§ "That the Additional Import Duties (No. 11) Order, 1937, dated the twenty-ninth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the first day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, be approved."
§ We have usually found ourselves in the position of having to discuss these very necessary Import Duty Orders at a tolerably late hour, and I must say it is unusual and rather pleasant for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to find himself, for once in a way, with time on his hands and able to satisfy, so far as in him lies, the legitimate curiosity of Members of the House. I think, perhaps, it might be for the convenience of the House if we took the general discussion on the four Orders together, and possibly have any Divisions at the end of the discussion. I should 1610 like to know what the right hon. Gentleman opposite feels on the subject, and whether you, Sir, would be good enough to give a ruling. I understand that on previous occasions we have generally discussed a crop of orders together and had the Divisions at the end.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
I think, Sir, with respect to any ruling you may give, that if the discussion were of a general kind at the beginning you will realise that under this form of tax procedure only one question is put instead of six, and therefore we are deprived of some of our opportunities. I take it you would not prevent any Member who desired to raise any points as to a specific Duty, and nothing else, from raising those points when the Order is put to the House as a specific question.
§ Captain Wallace
I will proceed, if I may, to explain the object of the four Orders which are before the House. They are all alike in so far as they all impose minimum specific duties as a safeguard against competition by abnormally cheap imports from certain foreign countries, while leaving unchanged the ordinary ad valorem duties. There is one small exception in the case of the first Order, for the Order does increase the duty on certain parts of dolls from 15 to 25 per cent., but it is an extremely small exception. In two out of the four Orders—that is, the case of weft pile velvets and the case of carpets—there was already a minimum specific duty in force as an alternative to the ad valorem duty before these particular Orders came into operation, and the Order simply continues the same specific duty in the case of the weft pile velvet, or increases its amount in the case of carpets. Having said what I can on the general question relating to the four Orders, I should like to deal with celluloid dolls.
§ Mr. Benn
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman goes on I do not think anyone would grudge him the time if he explained in some detail what this Committee is inquiring about, what influences have been at work, what witnesses have been heard, and what is its style of procedure. We know nothing at all about any of these things.
§ Captain Wallace
If the hon. Member wishes to raise those point, then perhaps I had better make my speech first and I will answer at the end, but I am only here to-night to set before the House the specific case in favour of the Orders which are on the Paper.
§ Mr. Speaker
We cannot on these Orders discuss the whole procedure of the Import Duties Advisory Committee and the reasons why they came to their decisions.
§ Mr. Benn
I would draw your attention to the fact that these are specific instances of the operation of a certain machine, and we have not the least idea how that machine works. If the machine works and produces these results, are we entitled to ask where the Advisory Committee went for its information, what type of information it secured before these four specific Orders are made which are an example of its work?
§ Mr. Speaker
That would be equivalent to criticising the work of the Advisory Committee, which, after all, is a statutory body set up by this House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The proper method would seem to be to criticise the tax as a tax, not to criticise the machinery of the Import Duties Advisory Committee which has been set up by this House.
§ Mr. Benn
I quite understand that the discretion under the Import Duties Act has been left to the Committee, but, at the same time, I submit with respect that we are entitled to ask how they have used that discretion in producing these results?
§ Mr. Graham White
The Import Duties Advisory Committee, in the course of their recommendations with regard to Order No. 11, refer to:low-priced competition from a fresh source.Would it not be in Order to inquire for further information on that point, in order that we may make up our minds?
§ Mr. T. Williams
The Import Duties Advisory Committee having reached certain conclusions, and those conclusions having been submitted in the form of a recommendation to the Board of Trade, the Board of Trade then become responsible for any Motion on the subject that is brought before this House, and presumably they satisfy themselves that the recommendations are proper ones. Is it not quite in accordance with normal procedure that the Minister should give to the House the reasons why the recommendations have been offered, and the reasons why the Board of Trade have accepted them? Surely that should be the course to be followed.
§ Mr. Speaker
That would be in Order, but it is quite a different thing from criticising the actual work of the Committee.
§ Mr. Benn
May I ask who is responsible for these taxes being imposed? Is it the Advisory Committee, or is it the right hon. and gallant Gentleman? If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is responsible, I assume that we are entitled to ask him how he came to his decision that the Orders were proper Orders, and whether he is satisfied that adequate inquiries were made?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Government take upon themselves the responsibility of accepting or otherwise the recommendations of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, but not of saying how the committee came to their decision.
§ Captain Wallace
I am going to try to explain to the House the case that has been put forward by the Import Duties Advisory Committee to the Board of Trade. The Government accept responsibility for putting forward these Orders, and I do not desire to withhold from the House one iota of the voluminous information that we have. The only thing that I hesitated to do, and I am glad to be supported in that by you, Mr. Speaker, was to enter upon a general discussion on the procedure of the committee.
The first Order, No. 11 of 1937, deals with the subject of celluloid dolls and rattles, and it applies to articles of this kind which contain more than 10 per cent. by weight of celluloid. These articles were previously subject to an ad valorem duty of 25 per cent., except in the case of parts of dolls other than 1613 heads; and I think that, when the House realises the meticulous nature of these recommendations, it will understand that the Import Duties Advisory Committee have made exhaustive and careful researches into the matter. This particular Order imposes a minimum specific duty of 2s. 6d. per pound on dolls which exceed 7¼ inches in length, and of 1s. 6d. per pound on rattles. The reason for differentiating between a doll which is less and a doll which is more than 7¼ inches in length is that the smaller doll is really in an entirely different category, being used, I understand, very largely in the manufacturing confectionery trade. It may be said to be more a cake decoration than a toy.
Celluloid rattles of the better quality have been, as I am sure the House will be pleased to hear, manufactured for some time in this country, but the production of celluloid dolls has only been developed under the shelter of a tariff. During the last three or four years this trade, which has been built up under the tariff, giving work and wages to a fair number of people, has experienced competition from low-priced imports of celluloid dolls and rattles from Japan—
§ Captain Wallace
I think that there are two large firms engaged in this work. The wages of the employés are regulated by ordinary wage agreements, and I do not think it has ever been suggested in this House that, because a particular industry, after making its case to the Import Duties Advisory Committee, secures a measure of protection in the general interest of the country, special arrangements should be made for its wages. As a matter of fact, the toy trade is one of those industries which have Trade Boards.
