§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT SNOWDEN)
My Lords, this Bill, to which I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading, is a very short and very simple, and, I think, a non-controversial measure. 942 It proposes to enact the continuance of the whole of one measure and a part of another measure which were passed last September at the time that this country departed from the gold standard. They were largely precautionary measures, and I am very glad to be able to tell your Lordships that, in respect of one of those measures at any rate, no occasion has arisen for giving effect to its provisions. One part of this Bill proposes to re-enact a subsection of the Gold Standard (Amendment) Act, which was passed on September 21 last year. The subsection is very short and is self-explanatory, and, with your Lordships' permission, I will read it to you:It shall be lawful for the Treasury to make, and from time to time vary, orders authorising the taking of such measures in relation to the exchanges and otherwise as they may consider expedient for meeting difficulties arising in connection with the suspension of the gold standard.This subsection shall continue in force for a period of six months from the passing of this Act.That period of six months will expire on Monday next and that is the reason why we are being asked to pass a measure extending the operation of this subsection.
Your Lordships will notice that this subsection gives to the Treasury very wide and general powers, but the only power that has been exercised under this subsection is the issuing of a Treasury Order in regard to the purchase of foreign exchanges. Your Lordships will remember that when that important step the abandonment of the gold standard was taken, there was a good deal of fear as to what might happen. Nobody was in a position to foresee precisely or even at all clearly what the consequences of that momentous step might be. I was responsible at that time for the action of the Treasury, and almost the moment after the Bill became law I issued the Treasury Order. That Treasury Order prevented as far as it was possible, except for certain specific purposes, the transfer of British funds abroad by the exchange of sterling for foreign currencies. It prohibited the acquiring of foreign currencies either directly or indirectly except, as I said, for two or three specified purposes. The first was for normal trading requirements. The second was for contracts which had been 943 entered into before the suspension or the abandonment, for the time being at least, of the gold standard. The third was reasonable travelling or other personal expenses. Those were the only three purposes for which foreign exchange could be obtained.
I may say in regard to the third of these, reasonable travelling or other personal expenses, that I made a public appeal at that time asking British subjects to refrain as far as possible from travelling unnecessarily abroad and an appeal to British subjects who might be living abroad to return as a patriotic duty to this country. I am very glad to say that that appeal seems to have met with a very considerable response. Of course, the effect of an appeal wears out in time, and I notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place renewed that appeal a day or two ago, and pointed out that the need for restricting foreign expenditure or expenditure abroad still existed as a precautionary measure. I have explained to your Lordships the only action that was taken under the powers of that subsection, and I would like to take this opportunity, as I was, as I have said, responsible for the issue of that Order, of expressing my own personal thanks to the banks and the public for the very hearty and willing co-operation we have had in the carrying out of that Order.
It was felt last week by the Treasury that there was not that urgency for the existence of the Order which existed at the time it was issued and it was for the time being suspended. Your Lordships may ask why, if it has been found possible to suspend the operation of that subsection, you should be asked to pass a measure continuing these powers to the Treasury. Of course, the explanation of that is quite clear. Still we do not know what may happen and we are asking your Lordships to continue this power even though it may not be required. But it may be required and it is important that the power should still remain in the hands of the Treasury. The position, as I have said, has happily changed very much since last September and we have for the moment no reason to suspect—indeed, quite the contrary—that conditions will be found less favourable. But I repeat that it is important that we should be armed with any necessary 944 powers to deal with conditions or circumstances which may arise because there are still, as your Lordships know, a great many unsolved world financial and economic problems, including Reparations. So long as the world is in such an unsettled state economically, industrially and financially he would not be a wise prophet who would venture to forecast with assurance what the future holds for us.
This measure is asking that the power should be extended for twelve months, and your Lordships might ask why twelve months when six months ago we considered six months sufficient. The explanation of that is that at the end of six months from now Parliament will probably not be sitting. That six months will expire about the middle of next September, and we are asking your Lordships, therefore, to extend these powers to the Treasury for another twelve months.
