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In rising to make some comment on this Vote, I wish to call particular attention to the attitude of the Board of Trade. I am sure we all very much regret that the President of the Board of Trade is still absent by reason of indisposition. During war time this country has seen a very remarkable performance in its productivity, and it is perfectly right that, in the change over, which peace brings, those who get rather impatient with the difficulties of Governmental restrictions should make full allowance for that, and as far as I am concerned I certainly desire so to do. But, after all, we have had four months since the Armistice was signed. It is quite true that a full month of that we might give to the debit of the election, and we were all busily engaged in one form or other of activity during that strenuous time; but even allowing for that, three months have gone by, and it is no exaggeration to say that the whole of the business community in the United Kingdom is in a state of unrest and uncertainty. Business men decline to commit themselves to any large extent either by way of giving orders, or, indeed, of attempting to execute them, until they know what policy His Majesty's Government is going to adopt, and by what means it intends to carry out that policy. I quite agree that it is impossible to break all the war barriers down at once. It would create an immense amount of disturbance and do a great deal of harm, but surely the time has come when some of these barriers should at any rate be re- moved and the business community and the people in general should know what trade they can do and under what conditions they can do it.
What is the position to-day? I do not think I am at all exaggerating when I say it is a wholly artificial one. Prices are artificial, and they are fixed sometimes by permanent officials of one Department or another, and sometimes by a purely temporary official. Prices are fixed for the raw material, for the labour on it, and for the finished article. That being so, the whole position is entirely unnatural. In ordinary times the corrective for artificial prices is the world market. Whether we are going into the world market or not, other people are. The United States, as every business man knows, is already establishing a large business in what were formerly our markets, and making extensive preparations for doing a great deal more. In South America, for instance, and in Asia the Japanese, very capable merchants, have already captured a large proportion of the trade which was ours. The President of the Board of Trade, at Huddersfield, made a speech to the Chamber of Commerce, and as far as I can gather the main note of his remarks was a desire to maintain prices at the present level.
Everyone, of course, is afraid of falling prices. It is the most trying time a business man can go through, but if prices be maintained at their present level there is no hope for the maintenance of the foreign trade of this country or of maintaining it in proper volume at home. That is undoubtedly the real position. You may say, "If you drop prices, what is going to happen?" If you drop prices to a reasonable level, far more business will be done, but as long as prices are maintained at this artificial level, no amount of raising the wages really will cure the difficulty. It is quite time we came to grips with the actualities of the situation. No doubt merchants and business men on great lines will complain if too swift action be taken; but losses are bound to come, and I suggest that it is just as well that the position should be faced now, when, as far as the great business of the country is concerned it is quite true to say that the past three or four years have given them very large profits, and they are in a better position now to meet losses than they will be eighteen months, or twelve months hence. We had far better face this difficulty as quickly as we can.
I want to know from my right hon. Friend what is the import policy and what is the export policy of the Board of Trade. We know perfectly well that some things are happening as the result of negotiations which are constantly and very properly going on between the Board of Trade and the Federated Associations of Manufacturers and other representative bodies. It is perfectly right that they should confer with the Board of Trade; but I am creditably informed—I hope I am wrong—that something approaching guarantees have been given to some industries for the maintenance of prices at a certain level during the next three or four years. Is that true? I put the question quite frankly. Is it true that there is some such guarantee with regard to the great soap industry? That is a direct question to which I respectfully ask for an answer. I believe that not only the large corporations who manufacture dyes, but that the users of dyes as well are represented on the Committee. I know, as a matter of fact, that is so with regard to wool. But in what way does the Board of Trade protect the interests of the individual consumer? The dye manufacturer and the dye user have no doubt a common bond in presenting the final finished article to the individual consumer, but has the Board of Trade at any of these conferences with these bodies attempted to find out whether it is possible to get the consuming interests represented? Surely if the Board of Trade took the right step they would have some representation of the consumers to guard the interests of the general public in these conferences which take place from time to time.
It is quite interesting to observe as far as this House is concerned what pressure is brought to bear upon the representatives of the Board of Trade. I have taken the trouble to analyse the replies given by any hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who, if I may say so, is discharging a very difficult duty in the absence of his chief with a courtesy which we all appreciate and an ability that we all admire. Almost everyone of these replies is obviously the result of the pressure of a particular industry. I went through the list. One Member asked why boot stiffeners cannot be allowed to come into this country without any further restrictions. The answer was, "Because of the harm it would do to the home manufacturer." There were other questions about aniline dyes, wire nails, brushes, binder twine, and a mysterious substance called chicle gum. I will give an instance within my own experience from my Constituency. Part of my Constituency is South Midlothian, where there are some of the finest paper mills in the Kingdom, doing some of the best class of work. What is going to happen with regard to paper manufacture? I understand that, owing to the almost daily pressure upon the Board of Trade by the Press and by Members, they propose to remove all control, and, indeed, to throw down all the barriers against imports by the end of April.
No; the whole thing. There will be complete freedom of trade in the old sense of the term so far as paper is concerned after 30th April. That is good news for everybody immediately adjacent to that part of my Constituency, because Edinburgh is one of the great printing centres of the world, but it is very poor consolation for the paper manufacturers in my Constituency, and they are writing to ask me why they should be selected. My answer to them is that I suppose it is the greater public interest, but, as a matter of fact, what it really amounts to is the greater public pressure which the Board of Trade has found it quite impossible to resist. This particular industry, therefore, is to be led out into the open and allowed to shift for itself as well as it can. That may be right or it may be wrong, but it is a clean-cut example of the position in which we find ourselves at the moment. I think we are entitled to ask what arrangements are being made by the Board of Trade with these various organisations. We know what has been happening in the last four years with regard to exports under the War Trade Department. We have all had a great deal to do with it on behalf of our constituents during the War. I confess myself to be quite ignorant of the machinery with regard to imports. We do not know what is happening with regard to imports. A question was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolver Hampton (Mr. G. Thorne) to-day. He was pressing to have a list of the protected trades, not so much the articles as the trades, and I understand that a statement is going to be made. The trading community is entitled to know now what is the system, what are the trades which are affected by it, what trades, if any, are exempt from import restrictions, what trades are likely to be exempt, and what, indeed, is the machinery and the whole general position. Of course, if it be not done, the position will get more and more difficult to maintain, and less and less capital will be attracted to our industries. As one has heard it so often urged, if you will only let the people know they will back you. They realise, as we all realise, the enormous difficulty with which the Government has to contend—that is quite obvious—but if you let the people know they will shape their course with you accordingly. If you do not, there is nothing but trouble ahead. Suspicion and distrust are created, and money will not go where there is suspicion or distrust. You will not get business men to move out into the dark; they will hold on, and the result must inevitably be a great disaster to us.
Let me give one or two examples of what is happening. Take the question of the bottle industry. There was a letter in the "Daily Express" the other day from Schweppes, Limited. First of all they endorsed the complaint of Mr. Lawson Johnston, chairman of Bovril, with regard to getting bottles so as to be able to carry on their business, and then they go on to say:
We do not ask the Controller to allow us to import new bottles, as we always use British manufactured goods; we only ask his permission to have our own bottles returned by our customers in various parts of the world, but he steadfastly refuses to allow even this, so that at a time when it is impossible to obtain sufficient bottles for our export trade, our customers' stores are blocked with thousands of dozens waiting to come back.
They give an instance of Government control which they say is interesting, as indeed it is. In May last one of their customers in Gibraltar, not knowing the restrictions, sent back a consignment of empties, which the Import Restrictions Department refused to release. After a great deal of correspondence, they agreed provided Schweppes gave a bond not to use them. They had no option but to give that bond. The bottles were removed to their factory and there they remained for seven months. I think finally they were released a couple of weeks ago.
Another example of the way in which business is carried on was given by Mr. E. H. Tredwen at a meeting of the London Chamber of Commerce the other day. He pointed out that 70,000 tons of cocoa come from the Gold Coast each year, and he said that they had a request from New Zealand to quote for the supply of cocoa. It was a dealer's application for a 2-ton sample lot. The firm applied to the appropriate Department for a licence. At first it was refused, and then after a good deal of pressure the Department wrote to say that 25 per cent. of the import would be allowed. It took four days for one Department to communicate with another and another four days for the latter Department again to communicate with a third Department. By this time Mr. Tredwen had communicated with the Press and the letter had been sent to the "Times." Just before the meeting of the chamber of commerce he was graciously permitted to send the whole lot. It sounds ridiculous, but that is the sort of thing that is happening every day, and there is not a single man in the House who does not know it. If he is not a business man, his letter bag tells him it is the case.
I want to know how long this sort of nonsense is to go on. It is not business, and it is not in the national interest. I say that just as long as we have these parasitical Departments feeding upon our national industries, so long will these things happen. We want to demobilise these civilian Departments, at least at a proportionate rate that we are demobilising the Army. I am no pessimist about the future. I am quite certain that this country will come through all these difficulties, but why hurry and bother business men by these ridiculous restrictions, with no clean-cut, sound policy that they can respect? If you give them a policy that they can respect, then, however hard it may be, they will stand up to it and help you to carry it through. It is the absurdity of it that breaks their hearts, and I urge upon the Board of Trade that they should make a clean sweep and start afresh. Of course, the thing is very urgent. There is one cure for the greater part of our financial troubles, and that is production. I think it was Napoleon who said that the three qualities that you wanted in a soldier were—first, courage; secondly, courage; and thirdly, courage. I say that if we want to get our trade on proper lines there are three ways—first, production; secondly, production; and thirdly, production. Unless we can get it we shall be in so hampered a position that when again we get to our neutral markets we shall find them occupied by other nations who have acted on more sensible lines. There is not a single business man who does not know this. However good your organisation may be, and however excellent your product may be, if you lose your market you never get it all back again. Some of it you may get back, but never all of it. I hope I have not spoken too strongly, but I am sure I am only expressing what the business community outside is feeling, and I trust that we shall hear from the representative of the Board of Trade a clear, sensible statement, which will carry with it some hope that practical steps are being taken towards the solution of these problems.
I am sure all Members of the House regret that the President of the Board of Trade is not able to be in his place to-day to take part in this most important Debate, and no one regrets it more than I do, because I have been asked to explain what the policy of the Government is with regard to the trade position. But I cannot, I am afraid, claim to have that intimate detailed knowledge which it is advisable for anyone to have who rises to explain policy. In the first place, I may perhaps indicate some of the difficulties of the position. I would ask the House to remember that we are still at war; we hope it will not be for long, but we still have to maintain a blockade of our enemies, and we still have the difficulty of maintainng that blockade which erects barriers in the area of neutral countries. The Government sincerely hope that before many weeks are past it will be possible to throw down these special barriers. But it is not only that which makes the dealing with the present situation difficult. There is another difficulty, and that is that we have been spending vast sums of money every day. In those vast sums is a wage element, and if we suddenly were to stop the Government expenditure there would be absolute chaos in the country, because no wages would be paid to a large proportion of the wage-earning classes. Therefore the Government has a difficult and delicate operation to carry out. While it slows down expenditure on capital account it must gauge the rise of wage payments on the civil industries account. It is the difficulty of keeping wage payments to the wage earners as a whole, approximately constant that is causing such great difficulty at the present time, combined with the fact that we are still at war. It is well we should have all this in our minds, and that we should realise the fact that these great difficulties exist.
The first point my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) made was this, that there was a policy, which he said was supported by the President of the Board of Trade, to keep up prices. I am in a position to state precisely what is the policy with regard to prices of those raw materials which the Government possess and control. The general policy is this, to endeavour to get down the price—the market price of the raw material to a level not higher than the anticipated post-war prices of that material. That is the policy which the Government is following with regard to the disposal of the stocks of materials which it holds, and as a safeguard where it holds large stocks of material it is proposed to retain sufficient reserves of that raw material to enable the Government to defeat any attempt at a hold-up by merchants. There is a further instruction that where agreements permit the Departments are to do everything they can, in disposing of their surplus stock, to help British industry. There are certain of the goods which we hold on Government account as to which there are elaborate agreements which the Government cannot infringe, and in these cases the raw material is to be dealt with in accordance with the terms of the agreements entered into. That is the policy with regard to the pricesor articles which the Government control—to bring them down to a level which may be regarded as a fair post-war normal level. If the prices were brought down lower it would, naturally, check production, and although it might give ease for the moment it would have serious effects later on. Such considerations apply specially to some of the non-ferrous metals, and it is in connection with the great stocks of these metals which the Government hold that this policy is being vigorously pushed now. I repeat the general line on which we are working is to get the prices of raw materials down to the lowest possible level.
Obviously, as the post-war price is a matter which lies in the future, there can be no absolute certainty that the price gauged is going to prove correct. There ale, however, any number of facts which are known about the increase of wages, about the increase, for instance, in the cost of coal, of power, of shipping, and of transportation, and it is on these data that the prices are worked out, and in every case we are, with the experts who are engaged on this problem, trying to assess as nearly and as fairly as possible the normal post-war price. I do not see what else can be done. It is quite clear that if the prices were dropped now a long way below the future price production would most certainly be checked. Our stocks which are held are not sufficient to cover a long period of years, and it will be a great danger to this country if any action now taken by the Government should lead to a check of production. I am sure that point will appeal to the House. There may be a difference of opinion whether the normal post-war prices are accurately estimated—there always are differences amongst experts, but the best opinion that can be arrived at is taken, and surely one could not do more than that. I have told the House what our policy is with regard to prices and with regard to the disposal of stocks which we hold. With respect to the other two great points raised by my right hon. Friend—the policy with regard to imports and that with regard to exports—I hope to be able to give a clear statement of what the Government policy is. Let me take imports first. I may refer to an answer given by my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade on Friday, to the effect that "no import restrictions shall be or shall continue to be imposed on goods coming from any part of the Empire without the special consent of the Cabinet, which will not be given unless some unforseen necessity arises." That is a clear statement of policy. It is that goods which have their origin or their manufacture or are produced within the Empire will come in without restriction. On the next point this is a definite statement of the policy of the Government—that raw materials required for our industries shall now be admitted free of restriction.
I should say leather is part manufactured. Semi-manufactured articles which are necessary as material for the manufactures of this country are to be admitted free from restrictions, except so tar as they are produced by industries which it is essential to foster in this country and which require shielding, in which case they will be restricted.
I am afraid I cannot begin to answer questions affecting individual materials. What I wish to do at the moment is to give to the House a clear view of the policy which is being adopted, and once we have got that clear view we will see how various particular instances will be affected. I am sure that will be the most satisfactory manner of dealing with the question. I have given the impart policy, first, as to raw materials, and secondly, as to semi-manufactured materials, and the position, of articles which at the beginning of the War we found ourselves unable to produce in this country—industries which had to be created; remembering that we are still at war, and that our industries are still disturbed by war. The next point is that manufactured articles shall be subject to restriction when not necessary for consumption in this country. That means that when they are not essential for consumption, or when they are produced by industries which require to be shielded from foreign competition—industries which were disorganised for the purposes of the War, or which are disorganised while passing from war work to peace work, or which have been created or encouraged owing to circumstances arising out of the War—the restrictions in such cases will continue for a period not extending beyond 1st September next without a further review of the whole situation.
Does not that amount to this, that up to 1st September is the time limit, and, after that, as I understand it, the restriction of imports is going to be done away with? [HON. MEMBERS: "Reviewed!"] Reviewed and not removed?
The policy of the time limit is quite clear. These are War restrictions; this policy is to deal with the transitional stage. We may find in the summer that the transitional stage is going to be prolonged. We may find it may be shortened, but it is not to be extended beyond the 1st September without further review. This is not the peace policy, this is the transitional policy, and what I am saying now is without prejudice to any policy which may or may not be arranged with regard to the permanent policy. This is a transitional policy, and the period taken for the transitional policy will, we hope, come to an end on the 1st September. The next thing, so that the House and the country may know exactly what is going on, is the form of instruction which has been given to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade is to take steps to consider what shall be done to maintain in this country industries which it is the policy of the Government to foster—those are the undustries such as I have stated—to consider definitely in detail the steps which are to be taken and to report to the Government. That policy need not be limited to any existing restriction. That, I think, covers in a general statement, not in detail, the policy on which the Government is working; raw materials free at once, part manufactured materials, which are the raw materials of other industries, free if possible, unless by so bringing in those materials were going to kill our industries which it has been shown by the War it is definitely in the interests of this country to have in the country. Otherwise, of course, the imports, though not prohibited, will be licensed and the total imports brought in will be watched. With regard to exports, there are three general heads under which I wish to deal with the subject,
The raw materials will be free. The partly manufactured goods will be free as far as possible. From the point of view of the interests to which I referred, completely manufactured goods not free, and, as far as possible, not to be brought in unless they are essential for use in this country.
I cannot say entirely without change. All sorts of considerations must necessarily arise with regard to the position of the exchanges as the flow of raw material increases. Take an example from the United States. We have there the whole question of exchange to consider. Probably there will be a heavy drain on the exchange as the flow of raw material increases. It is not contemplated, it is no part of the policy of the Government to shut down the existing importation of manufactured goods if, without detriment to the interests of the country, that importation can continue.
I am just coming to that point. Naturally one of the reasons for limiting imports is not to increase our debts. With regard to our exports, there are three main heads under which I think it is necessary to view the present position. First of all, much of the difficulty which our merchants, our manufacturers, our exporters are finding with regard to getting their business going does not arise in this country at all. It arises in the country to which they wish to send their goods. Just as we for our own reasons must in this transitional period keep a control over our imports, so for their own reasons other countries have to keep a control over their imports. At present, in some countries, that control is extremely strict, because of their financial position. What we are doing there is that we are trying to get arrangements made with countries which may hope to have con- siderable sums of money placed at their disposal in the not very distant future, through payment of the indemnity, or something of that sort. We are trying to get them—we know they want such things as we manufacture—to allow our exports, to a certain extent, to flow in, payment for them to be a first charge upon the indemnity they will receive. Anyhow, this is an Instruction to the Board of Trade: to establish a system of publicity at once, whereby British traders at home and abroad will be kept regularly and promptly informed of any variation of the restrictions which are imposed by other countries. Those two lines of action in connection with that seem to be all that we can do at the moment in that way.
The second head with regard to exports covers the general question of exports to non-blockaded countries. In their case the policy is easiest. In the case of the non-blockaded countries there shall be no restriction on exports, except (1) goods required for naval and military purposes; (2) goods which are or wild be required for home consumption or home manufacture, and (3) goods which are or have been directly or indirectly benefited by subsidy or by purchase by the State. That is the policy with regard to general exports to the world outside the blockaded area—no restrictions except under three heads. The naval and military head does not affect a very large section of our goods. They, of course, will still be liable to licence on export. Obviously it is not sound to allow the export of goods which are immediately or in the near future required for home consumption or home manufacture, and thus have a shortage of the goods here. The third heading I think would appeal to the whole House. It applies the definite exception that there shall remain under licence goods which have benefited by Government subsidies or financial assistance. In the blockaded area the problem is much more difficult. We have there to remember—we hope for a short time only now—what the blockade is for and why it is maintained. There the Government is definitely moving as rapidly as it can in the direction of securing some such arrangement of the affairs of Europe as will allow this blockade to be removed at the earliest possible date. Clearly, so far as export to the blockaded area countries is concerned, it is right that the same three exceptions I have mentioned in regard to exports to non-blockaded countries should exist. Further than that, the policy is that the maximum number of manufactured goods which it is possible to transfer shall be transferred to the free list. Negotiations to that end are being carried out at the present moment. It obviously includes negotiations with all the Allies who are represented upon what is ultimately the supreme blockade authority, andthat policy is being pushed at the present moment. Every week, as those engaged in trade and commerce to those countries know, there is an increased number of goods included in the free list. For the rest, we are trying to get the maximum number of goods moved on to List C, which, as anybody engaged in export trade knows, is a list which means export under licence to any destination, List B being goods exported to points within the British Empire.
There is one especially important point in connection with the export trade which is really a great difficulty—that is, our re-export trade—the entrepot trade—which London found so profitable in the days before the War. Our policy is to do all that we can now to get the entrepot trade going and to give it all the facilities that possibly can be afforded to it consistently with Inter-Allied agreements. For instance, quite a considerable portion of the entrepot trade was directed finally to the distribution of goods in the territories of what are now the Northern blockaded neutrals. Clearly, in connection with that, we must observe the Allied arrangements which govern the export of goods to those countries; but apart from that and apart from, considerations of that nature the greatest possible freedom that can be given is being given, and assistance is being given, to the re-establishment of this entrepot and re-export trade. That covers, in brief, a statement of the lines of policy which are being followed with regard to our foreign trade.
It is quite clear, as I am sure the whole House realises, that many of the markets which existed before the War no longer exist as markets at the present time. Take the late Central Empires alone. We have there a restriction in our market area. Take the countries of our Allies. Like ourselves, internally in their trade and business they are disorganised as a result of the War. Therefore there is definitely a contraction, temporary we hope, but still for the moment a contraction, in the area of the markets overseas for many of our traders, and it is because of that contrac- tion that the policy covering imports, exports, and re-exports, and the sale of raw materials in Government possession, is not enough as a complete policy. Therefore we have, in addition to that overseas trade policy, a policy of stimulating our internal trade. An enormous number of public works which are urgently required have been held up for years by the War, and in relation to public works we have a very definite line of policywhich links with our foreign trade policy. It is that those public works, which in their execution will give a wide range of employment and will spread employment through a large number of trades, should be the first public works for which money is to be found, and in that way, although it does not add to the wealth of the country immediately, it holds out a promise that we shall be getting trades at homes going busily and actively while the markets overseas, which ultimately will take many of their goods, are recovering. I have given the House, I hope, a sufficiently complete statement of the general policy which is being followed. I have not tried to enter into details or to deal with specific materials. The whole point I wish to make for the moment is that we have a complete policy—I hope I have stated it clearly—and that it covers imports, exports, re-exports, the dispersal of stocks of raw material and also the building up, by undertaking public work in this country, of those industries whose markets have been temporarily damaged by the War during the time the markets overseas are recovering. That is the policy which the Government is following in the firm belief that the trade of this country will recover and well be greater than it ever was in the past.
I agree cordially with almost everything that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) has said, but I think the answer we have just heard from the Minister of Reconstruction will go very far to satisfy him and the House that the policy of the Government is one which meets very many of the objections which he raised. This question naturally falls under two heads—the question of import restrictions and export restrictions. Import restrictions were imposed for two reasons: first, for
the purpose of the exchange, and secondly, in consequence of the freight position. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, in answer to a question on Friday, said:
It is not possible are present to remove all restrictions on imports from foreign countries because of the state of the exchanges.
I think there is no question whatever that to remove all these restrictions now would be doing a very great injustice to many traders and many manufacturers in this country, because it is not quite a question, as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) stated as to whether they will make profits and whether they are now or are not in a better position to bear losses than they may be at some future time. It is a question whether, if you take off import restrictions now, you will not be ruining their home markets, which they may in future years never be able to recover whatever their profits may have been in the past. I have received a letter from the Nottingham Chamber of Commerce which so exactly describes what I am putting that I will read a passage from it.
The output of British hosiery manufacturers during the War has been required to a very large extent for the forces not only of this country but of the Allies, and they are in fact still engaged on war contracts. It is therefore manifestly unfair that Japan and America should be allowed to flood the country with goods while British manufacturers are engaged on Army contracts, and further, are unable to obtain machinery with which to compete.
This trade, like almost every other, has during the War been engaged entirely on war work, and it was compelled to change the kind of production which it had made before the War. By various orders of the Army Council, and so on, it has been told the kind of hosiery it should make and the way it should make it and its natural market for the time being has gone. I most cordially agree that it would be most unfair during this period of transition to allow its home markets to be taken from it when it is unable to compete and is fighting, as it were, with one hand tied behind its back. It is impossible to fling these barriers down at once, and I think the answer which the Minister gave, that the question should be reviewed on 1st September, is a very fair way of meeting the whole difficulty and one which will commend itself to the House. The other part of the answer of the Parliamentary Secretary was:
The Government have decided that no import restrictions shall be or continue to be imposed on goods coming from any part of the Empire without the assent of the Cabinet.
Some of us have realised for the first time within the last week or two that during the War we have actually been differentiating against Canada and other Colonies. So far from giving them any preference, we have been actually differentiating to their great detriment. We have restricted imports on the basis of a given year, and the given year was generally the year before which the restriction was imposed. So, if a restriction was imposed in 1917, the basis year was 1916. In 1916 Canada was at war, and her normal exports to this country were very largely reduced because her factories were making munitions while America was probably exporting far more than she ever did before. So the position of Canada with regard to these restrictions was up to a day or two ago, when we were told they were to be removed, one of very great hardship, of which she had every right to complain.
With regard to the much more difficult question of export restrictions, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) said as to the enormous importance of getting our export trade going again, and when he said it was production, production, production, he was absolutely right. But at the same time I think we must consider the reason why these restrictions were imposed. They were imposed in the first place for the purpose of freight, in the second place for the purpose of conserving our home supplies, and in the third for the purposes of blockade. The freight position, of course, is now easier. With regard to the conservation of home supplies, that is still a question to which we must give very great consideration. Germany is very short of very many raw materials. She is very short of oil, jute, cotton, rubber, wool, and very many other things, but surely, unless we control the export of these raw materials from this country, our factories will be short, too, and the result will be unemployment of a most serious kind, and while, therefore, it may be desirable not to prevent German factories being started and while it may be desirable to do something to re-establish social conditions in Germany, obviously our own factories and our own people come first. We must have the first pull on the raw materials which are absolutely essential to us. We all know now that it was part of the definite policy of Germany, when they devastated places like Turcoigne, Roubaix, and Lille, and the manufacturing parts of France, to put Franco in such a position that she would be unable to compete with her in the future in the neutral markets of the world. So. whatever we may say about the restriction or control of raw material, it appears to me perfectly obvious that France would have a perfect right to say, and would say, "We, with you, will control the raw materials which come from our Colonies or your Colonies, and we will have the first share before Germany has anything." So much for the conservation of home supplies.
I was not a Member of the last Parliament, but I think old Members will agree that there was probably no question on which at one time Ministers were more closely pressed than the question of the blockade. Over and over again hon. Members criticised Ministers because they said the blockade was not sufficiently stringent, and every effort was made to tighten it up, and a most delicate and efficient machinery was devised, which is a very great tribute to the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil), to whose patience, courage and skill the efficiency of the blockade was largely due. It is unfortunately true that almost every act of blockade is an act to the detriment of the export trade, and that fact you have to face. That being so, of course the export trade of this country has suffered enormously, and I am afraid very much of the loss is irreparable. But you have done something more, and this also I think was unavoidable. You have taught and compelled very many neutrals to make for themselves what formerly you made for them. So I welcome with the greatest possible satisfaction the statement of the Minister of Reconstruction that it is now the policy of the Government to remove as many restrictions which it is possible to remove on the export of manufactured articles, because until this export trade is got going again there is very little chance of our budget ever balancing or that we shall be able to put our exchanges on a proper footing. I intended to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two specific questions, but they have been anticipated, and I think the answers which he has given have given very great satisfaction to this House and to the business community at large.
I should not dare to face the ordeal of making my first speech were it not that I feel sure of your kindness, Sir, and of that well-known generosity of the House which I hope will be extended to me. I speak as a provincial manufacturer, and I have listened with very considerable gratitude to what has fallen from the Minister of Reconstruction. The way he has put his case, I think, satisfies all of us. He divided the question before us under two heads, imports and exports, and I should like to divide the imports part of the discussion into three heads. First, that dealt with by the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), in which he takes the point of profit on trade, and then I would take the head, so far as restrictions of import is concerned, and how it affects our working people. Further, I should like to take a third head, which has not been touched upon to any great extent, although the Minister of Reconstruction did deal with it—the question of exchange and how we should pay our debts by means of exports. The Minister of Reconstruction has indicated that raw materials and some manufactured goods coming from our Colonies will not be touched by import restriction. Therefore, I will confine myself to dealing entirely with the imports of manufactured goods from other countries not under the British Flag. In that connection I think the argument to a great extent will centre round the United States. I do not regard this question of keeping these restrictions on manufactured imports quite from the point of view which I think was laid before the House by the right hon. Member for Peebles. It is true we have to consider the question of profit on trade, but we have had Member after Member sitting on the Labour Benches referring to the fear of our workpeople in regard to unemployment. I think if only alone to protect our people from unemployment we should prevent manufactured goods coming here except under licence of the Board of Trade. I have had the privilege of sitting on Demobilisation Committees under the Ministry of Labour, and I know the difficulty of getting employment for our men as they come back from service. For that reason alone I would support the attitude taken by the Minister of Reconstruction in regard to keeping restrictions upon manufactured imports so that our men may have the chance of employment in making the goods here. There is another side of the question which we must not lose sight of. I allude particularly to the fact that in my own native city of Norwich we are receiving letters from Japanese manufacturers asking us to buy Japanese silk goods when they can get ships for them. We have had some trouble re-organising the silk trade in Norwich and Yarmouth, and we do not want to see the import restrictions on foreign silk goods taken off. I am quite aware that some silks have been paid for by British merchants to come from Switzerland and France. I would not press that the restriction on the import of these particular goods should be maintained as they have already been paid for. But for other reasons besides those of mere trade profit, and in order to find employment for our workpeople, we must restrict imports of manufactured goods, and I will explain why. I listened with the greatest respect to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Peebles the other day, when he said he was appalled by the size of our debt. He suggested that it might lead us to ruin. I am not a banker. I have had nothing to do with foreign exchange, and I know nothing about international banking. But I am a manufacturer, and the thing that worries me is that we have at least one very large foreign debt which we must get rid of at the soonest possible moment, and that is our indebtedness in the United States. The way to do that is to restrict our imports from the United States. The imports from the United States cannot be paid for by us in money, but must be paid for by our exports, and so far as we devote exports from this country to pay for manufactured goods from America so far shall we reduce our power to pay the interest on our debt in America, and at the same time shall we reduce our power to redeem our debt there. Therefore, for that and other reasons, I shall support the Board of Trade in keeping a strict amount of restriction upon the importation of foreign manufactured goods, particularly from America.
There is an error of omission on the part of the Board of Trade with regard to these import restrictions. I do not know whether people realise that the habit we have got into of keeping up the American exchange at 4.76 operates as a bounty upon American exports to Britain. If we are trying to put more work into the hands of our workpeople here, which is what I wish to do, and I have every sympathy with that policy, we are restricting the advantage we give them, by keeping on the import restriction, by giving a bounty with the other hand to the people of the United States in maintaining the exchange at the present rate. The exchange will have to fall sooner or later, and the sooner it falls by our taking off the artificial support which we give it in keeping the exchange at 4.76 the better it will be for the economic condition generally of this country. Much has to be paid by the British taxpayer for loans and interest on the other side of the water to bolster up the exchange at 4.76 which, under normal conditions of exchange, would probably fall to nearly $4. If they had a rate of $4 to £1you would find at once that manufactured goods would automatically and with import restrictions be purchased by British merchants from America in a very much smaller volume than we are purchasing at the present time. I am aware that it would raise the price of raw cotton very severely, and Manchester might suffer. But America has got to sell her cotton, so let her make her own exchange arrangements at her own expense, in order to get Lancashire to be able to buy it of her. I had the pleasure of being associated with Manchester for a number of years, and I am of opinion that Manchester men would look upon that in a very generous way, and they would not like the price of cotton cheapened for them at the expense of the rest of this country. At present, by keeping exchange at 4.76, we are subsidising raw cotton for Lancashire.
When we keep up the exchange with America it also conversely has the effect of acting as a damper upon the export of goods from Britain, but when you allow the exchange to fall to its normal natural level by removing the bolster of English Treasury or other support from it, and supposing under those conditions the exchange in America falls to $4 to £1, a man could come to Britain from America and buy, for example, one pair of boots at, say, £l, and then, instead of having to provide $4.76 for £1, it would only be necessary for him to provide $4. Therefore he would say, I am getting my pair of British boots made very cheaply, and I shall increase my orders to Britain. Then up would go our exports. I think, however, that the Board of Trade have not taken the long view, and they should now, if they have not already done so, take counsel with themselves and other Depart- ments as to whether the time has not come when the whole question of the American exchange should be reopened and considered, now that we are about to discontinue buying war munitions in the United States. At the same time, the present import restrictions on goods from America should operate in assisting British manufacturers to put their business on a sound footing by the time that the transitory period has expired. But exchange is going to be the governing factor. I thank the House very much for listening to me.
I congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken. While not agreeing with some of the things he said, we are all agreed on one point, and that is as to the clear and lucid views he has expressed. It is one of the best speeches it has been my pleasure to listen to during the last few weeks. I listened with a good deal of interest to the Minister of Reconstruction, and, so far as the ideals expressed in his speech are concerned, I am sure they are worthy of and will receive the approval of most hon. Members. He omitted, however, to say how they were to be put into effect. He also omitted to mention anything about that most important section of the community, the consumer. To bring the issue down to a practical point, I should like to bring under his notice the case of clocks. Take an ordinary alarm clock which in pre-war days could be purchased for 5s. If you desire to purchase that article to-day, the working man must pay no less than 25s. for it. It is not surprising, therefore, that the workman, when he is called upon to pay four or five times the price for the article which he desires, calls for higher wages, and, as a result of the higher wages in the trade in which he is employed, there is an increased cost of production in that trade, which affects very considerably our overseas trade. The dearer and the more expensive you make your commodities, the more serious is the effect upon the overseas trade. It would also be interesting to know why this particular article is costing four or five times its pre-war price. Is it in order that these goods should be made in this is country? If so, we have had this restriction on now for over two years and I doubt if there is any factory which has been started for the manufacture of these goods. If that is the case, why should not these things be allowed to come in more freely and thereby do some- thing to reduce the profit made by those who get the licence to import limited quantities?
It would also be interesting to know the system under which these licences are grunted. A number of individuals are called together in connection with the clock industry and they decide to distribute the licences on the basis of the number of clocks that were imported in a certain year. They take the year 1916 and make the distribution amongst those who imported in 1916. There are many people engaged in the clock industry who did not import in 1916. They were acting on the principle of "do not import and do not send money overseas." I have before me an interesting case of a firm which has been engaged in the clock industry for a very great number of years and who in pre-war time have imported many thousands of clocks annually, but in the year 1916 they did not import any. Therefore, this business has been closed, so far as clocks is concerned, because they did not import in 1916. That is one of the points I am anxious that the Board of Trade should have before them, because if we are going to continue their restrictions they must do it on an entirely different method than they have been pursuing up to the present time. It has been my lot as chairman of a section of the London Chamber of Commerce during the last few years to deal with both the export and the import trade connected with my section, and I have had to spend a considerable part of my time between the Board of Trade and the War Trade Department trying to get them to be reasonable and to bring a little business method into their transactions. That is the reason why I am calling the attention of the Government to this matter and emphasising the question of clocks.
I have a letter here from another firm who want to import something from America, and they are refused because they did not import in 1913. So for one trade one year is fixed and for another trade a different year, and the uncertainty which exists, the limits to which certain people are privileged to get licences, while others are not, leads me to suggest to the Board of Trade that if these licences are to continue an arrangement should be made by which a list of those who receive licences, otherwise monopolies, shall be published in the "Board of Trade Journal," so that the trade and the public at large can knew who are these favoured individuals. We have also the right to ask that when licences are granted to firms the Board of Trade shall insist on a limit of profits being placed on these licences. This would do much to remove the dissatisfaction which exists at the present time owing to the belief that certain people are favoured.These licences are often not used by the people who get them. They may not want to import goods that they imported in 1916; they are able to sell these licences for a considerable figure, which also results in the consumer having to pay for the cost which is incurred under these licences. That illustrates the need for some radical alteration in the present method.
We are also told that the object of the restriction is to promote trade. Let me give an illustration of how that operates. After the Armistice there was a list of metal manufactured goods, the import of which was restricted. There was one article which was taken off that list. That was lawnmowers. Anyone who desired to import them could obtain a licence. There were many other articles of a useful character which were not allowed, but lawnmowers could be imported. A certain manufacturing firm employing a number of people on war work, knowing that there was a lack of lawnmowers in the market, proceeded to lay down a plant for manufacturing them. To their amazement they were informed that the Board of Trade did not consult an advisory committee which they had got, but had come to an arrangement to permit lawnmowers to be imported. Therefore, this firm which was going to start to manufacture them on the strength of their being licensed had to drop the arrangement. We cannot allow the continuance of a system under which some firms can go to an individual in a Government Department and arrange what goods shall come in, and what shall be kept out, and what year shall be fixed, either 1916 or any other year. It is a serious matter. These complaints constantly reach me, but for two years I did not raise them in this House because I did not want to embarrass the Government.
My hon. Friend said a great deal on the question of providing work by keeping out manufactured goods. Take as an illustration of that point bag making, for which you require metal frames. The Board of Trade have been very desirous of getting these metal frames made in this country as hitherto they have come from abroad. That is a quite proper desire. They have persuaded one or two firms to start in this line, and these have produced one or two patterns, but nothing nearly enough to retain the trade, because you would want not two or three, but fifty-two or fifty-three patterns. The result was that the trade became so limited that the Board of Trade had reluctantly to allow a certain quantity of frames to come in from America, but only a limited quantity. The result of that to-day is that a large amount of overseas trade that formerly was done from London no longer comes into London, These overseas merchants go to America where they can get the finished article all completed, and have it shipped from America instead of from London. The effect of the Board of Trade policy has been to provide for 100 workpeople making frames in Birmingham but to prevent 400 or 500 bag makers being employed making the complete article. I desire to bring before the Board of Trade specific statements on these questions, because with the best will in the world which they have in the Board of Trade offices—I would like to pay a tribute to the Civil Service staff whom they employ, as no one has got a greater ambition than they to promote the industry of the country—they are hampered by lack of knowledge, and if they will not take advice from outside they must naturally find themselves, as they have done in the cases which I have mentioned, in considerable difficulty.
The Board of Trade should consider seriously the question in its entirety, and if at all possible should work through the trade and get at the bottom of the enormous profits that are being made. In February 1917, the Prime Minister announced his policy of restriction on all goods, and when the list was issued, millions and millions of pounds were added to the value of the stocks which were in this country at that time, owing to the knowledge that the goods which were on the list would not be permitted to come in. Enormous fortunes were made and goods then changed hands two and three times a day. If we want to get to the bottom of the industrial unrest we will find that it dated from the period in 1917 when these restrictions were imposed, and you are suffering now from the effect of these restrictions. Even to-day large profits are being made by people who are fortunate enough to get these licences.
As they have appointed a Committee to go into the coal question the Government might with equal advantage to the nation appoint another Committee to inquire into the working and value of the import and export restriction system in this country. It might then be possible to find certain industries in this country which it is our duty to assist, but we should find some other means than doing so by restrictions, and it would be much better in my judgment to finance these industries right up to the hilt than to levy toll on the community for every article which they require, other than those which are produced under the system which the Government want. I have given the simple instance of the clock trade to convey what I mean. I would suggest for the serious consideration of the Government the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the entire subject, and I would add that in any event the House is entitled to demand that in future all licences granted shall be published, and that there shall be a limitation on the profits which those who obtain licences are entitled to make.
I do not desire to criticise the statement which has been made but to elicit information which has not yet been supplied in detail. I had a question down on the Order Paper this afternoon, and submit respectfully that I have had no detailed definite reply to that question. My right hon. Friend, speaking from this bench a little while ago, asked the same question. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that certain restrictions are to be imposed on manufactured and partly manufactured articles. What I ask, and what the country want to know is, can a list be supplied of those articles so that we in this House and in the country may know exactly what articles are restricted and what are the terms of the restrictions. If a list can be supplied at once we shall be grateful, but if the right hon. Gentleman cannot do so I should like to have a promise that at an early date we shall have a list of the articles manufactured and semi-manufactured on which it is proposed that these restrictions be placed, so that all persons concerned, manufacturers and consumers, may know exactly what are the proposals of the Board of Trade.
If anyone coming to the House this afternoon, and asking what subject was under discussion, were to be told, despite the somewhat diffident entry upon the order Paper which, if I may use a modern word, quite unintentionally but quite successfully camouflages the tremendous importance of to-day's discussion, he would hardly believe that this not very full House, and this not very full new House was considering to-day a question second only in importance to the question which we discussed four years ago on our entry into the War, and that now, when we are coming close to the end of the War, we are discussing and being told to-day the intentions and plans of the Government with regard to the whole future, commercially and industrially, of this country. I desire to follow the example set by the two speakers from the Front Benches this afternoon, and to avoid as far as possible anything like entry into the somewhat barren unprofitable discussions which used to take place in this House on academic questions as to the fiscal policy of this country, and to ask one or two questions of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bridgeman), who represents the Board of Trade to-day, as to the actual decisions which he has foreshadowed to-day.
As a general observation I may say the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Geddes) reminded us that we were still at war. That is one of the reasons why restrictions on imports and exports must still continue. If that knowledge is also shared by neutrals and all of our Allies, while we are still at war, and still have many restrictions which are handicapping seriously the industrial position to-day, is it not a fact that other countries with which we have been honourably associated are, if not actually taking business from us, actually taking orders which we ourselves are not permitted to take? Are they not making preparations with the full knowledge of how they may be able to get those orders, while we until to-day have been kept in ignorance of the future, and even after to-day are left, I may say with respect, to the tender mercies of some officials, some experts, some prophets, who are to look into the future, and tell us what is to be the standard cost of manufacture, what is to be the standard price for certain raw materials? I cannot believe that some of those experts it must necessarily be so—will not have their views and the views which they offer to the Government, no doubt perfectly honestly, but still somewhat coloured by the interest which they themselves may have in certain industries which they have, quite naturally, not left without acquiring the knowledge which they are now prepared to share with the Government.
The second matter to which I would like to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman is this. At this moment, when we are faced not only with a financial burden of debt, which appears to some to be almost overwhelming, and with new, and to some of us very disappointing, prospective increases in expenditure, the trade of the country is still under the shadow, I was going to say of the hidden hand, although that particular reference had a significance which I do not intend to introduce into this Debate, but there is a hidden hand of officialism and bureaucracy casting its shadow over the present and future, and making us and the country uncertain how we are to be able to face the tremendous expenditure, the burden of debt and the interest upon it, and also to face cheerfully and successfully the new expenditure which we have recently been told of in this House. The only hopeful gleam, if I may say so, which encouraged me to-day, and I do not think I am naturally a pessimist, is the statement that we are to review the situation in six months. I should like to ask some questions about that, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not carping or criticising for the sake of criticising, but for the sake of getting information. Is that review to take place with regard to the whole of the subject which he dealt with to-day? I think he applied it in the course of his speech only to those manufactured articles which were regarded as necessary for this country. Will it apply to the whole question of restrictions and also with regard to imports and exports? We do not know who the mysterious advisers are and we were unable to get them to-day. I do not complain that the hon. Gentleman could not give us across the floor the names of those advisers, yet there is a certain reticence as to the identity of the mysterious persons gifted with the wonderful foreknowledge and experience to enable them to fix the proper price for future production in this country. May I ask when that review takes place that there will be publicity attached to it? An hon. Gentleman remarked that we are having a very illuminating discussion on a matter which affects the whole future industry and success of this country. We do not know who are the people who are going to advise and to be able to judge, and so that the country can judge the reasons and motives on which they give such advice, I think the time has arrived when, although I agree there is nothing wrong with manufacturers approaching the Government Department, we have got past the time when the Government should enter into bargains or compacts with either trades or sections of trades or associations of trades without the public, and one naturally includes the great consumers of the country, having some knowledge of the reasons and of the advice which is being tendered to the Government before they arrive at such conclusions.
The House of Commons is, I take it, the place above all others where not only the general policy of the country should be outlined, but where criticism should be directed and information gained. When the right hon. Gentleman asks that something in the nature of a mysterious conference or council should be consulted in this matter, I am not quite sure that I agree with that suggestion, because after all the biggest of all consumers with regard to what is allowed to come into this country is the export trade, and the other trades which are affected by the prices ruling in certain trades and on which they exist and from which they derive either success or failure. The biggest consumer of all is really the export trade in considering what is done with regard to the cast of materials and the cost of manufacture in the trades at home. We were told that all raw materials would be admitted free, and a right hon. Gentleman opposite just now asked that a list should be given. May we know as soon as possible what are the raw materials, and also who is to decide what are the raw materials? This is a question which will interest a great many people and probably in opposite directions. In arriving at such a decision there should be the greatest publicity in the discussions or information that is given us, so that there may be criticism for the purpose of eliciting what is really for the best interests of the country as a whole in deciding what is raw material, and not for one section, but for the great welfare of the country as a whole. Semi-manufactured articles, we were told, are to be allowed in except in so far as there are certain industries which require assistance. I take that to mean the kind of industries particularly specified in the policy of the Government in the manifesto before the General Elec- tion, and which have usually been spoken of as key industries, and possibly including such industries, which have been very seriously damaged, owing to the process of war and put out of gear the making of munitions, and have not had time to regain their normal output, and that they are temporarily, possibly, to have some help. I do not know whether the help is to be in a subsidy or in what form, but some help by way way of temporary prohibition with regard to imports. Are those industries to be confined exclusively to what were understood to be key industries, which were found to be absolutely necessary for this country, and which it was proved by demonstration are industries which could not survive without that assistance, and can the hon. Member tell us that they do not include industries what want help, because with help it is easier to make money, and because they have not lived up to possibilities which other people have been able to employ in the past?
Then we have wholly manufactured articles dealt with until 1st September. I take it that all manufactured articles are to be excluded except those things which some body of men decide for us are necessary. That is really a most delicate, complicated, and difficult problem. Somebody is to decide for the country as a whole what things are to be let in. We do not know who they are, or what special gifts they have in this direction, and how interested or disinterested they may be in deciding what shall be kept out. I speak with the greatest respect of the Board of Trade, as I had the honour of serving there for a short time. I know something of the Department of Import Restrictions, and I must confess I found at that Department that they were only human, and very human. To let a Department such as that, or any other Department of the State, decide such matters as those to which I have been referring, is, it seems to me, a very serious thing for the public. I do not know how it is, but when a man of ordinary intelligence and a business man enters Government service, particularly on the more official or bureaucratic side, it has some extraordinary effect upon him. I do not know whether it is the same as putting on uniform for the first time. I know that experience, I am quite sure, changed my outlook on life, but I was, I think, saved from the disastrous consequences of what is called swollen head, by being mistaken in a train to the North of Scotland for a dining-room attendant on the twelfth day I wore it. There seems nothing comparable to that to check the danger which enters the official mind. Let me give two illustrations of the kind of things that may happen if the whole future of the trade of this country is to be left in the hands of officials to decide. The first was that of a firm asked by one Department to make something urgently required for the War. To do so they had to import from a neutral country a piece of machinery. That machinery was actually in the port of Hull, but nothing on earth up to that point could induce the Department of Import of Restrictions to release that machinery, although it was urgently wanted to do something for another Department in connection with the War. It was only after I had telephoned to the Department, and as I had been there I know the language to employ in order to be effective, and told them something of the facts that within a day or two they allowed the machinery to be released. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D.Maclean) spoke of four days delay, but I think that was rather an under-estimate. That is the kind of thing that happens in official circles, and if decisions on these matters are left to officials, however good, then we are going to get into very serious difficulties. The other case was that of a firm who applied for permission or information as to whether they might import a certain thing. Unfortunately, they applied to the wrong Department, but they received an answer from that Department saying that the article was not included under Regulation Defence of the Realm Number so-and-so. It naturally gave this firm the idea that they were at liberty to import it. They proceeded to do it. The Department of Import Restrictions, when the goods arrived, pounced upon them, and at that time the object of the restrictions of imports was very largely to save tonnage. The goods, having crossed the sea and been imported by the permission of one Department, were seized by the Department of Import Restrictions, and although they were very much needed for use, that firm was only allowed to use them after paying a fine of £143 and a considerable sum for demurrage and loss of time in regard to the shipment altogether. That is another illustration of the kind of thing that happens every day, and the prospect of that sort of thing being repeated and the whole trade of this country being dependent on that kind of action in future makes one feel above everything else that the one thing to save us and help us now is not only knowledge of what is going to happen in the future but freedom as far as possible to trade more or less on the old lines, in which those decided what is to come into this country first and foremost on the principle that it was something which the country imported because it wanted to import it and could make something from it and help not only in the way of industry but of deriving revenue from that industry. I will not deal with the other side of the question, with regard to exports, except to say that I was told the other day, in the matter of export licences, that the Board of Trade have been most helpful in agreeing with more than one firm as to the need for more facilities for exporting goods; but despite the fact that the firms had the assistance of the Board of Trade in a general sympathy, the principal Department concerned would not give anything in the nature of a general licence to countries into which they did allow exports, but they must know a great many details before they would grant permission for a certain export of goods. That may be necessary, and it was necessary, in time of war, but the time must soon come when that kind of restriction must be removed, because most firms cannot get orders upon a licence. The market prices are changing, and they want to know whether they can or cannot trade in a certain part. They want to be able to send quotations and to get quick replies, and long before they can get a licence in many cases the possibility of the business is gone, while other countries, notably America, to her commercial credit be it said, are not allowing this sort of thing to stand in the way. While we hesitate and allow these restrictions to stand in our way day by day, America and other countries are looking ahead and going ahead; and although we are very grateful indeed for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman under peculiar difficulties, and much as we regret the absence of the President of the Board of Trade, it seems to me that this is one of the most important and vital discussions that this House has had for many a day, and it is absolutely necessary that we should, at the earliest possible moment, revert to as much freedom as possible and not leave the whole future of the trade of this country in the hands of officials, however willing and however able.
My attendance was required by the Government at a Committee upstairs during the time of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and therefore I am at a disadvantage in this Debate, and do not presume to inflict what I have to say at any length on the House. But I have been amazed at some of the speeches to which I have listened, and very much alarmed lest we may get into a state of thought and habit in regard to our trade in the next few months out of which it maybe almost impossible to get. I am rather afraid that under the guise of what is being done, no doubt with the best intentions now, you may set up a regular lot of vested interests depending on Government help or depending on having competition with them restricted or limited in a certan way, and I know that once you do that it is almost impossible to recover. Hon. Members have spoken as if first of all you needed almost automatically very great restriction of the import of manufactured goods in order that we should be able to adjust our position to the new balance of trade, and as if the import of manufactured goods was almost regulated by some law of which they did not approve and which was bad for the country. I do not want to go into the old arguments about Protection and Free Trade, but there is one fact that I think it is possibly worth while reminding the House of—not a doctrine but a solid fact—that before the War, of all the countries of the world we, under a system of free imports, imported a larger proportion of our total imports in the shape of food and raw materials and exported a larger proportion of our exports in the form of manufactured articles. No country in the world, however carefully they restricted their imports and their exports, touched us in those two matters, and when you analysed, as one often had to do, the lists of the imports of manufactured goods which were supposed to be doing us so much harm, you nearly always found that manufactured goods to one trade were raw materials to another, or else machinery which was essential for the prosecution of one of our important or essential trades here; and I beg the House, if that is so, and if we had that extraordinarily favourable position before the War with regard to the make-up of the great bulk of our exports and our imports, to hesitate a thousand times before they think they can regulate it better by methods of restriction of imports under Board of Trade Regulations.
As I understand the policy that has been announced, it is that certain restrictions shall be kept on until the 1st September, and that the main policy shall then be reconsidered. There are certain alarming things, I think, about that. It is undoubtedly, I suppose quite inevitably, the policy of the Government to confer on these questions with manufacturers. These conferences, of course, are not held in public, and there are, of course, no representatives of the consumers present. That system being, I suppose, inevitable, it is almost impossible that a certain amount of suspicion should not be attached to them, and it is almost impossible for the general body of those who wish to trade in this country not to believe that certain persons or certain interests, by going the right way to work and by seeing the right people at the Board of Trade, can get things arranged in a way which suits them better than they are arranged for people who do not know their way about and who do not know the officials and cannot come into contact with them in the same sort of way. I do not know how these things are done, and I do not, of course, know any cases where suspicion attaches to anyone. I do not suspect anything, but as long as it is known that groups of manufacturers can go to the Board of Trade and as a result of the points they make get restrictions put on against competing articles, so long you are certain to be in an atmosphere of suspicion. Suspicion means uncertainty, and uncertainty must mean that the plans which would otherwise be laid for developing our trade, and particularly our export trade, in the way it needs developing, get delayed. People who would be willing to invest their money if everything was known must hold back as long as there is a doubt as to whether a thing may or may not have restrictions put upon it after hearing the arguments of particular persons. How quickly under that system of restricting imports can you set up a regular system of vested interests in the country! It may be quite right, it may be it is because of difficulties of shipping, or something of that kind, that restriction of imports has to be put on, but almost immediately you do it one trade is helped at the expense of another. They set up works, they employ people, and inevitably, even if only a few months later you remove those restrictions, they argue that they have got a vested interest, that they could not have employed people or erected their works unless the particular restrictions had been put on the importation of that which may act in rivalry with them; and at once you are faced with this cry—one knows it always from infant industries, which are nominally protected through their youthful years whenever it is suggested that that sort of protection should be removed—that you cannot change the restriction of the import of the rival article without throwing people out of employment and bringing about all the want, and destitution, and poverty, and all the rest of it that results from that.
I marvel at the pluck of the right hon. Gentleman and others who have spoken in support of his policy in saying boldly and straight out that raw materials are going to be treated in a certain way, that semi-manufactured articles will be treated in a different way, and fully manufactured articles in a different way. When one gets down to it, no one can make lists of that kind. We know it all by heart, and we know, of course, that all round the whole circle of imports and exports, what is one man's raw material is another man's manufactured article, and that you cannot lay down general lines of policy without getting into all sorts of difficulties that no human wisdom whatever can possibly foresee. That is the point. Take the case that an hon. Friend behind me raised as to the manufacture of bags. I do not know what sort of bags he was referring to, whether it was something sartorial or something to hold artificial manures, or what, but it was a perfectly good illustration. Somebody quite naturally says, "Here are bags made in this country on metal frames which have to be imported. Metal frames, no doubt, are bulky, and take up space in our shipping. Why not, therefore, try to get the frames made in this country?" A very good idea. They, therefore, prohibit or restrict the importation of metal frames, but they find there is some difficulty in getting them made in this country, and before they know where they are we have lost the manufacture of the bags. If the metal frames cannot be obtained and cannot be manufactured here as quickly as was anticipated it puts a trade on which far more people depended very likely out of our hands into the hands of others. That sort of thing must happen, and no officials in the world can prevent it happening. The only thing that can adjust those sort of difficulties is that there should be an absence of official-made restrictions at the earliest possible date.
The matter is going to be reconsidered on the 1st September. That means, inevitably, that at that date, and, I suppose, for weeks after that date, there will be a rush and a scuffle of the trades affected to prove that they cannot possibly get on without a continuance of these restrictions. Instead of trying to meet the competition which they know will follow, it will pay them to organise their businesses so as to show that their businesses must be ruined, and people put out of employment, so soon as the restrictions are removed. Instead of having every interest of their own and the country's served by trying in every possible way they can to reduce their costs of production and to improve their processes, they will feel—it is only human nature—that it is up to them to show that they must depend on continued action of the Government for their protection in order that they shall be able to carry on at all. I do not envy the Board of Trade and the officials in charge when that sort of thing happens, but that is what giving notice that the matter will be reconsidered in six months' time means. Everyone will be out to show that he cannot possibly go on without a continuance of the restrictions in his favour, and no officials in the world will be clever enough to prove that he is wrong. I am amazed, I say, at the light-heartedness with which Ministers confront these problems of deciding what is raw material, what is a semi-manufactured article, what is a fully-manufactured article, and of deciding on the different lines of policy, according to the categories they fall into. That cannot be done. The policy of having really to decide whether employment will be increased or decreased by allowing or prohibiting a certain import—that is also a thing which cannot be foreseen, I think, by any set of officials.
I think it would be far better—and I think it will be done in the long run—that the Government should in advance announce perfectly definitely what are the trades, if any, which they think they are bound to regard as key industries. I believe everyone, whatever is his view on the fiscal question, ought to be prepared to consider any plea put forward from the point of view of national safety. There is no doubt that a good deal has been learned in the War with regard to the necessity of not allowing certain industries to be conducted only by other countries. I think it perfectly reasonable that the Government should say what they regard as key industries from the point of view of national safety, and that we should come to an agreement about that after full discussion in this House—first, as to whether it is necessary to protect them specially, and, secondly—perhaps more important—as to the terms on which that protection is to be given, so as to ensure that the profit shall go to the State. After that discussion as to key industries, it should be known for certain, not that the matter is going to be reconsidered in all its bearings in September—which, as I say, is simply a signal for every industry in the country to bring its weight to bear on the Government to see that the restrictions are kept on in its favour—but, after that, with the exception of certain key industries, which we shall settle in this House, there shall be once more an entire absence of all restrictions, which, we know, in the future, as in the past, must be the basis of the extraordinarily flourishing trade we believe this country will have.
I was amongst those who came down this afternoon rather with the feeling that we should have a good deal of fault to find with the Government, but I think many of us are relieved in that the Government have now stated plainly what their intention is. Personally, I recognise the great difficulty in which the Government have been placed from the fact that the blockade still exists. Until that question of the blockade is over, any actual, definite Government policy which should govern us for years to come could hardly be stated in this House. We are at the moment negotiating with our Allies and Friends. We are anxious not to do anything which shall hurt their susceptibilities. If the total restrictions on exports were removed, many of the raw materials and food products now in this country would immediately disappear into enemy and neutral countries, and our people would suffer. So that our Government are absolutely bound to take clear and definite action to safeguard the nation in these respects. Therefore, I feel with a great deal of satisfaction that a definite period has been put by the Government on the continuation of the prohibition of imports. I quite agree that all finished manufactured goods—and by finished manufactured goods I understand an article like a pair of gloves, or anything which cannot have spent upon it any further labour in this country—I take it that all finished manufactured goods are prohibited to the 1st September. I take it, however, that all goods coming from our Colonies, even if manufactured goods, will be free. I hope I am right in that particular, namely, that the bar on manufactured goods will not extend to our Empire, and that if something is finished in India, say, that finished article can come into this country without the prohibition which would fall upon the same article coming from a neutral or foreign country.
The next point that has been clearly set out is that the policy now laid down is without prejudice to any new policy that the Government may bring before the country in the next six months. I quite recognise that this question of the prohibition of imports of manufactured goods for six months will raise a number of difficult questions with regard to whether a manufacturer has put out new machinery, whether he should engage the men, and do a number of things, because he will not know what will happen on the 1st September. His uncertainty will still be there, and, therefore, there will be a great upheaval in the minds of all manufacturers and traders as to the action the Government are going to take. We in this House are surely the men who have to advise the Government on the line of action they have to take. It is now abundantly clear that on the 1st September we revert to free imports, or a continuation of prohibition, or a system of tariffs. It seems to me the Government have practically told the country they are going to take six months to consider this matter. The guarantees given with regard to key industries and the prevention of dumping do necessitate some legislation being brought in during the next six months. I, for one, always have felt that the prohibition of imports was practically a licence to import, and all the foreign countries in the world have set their business men to work, and have written out their licence to import on condition that a certain article paid a toll coming into that country.
May I suggest that we continue, after the 1st September, a schedule of licences to import, by placing on our Statute Book the conditions under which those goods shall be imported? And one of the conditions should be the percentage that it should pay at the port of entry. We can not do better than follow our Allies in this matter. Our American friends have written out the conditions under which we can have a licence to ship goods into the United States. It is printed. Every body knows it. All of us who trade there have it in our offices. That is practically the licence of the United States to all the world to ship their goods into that country. Imitation is the sincerest flattery. Cannot we take their tariff as the basis upon which we will grant licences to import into this country? With regard to our other great Ally, France, she might say, "But we do not charge as much for licences as America." Let us reply, "If there is any article of ours on which you charge less we are quite happy to make our schedule of licences for importation into this country as low as you do." I would go further and say that, as they reduce that schedule, we will be prepared to reduce ours too. But the Government, before 1st September, will have to decide whether they are going back to free importation of manufactured goods, whether they maintain prohibition, or whether they institute a tariff. I do hope we in this House will feel it incumbent upon us, as those to whom the Government must listen, to debate this matter, to try to find the best line of national policy that is possible, and that we, according to our best wisdom and knowledge, mean to advise the Government in such a way that, before 1st September comes, a wiser policy will have taken place with regard to imports of manufactured goods into this country than we as a people have ever known before.
I am sure that the whole country, as well as this House, feels a great debt of gratitude to the Government to-day for making their policy clear, so far as their policy goes. That is a help, and, to that extent, it is very satisfactory. But it does seem to me to be a matter of very great regret that at this moment, when we ought to be doing every- thing in our power to regain our overseas trade, the industries of this country should be told that they have yet to wait another six months before the Government will be able to announce definitely what its after-the-War trading policy is going to be. Speaking as one who has a little knowledge of this, I say that America is in reality to-day practically scooping the whole trade of the overseas markets of the world, and we are being left behind. Before I make a few comments on the interesting speech which the right hon. Gentleman made earlier this afternoon, I want first to refer to a very clear and definite question which was put by the right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate, and who asked for a specific answer this afternoon from the Government. As I understood him, he said, Is it a fact that the Government have already given a guarantee to certain traders, or to certain bodies of traders, that the price of their manufactured goods is guaranteed by His Majesty's Government for a period which I take to be a period of three or four years?
If I remember correctly the right hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned, as an illustration, the soap industry. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will, I understand, speak later, and this is a question which I think we may fairly ask him to answer this evening: Is His Majesty's Government giving a guarantee to any trader or bodies of traders that the selling price of their manufactured goods will be guaranteed by the Government for a period of one year or more? I hope my hon. Friend will give an answer to what is a very appropriate question. It really is desirable for the Government itself that it should answer these questions, because as another speaker mentioned very clearly this afternoon, rightly or wrongly, there is the gravest suspicion in the minds of large numbers of people to-day as to whether there is not undue personal influence going on between some of the leading and more powerful manufacturers in the country and the officials in the Government Departments. I am not making an allegation, because I have no facts upon which I could base it. I say, rightly or wrongly, it is what people are constantly saying one to the other. It therefore would be very helpful if the opportunity is taken by the Government definitely to answer this very simple question.
In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman made a special and very proper reference to the wage element, and he gave, by way of explanation as to why the Government is continuing to maintain many Departments for the present which otherwise might possibly be reduced, that there will be chaos if the Government stops. That is not altogether a satisfactory explanation of the vast expenditure of money that is going on in every direction in the Government Departments. In the first place, the Government to-day is paying over a million pounds per week for unemployment benefit; and there is many a manufacturer who cannot get labour to carry on such industry as he has now. There is something surely very wrong here. There is a second explanation, which tends to show that that view of the Government, as given to-day by the right hon. Gentleman, is not properly founded. I asked last week a question in regard to the Colonial Office buying Locomotives for the Malay States, and placing the order in the United States. If, on the admission of the right hon. Gentleman, it is a necessary policy that the very expensive—or, as I should call it, the extraordinary—system of maintaining Government Departments must be carried on at present out of consideration for the very proper interests of labour and wages, surely the Government, when it has a valuable order to place, should place it with a British firm which would employ some of the labour for which the Government is now paying unemployment benefit rather than send it to the United States, even though the price in the States is very much less than it is in this country!
What we have constantly to bear in mind is the fact that we have got to meet an annual Budget so far as we know at the moment of some £700,000,000 per annum. It may be 600 millions, but I think it will be nearer 700millions. How is this going to be met in the very near years unless the Government takes every possible steps to stimulate the production of British goods? All taxation ultimately comes, directly or indirectly, from production. If that is true, and we have this enormous, I think it is an enormous, burden of taxation to meet it is a matter of very grave anxiety to anyone who contemplates how it is going to be met to have to wait another six months for a declaration of the industrial policy of the Government; if we have to continue during this half-year to see the overseas market being practically swept up by the United States and Japan—and this is really, I think, a very fair and a very true statement of the fact! The right hon. Gentleman made another reference of interest in regard to the very heavy stocks of raw materials in the possession of the Government. We quite appreciate the necessity, in view of the serious position in which we were found, in getting these very heavy stocks together a wise precaution was taken for carrying the War on to the bitter end. But the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government would dispose of these stocks on the basis of what they fairly thought would be a reasonable post-war limit of price. I would suggest to him that unless this policy is new to-day, and is going to be put into operation in the future, that we are being hampered here in this country by the fact that the raw materials the Government has been selling since the Armistice have been nearly double the price the manufacturer in the United States has been paying for that same raw material during that same period. I could give one case in particular to the right hon. Gentleman if those for whom he is speaking might wish to look into it, where we are being compelled by the Government to pay a price that is very much more than our competitors in the United States are paying for the same raw material.
Yes. I did not do so before because it is one in which I am interested myself. It is sulphur. If the Parliamentary Secretary will allow me I shall be happy to give him the facts. I am only referring to the case because I do not want any of our traders in this country to say that they are being forced by Government Departments to pay a much higher price for raw materials than their competitors in other countries—in the United States in particular—and that the Government are prepared to relax what I believe in this case is really the price, or nearly the price, prevailing just before the conclusion of the War.
The import restrictions on manufactured goods were referred to by my right hon. Friend opposite. It is, as an hon. Member said a few minutes ago, a serious matter as to who is settling what are the manufactured goods that should be allowed at the present time to come into this country. I have been to the Board of Trade recently on this matter. When I state—as I stated to them—that German lamps and lamp glasses were actually coming into this country, one does really begin to wonder what influences were at work to prevail upon the officials of the Board of Trade to grant a special permit for the goods which they, of course, believed were probably Dutch, on what persuasion the Board of Trade officials gave these licences to import these particular goods. In the case of lamps of ordinary descriptions we can, I know, at this moment make all the country wants. There has been, and is, no need, and never has been since the Armistice, for import licences to be granted to any importing firm in this country. There is another point in connection with this question of import restrictions. An hon. Gentleman about a fortnight ago asked a question as to the number of firms in neutral countries who had been on the prohibited list during the War and who since the Armistice had been removed from it. To the best of my recollection, the figure was about 400. The Government during the War precluded those firms altogether from doing any trade with anybody in this country, presumably because they had enemy associations, and, therefore, it was not safe for them to be allowed to carry on trade with us. Since the declaration of the Armistice somewhere about the same number—400—of these firms have been given perfect and absolute freedom to trade with the traders of this country. What, therefore, becomes of the contention of the Government that all these restrictions which we are living under are really necessitated by the blockade itself? If that is a just explanation he gave, surely it still holds good that firms who have enemy connections in neutral countries, notably Holland and Switzerland, ought to be precluded until the blockade is finished from trading with this country just as firmly as when the War was on.
My last point has been referred to by the hon. Member for Birkenhead. He asked perfectly plainly, What is going to be the broad policy of His Majesty's Government at the end of the six months? Are we to continue to live under the system of import restrictions, or prohibition; are we going to levy tariffs or to revert to the pre-war system of Free Trade which the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke from the Opposition Benches so warmly advocated? It seems to me that he has almost forgotten that there has been a war. Certainly he forgot this, that in no country in the world has a high and satisfactory wage system ever been maintained under a system of free imports of manufactured goods. It cannot be done in this country in the future nor was it done in the past. Not a little of the industrial trouble from which we are suffering to-day has arisen from the knowledge on the part of Labour generally that they should, and that they could, get very much better wages and better conditions if only the policy of this country generally was on a sound basis. It was refreshing to me to hear my right hon. Friend raise this question openly as to whether or not we are going to have a system of tariffs. I remember will amazement that when I was a member of the Unionist party how we all fought for it, and were absolute believers in the importance and advantage of a scientific tariff system for this country. To-day we have got 383 official members of the Unionist party in this House. What does anyone here or in the country hear at this very critical time of this great leading principle for which they fought so gallantly in the days gone by? It is a very logical and proper question to ask, Where have these Members gone? Has the War given them a just reason for changing those principles? If not, are they serving the legitimate interests of those they represent, and are they doing their duty in the House as public men, by sitting quiet, knowing what ought to be done, but fearing to speak; letting troubles rip—possibly leading us here to the verge of disaster I hope that when this matter comes up for further consideration by His Majesty's Government that it will be remembered that the cost of maintaining the British market to, say, is about £700,000,000 per annum—not £180,000,000 or £200,000,000, as it was before the War. Why should the whole of that burden be forced upon British producers and not placed, so far as it legitimately and properly can be, upon the backs of those who manufacture and send their finished products into this country? I am quite sure that until we know—and I do say we ought to know before six months are up whether the Government is considering as to what their future basis is going to be—until that is done there will be anxiety and uncertainty in all finan- cial and in all industrial circles. There can be no developments, for everyone is afraid to move. That being so, the longer the Government hesitates to declare a definite policy for the industry of this country, so much the greater will be the financial burdens which we will have to face now and in the years that are before us.
It has been a great surprise to those who had to depend upon the provisions of raw material by the Government to find these restrictions about to be removed. It is not much good allowing freedom to import if you have not got freight and ships to bring the raw material, and I should like to submit to the Minister in charge that the Government has control of such a large proportion of the freights that they could regulate the importation of raw material in spite of the absolute freedom which might be given to trade in general. The Government have large stocks of raw material at the present time which has been imported for the purpose of the War, and manufacturers think that this raw material should be made available in our markets to bring down the price. Raw material is to-day being charged very much above the cost in America and other foreign countries, and there is no available freight to bring raw material in order to reduce the price. Anyone concerned in practical industry would feel that the provision of reasonable fright is just as important as the removal of all Government restrictions. I find my Colonial friends in the City point out that the establishment of maximum prices ought to be very carefully watched or you may get a very large restriction of imports. I believe if the materials controlled as to price are maximum prices, and therefore can only be sold here at a certain price, they will not come here, because a better price can be obtained in other countries in Europe. I can give an instance in the case of the cocoa trade, where the materials produced £20 a ton more in Marseilles than in London, because of the maximum price in this country. I know we have all felt the benefit of maximum prices, but they want to be carefully watched because there is a possibility of there being a very serious check upon the importation of foodstuffs and other materials into this country.
I was glad to hear the Minister state that he had accepted the position with regard to Government stocks of raw materials, and that they should not be sold at war prices, but at prices which would allow our manufacturers to compete with foreign orders. In reference to three or four raw materials the price is fallacious, and there is no possibility if you pay the price required for Government stock to compete with foreign orders. I know some people who had to compete with firms in Mexico. The raw material here was in the hands of the Government, and it could be obtained 50 per cent. lower in Mexico than the Government controlled material was fetching in this country. The Government imported very large quantities of all sorts of things for the War, and they must help us now to get out of this position. The time has arrived when the real necessities of our trade should be met by fixing the price of certain raw materials. If the right hon. Gentleman watches the establishment of maximum prices, and if the Government take all the steps they can to provide industry at the present moment with a reasonable freight, which is fairly distributed, I think they would do a great deal to get the industrial machine running fairly smoothly.
We have got a definite policy at last with regard to the control of trade. It will astonish the House to know that throughout the whole period of the War the Government never once gave a general Cabinet ruling as to the conditions under which trade was to be conducted. That was inevitable. The ruling condition was the requirements for war services, and a negative policy had to be followed by the various Departments concerned. I think it is duo to the Board of Trade now that we are starting a new period in the control of trade, to say a word of praise and commendation for the care and skill displayed by the officials of the Board of Trade under circumstances of exceptional difficulty, when they had to decide week by week with regard to certain articles and certain countries a policy for which they could get no decision from above, and no guidance from their superiors. I think under the circumstances the country owes a great deal to the care which the Board of Trade exercised in this matter. The difficulties of the Board of Trade were from the outside, and the complaint I have to make—and it is a very serious one against the Government—is that they have been so long in coming to a decision and giving a lead to the officials of the Board of Trade after the Armistice was signed. It is necessary for hon. Mem- bers, in order to understand what is being done to-day, and to understand what has happened in the last few months, to know by what process these import and export lists were originally compiled.
As a rule what happened was this. Some Government Department interested in providing certain articles for the essential purposes of the War thought they could not get this production or this control or get hold of the men engaged in that production for war purposes without restricting imports on the one hand or exports on the other, and when they came up against that difficulty they made application to the Board of Trade, who asked that that particular article should be put on the list of prohibition, and should be subject to certain licences; and consequently the Board of Trade sat there in a more or less judicial capacity, and they consulted other Departments who might also be interested, and if the case was proved the articles went on to the list. Then the extraordinary thing that happened was the practical effect of the working out of this policy. I want to ask the Government to tell us something now as to what they are going to do for carrying out the policy which they have laid down, because the complaint of traders has not been in regard to prohibition or as to principle, but that they could never get them carried out. They could never get a licence in a reasonable time and they could not get any uniformity of policy. The policy was this. You had an Imports Restriction Department on the one hand and the War Trade Department licensing exports on the other hand. A trader requiring a licence either to import or to export would make application to either of those three Departments, and what happened was this—neither the Import Department nor the Export Department were in a position to give a decision and neither could say, "Yes," or "No," because they had to consult the original Department to ask for the restriction to be put on, and in some cases four or five Departments had to be consulted before an individual licence could be granted, and it was within the competence of any one of those Departments to blackball the application and put a stop to it. I did not complain of the working of that system at the time, although I did so many years ago. It was a system probably that was inevitable under the circumstances of the case, but that was a system that led to all the delay and to the great irritation of traders, and that is the system that exists at the present moment, and it is more important that we should have the whole administration changed than even to get the principles laid down here.
Let me give an example that occurred a week or two ago. A certain firm required scrap steel to keep their steel furnaces going and they discovered that 700 tons of steel in one lot were available at Amsterdam. They applied to the Import Restrictions Department for weeks, but could not get a licence to import that steel. Then they asked me if I would use my influence to get them a licence, and I knew at once what the state of things was. I got in touch with the Import Restrictions Department and they said, "This steel is on the list and liable to licence." Then I asked them, "Can you not give me a licence to-day?" They replied, "No, that is impossible." I said, "I suppose it is impossible because you have to consult the Steel Department of the Ministry of Munitions?" and they replied, "That is so." Now I consulted the Ministry of Munitions, and I was informed that the Steel Department had ceased to exist and that there was nobody there to be consulted. Upon ringing up the superior official of the Board of Trade and informing him of these facts I got from him the decision that no licence was required at all, and that is the difficulty. Items have been put on those lists by Departments that have now disappeared and there is nobody to take them off or give a decision, and restrictions which have been made unnecessary since last February have been kept hanging over the heads of traders both in regard to imports and exports, and it has been almost impossible to get them off. I hope the meaning of this decision of the Government at least is that the whole of these lists will be revised on the new principles and that the Board of Trade will be allowed to run this business on its own responsibility.
I am rather afraid from what the Minister of Reconstruction has stated that we are not going to have that. I am not sure that the terms he has mentioned about exports are worth very much. I am afraid in practice it does not carry us a week further in regard to our freedom. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the only things that are going to be subject to the restriction of licences are matters required for naval and military purposes, but that was the old heading under which we stopped everything before. Does this mean that as in the past everything that the War Office or the Admiralty may want will still continue to be controlled and kept on the list. Is the old system to continue that before any article in which the War Office or the Admiralty is interested can be exported the Export Department has to be consulted before a licence is obtained? I should like to put a question to the Minister as to what is involved in the Clause about materials that have been liable to subsidy. It is well known that all forms of steel have up to the present been heavily subsidised. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean by his new Regulations that steel, and therefore everything manufactured out of steel, is, irrespective of other consequences, going to be still subject to licence? I should like an answer to that, because if that is so you have nothing free, and we have been given an empty shell. Of course, if you are going to keep your restrictions on steel and everything made of steel, then the whole of the metal industries of the country are affected. I should like that made specifically clear, because the question of the subsidy is involved init. I also hope to hear something about the changes in administration, and I hope that the import and export sides are going to be combined. It has been one of the most stupid things throughout the War that you have had the Import Restriction Department away down in one end of London, and the Export Department in another part of London, and that there was no link or connection between them, and no system of co-ordinating them. I hope we are going to have one Department, that it will be under the Board of Trade, and that it will be free to run the thing and to come to quick decisions without running round to all the Departments in London and allowing everybody to have a finger in the pie. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is in the carrying out of all these things that the difficulty arises, and that great irritation has been felt by traders up to the present.
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend if the policy which he has announced to-day is the policy of the Government regarding the manufacturing trade which the Leader of the House stated a few days ago would be announced to us, or whether this is simply some temporary policy which is to carry us through the next six months? I should like to know whether this is the policy outlined in the letter of 2nd November last from the Prime Minister to the Leader of the House or if it is simply some temporary policy to carry us through until definite arrangements can be made with regard to dumping or preference and the general protection of the manufacturing industry? I think a certain number of hon. Members who have spoken were under the impression that this was the general statement of policy promised by the Prime Minister; but, at any rate, I think it is merely a temporary policy. This has all arisen out of a deputation some time ago to the President of the Board of Trade. That deputation arose from the circumstances that the Board of Trade had withdrawn the restriction on the importation of a very large number of articles which had previously been on the list, and manufacturers found that their trade and business was likely to be very seriously interfered with. They found that their position was that they had been engaged entirely on war work, and that it would take a considerable period of time before they could turn over to peace conditions, and give employment to their hands in their ordinary trade. It was really a matter of giving employment to their workpeople, and from that point of view I think the Debate which we have had in the House to-day has been one of the most important in this present Parliament. I must say, following what was said by my hon. friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. France), who regretted that there was such a small House present, that it is particularly regrettable that hon. Members who profess to represent Labour are not here in stronger numbers to-day. That deputation was purely a deputation with the object of giving employment to the workpeople, and a number of manufacturers attended. They were representative men, and they pointed out how, with the new conditions of working, the reduced hours and the higher wages to pay, it would be impossible for them to make both ends meet in their industry unless time were given to them to turn over from war work to peace work. A list of seventy or eighty articles which the Board of Trade had released from the restrictions was before us, and we just selected a few of the items in that list. One was lawn mowers, to which reference has been made here today. Representatives of the principal firms of lawn mower and agricultural implement makers who were present on the deputation pointed out that if the market were now to be flooded with American lawn mowers it would be impossible for them to keep their business going and to give employment at the high rate of pay and improved conditions to their workpeople which they desired. That was one item. Then there was the question of certain other articles—weighing machines and machinery—and in every case the argument was much the same. Again, there was the question of certain imports from Japan, and it was pointed out by the deputation that you could not possibly, in the case of the hosiery trade, pay women from 30s. to 35s. a week for them to compete against the articles which were produced by Japanese labour at a cost of 5s. 6d. a week. The particular trade which was represented on this occasion pointed out that in pre-war days something like 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of their products were supplied by the Central Powers, and that in the general cry of "Capture German trade" they had captured German trade, and had set up factories for the manufacture of these articles. They pointed out that their work would be entirely undone unless the imports from Japan were at once stopped.
I think the effect of that deputation was to impress on the President of the Board of Trade that something had to be done and had to be done quickly if employment were to be secured for our workpeople. I must say I feel a great measure of satisfaction at the concession which the right hon. Gentleman has to-day announced. We know there are certain materials which would have to come in free. There are certain partly manufactured materials which will have to be considered, and I trust, in that consideration, that in every case the issue will be "Can we give employment to our people?" Let the question of employment to our own people be the test as to whether or not these articles should be allowed. There can be no question about it that, as regards manufactured goods—except in the case of urgent necessity where articles are absolutely necessary—we ought to have absolute protection for British manufac- turers and British labour. It is on no other basis that we can hope to reorganise our industry and trade. It is also so important from the point of view of the exchange. If you think the exchange is of no consequence then that goes by the board, but there are others who think that the question of exchange between this country and America is a matter of very great importance. If it is of importance, then the only was of dealing with it is to encourage our exports and discourage our imports. We have got to do something or another. I am told that the amount which it is costing this country to keep up the exchange is a terrific figure. I only had it on hearsay evidence that it was something like £30,000,000 a year, which is a terrific figure to keep up the rate of exchange, as it is kept up at present, between this country and the United States. If that be so, it is a case of nothing else but restriction of imports. At any rate, I think the step which my right hon. Friend is taking is a move in the right direction, and I should like to know from him whether it is a permanent policy, or purely a temporary policy until the Government have had time to formulate their definite schemes. I can only assure him that what he has announced to-day will give a great measure of satisfaction to all those engaged in manufacture and who have the interests of their workpeople at heart.
I should like, if I may, to express on behalf of the President of the Board of Trade his very deep regret, which I certainly share most cordially, that he is unable to be here this afternoon to take part in the Debate. I am quite sure, however, that the House, realising as they must that his illness is due to overwork, will feel sympathy with him. I think the question of policy has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Reconstruction, and it will not be necessary for me to say anything further on that point, except possibly to answer one or two minor questions which have arisen in the Debate. First, I may say, after what my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. G. Terrell) has just said, that the policy sketched by the Minister of Reconstruction was the policy for the period of transition.
Will my hon. Friend tell us why the Department has selected 30th April for the termination of the pro- tection accorded to paper manufacturers, and the 1st September for other industries?
With regard to that, the 30th of April is the natural time at which it would be reconsidered. I cannot enter into the question of the others without further inquiry, but the 1st of September is not a fixed date. That is the ultimate point to which the arrangement now foreshadowed can go without being reconsidered; it may be reconsidered before that, but not later. Perhaps I had better try and answer some of the questions that have been addressed to me by hon. Members who have spoken. I am sure they will recognise that I am under some disadvantage, because I have only been a few weeks at the Board of Trade, and, although I have tried to cram my head to the utmost extent of its receptivity with the events that have taken place there, I cannot pretend to have mastered the whole record of that historic Department in such a way as to be able to elucidate all the ramifications of its work, even during the period of the War. I was very glad indeed to hear from several Members expressions of high appreciation of the work of the officials of the Board of Trade, and I have been there long enough to know how thoroughly well deserved is that appreciation. First of all, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman opposite for the very kindly and restrained manner in which he put his criticisms at the begining of this Debate. His first point was that it had come to his notice that the Board of Trade had given some guarantees as to prices being maintained, and I think he mentioned the soap and the dye trades.
The position is that the Oils and Fats Department of the Ministry of Food inform me that prices are fixed by a trade association and not by the Government. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say with regard to dyes that decisions were arrived at without proper consultation with all the people interested.
I said that I was aware with regard to dyes that not only the manufacturers, but that the users as well, namely, the woollen manufacturers, were on the Board, and my point was that they were not the only people interested.
That is perfectly true. We are all more or less interested in the question. The right hon. Gentleman's point was that the consumer especially was not properly considered. It is not very easy to say exactly how you are going to pick the best adviser on be half of the consumer. If you take the man who consumes the most of any particular article, he is not necessarily the best adviser. As a matter of fact, if you are dealing with something affecting a great many different trades and interests that in itself ensures in a great measure the representation of the consumer, because each trade looks at everything except its own trade from the point of view of the consumer, and each therefore exercises a certain amount of check upon the other. After all, the Hoard of trade are in a position to understand fairly well what are the wishes of the consumer. One may fairly say that the ordinary consumer wishes to get as much as he can of what he wants, and to get it as good and as cheap as he can. We therefore do not want any special adviser to help us to see the consumer's point of view.
The right hon. Gentleman accused us of giving way to pressure from outside, from the press and elsewhere. He instanced a number of questions to which it has been my misfortune to have to reply, and he deduced from them that restrictions were only removed when we could endure the pressure no longer. Amongst other things he mentioned was an article called chicle gum, which he invited me to describe, because he did not know what it was. When the question was asked, I took the trouble to inquire. It is an elastic gum produced from the berry of a tree which is grown in Central America, and which is called the achras sapota, and it is used as a masticatory. I really think that in all these things public opinion may be said to come to a head in the form of a question, but the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that there is a long time before the question is asked during which the Department is considering the matter and trying to arrive at a far conclusion. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Kiley) gave a good deal of advice and some criticism. He said that licences were given to certain favoured individuals. It is certainly not the intention of the Board of Trade to do that. Every firm in the trade is given a licence according to their ration. I cannot admit, therefore, that we are open to that accusation. He himself has been one of our most useful advisers on various points, but, while we have benefited by his advice, we have also had other advisers, and we have tried, as far as possible, to carry out these things fairly. Some of the suggestions he made will be carefully thought over, and, of course we shall be very glad to receive his advice in that and other matters with which he is familiar. He asked us about profiteering, but I do not quite understand how the Board of Trade is going to interfere in that matter. Perhaps he will tell us.
The point to which I tried to make was that it is the duty of the Board of Trade, when they grant a licence to anybody enjoying a monopoly, to fix the profit that the individual is to put upon the commodity for which he is to obtain a licence.
I do not understand what the hon. Member means by a monopoly licence. I am not aware that we have granted any monopoly licences. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne) very reasonably asked for a list of restrictions. There was a list issued about a year ago, and notices of variations have appeared from time to time in the "Board of Trade Journal" and elsewhere. We quite realise that his request is most reasonable, and we wish to do our best to comply with it, but at the present time there are so many changes taking place that I think he will agree that it will be advisable to wait for two or three weeks, so as to get a list which will be more comprehensive than anything which we could produce at the present time.
Yes, we had an interesting speech from the hon. Member for Batley (Mr. France), who raised a large number of different points. He suggested that the Allies were getting orders for trade which we were unable to secure owing to our observance of the restrictions which have been put upon us. We have no absolute evidence of that, but the matter is being very carefully watched, and representations will certainly be made to foreign countries if we find that anything such as he suggests is taking place. He asked whether the whole situation was to be reviewed on 1st September or whether only part of it. My right hon. Friend said that the restrictions which were necessary for the transition period could not be extended beyond 1st September, and that they would come up for reconsideration then or upon such earlier date as the Government might think desirable. The hon. Member asked for publicity, and I presume he meant that when it had been decided what restrictions were to be kept on or imposed the list should be immediately made public, so that Members of Parliament could take what action they liked.
Yes, we are anxious that there should be full knowledge and publicity. It will be very easy for Members of this House, by methods which are familiar to the hon. Gentleman, to elicit the reasons which actuate the Government in any one or other of these restrictions. He wanted us to describe what were raw materials. That is a question which I will not discuss this afternoon. I do not see that it is in any way relevant to the subject which we are debating. We are merely talking about the transition period, and, if there is anything in the list of the articles—whatever they are—to be restricted which hon. Members consider to be raw materials, then they will be able to form their own opinion upon it. If full publicity is given, hon. Gentlemen who wish to discuss the matter will be able to find many ways of doing so. The hon. Member seemed to find some difficulty in settling who ought to decide these questions. Everybody suggested to his mind seemed to be the wrong person to give the decision. Of course, it is very difficult, but after all somebody has got to decide. He spoke of retaining controls beyond the time that was necessary. It is certainly not the wish of the Government to do that. The habit of control is not like the drug habit, which produces such pleasant sensations that it is very hard to leave off and even very hard not to increase. The sensation produced in Government Departments by the existence of controls is sufficient to make them want to bring them to an end as quickly as possible. It is not for the love of the thing that they are kept on.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) read the House a lecture on the frailty of human nature and of manufacturers in particular, and spoke of the temptations to which they would be exposed under the proposals of my right hon. Friend. But surely he does not seriously suggest that we should go straight away from war conditions to peace conditions without any sort of transitional machinery? Such a suggestion is entirely opposite to that made by the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), who told us that such machinery was necessary, and that some kind of transition period is required. I am afraid I did not quite follow the relevance of the right hon. Member's remarks to-day, They might be relevant to the general question of imports and exports, but not to the question of some transition arrangement which can only take a form similar to that which my right hon. Friend has put before the House. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Bigland) asked if he was right in supposing that all imports of manufactures from foreign countries are to be restricted. I do not think he can have meant the whole of them.
I am not quite clear, but do I understand that in regard to completely manufactured articles there is to be absolute exclusion except in the case of such articles are are deemed to be necessary for the trade and industry of this country? I want to know what is exactly to be understood.
Where the article is necessary for the trade of this country of course it will not be excluded from import. The hon. Member for Wallsall (Sir R. Cooper) made a great number of very interesting points, but they all require some little time for consideration, and I should like to get some information from him on certain points. He spoke specially with regard to the imports of German lamps. All I can find out is there was a licence to enable a portable magneto lamp to be imported as a sample.
Perhaps the hon. Member will give me the information on which he bases that statement. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce) spoke mainly on two subjects—shipping control and food control—and these questions cannot be answered by the Board of Trade. He also spoke about the release of Government stocks, but that point has already been explained by my right hon. Friend. There were several points as to exports raised by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Sir E. Jones). One was as to articles needed by the enemy for military purposes. We cannot avoid putting them under restrictions, but, of course, the Government must in the end decide the whole question. The hon. