§ VISCOUNT ELIBANK rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the Imperial Economic Conference to be held in 1930, and to ask—
- 1. Whether the terms of reference for that Conference have yet been settled;
- 2. Whether the terms of reference will permit the Conference to discuss freely and on business lines all aspects of inter-Imperial trade and to recommend the best methods, in whatever form, for promoting and expanding it;
- 3. If not, whether His Majesty's Government will consider the desirability of arranging that the terms of reference shall be on the broad basis indicated and of securing the agreement of the overseas Governments to this course;
§ and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the importance of this subject and the issue raised are such that I venture to hope that your Lordships will bear with me while I examine some of the reasons which have led me to put this Motion down and to ask the Questions contained in it. You will no doubt recollect the important debate which took place in this House on November 19 on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook who, in an admirable, eloquent, and closely-reasoned speech, asked His Majesty's Government whether they would do anything to encourage the movement of Free Trade within the Empire. It will also be within the recollection of the House that the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, in his reply stated that this Government was a Free Trade Government—a Free Trade Government of the Cobden type—and that, therefore, it was not possible for His Majesty's Government to encourage the proposals of my noble friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, then went on to outline certain measures which the Government proposed to take for the purpose of Imperial development, and among those measures he referred to the Imperial Economic Conference which, he stated, the Government proposed to set up at the earliest convenient date, and at which all parts of the Empire would be represented. The noble Lord then went on to say—
The object of this Conference is to consider and devise ways of increasing inter-Imperial trade.
In the few remarks which I made towards the end of that debate I asked the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to inform the House whether the terms of reference of the Imperial Economic Conference would permit the Conference to consider inter-Imperial
trade from every point of view, and whether those terms would enable the Conference to consider the subject of Free Trade within the Empire brought up by my noble friend. The noble and learned Lord subsequently in his reply reproached me for asking an important question of that nature without giving him Notice. I agree with the noble and learned Lord that perhaps it may have been difficult for him to give a reply to that question without due consideration by the Government, and I have therefore allowed some three weeks to elapse before putting that Question down, in order that the Government might have full opportunity of considering the Question.
§ Before I proceed I should like to congratulate the Government upon the step they are taking in calling together this Imperial Economic Conference, for at least it shows that their vision is not entirely marred by the Cobden veil with which they have enshrouded it. At the same time, I venture to ask the Government how they can expect any real benefit for the Empire from such a Conference if they are going to fetter and hamper it in its deliberations and recommendations, as was indicated in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, in this House three weeks ago. In this country we are at the parting of the ways. Unemployment is rife and is growing worse. Trade is declining and protective barriers are being set up almost universally, and certainly increasingly, against our export trade all over the world. The United States of America has become one huge economic and industrial unit, and Europe threatens to become the same, and in her integral parts has already become so. Into both of those vast areas it is becoming more and more difficult for British trade to penetrate, and, on the other hand, the trade from those places, especially from the United States of America, is becoming increasingly and alarmingly larger every day.
§ We know from statistics which have been published and which can be relied upon that there is a larger trade to-day from the United States of America into our Dominions and Colonies than there is from this country. Not only that, 44 per cent. of the whole of the external 1010 trade of the United States of America is with our Dominions and our Colonies. What is being done to remedy this deplorable and dangerous state of affairs? The Government seem content to meander along the old Free Trade paths, from time to time suggesting certain palliatives which, so far as I can see, only touch the fringe of the problem. There is a better and a much surer way. There are influential people in this country who are realising this, and there are many influential people in the Dominions and Colonies who believe in the Empire and do not wish to see the Mother Country going down who are also realising it. There is a great movement on foot, that is the movement led by my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook—the movement for Free Trade within the Empire. That is the movement which, I believe, will ultimately materialise in spite of many criticisms directed against it. I also believe that this is the movement which will ultimately recreate Great Britain and restore the Empire to one large economic unit, to the great advantage of all parts of it.
§ I should like in a few words to state the difference between Cobden Free Trade and Empire Free Trade. Cobden Free Trade visualised Free Trade throughout the world. He believed that Free Trade would spread throughout the world. On the contrary, it has not spread beyond the borders of Britain, and, consequently, Great Britain is to-day at the mercy of the rest of the world. On the other hand, Empire Free Traders have taken account of the large movements for co-ordination and consolidation of interests which are going on throughout the world, and it is only by following the example of the United States of America, and, in a smaller degree, of Australia and Canada, that the creation of the Empire into one large economic unit can be accomplished. It is only in that way, so far as I can judge, that the Empire can survive in its present form and prosper. After all, the Cobden Free Traders, who are particulargely represented in this House by His Majesty's Government and also by the Liberal Party, have never reached the goal towards which they started nearly 100 years ago. Even to-day we find that import duties are levied in this country for revenue and in other ways which transgress the principle of Cobden 1011 Free Trade, and yet these duties cannot be remitted. If that is the case, why should we Empire Free Traders, who approach a similar ideal although from another angle, be expected to achieve that ideal all at once any more than the Cobden Free Traders have been able to achieve their ideal?
§ I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, who said in this House in the same debate that my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook should address the Dominions and the Colonies on this subject rather than this country. Whilst I admit that it may be useful and helpful for my noble friend to address the Dominions and Colonies on this subject, I venture to remind your Lordships that the seed of this policy was laid within the Empire itself. It was laid first of all in Canada in the year 1885, that is practically 45 years ago, when that great Imperial statesman, Sir John Macdonald, the Canadian federator and Prime Minister, made a speech in which he stated that in his opinion the only thing for the Empire was Empire Free Trade. Then again some years later, in the very early part of the twentieth century, that is some 30 years ago, three of our largest Dominions—Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—of their own free will, voluntarily and generously gave to this country substantial Preferences on our manufactured goods. This country did not reciprocate until 23 years later, that is only seven years ago, and even then they reciprocated with a very small measure of preferential trade; but in spite of that fact these Dominions have gone on granting this Preference and a great deal of the trade which Great Britain does to-day with the Dominions and Colonies is due to their wide outlook. It is this spirit which we Empire Free Traders wish to preserve and foster, to extend and to respond to in this country so far as our circumstances will permit.
§ In the course of the recent debate my noble friend Lord Bledisloe—whom I congratulate upon receiving high office under the Crown as Governor-General of New Zealand and who, I feel sure, will fill that office with great dignity and distinction, although we shall miss his presence in this House and his participation in our debates—asked what would Empire Free Trade do for the farmers of this country. I am going to state quite plainly that I believe that under any comprehensive 1012 system of Empire Free Trade it will be essential to impose duties on foreign meat and wheat, and possibly on other foreign foodstuffs, whilst admitting those same foodstuffs from the Dominions and Colonies free of duty. This protective measure will, I believe, immediately prevent the dumping in this country of German wheat and German oats which have done so much to damage agricultural interests in Scotland recently. It will also prevent the dumping of surplus wheat which we anticipate may be sent in under the United States Federal Farm Board arrangement, and it will enable the British farmer to grow his cereals and cattle unhindered by unfair competition from those foreign countries.
§ Further, the meat and wheat coming to this country free of duty from our Dominions will be grown under conditions of labour and wages that more approximate to our own, and therefore our farmers will then not have to compete with the agricultural conditions under which wheat and meat are grown in the Argentine. We all know that wheat and meat are produced in the Argentine very much more cheaply than they can possibly be produced in this country owing to the inferior labour and wage conditions which exist there. This measure would, in my belief, give to the farmer for the first time in this generation an assured position in the home markets. Then in the speech which my noble friend made in the same debate he laid the bogey of dearer foodstuffs when he informed us, from statistics which I believe to be irrefutable, that, over a period of years when wheat was as high as 55s. a quarter and as low as 40s., the price of bread remained the same the whole time—namely, 9¼d.
