§ Brought from the Commons, endorsed with the Certificate from the Speaker that1594
§ position towards the law as a whole, and I am glad that the course taken by my noble friend in this matter has enabled me to define my attitude towards the subsection.
§ On Question, Whether the subsection shall stand part of the clause?—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 18; Not-Contents, 32.1593
|Salisbury, M.(L. Privy Seal.)||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Clinton, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Cochrane of Cults, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Younger of Leckie, V.||Erskine, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Arnold, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L. [Teller.]|
|Eldon, E.||Bledisloe, L.||Olivier, L.|
|Wavertree, L. [Teller.]|
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Harris, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.)||Carson, L.||Jessel, L.|
|Charnwood, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Muskerry, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Birkenhead, E.||Danesfort, L. [Teller.]||Parmoor, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Darling, L. [Teller.]||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Oxford and Asquith, E.||Desborough, L.|
|Russell, E.||Emmott, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Shandon, L.|
|Westmeath, E.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Stanmore, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, I will try to confine myself to explaining as concisely and shortly as possible the provisions contained in it and the reasons which led His Majesty's Government to ask Parliament to pass these provisions into law. The three industries which are concerned with this Bill are the cutlery industry, the leather and fabric glove industry, and the manufacture of gas mantles. Broadly speaking, the object of the Bill is to safe guard industries in our country from un fair competition from abroad by imposing Duties on goods of those descriptions imported from foreign countries and thereby to stimulate employment and trade in those industries instead of allowing them to be snowed under, as would very likely be the case if nothing was done at all.
One of the effects of the War was to create a condition in Europe which, by 1595 the depreciation of exchanges and the depression of wages and labour conditions in other countries, placed our British manufacturers at a disastrous disadvantage with their foreign competitors, at any rate temporarily. The most obvious and the worst cause of this unfair competition was the depreciation in the currencies of a number of European States. Until those currencies are stabilised and their internal value falls relatively to the same extent as their external value as expressed in British sterling, it is obvious that this depreciation must operate as a bounty on goods imported from these countries into our own country, which, I should like to remind your Lordships, has, at the cost of very great sacrifices indeed, maintained a state of financial stability.
In order to safeguard British industries against such conditions the Safeguarding of Industries Act, 1921, was passed by the Coalition Government. Part II of that Act provided that if after full inquiry in any particular industry it was established that employment in that industry was being seriously and deleteriously affected owing to imports of goods from abroad at a price so low that our own manufacturers were unable to compete with them—if that condition was established, then a 33⅓ per cent. Duty could be imposed on that class of imported goods. Under that Act Duties were imposed on a number of articles, but the provisions lapsed in August, 1924.
Now may I dwell for a moment on the General Election of that year? At the time of that Election the Leader of the Conservative Party gave an undertaking that if that Party was returned to power no scheme of general Protection would be introduced during the lifetime of the present Parliament. At the same time, he specifically reserved for himself and for the Party the right to renew and extend the policy initiated by the Coalition Government in 1921 to safeguard British industries from unfair competition from abroad. In accordance with this undertaking a certain definite procedure was laid down according to a White Paper to deal with this state of affairs. Any industry which complained of unfair foreign competition had, first of all, to make out a prima facie case to the Board of Trade, and in the 1596 second place, if that case was made out, the claim had to be referred to a full and public inquiry by an entirely impartial Committee.
The Committee had to report on five points:—(1), Whether the industry is one of substantial importance; (2), whether foreign goods of the class to which the application relates are being imported into this country in abnormal quantities; (3), whether these goods are being sold at prices below those at which similar goods can be profitably manufactured here; (4) whether, owing to this competition, employment in the manufacture of the goods in this country is being, or is likely to be, seriously affected; (5), whether the exceptional competition comes largely from countries where the conditions are so different, either on account of currency depreciation, of subsidies or bounties or of inferior conditions of labour, from those in this country as to render the competition unfair. In addition to this the Committee had to consider if the particular industry, in this country was being carried on with reasonable efficiency and with reasonable economy. They had also to take into consideration whether a Duty of this kind, if imposed, would have an adverse effect on employment in other industries which made use of the goods in question in their own production.
I said at the beginning that the three industries that are concerned with this Bill are the cutlery industry, the leather and fabric gloves industry, and the manufacture of gas mantles. A complete and exhaustive inquiry has been held into the situation in respect of these three industries, and a full Report has been issued. With regard to the first two industries, the cutlery industry and the leather and fabric glove industry, the Committee found that the necessary conditions had been fully satisfied in every way, and that a Duty was essential to safeguard those old and substantial industries. They found also that the conditions in those industries were due to unfair foreign competition owing to depreciated currencies and inferior conditions of labour in those countries from which the goods are imported. The countries that are most closely concerned in respect of these two imports are Germany, France, Italy and Czecho-Slovakia. 1597 The actual Duty which it is proposed to impose in this case is one of 33⅓ per cent.
Now I come to gas mantles. The case for a Duty on gas mantles rests on somewhat different grounds to those for a Duty in the other two cases. The Committee did not find that the necessary conditions had been established fully in every respect, but they found that the manufacture of gas mantles was highly important from a national point of view for this reason, that their manufacture provides a commercial outlet fur certain chemical products that are essential to us in time of war for defensive purposes. Obviously, if the manufacture of gas mantles were to cease, these chemical products might no longer be produced, and we should find ourselves, in the very unfortunate event of another war, entirely unprepared in respect of these particular chemical products. The Committee considered this point so important that they decided to recommend that a Duty should be imposed. There is a perfectly good precedent for such a Duty in Part I of the Safeguarding of Industries Act of 1921, which made it possible to safeguard what are called "key" industries for defensive purposes. The Duty in the case of gas mantles is one of 6s. per gross and in the case of gas mantles as well as the other two industries to which I have referred, the Duty is to remain in force for five years.
These Duties will operate not only against those countries from which these goods are mainly imported, and where the unfair conditions referred to exist, but they will operate against imports from all sources. The reason for this is that we have Commercial Treaties with a large number of countries, including Germany now, by which we give to those countries most-favoured-nation terms, and it is very undesirable that we should commit any breach of the principle on which our commercial policy has been based for a very long time. Therefore it is necessary that these Duties should be imposed without any discrimination upon goods emanating from all countries.
This is a very short Bill, and I do not think I need say anything else to explain its provisions. I only ask to be allowed to say this in conclusion. I dare say that there will be very strenuous opposition expressed to these proposals by a number of members of 1598 your Lordships' House. I venture very humbly to suggest that the opposition to these proposals will be based rather on theoretical than on practical arguments. I do feel very strongly that at a critical time such as this, when we are faced with an unprecedented trade depression and with more than a million unemployed still in our country, we cannot lay too much store by theories, and I contend that we must look at this question from the point of view of pure expediency as to what it is best to do at the moment. It is because His Majesty's Government are convinced that these Duties will have the effect of stimulating trade and employment in the industries concerned, without having any adverse effect outside, that they are asking Parliament to pass these proposals into law. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Plymouth.)
§ THE EARL OF OXFORD AND ASQUITH
My Lords, the Bill the Second Reading of which has just been moved by the noble Earl is a measure which is beyond the constitutional competence of your Lordships' House either to reject or amend. It is in the strictest sense of the term, although it has a title foisted upon it which seems to conceal the fact, a finance Bill, the postscript and supplement of the Budget of the year. It is a Bill which is primarily and ostensibly to raise additional revenue by the imposition of new Duties, but no one, however, is simple enough to suppose that that is its real purpose. What revenue is going to be derived from this Bill? I have not seen—perhaps the Government may be able to supply us—any estimate of what these new Duties are likely to produce in the current year or any subsequent financial year. At any rate, whatever the figure may be, in these days of colossal accounting it will be one of practical insignificance.
The Bill, as the noble Earl has told you, deals with three trades and three trades only, all of them, to put it in the mildest language, of secondary importance and I observe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer assures us that they are the only survivors out of some twenty-four of those harassed trades which have gone before the new Departmental Star Chamber to try and make out a case 1599 for preferential treatment at the expense of the consumer and taxpayer of this country. Let me remind your Lordships, or if you are not aware of it let me inform you, what the imports with which this Bill deals really amount to. There are three trades—cutlery, gloves and gas mantles—and the net imports for 1924 were: of cutlery, about £370,000; of gloves, £2,300,000; and of gas mantles, £160,000; a total of £2,800,000. You can call it, if you like, £3,000,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that they amount to one three-hundredth part only of the import trade of the country. Whether that was the boast of an old Free Trader or the apology of the budding Protectionist I do not profess to determine, but it was a slight understatement of the real facts. In point of fact, the total imports of this country in the year to which I have referred, 1924, were over £11,000,000,000 and therefore it would be more accurate to say that it deals with only one four-hundredth part of the total imports of the country. I have seen it estimated—I will not make myself responsible for the calculation—that if the whole of these trades, amounting roundly to about £3,000,000 a year, were transferred to British producers, the extra employment it would give would be to some 7,000 persons and that is without regarding the damage and dislocation that would result from the process of change.
I confess that when I examine these few attenuated survivors of the process of examination which has been going on, strong, convinced and impenitent Free Trader as I am, I cannot view with the alarm which I should feel, or I am afraid denounce with the robustness which I hope would not be found wanting, if I were confronted with a real and serious menace to our system of Free Trade. But while that is perfectly true, it would be a great mistake to treat these proposals with the levity which the actual insignificance of their scope and magnitude would seem to invite. Everybody knows that the large majority of those who support this legislation do so, not upon the merits of this comparatively small industry but because they regard this little bantling, for such it is, as the pioneer and precursor of what they regard as bigger and better things. This, in their mind, is the instal- 1600 ment, a meagre and pitiful instalment of the tariff on which their hearts are set, and it is that fact, notorious, patent and indisputable, which accounts both for the eagerness of the support and the tenacity of the opposition which these proposals, trumpery in themselves, have aroused.
I shall not go into the question whether what is called a scientific tariff is or is not possible, but I can hardly conceive a tariff more unscientifically constructed than is presented to us in this measure. There is no logic in the selection of these trades. The noble Earl has admitted that the Duties which are to be imposed when this Bill passes into law are Duties which are to affect imports not only from countries where there is a depreciated exchange, or where there are what we are accustomed to regard as backward and unfair conditions of labour, but that they will affect imports from countries like the United States of America, where there is no depreciation of the exchange and where the conditions of labour, both as regards hours and wages, are probably superior to those in any other country in the world. It is all very well to take refuge in the obligations or privileges of the Commercial Treaties, but in point of fact, if this legislation passes into law. and still more if it is extended to its logical developments, you will be imposing an embargo on imports of goods from countries in which none of the conditions which are the pretext for this legislation exist, or are ever likely to exist, to the damage of the British consumer and at the cost of the British taxpayer.
Meantime, so far as this instalment of Protection is concerned and having regard to the tragic figures of our unemployment, it will have practically little or no influence on employment. And in addition—I am speaking of the selection of these particular industries—you have here, especially in the case of the cutlery trade, an illustration of how, when you are taxing what you call imported manufactures, you are really taxing incidentally and consequentially the raw materials and the instruments of other industries. For instance, under the cutlery provisions, you are taxing knives. That would apply to the scythes of farmers—so I am told—and certainly to the instruments of shoemakers, farriers and scores of other classes of workers. Really, in its results, it is a tax upon raw 1601 material, or at any rate upon necessary processes of other industries. That is the price you are going to pay for the relatively trivial assistance which you are rendering to relatively unimportant trades.
The fact is that the more the matter is examined the more you will see (1), that this legislation and the legislation of which this is avowedly intended to be the forerunner is detrimental to the consumer in the higher prices that he will have to pay; (2), that it is more than doubtful—I myself think that it is almost certainly the contrary—whether it will lead to any substantial increase either in the output of produce or in the employment of labour in our own domestic industries; and (3), that it is as certain as anything can be that it is calculated to stereotype—I believe the cutlery trade would be a very good exampk—outworn and imperfect processes instead of stimulating invention and effort.
There was a remarkable document which I read in the newspaper only this morning, a memorandum signed by a very large number of practical business men—not politicians—engaged in the leading industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire. I will read two short passages from it, because they seem to me to be unanswerable. First of all they say thatthe effect of duties must be to raise prices, and that this will not only raise the cost of living when it, is already too high, but will also add to the cost of articles which it is essential for us to sell abroad in competition with world prices.They say further:Nor can the total volume of unemployment be diminished by keeping out these foreign goods; the hest that can be done in this way is the redistribution of employment; and that the petitioners consider undesirable, seeing that the movement will be to create employment in trades uneconomically carried on here, and to decrease employment in the largest export trades, which have proved themselves the most economical in this country.That I believe to be a perfectly temperate and moderate statement of facts which cannot be controverted, and it comes from a number of practical men actually engaged in business, both in the domestic trade and in the export trade of this country, men whose judgment is surely entitled to consideration.
The noble Earl was good enough to anticipate that the arguments which would he used against this measure would 1602 be of a theoretical and not of a practical character. These are not theorists. These are men who are conversant with business, and every consideration that I have endeavoured to lay before, your Lordships is based, not upon any abstract theory, not upon what may be called the academic advantages and disadvantages of Protection and Free Trade, but upon the existing economic conditions of this country and of the rest of the world. I see that one of the most distinguished orators in the Party opposite, who does not agree with the policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter, said the other day that it would be not only injurious to the country but ruinous to the Conservative Party—an interesting collocation of ideas and also an interesting graduation of values. To some people it would he enough that it was injurious to the country, but apparently it is also going to be ruinous to the Conservative Party. He tells his friends that they have twice already been plunged into electoral disaster through dallying with Protection.
