HC Deb 02 March 1934 vol 286 cc1490-512

Order for Second Reading read.

2.47 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

We have been discussing what I have no doubt will be a piece of useful industrial legislation, and while taking no credit for the matters that have been set forth in the earlier Bill, I claim that the Measure now before us is a piece of useful industrial legislation too. I submit it as a Bill which seeks to safeguard the standard of life of the workers in this country. In short, it seeks to apply Section 42 of the Customs Laws Consolidation Act, 1876, to certain goods defined in this Bill as sweated goods and as goods made by forced labour. I do not think any of us will have any doubt that some restriction is necessary to stop the entry into this country of goods which are made by sweated labour or under conditions where the service on those goods is forced. We have had in the lifetime of the present Government an application of the scientific control of imports. With present-day prices, with the very much lower standard of life obtaining in other countries from which various manufactured goods come, the tariff cannot properly operate to maintain tine standard of life of the workpeople in this country. Section 42 of the Customs Laws Consolidation Act, 1876, to which I have already referred, reads as follows: The goods enumerated and described in the following table … are hereby prohibited to be imported or brought into the United Kingdom save as thereby excepted, and if any goods so enumerated and described shall be imported or brought into the United Kingdom contrary to the prohibitions or restrictions contained therein such goods shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the Commissioners of Customs may direct. Then there is a table of goods which are prohibited, including counterfeit coins, indecent or obscene prints, paintings, photographs, books, cards, &c., tobacco stalks, whether manufactured or not, and certain other articles. The Bill now before us adds to that table of prohibitions goods which are known as sweated goods or which are made overseas by forced labour. There is in the Bill itself the necessary definition, because by Clause 3 it is provided that sweated goods are goods in respect of which the import Duties Advisory Committee report to the Treasury that they are produced in their country of origin under conditions of labour so much less favourable than those prevailing in the United Kingdom that their sale in the United Kingdom represents unfair competition with British workpeople. Then there is a definition of goods made by forced labour as goods in respect of which the Import Duty Advisory Committee report to the Treasury that they are being produced in their country of origin by persons not employed as a result of a voluntary contract of service. I think those are reasonable interpretations of these two classes of goods, and we have now a statutory body which is well able, when the matter is presented to them, to consider, on the application of any person interested, whether particular goods come within the definitions laid down in the Bill.

We have to meet now in every trade a new type of competition. There has been produced article after article made in a foreign country and sold at prices which we know are grotesque, and it is obvious that those goods are made abroad under conditions which heaven forbid we should ever see in this country, where we have a high standard of life for our workers. Piece after piece of industrial legislation safeguards the standard of life of the people in this country. We have Factory Acts, Workmen's Compensation Acts, National Health Insurance Acts, Old Age Pension Acts, and every piece of social and industrial legislation making for security to the workers. It is idle to think that we should stop and allow the finished article that is made by the men and women who work in this country, with security to their lives and industrial conditions right away through, to be at the mercy of competition which we know is unfair and which comes from foreign countries that recognise no decency of living wage and no decency of hours. These goods are coming into this country to be sold in what I venture to term the unfairest competition with the lives and the livelihood of British working men and women.

We know too that country after country does not hesitate, by currency manipulation or by subsidisation, to take any unfair advantage possible and to dump her surplus manufactured goods into this country, and I submit this Bill as one which makes an attempt to safeguard the standard of life of all our workers. Those with whom I have the honour of being associated in submitting the Bill are determined not to surrender any part of the standard of life that has been secured for those engaged in industry in this country. The obvious way to see that standard maintained is to stem this flood of unfair foreign competition which, at present-day prices, is becoming an extreme danger in almost every industry. I think my hon. Friends on other Benches cannot help agreeing that if the worker is to continue to be protected from the various angles from which he has been protected in this country, he must be protected against unfair floods of foreign competition with the result of his labours.