§ There is another point which I should like to bring out. It has been stated that neither Canada, Australia nor New Zealand would welcome a Preference in this country on their wheat and meat. I venture to disbelieve this utterly, because no country in the world in the present state of severe competition can afford to disregard such a large and assured market for its produce or goods as it would find in this country, especially assuming that the prices paid are satisfactory and the quid pro quo is within reason. Both Canada and Australia import and consume large 1013 quantities of foreign manufactured goods to-day. I cannot conceive their being unwilling to enter into any arrangement under which in return for an assured market for the greater portion of their principal produce—agricultural produce—Great Britain would secure some considerable portion of that trade. The same applies to the Dominions, to India and the Colonies, and I venture to say here that the question of sentiment comes in and that our Dominions and Colonies and India would prefer to trade with this country rather than with any foreign country, in the same way as this country would prefer to trade with our Dominions and Colonies and with India if they were able to do so in preference to foreign countries.
§ In Great Britain, as a result of such a measure, the industrial areas would benefit very appreciably by the increase in export trade; greater prosperity would come to all our industries and to all our industrial areas. The days are past when industrial areas can afford to disregard the conditions in the agricultural areas. This country is too small for such divisions and I venture to believe that unless they join hands and sink their differences in a common cause there is little chance for real salvation for either.
§ I have already indicated that criticisms are being directed against this movement and that it is said that the Dominions take very little interest in it. This is is not the case. I happen to have the privilege of being Deputy Chairman of a very large organisation called the Federated Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire, and to this Federation are affiliated chambers of commerce throughout the Empire. All the important chambers of commerce within the Empire belong to it. In May of next year that Federation will hold its triennial congress in the Guildhall in London, and to that congress will come representative business men from all over the Empire. I am sure your Lordships will be interested to hear that, as an integral part of the congress, there will be organised bilateral discussions between any two countries wishing to consider in detail proposals for increasing reciprocal trade. Those invitations have gone out to the chambers of commerce, and it is particularly gratifying for me to be able to say 1014 that representatives of several Dominions have welcomed that proposal and that already steps are being taken to establish these bilateral discussions at the meetings of that congress. Those discussions will be on broad and businesslike lines, such as I hope that His Majesty's Government will be able to incorporate in the terms of reference of the Imperial Economic Conference.
§ I venture to submit that it is only by frank and free discussions in an economic conference such as that which the Government are setting up that practical measures for improving inter-Imperial trade can be carried out, and I further believe that, if this Conference is to be of real value to the Empire, it should be permitted to listen to every point of view and it should be conducted on business lines. I appeal, therefore, to the Government to arrange that the terms of reference shall be upon the broadest basis possible and to do their utmost to secure the assent of the oversea Governments to that procedure. I believe that, if the Government will set up the Imperial Economic Conference on those lines, they will have modelled an instrument which, if properly directed, will help the economic salvation of this country and the preservation and prosperity of the British Commonwealth as a whole. I beg to move.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of the Motion that has been brought forward by the noble Viscount. This, as I understand it, is to the effect that the question of inter-Imperial trade policy should not be excluded from the Imperial Conference which meets, as I understand, in the ordinary course next year, but that it should be definitely included in the terms of reference. I do not need to follow the noble Viscount into the fiscal controversy to which he has alluded nor to traverse the ground which was covered in the debate raised the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook. I want to support my appeal to the Government to include this question by two or three arguments which I think are of importance. The first is this. This Imperial trade policy, whether you agree with it or not, is an important economic question and since the War economic questions have come to the front and are now primary considerations in the affairs of the nation 1015 and of the world. They have supplanted politics in the prime position, and I think that problems of the production of wealth and the distribution of wealth—using the words in the widest possible sense to include social prosperity, material as well as intellectual—are what the popular attention is concentrated upon at the present time.
When I look round the political Parties it seems to me that both the historic Parties in this country are bankrupt of any live economic ideals. What is it that has put the Party opposite in its place? It is that the Socialist Party do represent, whether you agree with their scheme or not, whether you think it practicable or impracticable, wise or foolish, an economic ideal. This question of Imperial policy is a big economic question, and to exclude it from such a Conference as that which is going to take place next year seems to me to be flying in the face of the whole tendency of popular thought at the present day. It is an economic question, and it is also a question which is following the movement of industrial and commercial development all over the world at the present moment. The production of wealth is every year becoming more and more a collective action. It is the work of groups and of co-operative associations, and we hear every day of mergers and combines. It is going further than that. It is going on to the combination of States and even of nations for the production and distribution of wealth, using the terms, as I used them before, in the widest sense.
We see it, for instance, in that great economic unit, the United States of America. She, relying upon the variety of her produce, her soil and her climate, trusts that from her own resources she may be able to supply all the requirements of her vast population, and she trusts also that, with the ever-rising standard of living in her country, an ever-expanding market will be created at home. If you look at Europe, there is, though faintly, the same movement at work. There is, of course, a wide difference, and the two units can never be at all parallel, but there is very markedly a tendency towards commercial unity among the nations of Europe. It was foreshadowed by M. Briand and by Herr Stresemann, whose loss we all deplore, I think, on that ground as well as many others, and whose mantle will fall probably 1016 upon some other German statesman. You have that tendency in Europe, as you have already seen it at work in America, towards commercial unity, though of a vaguer, looser form than that which prevails in the United States.
Accordingly it seems to me that the problem that is going to face British statesmen before very long is this: Is Great Britain to remain as she is to-day; is she to join this European commercial union; or finally—and this is the point of which the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, has spoken—is she to form an economic unit within the Empire and trust, as the United States has trusted, to the command of every variety of soil and climate and produce, to build up an economic union more extensive than that of the United States? Those are the three choices which will lie before our statesmen at no distant period. Thus this Imperial trade question is not only an economic question, but it is a question which is in harmony with the spirit of the age in the production of wealth, and more than that a new factor has arisen which I think we must take into consideration.
I think Lord Beaverbrook, and also Lord Elibank, have alluded to the Federal Farm Board. I do not know-how far your Lordships are familiar with that body and its operations, and if I may venture to do so, may I give you a brief description of what it has to do and what it is already beginning to do? It was established in June of this year, to improve the merchandising of all agricultural commodities for domestic and foreign commerce, and to place agriculture on a footing of equality with all other industries in the country. That is what is stated in the Act which created it to be its objects. It has at its disposal £100,000,000, and the members of the Board are eight in number. Each of them has a salary of £2,400 a year, with subsistence allowance and travelling expenses. Their powers are very wide. They have in the first place to prevent ineffectual modes of marketing; to prevent, so far as they can, speculation in agricultural commodities, and to organise and assist with money co-operative societies to make an effective merchandising of agricultural commodities; to form these co-operative societies each for one particular specific commodity all over the country; to help them if necessary 1017 with warehouses, with clearing houses, and with insurances against a fall in prices.
It is not its object to create surpluses. Its object is on the whole to prevent them. Its object is to supply the United States with an abundant and complete supply of agricultural commodities at reasonable prices, and with a margin of safety. If surpluses arise they are to be dealt with by the Board in foreign countries. It will take at least two or three years before the system is perfect; but when it is perfected consider what the consequences will be. There is a margin of safety. In an average year all that the United States will have to export will be that margin of safety. In a favourable year it will be increased, and in an exceptional year it will be increased probably four or five-fold. All those supplies will come to us. We are their nearest neighbour, the shortest carriage, and our ports are open; and I ask your Lordships to consider what the effect of that will be upon our Colonies, which are largely dependent upon our market for agricultural produce for their prosperity at the present day. In particular, what will be the effect upon Canada? Canada grows for our market and sends us a huge supply of the very best wheat which is sent into this country. Canada will find the market occupied before she can send in her wheat each year. American wheat comes in at the end of July and the beginning of August. Canadian wheat cannot come into our market until the following October. The market will then be occupied by the American surplus, and I should like to urge upon your Lordships that with this new factor in view it is necessary for the Government to take the opinion of our Colonies whether they themselves do not wish to secure our markets for themselves. I think the great trouble in the view put forward by the noble Viscount who has just spoken is that we really do not know whether the Colonies want our market, and what they are prepared to give in exchange for it; and one of the reasons why I want to see the question referred to the Economic Conference of the coming year is that then the Colonies will be able to tell us, and to tell us in the light of this very important new factor. Those are the reasons why I should like to see the question not only 1018 not excluded but definitely included in the terms of reference.