The Conservative Party is quite capable of looking after itself, and I am not going to be guilty of the intrusion or impertinence of trespassing upon that problematical, though tempting, field of speculation. The warnings of Cassandra, as you know, were unheeded by the Trojans, and Troy fell. I do not know whether the noble Lord from whom I have quoted is endowed not only with the gloomy temperament, but with the inspired vision of that unfortunate lady. Time alone will show that. But whatever may be the effect of legislation of this kind upon the fortunes of this Party or that, which, after all, it; a matter which ought not at any rate to be decisive of our judgment in such questions, there can be no doubt that from the point of view of far the majority of its supporters this is really, if I may use the expression, a pinch of incense thrown upon the altar at which they are debarred by their electoral pledges from worshipping, for the moment at any rate, with full sacrificial rites.
I can see no justification of any sort or kind for legislation of this nature under the existing conditions of our trade, and I wish to add a consideration which, I think, is not sufficiently borne in mind in these discussions but which is not of a 1603 theoretical but of a strictly practical nature, a consideration based upon the international situation. The great need of Europe and, indeed, of the world at this moment in the economic sphere is that there should be the freest possible interchange of commodities and services.
One of the most serious defects, indeed, to my judgment, a capital defect, in the Treaty of Versailles—I do not express this opinion now for the first time—was that, when we had to deal with the super-session of the old despotic Empires of Central Europe, and in particular of Austria-Hungary, and when, quite rightly, we put in their place autonomous free States with powers of self-government and self-development, it destroyed what was the one, or almost the one, redeeming feature of that incongruous collection of States which formed the Austrian and Hungarian Empire—namely, that they were an economic unit without customs barriers—and that it substituted for them, along with the gift of autonomy to these new States, a power which they need never have been given and which they would have been quite glad to do without, the power of establishing trade and customs barriers between one another; and that is at this moment and, if it is allowed to continue, will be for a long time to come one of the chief sources of unrest, of friction and of stunted and mutilated development.
I am glad to say that there is a strong movement in those countries in favour of closer and freer commercial intercourse. I believe the same thing is true of Germany—at any rate it is a growing and hopeful movement—and it is in my opinion a disastrous thing from the point of view of international policy, that at such a moment as that when really the whole prospect of a favourable economic and international development are at stake, this country should have set the example of a retrograde step by raising new harriers where harriers do not at present exist, without any compensating advantage either to the consumers or the producers of this country. It is useless, of course, at this stage and in this place to discuss mere matters of detail. This Bill has been subjected in another place, and most legitimately, to a prolonged scrutiny of its detailed provisions. It comes here and we have to take it as it stands. None the less, so far as I am 1604 concerned and those who think with me, I could not let the opportunity go by without, for the reasons which I have endeavoured I hope at not undue length to submit to your Lordships, entering a strong, although it must be of necessity a wholly unavailing, protest.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, the noble Earl has subjected this Bill to severe criticism. I hope that on behalf of myself and my colleagues on this Bench I may be, allowed to try and add something to what he has said. We also oppose this Bill as strongly as we can. There was a, debate earlier in the year upon these safeguarding proposals. I, indeed, introduced a Motion on the subject in February. I do not propose to go to-day over the ground that I covered then, more particularly as I wish to deal in some detail with the three proposed new Duties. Those are the Duties on cutlery, on gloves and on gas mantles. The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading expressed the view, to which reference was made by Lord Oxford and Asquith, that our objections to this Bill would be mainly theoretical. I will, therefore, endeavour in the course of my observations to provide him with some objections of what I think: I can term a practical character, but also I must crave permission to be allowed to say something which may be judged to be of a theoretical character, because von cannot entirely divorce theory from practice.
At the very outset I should like, with a view to elucidating the position, to get a broad view of what it is that the Government are seeking to do by these safeguarding proposals. The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading spoke of that at some length, but he did not deal with what we are told by the President of the Board of Trade himself is the real genesis of these proposals, and that is the fact that we have in this country between a million and a million and a-quarter of unemployed persons. The President of the Board of Trade has told us that that is the real origin of these proposals. Let me look at that and see what really can be done for the unemployed by these proposals. The fundamental weakness of any such contention lies in the fact that the vast majority of the unemployed are in industries which cannot be helped by tariffs at all. They are in trades which are 1605 wholly or partly manufacturing for export, or else they are in coal mining, ship-building and so forth, that is industries which are not subject to foreign competition. As a matter of fact, if the unemployment returns are analysed it will be found that about three-quarters of the industries of the country not only could nut be helped by tariffs but would be positively injured by them, because their costs of production would be increased. So, looking at the matter as the President of the Board of Trade suggested, he is straight away thrown back upon one-quarter of the unemployed as the potential area of operations.
Then if the White Paper is adhered to, it, will be found that these proposals can only be applied to the imports of fully manufactured goods, and to do the Government justice—it is not often possible, but when it is one likes to do it—-I am bound to say that up to the present time they have not put Duties on anything which cannot be described as a fully-manufactured article. But fully-manufactured articles only comprise about five to ten per cent, of the total Imports of this country. Some of these are specialities which do not compete with our manufactures, and some are manufactures which do not create any unemployment here worth speaking of, and so if the White Paper is to be adhered to you can only apply these proposals to a minute percentage of our imports. Therefore I say, whatever else the members of the Government may put forward in favour of the proposals, they cannot urge that they can be regarded as an adequate policy for dealing with unemployment. If I come down to the actual facts—to the test of figures—it will be found that even in the trades which have been given Duties in the last year or two unemployment has not been helped. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that in those trades unemployment is greater to-day than it was before the Duties were put on. It may be that possibly in regard to lace there has been some negligible reduction by this time, although the latest figures which I have seen show none.
Even if there had been considerable reduction in unemployment in these trades to which Duties have been given, that result can only have been achieved at the expense of some other trade. Here 1606 we come to the theory, I suppose. Nevertheless, it has a practical application. I affirm that you cannot by putting on tariffs increase the total amount of employment in the country. Protectionists seek to reduce the imports of foreign manufactured goods. The Government seek to reduce those imports, but what they never will recognise, although it has been told them 10,000 times, is the elementary fact that if you reduce imports you thereby, to that extent, reduce exports. Therefore you do not by tariffs increase the total amount of trade in the. country. Supposing the expectations of the President of the Board of Trade are realised, supposing the imports of cutlery or of gloves are reduced because of this Bill; that result will only be achieved by hitting some other trade. It is not always possible to say which trade will be hit, but some trade will be hit, because its exports will be reduced. Its exports will be reduced because imports will not be coming; in to the same extent as formerly. I think I have finished with theory and I come to the practical points, but I trust that what I have said is, despite the observations of the noble Earl, not without its modest usefulness in this discussion. I think I have made it clear that we on this Bench do not cling to Free Trade as to some effete and outworn creed. We do not oppose Protection out of sheer obstinacy, but because we believe that both theory and practice have proved, and will prove, that Protection, especially for a country like our own, would be a bad thing.
