late Home Secretary on the ground that it was introducing party considerations into governmental affairs. But are the Government not pursuing party considerations? Does the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) happens to be Prime Minister, of itself mean that the Government are not pursuing party considerations? What the right hon. Gentleman's speech revealed clearly was that he was prepared to accept the policy of the Conservative party on this question.
The Prime Minister is quite entitled to accept Conservative policy on this question and the other reason why I am pleased that the Ottawa Conference took place is the fact that it has been strong enough to bring the right hon. Gentleman to the House of Commons to deliver a speech on tariffs. Many of us on this side have waited anxiously for 12 months to find where the Prime Minister stood on this tariff question. Last night the waiting was brought to an end. The Prime Minister told us definitely where he stood. He told us on this side that he was with us. He also told us he was against us. We know now where he stands—that he is both for us and against us—and that is something to know. The right hon. Gentleman said he agreed with us, fundamentally, that our conception of the present position was correct, that the system was at the root of the evil and that Free Trade or tariffs had no connection with it. But he also told us that he believed that tariffs could put things right.
Many speeches from the other side of the Committee have chastised severely the Samuelites who have left the Government. I myself am surprised that they did not leave sooner. I gave the late Home Secretary and Viscount Snowden credit for sounder judgment and keener foresight, and I am surprised that they should have allowed themselves to be led 227 into such a position. They must remember that they and especially Viscount Snowden were more responsible than any men in this country for the return of hundreds of the Members who sit in the House of Commons to-day. Had the Prime Minister not had the support of Viscount Snowden, his appeal to the country would not have been so effective. Viscount Snowden and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) made possible these Ottawa Agreements by enabling hundreds of Members to get into Parliament, who, otherwise, would never have been returned.
I notice that the so-called National Labour party chastise with especial severity the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, but are rather lenient with Viscount Snowden. I wonder why? I wonder whether it is out of gratitude for what he did for them, or whether they are afraid that, if they make any fierce attack upon him, he may deal with them, with something far stronger than cod liver oil? Why does the Prime Minister treat Viscount Snowden so leniently, while he makes such a fierce attack on the late Home Secretary? I suspect that there is a fear that if Viscount Snowden were disturbed very much he might do something to damage the reputation of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister told us last night that he is very cautious, and he is exercising caution in not disturbing Viscount Snowden, because Viscount Snowden might disturb him very much.
The Prime Minister said that we on this side—the late Labour Government—arranged the Ottawa Conference. We have no complaint about the Ottawa Conference having been arranged and held. We believe that it was a proper step. Our complaint is against the Agreements that were made at Ottawa. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, and I agreed with him, that the aim of the Conference was to secure world recovery and world prosperity by securing, first, the prosperity of the British Empire. He said in a rather telling passage that the world at present was in a bog and that the only way to get it out was for some one country, or some number of countries, to get on firm land and then lend a helping hand to the 228 remaining countries and pull them also on to firm land. But surely the process outlined at Ottawa, if it gets the British Empire out of the bog, leaves the others in the bog, and, in fact, sends them deeper into it. No one can suggest that that method is going to get us out of the bog, unless at the expense of some other nations.
It would be different if the other countries said, "We are very desirous to get on firm land, but we are quite willing to suffer for a short time longer, while the British Empire gets on the firm land in order that we may then be helped. It may in the meantime intensify our sufferings but we are prepared to accept that intensification, if, as a result, Great Britain and the Empire get on firm land and then give us a helping hand." But that presupposes too much. I do not expect other countries to take that point of view. I do not expect them to say, "The Ottawa Agreements are hitting us, but we do not complain because they are only hitting us for a short time, and they are only hitting us in order to help us later on." No, the other countries of the world will not accept that interpretation of the Agreement. They know that Great Britain, along with the rest of the Empire, is out to secure some of the trade which they now have, and, naturally, they will act just as we are acting now, and will take measures to prevent Great Britain getintg that trade which Great Britain is after.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that what was wrong with the world was the wholesale prices, that we could not expect industries to accept ruin quietly, and that wholesale prices had dropped so low that something must be done to raise them. We, in the mining industry, realise the importance of wholesale prices. We know that, as a result of wholesale prices being exceedingly low, miners have to work for very low wages, and we quite agree with the increase in wholesale prices. We are prepared to accept anything which will bring prosperity to an industry, if it is not at the expense of the consumer of the commodity of that industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there was such a lag between wholesale and retail prices that wholesale prices could be increased without increasing retail prices. It must not 229 be forgotten that the people who benefit by an increase in wholesale prices are the producers in industry, and we are very much concerned that the consumer of the product should also be safeguarded. But there has been no attempt at Ottawa to get uniformity in dealing with the control of retail prices and I submit that, if wholesale prices are increased, as the Secretary of State for the Dominions informed us they would be, there is no assurance that that would not also increase retail prices.
I ask the Lord President of the Council as head of the Ottawa Delegation to explain this position. At Ottawa an attempt was made to secure an increase of wholesale prices, the intention of the delegation being that retail prices should not increase. Why was some action not taken by the British delegation to prevent an increase in retail prices? It is the retail price that matters to the vast mass of consumers, to the unemployed and to the underpaid workers. What can account for that vital factor having been overlooked—because it is a vital factor. I believe that the worker has no interest in wholesale prices except in so far as they determine the retail prices, and here we are attempting to raise wholesale prices and making no attempt to safeguard retail prices. We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we should live in hopes, that we should not expect immediate benefits, that we should take the long view and realise that it takes time for such arrangements to fructify. In the meantime, he said that these Agreements had secured a better relationship between the countries of the Empire, and that you would find to-day a far better relationship than there was prior to Ottawa. One sincerely hopes there is. I agree that a better relationship between the different sections of the world is a very direct way of getting it throughout the whole world. I noticed that he quoted with delight a very eminent industrialist. I will quote a very eminent representative of the "New York Times," who was present during the whole of the Ottawa Conference, and he says:Considered merely as an economic affair, the results of which are to be measured in terms of the respective trade increases, the Conference may be called a moderate success, although not a serious halt to the trade of foreign countries in the Empire markets. But this success has been achieved at the 230 cost of a terrific strain to the political and constitutional entity of the British Empire. No matter how many more yards of British cotton cloth Canada buys from Lancashire, no matter how many more bushels of wheat Great Britain buys from Canada, the scars of this Conference are going to last a long time.It is all very well for the delegation at Ottawa to think that, because at the moment the Conservative party is the strongest party in this House, holding similar views to those held by the strongest party in many of the Dominions, therefore there can be no strong feeling against these Agreements, but I am satisfied that the Conservative party in all these countries, as well as in this country, will pay the penalty of disagreement when the electors get the chance. It is all very well to suggest that the electorate sent this Government in for this purpose. I do not think the electorate were very much concerned, when they voted, about tariffs or Free Trade. I think they accepted Viscount Snowden's broadcast speech first and foremost, and I think they accepted the President of the Board of Trade's statement regarding Post Office savings, and that those were largely the deciding factors in the votes given. I do not think that our fiscal policy played more than a very small part at the last election, but I think that fiscal policy will play a very important part at the next election.