These low-priced imports have come from what the Import Duties Advisory Committee described as a fresh source. It is the custom of the Import Duties Advisory Committee not to mention countries by name, but I am not obliged to observe the same reticence, and I have no hesitation in telling the House that these particular imports come from Japan. 1614 The Import Duties Advisory Committee have satisfied themselves and have satisfied my right hon. Friend that, if the industry in this country is to maintain a fair share of the trade at reasonable prices—and nobody, I imagine, wants celluloid dolls manufactured in this country to be sold at abnormally low prices—some further protection is necessary. The Order proposing a minimum specific duty will only affect the cheaper kinds of goods, leaving the best quality of goods unaffected; and the Import Duties Advisory Committee have satisfied themselves that this Order is not likely to have any material effect on retail prices. The fact of the matter is that these particular kinds of goods are usually sold at a fixed price, such as 3d., 6d., or 1s., and the only result, if any, of the imposition of these minimum specific duties will be, perhaps, that the doll or the rattle may be slightly thinner or smaller. So much for the first of the Orders—
§ Mr. Mathers
Before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman passes from the first Order, may I ask him one question? He has used more than once the expression "better quality." What exactly does he mean by "better quality"? Does he mean non-inflammable celluloid? The question of inflammability is one which, I am sure, is causing great anxiety to a committee which is now considering this subject with a view to protecting babies from the dangers attaching to these toys.
§ Captain Wallace
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. What I mean by "better quality" is better quality in the ordinary acceptance of the term—dolls of better design and more attractive. As far as safety is concerned, the hon. Gentleman has given the answer to his own question, namely, that the dangers resulting from the use, not only of celluloid toys, but of other articles made of celluloid, are at the moment under the consideration of a Departmental Committee appointed by the Home Office, and it is obviously impossible for the House in this Order to try to anticipate the report of that committee.
The next Order, No. 12 of 1937, renews, for a period of one year only, that is to say, for the year 1938, the minimum specific duty of 10d. per square yard on cut weft pile fabrics. These fabrics are light cotton velveteens, which are largely used as dress material and for 1615 cheap upholstery. I understand that they are also employed in the manufacture of soft toys and in the lining of fancy boxes, such as spectacle cases and things of that kind. The production of this particular material is centred mainly in the Oldham and Preston districts. The duty, which has a very high ad valorem incidence, was imposed in July, 1936, with the object of giving the home industry some protection against low-priced Japanese imports. It was imposed for a temporary period of 18 months, that is to say, from July, 1936, until the end of last year, and the committee, in recommending the temporary duty, suggested that the situation should be reconsidered later in relation to the possibility of improving the competitive power of the British industry under the shelter of a tariff.
Since the duty was imposed, imports from Japan have been at a very low level, and the output of the industry has expanded considerably, providing work and wages for more people. The committee say in their report that prices have been reasonable, and, what is equally important, that appreciable progress has been made in co-operation between the various sections of the industry which make this particular material. On the other hand, there is evidence available to the committee that supplies of cheap Japanese material, which were kept out by the Order of July, 1936, are still available at prices very little higher than those of 1936, and for these reasons the committee consider it desirable that this industry should have one more year's protection. [Interruption.] The whole point, as I understand it, of this procedure was that the imposition of the specific duty should be carried out by a body which was not susceptible to the process which is known as "lobbying."
§ Captain Wallace
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what the procedure is; it has been discussed many times in this House. The Board of Trade are asking the House to accept this recommendation of the committee that the protection be continued for another 12 months that is until the end of the present year. We hope that this renewal 1616 of the duty will stimulate the industry to further efforts in the direction of cooperation, and that it may not, perhaps, be necessary to continue it after the end of the year.
§ Mr. R. Acland
Could the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say roughly what the duty of 10d. a square yard amounts to as a percentage?
§ Captain Wallace
I think the hon. Gentleman had better make his speech, and I will answer all these questions later.
§ Mr. Acland
But this is information which, I submit, ought to be given now, and which has not yet been given. Some of us would like to have it for the purpose of making our speeches.
§ Captain Wallace
I will deal with that later. It is difficult to carry all these things in one's head. I pass on now to the subject of lithopone, which is a pigment used mainly in the manufacture of paint and linoleum. It is composed of zinc sulphide and barium sulphate. The proposal is to impose a specific duty of £3 5s. a ton, as an alternative to the existing duty of 20 per cent. ad valorem. The United Kingdom production of this material is in the hands of three firms, the principal two of which are located in Lancashire. The whole industry has developed appreciably since the introduction of tariffs, like many other industries which have been subjected to this beneficial process, and a substantial export trade has been built up.
§ Captain Wallace
I will deal with that in a moment. The Import Duties Advisory Committee have told us in the White Paper that it is possible that in due course an international agreement will be concluded between the chief European producers and that, in that event, the duty might be reduced.
I now come to the last, and I think the most important, Order, which proposes to impose a duty on machine-made carpets. The general rate of duty on carpets is 20 per cent. ad valorem, and in 1933 a specific duty of 9d. per square yard was imposed, in order to help British producers to secure a greater share of the 1617 market in cheap carpets, and, in particular, of cheap stair carpets. The present Order applies to wool, cotton, hair or jute carpets, which were previously subject to 20 per cent. ad valorem or 9d. per square yard, whichever was the greater. The minimum specific duty is now increased from 9d. to 1s. [Interruption.] I think the House will realise that it would be simpler for us to make our own speeches. The object of the Order is to give the British manufacturer further protection against imports of cheap Wilton stair carpets, and the effect will be that the consumer who buys foreign stair carpet will pay another 1½d. per linear yard of 18-inch material.
The specific duty of 9d., which we are going to increase to 1s., was imposed in February, 1933, and, with the assistance of this duty, production expanded substantially, until, by the end of 1936, British manufacturers of cheap stair carpeting were supplying about one-third of the market. Since then prices of raw materials have risen considerably. I imagine that nobody who has listened to the Debates on the larger question of world economic recovery will regret that some of these raw materials have returned higher prices to the producers; but, in face of this rise in the cost of raw materials, the British manufacturers advanced the price of their carpets, and they then found themselves being undercut by cheap imports from the Continent. The prices of Continental carpets have risen to some extent, but the rise is not so great as that of the cost of raw materials to British manufacturers. Imports have risen very heavily in volume. Imports of Brussels and Wilton carpets, for instance, rose from 1,280,000 square yards in 1936 to 1,628,000 square yards in 1937, the latter figure being double the volume of imports in 1933, when the specific duty of 9d. per square yard was imposed. In these circumstances, I do not think that the House will be surprised that the Import Duties Advisory Committee reached the conclusion that British manufacturers who had entered this section of the industry and had put down modern plant should be given further protection.