Only to-day I noticed a figure showing a tremendous increase in cotton stockings that have come from an Eastern country. In the city a portion of which I have the honour to represent in this House, stockings can be made perhaps better than anywhere else in the world, and we know that the conditions under which they are made are beyond comparison, and I hope they always will be, with the standard of life in the Eastern country from which these imported stockings are coming. The same thing is happening in regard to various other hosiery articles and all kinds of manufactured articles and commodities that come into this country. The small tariff which we have applied scientifically cannot give us the amount of protection that we want against goods which are made by forced labour or labour under conditions which justify us calling it sweated. This Bill is well worthy of the consideration of the House; it is a proposal not to tax, but to exclude, by the same kind of prohibition that already exists in this country in relation to other goods, the entry of goods which are defined, by the Com- mittee which we have set up and in which this country has faith, as goods which are sweated or made by forced labour.

I have discussed the question of sweated goods, but I think that goods made by forced labour stand in an equally unfair position. In a native country where labour does not arise from a voluntary contract of service, but where there is conscript, forced labour or slave labour employed in manufacture, goods are made which should not be allowed entry in competition with goods made in this country. I hope every hon. Member representing an industrial constituency will take the view which I have ventured to submit, that this Bill is a practical attempt to safeguard and to secure the safeguarding of the standard of life of the workers of this country, which we believe is being unfairly put in jeopardy and which we are determined at all costs which are reasonable to maintain.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present

2.59 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

I am glad we are to have an opportunity of a short discussion, because the Bill raises principles of considerable importance. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his drafting of the Bill. He has taken advantage of existing machinery. Under the Act which is now 58 years old there is power on sanitary and moral grounds to restrict the imports of certain classes of goods. That power is used within machinery with which the Customs are familiar. Therefore, the Bill does not use a new or revolutionary weapon. Then, in order to determine to what extent the new powers conferred under this Bill are to be used, we take advantage of another administrative machine which is now in existence, namely, the Import Duties Advisory Committee, which has been in operation for two years. If from time to time we may be a little anxious because the duties we want do not come from that Committee as promptly as might be the case, nevertheless the Committee has established itself in public confidence as an impartial tribunal. I do not think that on any side of the House that Committee has been criticised as lacking in impartiality. We may not sometimes have regarded its recommendations as the recommendations we would desire, but no one has challenged it on the grounds of impartiality or incompetence to examine any proposal adequately.

Therefore, we use that established organisation for the purpose of arriving at a decision as to what additional goods are to be brought under the purview of the Act of 1876. As a result of being able to utilise existing administrative machinery, it has been possible for my hon. Friend to incorporate in a short Bill very extensive powers. I think perhaps a little Amendment will be needed in Clause 3 to make the ultimate decision as to whether an Order should be made lie with the Government. As the Bill is drafted, the Order follows automatically on the report of the Committee, and it will be legitimate to amend it so that the Order shall be made by the Treasury in consultation with the Board of Trade after the receipt of a report from the Committee. It should not be right to take away the power of the Government, entirely to make the Order, but that is a matter that can easily be dealt with in Committee. The power would then be conferred on the Government subject to confirmation by this House. It would require confirmation because we adopt the procedure of the Import Duties Act. It has been for years common knowledge that complaints have been made about what is called unfair competition under what is sometimes called dumping. They are not necessarily the same, but we deal with certain aspects of it.

We might conceivably have extended the Bill to deal with other aspects such as currency dumping, but that is a changing problem, whereas the problem with which we have dealt in the Bill is world-wide, although it is not necessarily permanent in the same quarter of the world. There is always some country in which it is true to say that the problem exists. This Bill is the machine which we offer to the Government, but if the Government accept it with the assistance of both Houses of Parliament, it is a machine which they will not be able to use for the moment, because the next step required is an administrative act on the part of the Government. If hon. Members will consult the commercial agreement with Germany made in December, 1924, they will find in Article 10 an absolute prohibition of prohibition, if I may use the expression. In other words, we are debarred from prohibiting importations of any German goods except on sanitary grounds unless we have in operation in this country an internal system of control of sales; that is, unless there is what we now call a marketing scheme in operation. Except in those cases, we cannot prohibit the importation of German goods.

