HC Deb 31 January 1934 vol 285 cc503-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.1 p.m.


I make no apology for raising an issue which has been raised on previous occasions and which relates to the textile industries of this country and particularly the cotton and silk industries which have been so much affected by Japanese competition. It was only on Tuesday of last week that the Prime Minister spoke in Leeds at what was, I believe, the opening of a national campaign and he said it was necessary for the cotton industry to show a certain "aliveness." It is a coincidence that at the very time the right hon. Gentleman was expressing that opinion there was a certain "aliveness" of the cotton industry in Manchester where some 3,000 operatives and manufacturers were expressing their opinion of the Government's policy. Since then, the President of the Board of Trade has visited Manchester and it would seem from the speech which he made to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce that he received evidence of the "aliveness" of the cotton industry during his stay in that city. He told us on that occasion that on the question of Japanese competition the Government might have to act. An answer given yesterday by the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department was rather important. After long delay the hon. and gallant Gentleman gave us the names of the Japanese delegates but I am not going to attempt what he attempted yesterday namely to pronounce them. Though we were not satisfied that the Government's policy was right we hoped that something was going to be done and done quickly. When we left the House, however, we read the evening papers which contained a report about this matter. There was a report in the "Evening Standard" and a rather fuller report of a similar kind in the "Manchester Daily Dispatch." If I may quote the "Evening Standard" report it is as follows: To-day a representative of the 'Evening Standard' had a conversation with Mr. Gentara Okada? the leader of the Japanese textile delegation in this country. He drew Mr. Okada's attention to remarks made yesterday by Mr. T. B. Barlow, the leader of the British delegates, on the delay in resuming negotiations. Mr. Okada replied that the authority for which they bad been waiting from the Japanese Government and the interests concerned had now arrived. 'Then,' said our representative, 'negotiations can now be resumed.' 'No,' Mr. Okada answered, 'We have to wait for our instructions. 'But,' our representative insisted, you came here without sufficient powers, you sent for them and now you say you have got them.' 'Yes,' agreed Mr. Okada, 'we are now authorised plenipotentiaries but we must wait further instructions from headquarters as to how to proceed. When we have them, we can fix the preliminaries.' I felt a great deal of disappointment, as did everybody in Lancashire and Cheshire, on reading that interview, which was given not only to the paper from which I have read, but to others, and I propose therefore to put to my hon. and gallant Friend a number of interrogatories. First, will he state why, in negotiations on previous Trade Agreements, the Government have said, "This is a matter for the Government," and have ignored frequently the representations of industries deeply interested, while in the case of the textile industries the Government have taken no part at all and have held themselves aloof from all negotiations? The second question is supplementary to that: Will my hon. and gallant Friend undertake that if an agreement is made between the Japanese and British industrialists and any legislation is necessary, he will rush it through this House with the greatest possible speed, or, if it can be enforced by Orders in Council, it will be dealt with promptly? The third question is this: Were any statements made to the President of the Board of Trade by those conducting negotiations with the Japanese on behalf of the textile industries as to the disadvantage in those negotiations of the most-favoured-nation Clause in the Treaties which we have in existence with Japan?

May I ask, fourthly, why it is that the silk industry, which was solemnly promised protection on the Floor of this House, in both the passages of the last Finance Bill through the House—and then in the last Budget Speech a solemn promise was made—is left out of the negotiations altogether? I also ask, arising out of that, if the hon. and gallant Member is aware that the problem of Japanese competition in silk only affects the home markets of this country, and that the complaint is not so much as to the volume that is coming here as to the changed character of the goods which are coming from Japan. The imports at present are of quite a different character from those which came in a few years ago. Further, on the question of the silk duties, will the hon. and gallant Gentleman state whether he is aware that Sir William Clare Lees, who is, as he knows, one of the delegates of the textile industry, has made a public declaration that the silk problem has no bearing on the cotton and artificial silk discussions which are going on between the industrialists of Japan and Great Britain?

A further question is whether he is aware that there have been many complaints by several chambers of commerce in cotton towns that the Manchester Chamber of Commerce seeks to speak for the cotton industry of Lancashire and Cheshire, and that very few of the directors of that body have ever had any connection whatever with the cotton industry of this country? Is he also aware that that body contains a very large element of merchants in this country who are directly interested in Japanese competition itself?