I want to refer for a moment to Russia. I cannot understand why this action has been taken. The Dominions Secretary yesterday was very nebulous, as he frequently is. He seemed to tell us that it was not due to anything that Russia had done, that it was no sin that Russia had hitherto committed, but that there was a possibility that Russia might at a later date do something wrong, and this was a kind of preventive action, so that if Russia does anything wrong in the next six months, we shall have the power to terminate the Agreement. The draft of the report seems to suggest that very much, because, as is well known, the words used in Article 21 are as follows:This Agreement is made on the express condition that, if either Government is satisfield that any preferences hereby granted in respect of any particular class of commodities are likely to he frustrated in whole or in part by reason of the creation or maintenance directly or indirectly of prices for such class of commodities through State action on the part of any foreign country"—231 Those very words have been put in, deliberately, to enable this country to deal with Russia.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Because Russia takes more State action to deal with trade than any other country in the world, and I think those words were meant to deal with Russia. It was a concession made to Mr. Bennett, because he was so insistent that something should be done to give a fillip to the Canadian timber trade. I do not mind dealing with Russia if the treatment can be shown to bring benefit to this country in the long run. I agree that we can handicap Russia and that handicapping Russia may possibly bring about, at a later date, the breaking down of the Russian Government and of Socialism in that country. One fears sometimes that such thoughts are running through the minds of the Government. They disagree with the policy in Russia and with the establishment of Socialism in any country, and they think that by hindering, hampering, and possibly breaking down the experiment in Russia, they may thus give Capitalism a longer life. I am not blaming the Government at all for wanting to stabilise Capitalism. I should be surprised if 468 Conservatives, who believe that the stabilisation of Capitalism would help this country, did not see to it during their term of office that it was stabilised. I know that during my term of office, if I was a Tory, every step would be taken to make Capitalism firmer than ever in the saddle. I do not blame them, but when they have done that, if they succeed, they will not have benefited the vast mass of the people of this country.
Somebody suggested that we on this side were not putting forward alternatives to this policy. It is not our job. When they send us, as they will at the next election, on to that side of the House, we shall do it. Those of the Conservative party who are returned next time will find plenty of room on this side of the House. I found in the "National Review" in the Library an article by a lady who signs herself "Lucy Houston," and she is not only "Lucy," but very lucid as well. She is dealing with Ottawa, and I am not aware that 232 "Lucy Houston" is a member of the Labour party, though perhaps she is, but this is what she says:Failure at Ottawa was a foregone conclusion.… The Spider of Lossiemouth"—whoever that may be—has so woven his web as to entangle every Imperialist fly.… In justification of our contempt for politicians who, no matter how vital the question they are called upon to decide, always want to compromise, I will only quote this verse from Holy Scriptures: 'I know thy works—that thou are neither cold nor hot. I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then—because thou art lukewarm—and neither cold nor hot—I will spue thee out of my mouth.'The article does not end there. It goes on:A failure that cannot be helped is bad enough, but a failure that is deliberately planned is heart breaking. Truly the National Government has 'chastised the nation with scorpions.'I am not concerned very much with what political party might bring prosperity to this country. What I want is prosperity for this country, and I am convinced that the Conservative party's policy will not bring it. I am prepared to grant that they want it, but I think they are seeking it along wrong lines. The Ottawa lines will not bring prosperity, and that is our only reason for opposing the Ottawa Agreements.
§ Major Sir HERBERT CAYZER
I am afraid I must disagree with the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), who has just spoken. He said he did not consider that tariffs played a very great part in the last election. I beg to differ, because I think they played a very important part indeed. In fact, I am not certain that they were not the most important item in the whole election, because the National Government was the one party in the State that held out a policy in which there was some hope of putting this country on its legs again, getting our trade and industries on their feet, and curing this awful curse of unemployment. It was our tariff policy, coupled with our Empire policy, which the people of the country realised was the only means of bringing it about. I should also like to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on being the statesman who had the honour of bringing in these Resolutions regarding Ottawa, which I hope will fulfil the objects and policy to which his father devoted so much of his life. I, along with 233 many other Members of this House, have for over 30 years, unfortunately, been advocating the protection of our industries and the fuller development of our Empire trade. Therefore, it gives me all the more pleasure to see the results of the work that has been done at Ottawa. I must say straight away that I am more than satisfied—in fact, I marvel—at the completeness of the work which they performed there. I believe they have laid a foundation on which we can build—I might almost say rebuild—this Empire of ours and develop our Empire trade, but I think success was only possible—and success they have achieved—by the broad Empire view which our delegates took and which the delegates from the various parts of the Empire took.
I was very pleased to hear that the Government intend bringing in measures at last to deal with Russian dumping. After all, this is cheap, sweated labour, producing goods under conditions which we will not tolerate in this country. If we allow these imports to keep on coming in here, it can only mean one of two things in the long run. It can only mean either starvation or the lowering of the standard of living which we have set up in this country. I am not concerned with the standard of living in Russia, but I do not want to see the standard of living in this country brought down to the level existing in Russia today.
Again, some of our free import Liberals, including the late Home Secretary, have said on one or two occasions that there is more unemployment now than there was at this time last year, and that our exports have gone down; and this the right hon. Gentleman attributes to tariffs. I think it is quite unfair to blame tariffs for any alteration in unemployment or in our exports in the present condition of the world. If you look at the world depression and at the position of this country to-day, compared with what it was last year, and if you compare this country with the other great countries of the world, you will realise that we are fortunate in being in the position in which we find ourselves. Whereas our unemployment, after all, has only risen very slightly—hardly at all—the unemployment in France, America, and other great nations has risen by hundreds of thousands, and indeed by millions. The exports of this country are 234 down a very small percentage, whereas the exports of the United States, France, Germany and other countries are down anything from 20 per cent. to 50 per cent. So that, instead of saying that we have to thank tariffs for the bad position in which we are to-day, we should say that we have to thank tariffs for the fortunate position in which we are. We took the first step last year to protect our home industries. Now we are busy taking the second step, which is to try and find increased markets for British Empire goods. It is almost impossible to estimate the stimulus which Ottawa will have on Empire trade. Practically every industry was covered and dealt with at that Conference. The details of the schedules must have involved a tremendous amount of work and study, and they show that there must have been a great deal of preparatory work before the delegates went to Ottawa.
I want to point out, however—though in no carping manner—that one industry has been overlooked. It is one of the oldest industries in the country, one of the largest, and one of the most important. It is an industry that is suffering distress at the present time, and has suffered ever since the War. It is an industry which has gone a great way to help form the traditions, the characteristics, and the courage of this race, and it constitutes the vital link which knits the Empire together. Indeed, it constitutes the veins through which the life-blood of Empire trade flows. From what I have said, the Committee will probably realise the industry at which I am hinting. In the past it has helped to bridge over the gap between exports and imports, and to provide those invisible exports which have enabled us to make our trade balance show on the right side. Shipping, after all, is an international industry. In the past we have stood the fiercest competition all over the world, and in the future we will do likewise granted we get fair competition. The plight of the shipping industry to-day is very sad and real, and I should like to quote some lines from the Chamber of Shipping report of this year. They say:The appalling conditions to which the shipping industry has been reduced are mainly attributable to the direct and indirect action of Governments in bringing ships into existence for political, and not 235 commercial, reasons, and persisting in the running of such ships at heavy loss, at the cost of the taxpayers.That is quite true, and they go on to quote the Imperial Conference of 1923 which dealt with the same question. That conference said:In view of the vital importance to the British Empire of safeguarding its overseas carrying trade against all forms of discrimination by foreign countries, whether open or disguised, the representatives of the Governments of the Empire declare:That it is their established practice to make no discrimination between the flags of shipping using their ports, and that they have no intention of departing from this practice as regards countries which treat ocean-going shipping under the British flag on a footing of equality with their own national shipping. That in the event of danger arising in future to the overseas shipping of the Empire through an attempt by a foreign country to discriminate against the British flag, the Governments of the Empire will consult together as to the best means to meet the situation.The Chamber of Shipping says:We feel strongly that the present position of the shipping industry should be placed before the Imperial Conference at Ottawa, and that the Governments of the Empire should be told that occasion has arisen for taking the most effective steps possible to secure and maintain the objects particularised in the above resolution.That was one of the omissions of the Ottawa Conference. I appreciate the amount of work that had to be got through in the short time available, but after all shipping is a vital and important industry to this country. I understand that there were people present whom the delegates could have consulted if they had considered it advisable. I believe in Free Trade, but it must be fair trade and not the free imports in which the ex-Home Secretary and his Liberal friends believe. No country has done more for the freedom of the seas than this country. Unfortunately, no such thing exists to-day. British shipping is suffering from very unfair competition, for practically every foreign Government is discriminating against it, either by direct discrimination in the form of subsidies or reservation for trades, or by not conforming to conventions; and these Governments are violating the principle of the freedom of the seas.