Before I come to the three Duties, I must say a word about the rules in the White Paper, and about the gross way in which they have been violated. It is laid down that these Duties must only apply to industries of substantial importance. The President of the Board of Trade, I understand, has ruled that an industry employing 5,000 persons is one of substantial importance. Again, it is laid down that a Committee must satisfy itself that foreign goods of the class in question are being imported in abnormal quantities; in fact, the President of the Board of Trade said that the imports must be unprecedented. But what happened in the case of lace? Lace was given a Duty in the Finance Bill of this summer. By no kind of argument could you say that the imports of lace were 1607 abnormal; and when he was faced with that dilemma the President wriggled himself free by saying: "Well, we must not take these things too rigidly," or words to that effect. As a matter of fact, literally the rule was being fundamentally broken.
Take another point, the difficulties which must arise if one of the instructions of these Committees is really carried out, the instruction which lays it down that competition is not to be deemed unfair unless it arises from inferior conditions of labour in the competing country as compared with the labour conditions here. If that is to be one of the tests it would, of course, be a reason for imposing Duties against practically every other country except the United States. And also it would be a reason why the United States should impose still higher Duties against us. If this rule is to be carried out to its logical conclusion then, I suppose, we must not only expect, but we must urge, that, particularly if our imports are increasing, the United States must put up higher Duties against us—against, for instance, our cotton goods. The position of the Government, in short, is quite untenable.
I know that the noble and learned Earl (Lord Birkenhead) who, I understand, is going to reply, may ask, as he has asked before: Does not the United States, and do not other countries, impose tariffs against us? He seems to think that that almost settles the matter. Our reply to that is: Yes, they do impose tariffs against us, but that is no reason why we should do the same, because our contention is that it would be better for them to be Free Trade countries like ourselves. Moreover, we have never said that the fiscal system of a country is everything in estimating its prosperity. Of course it is not; it is very important, but it is not everything; and, as regards the United States, that country has prospered in spite of Protection, not because of Protection. It has prospered because of its almost unlimited wealth and resources, and its great territory, and, I may remark, inside that vast territory there is Free Trade.
To come back to these rules, they have, of course, been grossly violated, and it is quite time that this White Paper was torn up. It is merely a "scrap of 1608 paper"; it has no significance now. Let it be torn up, and then there will be an end of the farce that it has any kind of significance in this matter, because it has really no practical importance at all. If it does not suit the Government they disregard it. But one of the dangers of the situation undoubtedly is—and the noble Earl hinted at this—that because the White Paper is disregarded, and because pledges are being broken, we never know how far this policy of the Government may be carried; we never know what mischief may be done next. That really is the reason why I think we are quite justified, especially upon a Second Reading debate, to do here what was done in another place, and that is to have the review which I have given of the general question of Free Trade and Protection. But I have now finished that and I come to the practical points.
The first Duty that I will take is that on cutlery. I will not say that the case for the cutlery Duties is the weakest of the three, because each of these cases in its own way is singularly vulnerable; but I will say that the cutlery Duties in a marked degree fail to stand the test of analysis and criticism. The cutlery Duties will undoubtedly injure the consumers much more than they will help the manufacturers. There can be no question about that. As a matter of fact, very little will be done by this Bill to help the Sheffield trade. Speaking broadly, these Duties give protection which will not be effective, or else they give protection where it is not needed. Let me take a concrete example—scissors coining from Germany; I mean scissors of the bazaar type, the very cheap type. A considerable proportion of the imports of cutlery into this country are of this very cheap type, which we do not make. After all, our reputation and our prosperity as a great manufacturing nation have not been built up by making the cheapest articles but by making articles of a high class. There are some German scissors which are produced in Germany at a price Of about 8d. per pair. I understand—and I do not think it will be disputed—that it has been estimated that if we produced those scissors here in this country they would cost about 3s. a pair. What does the Government expect is going to happen?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Will the noble Lord tell me that that is going seriously to increase the cost to the consumer?
§ LORD ARNOLD
I am coming to that point. I say that scissors cost at present about 8d. to import into this country, and the Duty may be expected to increase their cost to somewhere about 11d Therefore the consumer will be hit to that extent.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble and learned Earl has evidently not followed what I have been saying. I am not suggesting for a moment that in future when a woman goes to a shop to buy these scissors and finds that she has to pay 11d. instead of 8d. for them, she 1611 say: "Oh, I will not buy those, I would rather have them for 3s." But apparently the Government does suggest that; if not, what are they suggesting? The point is that these Duties will not be of the smallest benefit to the British manufacturer under the present conditions. That is the point I wish the Government to meet and they have not met it. The noble and learned Earl has evidently not read the debates in another place.
§ LORD ARNOLD
Then I should be very glad to hear the reply, because no reply was made in another place. It is perfectly clear that this protection in this case is not effective at all. Let me come to safety razors. A very large proportion of the safety razors coming into this country—some people put it as high as 90 per cent, but I should think it is certainly between 75 per cent. and 90 per cent.—comes from the United States. That is to say they come from a country where labour conditions are better than here, as the noble Earl pointed out. Therefore they ought not to be included 1610 at all according to the White Paper. If they are excluded the case as regards abnormal imports falls to the ground and so the Government must put them in. That is the kind of morass in which the Government is constantly floundering under these rules and regulations.
Further, American safety razors are sold here at a price which in most cases—I do not say in all cases—is higher than the price of tee British safety razor. Therefore they are not really competing, generally speaking, with our safety razors. They are not under-cutting our safety razors, which is another reason why they should not be included, having regard to the White Paper. I believe there is practically no unemployment at all, practically none at any rate at the present time, in the British safety razor industry. There is unemployment, I agree, in the ordinary razor industry—in regard to what we call the "naked" razor; but the reason for that is very evident. It is because those razors have so very largely gone out of fashion. They have been superseded by the safety razor. Does the Government think that a change of fashion like that will be altered and put back by putting on a 33⅓ per cent. Duty? Really, the position of the Government is quite unsustainable.