I would also like to ask three questions which are of rather more import- ance than the previous questions. Is the President of the Board of Trade prepared to place a time limit on the negotiations at present going on? If not, why is he prepared to put such a time limit on the negotiations with the French Government, and why is he not prepared to give such a time limit to the Japanese Government? The next question I desire to ask is, is it not obvious to him and to any sensible business man in this country that Mr. Okada is playing for time and that he knows that the longer negotiations are delayed the longer the most-favoured-nation clause will remain in force, the longer dumping will continue and the later will be the date at which the British Government will be able to act? To that particular question I desire him to-night to give me a most specific answer. A further question is, is he aware that quite recently the Japanese traders were dumping motor cars into South Africa with British names and that the South African Government acted promptly and quickly? I ask him, if the South African Government can act in a matter like that, why cannot the British Government act quickly? Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that practically every country in Europe at the present time is expressing grave uneasiness about Japanese competition with reference to the rapid increase of dumping; that some Governments have acted, and that the effect of such Governments acting has been, and will be, that these surplus goods that are not allowed to go into these European countries are being thrown on to this market? I believe that this is one of the gravest issues that our industrial life has had to face. It must be faced quickly and promptly by this Government and not dealt with in the shilly-shally fashion of the last 12 months. It must be dealt with by firm and prompt action and by not delaying one moment further in abrogating the most-favoured-nation clause in the treaties. It is only by that means that we can bring Mr. Okada to his senses.

11.13 p.m.


I am sure that all of us in Lancashire were delighted when the President of the Board of Trade visited that densely populated area. It holds one-tenth of the population of this country, and its very existence as a prosperous county and as a contributor to the resources of the Empire is seriously threatened by methods which tend to destroy everything which trade unions and social reformers have tried to set up during the last 200 years. I am glad that the President of the Board of Trade at last has been to this county and has seen for himself conditions there. We have been trying for the last two years to impress on him the seriousness of the situation—a situation that brooks no delay. For two years we have had the application of the doctor's mandate in Lancashire. First we were told to apply Coueism—"every day we are getting better and better." Now we are told that we shall get a re-birth of the cotton industry by using twilight sleep and talk.

I venture to remark that the whole of these negotiations are nothing less than a surrender of the Lancashire markets to our competitors. The negotiations now proceeding are not concerning the neutral markets; we are going to have competition there anyway; but for the first time a British Government has permitted a foreign Power to arrogate to itself a position in the British Empire which this country does not have therein. Therefore, while the Japanese are applying to headquarters, I ask that we shall apply something to the hindquarters of those delegates, and that we absolutely refuse to permit them to stretch out these negotiations, seeing that time runs in the interests of Japan.

The Indian Government have made representations to our negotiators and to this country regarding the Indian market. They have asked us to show that we are serious in our claim to a share of the Indian market by purchasing greater supplies of Indian cotton, and thus to defeat the moral claim which the Japanese have to a share of the Indian market, because they purchase over a million bales of Indian cotton. Lancashire people are prepared to co-operate in this reciprocal, this Empire trade between India and this country, but the position is that the industry is so strangled by the banks, so threatened by the Japanese, that it has not the money to change over its machinery for the use of this cotton. I ask the President of the Board of Trade to consider the possibility of granting a bounty to our manufacturers to enable them to make increased purchases. Will the Government help them—because the banks will not—if they make a change-over in their machinery? If the Government will help by granting a bounty, Lancashire can increase her purchases of Indian cotton by at least 50,000 bales a year until eventually she will be taking 1,500,000 bales of Indian cotton, and that will keep out Japan from having any claim on those markets, which she has done nothing to build up and which she does nothing to maintain. After all, the Empire is our Empire, and I would ask, When are we going to be a first-class Power again? When are we going to get rid of this fear complex which we see actuating the Government at the present time, and say to Japan, or any of the other Eastern Powers that are threatening us with a rice standard of life for our workers, "We are going to use this Empire for the good of the people of the Empire, and for them alone."

11.19 p.m.


I rise only to put before the President of the Board of Trade the fact that this plea for some reasonable protection against this attack upon our workers' standards is not made by Lancashire and Manchester cotton people alone. This unfair competition by a foreign eastern nation is striking at the very heart of our industries right through the country. Speaking on behalf of Leicester, with its diversity of industrial interests, I desire to represent to the President of the Board of Trade that we regard this matter as a very grave menace which we ask the Government to help us to check. Only this morning in Leicester I was shown example after example of goods made in Japan which have come into this country at a price far below the cost of production here, having regard to our standards, which we want to maintain for the workers in our own industries. The small tariff which is put on by this country is absolutely powerless to stop the entry of these goods, which are made under standards which Japan may like but which we never want to see in our industries.