There is a question, of course, of the effect upon British agriculture. It does not matter to the British consumer whether his food comes from Argentina or Canada or the United States. It matters very little to the British producer whether his industry is impoverished and almost ruined by either Argentina or Canada or the United States. I do not see that the British farmer can either benefit or lose by Imperial Preference, supposing it was adopted, and I do think that at the present moment the farmer's stake in the wheat production of this country is small. It has been growing smaller every year, and now I doubt whether in the 4 lb. loaf of to-day British wheat forms more than one-ninth of the whole. If the British farmer has to face com petition, he would like it to be definite—to know when it was coming in and in what quantities it was coming. The competition that I fear he will get from the United States will be capricious. He will not know what will be sent—some times very little, sometimes enormous quantities. There will be the sort of uncertainty that paralyses a business man, and the sort of anxiety which will paralyse, as I think, Canada in her production of wheat. The farmer has everything to gain, therefore, if in any way we can get a definite, Uniform supply, even if he gets no protective tariff at all, and—I give only my own opinion—I do not believe that in any form the bread of this country will ever be taxed. That, however, is not my point. My point is that you will benefit the farmer by making the supply uniform and certain, and that is a very great benefit.
If I may have used the Federal Farm Board for a warning, may I use it also for an example and found on it an appeal? I know I am going to be irrelevant, but at my age the physical and nervous strain of addressing your Lordships' House is something well nigh intolerable and I will not very willingly again face that ordeal, and therefore I venture to ask you to do as politicians the one thing which you can do for the British farmer. If the three Leaders of the three political Parties would unite and would give their sanction to a Board formed of representative, members of each of the political Parties for 1019 the more effective merchandising of agricultural commodities and for placing agriculture on a footing of equality with other of our domestic industries, you would be doing what the farmer in his individualism cannot do and what the union of Parties can do. I am sure that there are men on all sides of the House who are only too anxious to know what they can do for the farmers. This, I suggest, is the one thing they can do.
We have, no doubt, monetary difficulties and we are tied hand and foot by fiscal difficulties. Leave both of those out; we cannot touch them here. The farmer's only resources are to reduce his cost of production and to put his farming business on a proper commercial footing. You must leave him to lower the cost of production. He will do it in his own way and I am afraid it will be by reducing the arable area of the country. There is no other way as things are or as things promise to be. But the other matter is a thing that the union of Parties can do and, if that Board, such as I have indicated, can acquire a soul and an inspiring personality, a measure would be produced of the greatest advantage to the whole agricultural community. I venture on that irrelevance partly because it is my conviction that that is the one thing politicians can do and because in your Lordships' House we are always sure to find a champion for the agricultural industry.
§ LORD MELCHETT
My Lords, I am sure we are all profoundly interested in the very important speech we have just listened to, but I am afraid it has rather taken us from the Motion of the noble Viscount on inter-Imperial trade to the fascinating and important subject of how to save British agriculture. I would like to return for a moment to the former subject. I cannot believe that the Government will refuse or could possibly refuse the very modest request that has been made—to allow the Imperial Economic Conference to discuss what is, after all, the only economic point of any real importance and that is the question of economic unity within the Empire. An Economic Conference without such a discussion would seem a very hollow and very futile waste of time. This question is not really a fiscal or political one; it is a vital and an urgent one.
1020 It embraces so many aspects, covers so large a ground, that it is quite impossible at any one time or any one occasion to deal with more than a small fraction of them. What I would like to emphasise, because it has not been emphasised at all so far, is what I consider one of the most important parts of this whole problem, the question of raw materials. The Empire controls, as those who have studied it are aware, a larger proportion of the raw materials of the world than almost any other economic unit. In certain things it has almost a quasi-monopoly. We have never in any way endeavoured to make any use of the fact that within the borders of the Empire we have the control of important raw materials which are, and must be, necessary to other countries. Such attempts as have been made have either been spasmodic and coming in by a side-wind or half-hearted and soon abandoned. Surely, in considering the question of the Empire as an economic unit, one of the very first things you would have to consider is the development of the Empire's resources, after careful study of where it has great advantage in its raw material production, by some scheme by which the members of the Empire unit would have an advantage over those who are not members of the Empire unit, in obtaining the first call at a preferential rate on such raw materials, remembering the enormous advantage which could be given to any one who was empowered to deal with this question as a whole in the negotiation of treaties with foreign countries.
It has always seemed to me extraordinary that this rather simple fact has never been appreciated. What we are doing now, with the Empire in fragments, is negotiating commercial treaties at the greatest possible disadvantage imaginable. Great Britain tries to negotiate a commercial treaty. The Dominion of Canada will try to do the same thing. You are finding now a splittering of forces going on. If any one could go as a plenipotentiary of the Empire, with all its vast control of trade, with all its vast control of raw material in its possession, and sit at a table at any conference where tariffs were being discussed, given sufficient power he could obtain favourable terms for the Empire which no single unit of the Empire to-day is capable of 1021 obtaining or asking for. Whatever our views may be on fiscal questions, we live in a world in which the conduct of negotiation of commercial treaties is of great importance and remains of great importance. Whether the Government is a Free Trade or Protectionist Government makes no difference to the fact that it will endeavour to obtain the best commercial treaties it can, just as Cobden did in the first Paris Treaty, when it comes to deal with other nations. Therefore, I see a field well worthy of full discussion and well worthy of greater exploitation than it has obtained.
There is another thing. Let us remember that our Empire is very heterogeneous. Whereas our great Dominions are largely peopled by people from these shores, the great Empire of India is inhabited by people who, having a long history and tradition of their own, have not, and cannot have, knowledge as to the position of Great Britain as a Mother Country. It has always struck me as rather sad that we have not felt it to be our duty to tie up in a much closer way the commercial nexus of India and Great Britain. As a matter of fact our relations with India on the whole in that direction have not always been too fortunate. We have sometimes created the impression that we wished to stop their own industry developing for the benefit of ours. We have never done anything in this country for them from a fiscal point of view except to abolish the Preference on tea—but it would take too long to go into that. I am quite certain that an inter-Imperial and inter-Preference policy between India and this country could be established. I am quite certain that the present method by which we as trustees for India spend British loans in foreign countries is neither good for our relations, good for industry nor, in the end, good for the country for which it is exercised. There you have another very important field for study.
Then you have your vast Crown Colonies, your tropical Possessions growing every day in importance—growing in importance far more than most of us realise, with large populations, becoming, and likely to become, great consumers of our products, and daily becoming on a larger scale producers of products which other parts of the world cannot produce. What have we done to 1022 endeavour really to co-ordinate this congeries of African Possessions and to try and see how we and they can get reciprocal advantages, not merely by way of tariffs—because the tariff is only one, and, to my mind, a relatively unimportant method of dealing with this problem? It is a method, but it is not the only method; possibly, on investigation, not even the most important. But surely we ought to be able there to find a very big field for our future. And why is it important? It must be obvious to anybody who studies the map of the world. Great Britain to-day, with its vast industrial population, its small area, its unbalanced agricultural position, is in a situation far more vulnerable—and that is why we are suffering—than any other country that I know. We have lost that balance between industry and agriculture which makes for safety.
It is always said that you must export in order to obtain foodstuffs and raw materials, but nobody tells us why the people in other countries must buy our manufactured goods. The whole fallacy of that argument is that if people will not buy your manufactured goods you cannot export. Therefore, the first thing a business man tries to find out is, are there any markets to which you can export and continue to increase your exports? If you look at the map of the world the most obvious market, even if we had no Empire at all, would be those great, still under-populated tracts of agricultural and undeveloped country in which manufacture is still in its infancy, and which are economically bound to come to us in order to dispose of the largest part of their output of raw material and foodstuffs, being as they are, thank Heaven, part of this Empire, peopled by our kith and kin, people who wish to do business with us. What madness is it that we always keep repelling every idea of coming to some kind of arrangement which is mutually beneficial to both of us?