Now I come to a point about which I want t to ask one or two questions because it is illustrative of how unwise it is to begin this policy of tariffs at all. The Gillette Company in America obtains some of its steel from Sheffield. It is steel manufactured under what might be called a special process; I believe that two steel mills in Sheffield are largely engaged in making this special kind of steel for the Gillette Company. I understand also that it is probable that if it were to put itself to the inconvenience and so forth of making the change and were to make the special arrangements that would be necessary, the Gillette Company could probably get the steel somewhat cheaper from Sweden. Very well. Up to the present time that has not happened and the Gillette Company has remained faithful to Sheffield. But in view of this Bill and of the increased price which will have to be charged for Gillette blades and so forth, it may well be that the Gillette Company will have seriously to reconsider its position. It will have to consider whether it must economise somewhere 1611 and it may then come about that it will in future arrange for this special steel to be produced in Sweden. That is the kind of encouraging prospect which this Bill opens out before us. The Government suggest that they are going to help unemployment, but if this happens they are creating unemployment.
I would like to ask the noble and learned Earl two questions about this point. Is it not the fact that the manufacturers in Sheffield, in regard to this steel matter, are seriously concerned about the future because of this Bill? Secondly, is it not the fact that serious and urgent representations have been made about this very point to the Board of Trade within the last few days? The noble Earl who is not at the moment in his place, asked for practical points. I think that is a very practical point. It is a very practical point for these people in Sheffield who do not know what the future may have in store for them owing to this tariff-mongering on the part of the Government. I should like to have an answer to those two very simple questions. The Government know perfectly well what the position is and I hope that the noble and learned Earl will be able to tell us exactly what their view is.
Now I come to the question of gloves, with which I can deal much more briefly. I will not say that the case for gloves is the weakest of the three, though in some respects it is. The case for this Duty on gloves fails entirely when judged by the test of abnormal imports. The proportion of foreign gloves imported into this country for home consumption is less to-day than it was before the War; so where are your abnormal imports? How is it possible for the Government to contend that anything can be sustained along that line of argument? It is true that there is depression in the glove trade, but that depression is confined almost entirely to the export trade. The export trade in gloves has fallen, I am sorry to say, to about one-sixth of what it was before the War, and I am afraid that this is due, at any rate in part, to a certain lack of energy and enterprise on the part of certain firms. But in any case I fail entirely to understand how the export trade in gloves is going to be helped by the imposition of Import Duties on gloves. Of course it cannot be 1612 helped; it will be hindered, just as the Duties on lace have been a hindrance. That export trade has almost been wiped out owing to the folly of the Duty which was imposed by the Finance Bill in July of this year.
As I say, the proportion of gloves now imported is smaller than it was before the War, and with regard to the home market, I can prove that our manufacturers are not losing their hold upon the home market. The number of gloves produced for home consumption is only very slightly below what it was in 1913, and the small difference is more than accounted for by the difference in the general loss of purchasing power on the part of the people owing to the War. There is no truth in the contention that this Duty will help unemployment, not the slightest. What will happen will be that the price mostly of the cheaper gloves coming into the country will be increased. The consumer, chiefly the small and poor consumer, will be hit and some people may have to go without gloves at all.
Coming now to gas mantles, in some cases this is the most astonishing proposal. The noble Earl briefly dealt with what happened. The Committee which investigated this trade came to the conclusion that they could not honestly recommend a Duty for gas mantles. Nevertheless, they did recommend a Duty on gas mantles, not for the sake of gas mantles but for the sake of certain chemical products which are ancillary to the gas mantle trade. Those are cerium and thorium. The case which is put forward and upon which the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill just touched, is that these products or by-products are necessary for our safety in time of war and, therefore, in order to ensure that there is a supply of those materials, it is essential that a Duty should be placed upon gas mantles.
That is the case which is made out in support of this Duty. I do not dogmatise upon this point; I am asking for information; but according to my information it is not the by-products of cerium and thorium upon which the Government or the military and naval authorities depend in time of war nearly so much as upon the by-products of radium. I should very much like to know whether this matter has been submitted to the Committee of Imperial Defence and whether 1613 they agree that a Duty on gas mantles mast be imposed for the sake of getting the by-products of cerium and thorium. I should also like to ask this question and, perhaps, the noble and learned Earl will be good enough to reply to it. Is it not the fact in regard to these products of cerium and thorium, that the Board of Trade has itself changed its mind, at any rate once, during the last few years?
I do not believe for a moment that it is in the least degree necessary, from the point of view of national safety, to put this Duty upon gas mantles. What will happen will be what will happen in the case of gloves. Gas mantles will cost more. That will hit mostly the poor consumer, because they are mostly bought by poor people. So much for these three Duties. The noble Earl who spoke last said that they were the survivors out of twenty-four, and the very fact that thus early in its Protectionist career the Government has sanctioned these Duties and is going to give them legislative effect, proves, I think, that they may be regarded as three of the strongest cases which could be put forward. If these are three of the strongest cases that could be put forward for Protection, then the case for Protection is much weaker than even its strongest opponents could have thought possible.
Before I sit down I wish to say a word or two about a matter that arose in the course of debates in another place—that is, about the report which the Labour Party issued three or four months ago dealing with the problem of sweated goods. The President of the Board of Trade seemed to think that because of this report he could claim members of the Labour Party as supporters of this safeguarding policy. Nothing could be more untrue. That report of the Labour Party had not the remotest relation to a Bill like that which is now before your Lordships. The Labour Party report sought to put forward a policy to deal with an admitted evil. What is that evil? It is that in certain countries a small number of goods are, most unhappily, being produced under conditions which are simply appalling, and which, at any rate in some instances, outrage the conscience. This really is a moral problem much more than a fiscal problem. It is a problem which from time to time has occupied the minds of men in all 1614 three Parties, with the object of seeing whether something could not be done to level up these terrible labour conditions where they exist. The Labour Party holds that the problem can only be effectively dealt with by international action, and the report recommends such action.
But it is very important to know something of what is meant by sweated goods in the Labour Party report. It is a very complicated matter, and I am not going to weary your Lordships with any extracts, but, put shortly, it comes to this, that the Labour Party aims ultimately at the adoption, speaking broadly, of the definition of sweated goods that is to be found in the Treaty of Versailles—that is, goods produced under a standard of wages lower than those which are recognised in the customary conditions of the country in question, and not merely goods produced under labour conditions that are inferior to those of Great Britain. Your Lordships will at once perceive that there is a very important qualification there.
The Labour Party in its report is dealing with goods of the kind which I have indicated, and it suggests that action should be taken against goods produced under those conditions if other countries will agree to take similar action at the same time. It is anticipated—this is a well grounded expectation—that if this could be done, if international agreement could be come to, then the very threat of action, the threat of boycott, would be sufficient in nearly every case to stop the production of these goods under these terrible conditions. That at any rate is a meritorious intention. I say again this is much more a moral problem than a fiscal problem. The report of the Labour Party was not really unfavourably commented upon by such organs of Free Trade orthodoxy as the Free Trader, the Liberal Magazine and the Economist. I think it was recognised at any rate as an honest attempt to put forward a policy that was worth consideration, and it is really quite absurd, as has been done, and as the President of the Board of Trade seemed to suggest in another place, to think that this report could lead to a widespread prohibition of imports into this country. Nothing of the sort could possibly happen under it.