If hon. Members will consult the 40 or so commercial agreements we have with other countries, they will find that they contain a most-favoured-nation clause, not only in respect of duties, but also in respect of prohibitions; and automatically, through the most-favoured-nation clause, the absolute restriction on prohibition in Article 10 of the Agreement with Germany is extended to all countries in the world with whom we have most-favoured-nation clauses. Therefore, when last June the Government denounced the International Convention for the Abolition of Import and Export Prohibitions and Restrictions they were only liberating themselves from one of their bonds. There was still left in being the German Agreement, and until we denounce or, by agreement, remove from that commercial agreement Article 10 it is true to say that this Bill could not be used at all. Even then it could only be used if the prohibition were applied, not merely to the sweated goods concerned coming from the country of origin of the sweated goods, but if the prohibition were universal to similar goods, whether sweated or not, coming from other countries.

We recognise frankly that this machine which we are offering to the Government is a machine which we cannot force them to use, but which they can use should they decide to relieve themselves of the obligations under the most-favoured-nation treaties with those countries in the world from which there is a probability that the goods defined by this Act may come. Further, if Parliament passes this, Parliament has done all it can, the rest is an administrative act for the Government, and I am making a plea here for serious consideration to be given to the question whether it is not desirable for this country to liberate itself from the restrictions imposed on our policy by the almost universal adherence to the most-favoured-nation-clause.

It is now a great many years—I forget how many—since the House passed the Resolution—I think it was a Resolution—with regard to the fair wage clause in public contracts. That Clause in Government contracts is now found, I think, in practically every municipal contract, and in every contract by any recognised public authority, and I believe there are a good many public companies which apply the same principle when placing contracts. The principle of the fair wage clause is one with which every one in this House agrees, but it is absurd to have it only on a national basis. I want a fair wage clause on an international basis. That does not necessarily mean an identity of rates of wages, because it is quite obvious that there are people in this country who are far more efficient than people in other countries, and a fair wage for a Briton might involve a wage of half that rate for a foreigner in order to be a wage representing the same wage cost in production.

We recognise that there are differences of conditions. There are some Asiatic countries competing against us where the conditions of labour, to the Asiatic, are fair. He regards them as satisfactory conditions, but they represent, nevertheless very unfair competition with us. We have to think out the full implications of what I will call an international fair wages clause. It does not mean an equal wage clause. That is manifestly impossible for many years to come, if it is ever going to be possible, but the underlying principle ought to be in force. I am certain there is not a single Member of the party opposite who does not in principle agree with what I have said, and it is rather nice for once that they should be agreeing with me in principle, because we often disagree.


Doubtful company.


Doubtful company for once. Many of us are perturbed about a new form of competition, the competition of manufactured goods made in tropical and sub-tropical countries. We thought, rightly or wrongly, that this was a development which we should not see, because conditions there are in many respects not favourable for factory work, and those countries have the advantage that they can produce a vast range of primary products which cannot be produced in this country. They have an obvious natural function, the production of things like rubber, cotton, many fruits, tobacco, many kinds of oilseed—a whole range of foodstuffs and of primary raw materials which we cannot produce; and we have thought that those countries would confine themselves to the production of those things—that we should, in the main, be producers of manufactures, and that there would take place the most desirable form of trade, the exchange not of competing commodities but of complementary commodities. We are finding that there is a development of manufactures in tropical and sub-tropical countries under wages conditions so different from ours that they represent a dangerous form of competition to our national life and to our standard of living. Some of it comes from foreign countries and some, I would remind the House, comes from possessions of the British Empire.

That is a new development and is something which I believe was not contemplated when the Import Duties Act was passed. Hon. Members have only to read Section 5 of that Act which guarantees, until that section is amended, unrestricted importation into this country of goods produced in and consigned from British non-self-governing possessions. I was never an Empire Free Trader; I was always an Empire preference man, because I have always taken the view that in this country we are entitled to protection where necessary against other parts of the Empire while always giving to other parts of the Empire a big advantage over foreign countries. That was not the policy adopted by His Majesty's Government, and for the moment we are in a world, so far as we are concerned, of Empire free trade, instead of a world of Empire preference. I regret the decision that was made, but it was made, and it may have to be undone in part.

