§ [Sixth Day.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [20th November]
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Noel Lindsay.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:But humbly regret that the policy pursued by Your Majesty's Ministers continues to encroach on the personal, political, and economic liberties of the subject, and thereby curtails and restricts the opportunities for individual energy and enterprise to procure employment for the people by contributing to that restoration of Imperial and world trade which was the avowed aim of the recent conference of the nations.In moving this Amendment, I am encouraged by the thought that any criticisms I may make of the Government must be timid land mild by comparison with the attacks the Government now receive every day from Members in various parts of their own party. One could well understand the present occupants of the Treasury bench saying, like Canning and Peel before them:But of all plagues, good Heaven, theywrath can send,Save, save, oh I save me from the candidfriend.I do not speak in that capacity, and this Amendment is not put down merely in order to censure the Government of the day, though, of course, if it were carried it would naturally convey that implication. But it is also put down to call attention to certain tendencies in current policy and in modern legislation, the danger of which, as we believe, is not always sufficiently appreciated, particularly by some of the hon. Members above the Gangway. A very remarkable speech, as I think everyone will agree, was made 694 a week or two ago at St. Andrews by General Smuts, and I think he expressed then the mind of the great majority of the people of this country of every political party. I would like to remind the House of one passage in that speech. He said:Although the ancient homelands of constitutional liberty in the West are not yet seriously affected, we have to confess sadly that over large parts of Europe the cult of force—what in the Great War we used to call Prussianism—has for the moment triumphed. Popular self-government and Parliaments are disappearing. The guarantees for private rights and civil liberties are going. Minorities are trampled upon; dissident views are not tolerated, and are forcibly suppressed. For those who do not choose to fall into line there is the concentration camp, the distant labour camp in the wilds, or on the islands of the sea.That passage, I think, expresses what most people feel about the present trend of Continental politics, and it gives us, perhaps, a sense of superiority to think that we have not gone that way. But although it is perfectly true that we remain, in General Smuts's phrase, one of "the ancient homelands of constitutional liberty," there are, as we on these benches believe, certain signs that we ourselves are beginning, slowly it may be and almost imperceptibly, to move in the same direction. I am not suggesting that we are in immediate danger of a Communist revolution or a Black Shirt coup d'état, for although we in this country are very seldom immune from prevailing ideas and movements in the rest of the world, we generally have our own methods of giving effect to them; that is to say, when other countries resort to the Reign of Terror and the guillotine, we content ourselves with passing a Reform Bill. We have a genius for introducing new content into old forms. That may have been a very fortunate thing in the nineteenth century, but it is rather a dangerous thing in the twentieth century, when we are dealing with an entirely different type of movement in the rest of the world. I think it was Walter Bagehot who said in his work, "The English Constitution," thatA republic has crept in under the folds of the monarchy.In a few years, if present policies are continued, we may very well find that despotism has crept in under the cloak of representative government.
695 The Amendment which we have put on the Order Paper refers to thepersonal, political, and economic liberties of the subject.I imagine that conceptions of civil liberty do not vary very much from one country to another, but what does differ, and has always differed, is the way in which different countries have set about to secure it. In this country we have always had two principal and vital safeguards of the rights of the individual citizen. They are, first of all, the constant supervision by Parliament, and, in particular, by this House, of the actions of the executive; and, secondly, what is known as the rule of law. I am going to suggest that both of those safeguards have been very greatly weakened in the last few years, and that both are in considerable danger of being altogether destroyed. A great many people speak of this House as if it were simply a place which exists in order to enact laws, but this House is not merely a factory of legislation. It is something very much more than that. We have another equally valuable function, as I believe, and that is to act as a place where grievances can be raised, whether those grievances be collective or individual, and where redress can be demanded.
I agree that it is not very often that individual grievances are raised on the Floor of the House, but it does occasionally happen. At Question Time to-day, there was a question put to one, Minister as to why a certain lady had been refused unemployment benefit, and from time to time Members do get up in this House and raise individual grievances either about a constituent or some other person in whom they happen to be interested. The House will remember, I think, one rather famous occasion about a year ago when an hon. Member—I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears)—raised the case of Flying Officer Fitz-patrick. The House will recollect that it was the case of a young man who was said to have been carrying a suit case in a suspicious manner, and he was arrested by two or three plain clothes policemen. I think everyone will recall the great wave of indignation that went through the House because it was thought that the police exceeded and abused their 696 authority, and how, after indignant speeches from Members of every political party here, the Home Secretary had to promise that there should be inquiry. Inquiry was held, and, as a result of it, an apology was tendered to the young man for his treatment at the hands of the police.
I did strike me when I was listening to that Debate, and it will be in the recollection of every hon. Member, what a dramatic contrast there was between what was happening in this House and what was happening at the very time in Germany. In Germany, people who happened to disagree with the view of the majority body were being dragged out of their houses, beaten over the head, crowded into concentration camps, in some cases even mutilated and murdered, and there is nobody throughout the length and breadth of the land able to say a single word of protest. In this country, the whole business of Parliament and of the Government was held up for over an hour because one British citizen had received a few minor injuries at the hands of the police. It did seem to me that that contrast showed very effectively what a tremendous safeguard this House can still be for the rights of the ordinary individual citizen.
It is this opportunity to raise grievances which, I think, is being, in part, destroyed. Only last Session the majority of this House, under the direction of the Government Whips, voted to place many thousands of unemployed people under the jurisdiction of a board which is not subject to the constant supervision or control of any elected assembly. It is perfectly true that that board has to make an annual report, which, presumably, will be debated in this House, but it is not very much comfort to the unemployed man or woman who has a grievance in November to be told that his or her grievance can be raised by a Member of Parliament when the report is presented next March. But that is all that it amounts to. Apart from that annual report, there is no constant supervision or control, and we understand, in the case of the Unemployment Act, that if a Member endeavours to raise some grievance arising out of the treatment of one of his constituents by the Unemployment Assistance Board, he will simply get the answer from the Minister of 697 Labour that this is a matter for the board, and that the Minister cannot take responsibility.
The Unemployment Act offers me another example of how we are gradually whittling away the power and the authority of this House. That Act contains provisions for a system of regulations, and the whole system of the means test is to be decided in future, not by any statutory provision, but by certain regulations—which, I believe, are to be laid on the Table of this House in a few days' time—and we shall be in the position of having either to accept or reject those regulations. We shall not be able to amend or alter them in any degree. That is the kind of thing that a few years ago would have been done by Statute, but now it is done by regulation, and one could take a great many other examples of things that this House would have done by Statute but which are now done by this alternative method. That, I say, derogates from the Authority of this House. When something is done by Statute we are able to examine every Clause and every line connected with it, if we wish, and we are able to alter it in any way we like, but when the same things Are done by Ministerial regulation, as, for instance, under the Unemployment Act, it means that this House has to accept or reject and loses the power to amend.
I wonder what would be said by some hon. Members opposite if the same method that was adopted in the Unemployment Act last Session was adopted in relation to the India Bill. Suppose it was proposed that some vital matters affecting a very large percentage of the toiling millions of India were not to be dealt with by a Clause in the India Bill, but were to be left open in order to be dealt with by means of regulations to be drafted by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India, so that nobody could tell exactly what the fate of those people was to be. I can imagine the eloquent protests that would come from the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and from many of his supporters, and yet the very people who would protest if that were done voted, lightly and with scarcely a second thought, for the same thing being done to many hundreds of thousands of our fellow-citizens when they voted for the Unemployment Act last Session. Even 698 the initiative in taxation has not been kept solely in the hands of this House. As every hon. Member knows, taxes Can now be imposed by a Treasury Order on the advice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and all that this House is asked to do is to acquiesce in a tax which has already come into existence.
These are but a few examples, and they are not mere accidents. I think they all arise out of the modern attitude towards Parliament, which is particularly prevalent, I think, on the Treasury Bench, which regards this House simply as a place which shall register the decrees of an omnipotent Executive. That attitude was exemplified in a speech made some time ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, who, shortly after his milk scheme had been passed by this House, made a speech at Oxford, in which he said:My scheme to revolutionise the milk industry had 90 Clauses, and although Parliament knew nothing about it on Thursday morning, by night it had become law.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
There was not a single hon. Member on the Liberal Benches who suggested that my scheme ought not to become law that night; and they were all there.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
There was not a single vote. Did anyone go into the Division Lobby to delay by three minutes the passage of that scheme?
§ Mr. FOOT
Might it not have been for this particular reason that nobody voted against it? I notice that the right hon. Gentleman does not deny having used those words, and if what he said is right, that it was impossible for the great majority of Members of the House to have had time to realise what the scheme was about—
§ Mr. ELLIOT
No, I am not going to disclaim what I said, but nobody would suggest that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Mallalieu), who spoke on the matter, was utterly uninformed about it. A general statement such as 699 that could not apply to Liberal Members, and certainly not to the hon. Member for Colne Valley.
§ Mr. FOOT
I agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley knew a great deal more about it than did the great majority of Members, but if what the right hon. Gentleman said was right, then a great majority of this House, on his own admission, were being asked to pass something which they had not had time to study and the implications of which they had not had time to realise. I do not think even Hitler could do very much better than that, and when you use your great majority in this way, in order to get Parliament to pass hurriedly things which it has not time properly to consider, you are doing far more to bring Parliamentary government into discredit than all the Blackshirts or Redshirts put together.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Does the hon. Member suggest for a moment that this was passed by the action of that Parliamentary majority?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Member has no right to say that—absolutely none. A unanimous decision of the House binds every Member of it, and my hon. Friend has no right to say what my action would have been if time had been asked for by this House further to consider that scheme.
§ Mr. FOOT
If I remember aright, the scheme was produced only a very few days before, and some protests came from our benches on the ground that there had not been sufficient time to acquaint ourselves with the details. If the right hon. Gentleman will look up the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will find, I think, that my recollection is right. The deduction that I am endeavouring to draw from the right hon. Gentleman's words is the attitude which he and some of his colleagues take towards this House and Parliament generally, an attitude which was borne out, I think, by his interruption a moment or two ago.
I turn now to what I consider an even more serious matter, and that is the in- 700 roads which have been made in the past few years in the rule of law. The rule of law, I think, might be defined in two ways. First of all, it means that no man can be punished or can be lawfully made to suffer, either in his body or his goods, except for a distinct breach of law established in ordinary legal manner before ordinary courts; and, secondly, it means that not only is no man above the law, but every man, whatever his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of the land and the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts. It is now some five years since the Lord Chief Justice published his book, "The New Despotism," in which he issued a very frank warning to the public as to the dangers inherent in the advance of bureaucratic power. In order that hon. Members may recall how serious a view he took at that time, I should like to read one short passage from his book. He wrote:There is now, and for some years past has been, a persistent influence at work which, whatever the motives or intentions may be thought to be, undoubtedly has the effect of placing a large and increasing field of departmental authority and activity beyond the reach of the ordinary law. All this is manifestly the result of a well-thought-out plan, the objects and effect of which are to clothe the departments with despotic power.I do not know if hon. Members always appreciate the enormous extent of this law-making power which is conferred on Government Departments. In the year 1932–33 we passed 53 public and general Acts and 92 local and private Acts, and there were no fewer than 1,165 statutory Rules and Orders. The numbers of statutory Rules and Orders which are now effective and which all concern somebody or other have grown to such a volume that the mere index of them occupies over 1,000 pages. My complaint this afternoon is not so much against the extent to which we have given this lawmaking power as of the way in which we have weakened the safeguards which prevent that power being exceeded or abused. In the ordinary way, as hon. Members know, if a Minister makes an Order in pursuance of an Act of Parliament, any person who is aggrieved by that Order can go to the courts and apply for a writ of certiorari, and if the courts find on inquiry that the Minister has in fact exceeded the powers which Parliament intended to give him, they will 701 quash the Order. That is the normal procedure, but of recent years there has grown up a practice of inserting in legislation a Clause the effect of which is to oust the jurisdiction of the courts.
One very common form has been to say that the, Minister may make an Order and that the Order shall have effect as if enacted in the Act, and I think it was that particular form of words which the late Lord Justice Scrutton referred to as "this kind of Star Chamber Clause." But the House of Lords decided a year or two ago that there were limits even to what that form of words could do, and we have a still more objectionable Clause which has appeared in a good deal of our recent legislation—I do not say only in the legislation of this Government, but in the legislation of a great many Governments in the present century. The Clause generally takes a form something like this:The Minister may confirm the Order, and the confirmation shall be conclusive evidence that the requirements of this Act have been complied with, and that the Order has been duly made and is within the powers of this Act.That can be found in a number of modern Statutes, notably in the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931. It means that the Minister, whoever he may be, may do something which is ultra vires and, therefore, illegal, and no one who is aggrieved or affected has any form of redress. I think this particular subject has been given a great deal of importance by the recent declarations and writings of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), because once the hon. and learned Gentleman gets into power he is not going to have any nonsense with writs of certiorari or judicial inquiry into the Orders that he and his colleagues will make. I have here his book, "Problems of a Socialist Government," on page 54 of which he uses these words:In the extended use of Ministerial Orders for giving legislative effect to the general principles laid down by Parliament, one great change must be effected. At the present time it is left to the courts to decide whether these Orders are within the powers given by Parliament. It is always possible for them to be challenged in the courts and to be declared invalid. This power must be taken from the courts, and the sole right to challenge such Orders must rest with Parliament.That is the future which the hon. and learned Gentleman envisages. The sub- 702 ject is not going to get any redress in the law courts. It is true he goes on to say that the sole right of challenge of such Orders must rest with Parliament but I ask the House to think for a moment of exactly what that means. It means that any unfortunate person who is affected by a Ministerial Order—it may be that his property is confiscated or that he has some other grievance under the Order—will be told in future by a Socialist Government: "You can get redress for your grievance if and only if you can persuade the majority of the House of Commons to vote against the Government of the day." That is what it means. It cannot mean anything else. One can imagine the wretched applicant who may have some very technical and difficult point to raise, coming to this House and sending in green cards and endeavouring to explain his point to every one of the 615 Members. There is no real safeguard except the safeguard of the rule of law.
The matter does not end there. We have not only in the last few years given power to Ministers to make laws but we have also given them power to unmake laws. In the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, and many other Statutes we have given Ministers power to remove difficulties by order and regulation, sometimes not only overriding the provisions of a, particular Statute but also the provisions of other former Statutes as well. I would remind the House in this connection of a very famous saying of the present Lord Chancellor in a speech which he made a year or two ago at the Mansion House. He said:Amid the cross-currents and shifting sands of public life the law is like a great rock upon which a man may set his feet and be safe while the inevitable inequalities of private life are not so dangerous in a country where every citizen knows that in the law courts at any rate he can get justice.I think those are magnificent words and we should all like to believe that they are true but the rock begins to disappear when Ministers, to serve their departmental ends, may dispense with Acts of Parliament or parts of Acts of Parliament. How can the citizens be sure of getting justice in the law courts when those courts are expressly prohibited from inquiring into the validity and legality of Ministerial Orders.
703 I do not say that the blame for this state of affairs rests entirely or even greatly with the present Government. I am ready to admit that in this matter all political parties have to take share of the blame. But it may well be that in years past Parliaments and Governments have sinned in ignorance. These Clauses generally appear in the machinery parts of a Bill and very often hon. Members have not, I think, realised the type of Clause that was being passed and the same may possibly be true of the Ministers who have been responsible for those Acts. But that excuse no longer applies, because in April, 1932, we had the report of the Committee on Ministers' Powers I think that must have been one of the strongest committees of inquiry ever set up. It included representatives of all parties. It included Sir Leslie Scott, Sir Claud Schuster, the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade, Sir William Holds-worth, Professor Laski, and many other eminent politicians and jurists. That committee made an emphatic recommendation about this question and on particular the point which I have been trying to put before the House. The House will permit me to quote one passage from page 65 of their report.The use of clauses designed to exclude the jurisdiction of the Courts to enquire into the legality of a regulation or order should be abandoned in all but the most exceptional cases, and Should not be permitted by Parliament except upon special grounds stated in the Ministerial Memorandum attached to the Bill.Whenever Parliament determines that it is necessary to take the exceptional course mentioned in the last recommendation and to confer on a Minister the power to make a regulation whose validity is not to be open to challenge in the CourtsI think that is as clear as any recommendation on the subject could be. In spite of that recommendation made in April, 1932, last summer the Minister of Agriculture brought before the House his Agricultural Marketing Bill of 1933, and the very Clause to which I have referred, the very Clause which was con- 704 demned in such strong terms by the Donoughmore Committee—the Committee on Ministers' Powers—appeared in the very same form in that Bill. No less an authority than the Parliamentary correspondent of "Punch" pointed out that if that Clause were passed in its original form the right hon. Gentleman would be able to make an Order that all bacon producers should wear brown bowler hats, and nobody would have any right of appeal.
- (a) Parliament should state plainly in the statute that this is its intention;
- (b) a period of challenge of at least three months and preferably six months Should be allowed. Apart from emergency legislation we doubt if there are any cases where it would be right to forbid challenge absolutely."
On that occasion the question of the recommendations of the Committee was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) but we were confronted with an unholy alliance, led on one side by the Solicitor-General of that day and on the other side by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol and together they went into the Lobby against us. The only part of the House from which we obtained any support was from that occupied by my hon. Friends the Members of the Independent Labour Party. It is true that in another place an alteration was made. No credit for that was due to the Government. The alteration was made because of a very strong protest by Lord Reading. It is also true that in the end we were given a period of challenge of 28 days or exactly one-third of the time which was recommended as a minimum by the Donoughmore Committee. But if the Bill had gone through in the form in which the right hon. Gentleman originally introduced it, and after all, the Government must be responsible for the form in which Bills are introduced, then that Clause would have gone through in spite of all the recommendations of the Committee on Ministers' Powers.
The matter does not end even there. It is a considerable time since that committee reported and not only on this question but on certain other questions such as the question of proceedings by the subject against the Crown and the exercise by Ministers of judicial and quasi-judicial functions, the committee made equally clear and emphatic recommendations. Yet, so far from having implemented those recommendations, the Government have not even given us a single opportunity for discussing them. On 8th May my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Islington (Colonel 705 Goodman) asked the Prime Minister what action had been taken to give effect to the recommendations of the committee, and the Prime Minister replied that the Government had not yet had sufficient opportunity to give consideration to the issues raised in the committee's report. That as I say was on 8th May, 1934. The committee had reported in April, 1932. A period of more than two years had elapsed, but the Government had not yet had sufficient opportunity to consider these recommendations. This is an important matter, and one which, as I happen to know, interests a great many hon. Members not only of the Liberal party but of other parties as well, and I hope that whoever replies to-day will be able to give us some indication that the period of consideration is drawing to an end, and that the Government will soon be able to tell us what they propose to do about this committee's recommendations.
If the House will bear with me for a few minutes longer, I should like to deal with the second part of the Amendment. It refers to the curtailment and restriction of opportunities for individual energy and enterprise. In this matter I have no particular quarrel with the party who sit above the Gangway. They have always been blunt and straightforward in this matter. They have set their faces against private enterprise in any form and they intend, if they get the opportunity, to abolish it. But if the advent to power of the Socialist party is delayed for a few more years—as it may well be if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol is given his head—they will find on getting into power that there is no private enterprise left for them to destroy because it will already have suffered "death by a thousand cuts" at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and some of his colleagues. This Government have done more in three years to destroy private enterprise than our two former Socialist Governments put together.
May I take as examples one or two principles embedded in the right hon. Gentleman's marketing schemes—in this case schemes against which we did most emphatically vote. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect the hops scheme under which it is, I will not say impossible, but certainly very difficult for any new man to break his way into the hops industry. 706 The same principle is contained in the draft sugar marketing scheme. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman is not yet responsible for it but the fact that such a scheme should be produced is evidence to my mind of the way in which the wind is blowing.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
But the hon. Member will not deny that it could only be produced under the Act of 1931 which he and his friends drove through the House against the votes of those who sit on this side.
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman now wishes to disclaim responsibility for the Act of 1931 but there is all the difference in the world between approving of a marketing scheme as such, and approving of some of the principles which have been embodied in the marketing schemes produced by the right hon. Gentleman. It is possible to approve of a Statute but to disapprove of the use which happens to be made of it. That is the position I think, not only of Members on these benches, but of a great many others as well.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Can the hon. Member point to a single principle in any of these schemes that was not implicit in the Act of 1931 for which he and his leaders voted?
§ Mr. FOOT
I think a great many of the principles contained in these schemes were not understood to be included in that Act, either by the House or by the country and I shall be surprised to hear that they were even in the minds of the authors of the Act, one of whom now sits on the Front Opposition Bench. There is the principle which is contained in the hops scheme under which we have something which is, as near as makes no difference, a Statutory monopoly. There is the same principle in the draft sugar marketing scheme. In the case of potatoes we have not quite the same principle, but a, similar and equally vicious principle—a system of licensing under which nobody is able to go into business as a potato merchant unless he has a licence which he has to obtain from a board consisting entirely of producers. The relevant paragraph in the scheme is paragraph 70 which states:Subject as herein provided the board may from time to time determine the persons to or through the agency of whom potatoes or any description thereof may be sold by any registered producer.707 That is a principle to which we took objection at the time when it was introduced.
§ Mr. FOOT
I think if I remember rightly there is an advisory committee for the merchants, but it is only an advisory committee. I understand that the superior authority is the producers committee. It is to that committee that the merchant has to apply for a licence. I suppose that one of the most interesting Debates that has ever taken place in the House on the subject of Socialism and private enterprise was that which took place on the 20th March, 1923, on a Motion moved by Mr. Philip Snowden, as he then was, which may be remembered by some of the older Members. The principal speech on the anti-Socialist side in favour of private enterprise was made by Sir Alfred Mond, and I should like to remind the House of one passage in it. Some reference had been made in the Debate to the firm of Brunner, Mond and Company. This is what Sir Alfred Mond said in reply:It is now nearly 50 years since two young men got to know each other in business. With the very little money they had saved, they decided to start a new enterprise. Their capital was very insufficient their optimism very great. They adopted a process entirely unknown in this country. They asked people who understood the industry to come into it, but they laughed at it. They fought and struggled, and they founded that very concern to which the hon. Member referred, which has given employment and looked after its workmen for something like 50 years. That was the result of an enterprise which could never have been commenced under any Socialist system I have ever known. Who would have been prepared to take the risk, which all the most experienced men in the industry said was an absurd risk to take? Those are points I want the hon. Member to deal with if he is dealing seriously with this question. This is only one instance. Those two men were my father and the late Sir John Brunner. They did not work eight hours a day, but 36 hours on end without stopping. They created work for themselves; they created works where thousands of people have been employed. One of the difficulties which I feel with regard to Socialism is that I do not see how you can make any progress.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1923; cols. 2494–5, Vol. 161.]I ask the House what would have happened to those two young men if the 708 principles which are embodied in some of the Minister of Agriculture's marketing schemes had been in operation at that time? Suppose this policy had then been in operation and had been taken to its logical conclusion there would have been unlimited marketing schemes and these two young men would have been debarred from entering their particular industry and building up that great concern which has given employment to so many thousands of people, because they had not taken part in the industry during the previous five years. They would probably have been refused a licence because nobody of standing in the industry believed in them and nobody of experience was prepared to join them; at any rate, they would have had great difficulty in getting it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in one of those eloquent speeches to which he has so frequently treated the House in the last week or two, said, "Since when have Members of Parliament needed a licence?" They do not need one yet, but if they did it would be in keeping with the trend and spirit of the Government's legislation. The policy of the Government at this time, we suggest, should not be to increase the restrictions on private enterprise, but to assist private enterprise to help itself and to provide the openings through which it may be possible for private enterprise to work.
The last part of the Amendment refers to the question of the restoration of imperial and world trade. When the tariffs Measure was introduced, we were told that, while a tariff wall was being put around this country and machinery set up for building that tariff wall progressively higher, powers were being taken on the other hand to make bargains so that the channels of trade might be cleared and the area of real Free Trade might in the end he extended. It is true that the Government have entered into a number of trade agreements, mostly with smaller nations. I have always declared my belief that if these agreements tended to reduce tariffs or to keep them from rising higher, they ought to receive support. Last July, however, I ventured to submit to the House an analysis of the statistics of the trade agreements, and I suggested to my hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of the 709 Overseas Trade Department that, if you put a maximum figure on all these trade agreements showing the increased trade that they could possibly bring—including the trade agreement with Russia which, of its nature, cannot be repeated—we could not expect a greater increase in our export trade than about £14,000,000 annually. That is, I agree, a respectable sum, but when we compare it with the enormous losses of our export trade since 1929, which are the main causes of unemployment and depression in this country, it is an infinitesimal fraction of that loss.
The achievements of the Government in this direction must be measured, not by what they have done, but by the measure of their opportunities. I suggest that one great opportunity has been staring them in the face for several months past. It is some time now since President Roosevelt went to Congress and asked authority to enter into trade agreements. He was given authority not only to do that but, if necessary, to cut the American tariff by no less than 50 per cent. Why has no approach been made by His Majesty's Government to the Government of the United States? I should have thought that a Government which believed in such words as "reciprocity" and "fair trade," after the many speeches we have heard for years from people who have no objection to Free Trade so long as it was not one-sided, would have taken the earliest opportunity of making an approach to the Government of the United States and endeavoured to get better terms for the products of British industry in that enormous market. If we could get better terms in that market and obtain a trade agreement there and a reduction of the tariff barriers between the United States and ourselves, we would do more for the products of British industry than all the rest of our trade agreements put together. I think we might be told the reason why no move in that direction, as far as we have been able to find out, has at any time during the past few months been made by His Majesty's Government.
The reason probably lies, not in the merits of the proposal, but in the character of the majority of this House. We know the curious protests that were made when trade agreements were made with Denmark and one or two other countries, and how the extreme Protectionists were up in arms because there 710 had been a slight reduction in our own tariff. We can imagine what they would say if a trade agreement were made on a really big scale. That is not a sufficient answer for the Government, however, and I hope we shall have some reply on that point. The last thing I want to do is to try and draw together the various aspects of current policy as I see them. Half a century ago the father of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping invented a movement which he called "Tory democracy." It was an attempt to unite the incompatible and met with the fate that might have been expected. To-day the Minister of Agriculture and some of his colleagues have gone one better and invented something that can only be described as Tory Socialism. It is a policy which combines unchecked and uncontrolled authority in the political sphere with regimentation in the economic sphere. It is this policy which we ask the House to condemn.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
I beg to second the Amendment.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) a masterly analysis of some of the activities and experiments of the Government. I cannot pay him a greater compliment than to say that he is a chip of the old block. His father might well be proud of his clear non-party statement on some of the difficult political problems with which the House is faced as a result of some of the Government's errors. He undoubtedly made a case, in spite of the interruptions of the Minister of Agriculture, to show that as a result of some of the Government's legislation many of our liberties have been seriously infringed. I appreciate the difficult economic problems which any Government has to face in these times, but they are so complex, so new and so difficult, that the temptation to embark upon new experiments, even at the sacrifice of our liberties, must be great. We see the same tendency all over Europe. The great German people have been persuaded to sacrifice their liberties, not because the vast majority do not recognise their importance, but because of economic depression. Therefore, we ought to be most careful at this critical time to watch, supervise and criticise all legislation so that we shall not be in danger of departing from our best traditions and in order 711 to see that the privileges of the citizens are not interfered with by legislation of a kind so well explained by my hon. Friend.
This is the new dispensation of the Government. We have had three years of it. I am going to pay the Minister of Agriculture a, compliment. He is very sensitive to criticism, but I can assure him we have great personal regard for him and recognise that, whatever his other faults, he stands for activity. He is always active and ready to do something, but activity does not necessarily mean that he is doing the right thing. He has had four instruments on which he has experimented. He had the old rusty weapon of tariffs, which has fallen into discredit in the last 12 months. He has added to that subsidies, quotas and marketing boards. In reference to the last weapon, he is very anxious to disown any responsibility for it. He claims that it was not his own invention. He found it in his armoury, however, and he has sharpened it and made very free use of it. I took the trouble to inquire into the cost of these new boards, for which he is mainly responsible. I visited the delightful building in Thames House where the offices of the Milk Marketing Board are—large expensive offices, full of activity. There I found a highly organised staff. There was the General Manager with £5,000 a year; Accountant with £2,500; Secretary £1,000; Registrar £1,000; Marketing Officer £2,500; the Chairman, in addition to the General Manager, £1,200; the Vice-Chairman £700; 16 members of the Board with salaries of £350 each; and a clerical staff of over 300. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt say that he is not responsible for the staff, because the Board is a law unto itself.
The same comments apply to the Potato Board. There they have a chairman and a vice-chairman, there are six regional surveyors at £400 each, and five members of the council at £600 each. There is a total salary list of something like £10,000 a year. When we come to the pig industry we find the organisation is more complex and it is more difficult to get out particulars. There are both a Pig Board and a Bacon Board. The manager of the Pig Board has a salary of £2,000 a year and allowances, there is a marketing officer at £1,500, a chair- 712 man at £600 and a vice-chairman at £400. I do not exactly understand how many officials are connected with the Bacon Board, but in addition to these two boards there is the Bacon Industry Development Board, with a chairman at £2,000 a year and expenses, whose business it is to co-ordinate the work of those two other boards. Most of that expenditure does not come within the purview of this House. Those boards, who appoint their own officials, collect their revenue not from the general taxpayer but from the industries concerned. But I was looking up the Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture, and find they show an increase of £248,000 on the previous year. It may be good expenditure but it is the business of this House to scrutinise it closely to make sure that we are getting value for the money.
The Marketing Division of the Ministry is rapidly expanding under the stimulating influence of the right hon. Gentleman. During the past year two additional principals have been appointed at £700 each, three additional assistant principals, and 17 additional marketing officers. Altogether there is an addition of over £5,000 to the salary list, and it is not surprising that the marketing accounts explain £128,000 of that increase of £248,000 to which I referred. There we see the inevitable result of the Government's policy. It is well to remind the House that the Government were elected specially to secure economy, to control expenditure and, above all, to exercise supervision over the expansion of Government departments, and so we should be quite sure—and that is why my hon. Friend is right in selecting the particular terms of this Amendment—that with all this expenditure of money and this increase of officialdom and bureaucracy the country gets a good return for its money.
My hon. Friend referred to the proposed Sugar Board. The scheme is not yet before the House, but from what we hear through the Press there is a reasonable prospect that in due course we shall have this new board, with a new lot of officials, to deal with sugar. The sugar industry was one of the first subjects of experiment in the control of agriculture, and a very expensive experiment it has proved, having cost something like £40,000,000 in 713 10 years. It is not surprising that the Minister of Agriculture is a bit nervous, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is beginning to question the wisdom of handing over these vast sums of money to one favoured industry. The new scheme, as I understand it, provides that the public shall not be conscious of the cost. Instead of this money being subject to the control and the critcism of the House of Commons, the board will be able to exploit the public by collecting the money not in the form of taxes but by increasing the price of the commodity to consumers and to the industries concerned—they are big industries, doing a large export trade, and employing not a few thousand men, like the sugar industry, but hundreds of thousands of people. If this Debate does nothing else it will show the country and the Government that these schemes are being scrutinised.
Then there is the potato scheme. My hon. Friend very rightly dealt with the objections to it from a legal point of view. The scheme put forward would limit the right to deal in potatoes wholesale to a comparatively small number of persons. If it had not been for the timely intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holds-worth) at Question Time the other day, undoubtedly that scheme would have come into operation. It was put forward on 1st November, and very little time was left for people who found themselves excluded to enter a protest. I hear that owing to the vigilance of the House of Commons and, no doubt, of an active agricultural committee, there has been some change in that scheme. It is not to the interest of the consumers of potatoes that a vast monopoly of this kind should be created by a nominated board responsible to nobody but a limited number of privileged producers who are to be licensed to grow potatoes. We have had discussions upon the Bacon Scheme and I do not wish to weary the House by recording all the ramifications of this industry. One thing is quite clear, that as a result of the Bacon Board's operations bacon is more expensive and less of it is being consumed. The Danish farmers have not suffered, because they are getting more money for less exports. We have had report after report from the trades concerned, showing that owing to the shortage of supplies and the high 714 prices the public are ceasing to eat bacon and turning to other foodstuffs.
My hon. Friend referred to the great powers given to the new Milk Board. We have seen some of the inevitable results, but not in the law courts. Instead of recourse being had to a proper court of law to decide questions regarding alleged breaches of contract and to enforce the collection of money, we have had "Star Chamber methods." For this the board cannot be condemned; it is the result of its constitution. In England, up to September, penalties amounting to no less than £2,256 had been inflicted for either not selling milk at the specified price or failing to pay the levy. In Scotland 1,100 producers were prosecuted in two months. There is much discontent and unrest as the result of this legislation, which was ostensibly passed for the benefit of milk producers and in order to bring about prosperity in agriculture. I admit that there has been one good and useful side to the milk marketing scheme. Certainly the Liberal party are not opposed to the principle of organised marketing. A case has been made out for it as the result of numerous inquiries and the study of Continental methods of organising agriculture, but that does not justify all these bureaucratic autocratic powers which have been given both to the Minister and to the board.
One good feature, of course, has been the scheme for distributing milk in schools. It has been good publicity for milk and a good thing for the children, who vastly appreciate the milk. It is recognised as one of the very best things done by this Parliament. The secret of the success was that the milk was offered at a price which brought it within the means of hundreds of thousands of poor children. There is nothing new in distributing milk in schools, because that has been done in London for some 10 years, but the innovation is that it is now offered at a price which induces demand and encourages consumption. There was an immediate response to the offer from almost every school in the country. What does that show? It shows the importance of the price factor. The real cause of agricultural depression is that, following on a long period of economic depression, there are vast populations in the country which cannot afford to pay for the best quality foodstuffs and have to put up with substitutes, buying tinned milk, 715 chilled beef and tinned and canned foods, instead of fresh produce. The price factor is always predominant.
I maintain, and I think that many thoughtful people will agree with me that the Government are approaching this problem from the wrong end. They are trying to help agriculture by artificially increasing prices, through the limitation of supplies. The whole system of quotas, limiting imports and controlling and limiting production aims at the raising of prices artificially. The right approach would be to stimulate demand, as we did in the case of milk, by assisting to bring down the price. Mr. O. R. Hobson, in a remarkable article which appeared recently in a financial paper, pointed out that 33,000,000 of our people have an average income of only £25 per head—not per family, but per person, reckoning men, women and children. That shows the small purchasing power of the vast majority of our people. After they have paid rent and met other obligations, they are left with only a small amount of money in their pockets for the necessaries of life, and must always buy the cheapest things and otherwise economise in every direction.
The Minister of Agriculture in a very remarkable speech spoke of production outstripping consumption and stressed the necessity of better organisation—a speech that he attempted on another occasion to explain away. How can we say, with so many people on the margin, that there is over-production? There is still a great unsatisfied demand. I believe the right hon. Gentleman in difficult circumstances is trying to do his best to meet problems which are quite outside his control and which are more the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade. If that vast army of 2,000,000 unemployed, with their small pittance of unemployment insurance, were in full work, drawing full wages and in enjoyment of an income like their more fortunate brothers who are in employment, there would be immediate expansion in demand which would react to assist agriculture. I do not for one moment suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should be a passenger in this Government. It is right that he should do his duty to help agriculture and improve 716 its organisation, but I am satisfied that his approach is wrong; I go further, it is dangerous.
The idea of artificially raising prices, artificially causing scarcity, is bound to react and cause discontent in our large urban population. When they read and hear of these manoeuvres to stop supplies of produce coming in from our Dominion's, to hinder imports of meat or produce from South America—when they read that, as a result, their struggle for life is going to be greater, they will naturally turn to other parties and listen with sympathy to other economic remedies. I am satisfied that the Government would be wise to take a larger view of their responsibility. The policy of tariff reform has been tried. It is now part of our legislation. It is not easy to alter. It is placed on the Statute Book and a committee sits week in and week out, inquiring and investigating, adding a duty here, altering and modifying a tariff of three years ago. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has admitted that we have now come near the limit of expansion in our home market. In a very important speech he accentuated the importance of our foreign trade.
The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) referred to the gesture from the United States of America, but there is another and even more practical way of approach to the great problem of finding work for that vast army of unemployed who must inevitably look for their absorption into industry to the revival of trade. That is the summoning together of the World Economic Conference. That conference, which met over a year ago with such a flare of trumpets and such advertisement, and encouraged so many hopes not only in this country but throughout the world, was not closed down. It was only adjourned, and it was understood that in due course, and in more favourable conditions and circumstances, it would reassemble in London or in some other great centre. It faded away. Does not the gesture referred to by the hon. Member for Dundee present a favourable excuse for approaching the United States of America again to co-operate in renewing the deliberations of that conference? I notice the new Prime Minister of France made an important statement that his country was no longer looking only to home trade for their well-being. 717 The great French people are conscious that they are suffering inevitably from the general policy of economic nationalism. The very fact that economic nationalism has become so general and universal is beginning to make the world realise the inevitable disaster the continuance of that policy will mean.
All these exchange restrictions are making trade between countries almost impossible. Germany is one of the greatest culprits in this direction. She is not only injuring us, but she is strangling the industry of her own people. All the breakdown of international currency is reacting disastrously on almost every country that has suffered from belief in this false doctrine of national self-sufficiency. I am not blaming the present Government. They are not the chief culprits. My main charge is that they have followed a bad example. They and many other people thought that, armed with these new powers, with the power of retaliation, with this great instrument of tariffs, the tariff walls of other countries would fall down like the walls of Jericho. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, a most skilful negotiator, worked hard with his two able colleagues, negotiating here, bargaining there, first with one country and then with another country; but they failed. They could show one or two small successes undoubtedly. Inevitably they would, but they have not been able to break down that great army of unemployed by giving any substantial contribution to those great key industries on which our export trade depends—cotton, shipbuilding, coal, shipping, are all in a parlous state. They have a million people out of work, and have to come to ask the House for assistance.
I suggest to the Government that it is up to them to give a lead. This great nation of ours has still great moral force throughout Europe and the civilised world. A bold approach, the calling together of the nations of the world to discuss and examine these economic problems in an Economic Conference would be very difficult to resist. Self-sufficiency may be bad for other countries, but it is generally admitted it is ten times more disastrous to a small, overcrowded State with an immense population. We do not for a moment suggest—I know we should be challenged in that 718 direction—that the Government should do nothing but wait for trade recovery. On the contrary, we realise that the Government has great responsibility. We may be told that we are adherents to the old-fashioned doctrine of laissez faire. Nothing is more contrary to the truth. We have expounded in various publications our policy for filling up the gaps between this terrible period of trade depression and economic recovery.
There are vast activities for the State, not in the direction practised by the Minister of Agriculture, by interfering with and restricting the rights of individuals, but bright opportunities for activities in the direction so well put forward by various Members of this House yesterday afternoon. There is no necessity for a board; there is no necessity even for more commissioners, useful as they are. The local government of the country can be expanded and there exist immense opportunities for activities that would provide useful, productive work to many of the idle hands—harbours, docks, the remodelling of our canal system, new bridges, water supplies, but above all, and most important of all, the return to a forward housing policy. The Government have been very free with subsidies to agriculture. They are inclined to forget that one of the first things they did in their first 12 months of office was to wipe out the housing subsidy that existed under what is known as the Wheatley Act and that gave spendid opportunities for dealing with the housing question. The Government have had a death-bed repentance. They are now going to introduce fresh legislation. What form it will take we have yet to see, but we want activity from the Government. Instead of starting new boards, multiplying bureaucrats and otherwise restricting enterprise, limiting the power of initiative of agriculture or any other industry, let them revert to the natural responsibility of Government of assisting local government to carry out public health responsibilities—housing and all those various proved cases where there are so many opportunities for useful public work.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord SCONE
The senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) has made a long speech which was remarkable not merely for the fluency of its language 719 but for its seeming conviction. It lacked however one essential element; there was no life. It may be said to resemble some strange animal which a geologist has discovered in an ancient rock formation. The animal's shape is perfect and the very veins and hair may be adhering to its skin, but it passed away some 10,000 years ago. I will quote a small example from the hon. Member's speech to show how little he and his hon. Friends are conversant with modern problems. He tried to draw an analogy between the early struggles of Messrs. Brunner and Mond to establish their great chemical industry, and the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture in regard to agriculture to-day. We should be making a grievous error in assuming that conditions in agriculture and industry are what they were 50 or 60 years ago. That is what we have most to complain about in the Liberal attitude. The Liberal party constantly produce remedies which may or may not have had their value one or two political generations ago, but which are to-day merely empty, and contain nothing relevant to the situation as we find it.
Throughout the whole of the discussion upon this Amendment there has not been a single bit of constructive policy. There has been a perpetual girding at what the Minister of Agriculture has done and with him has been associated the Secretary of State for Scotland, but no alternative remedy has ever been suggested. The Liberal party were always putting forward marketing schemes as one of the chief ways of salvation for the agricultural industry. It is rather remarkable to find that they now consistently deplore what they have so consistently advocated in the past. I am afraid that one must take the rather cynical view that they object to seeing other people put into operation what they themselves have never had a chance, and are never likely to have a chance, of bringing in. We have noticed that in regard to land settlement for Scotland and similar matters.
It might be of advantage if we considered why it is necessary to regulate agriculture. I am no lover of agricultural marketing schemes, and I wish we could have gone on more or less in the old way, but I am, I think, entitled to take this credit to myself; unlike the 720 Liberal party, I have some small appreciation of the present situation, and I am bound to realise, as we all should, that the conditions which prevailed last century, early this century and even a few years after the War, are not those which prevail to-day. All parties are agreed that the agricultural industry ought to be put upon its feet, and no party would be prepared to see a very large proportion of our arable land go back to waste ground. The only way by which prosperity can be achieved is by making the production of crops, whether grain, livestock, fruit or vegetables, profitable upon that land.
We cannot produce to-day at a price which will compete with foreign imports. Why? Because conditions of labour here are utterly dissimilar from those abroad. Agricultural workers in Scotland and England are certainly receiving wages far lower than any of us like, but it is also true that those wages, both in cash and in real value, are higher than those of agricultural workers practically everywhere else in the world. In the Dominions the producer has enormous expanses of country which he can cultivate, and he can make use of mechanical appliances in a way which is entirely prevented by the physical limitations of this country. On the Continent, workers have very much longer hours under worse conditions and at very much lower rates of pay. Moreover, many of the agricultural products of various continental countries are directly or indirectly subsidised. Those being the conditions, it is obvious that we cannot hope to produce here in competition unless we have some check upon foreign imports, and it is surely part of the policy of the Liberal party that we cannot have control on foreign imports unless accompanied by some form of marketing scheme. We now have marketing schemes. The fact that some of them are not yet working as well as we should like is no recommendation for the abolition of them as a whole.
The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) talked about the Scottish Milk Marketing Scheme and the 1,100 summonses which have been issued. I believe his figures are correct; it is equally correct to say that, although there is indignation in Scotland about the working of this scheme, so far as 721 I am aware, there is no single producer who wants it actually abolished. I hear a remark by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie). His area cannot complain. The South-West of Scotland benefits most unfairly at the expense of the East, but, in spite of the fact that the East is suffering so much at the present time, I have neither met nor heard of one milk producer who wishes to abolish the milk marketing scheme. The producers wish to see the scheme amended. They say that if the worst comes to the worst they will break away and will form a separate marketing scheme of their own. They complain with justice that they were led to vote for the present scheme by misrepresentation. I acquit the Government of any such misrepresentation; that was due to the Milk Marketing Board who represented that only a very small levy would have to be paid and afterwards tried ingeniously but not convincingly to wriggle out of their former statement. The fact remains that, although 2,000 or more producers in the East of Scotland have definitely suffered as a result of this scheme, they all recognise that some scheme is necessary and they hope that it may be possible to amend the present one.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I do not think we can let this Amendment be used as a peg upon which to hang arguments about the Milk Marketing Board. The Amendment is of a very general character, and we must keep to it.
§ Lord SCONE
I entirely accept your ruling, and I fully admit that I was using the Amendment in a way which is out of order. Whatever the defects of the present scheme, the producers do not wish to abolish it altogether; they only wish to see it amended. So far as the Potato Marketing Board is concerned, it is generally agreed that the Board is doing very good work. There may be opportunities for improvement there, but we are dealing with a situation which is absolutely unprecedented and which requires consideration of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has described as the economics of glut. That, coupled with faulty distribution is a situation which requires remedies that are totally untested. It is not therefore to be expected that such schemes will be 722 a success straight away, or that every section of the agricultural industry will benefit at once, Nevertheless, the industry as a whole recognises that some such schemes are necessary in nearly every branch of the industry; not necessarily every branch, but particularly in milk and potatoes and certain soft fruits, in regard to which we can certainly produce so much in our own market that foreign imports will have only secondary effect in sending prices down. A fall in price will be accomplished by our having too much to put on the market, in which case a panic ensues and the price drops. There is an opportunity then for unscrupulous persons to take advantage of the situation by buying cheap and selling more dearly than is justifiable.
In these circumstances, what are the proposals of the Liberal party to the Minister of Agriculture? They do not state the various ways in which the scheme could be amended. All they do is to grumble that the schemes should be better without suggesting improvements, and that is not a helpful attitude. This is one of the few occasions on which I agree with Members of the Socialist party. I hate their schemes and their policy with a most intense hatred, but I do admit that, for what it is worth, they have some sort of policy. I consider that that policy would be disastrous to this country and to its agriculture, but I believe that our people would be more tolerant even of a bad scheme than of no scheme at all. I have had the privilege for the last three years of representing a constituency which is mostly agricultural, and during that time I have listened to many speeches on agriculture from the Liberal party, but I have never heard a single constructive suggestion from them as to what they would do to assist agriculture. They have not even the skeleton of a policy. The same is true of them in regard to industry. All they can do is to harp on the old doctrines of Free Trade which are now merely museum exhibits. One is not surprised that the Liberal party are now reduced to a very small remnant of what they were. We are not surprised that all we see opposite to us—and I say this not personally or wishing to be offensive, but in a political sense only—are a few dusty, fusty Members of a musty, rusty party, a party which is now unfortunately worn out. It 723 is to the body politic what the appendix is to the body physical, a vestigial remnant of an organ which may have served some purpose at some remote epoch, but which to-day is certainly of no use at all; on the contrary, it may cause great danger to the health, and even to the life, of the body of which it is a part.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. DENMAN
One expects, in Debates on the King's Speech, to hear broad declarations of policy in which the country is interested, and I had hoped that we were going to hear the Liberal doctrines. I hoped that we should hear something constructive and helpful to the National Government, but I regret to say that, as the Seconder went on, his speech became more and more appropriate to an Estimates Debate of the Ministry of Agriculture. We were given nothing in the way of a constructive policy to help us out of our many difficulties. The Mover of the Amendment certainly ended upon a note which implied some broad political idea. He asserted that the present Government were dominated by a policy of Tory Socialism, whatever is to be inferred from that phrase.
I suggest that it is worth while looking a little deeper beneath that phrase to consider what is the real content of our modern economic policy. We all know that nations pass through different phases of policy. In the past this country has passed through the phases of mercantilism and laissez faire, but we have not really considered what has been the dominant economic policy that has governed us all since the time of the War. I would venture to describe it as a policy of State aid to capitalism. Before the War we had very little State aid at all. It grew up increasingly since the War, and I think it was fixed upon us definitely by the Government which preceded this one. I know there are many who regard the late Government as the bitter enemy of capitalism. I do not think that anyone has ever done justice to the constant and strenuous efforts which the late Government made to keep capitalism on its legs and to pull it out of its mess.
It was a quite honest policy. They could not pursue Socialism on any large 724 scale, and they did their best to get out of the mess in which they were. But I suggest that in so doing they have fixed upon us that policy of State aid for capitalism for a very considerable period. The present Government are continuing that policy, and are succeeding where the late Government failed, and I suggest that that is a policy we must all put our backs into in order to get the best out of it and make it most serviceable to the welfare of this country. No doubt it will not be a policy of mere undiluted assistance; there is implied in it a considerable measure of control; but I hope the Government will actively pursue and develop that policy so as to make it as helpful as may be to our economic conditions. Previous speakers in this Debate have stressed the need for self-government in industry. That, I believe, to be the next stage on our destined path. It does not immediately arise out of this Amendment, and cannot now suitably be discussed; but it is, I believe, the next constructive proposition that the Government should attend to and develop.
That was only the concluding subject with which my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) dealt in his speech. He devoted most of his speech to a charge which really is rather singular against the present Government—it would have been more appropriate in reference to almost any Government that has preceded the present one in modern times—namely, the charge of legislating so as to impose law by regulations rather than directly by Statute. Some of us remember that process being actively under way before the War. I well remember a very experienced old civil servant, in the course of the drafting of a Bill, speculating whether the House of Commons would stand a particular Clause which gave a Minister power to make regulations. That was before the War. The process went on and was developed until it became the object of some public outcry; but the attack on this Government in regard to this matter has tended to ignore the fact that the process reached its peak even before the previous Government.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I endeavoured to state as clearly as I could that I was not putting the whole blame on this Government, and also that the process has 725 gone on, as the hon. Member says, for a considerable number of years; but I pointed out that this is the first Government that has been warned definitely of the danger of these steps, that it was during the lifetime of the present Government that the report of the Committee on Ministers' Powers was produced, and that they have done nothing whatever as yet to implement that report.