I have here a list of Governments which are granting subsidies in one form or another, or loans or credit to their 236 shipping. It is so long that I cannot go through it; the difficulty is to find any foreign country which does not grant subsidies or help to its shipping. Nearly all the countries, great or small, are helping their shipping one way or another and discriminating against British shipping. I have no use for subsidies, but we have to do something. The position is getting worse and worse every year, and getting rapidly worse. We want to see that the impetus which Ottawa will undoubtedly give to Empire trade, as it will be reflected in the increased carrying, will be borne in British and not foreign bottoms. There is a real danger in that a great deal of that trade is being to-day and is likely to be carried in foreign bottoms. Few people realise to what an extent foreign shipping is cutting out British shipping in the Empire trade. I am not talking of trade between this country and foreign countries, but actually trade between the Empire and this country.
Take Mauritius, for instance. There is a preference on Mauritius sugar of 4s. 4d. per cwt., which is equal to about £4 7s. per ton. Most of the shippers in Mauritius realise that that implies an obligation to ship their sugar home in British ships. Unfortunately, a certain number of them do not realise that, and we have had the position in the last two or three months of subsidised foreign shipping quoting rates so low that, although British tonnage is available, it is unable to compete for the Mauritius sugar coming to this country. The rate was as low in some cases as 18s. and 19s. The Italian Government grants a mileage subsidy to its lines, and from Mauritius to the United Kingdom that works out at 3s. per ton, so that the rate they were quoting, namely, 18s. and 19s., was really equal to a rate of 21s. or 22s. to them. With that subsidy, any well-managed British shipping firm would be able to take that Mauritius sugar home arid make a profit, but they cannot compete against the Italian subsidised lines.
The same thing applies to the homeward Australian trade, in which we are finding it very difficult to compete. Maize is being imported from South Africa today, and any number of foreign boats are quoting rates for that trade, which the British ships cannot look at without substantial loss. That is entirely the re- 237 sult of those foreign boats being subsidised in one form or another by their own Governments. Therefore, if we do not want to see Empire products and the increased trade which should take place as a result of the Ottawa Conference going in foreign bottoms, we must do something to prevent it. Owing to the methods adopted by these foreign Governments, foreign tonnage is materially increasing, even in the British Empire trade. The result is that foreign countries are stepping in and taking the place of British ships, which are being rapidly reduced in numbers in that trade.
I suggest to the Government that we should ask the foreign Governments to abolish discrimination. I realise that before Ottawa this would have been futile. Probably now it will be ineffective, but foreign Governments realise that as a result of our change in tariff policy, things are not quite so easy as they were for them before, and they may deem it wise and prudent to listen to us. If not, the Governments of the Empire should debar from Empire trade foreign countries which will not discard all forms of discrimination and strictly adhere to the principle of the freedom of the seas. We have to do something to preserve the Empire shipping, and we can preserve it provided it gets fair play; but if we are going to allow foreign countries to subsidise their ships and compete with British ships, even in the Empire trade, we cannot face up to it for a, moment. On the other hand, if we ask them to abolish this discrimination they may do so, and I am certain that a number of countries will do it; but to those that will not, we must say: "You cannot take part; in our Empire trade."
I am certain that it can be done now with very little inconvenience, but in a few years hence it will be much more difficult. I urge the Government and the Governments of the Empire to take some steps before it is too late. We have taken the first step in our tariff policy, whereby we have protected our industries. The next step was Ottawa, whereby we shall increase markets throughout the Empire. As the third step, I hope that we shall get freedom of the seas, at any rate throughout the Empire. I am more than convinced that what we have done at Ottawa will have great reactions and help to get the trade of the world going once more. I believe that 238 Ottawa will go down in history as a landmark in the British Empire, and that it will mark the turning point in the restoration of world prosperity.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
The hon. Member for South Portsmouth (Sir H. Cayzer) expressed the hope at the beginning of his speech that the standard of life of the British workers would not be reduced. He apparently wished for that standard to be maintained. I wonder what he had in mind. Was he thinking merely in terms of nominal wages or in terms of real wages? Was he bearing in mind the fact that in all probability—I think it more than likely—the results of the Ottawa Agreements will be a real reduction in the standard of life of the British workers? It will mean a reduction in real wages, even if it does not in nominal wages, because I am quite certain that in the long run, as the result of these Agreements, they will have to pay more than otherwise for the things they need. Then the hon. Member had a complaint to make against the Ottawa Agreements on his own behalf or on behalf of interests with which he is primarily concerned. I have carefully read through these schedules, and it seems to me that all the interests, more or less, were heard at Ottawa, all the interests had their fingers in the pie; and it is rather deplorable to hear that those interested in British shipping had no voice in things at all, if we are to judge from the remarks to which we have just listened. Surely, the organisation representing British shipowning interests ought to have been more alert.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I did mention that the shipping delegates were at Ottawa, but the shipping interest, as I say, was overlooked, probably for very good reasons—the question of time, and other things.
§ Mr. BROWN
I suggest that next time the shipping interest should change their delegates, because most of the other delegations had a fair say, and it is up to the shipowning people to see that they send better people. One cannot think of these Agreements apart from the general record and general policy of the Government. We have had the National Government floundering about—I do not think that is an exaggerated phrase—for 12 months in a vain effort to extricate the country from 239 the economic chaos into which it has been plunged by the almost complete breakdown of an economic system which most hon. Members opposite are still passionately defending. They started off by saying that probably all would be well if they could preserve the Gold Standard and establish a system of Protection. The Gold Standard went. A system of Protection was established, but soon hon. Members began to realise that the vision they had conjured up before the minds of the electorate of a returning prosperity was a mirage. As it faded away, and they felt themselves to be in a political wilderness, with all their followers disillusioned and disappointed, they had to conjure up another mirage, and they began all the publicity necessary to make the Ottawa Conference appear one of the most important events in recent political history. In these Agreements and the schedules accompanying them we have the results. In any opinion these schedules are entirely barren of all opportunities for the development and expansion of our trade on any scale that can mean even an infinitesimal improvement in permanent employment for those engaged in our manufacturing industries. That is my considered opinion after giving them very careful consideration.
But we have been told that this is only a beginning; that Ottawa laid the foundations on which we can build. That is really the burden of the speech made by the Chancellor yesterday. He did not attempt to say that very much was to come out of the Agreements. All he did say was, "Here you have the beginning of new tendencies; you are laying foundations on which you can build in the future." While he was talking the suggestion came into my mind that he might as well have said they were planting a tree from which we should get a certain amount of shelter temporarily from the economic blizzard raging at present and a good lot of protection, probably, from economic blizzards which may rage in the future. If that had been the metaphor used I should have said the wrong kind of tree was planted. It seems to me the tree which has been planted is something like the mangrove tree, which grows in tropical swamps, with its roots above ground, interlacing and interlocking. To change the simile again, the Lord President of 240 the Council, in a speech in the earlier part of this Session, when talking about general economic conditions in the world, said it was as though someone had thrown grit into the economic machinery, that the machinery was groaning on and things were getting steadily worse. Looking through these Agreements, and noting the number of times his signature appears, I should suggest that sat Ottawa he has been throwing grit in double handfuls into the economic machinery of the world. I do not think that is an exaggeration when one considers all that is involved in the Agreements. There is no doubt in my mind that the idea on which the Conference was based was a tremendous blunder in view of present world conditions. At a time when supreme efforts ought to have been made to remove all possible causes of friction in the economic life of the world, the making of these Agreements is like throwing more grit into the economic machinery.