1615 I may say, so far as the principle is concerned, that there is no new principle whatever involved in this report. The import of certain things into this country is now, and has for a long time been, prohibited. The report of the Labour Party suggests that in certain cases—and they could only be few—international action against sweated goods might be taken by agreement, and it is hoped that in that way something would be done to pat down the production of goods under conditions which really are not worthy of our common humanity. It is confidently expected that the threat of such action would in most cases be sufficient. So far as I know no alternative policy has ever been put forward. If there is one let us have it. These are the Labour Party's proposals, put forward in good faith for consideration, and I myself hope that something may come of them.
I have, in the course of my speech, urged various considerations, both theoretical and practical, against these safeguarding proposals, and I would fain express the hope that some reply will be given to these various points. I am more hopeful that that may be done because the noble and learned Earl (the Earl of Birkenhead) is himself, I understand, going to reply. When these safeguarding proposals were considered in your Lordships House last February, I am bound to say that no adequate reply was made from the Government Bench to the points put forward from this side of the House, and it has been a matter of comment in the Press, not merely the Press of the Parties opposed to the Government, that no real answer has been given in another place to the criticisms of this Bill. If that is going to happen here again to-day, if it is to be the experience that again there is to be no real answer, then I think we can only conclude that the Government are obliged to let their case go by default, and that they do not defend it because it cannot be defended.
The truth is these proposals are fundamentally dishonest. They will not help unemployment, and it is by no means certain that they will help employment in individual trades. They will certainly not help the export trade which it ought to be the first duty of the Government to try to resuscitate, for under their régime it has come to a parlous and 1616 indeed an alarming condition, partly clue to their gold standard policy. These safeguarding proposals will not help in these respects. On the other hand, what they will do is this. They will arouse expectations which will not be fulfilled. They will lead to a flood of applications for Duties from other trades which, in view of the gross violation of the rules and instructions of the White Paper in the past, it win be extremely difficult for the Government to resist. They will tend to encourage inefficiency in industry; they will, without doubt, hit the consumer, and especially the poor consumer; and, finally, they will introduce a new disturbing and incalculable factor into the delicate and complicated mechanism of our overseas trade.
I will, if I may, conclude on precisely the same note as the noble Earl who spoke before me. We know very well on this side of the House that nothing we can say or do here will stop this Bill passing. We know that all that lies in our power is to register our strong protest and our uncompromising opposition. Speaking for myself, and my colleagues on this Bench, that I have tried to do. I trust that I have given reasons for our attitude, and, having done that, I say to the Government: Pass the Bill, put it on the Statute Book, but the day will come when you will agree with us, and the country will agree with us, as to the folly of these proposals, but by that time very considerable harm may have been done.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, before I attempt any reply to the brief and breezy speech to which the House has just listened I might place on record my assent to one point with which both the noble Lord and the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, have dealt. It is that your Lordships are completely powerless to deal with this matter in any useful way. You could, if you enjoy listening to speeches like those which have been delivered by the noble Lords, have gone to the Oxford Union and listened to these speeches in that historic assembly, perhaps with the excuse that there was some educational advantage to be gained. But let us recognise, and the noble Earl is entitled to claim all the credit that may attach to the fact, that in existing circumstances the moment Mr Speaker certifies a Bill as a Money 1617 Bill then your Lordships are bankrupt of power. We may acquiesce in the result, but I think we hardly deserve to be almost taunted with it by noble Lords who have addressed you.
They come here and make long and ambitious speeches utterly incapable of affecting any decision of any kind at all, speeches which in the existing constitutional circumstances I wonder they think it worth their while to make. Was it that they wished to exhibit their cleverness? Was it that they wished to make plain their economic consistency? Was it in the hope of conferring some educational advantage on your Lordships? I grope about in order to discover what can be the motives which led the two noble Lords to the intellectual exercise which is necessary for the preparation of speeches which were obviously not spontaneous and the delivery of which occupied a considerable part of your Lordships' time.
The noble Earl, and indeed the noble Lord as well, appeared to be in two minds in regard to these proposals. He could not make up his mind either to say that the proposals were so important that ruin threatened the consumers or whether to ride the other horse and say that they were paltry, that they were such a whiff of incense that nobody but a maniac would ever waste a moment's Parliamentary time in introducing such proposals. Really the noble Lords must make up their minds which horse they will ride. Either the impositions are so important that they should be resisted, no of course in this House because that is impassible, but elsewhere, or else they are so profoundly unimportant that it is really hardly worth while our spending half an hour upon them and in that ease they do not make the slightest difference to she consumer. Neither noble Lord affected that discrimination.
I can only make it plain and say that if our proposals are so injurious as they have contended, if the noble Lord is right—and I think he was on much safer ground when he prophetically dealt with the future—that we shall be found out, that it will be found how wrong, how foolish and how short-sighted they are, then consider the enormous electioneering advantage with which we have gratuitously armed the noble Lords. Consider how we shall help to restore the con- 1618 flicting forces of the Liberal Party in the country. It will be no longer necessary to establish complete harmony in dealing with the land. They can rather realise the old strategic principles and positions. They will be able to say: See what has happened to the cutlery of Sheffield! See what has happened to gloves! See what has happened to the gas mantles of the poor! We have presented them gratuitously with that campaign, and we have done it on the strictest lines of constitutional correctitude.
In his speech the noble Lord traversed much the same ground as the noble Earl, but I really must be allowed to say that although I have not the pleasure of knowing the noble Lord intimately, I judge him to be a man of modest character and demeanour. But it is his misfortune, whenever he rises to attempt to illuminate any debate which is remotely concerned with the subject of Free Trade, that he adopts an air of superiority and arrogant intellectual superiority which I for one find almost intolerably offensive. To listen to the noble Lord you would think he was the only man in the House who had any brains; the only man who had the slightest comprehension of business. I have listened to many debates in which many Free Trade speakers have generally distributed this same kind of atmosphere, but I have never heard a speech in which any of them has been guilty of the effrontery which the noble Lord has exhibited to-night.
I am not aware that he has established any great ascendancy in any business community in any country in the world, yet he comes forward and tells your. Lordships and the American nation also that they would have been far better off if they had never had a tariff at all. How does the noble Lord know? What evidence has he given that he would have ever made ten dollars in Wall Street? The American nation with all its superiority in natural resources and in the artistic arrangement of tariffs is to be told by a Free Trade theorist that if only they had adopted his Free Trade policy they would have been far stronger and far richer than they are to-day. Can the arrogance of a Free Trade pedant go further than that? Having said that in the case of the United States their pro- 1619 sperity is explained by reason of the fact that they have immense natural resources, and after pointing out that their currency is higher than ours, the noble Lord says that you cannot draw any general conclusions from the circumstances of the United States. Then he is confronted with cases of countries whose currency has been completely deflated and whose natural resources are not superior but inferior to ours and he makes no attempt to consider the case at the other end of the scale.