§ Mr. DENMAN
No doubt there is some truth in that, but not the whole truth. My hon. Friend will admit that on the whole the Donoughmore Report declared that this process of legislation by means of regulations and Orders was a necessary condition of modern legislation, and it laid down certain safeguards which in the main have been rigidly adhered to. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There is now very little use of provisions of the type of the Henry VIII Clause which gives a Minister power to make fresh law outside the ambit of the Statute itself. The process is now regularised. The odd thing is that it should be brought up as an accusation in the course of the Debate on the King's Speech.
My main complaint against the delightful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee is that he did not consider what was the evil with which this procedure was attempting to deal, or suggest any constructive remedy for it. The real evil is that the modern House of Commons cannot possibly deal with all the details of complex social legislation. That is everywhere admitted. One short out has been the enabling of Ministers to issue regulations which would be accepted or rejected as a whole by the House of Commons. In the example that my hon. Friend gave, he really did not do his own case full justice. The Unemployment Assistance Board is an offence against constitutional practice of a far deeper kind than he suggested. That board has been made an agent of the Crown, and is therefore outside the processes of ordinary legal procedure. Normally, when any Department is an agent of the Crown, it is represented by a Minister, and therefore can be discussed and made subject to criticism in this House. But the Unemployment Assistance Board, which has been made an agent of the Crown, has no Minister responsible for it, and is therefore, as I suggested at the time, something of a constitutional monstrosity. When, however, that question 726 was raised in the Debate on the Unemployment Assistance Board, I do not remember getting much help from the benches opposite.
What is the real remedy for this position? We all agree that Parliament cannot deal with these complex social matters in Statutes in which they set out the full details, and clearly some kind of devolution is essential. I have attempted before now to suggest that the Measures of the Church Assembly provide an exceedingly useful model, which we should do well to develop in certain directions. The evil of legislation by regulations is that there is at no stage adequate public discussion. I have no doubt that the regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board will be the subject of an extremely interesting Second Reading Debate, but there will be no possibility of a Committee Debate on them, and anybody who studies the progress of an important Bill realises that the Committee stage is the vital stage. It is then that you make or mar a Bill. That stage of public criticism is wholly denied in the procedure of legislation by regulations. In the case of the Church Assembly Measures, there is public debate in a specialist assembly, and examination by a specialist committee—the Ecclesiastical Committee of both Houses. Then the subject-matter comes to this House for final agreement or disagreement, as the case may be. That process provides what no other process yet devised has succeeded in giving, namely, public discussion of details, and I believe that, until we get back to some procedure that will provide for public discussion of details, we shall lose much of our efficiency as a legislative body.
We cannot do it ourselves. No ordinary Bill ought to have its Committee stage on the Floor of the House. Those of us who remember the proceedings on the Unemployment Bill will recollect what a farce in many respects the Committee stage of that Bill was. There were Clauses that did not receive adequate discussion at all, and part of it had to be recommitted. That was not the fault of the Government; it is the fault of our procedure. When you closure a Bill by compartments, you will never get a really adequate Committee discussion. Therefore, I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, instead of condemning the Government for being very gentle offenders in the ancient art of 727 Ministerial regulation, had lent his weight and influence to more constructive proposals in the direction of securing public debate for these subjects by other methods. For the rest, I should like the Liberal party to be able to produce some more constructive policy. We are undoubtedly in uneasy times. We are faced by great problems. But I believe that if this Government will, I will not say take their courage in both hands, because in many matters they have taken their courage in both hands, but will, in the course of the very busy year ahead of us, set themselves to frame a positive economic policy, if they will recognise that the policy of State aid to capitalism, which was fastened on us by the last Government, has come to stay, and if they will develop it as a declared policy with its necessary controls and safeguards, then I believe industry will be given a fresh stimulus to progress.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I confess that the course of this discussion hitherto has not been quite what I anticipated. When I saw the terms of the Amendment on the Paper, I rather thought we should be asked to consider some other actions of the Government besides those which have been mentioned; but for the most part the charges have appeared to relate to the performances of the Marketing Boards and the delinquencies of the Minister of Agriculture, who, I have no doubt, is quite capable of taking care of himself. Having regard to the terms of the Amendment, I thought we should have heard something of the Government's strange performances, as they have seemed to be to me, as one who has been outside just lately, with regard to the liberty of the subject in other respects. I listened to every word of the speech of the ingenious and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment, and I was waiting anxiously to hear something, for example, about t he militarisation of the police and the hectic performances in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park, where London was turned more or less into an armed camp because the unemployed were having a demonstration. I thought that perhaps I should hear something of the invasion of people's private houses and the abstraction of documents the return of which was subsequently ordered by the Courts. 728 But none of these matters came into the charge, though they concern very much the liberty of the subject.
Quite frankly, looking on from outside this House for the last three years, I have often asked myself the question: What in the world is it all about? What have people been doing that the Government are to take these drastic steps? What has been happening to my fellow-countrymen? Having been going about the country in the ordinary way I have not found them any less law-abiding than usual. I have not found them at all disposed to imitate the freakish performances of the Government which caused the trouble at Inver-gordon. I quite thought that hon. Members below the Gangway would have drawn attention to these encroachments upon the liberty of the subject. I am rather disappointed that they did not, because I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment, in view of the ability with which he did it, would have done full justice to these strange exploits of the National Government.
I have been trying to make out what it is that hon. Members who are responsible for the Amendment really want. Like the Noble Lord and the hon. Member who spoke last, I have had considerable difficulty in making out what it is that they want. The only thing that I can see that they want is to return to the glorious practices of the Manchester school. They do not want marketing boards. It is true, thanks to information supplied to me by the Department, that the Milk Marketing Board, which has been denounced so eloquently, discharges its duties at an expense of a twelfth of a penny per gallon. So it is not the monster of extravagance that we were led to believe. What hon. Members really want instead is a milk trust, because the alternative to a milk board is a, private trust operating for profit, and they will make a great deal more profit, once they get well going, out of the consumer and producer than a twelfth of a penny per gallon if the doctrine that lies behind the somewhat obscure phraseology of the supporters of the Amendment means anything, it means a return to the glorious system of private enterprise unchecked, the kind of private enterprise that gave us child labour in the mills, the kind of private enterprise 729 which, until it was controlled by the State and was put in effective order, sweated people underground. It was private enterprise in all its glory—freedom for the few and bondage for the multitude. I noticed that they did not venture on that territory. They kept discreetly off it and limited themselves to the exploits of Marketing Boards. The Amendment is about private enterprise. It denounces the Government in an obscure way for the restrictions on individual enterprise to secure the development of the Empire. Why? The people who went to Canada, Australia and to New Zealand went to escape from the bondage of the results of unlimited private enterprise. They said: "Let us go to a land, not where we can make so much profit, but where we can live away from the mill master."
There was another thing that I thought. I thought we were going to have something about the iniquities of the Government in respect of tariffs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I have evoked a "Hear, hear" anyhow. I have taken the trouble to find out what has happened since I have been away. I notice that the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, although they spoke of the obstacles that the Government have interposed in the way of trade, for some strange reason made no reference at all to tariffs. I was very surprised at that. The explanation, no doubt, is contained in recent and rather painful history. They agreed to differ later on, but while they still remained in the Government they supported the Abnormal Import Duties Act, 1931, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) voted for it. The real reason for the absence of complaints about restriction of trade by tariffs is that hon. Members below the Gangway know perfectly well that they gave the Government the first shove down the slippery slope, and it would ill become them to complain of the pace at which they have slithered down into the abyss. On the question of private enterprise, which appears to be really enshrined in the Amendment, I feel much fortified by the speech of the President of the Board of Trade last night. It embodies the spirit of private enterprise in an extraordinarily choice and succinct manner. He says:There has been no record in any country or any period of advance being made 730 along the lines of the development of this earth, above ground or below ground, or on the sea, except under the stimulus of profits. When profits are wiped out we can put up the shutters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1934; col. 634, Vol. 295.]That is a very neat summary of the glories of private enterprise and what its purposes are. I listened to it with a good deal of surprise. I think I shall have sympathy from the right hon. Gentleman in one or two questions that I am going to ask him. I want to know did Galileo work for profit? Did Faraday work for profit? I wonder if Lister worked for profit. Did my good old friend who is now dead I am sorry to say, and who died very disappointed at neglect, Sir Ronald Ross, work for profit when he taught us how to conquer malaria and made the Panama Canal possible? That is something "above ground," and on "the ground" too. The right hon. Gentleman's doctrine is a challenge to what we stand for. But hon. Members below the Gangway ought to vote for the Government. They ought rot to propose an Amendment like this, when they have the President of the Board of Trade epitomising the glories of their gospel. I do not quarrel with them, but I am not going to vote with them, and I will give one or two reasons why not.
Take some of the glories of this trading for profit of which the President of the Board of Trade gave some examples last night. At the by-election at which I was recently returned there was a case where an improvement had been introduced in some works and machinery put in, and the result was that eight young women the following Friday got a week's notice. They were redundant. It was more profitable to put that machine in than to do with the old-fashioned machine, but desolation was spread to eight homes the following week. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the textile trade. I remember that in 1920 there were some gentlemen trading for profit. Profit was their motive. They bought up some cotton mills for £500,000 or so and floated them upon an unsuspecting and bewildered public for £2,000,000 or more, and thousands of people in Lancashire are impoverished to-day because of the inducements of these gentlemen who were trading for profit. They put their life savings into this watered capital and each pound that they put in became worth 1s. 6d. or 2s. 6d., or even nothing. 731 That is trading for profit. That is the unrestricted glory of private enterprise at the expense of the multitude. Houses have been built for profit. I know persons who own houses which have become slums. They did not mean them to be insanitary, but they have become so. It is because building was carried on for profit. Millions of people have had to live in pestilential houses. That is another of the glories of private enterprise. I have here a copy of a speech delivered by the President of the Board of Trade four years ago. It is called "The Protection Menace to our Foreign Trade." It is a very good exposition of the principles that underlie this doctrine of the glory of private enterprise. It is strange that it should come from the right hon. Gentleman. The National Liberal Council thought it was worth printing, and it can be obtained for twopence. Here it is:I venture to prophesy that you will find the Protectionist campaign centre more and more, if a Conservative Government is returned to power, on the steel industry. It would be the beginning of the end. If we do our duty we ought to be able to arouse the people whose prime interest all over the country is to maintain the low cost of production.We know what that means only too well—low wages. Nine times out of ten when you are approached with a request to lower the cost of production the first objective is to lower wages. Everyone of us could give a dozen illustrations of the truth of this fact. There was one illustration of the glorious results of trading for profit which, in view of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman about shipping, came back to my mind. I was assisting as a member of a Cabinet Committee in January, 1917, and it was our business to see if we could obtain the use of any ships in order to help to feed the country. We had been told by the right hon. Gentleman at the Board of Trade some time before that there seemed to be none to be got for the purpose. But we found hundreds of British ships—not alien ships, but ships on the British register—trading for profit. Many of them never touched at any British port. We requisitioned the lot. We were told that some of them were paying for the cost of the ship on every voyage they made. The people at home were running 732 the risk of famine, but their ships were trading for profit. The men in the trenches who were protecting their wretched skins for them were not working for profit.
The closer you come to examine the unrestricted trading for private profit, the uglier it looks, and, therefore, I am not very surprised that hon. Members below the Gangway this afternoon should have failed to say very much about it. They could have made a much better case. They really have not made anything like the case they could have made of the obstacles which the Government have put in the way of international trade. It has adopted a strange jumble of expedients, all, no doubt, with the best of intentions. There are the tariffs, Ottawa, various agreements with different countries, terminating on different dates, containing different percentages and quotas, and I do not envy the right hon. Gentleman opposite in having to thread his way through the difficulties which these agreements must occasion in order to try to present a coherent scheme or policy to his Cabinet colleagues. On top of them all there are a series of variable and arbitrary tariffs. Perhaps in his reply the right hon. Gentleman will say what is the effect of those bewildering tariffs upon the rights of other nations under the most-favoured-nation clause. As far as I have read about them, the most-favoured-nation clause appears to be excluded, but I well remember when I was trying to construct some proposals, which, if we had been allowed to carry on for another year, would have been produced to this House, that the arrangements arising out of the most-favoured-nation clause in different treaties presented serious embarrassments. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade instead of erecting a small sort of paling of defence has created a series of zarebas. I have inquired of a good many traders who try to find out the best way of overcoming the difficulties, but I am afraid that their comments upon them are really unprintable. I believe that some day or other there will be a fine old mess to clear up.
It is quite impossible for the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, with all these embarrassments and 733 different agreements around him, really to get along, as I daresay in his heart he would like to do, with a coherent agricultural policy. There is no zealot like a new convert, so I happened to look last night at a few of the tariffs for which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and others have been responsible. I find in this little paper of his a very interesting statement. It appears on page 20. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, four years ago almost to the week, said:If they are to imagine that it is to be in the Lobbies of the House of Commons and in the Committee Rooms upstairs, and in the refreshment rooms downstairs that the tariffs of this country are going to be made, and that they must look there for renewed prosperity, then I say you will ruin industry and commerce. If there were no other reason in the world for believing in Free Trade as a wholesome Political System it is the preservation of the purity of our Parliamentary life.I was surprised when I read that statement of the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman four years ago in view of the tariffs which have now been imposed. I also noticed that he then said:I cannot believe that food taxes will come into the realm of practical politics.The right hon. Gentleman is doing it now. I have been looking at the list of articles, but it is too long to read. I see that our morning porridge has been taxed to the extent of 7s. 6d. per cwt., and that cabbages, cauliflowers and other things, and even false teeth, are subject to increased charges. I think that last week, in concert with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he really surpassed himself. I think he must have attended some of those nice, pleasant shoots which took place last month and seen some of his colleagues or some hon. Members who occupy the Benches opposite help themselves freely to bread sauce. It is evident that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade had their eyes on those 2,000,000 unemployed, and also on the bread sauce, and last week we saw the result. Here it is. This particular Order is No. 1198. The right hon. Gentleman, under this Order, proposes to increase the ad valorem duty on "peppercorns, the fruit of piper nigrum," from 5s. 6d. to 7s. 3d. per cwt. That is what I call the last brainwave in the contribution to the problem of un- 734 employment and in the assistance to British trade.
I will, however, try to do something which hon. Members below the Gangway did not do, namely, address myself to some of the main problems which are emerging from the present situation. I suppose that the ostensible object of all these tariffs, quotas and the rest is to give more security to the home producer. We do not object to that. By the producer we mean not only the mine manager but the miner, too; not only the man who manages the farm, but the farm labourer also. It is vital that you should have a greater measure of stability of life for the producer, but you will not accomplish it by the system of unregulated private enterprise to which hon. Members below the Gangway exhort us to turn. Last night we heard a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) in which he explained the vital importance to the country of coal. I suggest to him that he quite lost sight of another part of our estate, namely, the land of our country, which is the finest part of our estate. I was very distressed to find, notwithstanding the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman, that, according to a return made a short time ago, the number of farm workers between 1933 and 1934 had declined by 27,646. If you want prosperity for the producer, it is not sufficient simply to impose a tariff or an artificial quota and think that something or other may happen. If you want to secure stability for the producer in industry, surely the sensible thing to do is to establish the machinery for seeing that he gets it, and not somebody else. Something else is necessary in our view besides that. That scheme or policy must do two things. It must first contain machinery for seeing that the producer really gets the benefit that we intend him to have, and also it must be designed to help the consumer by supplying him with the goods in the form he wants them at the price he is able to pay. I notice that hon. Members below the Gangway lost sight altogether of this vital matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] We cannot secure prosperity for the producer unless the consumer is able to buy the goods.
That brings us home to the monetary system, which really controls the purchasing power of the consumer. The present Government have done nothing on that matter. The hon. Member for 735 Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) had some justice the other day in his complaint. He complained that the same financial policy which destroyed the Labour Government is still influencing the present Government. That is true. What surprised me was that if that was his view, why did he himself place as heroes the two chief actors in the last Labour Government? The financial policy which was avowedly to depress the standard of living was put to us without any qualification or pretence. The financial policy of the banks and their friends was to depress the standard of living. They said that we were living on too high a scale, and willing agents were found in the Prime Minister and Viscount Snowden. The only complaint I have to make of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees is for not recognising that the same sinister influence is still master of the Government, but that he welcomed as heroes the two chief supporters of that system. I hope, however, it is in order to suggest what one would like to put in place of this private enterprise system which hon. Members below the Gangway long for, but offer no vestige of suggestion as to how we are to assist in the present case.
The Minister of Agriculture some time ago wished to give the producers of bacon a better price. He said that he would give them an extra penny per pound and raised the price from 10s. 6d. to 12s. per cwt. There was a cut of Danish imports. It was hoped that something would happen which would give rise to this increase of one penny per lb. Something did happen, but it was something quite different from what the right hon. Gentleman hoped. What happened was that the Danish exporters, being in control of the situation, immediately said: "We will make more money out of our 90 per cent. than we had previously made out of the 100 per cent.," and the price of bacon went up 2d. per lb. They did very well out of it. But what happened in this country? Every wholesaler and every commission agent, right down to the retail shopkeeper, not knowing what was going to happen next week, put a little bit on for safety's sake. You cannot blame them; that is ordinary business. The result was that by the time bacon got to the housewife it was up by 3d. and 4d. per lb. 736 Immediately the sales of bacon went down, because the consuming power of the public was less. The market for bacon was destroyed, and the Government did not deliver the goods to the producers. The people you did not intend to help got away with the swag. The Danish exporters made much more out of it than the British farmer.
In the same way when the restriction on Argentine meat was put on, the great meat trusts pocketed more money in a week than the British farmer will get out of it in 12 months. The point I am trying to make is that if you want to get this benefit to a certain type of producer, as I think we should, it is no good merely putting on tariffs and quotas. They are of no use. You must establish the necessary machinery for producing the results you want to produce. If that machinery is allowed to be operated for the purpose of enhancing the profits of those who are in charge of the middleman processes, it means that the producer does not get the benefit you want him to get, and the consumer pays more for his goods. In the last Meat Order the right hon. Gentleman seems to have pushed some of his reluctant colleagues a little way on. I remember being told by a prominent Conservative that he thought there was a good deal in the import board system and an organised system of marketing which would remove the incentive of private profit, but he said, "You must not call it an import board." I seem to discern in the latest Meat Order the beginning of an import board organisation.
I am sorry that the Liberal party are still in the middle of the last century. The fact is that we have to take a choice. Either we are going to manage these things for ourselves, for a deliberate purpose, or they are going to be managed for us by the great trusts, who will enrich themselves at the expense of the producer and the consumer. That is the choice, and it is hopeless to go back into the realm of private enterprise. You must have an organised system, which you control and own, by which you can ensure that the producer gets the benefit you want him to obtain, and that the consumer at the same time gets a square deal at the other end. You must have a system in which the motive is not private profit but the public service. The only alternative is to have it managed 737 for us by meat trusts and other people. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is more anxious than we are to put money into the pockets of the meat trusts. He wants to help the farmer. I suggest that he cannot do it with the limitations which are imposed upon him by the National Government.
Finally, I return to the matter which governs everything. The breakdown of the World Economic Conference seems to be hinted at in the Amendment. It refers to—that restoration of Imperial and world trade which was the avowed aim of the recent conference of the nations.Yesterday the right hon. Member for Hillhead ventured a somewhat lame and halting explanation for the failure of that Conference. It was a poor affair. The Conference failed, first, because the British Government with very many decorative accompaniments, called the Conference, and, when they had got it, had not the faintest idea what they wanted it to do. The second reason for its failure was that President Roosevelt torpedoed it by saying that he had no further use for the fetish of international banks. That torpedoed it very effectively, and he rendered a great service to humanity by so doing. If the Conference had done anything, it would have fortified the fetish of international banks. That is the cause of our trouble. I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees. Mr. Montagu Norman and Dr. Sprague had an interview with hon. Members in a committee room upstairs, and I shall never forget the effect of that interview. What did the bankers say? All honour to them—they did not dress it up. They said, "No. We think the financial system should be so managed"—they made no bones about it—"as to lower the standard of living." They did not pretend anything else. And they did it; they made good.
It is the same influence which is dominating the policy of the National Government to-day. It may not be so flagrant; they have no Socialists like myself and other hon. Members to deal with. They have to deal with respectable Conservatives, and I am not so sure that some Conservatives have not some misgivings with regard to it. It may not he necessary to have such meetings upstairs now, but there is the influence all the same. It has its hand even on the Min- 738 ister of Agriculture. If he had a free hand, he would make a better business of giving to the farmer better prices for his products than the present system allows him. It is that control, the insistence on continued deflation, the keeping down of the standard of life, which has determined the stupid proposals about distressed areas. There is not an hon. Member in the House who does not know that they will do nothing under these proposals, any more than they will under the proposals of the Minister of Health who suggests £1,000,000 for organising the water supplies of England and Wales. I am afraid that I was going to use unparliamentary language, but at any rate that £1,000,000 for providing an adequate water supply in the villages and homes of the country is an affront to our intelligence. But the policy which dictates it is the same money policy which is behind the limitation of social services and behind the continued curtailment of help for the unfortunate. It is the same policy which was explained to us in such great detail and with such complete frankness upstairs. I shall never forget it.
Some day we shall be willing to tackle this question as sensible men should tackle it. At the present time we are not our own masters in the matter. Everyone who is concerned in these questions knows that. There is an alternative to a return to private enterprise and that is to manage our money system in the national interest in order to improve the standard of life. But before we get there we shall have many more speeches like that of the right hon. Member for Hillhead yesterday. He tried to make our flesh creep. Hon. Members opposite are doing it up and down the country; trying to keep the bourgeois awake to all the dreadful things the Socialists will do when they come into power. We shall have to go through all that, and it may postpone the day, but we shall never get emancipation and be able to improve the standard of life of the people until we break the chains of gold which hold us.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
The right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech by telling us what course the Debate should follow. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle 739 Foot) did not consult the right hon. Gentleman before he delivered his speech. The right hon. Gentleman has said that there is no mention of the militarisation of the police and the Incitement to Disaffection Act in the Amendment. Had the electors chosen him in 1931, the right hon. Gentleman might have had the somewhat doubtful pleasure of listening to me making a speech in connection with the police. I have had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee dealing with certain matters regarding the police. As regards the Incitement to Disaffection Act, the two Law Officers of the Crown will never charge the Liberal party with failing to make their protests regarding that Measure either on the Floor of the House or in Committee upstairs. We take the liberty to decide for ourselves what course our speeches shall take. Our difficulty is that our particular doctrines have so many bearings, are so wide in their extent, that it is impossible for us to describe it in one sentence, as the right hon. Gentleman does his policy, in "the nationalisation of the means of production and distribution," as if the whole of the world problem is settled by reiterating moment after moment that nebulous phrase.
It is interesting to me to listen to the right hon. Gentleman denouncing private enterprise, when I remember how long it took him to discover all the evils of private enterprise, and how many years he spent supporting the particular party which he has spent so much time to-night in condemning. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the fact that up to the moment no nation has been made by tariffs. If he will have the patience to listen to the end of this Debate I think we shall pretty well have covered all the ground that the Amendment calls upon us to cover. One thing that the right hon. Gentleman said rather amused me. He cited different men who had given to the world great advantages, and he said, "These men did not do this for profit." But let him always remember that those things would never have been developed had it not been for the incentive to private individuals in developing them.
§ Dr. ADDISON
How does the hon. Gentleman apply that statement to cases such as that of Ross or Faraday?
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
Take the last name which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. What development would there have been of that particular discovery if people had not been prepared to put their capital into businesses and to take the risk of that invention being developed in a proper way? The right hon. Gentleman made one reference to a subject of which I claim to know something, and that was the subject of textiles. I do not happen to be connected with the cotton section of the trade, but I am connected with the woollen and worsted section. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of what all of us regret, the financial action that took place in connection with cotton immediately after the War. I regret that action, but to say that that has had any effect upon profits shows the right hon. Gentleman's lack of knowledge of the working of economics. It makes no difference to a cotton textile concern in Lancashire whether its capital is £100,000, or £250,000 or £2,000,000, as far as profits are concerned. The capital earns a dividend only when profits have been made, and a mere nominal amount of capital brings no overhead charge as such upon the productive cost of that industry. It is idle to argue that that is the kind of thing that has put Lancashire in the position in which unfortunately Lancashire is now. There are mills which, even if they had no nominal capital at all but with the conditions of trade throughout the world as they are, could not make any profit, and it is simply futile and misleading the public to suggest that the nominal amount of capital in a business decides whether the business makes profit or not.