People are away back in old times, preferring economic doctrine to solving our terrible problem of unemployment—the terrible economic burdens we are all suffering from in the development of the British Empire. I have never changed from the point of view that, whereas ideally there can be nothing more perfect 1023 than having no tariff barriers between the constituent parts of the British Empire, any more than there is a tariff barrier between New York and San Francisco, or Montreal and Vancouver, I do not believe it is possible with the developments that have taken place to attain that ideal in that absolute form once again. You cannot tear down the industries that exist, you cannot destroy the Dominion factories which have been put up, or the industrial population which has been created. Such a policy obviously is one which could never commend itself to the Dominions, and would not necessarily commend itself to any one in this country.
But remember that our trade with these countries is not in a static condition—and trade is never static, but always dynamic, which is so frequently overlooked. There is no reason why you should not allow the manufactures which exist in the Dominions to go on existing, but to come to an arrangement about their increase. There is no reason why you should not make arrangements about the manner and method of sharing what is being manufactured. I can see Imperial mergers of industries, which would be no larger when completed, although more widespread, than some of the great mergers which exist to-day in the United States or on the Continent of Europe. I can see shipping and communications exchanging technical information in all kinds of ways, which would help to bring about what is to my mind a great necessity. I do not reject tariffs, either universal or partial. I think it would be foolish at this time to reject any method of machinery. You can deal with food by a Board which at five-year or ten-year periods apportions the wheat output in your Dominions. It is a proposition which would be well worth examining. You might adopt methods of prohibition and licence. There is no form of machinery which, at this juncture, any one would lay down dogmatically as the one which is necessary, or would reject dogmatically as one which is not possible.
But surely all these questions can never be approached unless you go into a Conference with one idea, and that is the idea to arrive at a certain end. My experience always has been that if you wish to accomplish a thing, if you wish to come to terms, if you wish to do 1024 business you always find some method of accomplishing it. It is the spirit and the will with which you go into these questions which is the determining factor. There is no proposition, even of a much simpler character than this, which does not bristle with difficulties. The no-spirit is always there. It is always easier to be negative than positive—to show the difficulties to be overcome than to make progress. But in the history of the world the no-spirit is always beaten, and the creative spirit succeeds—or, if not always, at least in 50 per cent. of the cases.
I do not look upon this as a Party or political question, but as a vital question, because it is the only way in which we can redress our economic ills. It must be evident to any one who is studying the trend of economic life at the present day that the choice of whether we should stand isolated and become a kind of glorified Belgium, or whether we should join together in a European Customs Union and become a European Power and therefore lose the Empire, or whether on the other hand we should become an Empire unit—that choice will be afforded to the people of this country within a very short time. It is inevitable, however unpleasant it may be, that we shall have to make this choice. The very fact that you have European statesmen and, what is much more important, leading European business men sitting together to-day and discussing how and when and where you can begin an economic union of Europe, is significant enough. If Germany and France, two countries who have had centuries of hostilities and have only just finished a terrible war, can sit down and think of an economic union, and all we are asked to do is to bring about an economic union in our own family, it seems inconceivable we should reject such a proposition or think it impossible of achievement.
All big things are naturally difficult of achievement. Nobody who has given serious thought to this question would treat it lightly, or would think you could easily get a good result. I ask your Lordships to cast your mind back to August, 1914. If any one had then stood up in this House and addressed your Lordships and predicted how long that great struggle would last, how many men we and the 1025 Dominions would have to mobilise, what financial sacrifices we would have to make, how great our ammunition supply would have to be, is there any one in this House or out of it who would not have considered that task absolutely impossible and entirely beyond the powers which we had, the financial resources we possessed and the possibilities of human beings? What is the answer? The answer is, we did it. Now, in times of profound peace, when we have no enemy at our doors, without the terrible tension which was upon us in those years, it is surely a simpler, an easier and likely to be an infinitely more productive task to endeavour to weld into one economic unit this heterogenous body spread all over the globe, united by those great highways of commerce, the oceans, which do not separate but bring us together, for the sea routes are the great routes of commerce and always have been. Surely in such circumstances it ought to be a task to which any Government, of whatever complexion, would address itself, and invite those who represent the Dominions and India and the Colonies to attend and see if they could not together hammer out something in the direction which has been suggested. Then the British Empire would again surprise the world as it has already done by what occurred in the War.
§ LORD DARYNGTON
My Lords, after the extraordinarily eloquent speech to which we have just listened, the most interesting I think I have ever heard within these walls, I feel reluctant to say anything, but I should like to utter a few words in reference to the particular question whether the terms of reference will permit the Conference to discuss freely and on business lines all aspects of inter-Imperial trade and to recommend the best methods, in whatever form, for promoting and extending it. I know there are many noble Lords in this House who do not agree with my noble friend Lord Beaver-brook in regard to the question which he has placed before the country. At the same time, I think we all ought to feel under an obligation to him for bringing it forward. He has shown great breadth of vision and courage, and he has been the means of inaugurating a debate like that which we are having this afternoon, and which has enabled us to listen to three very interesting speeches.
1026 I think those of us who read The Times article this morning will realise that it is necessary for everyone to try to open out new avenues of thought in order to deal with the conditions which we see on every hand. I only rose this afternoon to try to persuade His Majesty's Government to allow this question to be answered in the affirmative—that the Conference may discuss freely and on business lines all aspects of inter-Imperial trade. I know the noble Lord the Leader of the House is strongly in favour of Colonial Preference. I have heard him speak on it in years gone by, and I know he has taken a great interest in the question. It is hardly possible but that he can feel the advantages which might accrue if some arrangement could be come to. I would appeal to him and to the Government to put aside Party considerations in regard to this question. Everybody realises that there are a great many difficulties. Yet, while agreeing that difficulties do exist, I think it is not impossible to find some creative method by which they may be overcome. In conclusion, I would say that I believe if Mr. Joseph Chamberlain were alive to-day, and knew the conditions with which we have to contend, he would realise that it was necessary to make another great effort to try to find some basis of Empire trade.
§ LORD BROWNLOW
My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships for the first time. I do so with considerable diffidence, and I would ask your Lordships to forgive me if my facts and information are not entirely correct. I propose to speak this afternoon in support of the noble Viscount's Motion, and to deal particularly with the depressed condition of agriculture. That subject has, however, been dealt with already at some length, and therefore I will spare your Lordships the remarks I had proposed to make upon it, except to say that much has been said about agriculture in the past few years and very little has been done. I really think the time is fast approaching, whether it be the work of one Party or of all Parties, when something should be done to support the British farmer in his condition to-day. While the late Government were in power a Bill was brought in for the derating of land—a noble gesture, and one which I have no doubt has been of some help; but, if I may use the analogy, it is comparable to sentencing 1027 a prisoner at the Old Bailey to fourteen years and remitting his fine of £1,000. That is not a really serious contribution to meeting the difficulties of the farmer. Those difficulties are numerous, and if you desire any proof of that you have only to appreciate that farmers head the list of bankrupts in this country for the past year.
Farming, as your Lordships are doubtless aware, is unique in one particular respect in that it has no control over prices. Farmers can spend what they like on the production of their article, they can lay out as much capital as they like, and at the end of it they have no guarantee that they will receive anything compatible with the money they have spent. Farming to-day is not what it was 100 years ago. It has to be taken seriously, and treated not as an old industry but as a new industry. Farmers in that respect are in a difficult position. The price of agricultural machinery has gone up anything from 50 to 100 per cent. since the War, while the price of wheat, I believe, is only 20 per cent. above its pre-War price. Your Lordships, therefore, will realise that farmers are not in a position to spend the money they should be able to spend in reorganising their farms and their industry. While there is no control of prices, there is control of wages. As your Lordships are aware, the wages in the country are maintained by Wages Boards. It is an impossible position. If the State dictates that farmers must pay a certain wage it should be prepared to support the farmer and his industry. It is impossible to expect him to pay those wages unless he is supported by the State.