When he began his speech the Chancellor told us that this was an important Conference, and he welcomed it for the new tendencies it displayed so far as the history of the Empire is concerned. He was careful to remind us, too, that trade and commerce are now international in character. As one of my hon. Friends remarked a little while ago, he talked about the world being in a bog, a quagmire, and went on to argue that if the Ottawa Agreements brought back a certain measure of prosperity to the British Empire we should he able to help other countries out of the bog and quagmire. That was a very laboured attempt on the part of the Chancellor to give an altruistic significance to what was done at Ottawa when really the whole business of the Conference was selfish in the extreme from the standpoint of world trade and world commerce, because in diverting some trade from certain channels in which it now moves into Empire channels, unless you at the same time increase the total volume of world trade—about which I have very great doubts—obviously you are pushing some other nations further into the bog and quagmire to which the Chancellor referred.
Then the Chancellor made another astonishing statement. He was trying to make us believe that the Conference was quite unique in a lot of respects, 241 and said that at any rate it did mark one step forward. Some of us have listened to addresses given by Dominion statesmen on these premises, and almost without exception, I think, they have always stressed the fact that they were determined that their countries should not remain engaged only in the production of primary products, but intended to develop their secondary industries. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer took credit for the fact that he had persuaded producers and manufacturers in the Dominions to give up the idea that their home markets should be reserved for the home producers. That phrase, coming from him, rather startled me. I felt that he ought to get his own followers into a committee room upstairs and tell them that the home market here ought not to be reserved for home producers, because his own followers all passionately believe that the home market should always be reserved for borne producers. That is the whole idea behind the Protectionist system established in this country. Now, in spite of that, the Chancellor comes along and takes credit for the fact that he has persuaded Dominion statesmen that their home markets should no longer be reserved entirely for their own producers. Some of the arguments he used yesterday were very double-edged. There was one very pathetic passage in his speech—I do not know of any other word to describe it—in which he said:We recognised from the first that the results must necessarily be more rapid in their operation in the case of the Dominions titan they could be here."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1932; col.:36, Vol. 269.]That was throwing cold water on some of the high expectations which have been entertained regarding the Ottawa Conference. Let us look at the propaganda carried on by a certain type of person who believes in the idea of welding the Empire into an economic unit. It was said, "If only we could have a Government in office in this country who would make that idea their policy, and seek to put it into operation, there would he work for our people, there would be abounding prosperity." That is what the electorate were told in speeches, in election manifestos and in certain sections of the Press; and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer came along yesterday and said that though the Dominions may get 242 something soon out of the Agreements made at Ottawa that it is not likely this country will get anything yet. In other words, he puts off the prosperity which has been promised as the result of the establishment of Empire economic unity.
I listened with very great interest to the speech of the Prime Minister last night, and with particular interest to what he had to say about events which preceded the last General Election. Most people thought, especially after the way in which the Prime Minister flourished worthless marks at the last General Election, that he and his associates had been returned to save the Gold Standard. Of course, they did not do so, but that is now ancient history. Here, however, is a policy of Empire economic unity, soon to he embodied in a Bill and in a few weeks to become an Act of Parliament. Much to my surprise we were told last night that this policy of Empire economic unity was foreshadowed in the Prime Minister's election manifesto, and also by him when broadcasting. That really did astonish me, because I have always thought of the Prime Minister, though perhaps I have been wrong, as a great internationalist, with a mind moving along international lines, and have even felt at some times that perhaps he was not taking enough cognisance of domestic problems here at home. How he can reconcile these Agreements made at Ottawa with the internationalism for which he has previously stood passes my comprehension, because, these Agreements seem to be fritting away what trade we have for trade we may possibly get from the Dominions at some date in the future.
But that is not what I am mainly concerned about, because it is obvious to me that the result of these Agreements is bound more or less to be, in my opinion, as follows. I think that every hon. Member will agree with me that, whatever may be the superficial causes of war in the modern world, the real causes are economic antagonisms. I am certain that this attempt to make the British Empire an economic unit is bound to engender economic antagonisms in a worse form than we have them at present. They are bad enough, in all conscience, at the present time. I cannot, 243 for the life of me, see how these Agreements will further international co-operation or international understanding. On the contrary, it seems to me to be very clear indeed that one of their consequences will be to intensify economic antagonisms in various parts of the world.
Then the other part of the speech of the Prime Minister, in which he had something to say about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), interested me very much, and I could not help thinking that, after all, the Prime Minister was the captain of the ship, and that it was he who had selected the ramshackle crew. If the ramshackle crew shows signs of going to pieces by mutiny less than 12 months after it has been got together, it is not the fault of the ramshackle crew, but the fault of the captain who chose the crew. I could not understand the ground for the Prime Minister's complaint, so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen was concerned. He admitted that his political judgment was bad, because otherwise the crew would not have gone to pieces in the time.
What the Prime Minister had to say about unemployment also interested me very much. He was very uncomfortable, but still he said that unemployment was not due either to tariffs or to Free Trade. He said that it was not due to any of those superficial causes to which it is sometimes attributed by many people who talk about it, but that it was due to some deep-seated social factor, some defect in our social organisation, and that until that defect was removed we could not hope to relieve or mitigate to any considerable extent, and certainly could not hope to solve, the problem of unemployment. The Prime Minister expressed that view and in doing so he makes his position very extraordinary indeed, because two or three days before, when he made a speech somewhere in London, he said that the duty of statesmen and of politicians was to tell the unemployed the truth. Obviously, he was telling them the truth when he told them that unemployment was not due either to tariffs or Free Trade but to some very serious defect in our economic organisation, to some fundamental flaw in our existing social arrangements. He was telling them the truth, and it is necessary to tell them the truth. I cannot understand how he 244 can come along after that and imply—although I do not suggest that he used words to that effect—by the support he gave to the Ottawa Agreements, that those Agreements are likely to make some contribution to the solution of unemployment. Let him be perfectly frank. Let him tell the unemployed the truth. Let him tell them clearly, straightly, and distinctly that there is no hope for them in Protection, in the Ottawa Agreements, or in anything that has ever been done by those who, at the present moment, support him.
§ Mr. LEWIS
It is always difficult to judge of the relative importance of contemporary events. We look back over the years, and we can see with some clearness which events were of fundamental importance and which were not, but when events are taking place in our own time it is much harder to judge. Nevertheless, I think that most hon. Members will agree that, for good or for ill, the Ottawa Conference marked a turning-point in the history of our race and of our Empire. Consider the circumstances in which the Conference was held. For many years past, in pursuance of our traditional policy, we have thrust more and more responsibility on those settlements of our kith and kin which form so large a part of our Overseas Empire, until finally, by the Statute of Westminster, the position of the great self-governing Dominions has been brought to this, that they are held to the Mother Country by bonds so slight that if those bonds be further reduced it can only lead to a state of complete independence.