I may perhaps add one word more about the working of the Order to which I have referred. It allowed complete freedom for the purchase of exchange either spot or forward for normal trading arrangements, and it did not, therefore, in the least hamper legitimate trade. Its real purpose was to prevent the export of capital from this country. I think I have now explained that part of the Bill which proposes the renewal of those powers that were given to the Treasury six months ago. It has been urged in another place that there has been an embargo during the operation of this Order upon the issue of foreign loans in this country. That is not the case. It is true that there have been no foreign issues in this country, and for the very simple reason that if such an issue had been promoted it is most unlikely, in the present state of the money market in London and other financial circumstances, that any response would have been given to such a foreign issue. When things get better and the London market is once more in a position to take up overseas issues, it is very likely that they will find ample scope for their activities in demands from the home market and from the Dominions.
Now I turn to the second part of this Bill, which proposes to re-enact the Foodstuffs (Prevention of Exploitation) Act. There was a widespread fear when we passed the Gold Standard (Amendment) 945 Act that there would be a phenomenal rise in prices, and that, perhaps, advantage would be taken of that by unscrupulous traders to raise prices beyond what was reasonable. That arose from the fact that we are to a very great extent dependent for our necessary food supplies upon imports from all parts of the world. Five-sixths o£ our wheat, half our meat and four-fifths of our cheese and lard have, under present conditions, to be imported from overseas, and it was thought necessary to take precautionary measures in order to prevent as far as possible a rise in prices. At that time the President of the Board of Trade got in touch with the large trade interests of the country, and he received from them their hearty co-operation It was with their approval that this emergency legislation, which gave the Board of Trade power to deal with unreasonable rises in prices or what is popularly called exploitation, was passed. But we were from one point of view in a rather fortunate position in regard to this matter, because the traders of this country at that time had very large and adequate stocks. International conditions, too, favoured us in this respect, because some of the countries from which we derive large supplies of foodstuffs followed sterling, and that has prevented an increase of prices to any extent in those commodities which we obtained from these sources.
The position during this six months in regard to foodstuffs has been so normal that the Board of Trade has not found it necessary in any single instance to exercise its powers. There have been, I understand, a few individual complaints made of what was alleged to be undue profiteering, and all those cases were investigated, but in not a single case was there found to be any substantial justification for the complaint. The Board of Trade is still keeping in touch with the representatives of the food industry, both wholesale and retail, and it is receiving the hearty co-operation of those interests. We have at the moment no reason to think that the position will not continue to be satisfactory, but, for the reason that I submitted to your Lordships in regard to the other part of this Bill, the Government is anxious that these powers should still remain in its hands to be used should the necessity arise.
946 Perhaps your Lordships would be interested if, in a sentence, I give you the figures of the rises which have taken place in wholesale and retail prices since this country went off the gold standard. I think no one would have dared to prophesy six months ago that prices would remain at the low figure at which they are to-day. The average wholesale price of all foodstuffs it; up by about 9 per cent. over the average on the 1st of September, 1931, but it is lower by about 10 per cent. than the average for the year before, 1930. For all wholesale prices—the figure I gave to your Lordships just now referred to foodstuffs only—the rise is about 8 per cent. In regard to retail prices there is, as your Lordships know, a very wide margin between wholesale and retail prices. There are reasons for that, either justifiable or non-justifiable, into which I need not enter this afternoon beyond saying that the costs of distribution in the retail trade are of necessity much higher than they are in the wholesale trade. The index figure of retail prices of foodstuffs is 29 as compared with 28 for September of last year—that is over the basic figure of 100 in July, 1914. So one might say that retail prices of food have remained during the last six months practically the same as they were on September 1 last year. That, I think your Lordships will agree, is very satisfactory.
Notwithstanding this, I could not put before your Lordships, on the experience of the last six months, any justification for the extension of these powers if we had an assurance that all the dangers which led to the Government putting them on the Statute Book last September had disappeared, and we cannot take any risk in this very uncertain world and in these very uncertain times. For that reason we are asking your Lordships to pass this measure. I have to conclude by moving that this Bill be read a second time. I shall move later the suspension of Standing Order No. XXXIX, and I will then give a brief explanation of the reason why that is necessary.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Snowden.)