May I just quote one example which comes from the answer to a question which I asked in this House a few days ago. It will be remembered that manufacturers of rubber boots and shoes in this country complained very bitterly about Japanese competition, and that they ultimately succeeded in persuading the Import Duties Advisory Committee to make a recommendation whereby a duty of 9d. per pair—I speak from memory—was imposed on rubber footwear. As a result of that, the imports from Japan, which a year ago were very high, fell. There were 750,000 pairs imported from Japan in January, 1933, and only 27,000 pairs in 1934. Nineteen out of 20 were shut out. Last year, from British Malaya, there were 1,600 pairs; this year 14,000; from Hong Kong last year, 50 pairs; this year, 212,000. In other words, to the extent of nearly a half the Japanese competition which was wiped out by the action of the Import Duties Advisory Committee has been replaced by a new competition coming from British possessions in the East. It may well be that the conditions of employment of the workpeople in the factories in Hong Kong and Singapore are satisfactory to those people from their point of view, having regard to the standard which they have enjoyed, but those conditions do not represent fair competition with our workers in this country.

Up to now, so far as I am aware, the only serious competition in manufactures from the Crown Colonies has been in respect of rubber footwear, but we know only too well that India is now one of the most important suppliers of pig-iron to this country. That is a kind of competition against which we are entitled to protect ourselves. I am in favour of doing everything possible to improve the standard of living in India, and to give that country every kind of preferential advantage over foreigners, but we are entitled to protect ourselves against other Empire countries just as other Empire countries can legitimately protect themselves against us so far as that may be desirable. It is because I hold those views that I was very glad to associate myself with my hon. and learned Friend, and I congratulate him upon having introduced this Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who may speak for the Government may tell us, for reasons which I have already mentioned, that this is an instrument which he cannot use for the moment, even if Parliament approves of it, but I ask him not to refuse this weapon—he never knows when the day may come that he will need it—if Parliament gives it to him to use, as soon as he has liberated himself by administrative action from the restrictions which limit him at the moment.

3.15 p.m.


The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons), who introduced this Bill, made a very interesting speech, and, naturally, he had something to say about one of the main industries in the town for which he sits. He referred to the hosiery industry in Leicester, and made for that industry very high claims which I have no intention of disputing. But the district from which I come is famous for its hosiery, just as the city of Leicester is. A few weeks ago I obtained from the Board of Trade figures regarding the importation of hosiery into this country from Japan, which showed that during the year 1933 more than a million dozen pairs of cotton socks and stockings had been imported into this country from Japan; and those socks and stockings are being sold in this country at very cheap rates indeed. From what I know of the hosiery industry, I am sure it is not by any means expensive to make cotton socks and stockings in this country; they can be made very cheaply; and the fact that it is possible for Japan to send a million dozen pairs of socks and stockings to this country and so completely undersell us shows that the wage conditions and the labour conditions of the operatives in that country must be deplorable in the extreme.

I was very much interested by the speeches both of the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester and of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), and I wondered if three or four years ago they would have been likely to make the speeches which they have delivered here this afternoon. The hon. Member for South Croydon indicates that he would, but I am not certain that all those who have stood behind the establishment of a system of Protection for this country would have been likely to make the same sort of speeches three years ago as they are now making in certain connections regarding such goods as have been referred to on this occasion. Three years ago probably most of them would have taken up the attitude that the establishment of a system of Protection or the putting into operation of a system of tariffs would have been quite sufficient to protect the manufacturing industries of this country, without any other measures.


Might I just explain to my hon. Friend that the same object would have been achieved if we had proposed, for example, duties up to 100 per cent.; but that, as private Members, it would have been out of order for us to present such a Bill to Parliament, and, therefore, as Parliament has restricted our activities in that direction, we had to choose the only instrument available?


That is a very interesting interruption, because it is the first time, so far as I know, that anybody has suggested that there should be a system of Protection with duties up to 100 per cent. That is not the type of propaganda that was usually carried on in days gone by. The fact is that it is now realised that the system of Protection which we have established has to a very large degree not accomplished those things which many people expected it to accomplish, and, consequently, it is now suggested that other steps have to be taken.