Upon an Empire, large parts of which are held together by such slight bonds, has come the full force of an economic storm, in the last few years. The Empire, in common with the rest of the world, has found itself faced with the position that there is not enough trade to go round and that business shrinks from day to day. They see other nations groping about in the confusion and trying to arrange among themselves some mutual methods of improving their position. They see Germany and Austria trying to get together and the Danubian States trying to come to some common arrangement. They see Belgium coming to an arrangement with Holland, and so forth, and the self-governing Dominions, in those circumstances, naturally look 245 round in order to see to whom they can go for mutual trade. To whom are they to turn? Is Canada to turn to the United States? Is Australia to turn to Germany or France? Or are they to turn to the Mother Country? The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) told the Committee that he was afraid that if the Empire became more economically united there might possibly be war in the future. If our ancestors had been men of as poor spirit as the hon. Member for Mansfield, the Empire would never have been brought into existence.
Let us not be deterred by fears of what other people may say or think. We are bringing into existence a scheme for the development, strengthening, and furtherance of that magnificent heritage which has come down to us through the labours of past generations. If it be granted that these great self-governing Dominions should turn to the Mother country, and that the Mother country should be willing to make special arrangements with them in an endeavour mutually to face the difficulties of the present day, what could the Government have done other than they have done? The last Labour Government endeavoured to come to some such agreements on the basis of Free Trade, but they found that such agreements were impossible, and the Dominions went away empty-handed and disappointed. As the Prime Minister said last night, how could the Government have sent representatives to Ottawa hoping for any agreement much different from the Agreement which in fact the representatives brought home? Everyone knew that if mutual trading agreements were to be made, it would be necessary for us to give preferences to the Dominions. Anyone who had studied the subject also knew that those preferences must be given on articles of food and raw materials, and I venture to suggest that there is no one in this House who has really devoted time and thought to this question of Imperial relationships who can have been at all surprised at the nature of the agreement that was brought back from Ottawa. Therefore it seems a little ridiculous for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and his friends to throw up their hands and express not only horror 246 but astonishment at the contents of that agreement.
It is true that there is one feature in it which perhaps was not generally anticipated, namely, the question of the term of years for which these agreements are to be binding—the five-year period; but, as has been pointed out in a previous speech this afternoon, that is only an academic point, because this Government in all probability will last for nearly another four years, and, therefore, the margin is not much more than the 12 months which would generally be conceded as a reasonable period to give for notice of the termination of such an agreement. Therefore, there is not much serious substance in the grievance that these agreements are to be for five years.
To my mind, not only is the Agreement that has been brought back from Ottawa an Agreement of the only possible kind that could have been made, if any agreement at all was to be made, but it is one with which on the whole we may be very well content. If we administer it in a spirit of mutual helpfulness, and if the Dominions, as I believe they will, also administer it in the same spirit, it must lead to a very considerable increase in inter-Imperial trade. I hope very much that the Government will not rest there, but that on the basis of it they will form agreements with those foreign countries with whom we principally trade. It has been suggested by several speakers to-day that the existence of the Ottawa Agreement in some way makes it difficult, if not impossible, for us to negotiate effective agreements with foreign countries. All I can say on that point is that those views are not held by the representatives of foreign countries. On the contrary, we are being for the first time eagerly approached by the representatives of many foreign countries with a view to making trade agreements with them.
8.30 p.m. I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the Committee, in view of the fact that our Debate to-night is to be curtailed and that other Members wish to speak. In conclusion, I would say that I shall go into the Lobby in support of this Agreement, not only because it will lead to an increase of trade as between different parts of our own Empire, but because I believe, also, that it will lead eventually to an increase of trade between different parts of the 247 Empire, including ourselves, and foreign countries, and ultimately between different foreign countries; while I venture to say that, so far as unemployment is concerned, this Agreement has done more for those who, unhappily, are out of work in this country than all the speeches that have ever been made by all the Labour Members in this Parliament.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) for curtailing his short time in order to give me a short time. I am in a considerable quandary in beginning my brief remarks, because I wish to address myself to the constitutional point raised yesterday by the late Home Secretary, and I find that there is not a single Free Trade Liberal present. They are, no doubt, devouring the last of the free imports. Perhaps, however, one of them will come in in a minute. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) threw a bomb into the middle of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), but, unfortunately, the bomb proved to be a boomerang; it turned round upon himself. But the fat book which the masculine hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) handed to the right hon. Gentleman contained a treaty, exactly three pages away from the Treaty referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook, which did bind this Parliament for no less than 10 years, and which included no withdrawal clause of any kind. I propose to read three extracts from that Treaty, which was called:Agreement between the United Kingdom and Japan, signed at London, 13th July, 1911.The Preamble contained the following two Sections:The Treaty is aimed at.…(b) The preservation of the common interests of all Powers in China by ensuring the independence and integrity of the Chinese Empire, and the principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations in China.(e) The maintenance of the territorial rights of the High Contracting Parties in the regions of Eastern Asia and of India, and the defence of their special interests in the said regions.248 Article 2 of that Treaty is as follows:If by reason of unprovoked attack or aggressive action, wherever arising, on the part of any Power or Powers, either High Contracting Party should be involved in war in defence of its territorial rights or special interests mentioned in the Preamble of this Agreement, either High Contracting Party will at once come to the assistance of its Ally, and will conduct the war in common and make peace in mutual agreement with it.Article 6 of the same Treaty says:The present agreement shall come into force immediately after the date of its signature, and remain in force for 10 years from that date. In case neither of the High Contracting Parties should have notified 12 months before the expiration of the said 10 years the intention of terminating it, it shall remain terminable at the notice of one year given after that period of 10 years.It is the most complete hypocrisy to put forward all over the country the constitutional issue that you could not bind a future sovereign power in this country to an Agreement made by the present sovereign power, when you had the Liberal Government in 1911 signing a treaty which under certain possible conditions—for example, if Russia atacked Manchuria—might have involved this country in a war. Perhaps we shall have some Liberal spokesman explaining away that dilemma, but to me it seems unexplainable. Is it the contention that a commercial bargain cannot be made for five years and that an obligation which might lead to war is less serious in the interests of the people of the country than certain commercial conditions? If so, it is a contention which I think the electorate would not support. But, indeed, the whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman will not bear any more examination than the position of his party. The position of his party is very similar to that of the sheep farmer in Wales who recently joined a syndicate which had a ticket in the. Irish sweep. Finding that he was expelled from his chapel because his syndicate had drawn a horse, he said he did not know when he took the ticket that the syndicate would draw a horse.
Several hon. Members have said that there would not be any gain whatever on the part of the cotton trade through this Conference. May I draw their attention to the fact that there is about £4,000,000 of trade going each year to countries importing into Canada. It would be an advantage to this country, and to my con- 249 stituency and to that of the right hon. Gentleman, if a greater proportion of that trade went to this country than the 33 per cent. that went to it last year. In South Africa, also, we stand to gain under present conditions about £1,500,000 of trade which is at present going to Japan, and as to the larger issue of the Indian Agreement, I will only point to the fact that the Indian people can no longer trust our bona fides when we have admitted the principle of their cotton goods going free into our African possessions. At the same time, I hope that people studying the benefits to be derived from this Agreement will realise that, not only will we stand to gain what is included in the Ottawa Agreement, but it is a. curious coincidence that the tariff has been raised against Japan to an extent which ought to help very much indeed our exporting these goods to India. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman approves of that. Suppose that 3,000 weavers in his constituency are put back to work at the cost of a very slight increase in the cost of living, does he think that it will benefit his constituency or not? That is the question which I find myself obliged to put to myself, and I have no hesitation in voting for the Resolution.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
In view of the tremendous enthusiasm which has been, and is now being displayed by the National Government for their Ottawa Resolutions, I am not at all sure whether we ought not to move on to the next item of business which, after all, is a much more human problem, perhaps, than these Resolutions. I listened with very great interest to the speech not only of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, but to that of the Prime Minister, and I agreed with him that unemployment was neither due to tariffs nor to Free Trade, but to something inherent in the industrial system. I was obliged to agree, secondly, with the statement that the Liberal party were not in a position to escape seine responsibility for the Ottawa Resolutions. We must not forget, apart from what transpired during the course of the Election, that all sections of the Liberal party accepted the Abnormal Importations Act, and the Agricultural and Horticultural Duties Act. They agreed to differ upon the Import Duties Act last year, but they maintained their position 250 as supporters and members of the Government. They not only agreed to the wheat quota scheme, but the then Secretary of State for Scotland was a firm supporter of the internal duties upon wheat consumed by all sections of the community. To that extent they have been responsible for swallowing the camel, and it is difficult to see why they are now straining at the gnat.
