HC Deb 21 December 1934 vol 296 cc1539-44

11.19 a.m.


We had hoped to-day to raise the question of the trade agreement with India, but the President of the Board of Trade has informed me that at present he is unable to make a statement on that question. We all realise the immense importance, both to this country, and Lancashire in particular, and to India, of that trade agreement, but although we cannot discuss that matter now, I want to raise certain matters with regard to Lancashire and also to raise the general question of national finance, particularly with regard to the financing of industry. I shall try to cut short my remarks as much as possible, because this is private Members' day, and we know that private Members' time is to be very severely cut. Therefore, I think that anyone who speaks from a front bench should be a little reasonable.

11.20 a.m.


On a point of Order. We read in certain quarters that arrangements have been made for a series of eminent gentlemen to address this House, presumably at some length, to-day, on a particular matter which the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. May I ask you, Sir, as the guardian of Members' rights in this House, to give the back benchers some assurance that on this, their traditional day, some opportunity will be given to them to raise matters which they have waited to raise? We have given the whole time of this House to the Government during this Session, and this is the only opportunity we shall have of raising certain matters; and while we do not want to detain our fellow Members unnecessarily, may I ask you, Sir, whether it is in accordance with the traditions of this House and the rights of Debate that this projected series of speeches by eminent Gentlemen which threatens to absorb to-day should be made?


On that point of Order. Is it right for an hon. Gentleman who has voted away his own private Members' time to throw responsibility on to you, Mr. Speaker? I also want to ask if you are not capable of looking after the hon. Member's interests, seeing that he himself has thrown away his own?


It is in the recollection of the House, I think, that when the Motion was made by the Lord President of the Council to take private Members' time I did intervene and beg him to provide some time for private Members and that he gave an assurance in the matter.


But you voted for taking it away.

11.22 a.m.


I do not propose to enter into that particular matter, but with regard to the question raised by the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) in the point of Order, I have often seen forecasts from various sources as to who is going to speak in this House, and I do not take any more notice of them than I do of some other predictions. With regard to the arrangements for to-day's debate, it is true that it is customary for Members in different parts of the House to make arrangements with me as to what subjects they wish to raise. I took particular trouble on this occasion to find out whether there were any subjects which private Members wished to raise, and I found that, with one exception in regard to which it was doubtful whether it was a matter for the Government at all, there were no applications for subjects to be raised. Then I tried, by communication with the different parties, to ascertain whether the proposed Debate to take place to-day would suit the convenience of all concerned, and that being the case, I thought I was doing my duty in safeguarding the rights of private Members.


Do I understand, Sir, that the right of a private Member to speak on the Motion for the Adjournment is restricted and must be preceded by an intimation to you that he desires to raise any particular matter? Surely on this Motion there is a general right to make observations.


I am sorry if I made myself misunderstood. As the hon. and learned Gentleman is aware, any private Member can rise in his place, and if he is fortunate enough to catch my eye, he will be able to make a speech. I was referring to the particular subjects which were to be raised on the Motion for the Adjournment.

11.24 a.m.


I am glad my remarks have enabled the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) to get in during this discussion. I want to say a word in regard to the question of Lancashire, because Lancashire has been left out of the Depressed Areas Bill, and yet the whole question of Lancashire is surely one of the biggest problems facing this country. We are face to face with a world competition in textiles, and the Lancashire trade is undergoing rationalisation, which means that in all probability it will never employ anything like the same number of persons as it did in the past. Therefore, you have two quite separate trade questions there. One is the problem of our cotton export trade, and the other, which may be quite different, is the question of what you are going to do with the people who were formerly employed in that trade. In Lancashire there is depression not only in cotton, but in coal, shipbuilding and other heavy industries, and there are some 360,000 people unemployed in that great industrial area. In cotton alone about 100,000 are unemployed.

I want to relate this question to the economy of the country as a whole, and from the angle from which I am approaching it I want to consider for a moment what the loss of the effective purchasing power of those 360,000 people amounts to, and then add to that those in the distressed areas and all over the country, and then consider that in relation to the demand for British goods. We have there an enormous loss of customers for the products of this country, and, on the other side, an enormous loss in the services that these people might be rendering by producing wealth. Obviously, without some definite plan we shall not get recovery in Lancashire. Even if the reduction of spindles were carried out and there were successful cotton trade within the county, it would not deal with the problem of the Lancashire people. There is no real sign of exports reviving, and we still seem to be a long way from any agreement among the business men in the cotton trade. It is time that that matter was taken up seriously. I can remember the discussions we had five years ago and the inquiries which were made by Mr. William Graham, and it was always the old question in the Lancashire cotton trade of the difficulty of getting agreement among all the sections. All this time that area has been languishing.

I want to refer particularly to the question of finance, because I do not think we shall do anything for these areas unless we utilise the whole power of the national credit. The underlying note running through the discussions on the Depressed Areas Bill was that we needed something far more than a dealing with certain defects here and there, of putting a certain amount into this, that and the other, but that an effective plan was needed for these areas. To be effective, plans must be backed by money. I noticed that in the debates last month on the King's Speech the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) said: We cannot get money from the banks, which have a stranglehold on the mills of Lancashire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1934; Col. 187, Vol. 295.] The President of the Board of Trade said: There is no doubt that we are paying the penalty in Lancashire, as in some other parts of the country, of the rampant, mad, financial boom that came after the War."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1934; col. 193, Vol. 295.] I like that word "rampant", for "ant" is the symbol of industry, while "ramp" stands for finance. I should like to know who put the "ramp" in "rampant". We all know something of the Lancashire cotton mill ramp, when financiers collected a large amount of the savings of both employers and workers and cleared out leaving the area derelict. The banks have now a stranglehold over that industry, which is the dupe of financial exploitation. We want to know if we have any safeguard against that kind of depredation, and whether there is not something extremely wrong with our whole financial system that allows things like that to take place—and they do not stand alone. Money is found from dupes by people like Kreuger, and yet industrialists cannot get money for their industries. It surprises me to see the way in which these very people always say that if there is any interference with the financial system there will be chaos.

I noticed a letter in the "Times" from a Mr. Paine which was very welcome to me. It was a sort of harbinger of spring, because letters from that gentleman usually appear a short time before there is a change in the Government. It is not so much the cuckoo in the spring, perhaps, as the cackle of the geese, because capital is in danger. It is a useful thing for capitalists to realise that they are in danger and to know that all is not well in their stronghold. That impression would be even stronger in their minds if they had listened to the discussions in the House during the last two months, for all the more thoughtful speeches on the other side have been concerned with the question of the failure of the present system. What are the financiers going to do about it? How much control have the Government over national credit, and how much planning is there? I do not know whether there is anything like a planning Committee of the Cabinet, but I am afraid that this Government like Christianity consists in not knowing what its two hands are doing, assuming the Minister of Agriculture to be the right hand and the President of the Board of Trade the left.

I am not at all sure that whatever efforts are made by the Government they are not liable to be counteracted at any time by those who control finance. The Macmillan Report has some severe criticism to make of our financial system. I should like to know how much has been done to implement the recommendations of that Report. The Committee call attention particularly to the fact that the mechanism of the City is far better able to deal with foreign business than with home business, more ready to finance loans from abroad rather than to finance home industry. I want in this connection to draw attention to a particular part of the mechanism of the City of London which was referred to at considerable length in that Report.

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