I want to say quite frankly, speaking for myself, that I agree in principle with this Bill. I realise that sooner or later we shall have to take steps to deal with the problem to which it relates. I agree with the hon. Member for South Croydon that industrial processes are being developed in Eastern countries and in other parts of the world in such a way that they are likely to produce commodities which, if imported into this country, will menance the standards of life of our own industrial workers. There is no one on these Benches who would fail to do everything he possibly could to preserve the standards of life of the workers of this country. Those standards are sometimes attacked from the inside, and we do everything we can to preserve them. When they are attacked from the outside, we should do everything we can to preserve them as well, especially in the form of the cheap sweated goods that are now being imported. We ought also through the instrumentality of the International Labour Office to be putting into operation as far as we can machinery, especially in connection with those States which are associated with the League of Nations, which will raise the standard of living of the workers in these so-called backward countries. If we cannot move rapidly enough along those lines, because we cannot get the necessary agreements and understandings, which will be rigidly enforced, in the countries concerned, then in the sheer interest of the self protection of our workers we shall have to adopt other measures. Consequently, I agree with the principle of the Bill. I do not altogether agree with the machinery.

The hon. Member for South Croydon suggested that the promoters have called upon machinery more or less already in existence to carry out the proposals of of the Measure. I do not like the Tariff Advisory Committee. I never did like an extra-Parliamentary body functioning in the way it is, and I do not like the machinery proposed to be used, but I associate myself completely with the principle of the Bill, and I think everything should be done to protect our industrial workers from the importation of cheap sweated goods.

3.23 p.m.


I welcome the somewhat unusual support of the hon. Member, and we are delighted that we have brought forward a Measure which will probably command the support of the House as a whole because we simply aim at making it profitable to prohibit the entry of goods produced by standards of labour lower than those that exist in this country. The differences between Eastern and Western conditions are very real and the increase in Eastern competition, based upon lower standards, must in the long run, unless we have some method of checking it, reduce the standard of living in this country considerably below that which we wish to see maintained. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend as to the need for an international fair wages clause throughout the world, but what is a fair market value of a commodity in the home market is not of necessity the fair market standard in the country itself when you are producing goods in the East and selling them in the West.

My hon. Friend touched on the very important question of increased competition from our Colonial Empire in the East and pointed out that, as regards Japanese competition, it was possible under the Import Duties Act to some extent to regulate that by means of high duties. But the question of rubber shoes coming from Hong Kong and Singapore is a problem which will have to be faced very seriously before this country is very much older. It does not make very much difference whether the competition comes from Japan or from Asiatic labour employed by non-Asiatics in any other part of Asia, the effect is the same, as it applies to the living of our own people. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) dealt with the question of the great increase in the imports of rubber shoes in the course of last year from Hong Kong since the Japanese competition had been checked. It is not only a question of imports from Hong Kong. I noticed only the other day that a retail firm ordered 100,000 dozen pairs of shoes from Balata's in India. It is all right for a firm to come over here and employ British labour in producing boots, but it is a different matter if you have a firm like Balata or anybody else producing boots in India by Indian labour and sending them over here to compete with the standard of labour which we have to uphold. This matter requires careful watching on the part of the Government. I am informed that there are supposed to be something like 600,000 rubber shoes actually on the sea coming over from Hong Kong at the present moment. The position grows more serious every day. The more that market expands the more our own manufacturers must be handicapped in extending their plant to try and keep the home market and to employ more hands.