Further, by inference, they accepted the all-round 10 per cent. Imperial Preference which arose out of the Import Duties Bill, and I think it is fair to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) will remember that the Dominions Secretary made a promise last December, that the National Government were willing to concede a quota for the Dominions as applied to wheat. Moreover, those Ministers who had access to the memos that were in preparation for the Ottawa Conference knew that there would be no sort of success at Ottawa unless there was an agreement upon food taxation. I should have thought in those circumstances that the well-known courage of the right hon. Gentleman would have expressed itself before the conclusion of the deliberations and that the break up would have come before, rather than after, the evil work had been concluded. I am bound to regard the Liberal party as being in part responsible for the Ottawa Resolutions and for the increased taxation which will fall upon the multitude of work people. I regret, of course, that there has been the change in the Home Secretaryship, having had some relations with the ex-Home Secretary during the time that he occupied his office.
The Prime Minister, in a 40 minutes' speech or more, did everything but make reference to either Schedules or Articles or to the effect of any one of the Resolutions embodied in the Blue Book. After six weeks of very hard work, he said, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who were delegates at Ottawa did certain things, and he was very hopeful. That was about the measure of the commendation from the Prime Minister of the Ottawa Conventions. Looking through his speech, from commencement to the end, there was not a single reference to any article, and Schedules were completely ignored. There was not one word with regard to the possible effect either upon 251 the consumers in this country or upon our industries. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was a wee bit more explicit. He did tell us a very painful story of possibilities and probabilities and hinted at certain prophecies, but I am afraid that it was very cold comfort which even supporters of the right hon. Gentleman were able to derive from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He seemed to content himself with an elaboration of what he cared to describe as broad tendencies.
If I were to be sympathetic, I should say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, in fact, to all Members of the National Government, that in theory I think that perhaps their policy is correct but that in practice, as long as profit is the dominant factor in the system which they themselves support, it must inevitably break down. Because of that fact we are convinced that they are tackling this problem entirely from the wrong angle. We are convinced that if the Government of the day sought economic co-operation either within the Empire or within the international sense, the first thing which they would have to do, would be to pay some little attention to the selling end and perhaps less attention to the producing end. The problem of production has been solved. The problem with which the world is confronted at the moment is, how to get rid of the commodities which have been produced.
If the Government had gone to Australia, New Zealand or Canada and done what the Lord President of the Council suggested in 1924 when he spoke from this Box, that is to say, enter into an arrangement with producers in Australia whereby we as representing the home consumers should set up an import organisation, while the Australian Government as representing their producers should set up an exporting organisation, whereby through the dual Government Departments they should be responsible to the producer in the producing country and to the consumer in the consuming country, it, might very well have been that we could have done something with regard to the retail price as well as the wholesale price, which seems to be the only idea which the present National Government possess.
252 Therefore we are convinced that these Resolutions can only have one effect. They will increase the price of raw material and to that extent they will dislocate many producing industries in this country. They will impose increased taxation upon those who are least able to bear it, and for the first time for many years a general all-round duty will be placed upon imported foods which I do not think will have the slightest beneficial effect upon agriculture in this country, and that fact I will endeavour to demonstrate in a few moments.
The Dominions Secretary, writing in the monthly organ of the so-called National Labour party, claimed for these Resolutions that they would tend to lower tariffs, improve rationalisation and tend to economic co-operation. As far as one has been able to examine the Resolutions, far from indicating economic co-operation, there has been a good deal of economic dictation from the Dominions, and we are the people to whom they have dictated. With regard to lowering tariffs, it has been demonstrated already by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen and subsequent speakers that not only is the value of the articles upon which duty will he increased so as to provide a preference for this country larger than the value of the articles where the duty will be decreased, but it must clearly be understood that any increased duty against other countries in the world will be infinitely more effective as a restraint on trade than will any slight preference given to one or two Dominions in the Commonwealth. Therefore, instead of lowering tariffs, clearly these Resolutions will increase tariffs, cause bitterness and tend to strain our relations with various other countries with whom we have done 'a good deal of trade.
I suggest that the question of prices resulting from the application of tariffs can be answered perhaps in two ways. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen told us that world prices over a period had fallen by 14 per cent., and although prices in this country had remained pretty stationary throughout a certain period, there was an indication of the effect of tariffs. If prices had not actually risen in concert with the commodity prices in other countries, certainly tariffs had prevented prices falling in this 253 country whereas they had fallen throughout the world But it indicates another thing. If you have a 10 per cent. duty upon every commodity imported into this country and no effective increase in price is discernible within a period, it may easily indicate another defect in the existing system which the Prime Minister declared is responsible for all this unemployment. May it not indicate that the margin between wholesale and retail prices has been so large that retailers can afford to bear momentarily the burden of the import duty without increasing their retail prices which have already been too large? That seems to be a further answer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and one to which we would like him to address himself when he is dealing with the wonderful results either of the application of tariffs or of Imperial Preferences.
Apart from the general question of these preferences, I want to deal more or less with questions specially affecting agriculture, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated in his speech yesterday that in all these arrangements home producers are primarily importers. In nothing which emerges out of these Resolutions can one see either where British agriculture will receive protection, where they will receive any sort of encouragement for increasing their output, or any opportunity where agriculture will benefit as a. result of these preferential duties. Referring to the question of mutton and lamb, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us in his speech thatin 1930 fat sheep were selling in England and Wales at 60 per cent. above pre-War levels and last month at 14 per cent. below the levels which obtained in the year before the War.This, said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a very calamitous state of affairs, and we entirely agree with him. He proceeded to explain the cause. He asked:What was the cause of this exceptional and distastrous fall in the wholesale prices of mutton and lamb?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1932; col. 38, Vol. 269.]He states that in 1929 the imports were 5,631,000 cwts., which fetched a certain price, and that in 1931 the imports were 7,100,000 cwts. He gave the price at each period. The Noble Lady the Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl) ought to have listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement before she made 254 her Russian speech. Had she listened to the right hon. Gentleman she might have been denied the privilege of making that speech. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the excess of imports which tended to decrease the price of mutton and lamb in this country was coming from the. Dominions.
Therefore, it was not the excess of imports from the Argentine and not the excess of imports from Russia but the excess of imports from the Dominions which knocked the bottom out of the price level for mutton and lamb in this country. I should like to ask the Financial Secretary exactly where the protection for the British meat producer comes in under these arrangements which have been made at Ottawa. During the past three years the imports of mutton and lamb from Australia and New Zealand have increased by 2,100,000 cwts., a colossal increase which is responsible for the reduced prices. The Government have undertaken to permit importations from New Zealand and Australia at the exact rate of the year ending June, 1932, which are abnormal, and they also permit an increase of 10 per cent. frozen meat, which is equivalent to another 114,000 cwts. It may very well be that the importation from the Argentine is bound to be reduced, but under these regulations and orders New Zealand takes power to increase her imports for 1932–33 of mutton and lamb by 200,000 cwts. She also takes power to increase her exports during 1933–34 by a further 200,000 cwts.