The main purpose of the Order is to give further protection to British manufacturers of cheap woollen stair carpets, but it would be impracticable to single out such carpets for separate treatment. For 1618 one thing, stair carpets cannot always be distinguished from other carpets in lengths; for another, carpets are sometimes made of mixed material, and it would not be possible for Customs officers to distinguish between carpets of wool and part wool. Moreover, the general considerations leading to the necessity of an increase in the specific duty on stair carpet apply also, though not, perhaps, in the same degree, to other kinds of cheap carpet. Therefore, the new duty applies to all forms of cheap carpet. These are more or less competitive one with another and the new duty does not affect carpets prices at 5s. a square yard or over. The need for adequate protection in the carpet industry has recently become very acute, because there has been a sharp rise in unemployment in the industry. It is estimated that last July 30,000 people were employed in the industry in this country and that last month that number had fallen to 25,000, while the percentage of persons registered as unemployed in the industry has risen from 4.3 per cent. in June, 1937, to 22.7 per cent. last month.
The Order is concerned, as I have said, with carpets at the cheap end of the trade. During part of 1936, the United Kingdom output was sold at bare cost of production. Now that additional protection has been given, I hope the industry will be able to resume working at a small profit, because I am not one of those who believe that any industry can go on for long working without profit. I apologise for the time during which I have had to address the House. It has been extended, perhaps, by questions, and I shall listen with respectful interest to the comments of other hon. Members on these four Orders, and I shall do my best, if the House will give me leave, to reply to specific points. I might, in order to curtail some of the proceedings, warn the right hon. Gentleman opposite that I do not intend to be drawn into a discussion as to the functions of the Import Duties Advisory Committee.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
There is one thing on which I congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and that is on bringing these Orders at a reasonable hour. I feel that every time that these new taxes are introduced our attention is called to the total 1619 failure of the Government to make any response to the international efforts to free international trade from tariff barriers. Whether it is the League of Nations, some proposal by Mr. Cordell Hull, the World Economic Conference, or M. van Zeeland's report, everybody agrees that something should be done to get rid of tariff barriers, and the only reply is another spate of these little Orders, proposed. by the secret tariff advisory committee, and sponsored by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. With an ordinary tax you have six opportunities of cross-examining the Government. On these Orders the only way is by asking questions, and appearing, perhaps, discourteous by interjecting questions during the speeches of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in order that we may get information. The steady decline in the authority of the House of Commons over finance is not finished yet. I suppose we shall see the day when the rate of Income Tax or the National Defence Contribution will be decided by some committee and the House will be asked to raise a duty in the middle of the night by a simple resolution. From the days when Mr. Gibson Bowles protested against the collection of a duty by the Customs 10 days in advance of the passage of the Finance Bill, there has been a long decline in the control of the House of Commons over financial procedure.
These Orders are in direct conflict with the view of everybody who is trying to set the world right economically. What is the reason that these Orders are introduced and that the Government pursue this policy? The reason is perfectly simple. The Government are in the hands of vested interests who will not permit them to make a reduction which would affect their profit-making capacity. At every turn, whether it is an American trade treaty or not, when the Government, usually the Foreign Office, seem to be considering these matters, a warning note comes from somebody on the back benches and out comes the Order. These Orders, some of which are, incidentally, made in respect of imports from M. van Zeeland's own country, indicate that as far as the van Zeeland report, or any other report is concerned, nothing whatever is to be done. The control of the manufacturers over the tariffs of this country, as illustrated in these Orders, 1620 was never better put than by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence when, attending a trade function, he said:The association has shown great public spirit and has consented to the admission of such foreign machines as are necessary to rearmament.One of the greatest Ministers in the Government is compelled to go and make servile speeches to manufacturers' associations thanking them for permitting machinery to be introduced into this country which he describes as being necessary for rearmament. On these four Duties we are entitled to ask the Minister—we must not blame the Civil Service—from what source has information been secured? When people come along and ask for favours in the way of tariffs, are we not entitled to ask in turn from others connected with the industry what conditions prevail in the industry? When a specific railway company comes here and wants to extend its line and the Government are asked to grant a private Bill permitting the company to take more powers than it has ordinarily got, what happens? If the workers in the industry are not satisfied, they oppose the private Bill—we hear it every day at a quarter-to-three in this House—and then, behind the scenes, adjustment is made and pressure of Parliament is brought to bear upon the company which is requiring public favour, to put its house in order. If that is proper in the case of a railway Bill, why should not the committee make some inquiries as to the condition of the workers in these industries which are going to get a favour at the expense of the consumers, and usually the poorest consumers of all? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said something to-night which, I hope, will be made widely known. He said that he had never yet heard that the acceptance of a tariff by an industry laid upon it any responsibility in reference to the conditions.
§ Captain Wallace
I said that the acceptance of the tariff did not make any special responsibility and did not, in fact, differentiate between the responsibility of a tariff-protected industry and the responsibility of other industries under the bargaining system of employers and employed in this country.
§ Mr. Benn
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman puts it very gracefully. An industry comes along and asks for a tariff. 1621 For what purpose? In order to make more profits at the expense of the consumer. Is not the committee or the right hon. and gallant Gentleman bound to ask, "Are you paying fair wages and providing decent conditions in the industry?" The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he was not aware that such an industry has any special responsibility of this kind. Working people are not asked to join in this tariff exploitation in the hope of sharing the booty. They will not share in it, and that is clear from what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say how many firms have made application for the duty on carpets? Has a mass of firms come forward and asked for a duty on cheap carpets? I do not know whether he can at once give the information from his voluminous sources.
§ Mr. Benn
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that he is depriving us of the opportunity we ought to have, on taxation matters, of getting information? We shall have to ask the question again on the carpet order, if we have not had a reply in the meantime. Our case is that, if the State is to take responsibility, through the Advisory Committee, of granting favours at the expense of the consumer, then it should also be responsible for the state of the industry itself. That view receives support from one of the reports of the Advisory Committee. In the matter of iron and steel, they said:The State cannot divest itself of responsibility as to the conduct of the protected industry so far-reaching in its character.Therefore, the very point that I am making, and which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman repudiates, that the demand for a tariff lays upon the industry some obligation in respect of its workpeople, has been admitted in one of the reports made by the Advisory Committee itself. There are one or two other small points that I wish to make in these general remarks, and then an hon. Friend has a special point to raise about the duty. It is necessary that the Government should tell us what this specific duty amounts to ad valorem. When we raise the question of the American trade treaty 1622 and ask, what are you going to do to secure something which will be of the highest political advantage, namely, good commercial understanding we are always told to look at their rate of duty compared with our rate of duty, and we get the usual pressure from the back benches opposite that nothing should be done. In all these duties there is the common feature that the ad valorem duty is the one which lies more heavily on the cheaper type of article. It is the fact in the case of lithopone. The specific duty amounts to far more than the ad valorem duty, but because the specific duty is stated at so much per ton that fact is concealed.
I suppose, in the case of carpets, which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said was 5s. a yard, there is nothing in the duty. People who live in small houses cannot afford to pay 5s. a yard more for carpet. In a small council house because of this particular duty a young bride will have to pay an additional amount on her carpets. Altogether she will be paying about 15s. in taxes to carpet the little stairway that leads from the parlour to the bedroom, and something like £1 to carpet the small room which is allowed under the Government's housing provisions.
Further remarks must be reserved and will more properly come on the individual duty. It is obvious that we must get some of the information that we require. We must have information about the wages paid in these industries. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman really must tell us whether the wages and conditions are satisfactory. Take the case of celluloid dolls. He spoke as though this was a vast industry. I am told that it is a small industry. He says that two applications were made, but I was told that only one manufacturer had applied. Who are employed in the industry? Are they girls? What wages do they receive? Is there are guarantee that they must be decently paid? The lithopone duty carries certain characteristics of its own and questions upon it had better be reserved until that particular Order is reached. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will take advantage of every opportunity which this very limited and restricted form of Debate provides in order to give us some of the information for which we are asking in these questions.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
I would like to support almost everything which the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) has said. We join with him in thanking the Government for the one favour of giving the House an opportunity of a Debate on these duties at an hour when we can carry on the discussion. These duties become more and more important, and, on the whole, more and more objectionable. When these duties were imposed in 1932 with a great flourish of trumpets, the one thing that was held out to us was that they were imposed with a view to bringing tariffs down. As year after year goes by we find no general move made in that direction, and when there are negotiations from which one might hope for results of the highest political importance, all the interests put their heads together to press that their particular part of the industrial field should be unaffected by the reduction. We get, month after month, a steady trickle of increased duties without, as the right hon. Gentleman has so rightly said, the introduction of any sort or sense of responsibility on the part of the industrialists who receive these favours that they will give the wages or conditions that they should give.
The difficulty under which we labour is, that in these recommendations the most slender reasons are given for the increases. We are told in respect of one that raw materials have increased in price, but we are not told by how much and what proportion the cost of raw material bears to other costs. We are in the position of having to ask our questions at the very end. We receive the information, and we are compelled immediately to vote without being put into a position to make any use at all of our arguments. It puts us in very considerable difficulties. These duties coming at this time, seem to be even more objectionable than any that have been before the House previously. Are we not at this moment considering the van Zeeland report, which, right in the forefront, declares that import duties, at any rate, ought not to be raised, and yet, while it is being considered, we are actually, in two of these Orders, increasing duties against M. van Zeeland's own country, without, I think, having heard any evidence from the Minister that there has been any reduction in British production 1624 of these things. Would it be too much to ask the Minister, so as to assist us, that, in moving the later Orders, he should, before we speak, give us the figures for the years from whatever date the duty was imposed of British production and of British exports of the articles upon which we are asked to impose a duty. If he can give us that information in moving the remaining Orders, it would put us in a better position to see whether any case is made out. If there has not been a heavy falling off in exports, then, at this time, with the van Zeeland report pending, it would have been advisable to postpone the application of these duties, at any rate until the Government and other governments have made up their minds on that report.
There are rather peculiar circumstances attaching to the particular import duty on celluloid dolls which is now before the House. In the ordinary way this is a duty on a cheaper priced article which is used among the poorer members of the community which, one would think, would encourage those instincts of maternity which is the object of another part of the Government's policy to promote. Attention has been drawn to the fact that foreigners by the sale of these articles in this country acquire purchasing power which they can use only in order to purchase British goods, and, therefore, give employment to those engaged in our export trade. In this particular case, when we are informed that the nation concerned is Japan, we are bound to notice that the purchases which Japan desires to make in this country are armaments. Although perhaps an academic case might be made out in favour of demanding a boycott of Japanese goods and at the same time voting against a tariff on Japanese goods, yet, looking at the matter as practical men, it seems to us on these benches to be inconsistent to demand the complete boycott of Japanese goods and at the same time vote against a particular tariff on certain Japanese goods. For that special reason, without in any way sacrificing one word or line of our case, we shall not vote against this duty, although we hope to be able to vote against all the rest.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Wise
I was extraordinarily interested in the description which the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) 1625 gave of his party as practical men. His description of practicality seemed to cloak political dishonesty so unreasonably as to be almost astonishing. He said that all their sacred principles of Free Trade are to go in one particular case because goods come from a certain country. I hope he realises the inconsistency of the attitude, which, presumably, is taken up by hon. Members above the Gangway, who want to support an anti-Japanese boycott by reducing the duties on Japanese goods. He must realise the argument that might be used on the hustings.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member is mistaken. We take every means of reducing Japanese exchange, and we are not proposing to divide on this Order for that reason. I would point out that when a docker will not handle Japanese goods he is called a Communist, but when a trader wants an import duty in order to make extra percentage on those goods, he is called a patriot.
§ Mr. Wise
The right hon. Member has made it clear that in the case of his party no case of principle is involved on this question of duty. It is purely an ad hoc consideration of any specific duty. In other words, the doctrine of Free Trade has been abandoned by the Labour party, and the country will be delighted to hear it. I should like to deal with several points that were made by the right hon. Gentleman. He complained very bitterly of the procedure adopted in regard to these import duty Orders, and said that we might expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer coming along to announce that the rate of Income Tax or of the National Defence Contribution had been fixed behind the scenes by a Treasury committee and that this House would have no power to discuss it. Has he ever read one of the text books of his party: "The First Worker's Government," with a preface by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who is now received into favour on the benches opposite, where exactly that principle is laid down as the only possible procedure under which Socialist finance could be got through the House of Commons. Either the party opposite must approve of this procedure, or alternatively abandon the idea of Socialism in our time.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The hon. Member must not forget that it is one thing for a 1626 member of the community to write a book, but the Government were the people who were creating the precedent referred to in the book.
§ Mr. Wise
It is one of the text books of the party opposite, written by one of the brightest of their intelligentsia, a man to whom, I am sure, they look up as one of their prophets. I should like to take up one further point made by the right hon. Gentleman. He spoke of the strong objection that the House had to the procedure of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. He knows the procedure of the committee perfectly well. It was laid down in a Resolution of the House when the committee was set up. The procedure is perfectly simple. Every opportunity is given to any affected purchaser to represent his case to the committee, and every single increase applied for by a manufacturer has to be justified by long and careful inquiry.
§ Mr. Wise
The consumers of the goods are the people who have to purchase them for sale. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO! "] Certainly. The price which they can charge to the public is entirely dependent upon public demand and on what the public would pay for their article. Their margin of profit does not depend on what they think they ought to get from the purchaser for a celluloid doll, but what the British public think a celluloid doll is worth. That is one of the most simple standards of value that we know in this country.
The attempt of the right hon. Gentleman to link up tariff procedure with wages agreements in industry was most astonishing. Three of the industries concerned in these Orders are under the jurisdiction of trade boards. With regard to the lithopone industry, I am not certain how the wages regulations are enforced, but I should imagine that this particular article is produced by Imperial Chemical Industries, in which case there is trade union representation to the firm. If the industries under the trade boards are sweated, it is the fault of the representatives of the workers for not putting their case properly, and it is time that hon. Members opposite represented to their party, which professes to represent 1627 the interests of the workers, that they should be properly represented. A trade board affords an opportunity of inquiry into wage conditions.
There is no excuse for linking up the tariff system and agreements on wages. The living wage rate does not depend on the price for which you can sell your goods. The criterion should be, on what can the workmen live? The question of a tariff is the question whether you can sell your goods at a profit or not. The arguments on the two subjects ought to be kept separate. It would be a most dangerous precedent if we linked the two together. If we connect wages rates with tariffs we shall find, as we have found in connection with other Measures discussed by the House, an insistent demand by the workmen for higher and higher tariffs, just as we have had an insistent demand by the coalowners for higher and higher prices for coal.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
As this discussion has ranged over the four Orders, I should like to say a few words on the Order dealing with carpets. I recently put forward the case of the difficulties of certain industries, especially the jute industry, and the carpet industry which is so closely linked with it. I pointed out that not only wool carpets, but particularly jute carpets, had been going through very difficult times because the duty that was imposed on imported carpets was not sufficient to meet the rise in the cost of our raw materials. I am sorry that my hon. Friend who shares with me the representation of Dundee (Mr. Foot) is not in his place, because he could perhaps have assured hon. Members opposite better than I can of the difficulties experienced by that trade in Dundee before the original duty was put on. He and I know that the influx of goods from the Continent, carpets, particularly jute carpets, made it impossible for us to carry on. The duty did help the industry, but difficulties have occurred again lately and an application has been made to the Import Duties Advisory Committee.
I do not think that hon. and right hon. Members opposite have really considered the procedure of the committee if they think that it is not possible for objections to be raised. The fact is widely advertised when an application has been made 1628 for a duty, and objections have beep made in many cases. The right hon. Member opposite spoke of the price of carpets. He mentioned the difficulty that anyone would have in carpeting a staircase or a room, and he mentioned certain figures. I do not know whether this is the right place in which to sell goods from one's own constituency, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that even when this duty has been imposed if he will come to me for assistance I shall be able to show him where good and cheaper carpets can be obtained.
§ 8.12 p.m.
Mr. Creech Jones
I want to address myself to the first Order, which I oppose on a number of grounds, some of which have already been stated. We have had little information as to why this Order is before the House. We are entitled to know who made the application, the nature of the application, the volume of production concerned, the capital involved, the extent of imports of these particular goods, the fluctuations in the business to justify the application, the profits now being made, the capitalisation of the firms and the effects of competition. All these considerations are relevant to these particular articles. Without this information it is very difficult for the House to form a judgment on the matter. I suppose it is the attitude of the Front Bench opposite to assume that they have merely to ask for an Order and, without vouchsafing information, they can get the Order through because of their majority. The House is entitled to more information in regard to this question of celluloid dolls and rattles.
As to the procedure of the committee, I would point out that it seldom happens that parties other than the firms concerned are heard before the Advisory Committee. It would be stupid for us to imagine that before a decision has been arrived at all sides of the question have been gone into with great care by the committee. What are the conditions operating in this celluloid toy industry? What number of people are employed and what are their working conditions? I put the point because reference has been made to the operation of trade boards. The mere fact that a trade board operates in an industry is no real answer that the working conditions are of a substantially good standard. It should be remembered 1629 that in determining wages and conditions under trade boards consideration has to be given to the least efficient firms concerned. Obviously trade boards cannot fix wages and determine conditions which will drive out of industry even the firms which are the least efficiently organised.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Is not that just the reason why this tariff would help this trade? There would be more chance of selling the goods and therefore the trade board could see that fair wages were paid.
Mr. Creech Jones
The interruption is not relevant. I am replying to a statement that we must assume that in an industry under a trade board the conditions are good, and I am pointing out that merely because a trade board operates it does not necessarily mean that conditions are of a satisfactory standard, because too often the conditions and wage rates are determined with regard to the least efficient firm operating, and that to keep these firms in the business a rate is fixed which they can pay. I put the point that we are entitled to know, so far as the first Order is concerned, not only the number of people employed and the conditions and hours of work but also that any gain coming from any efficiency as a result of the operation of protection passes to the workers concerned. I submit that the workers case has not been considered by the committee at all.
I am not opposing this Order on the ground of the necessity of freer trade. I take the view that the policy which the Government have pursued of economic nationalism is not in the long run beneficial to the trade and commerce of the country, but rather operates in the reverse direction. It is obvious in the distressed areas, in shipping and transport, that economic nationalism is detrimental to the best interests of the country. Nor am I opposing it on the ground that the whole tendency of tariffs is to drive up the cost of living. That can be debated at another time, but I submit that in this case you are trying to create what is an entirely artificial and uneconomic industry which can never support itself unless it is protected behind tariff walls. I gather that there is no reason why this industry should be fostered for any national purpose; no national end is being served. It is pointed out in the White Paper that:Following the introduction of the tariff, the production of celluloid dolls was com- 1630 menced in this country and considerable sums were expended on the necessary plant.But that was not sufficient and a further tariff was necessary—They were, however, faced with low priced competition from a fresh source, and notwithstanding successive efforts to cheapen production, the home manufacturers have been forced, particularly in the case of the cheap medium-sized doll, to reduce their prices to the wholesaler to uneconomic levels in order to retain a foothold in the trade. Attempts to secure trade by the production of novelty lines have met with a limited success, but such goods are speedily imitated by the foreign manufacturer.The more these manufacturers squeal the more helpful to them the Government become. This again is another example of the magnificence, the dignity and the self-sufficiency of capitalist industry. It survives because the State is there to bolster it up, and the reason for the maintenance of this indutry as given in the White Paper, is that it should have "a fair share of the trade so that a reasonable margin of profit shall be available to the manufacturers." It has been said that the duty will help to keep out Japanese goods. I did not know until the present moment that the Government favoured anything like a Japanese boycott. If they do, let them be frank about it and we shall be able to shape our course accordingly. I suggest that quite apart from the question of keeping out Japanese goods there is another serious aspect so far as celluloid is concerned. Here you have the Government trying to establish a new business in the country, one which I submit ought not to be encouraged. At the moment when the Home Office Departmental Committee is inquiring as to the suitability of this trade, we are asked by this Order to provide fresh facilities in order that the industry shall establish itself behind a tariff wall.
I confess that when I saw the Order I was amazed, after all the propaganda that has gone on during the last year or so, the campaign in "children's magazine," against the manufacture and sale in this country of toys made with celluloid. Just when the Home Office is going into this matter, when the whole question is in suspense, we are asked to pass an Order which is deliberately designed to increase the production of these particular articles. We are told that there is a large demand in the children's toy trade for the cheaper kind of dolls and rattles made with celluloid and in the White Paper it says: 1631We are satisfied that a further measure of protection, especially in regard to the cheap and medium qualities of these goods, is required to enable the industry to secure and maintain a fair share of the trade at prices which would yield a reasonable margin of profit.I ask the House to note the words "to secure and maintain" a fair share of this trade just at a moment when the Home Office may be making a recommendation that the trade should be suppressed. The purpose for maintaining this dangerous trade is that a reasonable margin of profit shall be available to a limited number of manufacturers. What is the hurry? Why at this particular moment should we be asked to pass this Order? Let me remind the House of what has actually happened during the last year or two by allowing children to have these toys in their hands. Let me refer by way of illustration to a few tragic cases which in the last few months have been brought to the notice of hon. Members, of accidents arising to children being allowed to play with celluloid toys. On 16th January, 1937,Valerie Jones died in Bootle General Hospital from burns caused by a celluloid rattle.On 13th February, 1937, I read:The latest tragedy of a celluloid doll is the death of little Doris May Spencer of Battersea. She had just passed her first birthday and had been given a doll to play with. Her mother found her with her doll on fire, and Doris was burnt to death. The coroner said he hoped the regulations for the sale of celluloid dolls will be tightened.On 24th July, 1937, a cigarette spark falling on a celluloid rattle set fire to a perambulator at Peterborough, a baby escaping with a badly burned elbow.On 25th September, 1937, little two-year-old Phyllis Reynolds, of Centre Street, Bolton, was badly scalded owing to fat spluttering from a pan on the fire, and setting fire to a celluloid doll she was nursing. The doll blazed up so fiercely that not only was the little one's leg burned and her face scorched, but the hearthrug was set blazing. Happily the mother was close by and able to summon aid in time.On 1st January, 1938, Ann Wise, 14 months old, was playing in front of the fire with her celluloid doll when the doll burst into flames, and the child paid for her toy with her life. In the same week, a child was playing with a celluloid toy in a house in Half Moon Street, Piccadilly, when the toy caught fire and within ten minutes flames had shot up from the basement and were half way across the street. Forty firemen were soon on the scene, and the fire was put out without loss of life.1632On 8th January, a baby throwing a celluloid toy on the fire brought the fire brigade to a house at Smethwick, near Birmingham, and the fire was put out. In the same week, a patient at Whittingham Mental Hospital, near Preston, was discovered burnt to death in a linen room, clutching a celluloid doll which was partly burned.I submit that we ought not to pass an Order which will allow this industry to entrench itself behind a tariff wall. By passing this Order, we should virtually give this industry a new lease of life. That is the purpose stated in the White Paper. I submit that not only ought we not to give these manufacturers the protection of a tariff, but that we ought to abolish the trade altogether, and to prevent this particular sort of toy from being available to children. On these grounds, I oppose the Order, and I hope that the Government will think again before asking the House to endorse it.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Captain Wallace
In replying to the points that have been raised on these Orders, I would like, in the first place, to address myself to the speech made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones). I am sure that all hon. Members heard with sympathy and regret the tragic incidents which he read to us, but the point I wish to make—and it was only my extreme reluctance to interrupt on a point or Order which induced me not to make it earlier—is that the question of whether or not the use of celluloid toys and dolls should be prohibited in this country has nothing to do with the Order. If the Order were not passed, all that would happen would be that there would be a flood of foreign toys. There would be no sense in inflicting damage, possibly beyond repair, on the English industry if these toys were not prevented from coming into the country. There is no difference between a child being burnt by a foreign doll or by an English one. For that reason, I respectfully suggest to the hon. Member that his point has nothing to do with the Order.
§ Mr. Creech Jones
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at the White Paper, he will see that it says deliberately 1633 that the purpose of the order is to maintain and secure the industry in this country. It is stated that as previous tariffs have not been sufficient, a further tariff is to be imposed to make the industry safe.
§ Captain Wallace
I do not think the hon. Member has appreciated that the Order is being made for the purpose of enabling the British industry to supply a larger portion of the total demand for celluloid dolls, but that it will neither increase nor diminish that total demand. The object is to divert some of the demand from imports of cheap foreign dolls to manufacture in this country and to give this comparatively infant industry, in every sense of the word, a better chance.
§ Mr. Creech Jones
Is it not a fact that, should the Home Office come to the conclusion that this trade ought to be restricted, its task will be all the more difficult if, in the meantime, the industry has been strengthened and allowed to entrench itself behind a tariff?
§ Captain Wallace
I do not accept that view. The Home Office departmental committee is inquiring into the question of whether certain goods are dangerous to the infant population. If the departmental committee comes to the conclusion that that is the case, I am certain that neither this Government, nor any Government of hon. Members opposite, will allow itself to be deflected from accepting the report of the committee by considerations of whether the industry is a home industry or whether it is principally a question of imports. With regard to the celluloid doll industry, I understand that about 150 workers are employed in it, and that they come under a trade board, and receive the wages which that board has laid down. I regret that it is not possible for me to give the figures of exports and production in the case of these dolls or in the case of rattles, and the reason I cannot do so is that the figures that have been given to the Import Duties Advisory Committee are confidential.
Before proceeding further, I will deal with a rather more general question which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman, that is to say, the accusation that the inquiries on which Orders are based are some kind of secret, hole-in-the-corner business in which people who might have an interest in opposing the Orders do not 1634 get a chance to be represented. There is a very simple answer to that accusation. Every application that is made to the committee, either by a single firm or a group of firms, or, as in the case of carpets, by the federation of the industry, is advertised. Not only are representations from people who are likely to be opposed to the Order admissible, but they are indeed, where possible, invited and sought. As I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House are well aware, the Imports Duties Advisory Committee exist to get at the truth. They do not have a bias with regard either to putting on or taking off tariffs. Every care is taken to see that the committee arrive at a correct appreciation of the situation. In the case of carpets, the importing interests were given a copy of the applicant's case, and were asked what objections they had. I do not think it is the slightest exaggeration to say that the Import Duties Advisory Committee, ever since they have been functioning, have, to use a Foreign Office phrase, left no stone unturned and no avenue unexplored in order to secure representations from people who think they may be adversely affected. After all, the Import Duties Advisory Committee have pride in their work, just as the Board of Trade have. If they proceeded to make a large number of these recommendations which subsequently turned out to have been made on the basis of insufficient information, or to have been attended with disastrous results to the trade and industry of this country, the odium would come back to them.
§ Captain Wallace
With great respect to the hon. Lady, I say that has not been the case. I was asked as to the incidence on average values of the specific duties proposed in these Orders. The specific duty of dolls varies according to size and quality, but it would not be unfair to describe it as between 50 per cent. and 70 per cent. The specific duty on lithopone represents an average of 25 per cent. The duty on weft pile velvets varies between 30 per cent. and 100 per cent., and, of course, it is Japanese velveteen which would come under the 100 per cent. On carpets, the duty is approximately 30 per cent.
I wish once again to make clear the position of the Government on this question of wages. I am certain that the right 1635 hon. Gentleman opposite did not wish to misrepresent me; anyone who has known him for long in this House would not think that for a moment. But it must be said that it is just as much the duty of employers in industries which are not at any particular moment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) said, enjoying the advantages of the tariff as of any other employers to give good wages and decent conditions. It is as much their duty to make agreements with the trade unions, which exist in large numbers in this country and which, as a glance at the benches opposite will reveal, are extremely well represented.
§ Captain Wallace
Without being able to speak otherwise that indirectly for the Import Duties Advisory Committee think the answer is certainly in the affirmative. I cannot imagine that a responsible body like that committee would fail to take those matters into consideration.
§ Captain Wallace
There are many ways and means of getting it. At the Board of Trade and at the Ministry of Labour there is a great deal of information, and the Import Duties Committee does not hesitate to come down on Government Departments which can supply them with that information.
§ Mr. Creech Jones
Do we understand that the right hon. and gallant Member will give instructions to the committee or will let it be known to the committee that, in future, when they are considering these Orders, inquiry should be made into the wages and conditions of employment in the industries concerned?
§ Captain Wallace
If I started to give instructions to the committee as to their procedure I should be told, no doubt politely but very firmly, exactly where the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade got off in this matter.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I understand that the House has already laid them down, and I do not see that this is an occasion on which the House can discuss conditions which were made on the appointment of this committee.
§ Mr. Benn
I fancy that a reference to the Act will show that discretion was left to the committee in this matter but I submit that no such thing can exist—that you cannot leave a discretion of this kind to civil servants, and that the responsibility must be borne by the Minister who is bound to answer us, when we ask whether these things are proper or not.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that when the House gave the Import Duties Committee the right to use its discretion the House has done with the matter, and must leave the committee to exercise that discretion.
§ Mr. T. Williams
While the House has given definite powers to the committee, surely the maximum that the committee can do is to make a recommendation to the Treasury. From that moment responsibility must fall upon the Treasury for bringing the Order before the House or otherwise. The duty imposed on the committee is concluded once its recommendations is made to the Treasury, and when the Order is brought before the House it becomes the duty of the Minister in charge to answer to the House for the terms and conditions and propriety of the Order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member's statement of the position may be absolutely correct from beginning to end, but I do not see that it in any way conflicts with the Ruling that I have given on the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn).
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is another matter. The Minister is responsible for the Order, but not for the actions of the Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have not the least doubt what the Minister's answer to that question would be, but that is different from asking the Minister to give instructions to the Committee.
§ Captain Wallace
Of course the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has put the matter in the correct light and he has completely "stymied" his more experienced right hon. Friend. The Government, and my right hon. Friend and I, accept responsibility for these Orders, and if we were not satisfied that they had been made after considering all relevant factors, including wages and conditions, we would not take the responsibility of bringing them forward. But as Mr. Deputy-Speaker has pointed out, in a Ruling which was almost a rebuke to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, it is not the business of the Board of Trade to tell the Import Duties Committee how they are to carry out the statutory duty laid upon them by this House.
I was also asked about the production and exports of lithopone. The production in 1933 was 30,000 tons, and the latest census figure which we have got, for 1935, is 38,000 tons. The exports were 1,700 tons in 1931. That figure went up to 4,200 tons in 1933, and was 7,800 tons last year, so that, in this case, the position of the export trade is very satisfactory. There may be other detailed questions which I have overlooked. I have done my best to make a note of the information which hon. Members require, and if any hon. Member is not satisfied that he has had full information on the points raised by him, I shall be only too glad to supply it. I hope that after this somewhat long Debate the House will be ready to come to decision on the Orders.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I do not propose to detain the House unnecessarily, but there 1638 are at least two things which ought to be said about these Orders. My hon. Friends have deprecated the action of the Government in producing at this moment an Order to establish an industry concerning the dangerous nature of which a prima facie case has been established. It has been shown that loss of life has been caused in several cases. It may be that the industry has been very urgent and persistent in seeking for a tariff in order to secure a margin of profit, but that scarcely seems a proposal for the Government to support, considering that the trade is regarded as a dangerous one and may be suppressed to-morrow morning. At least they could have withheld this Order until a report had been submitted by the Home Office Departmental Committee, and then, if the report was negative, they could have produced the Order. Therefore we shall not vote against that particular Order, because we do not want it said that we are campaigning against Japan and voting in favour of Japan.
With regard to the question of wages, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said he could not imagine the Tariff Advisory Committee recommending an Order unless they had made adequate investigations into the wages and conditions of the employes. Can he tell us whether he is satisfied that the wages and conditions operating in the various industries referred to in these four Orders are what he thinks they ought to be? I happen to know a huge motor firm in this country which has secured heavy duties against imported motor cars, but which would not have a trade unionist working on the job. No trade unionist need apply, when they had 10, 20, and even 30 per cent. duties against imported articles of a character similar to those which they were making. What guarantee can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman have that the wages paid by that firm, heavily protected, were reasonable and fair? He has no guarantee at all. We are not entitled to question him about the motor car or any other industry except those referred to in the four Orders, but before these Orders were produced to the House, did he himself, the Board of Trade, or the Treasury satisfy themselves that the working conditions in these various industries were reasonable and consistent with what this House thinks they ought to be? Surely we are entitled to have an answer to that very simple question.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Captain Wallace
This is a point of major importance. I do not in the least mind the hon. Member raising it—in fact, I am glad he has—but I think we must be certain what we mean by such a question as, "Is the Board of Trade satisfied that the wages are what I think they ought to be?"
§ Captain Wallace
The answer is perfectly simple. It has never been suggested in any quarter that the procedure of the Import Duties Advisory Committee in granting these Orders should be used, in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the early part of his speech, as a case for hanging something else on. What the Board of Trade have to be satisfied on is that the wages and conditions in these trades, to which these Orders seek to give in this instance only a specific duty instead of an ad valorem duty, are reasonable compared with the general standard of comparative trades in the country. I want to be perfectly frank and to say that he must not go away thinking that, because an industry is, in the view of the committee and the Board of Trade, entitled to get a minimum specific duty against low priced imports, there is a case for giving the workers in that industry a standard of wages and conditions superior to those in comparable industries in the country which are not getting those Orders. I think we understand each other quite well, but I wanted to make it absolutely clear.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Kelly
I know, but that interpretation is to be put upon it easily, that no matter what conditions operate in the case of those working in these factories, this House must concern itself with the profits and the balance-sheet of the company, must help it to make a fortune out of the restriction that is placed upon the trade, but that it must not give one thought to the question whether or not 1640 the workpeople are paid adequately and reasonably, must not hear one word about conditions, about whether these people are working a lengthy week—
§ Captain Wallace
On a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make that speech if he likes, but I trust the House will realise that it is an absolute and complete travesty of everything that I said.
§ Mr. Kelly
I do not intend to say anything that would be a travesty of what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said. He has had some experience, while at the Admiralty, of having to deal with wages, and I suggest to him that in this House we have a right to consider the standard of life of the people. Are these businesses to be conducted merely with the consideration whether some individuals are making profits? Are we to have no other concern than that? That seems to be the mind of His Majesty's Government, but we have to concern ourselves with what is even more important to the country, and that is the life that is led by the workpeople in these industries, and if these industries do not give their workpeople an adequate income, some security in employment, and the conditions of working that ought to obtain, then we have a right to say that we will not help them in the opportunity that they may have for sweating their employés or forcing them to work under bad conditions. That operates with regard to many of the industries that hon. Members opposite have been helping for a considerable time, and I wish they had considered the life of the workpeople of this country, in many occupations in the Midlands, in Scotland, in the North of England, and even in the South, that is supposed to be so prosperous. What were the conditions operating for the men, women, and young people employed in those industries?
This evening we are doing nothing about those conditions. All that we are concerned about is to keep out articles or products made in other countries at a cheap rate. What are the wages paid in those other countries, and what are the conditions under which they are manufactured? Not a word have we heard about that. We are expected to accept all that comes from that Star Chamber that considers some statement made by somebody but that never consults the workpeople. 1641 Many of us who represent these workpeople would be prepared to oppose the operation of these duties even in the industries that we represent. To-night we are asked to give these employers the chance of making greater profits, and we are told that we must not concern ourselves with the conditions of the workpeople engaged in these industries. I hope the House will vote against this method of carrying on industry to the disadvantage of the workpeople.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I want to draw the attention of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the wording of two of these Orders to show the way in which the interests of one section of the industry are considered without the other. In the Order relating to celluloid dolls and rattles, we read:We are satisfied that a further measure of protection, especially in regard to the cheap and medium qualities of these goods, is required to enable the industry to secure and maintain a fair share of the trade at prices which would yield a reasonable margin of profit,that is, to the manufacturers. In the No. 2 Order dealing with carpets, we read:In the result, the home manufacturers are finding it difficult to secure a profitable outlet for their production of carpets of the cheaper types.It is clear that in both these cases the committee in considering these Orders and the Government in adopting them have paid attention to the profits to be made by the manufacturers. We are told that the transactions before the committee are secret and that we must not ask questions about them. There is, at any rate, this disclosure that the committee have given some attention to the question of profits and that the Government have accepted the view of the committee with regard to profits. Do the Government make any inquiry about what are the wages paid before they accept responsibility for promoting an Order? I am not concerned with what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says about wages paid in comparable trades, because one trembles to think of the wages paid in some of the trades that are comparable to the celluloid doll trade. Do the Government assume any responsibility at all for the question of wages? I am surprised to hear the attitude adopted by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, because it is within my recollection that the late Prime Minister, now Lord Baldwin, made 1642 some scathing remarks about the way in which one industry that had been highly protected had failed to recognise that the receipt of a protective duty entailed heavy social responsibilities. Now that Lord Baldwin has gone to another place, one can imagine that the spirit which prayed for peace in our time has departed from the Government and that they are ceasing to take the same amount of interest in the social responsibilities of these people who have secured great advantages in the markets owing to the duties that are imposed from time to time. The hon. Members who sign these Orders are junior Whips. They are the junior Whips who get paid, and are not like the junior Whip who sits on the Front Bench at the moment and has to accept the honour as a sufficient additional emolument for the work he has to do in trying to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is one of his flock, into the Lobby in support of protective Orders.
§ Mr. Ede
I was drawing attention to the fact that two of the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury have to sign these Orders before they can be submitted to the House, and one would like to know what steps they take, and what qualifications they have for taking them, to ascertain that they are Orders which ought to be submitted to the House. Are the Orders submitted to them and do they simply sign on the dotted line, or do they take some steps to ascertain whether the particulars reported upon are such that the Orders should be granted? Is either of these hon. Members who are Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury charged with the duty of ascertaining what wages are paid in the industry that is seeking protection? It is evident from the fact that different names appear on the different Orders that these hon. Members find the duties somewhat heavy and have to share them lest any two Lords Commissioners should break down under the strain.
The House is entitled to know, before hon. Members who draw additional salaries because of the duties they have to perform sign these Orders, what particular steps they take to satisfy themselves that the Committee were right in submitting the Order for their signature. 1643 I shrewdly suspect that in the intervals of finding where the Government Members are hiding themselves instead of being in the House to listen to the eloquence of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, they merely sign on the dotted line as soon as the Order is submitted to them. In view of the serious issue raised to-night, and the fact that, while in certain cases the Orders mention profit, they in no case mention wages, we ought to be assured that some steps are taken by those Members who recommend the Orders to us to make sure that social justice has been done in promoting them.
That the Additional Import Duties (No. 11) Order, 1937, dated the twenty-ninth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, made by the Treasury under the Import Duties Act, 1932, a copy of which was presented to this House on the first day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, be approved.