LORD PONSONBY OF SEULBREDE
My Lords, before my noble friend who sits beside me rises to make some re- 947 marks upon this measure and on the interesting speech which we have just heard from the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal, I desire to call your Lordships' attention to the circumstances under which this Bill is being discussed. As the noble Viscount said in the conclusion of his remarks, Standing Order No. XXXIX is to be suspended in order that in the course of the next half hour this Bill may pass through all its stages. I do not rise to make any protest or any complaint whatsoever. Nor do I rise to attach any blame, certainly not to the noble Viscount who has just addressed the House, nor to the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House (Viscount Hailsham) and who I am sorry is still incapacitated by illness from attending. I merely want to call your Lordships' attention to the manner in which this House is being treated by the present Government.
In the original Act at the end occurs the following sentence:This subsection shall continue in force for the period of six months from the passing of this Act.Now everybody at the Treasury knew that this subsection would expire on March 20. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knew that this subsection would expire on March 20. The Bill was not a controversial measure. It could have been introduced into the House of Commons weeks ago and it could have gone through the normal procedure in your Lordships' House. I am within the recollection of your Lordships, but the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal was not here at that time and perhaps would like to hear how the original Act was passed through your Lordships' House. That was on September 21. The Bill had not been introduced even into this House and a special Motion was made that Standing Orders Nos. LIV and XXXIX be read out. On that there was a brief debate. After the debate the sitting of the House was suspended and then the Bill was introduced. The Second Reading was taken, the suspension of Standing Orders No. LIV and XXXIX was agreed to, the Committee stage was negatived, the Third Reading agreed to, and the Royal Assent given, all between a quarter to eleven and eleven o'clock at night. That was the way in which the original Act was passed through your Lordships' House.
948 I do not complain at all. I think that in these days of speeding up it is an admirable idea and, as your Lordships' House is considered evidently by the present Government to be a moribund institution which does not count, there is no reason why this procedure should not be continually adopted. In fact, if I were able to move an Amendment it would be that Standing Order No. XXXIX should be suspended for the remainder of the Session; because what happens now, my Lords? Those of your Lordships who attend the sittings of this House regularly know that I am speaking the truth. We come here day after day and after a few moments during which the Standing Orders are gone through we go away. Then suddenly we are told that there is a crisis, that there is an emergency, and this procedure is adopted. We hurry through Bills in a short space of time. Black Rod is despatched in hot haste to another place. The Sergeant-at-Arms and the Speaker hurry here. Everybody, watch in hand, is looking to see that the thing is completed in the right time, and then we go home.
It is not a very dignified form of procedure. I do not complain, but I think that your Lordships ought to have your attention drawn to it. Standing Order No. XXXIX was suspended under the Labour Government on many occasions, but we erred in our courteous desire to consider your Lordships' convenience and to see that your Lordships had every opportunity of full debate. That is not to be the method of the present Government. The present Government are going to throw these measures at your Lordships' House at the last moment. Already we have had the Abnormal Importations (Customs Duties) Act. On November 20 Standing Order No. XXXIX was suspended for that and it was put through all its stages. Then there was the Import Duties Bill on February 29. The same procedure was adopted. As I pointed out just now, there was no occasion for this procedure whatsoever in the case of the present Bill. It was merely neglect on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that full time was given to both Houses to consider this measure, as I should have thought it ought to be considered, in a constitutional way. I notice 949 that yesterday in another place the Prime Minister gave notice that the Isle of Man (Customs) Bill and the Tanganyika and British Honduras Loans Bill have both to be got through before the Easter Recess, so we shall have a couple more occasions on which Standing Order No. XXXIX will be suspended next week in order that in hot haste we can get those measures through.
I think it is a very good procedure. I think that, considering the way this House, is regarded in the public eye and by the House of Commons and by the present Government, the more speedily we get through our work the better, but I did feel that on this occasion when there was so little reason for the suspension of the Standing Order, that your Lordships ought to look round and note the manner in which the present Government are treating your Lordships' House. I believe that in the House of Commons there is a body sitting in order to reform this House. I do not know how long it will be before they withdraw their heads from that hornets' nest, but at any rate the respect that I have always thought traditionally should be shown to your Lordships' House is very noticeably absent under the present régime.