The net effect of this arrangement—the Chancellor of the Exchequer will correct me if I am wrong—the net effect of the decreased imports from the Argentine asd Uruguay will be 600,000 cwts. per annum while the net increase over the present year's imports ending June from New Zealand and Australia will be approximately 400,000 cwts, showing a net decrease over these abnormal imports of only 200,000 cwts. per annum. I would ask the Financial Secretary or one of the right hon. Gentlemen who will speak to-morrow, seeing that the importations admitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be abnormally high and excessive are to be stabilised, with the exception of 200,000 cwts., what protection is that going to afford to the British agriculturist. The Dominions 255 have been and still are flooding the British market, and if the farmers could be told the truth as to what is responsible for their present position there would not be so much humbug talked about Russia, and a great deal less humbug would be talked about Imperial preference.
The time will come very shortly when, as a result of further flooding or a further excess of mutton and lamb imports, the price will not be increasing as rapidly as the British producers of meat think it ought to do, and they will want to bring about restrictions of Empire imports. Is that going to tend to smoothness within the Empire, or will it tend to increase the friction between the conflicting interests of the Empire in these matters? We are convinced that such friction is almost inevitable. Much as we would desire that economic Imperial co-operation between producers of food in all parts of the Empire to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, we would point out that we have failed in this country to persuade the British farmer to cooperate with his next-door neighbour. If we are unable to get co-operation in the marketing of agricultural produce in a county or an area, we have scarcely reached the stage where we can expect Imperial economic co-operation either for production, marketing, or the general sale of agricultural produce. From that point of view we see little or no value in the Agreement so far as agriculture is concerned.
With regard to wheat, and I want the Members of the Liberal party to recollect the part they have played in assisting the Government to impose duties upon wheat, I would point out that the Government guaranteed to the millers eight or nine months ago that in certain circumstances they would do certain things with repard to import duties upon flour. Apparently the millers agreed with the Government, a scheme was produced, and the Wheat Act was passed through the House. They are now operating the Act, but, having been to Ottawa, they reject all their previous promises to the millers and have imposed a further duty of 2s. per quarter upon imported wheat, allowing Empire flour to enter these shores without any encumbrance whatever. Two 256 shillings per quarter, 2s. 8d. per quarter as a result of the application of the Wheat Act, making 4s. 8d. per quarter import duty upon wheat, which is 1¾d. per stone, and the poorer the family in this country the bigger the contribution they will have to pay towards this increased taxation upon wheat. If a duty is to be imposed upon imported wheat while flour enters these shores free, is it not going to impose a further obligation upon farmers who are depending for the offals purchased from millers after the imported wheat has been milled? If the miller has to pay 2s. per quarter extra we may be sure that he will transfer the extra cost to the farmer when the farmer goes to purchase offals. Instead of relieving the farmers, this means a further burden upon them. There will be no sort of relief so far as we can see.
The question of butter is even worse than that of mutton, lamb or wheat. During the past five years, Empire prorucers of butter have increased their imports from 2,300,000 cwts. to 4,000,000 cwts. per annum. By 75 per cent. in five years, they have increased their imports of butter, without the 10 per cent. preference. Is it because foreign butter is competing unfairly in price, in sweated wages and all the other charges which usually come from hon. Members opposite? The Chancellor of the Exchequer must know that Danish butter has been fetching 155s. per cwt. while Empire butter is fetching 145s. per cwt. Therefore, foreign butter is not competing unfairly with Empire butter, and this 10 per cent. preference, or 1½d. per pound extra, will mean that the poorest of the poor will have to pay more for their butter as a result of this charitable Government's unnecessary imposition of this duty. Not a single justification has been advanced, or can be advanced, by the Government for this further duty on imported foreign butter. Why should the Empire secure a special preference for their imports when they have increased at the rate of 75 per cent. in five years? The right hon. Member for South Molten (Mr. Lambert) made a speech on the question of meat and butter which brought the Chancellor of the Exchequer to his feet. I should like to ask why, in all these circumstances, it is necessary to impose a further burden on the consumers of butter in this country? The market is available for Empire producers and the price of the foreign 257 commodity is higher than the price of the Empire commodity. What we have done is to leave the door open to the Empire producer to increase his price still further and made it much more difficult for the average artisan and worker in this country to buy the best butter. The chances are that many of them will have to revert to margarine. But what advantage will the British dairy producer get from this 10 per cent, preference for Empire butter I Not one penny piece will find its way into the pockets of British producers as a result of the extra burden which is imposed on the consumers in this country.
Then there is the question of cheese. I should like the Government to tell us something about it. We imported last year 2,884,000 cwts. of cheese into this country, and 2,500,000 cwts. came from the Empire and only 378,000 cwts. from foreign countries. Why impose a special duty on imported cheese? Surely it is a deliberate imposition for the purpose of securing the revenue with which perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer hopes to reduce direct taxation or Super-tax nest year. There can certainly be no trade justification for the imposition of this duty on imported foreign cheese when the Empire is already importing 86 per cent. of the total imports of cheese. Again I want to ask what benefit British producers will get as a result of the imposition of this special duty on imported cheese from foreign countries?
For several months we have had a commission dealing with bacon and ham, called the Pig Commission. Article 6 is in my opinion an insult to the Pig Commission and to this House. They have been devising a scheme whereby the regulation of imports may be useful to producers of bacon and ham in this country. What are the facts emerging from this document? Our imports of bacon are approximately 12,000,000 cwts. per year; and Canada last year imported 122,000 cwts. They take power, under the teens of Article 6 Oft page 20 of this document, to increase their imports on bacon and ham 20 times. Therefore, in advance of the production of the report of the commission which may recommend a preference of 20 per cent. on foreign produce on bacon and ham, Canada has taken power to send to this country 2,500,000 cwts. of bacon, whereas last year they only sent 122,000 cwts. Again I ask, 258 what benefit is agriculture likely to derive by merely transferring imports from Denmark to Canada. And New Zealand is behind the door waiting also for opportunities to import bacon and ham, as is evidenced by the communication from Mr. Coates, which seems to constitute the agreement with that country.
In conclusion, I want to say very seriously that whatever may be the general intention of the Government we at all events can see, based on the articles in the Schedules, that these increased duties will extort from the consumers in this country £12,000,000 more per annum. There is very little help for our home industries. It is perfectly obvious that Argentina, a good customer, will be able to purchase less from us. There will be less coal sold, and less of those articles based upon coal; and the mining industry will get it in the neck Once again. This seems to be a transfer of trade rather than an increase in the volume of trade. It is also bound to affect our foreign trade, and particularly-the coal trade. Those depressed workers who have been able to buy Danish butter will have to buy margarine in future. Those who have been able to buy chilled or home-grown meat will be compelled to get frozen meat, if they get any meat at all. The theories of the Government on Imperial economic co-operation may be sound, but as long as their hopes are based upon a system where profit is the dominant factor they are bound to fail in the end. They start on the journey apparently desirous of doing the right thing, but stop halfway. We are convinced that this system will ultimately fail. There never can be real success within or without the Empire until you have suppressed the dominance of profit and made service the primary consideration.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) began his speech by saying that the subject to be discussed later was of more importance than the Ottawa Agreements. I dissent from that opinion, but, nevertheless, I am anxious to accommodate myself to the desires of the House and will curtail my remarks so that that subject may be entered upon at half-past nine. In the course of this Debate the Committee has already had—and will continue to have—the benefit of speeches by right hon. Friends of mine 259 who took a prominent part in the Agreements with which we are concerned, but lest I should appear discourteous to the Committee I will respond to the invitation and do my best to meet certain criticisms which have been made to-night. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) opened the Debate on this theme. He asked: how are these Agreements to increase purchasing power? I will answer him to the best of my ability, and in so doing will follow the example set by all previous speakers and at this stage deal with the matter in general terms.