I want to say a word or two about the silk trade and the artificial silk trade, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer). I have the honour to represent a city which is concerned very largely in the manufacture of goods made of artificial silk. A promise was given to the industry across the Floor of the House that anomalies that existed would be removed by the Import Duties Advisory Committee. We had an unanswerable case for the reapplication of the Silk Duties. A duty was put on, but anomalies existed, and we were promised that there would be a remedy at once in regard to the anomalies which were unfair to the trade. The trade waited during something like nine or 10 months' discussion, week after week, between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Import Duties Advisory Committee. It is not for me to say what took place even if I knew, at those discussions, but every possible endeavour was made by the trade to put the Advisory Committee in possession of all the facts so that those anomalies could be cured. We were all staggered when we saw, some time in September, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his wisdom, had thought fit to ask the Committee to suspend all further consideration. I had hoped that if that had been a judicial body, as we expected, it would have said to the Government, "We will not have any interference with the discussion." The discussion was suspended. In Leicester, we have a tremendous influx of foreign goods, made under conditions which, Heaven forbid, we should ever see in Leicester, and which are coming into unfair competition with our industry.

Yet it is said that negotiations are proceeding. I know that many tasks await the Government, and that a lot of work has been done for national safety and reconstruction, but I must raise my voice for the Lancashire cotton industry and for the city I represent, which are faced with this great menace. I implore the Government not to be satisfied with consideration and discussion but to realise that this is a real danger to our industrialists and workers, who need protection against what we think are the standards of sweated labour.

11.24 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE

I made a statement yesterday in answer to a Private Notice Question in which I outlined briefly what took place on the occasion of the visit of the President of the Board of Trade to Lancashire. Then I proceeded to state that the Japanese delegation now in this country had received authority to proceed to formal negotiations. The position is very well known. The delegation had been in the country for sometime, but was not authorised to conclude a binding agreement. Very useful discussions certainly took place to clear the ground, and a good deal of detail work has been carried out, but without that formal authority from Japan, of course, no binding arrangement could be arrived at. I stated yesterday that within the last 24 hours the Japanese Ambassador had informed His Majesty's Government, under instructions from the Japanese Government, that the representatives—whose names I will not repeat at this late hour—had been duly authorised by the Japanese industries concerned to enter into formal negotiations. I shall not be able to answer all the questions which have been put to-night, partly for the reason that I do not think that, at this stage of the negotiations, it would be advisable; but one I can answer, and that is the question as to the authority of the Japanese delegation.

There has been no suggestion, in the communication received from the Japanese Government, of any further obstacle in the way of commencing formal negotiations, and the Lancashire Committee are proceeding on the assumption that the way is now clear. The Committee is holding a meeting in Manchester on Friday to give further consideration to their plans for a meeting with the Japanese delegation at a very early date. I may go further, and say that I feel sure the House will appreciate that the preparation of the agenda, which is in the hands of the British Committee, is a matter of importance, and, if it takes them a few days, it is right that they should have the necessary time for that important work. Anyone who has had experience of industrial negotiations will realise the importance of such preliminaries, and the House will do well to place their trust in the skill, ability and knowledge of the representatives who have been appointed, to give them every possible support, and to leave them to judge as to the action to be taken in connection with these negotiations in the best interests of our cotton and rayon industries. Reference has been made to statements in the Press suggesting that there was some doubt as to the authority of the Japanese representatives.


It was stated that they had received no instructions.

Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE

There have been statements in other sections of the Press where the interview with the same gentleman was reported on different lines. I think the House must rest content with the official announcement that there is nothing in the official statement communicated to His Majesty's Government which does not indicate that the coast is entirely clear for the commencement of formal negotiations, and our negotiators are proceeding on that assumption. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) asked why did the Government in this case stand aloof? They are standing clear at this stage, while rendering all the assistance possible, but the President of the Board of Trade has made it plain that in the event, which I hope and believe will not take place, of the negotiations not reaching a satisfactory conclusion, the Government will come in and act.

But the essential difference between the negotiations on the question of Japanese competition and negotiations for Trade Agreements, to which the hon. Member has referred, is that in the negotiations for Trade Agreements we were regulating trade exchanges as between two countries—Denmark and ourselves for example—whereas in this case we are dealing with regulation of a wide range of commodities all over the world, and it is obvious that, in the first place at any rate, those whose work it has been to carry on the industry, and who have more detailed knowledge of its ramifications, should be allowed to conduct the negotiations with their opposite numbers and see if they can reach a satisfactory agreement as to sharing the markets. I hope that at this early stage in the negotiations nothing will be said which will weaken the hands of the British representatives who have this great task before them, and should have the confidence of the country as they have the confidence of the Government.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'clock.