And consider the mental attitude, the muddled process of thought, disclosed by the observations he made on the subject of gloves. He says, when you deal with gloves let us note with pleasure that we have maintained our home market; it is monstrous to say that this is a case in which we have been injured by foreign importations; it is true we have lost above five-sixths of our import trade in gloves, but inasmuch as we have kept our own market it is absurd we should attempt this kind of artificial protection. Has it never occurred to the noble Lord that we are placing ourselves at a somewhat absurd disadvantage when we are dealing with other nations who make gloves by allowing them not only their own untaxed market but our untaxed market as well, and at the same time that we allow them our untaxed market we must pay a tariff, which is practically exclusive, when we deal with them? It does not seem to have occurred to economists like the noble Lord that the nation which can manufacture cheapest must be that which has the entrance to the largest untaxed markets that the country which has the largest untaxed market is. ex hypothesi, that which is free, and that the largest untaxed market, owing to the folly with which we have regulated our fiscal arrangements, is our own market: and that, perhaps, may be the explanation of some of the difficulties in the glove trade to which, let me assure the noble Lord, those who make gloves in this country are very much more alive than he is.
When the noble Lord asks me the further question whether representations have been made in the last few days from Sheffield displaying anxiety in relation to the cutlery proposals, I am very happy to give the noble Lord the information which he desires. I am told that two 1620 firms in Sheffield recently made representations, mostly of an interrogative character, to the Board of Trade, disclosing no real grounds of apprehension, and, if it is any satisfaction to the noble Lord, I can tell him that the result of the inquiries before the Committee and of the information at the disposal of the Board of Trade is such as to make it perfectly plain that the cutlery trade of Sheffield, taken as a whole, warmly supports the Board of Trade and the Government in these proposals. The noble Lord will, no doubt, in his own mind and in due perspective, see what allowance ought to be made for the fact that two firms, one of whom was obviously giving the noble Lord information, have made these representations in the course of the last few days.
The noble Lord also asked me to deal with another point. He said that there was apprehension that the makers of these Gillette safety blades might be driven, under the stress of these new Duties, to carry their orders for steel to a foreign country, and the noble Lord, who was very interrogative so far as I was concerned, will perhaps allow me to ask him a question. Has the Gillette Company authorised him to express this apprehension on its behalf? I gather that it has not. The noble Lord is an essayist in private life, if I am not mistaken, and here he is using a serious argument, that a great corporation is going to carry its orders for steel to a foreign country, without the slightest warrant or authority from that company. Really we must not become the slaves of pedantry and of theory.
May I indicate what is the general proposition of the Government, and gee whether we carry the assent of the House to this general proposition, which to me seems so clear in relation to the speeches of the noble Lord that I shall venture to state it shortly and bluntly? It is this: Where there is unfair competition with goods manufactured in this country, in the sense that they can be manufactured in foreign countries in circumstances which artificially make their production at a much cheaper rate possible, it is right, reason able and business-like to afford some protection. That is the proposition. I should have doubted whether it would 1621 have been generally quarrelled with if it had not been for the speeches that have been made to-night.
I confess that I held these views long before the War. The noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, seems to me—I know well the distinctions that are drawn—to have become a convert to this view dining the War and, indeed, to have become my economic master. The noble Earl—I believe I was his colleague at the time—used these words:—The War has opened our eyes to the full meaning and the manifold implications of the German system of economic penetration and commercial and financial control of vitally important industries and to the use to which vantage ground gained by this system can be put in war. … It is in our view necessary to make thorough preparation for the coming of peace.your Lordships wilt observe that the programme about which I intend to ask leave to make an observation was not a prop amine which was intended for War conditions. It was a programme which was intended and understood by the colleagues of the noble Earl to be intended, and explained by the noble Earl himself, to be a "peace programme," made to deal with the economic reconstruction of this country when the War was over. That was what the noble Earl said.
He added—Three of the most important Resolutions, namely, those relating to the most-favoured-nation treatment, protection against dumping or unfair competition and the adoption of measures to render the Allies independent of enemy countries a, regards essential industries, were proposed by the British Delegates and passed at the Conference in the form in which they were put forward. Those Resolutions were drafted by my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade [Mr. Runciman] …Observe the words "protection against dumping or unfair competition." This was to be a programme for the coming of peace. How are you going to protect against dumping and unfair competition? Are you going to do it by bounties or by Duties such as the Government are at the present moment recommending? I am unaware of any other method of general application by which you can deal either with dumping or with unfair competition, and I, who was taught in that school that this was a post-War programme and who subscribed to these 1622 proposals when they were proposed by a Government which went to the country with them almost verbally put forward, am told by those whom I followed then in humble instruction, that we are guilty of folly and indeed almost of duplicity.
But this was not the only speaker. Sir Alfred Mond, who, I believe, in the harmony happily re-established, is now nestling under the wing of the noble Earl, made these observations at a later period:—You cannot do any export business without a home trade. There is not the slightest doubt that, without the solid basis of home consumption, your export trade would simply be a flower without any stem or roots. If you allow the home trade to be cut away, the export trade will follow.I call that a very sound Tariff Reform speech. It certainly is not a Free Trade speech. I do not suppose that the noble Lord will dissent from that doctrine for a moment. It is obvious from the speech that he made to your Lordships to-night that he could not
Sir Alfred Mond made many eloquent speeches about that time, but I do not think I will read them all. This is one which might possibly be instructive to the noble Lord who spoke last. Sir Alfred Mond said:—They seem to think"—that, I think, if I may say so without incivility, is intended to refer to people like the noble Lord—that the Free Trade economic system is merely a question of somehow obtaining cheap goods and subsidised foreign goods if they are cheap. Any Free Trade economist knows that that is the very antithesis of Free Trade.It was with the very antithesis of Free Trade that the noble Lord indulged the House to-night.
I should like to give a quotation, and one only, from Mr. Runciman; but before I come to it I should like to read one more extract from the noble Earl. I take it from a very relevant speech of his, made after the War, on December 4, 1922. The noble Earl then said:—I have always said that Free Traders are not in any sense bound by their creed to be economic or fiscal quietists or tranquillists.…I think these expressions are a little legs classical than the noble Earl usually employs—
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
At any rate, they were so reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the House of Commons. The noble Earl went on—and that if a case were made out where there was what I may call an organised attempt on the part of foreign producers, acting, as they very often do, in rings and combinations under the shelter of a protective tariff of their own, to try to undermine, oust and destroy particular branches of British production, there is nothing in the doctrine of Free Trade which compels me or any Free Trader to take that lying down.Let us see what is logically involved in that. The noble Earl says that if there is any attempt, under the shelter of a protective tariff, to try to undermine a particular branch of British industry, there is nothing in the doctrine of Free Trade to take it lying down. Will he explain to me why, if the menace against which we have to protect ourselves is not a deliberate attempt to destroy us, but the certain economic effect of the fact that their labour is more cheaply remunerated than ours, and that their exchange has fallen to depths to which ours has never descended, what difference does it make whether the inequality is the result of a deliberate political attempt or the result of economic forces? It cannot make a difference in point of principle. If Free Trade admits one it must admit the other, otherwise the whole substratum of that melancholy and abandoned creed is gone.
When I approach the speech made by the noble Lord, in the halting and, if I may say so, incompetent defence which he has made of the illogical attitude occupied to-day by the Labour Party, I must be allowed the freedom, within the limits of courtesy, of speaking plainly. The noble Lord speaks in this House, or affects to speak, on behalf of the Labour Party. I have always looked forward to the time when those who really represent the Labour Party—those who toil with their hands against foreign men, against humble men in foreign countries who toil with their hands—will apply not the theoretic and abstract brains of the noble Lord to this question but the constructive intelligence of men who have laboured in hard fields. I have observed many signs that that section of the Labour Party, with which the noble Lord has little 1624 affinity, is gradually imbibing convictions upon these matters to which the noble Lord has not yet commenced to attain.
If we can believe the Press there have been considerable indications and many important decisions taken recently by the Labour Party upon these points; and, my Lords, can there be a more significant circumstance, or a more inadequate explanation of that circumstance, than this report with which the noble Lord has dealt? It is called the Sweated Goods Committee and its report is printed by direction of the Labour Party. The membership of the Committee—I will not read all the names—includes the Right Hon. Philip Snowden, M.P., and Lord Arnold. First of all let us clearly appreciate the problem to which they were directed to give their attention. It was to make recommendations as to what should be done in dealing with goods which were produced by any country whose labour conditions did not conform to the terms of the Washington Convention. There are several such countries, as noble Lords are well aware. This was the recommendation:—Our immediate proposal then is that each country should undertake to boycott goods produced in countries where the terms of the Washington Hours Convention, and subsequently such other Conventions as may be agreed upon, were not in operation.The noble Lord, to-night, says that that was not really an economic recommendation but a moral recommendation.
I need not pause to call attention to the fundamental confusion of thought which that betrays. You would gather from that that morals and economics were necessarily for all time in watertight compartments. Does he think you can make recommendations of this kind, with all the necessary reactions upon the condition of employment in this country—and most permanent reactions—does he think he can make himself responsible for such a recommendation, and then say that it is really moral and not economic It means that if any country does not satisfy certain points which commend themselves to the Labour Party, all manufactured goods issuing from that country ought to be boycotted in this country and other countries. The noble Lord shakes his head. He really does not understand the meaning of the words 1625 to which he set his hand. May I read them more carefully to him:Our immediate proposal then is that each country should undertake to boycott goods produced in countries where the terms of the Washington Hours Convention, and subsequently such other Conventions as may be agreed upon, were not in operation.I believe I understand plain words as much as the noble Lord, and I repeat my paraphrase, that the noble Lord set his hand to a recommendation that where manufactured goods are produced in a country where the conditions of labour, as expressed in the Washington Convention, and approved of by the Labour Party, are not in operation, they should not be merely attacked but completely boycotted. 'What does that mean, except that we are not to be the only nation which adopts that course? What assurance have the Labour party that other countries would accept this insane policy?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
The noble Viscount suggests that I have given an inaccurate explanation because they meant that by international agreement they should do this. Have they ever been able to discover one Labour Party in one country in the whole world who would agree?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Are we to understand that the Labour Party were putting forward in iii official document a recommendation which they were not prepared to adopt themselves, but were only prepared to adopt if the whole world adopted it? If so, the Labour Party might very well have spared themselves the trouble of putting forward a recommendation so ridiculous and futile. Their followers in the House of Commons are not following them upon this point. I have this observation to make in conclusion. We plainly asked for a mandate from the country to make these proposals. We as plainly obtained it. We intend to persevere in the course we have adopted. Some speakers have complained of the inadequacy of our proposals. Let, them he patient, we may supplement them, and if they will be a little more patient we may at least reduce or 1626 mitigate one of the grounds of criticism advanced against us to-night.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships for more than a couple of minutes, but there is something I should like to say. The noble Earl is always interesting when he appears. He is like one of those strange animals in the Zoological Gardens who display power and violence which are quite foreign to the atmosphere of the Bench from which he rises, but his weapon always been the bludgeon. When he occupied the Woolsack his weapon was the bludgeon. It is a very formidable instrument, but it has the unfortunate effect of only irritating when it is used against people who can take care of themselves. My noble friends Lord Oxford and Asquith and Lord Arnold can take care of themselves very well against the attacks of the noble Earl. The noble Earl challenged us for the shallowness of our views and the little study we had given to These questions; he raised elementary points as to dumping and things that have been discussed over and over again in the last thirty years; and he seemed to expect that we should trot out all the old fallacies and demolish them again to-day in order to answer the case that has been made for this Bill. We do not argue over again the question of Free Trade, because Free Trade is with most of us who sit upon this side a part of our settled convictions, which we have been discussing and examining and testing for many years past.
And when the noble and learned Earl tries to dispose of the arguments in the very slight fashion which he brought to bear to-day he must forgive me for saying that he makes no impression. Take the very last thing he said, his citation from; the Labour report about articles produced under bad industrial conditions in foreign countries. Everybody knew here what that meant, everybody remembers the Resolution which was embodied in the Washington Convention, and which the Labour Party were very desirous I hat we should observe fully, and the Labour Party was pressing that all the nations within the. League of Nations should unite together to stop the production of goods which were put on the market under sweated conditions. What in the world has that to do with Free 1627 Trade? What in the world has that to do with this Bill? This Bill is a very small affair. As was said by my noble friend Lord Oxford, it is a pill to cure an earthquake, only the earthquake is hypothetical, and therefore the pill may do just as well as any other pill.
Dumping! I should have thought that the noble and learned Earl was tired of alluding to dumping. The Conservative Party took the question up very much at one time when the Germans were sending in their surplus cheap steel—at a loss it was said, in order to get a market. But what happened? Shipbuilders said: The most important thing, or one of the most important things to this country, is that we should get the market for ships, and we cannot do it if you interfere with our cheap materials. As a matter of fact, there is no serious evil with regard to any kind of goods which are imported which cannot be better cured by buying in a foreign country rather than paying a high price in this country. I myself have bought goods for the Government before the War in large quantities when I found that they were being made cheaper in foreign countries. I bought them within the Empire and paid a large price for them. These are elementary things which I should be ashamed to detain your Lordships by discussing now, and I do not propose to discuss them. All I wish to say is that if the noble and learned Earl wishes to make an impression upon our convictions here he had better leave the method of the bludgeon alone.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.