That is one of the principal grievances of farmers to-day. I have taken some trouble to investigate this grievance in my own small part of the world. The remedy, to be brief, is, I am sure, in the programme that I heard unfolded with the greatest interest in this House three weeks ago—the programme which was put forward by my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook. His programme has been greatly reinforced by the numerous speeches of noble Lords which we have heard to-day dealing with the same subject, and I feel now that the subject of Empire Free Trade is safely launched on a long and, I hope, prosperous path. I cordially support the Motion of the noble Viscount who has urged that it 1028 should be considered at the next Imperial Economic Conference in the coming year.
My Lords, I should like if I may to ask what is really a supplementary question to those put down by my noble friend. That question is, what will be the position in the Imperial Economic Conference of 1930 of the non-self-governing Colonies, the Mandated Territories and the Protectorates? What part are they going to play in this Imperial Conference? I am sure that many of your Lordships who have taken a part, whether great or small, in these Imperial Conferences are well aware that the non-self-governing Colonies at these Conferences are really the fifth wheel of the coach. As a rule they are represented by the Secretary of State, and the result is that the non-self-governing Colonies and the Protectorates have really no one to speak for them either individually or as a whole.
I would submit that these non-self-governing Colonies should play a most important part in these discussions. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has pointed out to you what are their possibilities with regard to the production of raw material. We have in the non-self-governing Colonies alone a population of over 55,000,000 and an area rather larger than the United States. If we add the Protectorates and Mandated Territories we have an area as big as the United States and a considerable portion of Canada as well. Within those areas with that vast population there are the greatest possibilities of development, and what is more important than anything else is the fact that they have not got manufactures of their own and therefore are ready-made absorbers, provided they have the purchasing power, of goods from this country. I would therefore like to ask the noble Lord to consider in his reply whether the representation of the non-self-governing Colonies at the Imperial Conference of 1930 should not be one which would carry greater weight than the representation that they have had at any previous Imperial Conference. Your Lordships are aware that last year was the first time that these non-self-governing Colonies and Protectorates had a Conference of their own. All who took part in that Conference will agree that the standard of discussion was a high one, and that many results were 1029 achieved which will no doubt in time add to the efficiency of the Empire as a whole.
If the noble Lord thinks that I have given too short notice—I quite admit that the notice is short—of the question I should be most happy to raise the matter in a subsequent discussion; but I would like the noble Lord to consider, firstly, whether, in view of the fact that this coming Imperial Conference is of very special significance to the non-self-governing Colonies in relation to important possibilities of development, their representation cannot be made more adequate; secondly, whether they should be given some opportunity of helping to formulate the programme which is to come up for discussion; and finally, whether their representation should consist not only of the official side, as has always occurred in the past, but also of some of the actual people doing the work in those countries, I mean the actual settlers and the companies and groups which are assisting in their development.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, the Question put down by the noble Viscount was restricted to a very definite and specific subject, but this debate has ranged over a very wide field. I only rise for a moment or two with very great hesitation after the very interesting and important speeches we have heard, to add my plea to that of the noble Viscount that the Imperial Economic Conference which is to be held next year should be given the fullest possible scope. I can think of no valid reason why this should not be so. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, replying a week or two ago on behalf of the Government in the debate upon Empire Free Trade, expressed on behalf of the Government their great anxiety to do everything they could to develop the resources of the Empire to the, uttermost and to foster inter-Imperial trade. That was the policy in which they believed. He spoke of the Colonial Development Act which was passed earlier this year, of the work of the Empire Marketing Board, of marking and grading and various other things. But as we have had pointed out on numerous occasions already this afternoon, there is surely one other way by which mutual trade between different parts of the Empire can be fostered and the resources of the Empire developed, and that is by means 1030 of one part of the Empire granting Preferences to another part of the Empire.
In the past we have gained enormously by the Preferences which have been granted to us by the Dominions, and indeed the rest of the Empire has also clearly gained by the unfortunately few Preferences that we have been able to grant up to now. I really feel that one of the most depressing features of the debate which took place here upon Empire Free Trade a week or two ago was the complete and unqualified negative which noble Lords opposite gave to the idea of our aiding one another in this way. After all, we are passing through extremely difficult times industrially. Our industries have to face to-day a fiercer and a better organised competition from foreign countries. It is quite clear that, unless we can make secure our markets here at home and find new and expanding markets abroad, we cannot hope for a permanent and a real revival of our industries, nor can we possibly hope to make any effective inroad into the vast number of unemployed in this country at the present moment. The Lord Privy Seal, who after all is the Minister chiefly concerned with this subject at the present moment, admits this, and he has definitely stated that the only real way of coping with unemployment is by an increase in our trade, and particularly in our export trade. Here in the Empire we have our chance. Already very nearly 50 per cent. of the exports from this country go to other parts of the Empire. We surely ought not to leave any stone unturned in order to achieve this object. Yet the Government are not only turning a deaf ear to these appeals for an extension of Imperial Preference, but they are actually threatening to remove what few Preferences we have been able to grant to different parts of the Empire up to now.
We do not know definitely what their intentions are. They have not definitely committed themselves. If any faith can be put in any utterances of Ministers at the time of the Election, this surely is the only construction that can be put upon their statements. The removal of these Preferences is bound to have very serious effects indeed. It is, so far as I can make out, to be done, not because anybody is going to gain by it—I think 1031 it is clear that nobody can gain by it, though many people can be the losers by it—but merely because the powers that be in the Government at the moment say that they are Free Traders. In utterly changed times and in utterly changed conditions, they are still worshipping at the shrine of an outworn political economic theory. Really, at this critical juncture in our history, it is almost inconceivable that they should take this line.
I do not intend to follow other noble Lords into the wide field of Empire Free Trade. We had a most instructive and interesting debate on this subject a short time ago, and our position was then very clearly explained by my noble friend Lord Cushendun. We are fully alive to the difficulties in the way of an immediate achievement of such an ideal as complete Free Trade within the Empire, but, although we do not think that any cut and dried scheme of Empire Free Trade is attainable for a considerable period, yet we are certainly in favour of moving in that direction and of taking every possible step to ensure closer economic co-operation between different parts of the Empire and the development of an Imperial economic policy. We shall, I know, have all the difficulties brought to our notice. We are aware of them. We shall, I have no doubt, have the case of Australia brought to our notice, where, as your Lordships are well aware, there has been quite recently a revision of tariffs and considerably increased duties have been imposed. I can see that this must be most disheartening and mortifying to those who profess to be undiluted Free Traders, but I do not think it makes the position any more difficult than it was before.
I am not going to hazard an opinion as to what the actual effect upon British trade is going to be. I do not think people yet know what it will be. They are examining the situation, and I think the actual effect upon British trade is doubtful. But one thing does stand out, and that is that in almost every case the Preference to British traders has been maintained, and in some instances the Preference has actually been increased in their favour. I think this does show that they are still prepared industrially to show a practical willingness to help us in this way. I think we should meet 1032 that attitude sympathetically and, on our part, do what we can to reciprocate the benefits that they are giving to us. I would only say in conclusion that we realise that the conditions are not ideal, but I do not think that any conditions can be so bad as to warrant a refusal on the part of the Government to explore every means of developing our Imperial resources and of increasing trade between different parts of the Empire at this very critical juncture. I would therefore earnestly express the hope that the Conference that is to take place next year will be allowed the very fullest freedom in its discussion of these matters.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I approach this subject from a different standpoint, I fear, from that of most of those who have addressed your Lordships to-day, but I desire to say at once that, although I cannot be a supporter of the various views put forward indicating diverse ways of fostering trade between the Empire and the Mother Country, yet I am not blind to the difficulties that beset us at this moment and I am very fully conscious, as we must all be, of the state of industry, which is leading not only Governments but everybody concerned who is capable of giving advice or of contributing to the wisdom of the country to help, as far as they can, to solve a very serious problem.