There is one thing that is rather interesting to recall. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of houses and the building of houses by private enterprise and by the State. The first charge even to this very moment on the Health Estimates presented to this House is the charge of £7,500,000 left as a result of the houses constructed under the right hon. Gentleman's scheme. Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to low costs of production and said that they meant low wages. That is contrary to the experience of every business man in the House. Who are the people who have been paid the best wages in the last few years? Who are the people who have been most 741 successful in their business? The people who have given the shortest hours and the highest wages—Ford's, Morris and all those people. Even the report with regard to the five-hours day that has been instituted in Boots' factory has proved that the higher wages and shorter hours have helped to bring about not a higher cost of production but a lower cost. It is futile for the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement like that.
The right hon. Gentleman said that no references have been made in the Debate to consumers' interests. Why, we have been making speeches from these benches week after week and month after month denouncing the scheme of the Minister of Agriculture because of that very effect. That is what we are trying to point out time after time. The right hon. Gentleman also said that his reading of our Amendment meant that we were in favour of private enterprise. I want to assure him that he need be under no misapprehension on that subject as far as I am concerned. I suggest to the House that the less Governments interfere with private enterprise the more successful will be not only the profit-makers but those who are employed by the profit-makers. It is because the world is absolutely strangling trade, is interfering on every hand with the real interest of private enterprise, that the world is suffering from the economic depression in which we now find ourselves.
It is always an interesting exercise to watch the Amendments to the Address which appear on the Paper. They show what particular individuals or particular groups are thinking on certain subjects. There is a striking difference between the Labour Amendment that was on the Order Paper yesterday, and the Amendment that is on the Order Paper to-day. The Labour Amendment began by paying a compliment to private enterprise. What did it say? It paid a compliment to private enterprise because it had applied science to production and transport, and it went on to suggest that the inability to distribute the fruits of those efforts could only be brought about by destroying the system which has produced them and substituting for them some vague and nebulous theory called Socialism, a system in the main untried, but one which, wherever it has been tried, has miserably failed. I make no apology for defending private enterprise. The 742 Liberal Amendment states without equivocation that the Government's policy interferes with the personal, political and economic liberties of the subject and thus contributes to unemployment by restricting individual energy and enterprise. I think every one in the House is agreed that the problem to be solved is the problem of distribution.
Many references have been made to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. Let me say here and now that I agreed with every word of it, and that I voted with the right hon. Gentleman last night. No charge is made against the capitalist system because it fails to produce sufficient. The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) recalled to the House the tremendous advance that had been made in his lifetime so far as the social condition of the people is concerned. I am a good deal younger than the right hon. Member for Hillhead, but I thank God for the changes that have been made in my lifetime. One of the most untrue and unfair things that the Labour party are always suggesting is that the people are not enjoying the amenities which their fathers enjoyed. The population of this country in the last century has increased four-fold and the standard of life of the people has increased four-fold. [HON. MEMBERS: "Bosh."] It is not "bosh"; it is the fact. These interruptions come periodically from the Labour benches. Let the hon. Member who makes them get up and answer my statement. It is no answer to my argument simply to use abuse.
The right hon. Member for Hillhead pointed out that the Labour party always talk in terms of direct wages. No reference is ever made to indirect wages in the form of social services, which are costing more than £400,000,000 a year. If hon. Members care to take the trouble to work out this problem they will find that my statement is absolutely correct and cannot be challenged in any respect. Do not let me be taken, however, as saying that the day of social reform is ended. I do not believe that everything is for the best in the world as it is to-day. I do not believe that even hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches believe that. I believe that there is a common desire in this House that every individual shall enjoy a fuller standard of life than the present standard. But 743 the Labour party profess to believe that the problem can only be solved by State planning, and that there is some inherent weakness in private enterprise which precludes a solution of the problem. That is an entirely false assumption. Government interference—I am not now referring merely to this country—refuses to private enterprise the opportunity of distributing its products. There never was in history a time when there was so much interference with trade. The business man is hampered on every hand with every conceivable restriction.
Take my own trade—the textile trade. There are 36 countries with which Bradford deals to-day and which have imposed either currency restrictions or quota restrictions, or both. Every business man in Bradford has to ask himself, if he is offered an order, "Am I allowed to produce this? There may be a certain restriction of the amount of silk that it can contain put on by some Government." Only last night I talked to a gentleman who had four pieces of certain textile goods returned to him from Switzerland because there was 2 per cent. less silk in it than it ought to have contained. First of all, the business man has to ask himself whether he is allowed to produce the article; and, secondly, if he is allowed to produce it, whether he is allowed to sell it. To my mind the worst restriction on trade is the system of quotas. It is possible to get over a tariff by quality. It is possible even, when you add quality and price together, to get over that difficulty. But when a nation says, "You shall not send in more than 1,000 square yards," no enterprise of the individual trader can get over that particular difficulty. When the trader has tried to meet those two particular things the third thing he has to ask himself is, "If I send the goods shall I get paid?" There are currency restrictions everywhere, the growth of economic nationalism with all its attendant evils of exchange manipulation, currency restriction, quotas, tariffs, Governmental rules and regulations, gross interference with the initiative and enterprise of private traders. These are the reasons why distribution cannot keep pace with production. It is the very growth of State interference that brings about the appalling anomaly of poverty in the midst of plenty.
744 I am always amused to hear arguments such as we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman, because I have yet to learn what private enterprise has to gain by the restriction of production, and by making things scarce. I make far more profit if I sell 20 articles, than I make if I sell only one. There is no sense in suggesting that the capitalist's success is assured when the consumer is unable to buy his products. To suggest that a cure is to be found in handing over the problem to the dead hand of the State is simply to suggest that a further dose of poison will cure the patient. What trade needs is more freedom, not more regulation and restriction. I have spent a little time lately in studying the political doctrines of Fascism, and I see no difference in principle between Fascism and Socialism. Both are based on the ultimate authority of the State and both mean dictatorship. Sir Oswald Mosley and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) tell us that they do not intend to bring in their respective systems unless the electorate give them power to do so. One uses the term "corporate state" and the other uses the term "co-operative state." Both mean the same thing. The only difference that I can see is in the spelling.
I can never understand the Labour party's claim to be a party to believing in freedom. The logical conclusion of Socialism is dictatorship—complete power for the State. You cannot guarantee everybody a living in this country unless you are able to tell people what employment they shall follow, where they shall live, and how they shall live and control their whole lives from birth to the grave. I say let no man join that party who wishes to be free. Freedom to them is mere lip-service. There are three hon. Members who usually sit here below me. They had the courage to express, in the so-called freedom of speech of the Labour party, their real, honest belief in Socialism, and as a result they now find themselves here. When a man enrols his name in the register of that party he can say goodbye to freedom of expression and speech. If ever this nation entrusts its economic destinies to the decisions of that party, then we shall be faced not only with a problem of distribution, but with a problem of lessened production because of the stifling of pri- 745 vate enterprise and initiative. Private enterprise has given to the people of this land the standard of living which they now enjoy. It is capable of giving far more if the Government will take down some of the barriers now hindering the distribution of the products which God and man in partnership have produced. But why should the Labour party worry about Socialism? The Government have done more in three years to bring about Socialism than the Labour party would have done in a generation.
I have been very interested to hear during the Debate on the King's Speech several speeches from Government supporters in which some very awkward things have been said about occupants of the Treasury Bench. The only right hon. Gentleman who has not come in for criticism from certain quarters is the Minister of Agriculture. I think any compliments which the right hon. Gentleman has received have all been paid by those so-called advanced Conservatives who believe in what is called State capitalism. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) told the House this afternoon that the inevitable trend of things is in the direction of State capitalism. That statement came very strangely from him, especially when one remembers where he sat in the last Parliament. I want to say this to the Minister of Agriculture, however, and I am sure he recognises that I do not say it unkindly. My experience of conversation in the Lobby and the Smoke-room has been that the one Minister who is disturbing the minds of real Conservatives is the right hon. Gentleman. They are genuinely afraid of the consequences of all his marketing schemes and quotas and subsidies. Only this week I saw a letter written to a Conservative Member by his agent stating that one of the oldest and most loyal supporters of the Conservative party in his area had refused to contribute a penny to the party because of the actions of the right hon. Gentleman. Reference has been made to the activity of the right hon. Gentleman, but it has always been my belief that activity does not of necessity signify progress.
I wish to examine what has happened in connection with several of these schemes, and I shall have to trouble the House with a few figures. Reference has been made to the question of bacon. In 746 10 months of 1932 we imported 9,500,000 cwts. of bacon at a cost of £25,193,000. In the corresponding 10 months of 1934 we imported 6,386,000 cwts. at a cost of £25,307,000. Thus we imported 3,000,000 cwts. less at a greater cost. I have taken the trouble to work out the cost per cwt. and I find that it was 52s. 9d. per cwt. in 1932, and 79s. 10d. per cwt. in 1934, or an increase of 3d. per lb. Under this quota we have paid the foreigner £8,500,000 more for a 10 months' supply in this year than the same quantity would have cost in the corresponding period of 1932. I sat on the Committee which considered the Agricultural Marketing Bill and I said then that if I were forced to choose between a quota and a straight tariff, I would vote for the tariff every time. One thing that can be said for a tariff is that the revenue would come into this country instead of having £8,500,000 going out of the country. I do not think that even the right hon. Gentleman will suggest to me that the 3,000,000 cwts. difference in importation has been made up by the producers in this country.
There is another result of this bacon problem. If hon. Members take the trouble to study the Trade and Navigation Returns, they will find that the imports of frozen and chilled pork have trebled in 10 months of this year as compared with 10 months of 1932. I came from Bradford yesterday morning with a, man who sells a good deal of this pork, and he told me that when bacon prices increased because of the quota, pork came into the country at a very cheap rate, and his sales—the sales of one individual alone—rose from 3 cwts. a, week to 10 cwts. a week. Thus the right hon. Gentleman, while trying to solve one problem as far as bacon is concerned, has caused another problem at the other end of the scale.
With regard to milk, we have created a perfectly marvellous bureaucracy with highly remunerative salaries, and what has been the result? The farmer gets 8d. a gallon in the summer and about 11d. a gallon at the present time, while the consumer pays 2s. a gallon in the summer and at present in Bradford is paying 2s. 4d. a gallon. We have succeeded in establishing a wheat quota by taking millions of money from the consumers to ensure that they shall not be able to purchase wheat at, the world 747 market price. This, I presume, is what is called planned economy. I do not want to repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has said on other occasions with regard to sugar, but I would draw attention to the suggested sugar marketing scheme, under which the present beet sugar subsidy is to be done away with, and replaced by a scheme which will charge more to the consumer for every pound of sugar that he purchases, and will confer a monopoly on those firms of producers of refined sugar already in existence. The scheme prohibits any producer who was not selling sugar prior to 1933 from selling in future.
Then, there is the potato marketing scheme. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question a fortnight ago with special reference to the granting of licences to certain people interested in the marketing of potatoes. I want to pay the right hon. Gentleman this compliment, that undoubtedly a good deal of the trouble which then existed has been alleviated by the action of the Potato Marketing Board since. But I am not sure whether hon. Members are conversant with what happens under that scheme. First, the producer of potatoes has to be licensed. Then the purchaser of that produce has to be licensed, and if the producer sells to a man who is not licensed he can be fined. What happened in this particular case was that on 29th October people who had been accustomed to purchase potatoes received a stereotyped notice saying that they would not be granted licences. No reason whatever was given why they should not be granted licences. I shall never be content if a man's legitimate business can be taken without compensation in some form or other. I never agreed with the policy of confiscation without compensation.
What a wonderful example this procedure sets to the Labour party. None of the suggestions made at the Labour party conference on the question of compensation and confiscation went quite so far as this potato marketing scheme. None of those who spoke at the Labour party conference had the courage or, I should say, the foolishness, to declare that they would confiscate a man's business without giving him any compensa- 748 tion at all. Mr. Herbert Morrison gave some very sound advice to that party when talking about the question of compensation. I suggest that there is no difference in principle between confiscating a man's business, a man's land, or a man's wealth. There is no difference in principle whether the man possesses one lorry or whether he is the greatest capitalist in the land. I want the right hon. Gentleman to assure me that no man's business will be taken away. As I said, the Government have done more in three years to bring about Socialism than the Labour party would have done in a generation. If the State is to create a monopoly, what answer is there to the man who says that the State should reap the reward? I could never challenge the statement that if the State is going to give a monopoly to certain individuals, it is legitimate for the electors to expect that the State will take the profits.
I want to make some reference to the herring industry. Here the same thing is being done in the way of creating a complete monopoly. I would like Members to read an article in the "English Review" of this month. There you will find mooted the possibility of a man's business being taken away with everything controlled by a political commission. Finally, where is all this leading us if not to Fascism or Socialism? All these boards have power to inflict fines. The whole system has been condemned by one of His Majesty's county court judges. I was reading the report of Professor Castle who stated:The leadership of the State in economic affairs which advocates planned economy is necessarily connected with a bewildering mass of interference. The arbitrariness, the mistakes, the inevitable contradictions of such policies will, as daily experience shows, only strengthen the demand for more rigid co-ordination of leadership in planned economy, which will always tend to develop into dictatorship. The prosperity of this country has been built up by private endeavour and private individuals.I cannot understand Members of the Conservative party subscribing to policies to take away liberty from individuals. They could not get up before any meeting of electors and say they were not believers in private enterprise. The President of the Board of Trade, to whose speech of last night I have already referred, made then a speech which cannot be contradicted by any Member of this House. Have the other Members of 749 the Cabinet read that speech? The right hon. Gentleman has spent a good deal of his time seeking to conclude trade agreements with other countries in order to facilitate the export trade of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, by his system of quotas, has refused payment for those goods. The policies followed by the right hon. Gentlemen are contradictory. I beg the President of the Board of Trade to reiterate the home truths he gave to the House last night. To continue along the path of State interference means that Parliament will he called upon more and more to settle difficulties. I believe that State dictatorship is much more dangerous than people believe. My last word is one of appeal to those who believe in private enterprise, to join with us in seeking to give them power to solve their own problems. If Governments—not only this Government, but Governments throughout the whole world, for I recognise that this is an international problem—will use energy in seeking fresh measures for trade without the tremendous interference which every Government is seeking to introduce, then I think this country and the world generally will enter on a greater era of prosperity.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. STUART
A certain amount has been said during the course of this evening about the activities of the marketing boards set up by the Minister of Agriculture. The last speaker referred to the Potato Board on more than one occasion. I should like to saw how very genuinely I enjoyed his speech. I do not intend to follow him in the various questions with which he has dealt, but I would like to take the opportunity of saying a few words on some of the points raised. The hon. Member who has just sat down has criticised us for interfering with the liberties of individual traders and business people in this country generally. Quite frankly, I agree with the hon. Baronet who spoke earlier, and say that I regret very much that this should be found necessary. I should much prefer to see the old methods continued. But I do not know what proposals the Liberal party would put forward for saving the agricultural industry of this country from ruin. The whole explanation of the action of the Government in creating agricultural boards is to ensure that immediate and 750 definite steps are taken to save the industry. Our object is not by any means, as the hon. Baronet seems to suggest, to exploit the consumer, but merely to provide the producer with fair, reasonable and remunerative prices. In this way we believe the producer will be enabled to maintain land in cultivation, keep men employed on the land, and pay reasonable and better wages than at present. In agriculture, at any rate, the Government have given us a definite lead.
I should like, as I do not often speak, to congratulate the Minister on taking a definite grip and giving a lead that has put heart into the farming industry again. Several Members who have spoken in the House during the last two or three days, from the Government benches as well as opposite, have criticised us for not giving a lead in various directions. I agree with the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) in all that he said on the subject of the coal trade. I do feel very strongly that we require a more energetic lead in some directions, but in so far as agriculture is concerned, as one Member who spoke recently said, the Minister of Agriculture is the one Member of the Cabinet who has not been criticised. This is entirely due to the fact that in the agricultural industry he is doing something to help them. The particular marketing board with which I have something to do, the Potato Board, has been criticised on various grounds. I am not quite sure what the hon. Baronet meant when he referred to it as a nominated board. Actually the members of the board, apart from certain special members, are elected by the producers in the different areas. With regard to the complaints made about the authorisation of merchants, there will be, I hope, a remedy for the situation in the steps that have been taken. I hope the hon. Member who has just spoken will bear in mind the fact that this scheme is new, and there are bound in the early stages to be errors for which amendments will be necessary. In this case I can assure him the committee has been working continuously, almost slavishly, ever since the trouble occurred in order to right matters, and to issue a second list of authorised merchants.
With regard to the question of salaries I have not the correct figures here, but I think they are about £8,000. Whatever 751 the correct figure may be, I should like to suggest that if by payment of 5s. an acre we can save the farmer from losing £1 a ton, then the producer will have no objection to paying that small levy. If you take a yield of six tons per acre and a price of a ton, which is of course not the present price, but one the industry would like to make, there you get a yield of £24 an acre. If your levy on that is 5s., I do not think there can be any serious complaint as to the cost of operating the scheme. A very small proportion of the 5s. per acre is required for the paying of the salaries. The board, of course, has other expenses, such as offices and clerks, and in addition it has to consider various other matters which may affect the future.
We do not wish to exploit the consumer, and there is no question of the danger of a short crop. The acreage is ample in any normal year to provide the ordinary human consumption required, and the problem in the future is more likely to be to find suitable methods of using the surplus crop to the best advantage. I agree in wishing that we had been able to continue in the old way, but the position of the industry was such that really drastic action had to be taken, and I believe that when these boards have really got going and have gained a little experience, we shall, with a little patience, see good results. I should like to conclude by saying that, so far as agriculture is concerned, we are fortunate in having a Minister who has really made an effort to help us, and I should like to thank him very much indeed for what he and the Government have done in helping that industry.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
I am sure the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) will not think it discourteous if I do not follow him too deeply in the remarks which he has been making, because obviously I am not competent to do it, and in any case the potato and other boards have between them had a number of speeches devoted to them already. I would not refer at any length to the speech of the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison), because of the very adequate way in which it was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), 752 but it seemed to me that in the 40 minutes which he devoted to his speech, the right hon. Gentleman managed to cram in a large amount of muddled thinking. He was talking about the choice which we on these benches would have to make either between a planned economy, such as is commonly supposed to be put forward by my right hon. Friend opposite, and being dominated by the trusts, and then he went on to say that in one of the only cases of a planned economy which we have known recently, namely, the meat trust, the moment we had planning and control the industry was able to make vast fortunes.
§ Dr. ADDISON
It was exactly the opposite. It was because there was not the planning that we ought to have had.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
But at that very moment there was planning, and that is the point of my charge against the right hon. Gentleman. It was at any rate as adequate a control as could be contrived by a particularly energetic Minister. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made some interjections in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot), who moved the Amendment to the Address. He was referring, I think, to the lack of protest from hon. Members on these benches when his milk marketing scheme was brought before this House, but I think there is a very adequate answer to that charge. The scheme, as lie himself boasted afterwards, was brought before this House at a very late hour of the night. He himself spoke, I am sure not a minute more than was necessary, but still it was a long time, and then it was by common consent that the House wished not to delay matters unduly. There was a speech by the hon. Member for St Rollox (Mr. Leonard), in which a protest was made with which many of us concurred, but the fact that we did not reiterate that protest should not he held against us now. The protest was, of course, at the hasty method of bringing the proposed legislation before the House.
I want to devote a very few minutes to the latter part of our Amendment. The economic restrictions which have been placed on trade, not only by this Government but by all Governments, have of course, contributed very materially to the world chaos in which we find ourselves, and one remarkably interesting and to 753 me pleasing feature of these Debates and others has been that it has become apparent that many Members, particularly perhaps the younger members of the Conservative party, seem to realise just as much as any of us on these benches that restrictions on international trade are responsible for so much of the present depression in trade. Fortunately, it is not by any means only the younger members of the Conservative party, because even the older hands, those who remember the fiscal controversies before the War, are coming out with astonishing statements to the effect that really the restrictions on trade are the primary cause of the world depression.
My fear—and this is the part on which I want to lay particular stress to-day—is that the Government have sunk into a state wherein they are just waiting for somebody else to act, not only in economic disarmament, but in military disarmament too, but I will not drive the military parallel home, because this is not the time to do it. Here is a Government sitting and waiting for somebody else to make a move towards adequate reductions in international restrictions on trade. It is the old case again of the Earl of Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan, although many of the professions of some of the Members of the Government might really be made by Members of the Liberal party from these benches, since our objects are the same as theirs, namely, to get rid of restrictions. Still, the practice of their policy is vastly different from what we would have it be and from what they, in some of their more lucid moments, would apparently advocate, particularly when addressing meetings where Liberal votes are to be won in the country. It is sad to see hon. Members of the Conservative party, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) and the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. R. Law), so intently desiring to bring about a better state of affairs than exists at present, urging the Government to go forward with a more progressive and driving policy, and at the same time only advocating cures for the sores on the skin rather than going deeper and finding out something about the real causes of the disease itself, a disease of the blood.
It is exceedingly interesting to me to notice now the sort of rosy optimism with 754 which Ministers describe the present condition of the country, and to compare that rosy optimism with the sort of forebodings of doom which Ministers uttered before the World Economic Conference had failed. "If that conference fails," they seemed to- say, "we are in for a really bad time—chaos"; and yet the conference has failed, and we have not got that chaos, according to Ministers; but, of course, in my submission, we have something very nearly approaching chaos. We have still over 2,000,000 unemployed, and the reduction of 300,000, allowing for such administrative changes as there have been, is not really a tremendous advance. We ought to be pleased in a sense if one man ceases to be unemployed, and I am sure we all are, but we ought not to allow that feeling to betray us into any undue optimism or complacency. Let us remember that at the same time the Income Tax and Surtax yields have fallen by £80,000,000 in a year; although the tariff may have compensated that to the tune of some £30,000,000, there is really very little compensation. If, all over the world practically—in all other countries except, I believe, in Bulgaria, France, the Irish Free State, Poland and Portugal—there have been increases in employment also, I think we ought at least not complacently to sit down and say that our improvement must be due to the Government's policy. There is no real difference between the professed policy of the Government in the matter of trade restrictions—the policy professed by some of its members—and our own. We and some of them want to get rid of these restrictions as quickly as possible.
If I point out some six occasions when there have been real opportunities for members of the Government to make a dramatic advance in the direction of removing restrictions on world trade, and show the House how they have failed on each occasion to use that opportunity, I think the House will be more likely to agree with the last part of the Amendment to the Address. We have heard about the World Economic Conference. I will not pretend that the final bombshell which broke up that conference was not, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench, the torpedo from President Roosevelt—I know it was—but the whole point is that 755 in discussing restrictions on trade, that conference was doomed from the start after the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Birmingham shortly before it opened. "Whatever other people do," he said in effect, "we are going to remain a Protectionist country; even if all the other countries go back to Free Trade, we shall not." That was a most astonishing way in which to approach a World Economic Conference called together mainly to rid the world of those restrictions on national trade which had caused such exceeding havoc all over the civilised world. There was one occasion, perhaps the greatest occasion that any statesmen have had, of taking the greatest single step towards world recovery that was thrown away in advance. It may be that someone else later did something worse, but that can only be used as an excuse by people who have not realised the gravity of the situation.
Then there was the other occasion, when three small countries, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg, got together, and tried to make a convention whereby each would lower its tariffs against the other by, I think, 10 per cent. every year. We absolutely stopped that project coming to fruition. We threw spanners into that machine. I know there were weighty considerations which may perhaps have moved Ministers. The President of the Board of Trade has explained that the most-favoured-nation Clause might have been more worth while keeping than going into some multilateral arrangement with other Powers for a lowering of tariffs; but there was an occasion when this whole project was absolutely spoilt, before ever it came to fruition, by the action of His Majesty's Government—not, in my submission, the action of a Government genuinely seeking to rid the world of these trade barriers.
The third point to which I would call attention was the New Zealand suggestion—I will not call it an offer, because it was not a definite offer. A whole month elapsed after that suggestion—that His Majesty's Government should give an opinion as to what they would do if New Zealand were to allow our manufactured goods free into New Zealand—had been made from New Zealand. The question 756 was asked by New Zealand whether we would in those circumstances allow their dairy produce free entry into this country. It might be that for weighty reasons His Majesty's Government would not wish to accept that suggestion in its entirety. I do not see why not, but there might have been weighty reasons why they should not. But the Government did not go forward and embrace that suggestion or try to modify it in some way to suit their own purposes. They had nothing to do with it for a month and then, in effect, they snubbed the whole project.
We have heard in this Debate how Mr. Roosevelt has taken powers to lower the American tariff by 50 per cent. Have the Government done anything about it? They have done nothing at all, and there have been no sort of negotiations of which we have been told to take advantage of that great potential step towards the reduction of trade barriers. The first appearance of M. Flandin as Prime Minister before the French Parliament was to make the astonishing statement that at last they saw that the policy of restricting trade had failed miserably, and that henceforth he and his colleagues would devote themselves to reducing these restrictions. Has anything been done about that? Has the President of the Board of Trade, for instance, fixed up an appointment with M. Flandin in order to explore his suggestion further? Have the Government done anything at all, or do they not wish to remove restrictions?