§ LORD DANESFORT rose.
My Lords, I do not propose in the few minutes during which I desire to occupy the attention of your Lordships' House to deal with the measure actually before the House, but to remind your Lordships that, as the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal has pointed out, only one Order has been made under the Gold Standard (Amendment) Act and no action at all has been taken under the Act dealing with exploitation by retail shops. The Order which was made under the Gold Standard (Amendment) Act was actually made on September 22 and was withdrawn—
§ VISCOUNT ELIBANK rose.
§ LORD MARLEY
It is very discourteous on the part of the noble Viscount to interrupt, but if he has anything to say I hope he will say it.
The noble, Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has made certain remarks quite outside the measure before your Lordships' House, and the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, proposed to reply to those remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, sitting on the same side of the House as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, would not give way to him so as to enable him to reply to those remarks. I rose because I wished to point that out.
§ LORD MARLEY
The noble Lord's suggestion will no doubt be taken into account. As far as I am concerned I am dealing with the Bill.
§ Moved, That the noble Lord be no longer heard.—(Viscount Elibank.)
§ LORD MARLEY
I am dealing with the Bill before the House, and I propose to deal with it in the ordinary way.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I rise to a point of order. I do not want to intervene in this particular discussion, but I think it is important that the procedure of your Lordships' House should be regularly conducted. I do not want to enter into the present question as to which noble Lord ought to address your Lordships, but the noble Viscount behind me has made a Motion which is perfectly orderly in your Lordships' House and which must be put from the Woolsack if it is persisted in. I rather hope that the noble Viscount will not press his Motion. Personally I should desire that the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite should address your Lordships on the matter in hand, though it might have been more becoming perhaps if the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, had been allowed to speak at the moment he rose. As matters stand I hope that the order of the House will be pursued in the ordinary way and that the noble Lord in possession will be allowed to proceed. If, however, the noble Viscount behind me persists in his Motion it must be put.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.951
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I have of course no wish whatever to go against the ordinary procedure of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, as far as I understood, was not going to reply to this particular Motion; he actually rose before Lord Ponsonby to reply to the portion of the Motion before the House which will be put after the Second Reading. Then I should have thought would have been the occasion to deal with the subject of the remarks of Lord Ponsonby.
As I was saying when I was interrupted only one Order has actually been made under the Gold Standard (Amendment) Act which is included in the present Bill. The Order under that Act was made on September 22 and was withdrawn on the 3rd March, a fortnight ago. There are no proposals, we are told, to re-impose that Order of the Treasury and there are no new Orders proposed at all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, dealing with this Bill in another place on March 11, alleged that it was merely a formality and that the Government do not anticipate for a moment that we shall require to use it at any time during the twelve months in which it will be available. It seems to me difficult to explain the rush and urgency which have involved this House in the necessity for putting through all the stages of the Bill in one day. It has been said that this House is a mere Committee of the Tory Party. Certainly the House does seem to accept the mere word of the Government that rush and urgency are necessary, when in point of fact this could have been re-enacted after Easter without the slightest difficulty, as it is merely the confirmation of a subsection in the Gold Standard (Amendment) Act which could have been re-imposed at any time at your Lordships' pleasure.
The noble Viscount pointed out that the powers given to the Treasury are very wide and very general. That is so. Our complaint is not against these powers, but that the powers have not been used. We complain that there is no sign of any deliberate and enlightened monetary policy on the part of the present Government. We have seen monetary policy left very largely to the Bank of England. We have seen, as the result of the Cunliffe Committee, a deflationary policy pursued by this 952 country. We have seen the failure to adopt the recommendations of the Genoa Conference of 1922. Finally, the precipitate return to gold in 1925 had the effect of anchoring on to this country not only the deflation pursued at that time internally, but the further deflation due to the maldistribution of gold throughout the world.
The result has been the disastrous fall in commodity prices during the past ten years, and the fall in prices of the past ten years has been largely responsible for the volume of unemployment from which this country has suffered quite apart from other countries which, during the first eight of those ten years, did not have anything like the same volume of unemployment. This unemployment and the financial policy which has been pursued have led to a lowering of wage rates by £750,000,000 a year. Sir Josiah Stamp, lecturing only a few days ago, pointed out that we had transferred £200,000,000 sterling of purchasing power each year from one class to another, and he reminded his audience that that had had a disastrous effect on the general body of spending in the country and was particularly a cause of the increase of luxury importations with which the present Government have attempted to deal. The result has been that social and industrial unrest which the late Sir Alfred Mond, before he was Lord Melchett, put down as entirely due to the return to the gold standard and the financial policy of the Government.
There is no sign that the present Government are making any attempt to alter a policy which has resulted in a decline in national wealth estimated to be in the neighbourhood of £500,000,000 a year. One result of this falling price level has been to make, those who are fortunate enough to draw incomes from fixed interest bearing securities considerably bettor off. I have a calculation before me which shows that a man who had £10,000 a year in 1920 was rather more than twice as well off in 1928. The calculation is in a pamphlet which was written by the present Lord Privy Seal. That means that this policy which is not being altered by the present Government has resulted in these unfair redistributions of the national income which we have seen over the last ten years. The day before yesterday the Commissioners of In- 953 land Revenue issued their Report for the year ended April, 1931. In that Report we see that the Surtax payers have increased from 100,000 to 103,000 and that the assessment at April 30, 1931, shows an increase over the previous year on Surtax income from £555,000,000 to £570,000,000. Such is the wealth of the wealthier section of the community which has resulted from the policy of falling prices that, although the Treasury estimated that Surtax receipts for that year would be £64,500,000, the receipts have actually amounted to just under £68,000,000.
The country is now off gold. We are under a managed currency, and the internal commodity price level of the country is within the direct control of the Treasury and the Bank of England, and yet there is no sign of any enlightened use of the powers which it is proposed this afternoon shall be extended for another twelve months—powers by which the Treasury may make these special Orders. During the past few months we have had first of all a panic outcry of the danger of going off the gold standard. We have been told that the pound would be worthless, and we have seen the result of that cry—the fact that it proved to be absolutely untrue; there was never the risk that the Treasury or the Bank of England told us existed in that matter. We went off gold, and since then the bank rate has been kept far too high for too long a period. The result has been that industry has been hindered from extending and expanding itself. Now we have a bank rate being lowered by I per cent. or half per cent, every few days, but the damage, if damage it be, of encouraging foreign short-term deposits has already been done. The noble Viscount told us how pleased he was, and how satisfactory it was, that the price level had been deliberately kept down, and was in fact still falling. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, speaking in another place, said that falling prices, retail and wholesale, were—these were his words—" a matter of congratulation."
Fiduciary issues were not increased, as usual, at Christmas, but were kept at £275,000,000. Usually there is an increase at Christmas in order to allow for additional Christmas trade. It was proposed, and it was discussed in the newspapers, 954 but it was not actually put into effect. The Times, to-day, publishes the price level, and shows that on March 1 the cost of living was four points below what it was a year ago, and a point lower than it was on February 1, and that food prices are five points lower than a year ago, and two points lower than on the 1st of last month. This matter is dealt with in an exceedingly important article in the Midland Bank Review for March of this year, and they say, with regard to recent monetary developments, that perhaps the most hopeful feature of the world outlook is this question of monetary policy. But they add:Unfortunately, while official announcements have expressed a determination to avoid any marked rise in sterling prices, they have not so specifically recognised the perhaps even stronger desirability of avoiding any further fall. It should surely by now be apparent that the road to final ruin is by way of falling prices, and that the only way out is to take up a firm, immovable stand against a continuance of the trend. For this reason it is even more important to arrest the decline than studiously to avoid the slightest tendency towards a rise.Surely we ought to have from the Government a statement as to whether they intend to use the powers which your Lordships will grant to them this afternoon, or other powers, to carry out the recommendations of a body so important as the Midland Bank, and to secure that we do not suffer from this disaster of a continuation of falling prices.