I was very much struck with some observations made by Lord Ernle to-day. It is undoubtedly true that in the present state of affairs economic problems, whether national or industrial, are of greater importance than at any time that I can recollect during a somewhat prolonged life, and it does behove us to do all that we can to attempt to solve them. I will not examine the varied remedies that have been proposed, because I do not want to overload the question to-day with difficulties. I think Lord Melchett said, with great truth, that it is not because there are difficulties and because we see so many aspects of the problem that we should regard it as incapable of solution. I was very much impressed by the speech he made. He did not attempt to lay down any line or to suggest that it must be by tariffs on meat or wheat that we should approach better trade in the Empire. Indeed, if I 1033 followed accurately what he was saying, he was rather opposed to that view.
In the very interesting and, if I may say so, admirable speech that Lord Beaverbrook addressed to us quite recently what impressed me was that in the course of it, whilst he made point after point with great force, there came a stage at which he made a most significant observation for the first time, at least so far as I am aware either from his speeches or from pamphlets or articles that I have read on behalf of those who are putting forward Imperial Free Trade. It was that the Dominions must of course be allowed to impose tariffs for the protection of their key industries and also for the production of revenue. I hope that he will not think that I am saying this in any captious spirit. Quite the opposite. I am always ready to listen with an attentive and, I may say, a friendly ear—I speak only for myself; I do not attempt to speak for other members of my Party, who may or may not take the same view—to anything that helps to bind the Empire together, that will improve the trade of the country, that will give us greater stability in industry. Any suggestion of that kind commends itself to my sympathetic interest, and I should rather look for means of surmounting difficulties than for some new development of obstacles.
But what impressed me so much in that speech—only in that part of it—was this observation of Lord Beaverbrook; because, if tariffs are to be imposed against us—this is the point—by the Dominions for the protection of their key industries and for the production of revenue, I ask myself: What is there left, what of importance can be left, to make a possibility of discussion between us that should be fruitful? It may very likely be that I am understanding it in a more comprehensive way than was intended. Again, Lord Ernle, who always speaks in this House with great authority on agriculture, was careful to point out to us that so far as he was able to discern with his long experience, tariffs would not help agriculture, and that it was no use pretending they would. Most of the arguments, or many of them, which I have heard in favour of Imperial Free Trade advance always the contention that agriculture will be assisted. Lord Ernle says it will not—that nothing of that kind can 1034 help the industry. Again, I am left wondering by what means we are to approach the subject.
My noble friend Lord Melchett put forward a different view, and, if I did not misunderstand, it was rather on the basis of great amalgamations, great business mergers, which no doubt can be successfully conducted, and at the present moment are almost the keynote of success in industry, as we see in America, Germany and various other countries. Here again I find a serious difficulty. It is impossible, as it seems to me, to discuss with our Dominions or our Colonies merely on the basis of profits. It is not as if you are sitting down, representative of a number of companies and trying to make the best bargain you can, by which all of you will manage to make profits instead of competing. That is not the situation. It leaves out altogether from consideration the most vital aspect, which is the political. It is quite impossible to discuss with the Dominions the making of an economic unit of the Empire, if it is to be really a matter of fostering our trade. No doubt my noble friend will tell you that that is only one aspect of the problem, and that it is one which requires consideration. I agree, but there is a vital difficulty. Also, we must all remember that there are different Governments, and that one Government succeeds another of a different political complexion, and it may not agree with what has been previously agreed, at any rate for the time being.
I find myself, however, pointing out difficulties, and that is not what I desire to do. But all these are matters which would have to be considered, and my only object in referring to them is not for the purpose of saying that it is impossible to solve this problem, but merely for the purpose of trying to arrive at a solution among ourselves. There is the suggestion of Lord Lovat, that the Colonies should be allowed to come here and take part in our discussions. I am sure it is present in the mind of the Government that India stands in a very special position. I would only point out that India has a greater measure of fiscal autonomy than perhaps your Lordships may recognise at the moment. India must decide these matters for herself, and cannot be called upon by the Secretary of State, or by the Government, or by Parliament, 1035 to come to a conclusion unless she willingly assents to the plan, or unless she herself puts it forward. In that respect, if we came to consider—
May I point out that I never mentioned India, but entirely confined myself to the non-self-governing Colonies, the Protectorates and Mandated Territories?
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I think perhaps it was Lord Melchett who referred to India, but it was incidental to the question he put, and the observations made by him, that I made reference to India. In considering the question, it must be borne in mind that if any good is to come from discussing the question with India, India must be allowed a free hand, and must not be ordered by the Secretary of State to arrive at a particular conclusion. India stands in a different position from the fiscal point of view as compared with the political.
I suggest to the Government that the last two Questions on the Paper might very well be answered in the affirmative. Indeed, what is puzzling me is that it would be difficult to find reasons why it should be answered in the negative. There is everything to be gained by discussion taking place between us. It may very well be that the Dominions will immediately say that they will have nothing to do with the matter; that they will not fetter their industries, that they must be allowed to progress in their own way, and that they cannot agree to anything which will prevent the development of their economic and industrial prosperity. If so, they will have answered the question for themselves, and we shall know where we stand on that point, and shall then have to devote our attention to some other solution of the problem. For myself, I hope that the Government will be able to give a cordial assent to the two Questions in order that we may have a discussion, which cannot do harm and must do good inasmuch as it will enable us to understand the relative positions of the Dominions and ourselves, and, I hope, also of the Colonies.
It may be too sanguine to hope, and yet I am optimistic enough to believe, that in the result, although we may not be able to go at the moment all the way suggested, we may make a beginning, 1036 which will create a bond between the Dominions and ourselves and will make for permanent unity within the Empire. This is more essential at the present moment, because—may I point out what perhaps is not sufficiently recognised in the political world?—since the Conference of 1926 there has been a very considerable change in the constitutional position of the Dominions towards the Mother Country. We are now, as I understand from the Report, free and independent nations, equal in status, so that no one nation can decide for the other or profess to legislate for the other. The consequence, so far as I have been able to understand from a careful study of the documents of 1926, is that the only tie between us, beyond the sentimental tie of blood and the traditions we hold in common, is that of allegiance to the King. That being the case, I suggest the time is opportune, and that Lord Beaverbrook, although I am not able to agree with his plan, has yet done service by urging that we should consider the problem, and that all those who have put forward different views are also assisting us, because it is essential that we should strive from every point of view to find some better relations between the Dominions and ourselves than exist under the constitutional system developed in 1926.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to address the House for a few moments in relation to some observations made by the noble Marquess. He would expect us to say quite plainly that we desire to tax foreign wheat and foreign meat if we wish to do so. That is our purpose and therefore we declare it. Perhaps that shows more courage than some who hesitate. The noble Marquess further made the point that I have only recently advanced the proposal that the Dominions should continue to impose tariffs for the purpose of protecting their key industries. That is not the case. I have seen quite clearly that it is essential to the progress and wellbeing of the Empire that key industries in every country should be sustained and built up, and that nothing should be done to destroy them. This condition is part of the policy of Empire Free Trade.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD ARNOLD)
May I ask the noble Lord a question? In his speech the other day he spoke of Protection not only of key industries but of other important industries as well. What does he mean by that?
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
Without doubt there must be protection for those industries growing up in Australia and elsewhere raider the protection of tariffs. From my knowledge of the Dominion of Canada I say without hesitation that there is not the same necessity for sheltering tariffs in that Dominion. On the contrary, in five years or even in a shorter period it could enter into com petition with industry in any part of the Empire. Further the noble Marquess made the case that these tariffs, if they are to be given to some Dominions in the Empire, would be an impediment and would indeed destroy the whole conception of the scheme of Free Trade within the Empire. That is not the case. In Australia after the Commonwealth was formed the State of Western Australia maintained a tariff wall for some years against the other States of the Commonwealth.