May I draw attention to a report in a Conservative newspaper. I take it from a Conservative newspaper in order not to misrepresent the point of view I am putting forward. It is a report of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Debate at Istambul in September. The headings are, "Nations and trade barriers. Unanimous call for removal." Twenty-two nations were represented at the conference and four or five hon. Members of different parties were present. The report contains this passage:The most striking feature of the Congress was the emphasis laid by practically all the delegates on the vital necessity of abolishing trade barriers and restrictions in order to permit the world to return to normality. Although it is to be feared that many of such speeches will go unheeded, the leaders of the different delegations insist that they are reflecting the views of their respective Parliaments and nations. The leaders added that they hoped that seine country, 757 preferably Great Britain, would take the lead in this matter, despite the comparatively barren results achieved at the London Economic Conference.This Government is the very first Government which ought to be taking the lead. They are only too proud of saying again and again how they lead the world in this, that and the other, notably in disarmament. That is not always other people's opinion, but the Government fancy themselves that they lead the people of the world. Why does not the Government take the lead in this form of economic disarmament, which looks as though it might be successful seeing that restrictions have brought the world to such a sorry pass. Yet there is no leadership along those lines. That is the gravamen of the charge in our Amendment. There is no leadership of other countries, not even a willingness to follow a lead, judging from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before the World Economic Conference. Perhaps it was a reflection of this inaptitude, idleness or incapacity which caused the conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations at Bristol to pass a resolution congratulating the Government upon its "splendid leadership on the road to recovery." If only we could urge our Government to give leadership in the direction of a low tariff group, such as we on these benches have urged for months ever since our tariff came into operation, surely the report which I have just read gives hopes that such action might bring forth the fruit that we all desire, namely, the restoration of normal trading conditions in the international sphere.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I apologise to those of my hon. Friends who will be speaking later and I hope they will acquit me of any discourtesy in speaking first, particularly the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. H. Johnstone), who, I understand, is to wind up the Debate. We shall have the advantage of the Minister for Overseas Trade, who has sat throughout the Debate and who will have great pleasure in replying to many of the arguments which have been used to-night. He is particularly fitted to do so, and I will not trespass on what he has to say except to remark that when we are twitted with lack of leadership and lack of desire to promote a real interchange of goods among the nations, and 758 when we can point to the activities and the record of, among others, the Minister who will close this Debate, I say we can justify ourselves by actions and not by words. It is a little difficult to understand fully all the arguments which hon. Members opposite bring forward. We have just been arraigned by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Mallalieu) for not taking the leadership in the formation of a group of low tariff countries. When we tried to form a group of low tariff countries at Ottawa the hon. Member's leader walked out of the Government and took his party to the other side of the House.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Does anybody suggest that the formation of a group of low tariff countries should not be the first object of His Majesty's Government, and that the lowering of tariffs in a group of countries—because I understand that is what the hon. Member has in mind—more particularly in countries which have high tariffs against our goods should not be welcomed but should be hindered?
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Conference at Ottawa prevented the Government from lowering tariffs?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Member is under an extraordinary delusion about this matter. He ought to speak to his hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley. The formation of a group with lower tariffs involves the raising of tariffs against countries which are not in that group. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I assure the hon. Member that the object of the three countries which he mentioned was to lower their tariffs with each other and to have higher tariffs against the rest of the world.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
The President of the Board of Trade has made certain trade agreements with other countries. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that, because some of those countries have lowered tariffs on certain articles, it has been necessary for the President of the Board of Trade to raise tariffs against other countries?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Surely the argument which was brought against us was that 759 because of this network of bilateral trade agreements universal Free Trade, which my hon. Friends opposite seek to introduce, has been correspondingly delayed. Even if you enter into arrangements with one government you do not correspondingly have to enter into arrangements with another, and the reason why the offers of Mr. William Graham fell flat was because he had nothing with which to bargain. He offered the most unrestricted Free Trade with every country in the world, and what happened? Absolutely nothing. Because we have now a weapon in our hands we have been able to make trade agreements with other countries. Is it suggested that we could make more agreements if we were in the position in which Mr. Graham was?
The fallacies of my hon. Friends opposite arise from the fact that they are basking in the happy playground of opposition. When they were in power, or when they were supporting a party in power, they were much more cribbed, cabined and confined. If they wish to enjoy for ever the irresponsibilities of opposition we will not quarrel with them. If the responsibility of power presses on their shoulders so badly we shall not try to remove it. Let them sit there bringing forward their Motions and making their admirable speeches without having any influence on the history of this country. Let them preserve their robes of purity unsullied and wear their broad phylacteries and say, "We at any rate have not touched the accursed thing. Of course, when we were supporting a Government in power we supported restrictive measures. We supported the coal Measure and we had something to do with the restriction of imports, but we do not mention that nowadays. We went a long way towards the restriction of home production. We supported a tariff of 200 per cent. on competing supplies of fuel, but we do not mention that sort of thing now. We are now in opposition, and we do not discuss these matters. What we want to do is to enjoy the privilege of carping at everybody equally with no chance that we shall ever be forced to put our policy into operation."
I listened with great delight to the accusations of one or two of my hon. Friends, notably my hon. Friend the 760 Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), who I must congratulate upon the vigour and vehemence with which he put forward his criticism. I listened to him making the welkin ring in denunciation of those who said that a man might not get a licence to sell a registered product which he had not been producing previously. He would never consent, he said, and it would lead to confiscation, to Socialism and red ruin and the breaking up of law. Let me read what his party said when he was supporting the Government in power:A scheme may provide for all or any of the matters set out in one or more of the following paragraphs, that is to say:—That was signed, sealed and delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and by the Chief Liberal Whip, the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood). Now they are in opposition they can denounce it, but it was a different matter when they had to keep in power a Government with which they were in wholehearted sympathy.… (e) for empowering the board to regulate sales of the regulated product by any registered producer by determining for such period as may be fixed by the board on the occasion of each determination—
- (i) the kind, variety or grade of the product which may be sold;
- (ii) the price at, below or above which, the terms on which, and the persons to, or through the agency of, whom, the product or any kind, variety, grade or quantity thereof may be sold."
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I thought my hon. Friend's denunciations were so wholehearted and sincere that he was acquainted with all the documents. That quotation was from the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
We spent weeks in opposing giving the same power in the 1933 Act. The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, will do me the justice of saying that I opposed it line by line.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
When my hon. Friend is in opposition he enjoys the privilege of the opposition of opposing line by line and Clause by Clause. How his fighting 761 qualities come out then! Does he suggest that his right hon. Friend who is now sitting at the corner seat by the Gangway was in error when he put through that Act? Does he suggest that if they had not been in power he would have led his party across to our support on the Conservative benches when we were opposing this Act? Does he suggest that this great betrayal would have been repealed by him and his friends as soon as they found themselves in a balancing position, with, possibly, the Labour party held in power by their votes, as they were before?
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
What I do suggest is that we opposed the Act of 1933, which not only gave those powers but gave the power to put on a quota, which is the very thing I have been attacking this afternoon and which I have protested against.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
My hon. Friend cannot wriggle out of his difficulty in that way. There is nothing about a quota here. There was nothing about a quota in connection with the issue of licences to individual potato distributors. He cannot escape from the consequences of his own and his party's acts. The party of which he is a devoted adherent opposed the Act of 1933—we do them that justice—but never in all their opposition did they say they wished to repeal the Act of 1931; and when we are working a statute which was placed upon the Statute Book with their votes and support, and could not have been placed on the Statute Book without their votes and support, we have a right to say that they have no excuse whatever for placing an Act on the Statute Book and then attacking Ministers of the Crown because they make use of the powers with which they endowed them—they and not we. That is the difficulty with which we are confronted all through. We are opposed by a party which has two faces, a party which on one occasion denounces interference as a gross abuse of the rights of government and on another occasion demands the most meticulous interference with every activity of the subjects of the Crown. I see before me the senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot), and, indeed, I see also his honoured progenitor sitting above him. I am sure that we all enjoyed the speech of the senior Member for Dundee, and I think I may say, to quote a more famous 762 speaker, that it was a speech to refresh a father's heart; but were all the things which he said quite justified by the speeches and actions of his respected sire? I was reading recently the speeches of a great social reformer, and I came on an excellent definition, which is very germane to the subject we are discussing. It said:I never knew anyone who fought for liberty who did not press for social freedom, a freedom that is only made possible by regulation and by fair play between one part of the community and the other. The State has got to step in."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1934; col. 1169, Vol. 291.]That was a speech by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) on the Second Reading of the Betting and Lotteries Bill. When I am in a difficulty I find that I can confront the sire with the son.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
In the course of the same speech I deliberately said that it was not for this House to interfere between one subject and another; that if people decided to gamble it was their business; but that it was an obligation on this House to step in against the exploitation of the frailties of the people and against the exploitation of the poor and of youth. That was deliberately stated in my speech, and I stand by all that I said.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Yes, in causes which the hon. Member for Bodmin has at heart he is in favour of the utmost interference. He is in the position of those who—Compound for sins they are inclinedtoBy damning those they have no mindto.He and his friends have causes very much at heart, but hundreds of us on this side also have causes fervently at heart—the employment of the people, better social conditions for the workers, and the prohibition of the dumping here of sweated goods which make it impossible for us to maintain our standards of life. We find it desirable, and even necessary, to introduce regulations, and we are entitled to say that we shall call in the powerful arm of the State to do things collectively which none of us could do singly. It was not only in the far-gone and distant days that my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin supported projects such as this. He did it in connection with the potato 763 scheme, which was denounced so fiercely by his companion on his right and, occasionally, by his son below him. Let me remind him of a statement of policy to which he subscribed. It was a statement of agricultural policy in February, 1932—the first year of this Government, when he was still a member of it. We all know that when projects were brought forward of which he disapproved the hon. Member for Bodmin, with his conscience flaming, rose from his seat and first denounced them vehemently from this Box and then hurled himself across the Floor, from which position he has never ceased to explain how harmful they are in every way. On the 11th February in that year the Government, with the backing of my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, who was then the Agricultural Minister for Scotland, and with the backing of my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen, then the Agricultural Minister for Northern Ireland, said:The Government also undertake to appoint a reorganisation commission to prepare a scheme for the organisation and marketing of the home potato crop and to consider such practicable supplementary action as may appear to be necessary for the regulation of imports.Of course we must take it that every line of that declaration had the hearty support of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, because whenever a project was introduced of which he disapproved he left us in no doubt as to his attitude. It is not difficult to criticise or to make a case. We have had a case made against the marketing schemes and it is strong. The case which has been made against many of the details of the scheme is overwhelming. The details will need to be altered, the schemes will need to be modified. These great experiments cannot be successful at one step, and no one supposed they would be, but the principles of the schemes are not a matter from which any party in the House can dissociate themselves—not the Labour party, which introduced them in the Act of 1931, nor the Liberal party, which supported the Act of 1931, nor ourselves on this side, who supported the Act of 1933. We are striving desperately hard to find some measure of agricultural policy which will ensure continuity.
We have refused to do many things which Members on this side would have 764 supported. A tariff policy which has been put forward by Members on this side did not find general acceptance in the nation as a step to remedy our agricultural difficulties. Very well! We sank our immediate projects; we built upon the foundations which had been laid down, hoping to find a continuity of policy which would enable agriculture to be taken out of the position of being the football of party politics, which it was for so many years. We strove to do that. I myself have striven hard to do it. I have taken action Which, no doubt, has caused misgivings in the minds of many Conservative supporters. I have gone outside the bounds of party politics in some of my actions, and I have done so with the deliberate desire and intention to associate all sections of the people in a constructive policy. In that case I take it as hard when one section here, as deeply committed as any other section, inveigh against the principles of co-operation and ordered marketing which they have defended in season and out of season.
I hear murmurs of dissent from the Liberal benches, but on what have hon. and right hon. Members opposite been more insistent than on the necessity for dealing with distributors in order to cut down the spread, to cut out the differences in prices between the producer and the final consumer? But when a marketing board suggests that a certain number of those who are engaged in distribution are redundant those hon. Members rise in their wrath and protest that no man ought to be interfered with on any account whatever. What action do they think the board can take if they are condemned every time one single individual, after his case has been examined by a thoroughly competent trade committee, is reported to be redundant in that particular trade, after the producers themselves have said, "We prefer to distribute our produce through a smaller number of channels and to cut out some of the distributors whom we have been urged to cut out"?
I see the point of the criticism of my hon. and right hon. Friends. They say, "Here is a constructive proposal, which offers a wide flank, which we can easily attack, and it will be a popular cry." And they take what, I must say, is a, short-sighted step in yielding to that temptation. Are they going to repeal the Act of 1931 when they get into 765 power, or are they going to say to their constituents, when the election comes, "We shall repeal the Act of 1933. We shall repeal the Act of 1931. We shall repeal the Coal Mines Act. At any rate, we will support any Government which will promise to do all three"? Are they going to the coal miners to say their policy is to sweep away the present organisation in the coal field? Are they going to the countryside to say that their policy is to sweep away the internal organisation which is growing up in agriculture? Will they go to the agricultural producer and say that their policy is to sweep away any control of the import of agricultural produce from any part of the world? If they mean to say these things they had better say them, and not merely leave them to be inferred and deduced from certain passages in their speeches which can be very easily explained away, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen explained away his subscription to the quota for bacon and the regulation of the import of potatoes. They were part of the policy of a Government which he supported, but he had no difficulty in explaining them away after his resignation.
A Debate on the Gracious Speech is meant, I feel, for something more than the consideration of details; it is meant for the consideration of first principles, but details have been repeatedly raised and details must be discussed. It is a little difficult to discuss the speeches very closely, because many of them were not attacking this Government but foreign Governments, and many were attacking not this Government but previous Governments, but at any rate they all had a common thread of denunciation running through them. We were denounced for mentioning in a speech that the milk scheme had come before Parliament in the morning and had been sanctioned by Parliament the same evening. I call the House to witness that I occupied column after column of the OFFICIAL REPORT in calling attention to the new technique which was here exemplified, to the fact that the Reorganisation Commission, the public inquiry and the Committee stage of the Bill, meant that we had been able to short-circuit much of the Debate which otherwise the scheme would have had to undergo on the Floor of the House, and had been able to present 766 to the House a completed scheme. It is not fair to say that I boasted that I had rushed it through Parliament. I drew Parliament's attention closely to the novel character of the scheme and the amount of detailed examination which we had been able to obtain for it outside the walls of Parliament, so that we could present it to Parliament as a considered whole.
The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), in a most interesting speech, pointed out the necessity of adequate public discussion of these important matters, instead of having them done simply by regulations, which nobody could understand and nobody had time to read or examine. I think that this procedure does a great deal of that. It may not he perfect, it may not be adequate, but at any rate a public inquiry, a public examination, is held with a far greater thoroughness on this than is ever held on the ordinary regulations that are placed before the House to be passed or withdrawn. We are experimenting with a new Parliamentary technique, and if Parliament is to grapple with the enormous weight of work that comes before it in these days Parliament must struggle with a new technique, and those are the worst enemies of Parliament who would demand that Parliament should go over every comma and detail instead of over the broad principles.
Of all things choked courts or choked Parliamentary sessions are most resented by the public. For everybody to say that something should be done, and, for lack of time, it cannot be discussed, and for Ministers not to be allowed to go ahead with schemes that have been canvassed and have been the subject of inquiry—these are the things which weaken Parliament. The discussions that have gone on about the sugar scheme show that it has received a great deal more advance publicity than it would have done by any other means of which I am aware. I am not committing myself in regard to the sugar scheme, and in addition' there are the pledges which I have given and which I intend to carry out. I shall not ask the House to decide on the sugar scheme until the report of the Greene Committee has come forward. But the whole of the issues have been canvassed and examined. We are here working upon technique of the utmost 767 value to Parliament, but there has been mere niggardly criticism which was unworthy of the great party which has moved the Amendment to the Address to-night.
It is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee had some other objections to make. He objected because we had gone some distance to meet the suggestions of the Committee on Ministerial Powers. He said that we did not go far enough. That is to say, when an Order was made, it should be capable of challenge although the period in which it had been challenged was naturally a matter in which the Government did not see eye to eye with them.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the occasion of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1933. Does he really suggest that the Amendment would have been made if it had not been for the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and Lord Reading in another place? Does he not remember that the great majority of his own party on the first occasion voted against it in a body?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I find it very difficult to understand my hon. Friend. First he objects because we did not pay enough attention to Parliament, and then because we paid too much. He objects because his Amendment was accepted. Does he suggest that we should not have accepted it?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I brought forward a Bill to Parliament, and naturally I stand up for the proposals which I introduce. I produce arguments, and if arguments which are stronger and better are produced I do my best to meet those arguments. I think it is the height of absurdity when the hon. Member's party objects that this Amendment was made in the House of Lords. The obstacles to international trade are, I think by common consent, obstacles which were made in other countries before they were made here, and the difficulty of dealing with international trade is enormously accentuated if this is not only one of the great free markets of the world but the only free market of the world. It is impos- 768 sible for this country to allow itself to become a place where all the surpluses all over the world can be sent to find a market. Unemployment was rising to boundless heights under that system, and there was general agreement that something should be done. The principle of planning trade and some attempt to smooth out the differences in, say, pig prices, which moved as far as from 40s. to 50s. and 60s. long before any bacon and pig scheme was produced here, was pressed on us long before the Lane Fox Commission sat and before we had put the matter into force. It is complained by right hon. and hon. Members opposite that it means that too high a price is given; it is made too remunerative for the foreigner to trade with this country. That is a terrible accusation to come from those benches although it is an accusation which might come with force from these benches.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
I complain about the consumer having to pay too high a price, not about the foreigner having too good a price.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am speaking of my hon. Friend the. Member for Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), who repeatedly denounced us because we had paid too much money to the foreigner. As a good hard headed Bradford man, that was his accusation. It is one of the easiest accusations to make, to say that we have given the foreigner too much money and certainly one of the hardest to refute. It is not the consumer at all. You have let yourself be done in a deal. It may be that we have been too generous to the foreigners that some reorganisation ought to be made by which a greater amount of money is taken out of the pockets of the foreigner and consequently a greater amount given to our people at home. We shall remember the declarations of hon. Members opposite in that day, and we shall remember the declarations of the hon. Member for Bradford in favour of a tariff in that day. If and when that day comes let not the textile men of Bradford complain if they find the foreigner less willing to buy their textile goods because less money is going into their country from this country. We shall say that your Member was the man who came down and said that £3,500,000 was going into Denmark.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Well, that millions of pounds had gone into Denmark. And then when the Danes complain that they have no exchange to purchase our textiles we shall say to the textile men: "Go along to the Member for Bradford, he is the man who pressed this course on us." We had an interesting suggestion from the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison)—the new Member for Swindon. We are always glad to see distinguished Parliamentary figures back in the House again, and we shall always welcome any contribution which the ex-Minister of Agriculture makes to our debates. I think it is true that our agricultural Conservative Members began with distrust towards him and then paid a compliment to him because they believed that he was honestly trying to do his best for the industry. He suggested that Argentine beef was being badly handled, and he brought forward the suggestion that something should be done by means of an import board to charge more for Argentine meat, so that we could charge less for home produced beef. We shall remember that too, and when his friends denounce taxing the poor man's joint to subsidise the rich man's beefsteak we shall remember it. He had referred to the agricultural White Paper, and it may be that in those developments also we shall find support coming to us.
The hon. Member for Bradford was finally the person who really carried conviction to the House. He spoke with the honest northern dislike of any interference whatever. He said that private enterprise was being interfered with, and that it was only to private enterprise that we could look to get this country out of its difficulties. I have no doubt that there is much in what he says, but we have to have activity within some ordered frame. The difficulty of the Government—the difficulty of anybody who tries to walk in the middle of the road—is that we have to find some modus vivendi between the unlimited activity of the 19th century and the extreme regulation to which hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway would consign us. It will not be done by either of us pretending that the 19th century will come again and that we can return to the welter of competition in which many great 770 things were done and many mighty injustices also were done. Many evils were done in those days, many evils from which we are suffering to-day: hostility between capital and labour, the housing problem. The troubles of our new century were born in many mistakes in that welter in the century from which we have just emerged.
We sympathise—and of all parties the party to which I belong sympathises most keenly—with the desire for individual liberty; but it is not possible in these days to continue as we did when we were the only industrial power in the world, when populations were expanding at so great a rate that the United States of America alone absorbed 1,000,000 immigrants a year and a city the size of Glasgow could be built every 12 months to accommodate the people who had come off the ships. That is finished. The seven great western countries have a stationary population to-day. The United States of America, France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries have a population which will be practically stationary in this decade. The lessons of that have not begun to be appreciated by the world. There are forces to-day which unless we begin to organise now will swamp the order to which we have been accustomed, will completely sweep it away. I beg of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, not merely to take the easy path of pointing out the difficulties in the new proposals and methods of administration. There are great opportunities for that and there will in the future be great opportunities also. We do not want these things because of a fondness for bureaucracy but bemuse we cannot see what prospect there will be either for agriculture or for industry in the years immediately to come without them. It is for that reason that we ask the House not to accept this Amendment.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I did not intend to intervene to-night, but after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman I think it is only right that there should be a reply. Among the many engaging qualities of the right hon. Gentleman, audacity must be written very high, land he has shown no more conspicuous example of his audacity than in reproaching us on these benches with 771 inconsistency because, in some respects, some of our speeches may have been inconsistent with the votes of our party in 1931. We remember that he and his party opposed the Marketing Bill in 1931 at every stage, that Marketing Act whim now the Government make the centre of their agricultural policy. We have never denounced Marketing Reform at any time during the past few years. We are not opposed to methods of improved marketing. Far from denouncing them, we have, on the contrary, advocated improved methods of agricultural marketing and the principle of co-operation. From those principles we do not recede. We have always supported them.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) introduced his Marketing Bill in 1931 we supported it, but he will remember, not without a good deal of misgiving—I am glad to see that he assents—as was shown in the many Debates that took place upstairs, although I was not a Member of the Committee. Liberal Members expressed the greatest misgiving in regard to some of the provisions of that Bill and put forward Amendments, some of which were accepted and some of which were not. When the whole Bill came down, we had to make up our minds whether it was a genuine and helpful effort to solve the difficulties of agriculture, and whether the imperfections of the Measure outweighed the benefits which it might convey to the industry. On the whole, we thought that the benefits outweighed the disadvantages of the Measure, and we voted for it.
There was one great safeguard which has since been removed by the Act of the present Government; there was no monopoly for the marketing boards in the home market. The Government have since removed that safeguard by the system of quotas, altering altogether the position and the power of the marketing boards. Then, in the original Measure of 1931, there were, as the senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) has pointed out, a number of Clauses which gave great powers to the Minister to legislate by Order. We disliked those Clauses, but they were to be the subject of an inquiry by a committee which reported in 1932, a few months later, and we thought that we ought-to wait for the report of such 772 an authoritative committee before, for reasons like that, we destroyed what we otherwise regarded as a useful Measure. We regret that, the Government have not acted upon the report of that committee, and we shall continue to urge them to do so.
The Minister of Agriculture said, in, answer to an interruption by the hon. Member for Dundee, that we were responsible for his schemes and that we incurred responsibility for them if we did not divide against them in this House. I repudiate entirely that suggestion. We know perfectly well, because we have said it constantly on the Floor of the House, that the economic life of this country is in a state of emergency at the present time. We know that the Government have to introduce emergency Measures some of which they may dislike, and we certainly dislike, but which we may have to accept as temporary Measures for dealing with a grave emergency. Further than that, we know that the Government may have to bring Measures before the House and say us: "We have to rush these Measures through quickly." In those circumstances, we are not going to take the responsibility of hampering the Government. We have said quite clearly on more than one occasion that, if the Government make that plea of emergency in which they take the greater share of the responsibility upon their shoulders, we are bound to listen to that plea, and that we cannot resort to Parliamentary methods of tripping them up and obstructing them. We say: "All right, we cannot share in that responsibility, but we will not obstruct you and trip you up."
We regret and dislike the necessity for these emergency Measures, but our quarrel with the Government is that they do not seem to regret it. They do hot say: "These are temporary Measures to deal with an emergency, but we are determined if we can to preserve in every possible way the freedom of initiative and of enterprise and to extend it where we see it being infringed by any of the prohibitions of our schemes." They glory in and extol these Measures of restriction and regulation for their own sakes, and it is against that that we are entering our emphatic protest. We do not want to inveigh, as the right hon. Gentleman said, against the principle of orderly marketing and co-operation. We 773 want to see that principle finding suitable expression in the legislation of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a remarkable disclosure. It was quite new to me that these schemes are to be altered, amended and remodelled. He says that he has found serious faults. I think my hon. Friends may take credit to themselves for a good share in pointing out to the country and to this House the many flaws that exist in these schemes. The right hon. Gentleman is broad-minded and receptive of ideas, and I am delighted to hear that he proposes to take advantage of the work that my hon. Friends have done in exposing the flaws of these schemes. Even now we have no assurance that one of the objects of the proposed changes—and this is the principle for which we are pressing to-night—will be to preserve to the utmost the freedom of business initiative to those who are engaged in the great industry of agriculture.