Those of your Lordships who are interested in industry know that there is a diversity of interest between finance and industry in this country, and therefore it is undesirable that it should be left to the sole judgment of the banks as to what monetary policy should be pursued. The Macmillan Committee have recommended not a stabilisation of the price level at the present rate, which they characterise as disastrous. The Macmillan Committee have recommended that there should be a rise in the price level to the level at which prices stood in 1928, and a policy of gradual credit expansion would, they say, result in increased production and in more employment—in fact we might take a lesson from the proposals now being tried out by the United States of America, of a continuous credit expansion, to assist industry in a time, of the greatest difficulty. The result would be a higher standard of living for the people 955 and an increase in national wealth, with the further effect of distributing national wealth in a way fairer to all sections of the community, and not merely giving to one section of the community, and that a very fortunate one, a greater and increasing share in the national wealth, which is now the case.
If these powers are used as they might be used, no one would be more in favour of this measure than we on this side of the House. I know we are very few in numbers, and that we can be prevented from speaking, and have our task made more difficult, by noble Lords opposite. Personally, I have been in the House now for two years and three months and have had nothing but courtesy and friendly feeling until this afternoon. I understand that it is always the right of the Opposition to reply to a measure which is introduced by the Government, and had I not felt certain that that was the right of the Opposition I would never have dreamed of disputing in any way with any other Lord the right of addressing this House. In the special circumstances I think it is necessary that I should make that point in concluding my remarks.
§ VISCOUNT SNOWDEN
My Lords, I am sure there is no member of the House who would deny to the noble Lord opposite, or indeed to any other member of the House, the right to speak or the right to reply in any debate that takes place, but I am sure that the noble Lord opposite can hardly expect me, in a brief reply, to cover the very wide grounds that he has traversed this afternoon. I should doubt very much whether the questions that he has raised come within the scope of the measure that your Lordships are asked to approve this afternoon. I certainly must ask to be excused from dealing with the monetary policy of the last ten years; from entering into the question of the recommendations of the Cunliffe Committee, or whether it was wise to pursue the policy of deflation, culminating in the return to the gold standard in 1925; then to finish off with an analysis of the distribution of wealth in the country and to argue the question whether the rentier class are better off to-day than they were ten years ago. That, I think, is far too wide a ground for your Lordships to travel this afternoon.
956 But I think the noble Lord who has just sat down is mistaken in assuming that what I described as the wide and general powers given to the Treasury under the Acts still in existence would be sufficient to empower them to revolutionise the whole financial and monetary system of this country. There is one definite reply that, I think, I can, even on my own responsibility without consultation with my colleagues in the Government, give to the noble Lord. He suggested that the Treasury and the Government should adopt the recommendations of such an important body as the Midland Bank, embodied, I believe, in an anonymous article in the monthly Review of that great institution.
§ VISCOUNT SNOWDEN
Well, they may take responsibility for it, but it certainly was an anonymous article. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are not likely to have their financial policy dictated either by the Midland Bank or by any other bank. Any proposals that are made will receive the consideration that they rightly deserve; but I must confess to a certain measure of surprise, remembering the Party with which the noble Lord here is associated, that he should ask the Government to put themselves under the dictation of one of the great banking institutions. I thought it was a principle now in the programme of that Party that the Government should throw off the yoke which is said to hold them in bondage to the great financial and banking interests of this country.
§ LORD MARLEY
That is, of course, quite true. We adopted the noble Viscount's suggestions in that direction.
§ VISCOUNT SNOWDEN
The noble Lord referred, in the concluding part of his speech, to the question of prices. It is quite true that there is, I might almost say a very general opinion, but at any rate a very widespread opinion, that one of the main causes of the world depression is the catastrophic fall in prices in recent years, and, following upon that opinion, it is believed that a rise in prices would stimulate trade and have an all-round beneficial effect. But, admitting that, we get at the same time, especially 957 from the Party opposite, what seems to me to be a quite contradictory position. I am quite sure that the noble Lord and the Party with which he is associated would be loud in their complaints if there had been during the last six months a very considerable, increase in retail prices. The policy of that Party, with which I had some association for a number of years, has always been to keep down the cost of living, and, indeed, the Act dealing with food prices that you are asked to continue this afternoon received the support of the Labour Party when it was before the House of Commons six months ago; they were, in fact, anxious to give the Board of Trade far greater powers than were conferred by that Act. But I think it is possible to reconcile these two conflicting views, because, when economists and others talk about the effect of the world fall in prices upon industry they are referring to wholesale prices. Now, as noble Lords are aware, there is a very great disparity between wholesale prices and retail prices, and there is plenty of margin, without causing an increase in retail prices and in the cost of living, for a rise in wholesale prices. In other circumstances, the speech of the noble Lord would have been most important and nothing would have pleased me better than to take up in detail various points that he has raised. But I am afraid that, your Lordships will have to excuse me this afternoon from adding to what I have already said.