We are only at the beginning of Eastern competition. What has happened in regard to rubber shoes will happen in many other forms of articles. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon referred to pig-iron from India. That is only part of the problem. The East is taking up and learning methods of production, and how to make machine made goods. They may be of inferior quality, but they are learning to produce these articles without at the same time raising their standard of living to anything approaching the standard of living of the West. The Eastern competition does far more injury to us than any competition from the Continent of Europe or anywhere else in the world, because it is based on a totally different standard of life. We have no weapon with which to deal with it to-day. We have some weapon with regard to foreign competi- tion, but no weapon to deal with the competition which comes from actually within the Empire. The experience which Canada has had of Eastern competition should make us nervous of the future unless the matter is tackled expeditiously. The Bill is a simple measure dealing with a grave problem, and gives an opportunity to the Government, when various other things have taken place, to take effective action. The Measure should be given a Second Reading, for however much we may differ over political matters, this question is one which concerns the protection of the standard of living of our own people against competition from anywhere else in the world where the standard of living is not what it is here.

3.28 p.m.


The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons), who moved the Bill, spoke with what appeared to me unaccustomed feeling when he said that his friends were determined as far as they could to maintain the standard of life won by the workers of this country. I do not think that he will think that any of us are not prepared to cheer all sentiments of that kind. Some of us who stand here have played some part in the winning of that standard of life, and it has not all been as pleasant in the doing of it as it is when done. Some of us have had to take the risks of war to an extent not appreciated by hon. Members in fighting for standards of life. Therefore, we applaud sentiments of that kind. It is for that reason that I hesitate about giving support to this Bill. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) at once realised the danger and retreated very quickly from the original proposal of the Bill. The object is to give power to the Import Duties Advisory Committee to decide, upon the application of any party interested, what are sweated goods. The proposal is not that the decision shall be submitted to the House in the form of Orders, to which we have already objected, but that the Committee shall have power to decide. I suppose that is in harmony with the idea of doing the thing thoroughly and quickly. That is dictatorship with a vengeance.

There are those of us on this side of the House who have always been gravely concerned about the powers of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. Even though their Orders are submitted to the House of Commons it still means that two or three gentlemen, who are in a remote place, can hear a case, on which we usually do not have evidence, and take a decision, which is put before the House in a way which does not give us any proper opportunity of examining it. Whatever the hon. Member for South Croydon says, the fact remains that the proposal of the Bill is to short-circuit the present methods of the Import Duties Advisory Committee and to give them power to decide at once.

What is it that is asked for in the Bill? It does not ask for the prohibition of goods from Japan or from the East. It prohibits all goods made by sweated or forced labour.


From anywhere.


From any part of the world? Even the British Empire?


From anywhere.


I wonder if hon. Members have seen a statement in the "Manchester Guardian" of yesterday, in which some very grave allegations were made about conditions in Canada. We are told that in Toronto conditions are amazing. A public welfare official revealed the fact that thousands of heads of families are working long hours weekly and receiving an insufficient wage to support their families. The State is supplementing their earnings with direct relief. This, it is pointed out, is State subsidising of industry. The conditions in Quebec are appalling. Biscuit manufacturers are employing girls at 1 dollar 50 cents, that is 6s., a week. We are also told that wages in textile mills of 8s. to 12s. a week for girls are common and that even the Minister of Trade and Commerce in Canada says these are scandalously low wages. Suppose we decide to prohibit these sweated goods I can imagine that the Canadians would have the right to say that some British coal which goes to Canada is the result of sweated labour—as it certainly is. Our Lancashire friends have been charging us in Durham with getting coal at lower wages. That may be true. A wage of 6s. 6d. per day for a 10-hour day is a sweated wage. Many miners are getting less than 30s. per week, and that would certainly be considered as sweated labour by the standards of life of the Canadian miner. This is just an illustration to show the hon. Member what dangerous ground we are on in giving the Advisory Committee power to give an arbitrary decision as to what is sweated labour. Who is going to decide what is sweated labour?


The Import Duties Advisory Committee.


Who is going to make the investigation? The hon. Member must know that this one of the most difficult and delicate questions to investigate. When the Trade Boards were set up in this country they had to proceed very carefully in their investigations and it took some time to get at the facts as to whether conditions were bad or not. It did not necessarily mean that because certain goods were produced in a house that the conditions, therefore, were bad. I say that you cannot decide this matter under the conditions laid down in Clause 3 of the Bill, which is merely a general statement and makes no proper arrangements for investigating the conditions among the workers in any country.


Surely the position is quite clear. Under Clause 3 anyone in this country who complains, and makes an application in support of his claim, must obviously submit evidence to the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and if they are satisfied that the evidence shows that substantially the conditions of employment in the other country are so much less favourable than the conditions of employment in this country then they will submit their decision to the Treasury.


Lots of people who consider themselves as experts will certainly submit evidence which is to their own satisfaction, but if the Import Duties Advisory Committee have to depend simply on the evidence of people of that description, who have no real experience of the country where these goods are produced, they will certainly be deciding the matter in an arbitrary manner. There have been investigations even in this country. I hear people speaking as experts upon all kinds of things and upon all countries, and I am very chary, because when I am asked about the conditions in Durham, although I live in a working man's house among workmen, I often come across startling facts which make me wonder whether I know Durham or not. It is much more true in the case of a particular trade. I think that there is need for a consideration of this question, but I do not think that you will meet it by the mere attempt to say yea and nay upon some special inquest, even although the Import Duties Advisory Committee seem to be a very wonderful body, according to some people. It is, however, a matter for serious investigation. Other countries are involved in this matter so far as the East is concerned, and I think that more weight should have been given to the suggestion of my hon. Friend in regard to international investigation.


May I point out that the hon. Member seems to miss the point that conditions as to diet and climate in certain countries are different, and therefore if this were taken up internationally, there would be no remedy, because there are no local complaints, and the conditions enable the workers to produce so cheaply that we cannot pay the wages to keep up the standards to which our people are rightly accustomed.


I agree with the hon. Member. My experience in international conferences has more than ever convinced me as to that. Coloured labour is a question that has to be dealt with, but may I make it clear that we have to put our own house in order before we talk to other people, for there is a good deal to be said about standards of life and labour in this country. The investigation published yesterday, following on the lines of Charles Booth, shows that one-half of the population is living below the low standard of life fixed by Charles Booth last century.


Is one-half the right figure?


We will not argue the question of a half. It is agreed that the great mass of people are living below the proper standard, and we ought to clear things up in this country before we speak with authority to other people. At the same time, I have no doubt that there are conditions to be met with in the East, and other countries have to meet the same conditions. More weight, therefore, ought to have been given to my hon. Friend's suggestion with regard to international standards and international investigation. The fact is that the hon. Member opposite will not have anything to do with the international method. The Government have practically abandoned the International Labour Office. If they had given effect to the Mines Convention, for instance, there would have been fewer hours in the mines to-day, and less competition with low standards. There would have been uniform conditions. But hon. Members opposite are never enthusiastic about that kind of thing. All that they stand for is bare prohibition where competition seems to infringe upon our interests. They have no thought of the reactions. So we suggest the international method. There is all the machinery and experience available for a proper investigation of conditions. As a matter of fact, the International Labour Office may be able to give hon. Members opposite even more startling information about the production of goods in the East than they already possess. There is at their disposal machinery and skilled experience with which there can be hardly any comparison in this country, in spite of the high standard of our Civil Service.


We had the evidence of the President of the Board of Trade the other day, that 14s. 2d. a week is the average payment to workers in the clothing industry in Poland.


That is the kind of information that comes from the International Labour Office. That is the best body for investigating conditions and also for setting up international standards through conventions. That is the line that we propose. Hon. Members opposite stand for insularity, this Little England business. We say that this kind of Bill leads to repercussions upon industries that depend largely on exports, such as the mining industry. We had in 1932 the immediate result of the repercussions of the Government's tariff proposals. Those proposals caused many pits to become idle in different parts of the country. There are coalowners in the north who said so emphatically both publicly and privately to me.

3.50 p.m.


The hon. Member who has just spoken suggested that we should clean up our own stables, as it were, before we start looking at the position of labour in other countries. It is obvious that this Bill is at least designed to help to maintain the standard of living in this country. All those who have spoken with one exception are in favour of the principle of this Bill even if they are doubtful as regards the machinery and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department will give us his views on that matter. I give one practical example of what is happening, as another Member who has a hosiery factory in his constituency and who has to face the real menace of Japanese competition. I was shown last November a woollen worsted jumper, a sample of a lot which had been landed in this country at 25s. 1d. per dozen. It was made out of a 60s.–64s. quality botany yarn which would have represented a cost for the yarn alone to the British manufacturer of 26s. That jumper was being sold at half the cost at which the British manufacturer could sell the same article. The question of difference of wages and standard of living was not really vital because even if our workers had been working for nothing the Japanese manufacturer at that price would still have been able to undercut us in our own markets. That is a menace which can only be counteracted by some such principle as the principle of this Bill. I shall ask my hon. and gallant Friend if he is not in a position, on behalf of the Government to accept this Bill, at least to inform us that he is in sympathy with these industries who are confronted with the menace of Japanese and other Oriental competition and to indicate what steps the Government have in mind, to safeguard the conditions of labour of our workers.

3.52 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel J. COLVILLE (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)

While the Government are sympathetic with the aim which is in the minds of the promoters of the Bill I would like to point out the practical difficulties which would attend its operation. Apart from the Anglo-German Agreement of 1924, there are some 42 Treaties in which we give and get most-favoured-nation treatment. These have been negotiated over a long period and I have not time now to explain them but hon. Members will be aware that the provision of most-favoured-nation treatment for our goods in the export trade is of very great value to us in all those countries in which we trade. This I can say, that we are not so closely bound to the principle of the most-favoured-nation clause that we are not prepared to modify it or even depart from it if the conditions demand it. As an example of modification there is the recent agreement which was explained to the House last night. It gives an example of how in certain circumstances we may think that modification of the most-favoured-nation clause is necessary. But a wholesale denunciation of treaties such as might be required to operate under this Bill would, we submit, cause great disturbance to trade and might have the very effect which my hon. Friends would seek to avoid, namely increased unemployment. If we had at any time to determine an agreement by which we concede most-favoured-nation treatment to a country, there would be no difficulty in obtaining the necessary powers to take action then. Therefore, while having sympathy with the views expressed by hon. Members I would point out that there are great administrative difficulties in the way of carrying out the provisions of the Bill.

3.55 p.m.


I think this Bill requires a great deal more consideration before it is allowed to go any further and I would ask the House particularly to consider how a Bill of this kind squares with the Ottawa Agreements. We have in the past discussed the question as to conditions of industry in Canada as compared with those in Lancashire.


Will the hon. Member explain why he is speaking against the Bill without having previously taken the trouble to hear the Debate?


It is not necessary to listen to the whole of the Debate, nor is it usual. I have listened over and over again to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), and I think I know the whole of his opinions on a Bill of this kind. He does not refrain unduly from enlightening the House as to his opinion on these questions, and he is one of those who believe that the posperity of this country can be achieved easily by duties on everything. If the first measure does not succeed, his method of dealing with it is simply to put the duty higher. If the first turn of the screw is not sufficient, then make another turn, and so on until we get the required results. I would ask the hon. Member and his friends particularly to devote their attention to Clause 3 of the Bill, which defines sweated goods as goods in respect of which the Import Duties Advisory Committee report to the Treasury that they are produced in their country of origin under conditions of labour so much less favourable than those prevailing in the United Kingdom that their sale in the United Kingdom represents unfair competition with British workpeople. My hon. Friend must realise that that is far too big to be interpreted by any court of law.


Do you object to the principle?


No one objects to the principle of preventing unduly sweated goods coming into this country if one is clear that they are sweated and if we can agree as to what sweated goods are. Take any of our Dominion at the present time. Take the conditions under which cotton is produced in Central Africa.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


Can anybody say that the wages which these workpeople in the Sudan now receive would be considered fair and reasonable according to the—


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


The principle remains that practically all the goods that come to this country from the Dominions come undoubtedly—


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


Undoubtedly these men receive wages which, according to our standard, would be unfair. I would like to know what my hon. Friends think these natives of Africa ought to receive so as to make their products not the result of unfair conditions.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


These are questions of real importance which neither my hon. Friend nor any of these—

It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.

Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 5th March.