The right hon. Gentleman, in the close of his speech, came back to a point to which he is fond of referring, and which is that we are now in the twentieth century. We are aware that this is a new world, but unfortunately the methods which are adopted by the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the problems of the twentieth century are not new. They are not even nineteenth century methods, but are those of the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries. His methods are a reversion to the principle of mercantilism, and it is that principle that lies at the root of the right hon. Gentleman's schemes, and against which we protest. The right hon. Gentleman, in his broadcast to the nation, actually extolled economic nationalism. We must not regard it as a disease, he said; that is a great mistake; it is one of the great new forces of the twentieth century.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I trust that others who listened to my broadcast did not carry away as inaccurate an impression as my right hon. Friend has. Otherwise, I do not think it will have done much good.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That phrase is absolutely clear in my mind—economic nationalism must not be regarded as a disease. I remember it perfectly.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I went on to say in the next sentence that it must not be regarded as one of the glories of our new times.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
The quotation is written in my memory. The right hon. Gentleman started by saying that problems had to be settled over a limited area, and he said that, if that is economic nationalism, the country had to remember that economic nationalism was being condemned by those who had not given three minutes' thought to the subject, and that he looked upon economic nationalism—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not think the speech of one Member ought to be interrupted in order that another Member may state his views.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The right hon. Gentleman implored the country not to regard economic nationalism as a disease, and said that it certainly was a necessary development of 20th century economics, and—to use another striking phrase of his—a sure way to the leisured state. Whatever that may have implied to the ordinary hearer of the broadcast, it is not a condemnation, at any rate, of economic nationalism. Nevertheless, we profoundly believe that economic nationalism must be condemned if the world is to get out of its difficulties. We believe, in the words of General Smuts at St. Andrews the other day, that it means the doom of international trade and the doom of international friendship. It is for that reason that we assert in our Amendment our profound revulsion from the policy of regulation and restriction which the Government are now pursuing. We believe that the right way to restore the prosperity of agriculture, as of other industries, is not by the restriction and regulation to which we resorted under the Import Duties Act, which in 1932, by imposing on this country a system of tariffs, gave the final spin to the downward spiral of world conditions. It is not by continuing that policy, but by reversing it and restoring the freedom of international trade and freeing the channels of distribution—which I agree is the main problem before us at the present time—that we shall restore prosperity to agriculture.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I have studied the Amendment on the Paper, and have listened to the Debate with the greatest interest, and it is a great pleasure to me to realise how very small is the difference in principle between those who have crossed the Floor and those who still remain on this side of the House. The Amendment speaks of personal, political and economic liberties. These are things which we all value. Much has been said this afternoon with which every Member of the House is in full accord. Several Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) have referred to the speech made by General Smuts in Scotland the other day, and to his call to the people of this country. I listened with interest to the reference in the speech of the senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) to that speech of General Smuts, as the hon. Gentleman and I both had the pleasure of listening to the speeches that he made in St. Andrews and Dundee. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman, when he referred to General Smuts, would go even further, and tell us, not only of the call that General Smuts made on the subject of excessive economic nationalism, but also of the call that he made on the subject of national government, and his plea that people should sink party differences and support and continue to support a National Government. That was the plea made by General Smuts, and he also made a plea for world wide trade and reorganisation.
I entirely agree that we should value personal, political and economic liberties, but this afternoon I have been casting my mind back over the work of the last three years, and it seems to me that during that time those liberties have been guarded. If the word "encroached" had been omitted from the Amendment, it would have brought it closer to the actual facts of the case. I would like first to refer to the question of personal and economic liberties. Surely the greatest personal and economic liberty is taken from men and women in this country when they are deprived of the opportunity of earning their own livelihood, and it seems to me that the economic liberty of the subject is above all restored to that subject when he is given 776 the opportunity of working again and, by his own skill, enterprise and energy, supporting himself, instead of having to be supported by an allowance from the State. It seems strange that those who urge the preservation of the economic liberty of the subject should not be able to find time, perhaps in a sentence, to refer to the liberties that have been restored to more than 900,000 people in this country who have had restored to them the chance to work and earn their own livelihood instead of being dependent on an allowance from the State. In this House we often debate the economic situation, and the difficulties of living on the small allowance that is granted to unemployed people, but I think we forget sometimes the tragedy of those men and women in this country who take a pride in their personal liberties, and who are deprived of those opportunities through no fault of their own, but, because of slackness of trade, are compelled to live on a subsidy given to them by the State. In discussing this Amendment, we should do well to remember the people who have had their chance of economic independence restored to them.
Reference has also been made to the new Unemployment Act. It seems strange that that Act should be referred to in a Debate which began with the statement that personal and economic liberties had been encroached upon. Over and over again we have heard expressed up and down the country, and also in this House, the feeling of grievance among unemployed people when they think that what they call the shadow of the Poor Law, the slur of the Poor Law, has come over them, although they were able to work and desirous of working. Over and over again the plea has been made that the unemployed person should be treated in a different way, that unemployment should be a national burden. By the passing of the Unemployment Act we have taken away from these people something which we know they have felt, whether justifiably or not, to detract from their personal liberty, and I believe that, as people realise what that Act has done and what it is going to do, they will feel more and more that they have a greater liberty, and are not brought into the same category as those who, they think, are not of the same employable nature as themselves. I think that the very people who opposed the passing of that 777 Measure will find it has made a great difference, and, indeed, have done so already.
I am quite willing to agree with those who support the Amendment that in some cases the actual freedom of the subject has been, and is being, interfered with. I was rather surprised at some of the things which have been said in support of the Amendment. Take the subject of property and of land taxation. I had imagined that the control of the freedom of the individual who owns land has always been, as it has been to-day, a plank in the platform of the section of the Liberal party who sit on the benches opposite—that freedom to own property is a thing that must be restricted. Over and over again when we come to the subject of land and land taxation we are told that there must be restrictions on private property. I agree that in many cases it is necessary, and we have seen in the Housing Acts and in the development of great slum clearance schemes quite definite encroachments on the rights of private property. I have been listening to the Debate to find out what personal liberty the Government has encroached upon. The nearest I have been able to think of is the Betting and Lotteries Bill. I was in favour of it. Some parts of it I should have liked to see in a different form but I supported it because I believed it was the best scheme. Hon. Members opposite supported it and yet they say we have too far encroached on the personal liberties of the subject and, because we have done that, they want this Amendment passed. It seems to me that the more we examine it the less do we find out any reasons which have been put forward by the section of the Opposition opposite which in principle divide their point of view on the subject from ours.
Housing legislation has, I think, above all, gone nearer to curbing the personal and economic liberties of the subject, and they would be entirely and absolutely in favour of that legislation. I believe that the enormous step forward that has been made in clearing slums and giving the people of the country better houses has not only shown that the Government has been working for the social welfare of the whole but shows that we have not been frightened when it is necessary to deal with these particular things. It goes further in giving the individual 778 that personal and economic liberty which the Amendment speaks of. In many cases people have been living in houses overcrowded and yet paying enormous rents. The further we get on with our schemes for housing and provide these people with houses at an economic rent which they can pay, we are giving them greater economic and personal liberties than they have had in the past.
The more I study the Amendment the more I come to the conclusion that the same ideas must be in the minds of hon. Members opposite and of ourselves, but they have been so wilfully blind to the work of the Government, they have been so taken up in finding a balance as between opposing one side and supporting the other and looking for a third lobby in which they could vote that they have not discovered the work that has been done, because, if they had discovered it, we should not find them moving this Amendment. They would have found that personal and economic liberties had not been encroached upon but had been taken where it was necessary for the community as a whole. That is a very different story. If they do not want those liberties encroached upon at all, would they come out boldly and vote against our housing schemes and demand entire free play for every individual person?
Then we come to the subject of trade, "individual energy and enterprise to procure employment for the people by contributing to that restoration of Imperial and world trade which was the avowed aim of the recent conference of the nations." I have always noticed that when we talk of world trade some people would like us only to think of world trade as trade outside Great Britain. It is a very strange thing that people very often look at the decrease in trade with foreign countries but do not take into account the increase in the industry and the supply of goods inside this country. Do hon. Members opposite really think that the present Government have curtailed the opportunities for individual energy and enterprise to procure employment for the people by contributing to the restoration of Imperial and world trade? I see the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Mason) agrees. He actually thinks that these restrictions have done nothing to procure employment for people by 779 contributing to that restoration of Imperial and world trade. I will ask him and anyone else who agrees with him if they think that the increase in the opportunities of employment has come in spite of our policy. Or are they going to tell us it is simply a coincidence?
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
If the figures later on show an increase in unemployment, will the hon. Lady undertake to accept responsibility for it as the result of Government policy?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
If the figures show an increase later on I shall certainly think that other schemes ought to be tried by the Government. If there be a decrease we claim, at any rate, that it ought to be mentioned and put before the people of the country by Members of all parties. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh says we have done nothing to find employment for the people. The people of this country have found employment. There has been an increase in trade. The senior Member for Dundee rejoices with me in the increase of employment in Dundee. We are asked if it would not be a good thing for this country to give a lead to the world in having no tariffs, no quotas and no economic nationalism. When we listen to those remarks we wonder if these people have entirely forgotten what happened before. Do they not remember the years before 1931? Do they not remember how things went from bad to worse. Do they not remember, as the Minister of Agriculture reminded us, the time when Mr. William Graham went to Geneva trying to get some agreement, but had no power to bargain with?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I should be very glad indeed to get back to the unemployment figures just before the election of 1929, when we were for the first time below a million, and a Labour Government took office and by the end of 1931 we were over 2,000,000. I do not say figures went up entirely because of what that Government did, but in the whole of that time we were trying to give a lead. Mr. Graham used all his energy and skill and did everything he could to get the tariffs of other countries even to 780 remain as they were. He failed. He gave a lead and no one followed. I believe that hon. Members opposite realise that the trade agreements have done something for the employment of our people. I know there are people who seem to think the employment of 900,000 people a small matter. If they became unemployed to-morrow, I think tile hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) would say, "That is your Government. That is your scheme." We hear very little of the 900,000, but I think that if we look to the definite policy of the Government there is not an hon. Member in this House who would have it reversed to-morrow, or who would have all those tariffs and quotas taken off.
Perhaps we shall hear something during the Debate this evening. I see the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh, and perhaps he will tell us that his scheme would be from to-morrow to take away all the tariffs and quotas, and so let Britain give a lead to the rest of the world. We are perhaps not such a great distance apart. We were told at one time that we ought to have no tariffs, and that now we are to have agreements with low tariff countries. That, at any rate, is a step in the right direction. The policy of this Government has been definitely, first to give a chance to the home market, and then to see if, by trade agreements, we can bring more trade to this country. We have gone step by step, and each step has proved that there has been more trade for this country and that there have been more people in employment. The trade agreements which have been signed, we have been told, are with small countries. We have been asked why it is not possible to have a trade agreement with America.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I think that that question was debated in July of last year. If I remember rightly—and I looked up the Debate two days ago—it took place about the 27th July when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and my hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade dealt with this particular point. We shall be very anxious to know if there has been 781 any suggestion whatever from America that America would be willing at this time to enter upon a trade agreement and allow our manufactured goods to go into that country with a tariff lowered in order that they could be sold.
We have dealt with various points of principle. We have been told that we have encroached on personal liberties, but during the Debate to-day there has not been a single piece of evidence either that the people of this country have lost their liberties or that the employment of the people has not been achieved to a certain extent by the Government. There has been a great deal of criticism of marketing schemes. I think that we all agree, to whatever party we belong, that schemes of that nature are wanted and are necessary, and all agree that in detail they can and ought to be changed. The people of this country who elect representatives to serve on boards in connection with those schemes ought to be extremely careful to see that they work. I have read the Amendment with care and have listened to the speeches. I have come to the conclusion that on the whole we agree to the various points brought forward by General Smuts on world wide trade, and to the necessity of supporting the National Government. Therefore on the principles which have been put forward on that side of the House and on this, there is very little to divide us. But the fact remains that some people during the last few years have perhaps not noticed the actual reasons for the development. We have been told of coincidences when trade increases, but not of coincidences when trade decreases.
We have been told that we must on no account interfere with the rights of the individual citizen, but I have never heard of this argument being raised in connection with schemes for the replacement of slum houses and the taking over of property. We who live in great communities have to face further restrictions because of our life in those communities. But as one who takes pride in private enterprise, energy and initiative, I look round Great Britain to-day and I am thankful to find that there are more people by many hundreds of thousands who have greater economic liberty because they are earning their own livelihood, and who are hoping, through 782 the schemes which have been put into force for improving the trade of this country, that they will go on further, and that others will join them in the economic liberty which has been given during the last three years, and that ordered progress will not only be brought about in this country, but in other countries. I feel that in those principles we are not divided, and that it would be unnecessary to vote for an Amendment which seeks to urge that those principles are being challenged and causes us to fear that our liberties are being encroached upon. The facts are that there is no ground for those fears. The National Government have put the interests of the people first, and as yet have succeeded.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
I am sure that whatever may be our views, we cannot but congratulate the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) upon her confidence that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. She seems to be content, and thinks that there is no fault to be found with the Government. She was very severe on my hon. Friends who in very able speeches have supported the Amendment, and asserted that they have given no cause for passing the Amendment. She remarked that I agreed with her, but I did not agree altogether in what she was saying. The words of the Amendment strike me as being particularly apt, and I agreed with her when she read out the fact that the Amendment states:But humbly regret that the policy pursued by Your Majesty's Ministers continues to encroach on the personal, political, and economic liberties of the subject.I certainly entirely agree with that, and I fail to see why the hon. Lady should take exception to my doing so.
I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not now present, but I understand that he has had to leave the House owing to an invitation elsewhere. I do not like to say much about a Minister when he is not present, but the right hon. Gentleman goaded my hon. Friends for continually attacking the Government in regard to their proposals. He indulged in a certain kind of criticism which was hardly worthy of him in trying to point out that speeches made by right hon. Gentlemen, who were formerly 783 members of the Government, obviously trying to find common agreement, did not exactly coincide with the speeches which they are making now that they are in a position of greater freedom and less responsibility. There is not very much in that. When hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House became members of the Government the country was faced with a crisis, and they were all very anxious to try to find common ground, which was a very difficult thing to do. Obviously, they have certain convictions, Conservatives have other convictions and Labour Members like the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Dominions, who still maintain that they are Socialists, have certain convictions. It must be apparent to any fair-minded person that it is very difficult to formulate art agreed policy which all those several sections can reconcile with their convictions and beliefs. It was hardly worthy of the abilities of the Minister of Agriculture.
The right hon. Gentleman attacks us continually with offering no suggestions. He says that we have plenty of criticisms but no suggestions to offer. Among the able speeches which have been made during the Debate on the Address was that of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan), who criticised very ably and trenchantly the record of the Government. In view of that speech and of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture asking for suggestions, I will venture to offer some constructive suggestions on the lines of the Amendment, Our Amendment says:But humbly regret that the policy pursued by Your Majesty's Ministers continues to encroach on the personal, political and economic liberties of the subject, and thereby curtails and restricts the opportunities for individual energy and enterprise to procure employment for the people by contributing to that restoration of imperial and world trade which was the avowed aim of the recent conference of the nations.We believe that. We believe that the policy of the Government does not in any way help to restore Imperial and world trade.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Does the hon. Member think that the policy of the Government had anything to do with the increase in Imperial trade?
§ Mr. MASON
Very little, I am afraid. Our accusation is that it is calculated to retard the restoration of Imperial and world trade, and, if the hon. Lady will give me her attention for a few moments, I propose to offer some suggestions which in my opinion would have the effect of restoring trade. That is the object of our Amendment. The suggestions I propose to make are non-controversial, in the sense that they are non-party, and I hope they will, therefore, meet with her approval. At any rate, I have no doubt that with her high sense of fairness she will consider them impartially. What is likely to increase Imperial and world trade? If you are to bring that about you must have stability of exchange. How are you to get stability of exchange? We have had Debates indicating how stability of exchange may be obtained and some speeches from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on monetary policy, but in this King's Speech there is not a single word or reference of any kind to monetary policy. That is the point of our Amendment. There may be, indeed there are, differences of opinion with regard to quotas, restrictions and tariffs, but there are a large number of Members in all parts of the House who will agree as to the necessity for a sound monetary policy for this country. Let me quote in support of that proposition a speech made by a gentleman who represents a combination of the great trust companies of this country with some £300,000,000 to £400,000,000 of capital. Speaking in reference to an embargo on foreign lending, which we all agree is an interference with the restoration of world trade, Mr. J. H. Clifford. Johnstone says:Again, our Treasury put an embargo on new issues in 1932. That was for the purpose of assisting the conversion of War Loan, but War Loan was long ago successfully converted, and yet the embargo remains. Money has thereby been forced up to unnatural heights, investors have been compelled to lend money to the Government at ridiculous rates—made more ridiculous by the high income and surtax. When the embargo is removed they will once again have lost a large portion of their capital. Gentlemen, surely our association is strong enough to protest effectively against these scandals of delay. The necessity to do so is great, for the floodgates against anarchy will not stand for ever, and if they give way economic deluge will begin. Exchange agreements, however ably negotiated, are of little 785 practical use, for even if they work they will destroy in the end what trade is now left.I hope that the House will pardon me reading this long quotation, but it is' well worth attention coming as it does from a gentleman who represents a trust combination with this huge capital.The United States of America and Great Britain must come to terms without delay and work to restore a sound monetary system to the world. Nothing else matters. International trade must be revived and international lending encouraged, and, above all, this must be done at once. Do not be misled. This is no time for purely defensive action. The disease must be attacked at its sources and the continued default in the redemption of promises to pay in gold must be ended by the setting up of a monetary system that will fulfil its purpose. The greater nations must become partners and in all friendship must help other nations to recover their prosperity and dignity. The great constructive power of the organised investor must be called into action to sweep away all short-sighted, out-of-date, and war breeding restrictions, and thus enable prosperity to be restored internationally. If this is done effectively there will then he no need to give a second thought to disarmament or fears of revolution. All such anxieties will melt away. Prosperity everywhere is a panacea for the fears of man, and must be the aim of all mankind. Let us make haste to recreate it.That is a quotation which might encroach upon the enthusiasm of the hon. Lady for tariffs and restrictions. At any rate, I am sure that many Members of her party do believe in a sound monetary system. Unless you have a sound monetary policy all the tariffs or Free Trade will not restore the trade of the world. You must have as the foundation for your trade a stability of exchange upon which all trade depends. It is essential. It is not even dependent on getting rid of tariffs. We have had a stability of exchange with the United States, and they have always been a great tariff country. Therefore, I hope that for the moment I have allayed a certain amount of irritation or opposition to the Amendment and that the hon. Lady, although she may not agree and probably never will agree with us on the subject of quotas, restrictions and tariffs, will nevertheless find that there is common ground of agreement in the Amendment.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
The whole point of what I said was that there was an enormous amount of common ground for 786 agreement in the Amendment. I could not see where the difference lay. If the hon. Member had put down an Amendment dealing with the monetary system that might be a subject for further discussion, but I said that in the Amendment I thought there was a great deal of common ground.
§ Captain HEILGERS
Does the hon. Member's suggestion that there is common ground mean that he and his friends are coming round to the tariff views held by Members on these benches?
§ Mr. MASON
No. I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Member cannot have been present during the whole of my observations. I was dealing with the question of stabilisation and I gave a quotation to show that there is a large and increasing number of people who while they may differ on questions of tariffs and quotas and restrictions of that kind, are agreed that we ought to press the Government to take steps, either of themselves, or in conjunction with the United States, towards a stabilisation of currency. Without stability of exchange it is impossible to carry on a growing and expanding foreign trade. I am glad to notice that the hon. and gallant Gentleman appears to agree with me to that extent. Many of my Conservative friends while they quarrel with my Free Trade views, are agreed with me on that subject, and that point is embodied in our Amendment. We take exception to the general policy of the Government in crippling and hindering Imperial and world trade, and we regard it as surprising that there is not in the King's Speech a single reference to monetary policy which, as the horn and gallant Member opposite apparently agrees, is a fundamental and essential factor in the recovery of Imperial and world trade.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer answered a question put by me on this subject not long ago, and while the right hon. Gentleman gave me little support or encouragement, I gathered that the question appeared as serious to him as 787 it did to me. For some reason, the Government have omitted any reference whatever to it from the King's Speech. Without committing themselves, they might have indicated that this important question would receive consideration pending the time when in their view, action should be taken upon it. The pronouncement of Mr. Clifford Johnstone which I quoted earlier shows that people are looking to the Government to take some steps to deal with this matter. That is one of the reasons for putting down this Amendment. I would also appeal to hon. Members above the Gangway, who are not very evident at the moment, but even if their benches are empty I hope that my words will carry to them. I have said in previous Debates that this is a subject which ought to appeal to the working man as much as to the rentier or the capitalist. The maintenance of the pound is an important matter to the man who is in receipt of a weekly wage, and this Government were returned principally for the purpose of restoring and maintaining the pound. We all remember the Prime Minister during the Election holding aloft in dramatic fashion, a German thousand-mark note and asking was this country to be allowed to sink to a position in which the pound would become valueless. The right hon. Gentleman urged that as a reason for supporting the National Government.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That may be very true, but I find it difficult to reconcile the hon. Member's remarks with the terms of the Amendment.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That again may be perfectly true, but the Amendment which has been moved on behalf of the party to which the hon. Member belongs deals with restrictions on liberty and restrictions affecting trade, and I want the hon. Member to come to those restrictions.
§ Mr. MASON
I shall endeavour to follow your Ruling Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am only making an appeal to those hon. Members above the Gangway who are in 788 their places in the hope that it may reach their colleagues who are absent, to realise how important this question is. The value of the pound is just as important to them as to hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was Daniel Webster the great American Statesman who said that he who tampered with the currency, robbed Labour of its bread. This Amendment is intended to bring home the necessity for getting rid of all the restrictions which hamper trade. It asks for a policy which will do something to restore Imperial and world trade and my point is that the Government have left out of the King's Speech the one subject which is the crux of that whole matter. You cannot restore Imperial and world trade until you have a sound currency.
§ Mr. LOUIS SMITH
I have been listening with much interest to the hon. Member. He told us 10 minutes ago that he was about to offer the Government some suggestions to assist them in connection with monetary policy. He has only mentioned certain difficulties in the case of this country and the United States and I wish to ask him whether he can give any suggestion as to how the Government can prevent action taken by, say, the United States Government or the German Government, in dealing with international trade? How can this Government control the actions of Governments in Germany or the United States, as regards directing trade into certain channels? It seems to me that that is a matter outside our control.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think if the hon. Member reads the Amendment on the Paper, he will see that he had better not answer those questions.
§ Mr. MASON
However great my desire to do so, it is impossible for me to accommodate everybody and obviously I must bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am trying to persuade the Government that it is essential for the restoration of Imperial and world trade that they should take some action on a matter which is greatly exercising the minds of many people to-day, the question of exchange stabilisation. I have said that they either of themselves or in conjunction with the 789 United States, should take action. Their example would probably be followed by our Dominions and the Scandinavian countries and others, and we would thus get rid of many of the restrictions, particularly currency restriction which exist to-day. They might have gold as a common denominator. I think it would likely be the most acceptable to all the different countries concerned and in that way you would have a foundation on which foreign trade could expand.
Until we have such a foundation, we may go on discussing the matter here, year after year, without result. After the Napoleonic Wars it took us 23 years to reach a proper system but I hope that we have advanced so much in intelligence and education since then, that it is no longer necessary to spend 23 years in debate before we resume a sound financial system. I submit that here is common ground on which Members of the great Conservative party and Members of the Labour party whatever their other differences may be, clan meet to find a method which would reduce restrictions and open the way for a great advance in our trade. That is the one point on which there is common ground, the one point I wish to emphasise. We are only few in numbers, but if hon. Members opposite consider that the point I made is fair and is sincerely advocated, and if they believe that it is sound, I appeal to them to come with us so that we may, perhaps by an increased number in the Division Lobby, make some impression on the Government to carry out the suggestion.
§ Mr. JOHN WALLACE
Is it permissible tinder the words of this Amendment, "economic liberties" to discuss the question of tariff reform?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think that the words "economic liberties" might be dealt with somewhat widely.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
It is evident that the remains of the Liberal party in this House have still some regard for some of the principles of Liberalism, and it is surprising to note it when one remembers that that remarkable literary production commonly known as "The Yellow Book" embodied every form of Government interference and restriction on the liberty of trade by the individual that it 790 is possible for the misplaced ingenuity of mankind and of the present Liberal party to invent. Therefore, I welcome this Amendment, although perhaps not in the same way in which it is welcomed by the remains of the Liberal party here. It may be of interest to the House, and I think within the rules of order on this Amendment, to point out how we who are still actively engaged in industry look upon the situation from the point of view of the restriction of our liberties.
I think all of us feel grateful to the present Government, although many of us still suffer from that ancient heresy of which I am a victim, the heresy of Free Trade. Yet at the same time even the most pig-headed Free Traders among us must admit that some two or three years of Protection as a policy for this country have not brought about all those disasters which ought logically to have followed, and that it has left us in the position that we do admit, if we are honest in our admissions, that there is a great deal to be said in the circumstances of the times for the policy which has been adopted by the Government. I do not think we should be justified in going further than that. Our principles remain as they always have been, because it is a remarkable thing that those of us who were born Free Traders continue Free Traders to the grave, no matter what the evidence against our views may be. At the same time, we do feel that it would be a mistake for this country, situated as it is, to look forward to a continuance indefinitely of the limitations on foreign trade which exists at the present time.
But a further concession can be made to the Government and to those who support the Protectionist policy, and it is this: that it is obviously unsafe to change that policy and to free us from the fetters on our foreign trade until foreign lending on a very large scale has been made possible to the people of this country. I mean foreign lending to individuals, because one of the most notorious features of the present time is this—that one can trust foreign merchants very frequently, and one can trust foreign individuals very frequently, but bitter experience has shown that it is utterly impossible to trust foreign Governments with our savings as things are now. Therefore, when I speak of an 791 extension of foreign lending I mean an extension of that form of foreign lending which built up a great part of our overseas trade in the last century, that is to say, lending where we ourselves control the money that we lend, to aid in the development of undeveloped countries by our energy and our manufactures.
The preliminary to such a freeing of the restrictions on trade at the present time undoubtedly requires first of all the certainty of a continuance of cheap money in this country, at any rate for some years to come. There is no doubt that the policy of the Government, under a certain amount of pressure from the Bank, has led to the possibility of very Cheap supplies of credit for some years ahead, in default of a European war or some other world disaster. That, of course, is a thing for which we industrialists have to thank the present Government. It is interesting to reflect that the coming of a Conservative Government, following a Socialist Government, has undoubtedly reduced immensely the toll of capital upon the workers, and has added immensely to the toll which labour takes from production. Under a Socialist Government those who have the good fortune to be capitalists are able to get a much higher return for their investments than they can possibly get when Socialism for the time being has been placed on the shelf. I am amazed when I find rich men objecting to Socialist Governments. If there be one thing more than another that enriches the rich and impoverishes the poor it is that system of Government which goes under the name of Socialism, the system by which the capital values of investments are reduced but the return is immensely increased.
Another thing for which I think industrialists may thank the present Government is that it is already beginning to show signs of appreciating the fact that there is no possibility of national prosperity or international trade as long as this country is at the mercy of any aggressive enemy who might happen to wish to wage war against us. It has encouraged industry and trade immensely to know that the Government, having tried every possible means of inducing other Governments throughout the world to follow its example upon disarmament, and having utterly failed to convince a single other 792 nation, at long last is determined that at any rate we shall be secure; for if we look back at the history of our country we can see that our industrial, and particularly our financial supremacy, was in the past very largely due to and very largely built upon the fact that we were an island and, therefore, not so liable to invasion as nations on the Continent. Although modern warfare has made us no longer an island, as it were, at the same time I think we are still able and will still be willing to provide for that security of this country without which long-term policies of finance and trade will be utterly worthless, since we shall be subject to having them upset at any moment by an aggressive enemy from the Continent or further afield.
There is another thing for which we look to the Government, and I hope we shall be able to trust them to do it for us. All the world knows, and this House in particular from the Debates of the last two days knows only too well, that there is at present a desperate move on the part of top-heavy over-capitalized combines in this country to use the legislature to dominate the industries in which they are engaged, and to defeat by foul means those smaller competitors whom they can never defeat by fair means. All the talk about reorganisation and planning, what does it amount to, and who are the people behind the Members of this House who come here with their hearts bleeding for the poor and talk about reorganising industry and doing away with wasteful competition and planning for the future, and all that nonsense? The people behind that move are the people who again and again, both in the lifetime of this Government and of previous Governments, have seen how utterly impossible it is, with the law as it stands, to make monopolies with the view of squeezing their own fellow-countrymen.
Independent industrialists on a small scale will be defeated by these attempts if the Government do not play the game but weight the dice in favour of monopolies. The plan is to set up in each industry a sort of Parliament of the industry, a course openly advocated by hon. Members who ought to know better, ignorant of whose ends they serve, on such a basis that any big combine, if it can persuade the trade unions, will always have a majority in the consideration of all questions in that industry, and with the assistance of 793 the trade unions squeeze and ruin any competitor against whom those combines cannot now compete. What is the history of most of these combines? It is the history of an immense amount of capital being raised, administered by men who, without having any considerable holding themselves, go on, year after year, paying out salaries to themselves, until eventually an accountant has to be brought in and the capital has to be reduced by £1,000,000, £2,000,000 or £10,000,000 at the expense of the wretched shareholders.
I do appeal to the Government not to be deceived by this sort of thing but to come to our help and maintain fair conditions in industry, not loading the dice in favour of those who are not ashamed to spend their money and use political influence to prevent competition. Furthermore, the Government must understand that if they allow small industries to be crushed, the Revenue will suffer to an unimaginable degree. Somerset House could tell the Government a good deal about where the money comes from for Income Tax and Supertax. It does not come from big combines, from which there is only a miserable return on a proportion of their capital. It comes from ourselves, whom the big combines wish to crush. Therefore, so far as that form of restriction of trade and industry is concerned, we are trusting that the Government will put it down, if they do not depend too much for political support on those organised bodies of monopolists.
There is one passage in this Liberal Amendment to the Address in which it is implied that these restrictions on foreign trade and on foreign investments are to a large extent the cause of unemployment. I think that is a fair deduction. But the Liberal party itself, more than anyone else, more than any restrictions put on by the present Government, are responsible for the appalling unemployment which we have debated ad nauseam, in this House since the War. What is the policy of the Liberals in this matter? They attempted years ago to fix a standard of living for workers by Act of Parliament and were then surprised to find people out of work. The Liberal party, more than anyone else, more than all the restrictions introduced by the present Parliament, have left us with 794 the appalling problem of unemployment. Until we depart from that policy inaugurated by the Liberal party, we can never hope to see unemployment reduced below its present figure. Once you endeavour to fix the standard of living in any industry at a figure which has no relation to the value of the product, unemployment will be perpetuated in that industry. When attempts are made to raise that standard, the result is to lay the whole of the industry waste and throw out of employment every man in it.
To get industry and finance out of their present difficulties we should have every week a larger and larger sum paid in wages to the workers. It is the aggregate of wages paid that brings prosperity to a nation. What is the use of going on with the present plan of paying artificially high wage rates to a fraction of the people and keeping others out of work? There is only one way of increasing the aggregate, and that is to do away with the artificial attempts to institute a higher standard of living than those who buy products are willing to grant the workers. That has been the lesson of all the years since the War in industry and trade. More wages in the aggregate are the only way to prosperity, and this may mean less wages to individual men. There is no other way out of the unemployment madhouse. That is the lesson borne in upon me year after year in these troublous times. Until we realise that, there is no hope in any Government action. The only hope for the workers is through the action of their own trade union. Unless there is that we shall be afflicted year by year with more administrative measures, which will only increase the misery and extent of unemployment in this country.
I can well remember the days when I started on my own account. That was the time when trade unions were the guardians of the workers. How did they deal with this problem? Far otherwise than the Government do to-day. If any employers in an industry said they could no longer pay the rates of wages, then the trade union leader came along and had to decide the crucial question whether the employers were telling the truth or not. According to the decision of officials, the men were advised whether to submit to a reduction or take the issue to a strike and make the employers show their hands and prove they were telling 795 the truth. Suppose, as was the case in 50 per cent. of the contests in those old days, employers were telling the truth and their particular industry could not stand the rate? What happened? Men were dismissed because they could not be employed and came on the funds of the trade unions. They were anxious to get back to work. The men who remained in work were anxious not to lose it. Inevitably those men in work either did more for the wages received or lost their jobs to men who were out of work, but were willing to produce more for the same wages. In that way there was a natural process which resulted in a reduction of the cost of producing articles. So we had a sort of natural balance kept within reason by trade union action, a balance kept from bearing too heavily upon the worker by the wisdom and exertions of his trade union, but ultimately leading more or less to a position of justice in the wage rates of that particular industry.
But what did the Liberal party do? They resented the idea that the allegiance of the workers should go to their trade union, and they thought it was far more useful that it should go to the Leader of the Liberal party at that time, so bit by bit they started to undermine the trade union movement in this country, took away one by one the true functions of trade unionism, and endeavoured to fix wage rates by various means, even by Statute in some industries, in order to prevent the trade unions from functioning in their proper direction. Further, they took all the other functions of the unions one by one away from them. The function of finding employment for their members was to go to State-organised Employment Exchanges; their sick pay was taken away from the unions and put in the hands of State-supported schemes: their superannuation benefit was merged in old age pensions; and in one way after another every single function of the trade unions was taken away from them by the Liberal party, whose remains now talk about State restrictions upon industry and Labour causing unemployment.
It seems to me that if we take the present figures on our books at roughly 2,000,000, and if we realise the position of affairs before the unemployment insurance system was introduced, we shall 796 probably find that normally, before that system was set up, there would have been something approaching 1,000,000 on the books of the Employment Exchanges at any given time. But it is the Liberal party and their late Leader to whom we owe that additional 1,000,000 of unemployed, which in fact represents so much misery, so much deterioration, and so much destitution and unhappiness among our fellow countrymen to-day. There is no hope of reducing these horrible unemployment figures to reasonable dimensions until the politicians once and for all give up attempting to do what politicians can never do, and what the State can never effect, and leave this matter to the trade unions, so that those bodies may revive and once more be really beneficial to the workers of this country, instead of simply being an arrangement for collecting funds and getting influence and votes for the Labour party. Above all, let them, if they undertake that work once again, remember that the one thing to strive for is not high wage-rates for this or that industry, but a greater sum in the aggregate paid week by week in wages, for that is the only true way to prosperity for the people.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I have listened with great interest to everything that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), but I should like to remind him of one important fact. There are two sections of the Liberal party in this House. His observations were principally addressed to the section of the party which sits on the other side, but, with regard to those observations dealing with the Liberal party's policy towards wages and living conditions, I would remind him that a Liberal administration was in power in this country in 1906 and continued in office until the war broke out. Although he has said in most definite terms that the Liberal party as then existing was responsible for unemployment, the fact remains that in 1913, before the war broke out, unemployment in this country was at the lowest percentage at which it had ever stood, I should say, for 20 years. The percentage of unemployment in 1913 was under 2½ per cent., and a very large proportion of the people then unemployed were unemployable, so I am somewhat at 797 a loss to understand the comparative vigour, almost amounting to venom, with which my hon. Friend attacked the Liberal party, which in those days knew no dissension and was a united body.
I am not quite sure what particular case my hon. Friend was trying to make out. It was that there should be aggregate wages in a higher degree than had existed at any time before, but we are all at one about that. That is common ground. It is also common ground that we welcome the trade unions, who do the best they can for the people they represent. My hon. Friend there is pushing an open door, and I know of no one in this House who does not welcome the intervention and the negotiation of trade unions in any matter concerning working hours, working conditions, and wages. But I was rather interested in the fact that my hon. Friend pointed out that he was a Free Trader, and is still a Free Trader, but that on the whole he approves the policy of the present Government. I do not know if my hon. Friends opposite approve it in the same way, because it is rather curious that in the Liberal Amendment to the Address last year, which I recollect very distinctly, there was a definite reference to Free Trade and Protection.
I do not wish to argue that this suggests a change in the point of view of my hon. Friends opposite, whose opinions on this and any other matter I respect very highly, but as one who was a Free Trader for more years than he cares to recall, and who deliberately changed his point of view, I fully and absolutely approve of the tariff policy of the present Government. We were living, from the fiscal point of view, in a danger zone and could no longer afford to remain without defensive measures of some kind. I rejoice in the measures which have been taken, and it is my contention that they have been absolutely justified by results. What has happened? We have not only added £35,000,000 to the Exchequer receipts, but the fiscal policy of the Government has resulted in a definite increase of employment in this country. Last year alone there were 463 new factories built in this country providing employment for 35,000 additional workers. I presume that some speaker from the other side will follow me, and I should really like to hear from him a definite exposition of the present attitude of the 798 Liberals on that side of the House regarding the fiscal policy of the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley referred to planning. I have listened to the Debates this week, and if there is anything that has caused me absolute dismay it is the talk of the planning of industry by hon. Members who have never spent an hour in practical industry all their lives. One or two of them have had the daring to attack my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who has more knowledge of practical industry in his little finger than they have in their whole composition. I cannot say in terms sufficiently strong how I regard the courage and wisdom of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who is no longer content to be bound by ancient shibboleths or to be tied by outworn traditions, but does what he honestly believes to be in the interests of the country in embarking on a policy which in previous years he did not approve. He realises that the world all the time is marching on, and he is not content to remain in a backwater and allow the main stream to pass. My suggestion is that the policy of the National Government has been justified up to the hilt and nobody has benefited more than the working-classes. The National Government have been far too modest in their own claims. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that that observation meets with the approval of my hon. Friends opposite, because if they bad accomplished half as much their note of triumph would have been twice as loud as that of the National Government.
In these days, when there is almost a defeatist note being sounded in this House by quasi supporters of the present Government, it is time that someone spoke out frankly as to what the National Government have achieved. My hon. Friends opposite know it; nobody knows it better. My hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) made a speech which was really in favour of the National Government from many points of view. He is far too honest a man to indulge in the gibes and sneers which come, I do not say from his party, but from some quarters of the House. We can see the interest in this particular Amendment on the part of the Labour party by look- 799 ing at their benches. Casabianca is alone on the Front bench opposite—faithful among the faithless only he. I am sure he is all the better informed for listening to the points of view which have been put forward by my hon. Friends, and which we will hear later from the benches opposite. I had not the slightest intention when I came into the House of speaking. When I heard my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) riding his own hobby horse, the Gold Standard, I was rather disappointed that he did not launch out into the great question of Free Trade upon which he is an expert. Be that as it may, I feel that if hon. Members opposite will be perfectly frank with themselves and the House—and I have nothing but good will towards them because of my personal friendships with them—I am sure they will admit that it was a great mistake on the part of their leaders some time ago to leave the safe anchorage of the Front bench. I am certain that they have regretted it ever since, and I feel as sorry as they are. We regarded my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), who used to be Secretary for Mines, as one of the stalwarts on the Government Front bench, and so he was. He has not been nearly as stalwart since he has been on the other side.
I welcome the opportunity of saying in the most definite terms that we in this party are absolutely faithful in our allegiance to the National Government as it is at present constituted. We have no fault to find with their policy. If I may be permitted one word of criticism it is this. We heard yesterday hints given in a patronising manner to the President of the Board of Trade. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) had observations to make of the most patronising character. There have been several speeches of that kind, and they remind me of the sort of people who always want to see how the flowers are growing and pull them up by the roots to see how they are getting on. The Government have done admirably up to now. They have achieved certain definite results, they have reduced unemployment to an extent no one ever expected, and because they are not doing anything spectacular, criticism is being generated from the most unexpected quarters. I hope 800 the Government will go on undismayed, satisfied that they are pursuing a policy along the lines of their promises at the General Election, and certainly along the lines of the best informed opinion in the country.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
The speech to which we have just listened seemed to have been addressed to the arguments which were advanced in yesterday's Debate rather than to the Amendment before the House to-day. I must confess to being rather at a loss to gather the reason of my hon. Friend's intervention. Let us hope the reason will be revealed to us later in the year or early next year. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture ended on a note which, I think, the House must have appreciated. He had spoken throughout with great skill, as he always does, with great moderation, and with fairness to my hon. Friends who had preceded him. He ended by imploring the House, irrespective of party, to recognise that we were now in a new age; that it was impossible to return to the era of unrivalled competition; and that we must prepare ourselves, in view of the shrinkage of European, indeed of world, populations, to face that fact and to reorganise our industry and to prepare for the future that will be even more difficult than the past. For my part, and I am sure I speak for my hon. Friends, we have no hesitation in accepting that invitation. We do not believe, in spite of the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman on the Labour benches gave to our Amendment, in returning to the era of unrestricted competition. We know that it is not practicable, that it is not wise, and that it is not right, but, at the same time, we are entitled to say that the Government through their legislation and administration have gone too far in the other direction, that there are modifications of their policy which we should desire to see, and that the spirit of much of their legislation is not in accord with the free traditions of our country.
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Labour benches taunted my hon. Friends with expressing the opinion that a profit was at the root of success in all commercial undertakings. It is 801 rather late in the day for the right hon. Gentleman to have discovered the evil of profit-making. He does not appear here solely as a Socialist or as an ex-Socialist Cabinet Minister. He was in this House long before those days. He was here from 1910 to 1922 as a member of my party, an unrepentant individualist, a member of a capitalist party, and the public work for which he is most famous is a housing scheme which succeeded in putting more profits into the pockets of builders and manufacturers of building materials than any other scheme which has ever been invented in this House or outside. In those days, at any rate, the right hon. Gentleman was no opponent of work for profit. I wish the right hon. Gentleman were here now, because I have a question to put to him, and I propose to leave it on record. He said in the course of his speech that tariffs and quotas had been introduced by the present Government in order to give security to the home producer, and that he for his part, and his party, had no objection to that policy. He went on to say that, of course, what he meant by security for the home producer was something far wider than anything the Government intended, that he meant a fair share, guaranteed by the State, in the productions of the country, that, in fact, he meant the socialisation of industry and the sharing of all its produce by those engaged in industry.
The question I would like to put to him, and which I would like to have on record, so that perhaps he will take some other opportunity of answering it, is this: "Are we now definitely to understand that the policy of the Socialist party is that, provided a system of State Socialism can be introduced into this country, they are willing to forgo entirely all freedom of trade, and to secure, as they think, this special security for the home producer by continuing and, indeed, elaborating the protective Measures of the present Government?" I think that is a point which the Socialist party ought to make clear. They are the Official Opposition. The principal legislative Measures of the present Government are their protectionist Measures of one kind or another which they have introduced. That is their principal claim either to fame or the reverse. What is the view of the Socialist party? They fought the tariff Bill in this House when 802 we were fighting it. They were using Free Trade argument against the policy of the tariff Bill. Are we now to understand that, provided only that Socialism can be introduced in this country, they are willing to retain, and possibly to expand, the protective Measures of the Conservative party?
There is one other little point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which I should like to clear up. I am holding no brief for the Governor of the Bank of England or the financial authorities of the city who advise His Majesty's Treasury. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman did make one most extraordinary statement. He said that the financial forces and authorities who were advising the Government in 1931 were still behind them now, sinister influences deciding their policy. Those influences, he said, were the ones that in 1931 desired the policy of the country to be one of reducing real wages to the workers. That is the reverse of the truth. The policy of the Governor of the Bank and those associated with him was to remain upon the Gold Standard. It is perfectly true that there were important people in the city, people speaking, in many cases, with great authority, though perhaps sometimes with snore theoretical than practical authority, who did desire a measure of inflation, and who made no secret that they desired it, in order to reduce the level of real wages as opposed to money wages, with the object of getting down costs and being able to compete more easily in foreign markets. But that was not the policy of the Governor of the Bank, that was not the policy of those "sinister people" who were advising the Government and, apparently, are advising them still. I do not suppose the Governor of the Bank of England cares much for my opinion one way or the other, and I have no peculiar qualifications to speak on financial matters, but it is, at any rate, not our opinion on these benches that the Governor of the Bank is engaged in some sinister conspiracy with the Government to reduce the level of real wages in this country.
I pass from that to a consideration, which will have to be brief, of the protective policy of the Government, the policy of the restrictions on freedom of which we complain in this Amendment. It seems to me that this protective policy 803 falls definitely into two parts. On the one hand there is the securing of the home market, at the same time the expansion of imports, diminution of unemployment and the restoration of trade: and on the other hand the policy with which the hon. Member who is going to wind up is peculiarly associated, the policy of concluding trade agreements. As to the first part of the policy, I will quote only one set of figures. It is frequently said, indeed, it was said by the Minister for Agriculture this afternoon, that by 1931 we had fallen into a complete slough, that unemployment was rising under Free Trade to mountainous heights. It is true that unemployment was rising in this country, and that the country was still Free Trade, but unemployment had not been altogether unobserved in America or in Germany, or, indeed, all over the world, and it is childish to pretend that the rise in unemployment which was taking place at that time can be solely attributed to the free system of imports in this country when exactly similar phenomena were to be observed in the highest tariff countries of the world.
What are the figures since then? Take the simple and obvious figures of our exports and re-exports and imports. Our exports and re-exports combined were, in 1931, £454,000,000, and it must not be forgotten that that sum is partly calculated upon the Gold Standard, and that in that respect it has a third greater value than for the latter figure. In 1932, these figures had sunk to £416,000,000. In 1933, they were steady at £416,000,000. Imports were palling. In the three years 1931, 1932 and 1933, the total fall in international trade was £230,000,000. I am not prepared—in fact no one can be prepared—to say that the protective system produced by the Government was the sole cause of that fall in trade. I think it is equally false to argue that Protection, as such, has proved in this country that you can cure unemployment and restore trade by its application.
The second part of the policy is the negotiation of tariff agreements. It is a commonplace often quoted in this House and outside by speakers—the Lord President of the Council has frequently stated it—that without some kind of bargaining power this country would have been helpless in negotiating trade agreements. I 804 will not go over old ground, but it will be within the recollection of most Members of this House that in fact before we had any system of Protection at all, under the most-favoured-nation clause we did enjoy almost throughout the world terms as good as, if not better than, those countries which had protective systems which they could use for bargaining among themselves. What is the type of result which we get? Take the agreement for coal for Germany. What are the actual figures there? The German coal quota was raised, under the pressure of this terrific weapon with which we have now armed ourselves, from 100,000 tons to 180,000 tons a month. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) spoke most bitterly of that result. Nobody has advocated the use of this weapon of the tariff more consistently than he has, but when it was used to obtain an agreement with Germany he complained bitterly that the coal imports which we were now to be allowed into Germany were only to be 40 per cent. of the average during the previous three years. That was a period when we had no such bargaining weapons. We were not armed with a tariff and yet at that time we were importing into Germany, without that weapon being used, 60 per cent. more coal than under the agreement negotiated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friend.
I should like for a few minutes to pass from these general considerations to one or two specific cases which illustrate, to some extent, the contention in this Amendment. It has already been mentioned this afternoon, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth)—the power which the Government now has and which, alas! it too often exercises, of taking away by sudden decree and without compensation the livelihood of a man or set of men or firm, which may have been built up during generations of honest work. There was one question in which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and myself took some part in this House—a small instance, it is quite true, but rather a good instance of the duty upon lamp carbons. That was a peculiar case in which there was an article, admittedly the best in the world, imported from abroad. It was not pre- 805 tended that those who desired the best lamp carbons could get them anywhere except from abroad. The inferior qualities were made here in very large quantities, but the best all came from foreign sources. A duty was suddenly imposed—a prohibitive duty—on this class of imports; a duty acknowledged to be prohibitive and to be put on only in order to be prohibitive, not to raise revenue but in fact to give a monopoly to the great combine in this country which manufactures that particular commodity. The reason given—I must confess I think a most flimsy reason—was the desire of the Admiralty to promote the manufacture of these carbons here in order to have a great secure supply in time of war. That argument rather fell to the ground when it was discovered that the particular class of, carbons that were imported from abroad were not used by the Admiralty at all and that, in fact, they had perfectly secure and ample sources of supplies of the type which they were themselves at present operating in this country.
In that case, quite a small class of persons, but a perfectly honest class of British citizens, importers in this country of these articles, were ruined overnight without appeal except to this House through a small minority of my hon. Friends and myself. There was nothing they could do. There was no other form of industry or commerce to which they could immediately turn their talents. Overnight they were told that the source of their living was to be taken away from them. That sort of example may strike many of us as a piece of hard luck, the inevitable accompaniment of a widespread piece of legislation. If this system is to go on for years—possibly, who knows, for decades—these pieces of hard luck are going to multiply themselves, and the time will come eventually when the conscience of this House and of the country will no longer permit of arbitrary action of that kind, the confiscation without warning and without reason, in many cases, of the sole source of livelihood of a perfectly honest class of persons in our midst.
I will take a second example and here, although the thing is on the same level, there was an additional unpleasant aspect. We have heard a good deal to-day about the potato marketing scheme. Let me give to the House an example of the 806 kind of thing that can happen. There is a Potato Board which gives licences to potato merchants and, as has been ventilated in this House, particularly by the hon. Member for South Bradford, the board on 29th October issued a series of letters, in many cases to merchants who had been engaged in that trade all their lives, informing them without any reason that no licence had been granted to them. That in itself is bad enough. That is another case of an individual performing, as he thinks, at any rate, although the board may not think so, a useful part in the economic life of the country, suddenly being deprived of his sole source of existence. But in this case there was a much worse feature. An hon. Friend of mine in this House received a letter from this unfortunate man's pastor, the rector of his village. My hon. Friend wrote to the Potato Board and mentioned this hard case, and within 48 hours the unfortunate man concerned had received a licence. We may rejoice that in this case justice was done, but how ominous was the way in which it was done. This was not a case of the House of Commons intervening, but of a Member of the House of Commons intervening privately.
§ Mr. STUART
Is the hon. Member certain that the applicant for authorisation filled up his paper properly, and gave the particulars that were asked for? The board receive a great number of applications in which the particular's asked for are not given. If the hon. Member referred to, or somebody else, gave the board that information, the board would then be in a position to deal fairly with the case.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
That is not my information in this case. I am informed that the proposer sent in a perfectly orderly and properly filled in application, and that he received the circular letter which has already been quoted informing him that no licence would be granted. It was only when a private representation was made by a Member of this House—
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I think the House will be prepared to accept my word—that the application was granted. That is an object lesson of what may happen when regulations of this kind are in existence. I do not press the point very hard, but 807 I ask the Government to bear in mind, when they are introducing legislation or framing regulations which give outside authorities control over the lives and habits of their fellow countrymen, to see that everything is perfectly above board and that there is no room for private influence or hanky-panky. It is intolerable to the sense of every Member of this House that we should place power in the hands of people who may use it improperly for private ends.
May I now refer to a case in regard to which I have given notice to the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department. It is another consequence of the system of Protection which the Government have seen fit to set up. In this case there is no secret. The correspondence has been published. There exists in a mandated territory a manufactory of a certain commodity. It is owned by British subjects, uses British machinery and has been treated by the Colonial Office as a wholly British concern. It imports a part of its production into this country, but that part is only a very tiny proportion, not more than 5 per cent. of the whole. Not long ago the firm concerned received at its offices in London a latter from the Colonial Office of which I will read one paragraph, which I think will make clear to the House the general tenor of the letter. The paragraph is:The Secretary of State has, therefore, instructed me to tell you that, as at present advised, he is quite unable to defend your exports to this country, and that he would be glad to have your assurance that you will not in future export hinder twine or other cordage to this country, except with the consent and by agreement with the Rope Manufacturers' Federation. Failing a, satisfactory arrangement on these lines, he feels that he will have no alternative but to notify the Chancellor that lie will not oppose the imposition of a prohibitive duty on such commodities imported into this country from the Colonial Empire. This duty would, of course, be confined to Colonial products and would not be applicable to imports from the Dominions. You will appreciate that it would he most unfortunate if a precedent for imposing duties on this basis were created.I agree. That is a case in which the Secretary of State, through the Colonial Office, using the power which he has to influence the Chancellor of the Exchequer, threatened a British firm, situated in a mandated territory, that, 808 unless they will enter into an agreement in restraint of trade with a monopoly in this country, he will exclude their products from Great Britain. I do not know how that kind of procedure affects the minds of hon. Members of this House, but it fills me with uneasiness. I do not say that in this case there is anything in the least corrupt or wrong in that point of view, but that such statements could be made to a private British citizen by a Government Department is, in my view, intolerable, and an interference with the ordinary liberties of British subjects which this House ought to be quick to resent.
I cannot decently detain the House any longer, but I wish simply to say in conclusion that we do respond to the appeal of the Minister of Agriculture not to push ourselves back into a past and gone age. We should not like to return to that age. We know that it is past, and we hope that a better age will come. We believe, indeed, that very largely a better age is already here. How much that better age has been due to the efforts of the Government which my hon. Friend who spoke before me was supporting before the War, I will leave to others to decide. At the same time, we must see to it that if in future our industry is to be more planned, if the life of our people is to be more regulated, it shall be done with due regard for the ordinary liberties of the subject. It is useless in our opinion—in my opinion, at any rate—for us to go on spending millions and tens of millions every year in this country upon education if we do not recognise the fact that, if education does not mean anarchy, and increasing anarchy, it means nothing at all. If it does not mean fitting the people of this country to decide for themselves, instead of having things decided for them, it has no meaning whatsoever, and, as long as there is one single Liberal voice raised in this Chamber, I hope it will be raised on behalf of the liberty of the citizens of this country to decide their destiny for themselves, and not to have it imposed upon them by a Government, whether good or bad.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel J. COLVILLE (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)
If the 809 National Government had no more severe shocks to sustain than the attack which has been directed against them to-day, their life would indeed be a tranquil and uneventful one. All along I have had the feeling, in listening to hon. Members below the Gangway, that they were rather in the state of mind of that other prodigal son who, after some time in a far country, began to yearn for savoury smells and the sounds of music and dancing. Nor indeed could the skeletons which the hon. Member who has just spoken strove to bring from the cupboard disguise the statement with which he concluded that a better age was already here. Perhaps he will forgive me if I do not answer the point relating to a particular product from a mandated territory as that is in fact a matter for the Colonial Office. In order to answer the points raised by the Amendment properly it will be necessary to go back a little over the history of the formation and the activities of the National Government, to go back to those conditions in which hon. Members who are bringing forward the Amendment joined with us to avert what they at that time admitted was a crisis. We are apt to forget the crisis conditions of 1931.
I have to-day been looking over a page of diagrams which have been issued as a supplement to the Ministry of Labour Gazette for this month and which I should recommend all Members who wish to make a close and intelligent study of the trend of trade movements to examine. The diagrams show by means of graphs the trend of trade and employment in general and in a number of particular industries for the last few years. They bring out some very important points They show, for example, that during the latter half of 1929, the whole of 1930, and the greater part of 1931, there was a steep rise in unemployment, We know, of course, that that took place. They show that during the same period there was a catastrophic fall in our export trade. An hon. Member below the Gangway has said that the total exports for 1931 are still higher than we have reached at present, but he has to observe the trend of our export trade in 1931. The curve on the graph descends steeply throughout every month of that year until the months at the end of the year, when changes were made in our fiscal policy. Month after month, by millions of 810 pounds, our export trade was falling off—that is, export trade as a whole.
Let us take one or two industries. The coal exported fell month by month during that period by enormous quantities. This is easily seen by a study of the graphs. Unemployment in the coal mining industry rose during that period. Turning to the iron and steel industry, the fall was even more marked. It was precipitous during the period I have named. Unemployment in the industry rose. The upward curve is almost as steep as the downward curve of production. Again, in general and electrical engineering you have the same tendency. In shipbuilding, the tonnage commenced and under construction fell away and unemployment increased rapidly. In the cotton industry we have the same tendency, and in the building industry this was also marked. In every one of the industries I have taken the tendency has been reversed since the Government took office. If anyone wishes to get into his mind in a short time a really graphic picture of what has taken place in these basic industries in the last few years, I can recommend him to study this supplement to the Ministry of Labour Gazette. I do not say that the late Government, supported in this as they were by my hon. Friends below the Gangway, were responsible in the whole for these tendencies. But I do say—and I feel that the majority of the House will support me in what I say—that they were responsible in a large measure because at a time of world crisis, when every country was seeking to protect its own home market and at the same time was looking for somewhere to dump its goods, they left our country totally unprotected and so contributed to that state of affairs. I think that my hon. Friends of the Liberal party who were in opposition recognised that fact in 1931 because they went into the Lobby in support of the Abnormal Importations Act. I think that the Pharisee who strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel is betrayed in the attitude of my hon. Friends below the Gangway, who, in regard to our tariff policy at that time, recognising the conditions in which we find ourselves, were willing to put a very high duty on a wide range of imports into this country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
A very wide range, and duties as high as 50 per cent. 811 And the Act which followed, the Import Duties Act, which gave scope for protection over the whole range of our industries, was supported by many hon. Members—
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
We both spoke and voted unanimously against the Import Duties Act in its passage through this House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
To demonstrate what I said about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, they voted in favour of putting the high duties on, but against setting up the committee which regulated those duties afterwards. And so we found the position in 1931. We took those necessary measures for the protection of our trade. It was not our intention simply to protect our own home trade, but, as hon. Members have pointed out, it was also our intention to use the new leverage we had in the tariff in this country to assist our overseas trade. The complaint of hon. Members below the Gangway to-night is that we have been ineffective in using that lever. I shall be glad to answer that specific point. In the first place, it will be remembered that we decided that the first talks we had should be with Empire countries at the Ottawa Conference. It is no secret when I say that some 19 foreign countries asked for negotiations on tariff matters. These countries had been engaged in trade with us for many years and had never before felt it to be necessary to ask for immediate negotiations on tariff matters. They indicated their willingness to do something to oblige us in return for the privilege of entering into our markets. We said that we must first of all go to Ottawa.
Some hon. Members have criticised us for meeting our Empire countries before we entered into negotiations with foreign countries. I submit that the Government were absolutely right in taking that step. On grounds other than matters of trade it was right that we should first discuss our economic problems with the Empire before entering into negotiations with foreign countries. As one who has been personally associated with almost all the negotiations with foreign countries, and has a full knowledge of the limitations which the Ottawa undertakings imposed upon us in our foreign negotiations, I say that we were absolutely right in nego- 812 tiating our Empire agreements first. It has given us a firmer basis on which to stand, and our negotiations with foreign countries have not suffered from the fact that we were able to secure a firmer basis for our Imperial trade.
Let me examine some of the results of the Ottawa Agreements. Some Liberal Members have suggested, indeed, the Amendment suggests, that we have been hindering Imperial trade, that we have not done our best to develop that trade. The facts which I propose to give to the House will show that that accusation is without foundation. The Ottawa Agreements were concluded in the latter part of 1932, and the figures I am now about to give will show the value of the exports of United Kingdom produce and manufactures to the Dominions during the first nine months of 1932, that is immediately before the Ottawa Conference, and during the same period of this year. In every case the value of the exports is increased, and the aggregate exports to the seven Empire countries were greater this year by over 23 per cent. Let me give some details. Canada has taken in value £2,383,000 more of our goods this year than in the immediate pre-Ottawa period; Australia £4,950,000 more, New Zealand £621,000 more, South Africa £8,488,000 more, Newfoundland—this is a significant increase, in view of her difficulties—£116,000 more, British India £373,000 more, and Southern Rhodesia £366,000 more, a total of £17,297,000 increase in trade with these Dominion countries following on the Ottawa Agreements. That is a complete answer to the suggestion which has come from Members of the Liberal party that the Government are lax in their efforts to stimulate inter-Imperial trade: I suggest that in that figure of £17,000,000 increase of exports lies the explanation of many of the increased number of men who have been brought back into employment in this country during last year.
Let me turn to the import side. Let me show the value of the Ottawa Agreements to Empire countries in their trade with the Mother country. Here the basis of comparison is slightly different, because the Agreements confirmed freedom from duty under the Import Duties Act, which had in fact been accorded to the imports of the Empire since March, 1932, and the comparison is therefore with the imports 813 from the seven Dominions during the first nine months of 1931 as compared with the first nine months of 1934. Here we find that we have taken from Canada, £12,500,000 more; from Australia £4,000,000 more; from New Zealand £3,000,000 more; from South Africa the actual figure of visible exports shows a diminution of £1,000,000, but that does not take into account the gold which, of course, largely contributes to the exports of South Africa; Newfoundland, an increase of £367,000; British India, an increase of £5,000,000; and Southern Rhodesia £273,000; making a total increase of £24,000,000. So that on the import side again my hon. Friends can never complain that we are damaging the interests of our Empire trade. It would seem that on the score of what we have done for Imperial trade the criticism is silenced.
Let me turn then to the agreements which we have negotiated with foreign countries. First of all I would say a few words about the Economic Conference held in the summer of 1933. A number of hon. Members have suggested that we missed our opportunities at that, Conference. Let me assure the House of what it knows already, that His Majesty's Government made every possible effort at that Conference to secure a wider understanding in regard to the limitation of tariffs and trade barriers, and it was only when it was evident in the unsettled world situation which prevailed that no such wide agreement could be obtained that we said, "We cannot wait another month and take no action. We shall go on with our policy of negotiating bilateral agreements with those countries which are willing to do a friendly trade with us, and in that way enlarge the trade which we carry on." I think we were right in doing that. If we had followed the line advocated by hon. Members of the Liberal party, of asking for an international agreement or nothing at all, we would have got nothing at all. Instead of that we said, "If we cannot get this wide international agreement we shall proceed with our policy of negotiation," and we did proceed with that policy.
We have negotiated 13 agreements, three are in negotiation now, and several others are in contemplation. An hon. Friend asked me which are in contemplation, and whether an agreement With the United States is in con- 814 templation. To that I give the answer that the Government must be the judge of which countries they intend to open negotiations with, and it is not in the public interest to make premature disclosures. But we have had these successful negotiations, and in the aggregate we have found that they have brought us considerably increased trade. Here are some figures: In the first nine months of this year the total value of our exports, including our re-exports, was £23,000,000 more than in the corresponding period of last year, and of that increase £21,722,000, or over 90 per cent., was in respect of the exports to the countries, Empire and foreign, with which we have made trade agreements. Any more complete vindication of our agreement policy than that could not be found.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman give the separate figures for the trade agreement countries?
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
The Ottawa countries are trade agreement countries and they alone have contributed in the last year some £17,000,000 increase. The hon. Member must make the calculation he requires for himself. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) said that a few months ago he gave it as his opinion that the best that could be expected from any agreements in the way of increased trade was in the neighbourhood of £14,000,000. That forecast has been entirely falsified, because the increase of trade with the agreement countries has amounted to no less than £21,700,000.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
The hon. and gallant Member knows that when I gave that figure I was dealing with the foreign trade agreements only. The figures that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given us, in so far as they are any indication, only serve to show that the estimate I gave was in excess of what has so far been realised.
§ Lieut.-Colonel COLVILLE
The foreign agreements are in a much earlier stage than the Empire agreements and are only now beginning to fructify. Had I time I could show that in every case there is a definite upward tendency and the gloomy prognostications of the hon. Member will, I am sure, be falsified. Suffice it to say 815 that our agreement negotiation policy, both Empire and foreign—for both stand together—has brought us in £21,000,000 worth of fresh trade in the last year. In point of fact, the figures which I have given are for nine months only and do not include the month of October, which was the best month, as regards exports, since January, 1931, and if we add that month's figures to the total, it brings us to a figure of £25,500,000 increase in exports for the first 10 months of this year. These figures show the assumptions of hon. Members below the Gangway, that we have disregarded opportunities of enlarging our trade, to be entirely unfounded.
They have also made a suggestion which they wish us to consider and reference has been made to it more than once in the Debate. The suggestion is that we should join a low tariff group of countries. They have made reference to the proposal put forward by Belgium for the formation of a group of nations affording each other preferential tariffs and they asked why the Government had not gone with the Government of Belgium at Ouchy into that proposal. The answer is that the corollary to a group of countries in which you receive preferential treatment, is an area outside that group in which there is differential treatment against you. The preferential area would have to be a large area, in view of the diversity of our trade, to make it worth our while to make such a change. But there is, in fact, a large preferential area for us today, namely, the British Empire, though hon. Members below the Gangway appear unwilling to extend preferential treatment in that large area in which to-day we do receive preference for our goods.
I feel that hon. Members have not been successful in their efforts to criticise the Government, partly because there is running through all those criticisms a note of relief at the fact that they live in such a well governed country. Only in recent months tributes have been paid by great foreign statesmen, in America, France and Italy to the progress made by Great Britain. We are glad that those tributes should have been paid. We recognise that we have made progress. It was only three years ago, at a time when we had what my hon. Friends below the Gangway sigh for, an era of free imports into this country, that we had fallen into the 816 position of being the third exporting nation in the world instead of the first. To-day we have come back to the position of first exporter of manufactured goods. We shall retain that place and we shall enlarge our trade and influence if we follow the wise lines set by the policy of the National Government and reject the ill-considered proposals which are put to us by the various sections of the Opposition as exemplified in such Amendments as that which we have before us to-night.
§ 10,49 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
I apologise to hon. Members who wish to proceed to a Division, but I am sure they will realise that it is open to all hon. Members to exercise the right of addressing the House until such time as the Eleven o'Clock Rule operates and I desire to put forward certain views on this Amendment. This Amendment is one which, had it come from any other source, I should have been tempted to support. It indicates a broad principle which I think all the House desires, namely, the freedom of the individual. But when such an Amendment comes from hon. Members below the Gangway I believe that none of us will fall into the trap of supporting it. If it be true as I believe it is, that the liberty of the subject is everywhere and in every department of life being encroached upon to whose policy is that primarily due? The policy of the Liberal party. I can remember the days when the Liberal party, which my family for many years supported, stood up for individual freedom. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) wrote a letter to the "Times" the other day in which he said the Liberal party must get back to Gladstonian policy. They have departed from that for many years. The Gladstonian policy may have been for individual freedom, but the policy of the Liberal party in the last 30 years has been a travesty of it. Hon. Members complain of tariffs, marketing schemes and similar schemes with the idea that they restrict trade.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I hope the hon. Member will not say the last 30 years. He will lose a lot of support if he does.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I am perfectly prepared for that. Still that has been the policy in introducing social services, control of wages, and control of hours. I would support their policy for personal 817 liberty if they would give some indication that they would return to a policy of real liberty. Why did they oppose the Betting Bill which controls the real liberty of the people? Why did they suport Measures which some of us have introduced for increasing the number of hours for drinking? That is individual liberty. It is just as much individual liberty to import what you like without duty. Are they prepared to support that? Certainly not. Are they prepared to repeal the agricultural wages boards? Certainly not. There I am with them. If you have an agricultural wages board you have to have enough money to pay wages as hon. Members opposite know as well as we do.
The Lord President of the Council, in one of those phrases which show that appreciation of the fundamental is his outstanding quality, said the other day that as the state of this country became increasingly democratic—I am paraphrasing his words—so would we tend more and more to interfere with the lives of the people. That is fundamentally true. I am not democratic. I think democracy is a beastly and soulless tyranny, and that is my fundamental belief. Members may not agree with that. Hon. Members opposite believe they are the high temple of democracy. It was their party which forced democracy on a nunwilling country. I believe the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), who is now making contemptuous gestures at me, would have to agree with what the Lord President said. Very well, he must accept the natural consequences of that. You may like present conditions in the world or not, but I do not believe, as things exist at present, that you can have democratic control safeguarding wages, safeguarding hours, safeguarding the standard of living, without having as a corollary—and to this Members object—the safeguarding of capital, shares and profits.
§ It is the old story of the Liberal party. I know it so well. I was not brought up among them for nothing. Restrict the liberty of your opponents, but not the liberty of your supporters. Socialism? Oh no. That is a nasty, disgraceful control of the liberty of the subject. Protection? Oh, no. That is a nasty, beastly control in favour of those who support industry. Free Trade and wages? Yes, because the wage earners and consumers sometimes vote for us. That it; the Liberal party's policy, and has been for years. We on this side, even those of us who hold my extreme views, claim to be lovers of liberty as great and as sincere as any Member on the Liberal benches.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I never adopted them, so I cannot abandon them, but I claim to be as great a supporter of personal liberty as is the hon. Member. The hon. Baronet who seconded the Amendment supports the policy of raising the school leaving age. Does he think that making children go to school until they are 15 years of age enhances the liberty of the subject? He knows very well that we all want liberty to the extent to which it is possible without the admission of licence or the State suffering. For better or for worse, we have a democracy under modern conditions which safeguards the hours, wages, and standard of living, and while we have that democracy we have to pursue to its bitter end a policy which will safeguard the trade of the country and the profits of the country, and while that is so we must support a Protectionist policy so as to allow a sufficient margin of profit to be made.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 25; Noes, 358.821
|Division No. 3.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke||Harris, Sir Percy||Rothschild, James A. de|
|Bernays, Robert||Holdsworth, Herbert||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Curry, A. C.||Janner, Barnett||White. Henry Graham|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Evans, R.T. (Carmarthen)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Mr. Walter Rea and Mr. Harcourt|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Owen, Major Goronwy||Johnstone,|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Jamieson, Douglas|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Davison. Sir William Henry||Jennings, Roland|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Dawson, Sir Philip||Jesson, Major Thomas E.|
|Alexander, Sir William||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (L'pool, W.)||Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Dickle, John P.||Ker, J. Campbell|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Donner, P. W.||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)|
|Apsley, Lord||Doran, Edward||Kimball, Lawrence|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Drewe, Cedric||Kirkpatrick, William M.|
|Assheton, Ralph||Duckworth, George A. V.||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Duggan, Hubert John||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Duncan, James A.L.(Kensington, N.)||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Dunglass, Lord||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Balniel, Lord||Eady, George H.||Law. Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Barclay-Harvey. C. M.||Eases, John Frederick||Leckie, J. A.|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Eastwood, John Francis||Lees-Jones, John|
|Bateman, A. L.||Edmondson, Major Sir James||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Eillston, Captain George Sampson||Levy, Thomas|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel||Elmley, Viscount||Lewis, Oswald|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Liddell, Walter S.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Lindsay, Noel Ker|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Borodale, Viscount||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Everard, W. Lindsay||Locker- Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd.Gr'n)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Loder, Captain J. de Vera|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Fox, Sir Gifford||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander|
|Bracken, Brendan||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Fulier, Captain A. G.||Lyons, Abraham Montagu|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Ganzonl, Sir John||Mabane, William|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. C. G. (Partick)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Glossop, C. W. H.||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Brawn, Ernest (Leith)||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||McConnell, Sir Joseph|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Goff, Sir Park||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Goidle, Noel 2.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Gower, Sir Robert||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Burnett, John George||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd. N.)||McLean, Major Sir Alan|
|Burton, Colonel Henry Waiter||G raves. Marjorie||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Butler, Richard Austen||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Macmillan, Maurice Harold|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Greene, William P. C.||Maitland, Adam|
|Calne, G. R. Hall-||Grimston, R. V.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brolly)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Mergesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Carver, Major William H.||Hales, Harold K.||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)|
|Cassels, James Dale||Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Moller, Sir Richard James|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Hammersley, Samuel S.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsinth., S.)||Hanbury, Cecil||Milne, Charles|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hanley, Dennis A.||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)|
|Choriton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Christie, James Archibald||Harbord, Arthur||Mitcheson, G. G.|
|Clarke, Frank||Hartland, George A.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Harvey, George (Lambeth.Kenningt'n)||Moreing, Adrian C.|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Morgan, Robert H.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Morrison, William Shephard|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Moss, Captain H. J.|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Hepworth, Joseph||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Munro, Patrick|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Nall, Sir Joseph|
|Cooke, Douglas||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.|
|Copeland. Ida||Hopkinson, Austin||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Hornby, Frank||North, Edward T.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Horsbrugh, Florence||Nunn, William|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||O'Connor, Terence James|
|Critchley, Brig.-General A. C.||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Orr Ewing, I. L.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Hurd, Sir Percy||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hurst. Sir Gerald B.||Patrick, Colin M.|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)||Pearson, William G.|
|Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Petherick, M.|
|Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Blist'n)||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Pike. Cecil F.||Savery, Samuel Servington||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Scone, Lord||Taylor, Vice-AdmiralE.A.(P'dd'gt'n, S.)|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Selley, Harry R.||Templeton, William P.|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Procter, Major Henry Adam||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Pybus, Sir John||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Thompson, Sir Luke|
|Radford, E. A.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.||Thorp. Linton Theodore|
|Ralkes, Henry V. A. M.||Shute, Colonel J. J.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M, (Midlothian)||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Ramsay T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's Unv., Belfast)||Train, John|
|Ramsbotham, Herwald||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Tree, Ronald|
|Ramsden, Sir Eugene||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Ratcliffe, Arthur||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-In-F.)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Rawson, Sir Cooper||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Smith Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne, C.)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Reid, David D. (County Down)||Smithers, Sir Waldron||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Somerset, Thomas||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|Remer, John R.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Soper, Richard||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Rickards, George William||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Whiteside, Bornas Noel H.|
|Robinson, John Roland||Spears, Brigadier-Genaral Edward L.||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Specs. William Patrick||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Ross, Ronald D.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Stevenson, James||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.||Stewart, William J. (Belfast, S.)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Storey, Samuel||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Stourton, Hon. John J.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Rutherford, John (Edmonton)||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Salmon, Sir Isldore||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-||Young, Rt. Hon- Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Salt, Edward W.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Summersby, Charles H.||Captain Austin Hudson and|
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood Adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.