HL Deb 14 July 1903 vol 125 cc558-60

I rise to ask my noble friend the President of the Council the Question of which I have given notice, namely:—"Whether the Board of Trade have had occasion to consider to what extent the excess of the country's imports over its exports is accounted for by the amount earned by British shipping, insurance, agency commissions, and profits, not included in the valuation of our exports, and by the interest on foreign investments owned in the United Kingdom, and whether, if the Board of Trade have made any such estimate, he will state the figures to the House." My noble friend promised to give me an answer to a Question I asked him the other day with reference to the time the information collected by the Government about fiscal matters would be placed before us.


It is the fact that recently, and also I believe upon former occasions, the Board of Trade have had occasion to consider how the payments are made which balance the excess of our imports over our exports; and all the elements which are enumerated in my noble friend's Question no doubt account for that excess. My noble friend has accurately stated the items in respect of which payment is received which make up the difference between the value of the imports and the value of the exports. It is, however, extremely difficult to state what are the actual amounts that are received in respect of each of those payments. What those amounts are must be a matter rather of speculation, which cannot be verified altogether by any statistics which exist. The Board of Trade have, in fact, no greatly superior means of arriving at positive conclusions on this subject than are in the possession of any skilled economist or statistician. My noble friend asks me to state what are the figures which have been arrived at by the Board of Trade; but I think it would be undesirable that I should attempt to do so without at the same time putting the House in possession of data upon which those conclusions have been arrived at and those figures have been estimated. It is doubtful whether any statement of such a nature resting on speculative rather than on positive data ought to be presented to Parliament on the authority of a Department of the Government But I am in communication with the Board of Trade with the view of considering whether the information which my noble friend has asked for can be given in such a form as to prevent any misconception as to its authority, and the responsibility of the Board in regard to it. My noble friend asked me the other day the probable date when the information the Government is collecting will be in the hands of Members, and I think he specially asked whether it would be available before the month of October, when it has been promised, or rather threatened, that the discussion of this question is to commence. A large amount of information has already been collected, but much of it requires some revision and co-ordination. I am able, however, to inform my noble friend that a considerable part of it will certainly be laid on the Table of this House before the end of the session, and much of it, I hope, at a still earlier date.


May I make one suggestion to my noble friend? It is whether, while he refers to the Board of Trade the question as to shipping and agency commissions, he should not consult the Treasury and the Inland Revenue with reference to the interest on foreign investments, which seems to me to fall more within their scope than the scope of the Board of Trade; or perhaps both Departments might consult together. I know, from my own connection with the Exchequer, that such investigations are occasionally made at the Treasury. I think I gathered from the noble Duke that, while he is not able to day to give figures which account for the excess of our imports over our exports, he accepted the general position that the items which are enumerated in my Question do account together for that excess.


I think there is no doubt in the opinion of the authorities of the Board of Trade, who have examined the question, that the excess is accounted for by the payments which are enumerated in my noble friend's Question. I am under the impression that the Treasury have already been consulted in preparing this information; but, of course, before any Papers are laid on the Table of the House, both Departments will be consulted as to the information which they are able to give.

The subject then dropped.