Another point made by the noble Marquess was that agriculture would not benefit under our plan. Agriculture is suffering at this moment not from the competition of the Dominions at all, but from the competition of the dumped and subsidised wheat that comes from East Prussia and of the very cheap wheat that is shipped here from the Argentine, shipped here to the exclusion at this moment of the usual and regular supplies of Canadian wheat. The Empire Free Trader looks forward to the time when subsidised wheat from East Prussia is entirely barred from the British Market and when, further, the Argentine wheat will be at a disadvantage compared with wheat from the Dominions. The wheat from the Dominions is produced from labour which is more nearly comparable to the wages and conditions of labour in Great Britain.
If I may for one moment speak about the question asked by Lord Lovat, I should like to associate myself with his plea to the Government that the question he raised should be taken into 1038 consideration. It was to the effect that the Crown Colonies, the non-self-governing Colonies and Dependencies, should be taken into account when the Imperial Conference is held. Under the existing conditions the non-self-governing Colonies and Dependencies—that excludes India and Egypt—and the Mandated Territories are represented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. That would not be a satisfactory solution-from our point of view at all. We would like to get independent and representative opinion from the Crown Colonies and non-self-governing Colonies and Dependencies, opinion that can he relied upon, to consider the fiscal issues as they relate to these Crown Colonies and not entirely from the narrow, prejudiced, Free Trade, Cobdenite view-point which the Government displayed when this issue was last before the House.
One last word. The noble Lord, Lord Ernle, in speaking to this House to-night discussed in the most vigorous way the operations of the Federal Farm Board. I followed him very closely. He put the case so vigorously and so clearly that I wished he had made one point in conclusion. The Federal Farm Board will shortly subsidise the export of American wheat which will be dumped in the British Market. The Canadian farmer will at once apply to the Canadian Government and ask for support and relief. Undoubtedly the Dominion of Canada will be forced to set up a Farm Board too, and so we shall find ourselves in the unenviable position of receiving dumped wheat, subsidised wheat, not only from the United States of America but from one of our own Dominions.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS AND THE COLONIES (LORD PASSFIELD)
My Lords, I have been set what I feel to be almost an impossible task. A very innocent series of Questions, against which I have no complaint, from the noble Viscount has led to a discussion from eight noble Lords in succession, a discussion which has been singularly interesting to me at any rate, because each noble Lord attempted to argue in favour of a separate and distinct proposition and proposal and theory being considered by the next Imperial Conference. I feel inclined to say—I do not know whether on my own behalf or on behalf of the Government—" Let 1039 them all come," especially as they all contradict each other or, to put it more gracefully, each one advocated a separate panacea. Nearly all the eight were distinguished by that.
There was one thing which seemed to be common to nearly all of them. There is no representative of individualism speaking. One after another recommended some form of Government action. The noble Viscount who began apparently proposed the extremely innocent and charmingly attractive ideal of Empire Free Trade. As far as I know, His Majesty's Government, not this Government alone but successive Governments as far back as I remember, have always been in favour of Empire Free Trade. I can remember for many years their complaint against the multiplicity of Customs tariffs within the Empire and their great desire that those Customs tariffs should come to an end. I cannot see anything novel in this idea of Empire Free Trade, except, indeed, that it appears to consist not of removing Customs tariffs at all but of setting up new Customs tariffs, with a tax upon foreign foodstuffs, which must make up a large proportion of the eight-ninths of the loaf which Lord Ernle reminded us came from foreign parts, and positively a new import duty on Argentine meat and United States wheat.
I would not say that the next Imperial Conference should not even discuss that if any Government brought it forward, but I think the noble Viscount who brought that up might at any rate begin by converting the noble Lords who sit on the same Benches as himself. It is a little hard that our small remnant here should be attacked for not at once embracing this idea of taxes on foreign foodstuffs. It is a little hard that we should be condemned as obscurant and ignorant and prejudiced and stubborn and all the rest of it, when the noble Lord has not perhaps yet made much headway among his own friends belonging to the same Party. Is there any one prepared to advocate that we should put a tax on foreign meat and foreign wheat? Will there be any one at the next Imperial Conference who will seriously ask the representatives of His Majesty's Governments to put a tax upon foreign wheat and foreign meat? It is not for me to prejudge the answer that would be 1040 given, but only to remind your Lordships of the basis of our relations with the self-governing Dominions and India.
The noble Marquess referred to the very momentous change that took place in our relations in 1926. It has changed the whole face of things, as we shall discover in due course. Well, it would not do for us to suggest to one of the self-governing Dominions that they should make changes in their fiscal arrangements because we thought it would be better for them and for us; and they will equally shrink, I think, from making suggestions that this country should make changes in its fiscal tariff in order to promote their interests and, as they may think, our interests as well. That is not the basis on which we have been accustomed to deal with our Dominions, and you will find it very difficult to move to that basis. But, as I say, I do not want to rule out anything.
Lord Ernle, if he will allow me to say so, in his exceedingly graceful speech gave us another illustration of something apparently to be discussed at the Imperial Economic Conference—the Federal Farm Board of the United States, set up in order to improve agricultural marketing. There is, of course, a complete difference between letting the farmer go on in his present, way and coming in to put a shield between him and the cold draught of beneficent plenty in the world. But this Federal Farm Board! Dear me, I said at first that there was no individualism in any of the proposals, but this, at any rate, is rank Socialism. It is not for us to shrink from that. But again I would say that the noble Viscount might attempt to carry his propaganda a little nearer home and get some support in his own Party.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has quite a separate proposal. He said, rightly enough, with what power would a Secretary of State go into a conference with other countries, if he could carry with him the power of union in the development of the resources even of one country, let alone of the Empire. But who is going to give the Secretary of State and His Majesty's Government that power—the power to combine the production of the great mineral wealth of the Empire in one hand, so that he could answer for it? I am revealing no secrets if I say that His Majesty's Government would be very glad if they could at this 1041 moment wield the power of combining in their own hands the whole of the coal production of this country—one mineral in one country—because possibly in that way, as Lord Melchett would very likely agree with me, a solution might be found of an apparently insoluble position of things in one branch of production in one country. But what a vista of collectivism the noble Lord is showing to us when he suggests that the Government should have in its hand the power to act on behalf of all the mineral production, in fact, all the production of raw materials in the whole Empire; that is to say, should be able to say that it could control it, that it could bargain for it, that it could enter into arrangements for production on behalf of all the hundred thousand people in the engineering trade, and all the hundred thousand other separate people among whom the ownership and control of these enterprises is now dispersed. I agree with the noble Lord it would be a good thing if we could have some such unity, not only in the British Empire, but even in the United Kingdom. I think there would be great advantages in it; but, of course it would be a huge task, and it is not practical politics to ask this particular Government, at any rate, to go along in that direction.
It would be troubling your Lordships too much if I were to go all through all the different suggestions that have been made, and I can only ask the noble Lords who made suggestions to which I have not alluded to excuse me if I pass them over at this late hour. But there are one or two points that I should mention. The noble Earl who spoke from the Front Bench opposite used very careful phraseology, yet I think I am not going too far if I say that he saw salvation in an extension of the number of Preferences which this country could give to our Dominions, in return, no doubt, for proper payment. I am perhaps simple, but it seemed to me to have no meaning unless it meant an increase in the number of taxes on different commodities on which you give Preferences. I think the late Government went almost as far as it could in giving Preferences upon the existing taxes. If you are going to increase the number of Preferences—here again the noble Viscount who introduced this discussion would perhaps agree—it means that you are going to 1042 increase the number of taxes on separate commodities, that you are going to put on taxes in order that you may be able to take off part in Preferences. That does not seem to be an extension of Free Trade within the Empire or in any other way.
That was not the suggestion. It is true I said that taxes should be put on foreign foodstuffs, but that no taxes should be put on those articles coming in from the Dominions and Colonies.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon if I have misrepresented him. Let me put it another way. I think reference was made to Australia, which has been putting on a large number of additional taxes, and at the same time taking part of them off in the way of Preference. That does not seem to me an increase in the direction of Free Trade. Our manufacturers who export to Australia do not consider it so, at any rate. Let us get rid of these ambiguous phrases. How can you increase Preferences without increasing the number of things that you tax in order that you may take off part of the tax as Preference? How can you have Empire Free Trade, while all the Dominions still maintain tariffs? How can you call it Free Trade at all if it involves putting on new taxes on foreign food and foreign meat? But possibly we should get a little more clearness if we had this discussion at an Imperial Conference, because it would inevitably be discussed not by representatives of industry, but by Ministers. That leads me to a point which I wish to make. I do not know whether the noble Viscount who asked this Question realised that these Imperial Conferences are not held between representatives of manufacturers and representatives of agriculture, between profit-makers in this direction and profit-makers in the other direction, practical men in a business way; they are held between representatives of Governments, between Ministers, and there you get to a certain difficulty.
But perhaps I had better come to the noble Viscount's Questions. The first Question is whether the terms of reference for the Imperial Economic Conference have yet been settled. We certainly hope and intend that there shall 1043 be an Imperial Economic Conference in conjunction with what is commonly called the Imperial Conference, in 1930, no doubt in the latter part of the year, but the exact date has not yet been settled. Your Lordships will realise the great size of the British Empire, which includes Dominions with different climates, different seasons, and, what is much more important, Parliaments holding their Sessions at different times of the year. It is extremely difficult to get the Prime Ministers and other responsible Ministers of all the separate parts of the Commonwealth to any one place in any one month; but we are endeavouring to find a date which if not convenient to every part of the Commonwealth, represents at any rate the least common measure of discomfort, and we hope that we shall be able to fix the Conference in the autumn of 1930.
With regard to the terms of reference, noble Lords perhaps do not realise that this country does not impose any agenda or terms of reference upon the Imperial Conference or the Imperial Economic Conference. What will be discussed at that Conference are exactly the subjects which the several members of the Conference wish to have discussed. No doubt there will be preliminary interchanges by telegraph in order, if possible, to get to know what is going to be discussed; but the subjects to be discussed will be settled by the Governments themselves, and, practically, any Government which wishes to bring forward any subject could hardly be precluded from doing so. At present the agenda has not assumed any definite form. Therefore, as it will be open to any of the Governments to propose subjects for inclusion, any proposal relating to methods of promoting inter-Imperial trade could be discussed.
Noble Lords have once or twice—I do not want to complain—rather spoken as if they attributed a desire on the part of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to object to and keep out subjects, to turn a deaf ear and give unsympathetic consideration to whatever will be proposed. I think it must be plain that the Government could not possibly turn a deaf ear, or give unsympathetic consideration to anything that was proposed or advocated as calculated to increase inter-Imperial trade. It is 1044 obvious that is our common object. I have not heard anybody who was not very much concerned in increasing inter-Imperial trade. Why it should be supposed this particular Government has not been thinking about it, and has not been worrying about it, I do not know. It must be perfectly obvious that, merely because we do not feel able to fall in with one particular plan, it is inevitable, whether we like it or not, that we shall be doubly anxious to consider every plan that could be put forward.
We were accused of giving a complete and final negative to something. I do not like the words complete and final. We may all live to know better, but, if anything can be complete and final, I should think that, not only on this side of the House but on both sides of the House—at any rate on the Front Benches—there would be a negative to any proposal for laying taxes upon important foodstuffs that should come into this country. At any rate the opinion of His Majesty's Government is that to do anything of that sort would not only be seriously inimical to the standard of life of the people of this country, but would entail such a crushing Nemesis at the ensuing General Election as would in itself be sufficient to preserve the Government in its faith in opposition to these duties. These are not opinions on which this side of the House stands alone, as your Lordships well know. I can only ask the noble Lord who asked these Questions to pursue his propaganda and attempts at conversion a little nearer home.
The noble Lord who spoke on my left (Lord Lovat) asked whether the Crown Colonies and Dependencies and Mandated Territories would be represented at this coming Conference. I am not able to say whether any change will be made. When the last Conference took place when another Government was in power it was held that these Crown Colonies and Dependencies could only be represented by Ministers, and that meant by the Secretary of State for the Colonies or one of the Under-Secretaries. I do not see quite how we could introduce into a Conference between Governments represented by responsible Ministers any one, a planter let us say, or a business merchant, or any one of that kind, on behalf of the West African Colonies. I am afraid we cannot 1045 do everything at an Imperial Conference, and probably we shall find no better way of representing the interests and desires of the Crown Colonies and Dependencies than by one of the Ministers who has the responsibility of answering for them in Parliament here. If we have to take up that position it will be exactly that taken up by the last Government. The noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, in his last speech, incidentally referred to Egypt. I have not been aware that Egypt has yet become part of the British Empire or has ever been. It is an interesting indication of states of mind that occasionally one hears people refer to Egypt as though it were part of the British Empire.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Really I excluded Egypt. I mentioned the Crown Colonies and the Protectorates, and that at once excluded India and Egypt from my description.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord. Why should he have excluded Egypt rather than France or Belgium? Egypt is an independent country.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
There is some confusion. The noble Marquess discussed India and I wanted to make it clear that India was not included in that portion of the area of the world I was describing.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord. At any rate, he gave me the impression that he wished to exclude Egypt in the same way that he wished to exclude India, but I can leave it at that. I am afraid I am not able to promise the noble Viscount who asked this Question any Papers. There are no Papers at the present time. Telegraphic correspondence has been passing with the Dominions with regard to the date and convenience of meeting, but it is not usual to publish those telegrams, and they would not be interesting, because they only concern various difficulties of the Dominions as to coming in one month or in another. I hope the noble Viscount will be content with the interesting discussion he has raised and will not press for Papers.
Before the noble Lord sits down, would he mind telling the House whether there are to be two Conferences next year, an Imperial Conference and an Imperial Economic Conference, 1046 or only one Conference, because in one part of his speech he spoke of an Imperial Conference and in another part of an Imperial Economic Conference?
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I hope the noble Lord will excuse me from going into the metaphysics of the question of whether there will be two Conferences or one. There will be certainly separate sessions, very likely separate Ministers in attendance at those sessions, for dealing with economic questions, and there will be other sessions dealing with other subjects. Whether they will actually be called two Conferences, one an Economic Conference the other an Imperial Conference, which will rather overlap in their duties, or whether they will be run in separate compartments as one Conference, is a matter of form and not a matter perhaps of moment, and it is not quite settled.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for the courteous way in which he replied to my last question, and also for the way in which he has replied to the Questions on the Paper. At the same time, I feel that that reply, from the point of view of those who think with me, is not at all satisfactory, because we learn from that reply that the Imperial Economic Conference will be constituted only of Government representatives and that they will decide what subjects are to be brought up in that Conference and whether they are to be brought up or not. It is perfectly obvious that Governments represent certain policies. The noble Lord, Lord Passfield, and more emphatically the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, three weeks ago, informed us that they represent a Free Trade Government. The other Government representatives who come from the Dominions likewise will represent policies of their own. Therefore they will meet together and it is most unlikely that any policy which has some new aspect, or which is not believed in, or has not even been examined by those representatives, will ever have a chance of coming before that Imperial Economic Conference.
I was particularly pleased to hear the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, accept the proposals indicated in this Question, because, although he said that he spoke for himself, personally I cannot help 1047 feeling from that that perhaps the Liberal Party are beginning to see that it is necessary to take part in Imperial development on a large scale. I do hope that the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who holds that position with great distinction and with great diplomacy, will, during the next few months before the Imperial Economic Conference sits, again consider this question with a view to ascertaining whether it may not be possible to broaden the basis of the Conference and to enable business men and others, if not 1048 to take part in it, to give evidence before it and to put forward their views as to how it may be possible to improve inter-Imperial trade. I quite agree that this debate has not only been most interesting but most instructive. I do not think there is anything to be gained this afternoon by pressing my Motion to a Division. I therefore beg leave to with-draw it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before seven o'clock.