It has been mentioned to me since I sat down that perhaps your Lordships did not understand the reference that I made to foreign travel and the exchange of sterling into foreign currency for the purpose of expending foreign currencies abroad. I should be sorry if there were any misunderstanding on that point. I Slid that the appeal that I made six months ago had met with a good response, and I understand—I was not aware of it at the time I spoke—that in some of the newspapers lately reports have appeared that now it was desirable rather than otherwise that British people should spend their money abroad in order to bring about a fall in the value of sterling. Well, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a reply to a Question in another place last week, and pointed out that the need still existed for conserving our own resources; because apart 958 altogether from the effect that it might have upon the exchanges, it is from many other points of view desirable that money should not be spent abroad. I hope the noble Lord will excuse me for the very cursory way in which I have dealt with his very interesting speech, and there may on some later occasion be an opportunity for dealing more exhaustively with the matters he raised.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ VISCOUNT SNOWDEN
My Lords, I now beg to move that Standing Order No. XXXIX be considered in order to its being dispensed with. This will give me an opportunity of saying a few words in reply to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I may explain, however, that the reason why we are asking that this Bill should be passed through all its stages to-day is that the present Acts expire on Monday next, and therefore it will be necessary to pass this Bill through all its stages and get it on the Statute Book to-day. I think the noble Lord, Lord Marley, was mistaken when he made the point that this was no matter of urgency because there was no intention on the part of the Government to take steps under these Acts; but I should like to point out to the noble Lord that if these powers were not re-enacted before Monday they would then lapse, and that would mean that new Bills would have to be introduced. It is in order to avoid that that we are asking your Lordships to pass this Bill through all its stages this afternoon.
I think there is really no great difference between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in regard to Parliamentary procedure. I have not long been a member of your Lordships' House, but I have been here long enough to admire the House for one thing, and that is the expedition with which it gets through business, and the absence of any talking for mere talking's sake. If that were the universal Parliamentary practice I am sure that Parliament would stand higher in the estimation of the people to-day than it does. The circumstances this afternoon are exceptional, but I have a good deal of sympathy with the noble Lord. There are times, as he admitted, when expedition is essential. There was an instance last September when the Gold Standard (Amendment) Act had to be 959 passed through your Lordships' House in a few minutes without any opportunity for discussion at all. Well, that was an almost revolutionary hour. It was a most momentous step that we were taking, and it was absolutely necessary, in order to avoid what might possibly have been awful consequences, that the Bill should be passed through at once and the powers given to the Government. But in ordinary circumstances I should be entirely with the noble Lord in objecting to measures coming from another place and being thrown at your Lordships' heads without any opportunity either for their adequate consideration or discussion.
I was glad that the noble Lord did not take up this afternoon the historic position of an Opposition, which is to oppose everything that a Government proposes, however deserving, however urgent and however meritorious it may be, and then, when in the whirligig of politics the Opposition becomes a Government, to adopt exactly the same policy which they had condemned when in opposition. I have stated the reason for asking your Lordships to suspend the Standing Order and to pass the Bill through all its stages this afternoon; and I will go so far as to say that it must not be understood in any quarter that, in doing this, the House of Lords is abrogating its right to have the opportunity to give full consideration and full discussion to measures that are brought before it. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That Standing Order No. XXXIX be considered in order to its being dispensed with.—(Viscount Snowden.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to: Standing Order No. XXXIX suspended accordingly.
§ VISCOUNT SNOWDEN
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.
§ Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly (the EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair): Bill reported without amendment:
§ Bill read 3a, and passed.