The Conference which took place at Ottawa differed from all previous Imperial Conferences. In the first place, the delegation from the United Kingdom was not entirely political in its point of view. It was accompanied and advised by a concourse of spokesmen representative of all the principal industries and of agriculture. This made its deliberations well-informed and its decisions authoritative. In the second place, this is the first time in modern history that a United Kingdom delegation has been empowered to enter into agreements of the type embodied in these Resolutions. In 1930, in 1926, and in 1923, the Dominions put forward certain proposals—not only at those Conferences but I think I am correct in saying that they did so at all previous Imperial Conferences. What were those proposals? "If," they argued, "you can increase the market for our commodities in the United Kingdom, you will of course increase our purchasing power. That will be of advantage not only to us, the Dominions, but to you, because the purchasing power which is increased will be used for the benefit of your work-people."
Never before, as I have said, was any United Kingdom delegation in a position to make an affirmative response to that request. But this time, thanks to the mandate of the electorate, the delegation was so empowered, and it viewed the proposals of the Dominions from a different and more encouraging standpoint. The Dominions wanted their purchasing power to be increased. In view of our experience recently we decided that it was an eminently good thing that the purchasing power of the Dominions should be increased, and we set about to increase it. What have we done? We have continued the vast free market in this 260 country for all their exports to us. By the Import Duties Act we had given to them a complete preference. But it is due to expire on 15th November of this year. It is to be prolonged. That is the first achievement of Ottawa. About one-third of the imports into this country are to be imported absolutely free. Next we undertook to place a slightly increased tariff on certain products imported from abroad—butter, cheese, eggs and fruit. That is not a revolutionary proposal. Since March there has been a tariff of 10 per cent. on these commodities, without any detriment to the consumer. It is to be increased by 5 per cent. My hon. Friends who take a different view from myself have dwelt upon the dangers to the housewife of that increase of 5 per cent. upon the tariff; but the housewife has already had experience of the 10 per cent. tariff and hitherto has not complained, at any rate not complained so vehemently as her masculine representatives in this House. The duties on these particular commodities are to be increased from 10 to 15 per cent.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) in the very able analysis which he made of these proposals this afternoon—no one has a more penetrating cerebral capacity to make such an analysis—spoke of the duties which are mentioned in the Resolution as if they were new duties and something entirely fresh. But the duties are already there, and they do not apply, as he seemed to imagine, to all our imports; they apply only to a portion of our imports. My hon. Friend who has just sat down asked me to say something about cheese. It is always a diverting subject, particularly at this after dinner hour of the evening. But only 10 per cent., in quantity, of the imports of cheese into this country.are to be taxed at all, and those are the expensive varieties which are imported from foreign countries. Therefore, no domestic purchaser need complain on that account. One has to remember that the whole of the domestic production, plus the whole of the Imperial production, is absolutely exempted from tax, and that it is only upon the remainder that any impost is placed at all.
If my hon. Friends will look at the statistics, as doubtless many of them 261 have done, they will see that in regard to many of these commodities it is not by any means the whole proportion which comes from foreign countries. Our own production is considerable and the Empire production is considerable, and I am happy to say it is increasing. We have augmented the duties of which I have spoken by 5 per cent. We are proposing to put a duty of 2s. per quarter on foreign wheat. My hon. Friend spoke of that with some acerbity, but it is subject, of course, as indeed are many of the other imposts, to the undertaking that the price at which the wheat is sold shall be the world price, and if the supply is deficient of course the impost lapses. I am going to deal frankly with these matters. Those are the safeguards which have been applied.
There remains the question of meat. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who has never attacked the Government in this House—I pay him that tribute, for he has always attacked the system of society—called attention to the very ugly feature, of which we are all conscious, in, the modern world, of production outdistancing consumption. Here are these workpeople, these peasants, producing goods or agricultural commodities, without any knowledge as to whether those goods will be sold. Reflect upon what we have done for the first time. We have given the producer in the Dominions the absolute assurance of a market for his meat up to a certain quantity. He knows that his meat will be taken here. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who so persistently and ably represents agricultural interest, inquired: "But what about the home producer? What is he to get out of this?" If my right hon. Friend had read—but I am sure he did read—if he had more closely digested the provision in regard to meat, he would have seen that our takings of meat from foreign countries are progressively to be diminished. Therefore, it is our policy to increase the wholesale price of meat and to diminish the amount which we shall buy from abroad. The home producer is offered a better opportunity to have a margin than he ever had.
I confess I do not speak with authority on agricultural matters, and therefore I would say to the right hon. Gentleman 262 that I am sure he would be interested to read the views expressed by one who does understand agricultural matters, a past President of the Farmers' Union and in deed a representative of agriculture at Ottawa, Captain Morris, who has said that the Ottawa Conference "has proved to be the biggest step forward which had yet been taken by any Government in defence of the home producer." In the absence of any personal expert knowledge on this subject, I would ask the right hon. Member for South Molton to be guided by one who has been elected in the past by the agricultural interest to voice its opinion. In these ways we are increasing the purchasing power of the Dominions and Colonies, but how is that going to be made effective? In every one of these Agreements provision is made for increasing the margin of preference in favour of British goods. The Dominions are purchasers of foreign goods on a large scale, and the direction of their purchases will be turned more towards the United Kingdom. That is upon the assumption, of course, that trade is of a specific dimension, but by increasing their purchasing power the volume of trade will be increased, the burdens of the producer will be lightened, he will have more money to spend and the whole tendency will be for him to buy more in this country.
The hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) in his speech mentioned one particular preference out of all these preferences. It was a preference on woollen goods of a certain quality or type from this country. He said that the preference had only been increased by 10 per cent. That is surely in the right direction. It is not something to deplore. What my hon. and gallant Friend did not notice—and it governs the goods to which he alluded as well as other goods—is that, as an overriding principle, protection as against this country is to be abandoned by the Dominions in favour of a reasonable opportunity of competition.
§ Major NATHAN
My argument was not that the preference to this country had been increased by 10 per cent. but that even with the reduction of the duty against this country, the adverse duty was still at a prohibitive level.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I venture to answer that point by saying that Article 10 of the Australian Agreement—and it is the same in the other Agreements—says:Protective duties shall not exceed such a level as will give United Kingdom producers full opportunity of reasonable competition.9.30 p.m.
[HON. MEMBERS: "Only reasonable!"] If my hon. Friends attach such importance to adjectives, I do not know what they mean by "reasonable" but I would call their attention to the word "full." It says "full opportunity of competition." I think that goes to the root of the whole of this Agreement. It means that the countries of the Empire vis-a-vis the United Kingdom, have abandoned the principle of Protection completely. What more could a Free Trader ask for than that?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
My right hon. Friend who is one whom we all respect, made a speech in admirably good taste yesterday and has been consistent, and I have no desire to criticise him in the slightest degree; but he will always find a proviso in any statement made from these benches on this subject. I have read the governing words of the Agreement. These are principles. The right hon. Gentleman knows something about principles. Surely we can trust ourselves and to the Dominions to carry them out. Of course if the principles were not observed the consequences would be very regrettable, but let us at any rate assume at this stage that both we and the other parties who have signed the Agreements are going to carry them out.
It is now half-past nine and I have not done justice to the very admirable speeches that have been made. Many of them have cancelled one another out, such as the two speeches of the hon. Members for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot and Miss Horsbrugh). I have dwelt on the main principles of the Agreements. But apart from any detailed opinion may I call the attention of the Committee to this, that they do offer proof that one quarter of the inhabitants of this earth are prepared to come together to remove the 264 obstructions to their mutual trade, and that these people are prepared to give evidence of solidarity in a disunited world?
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.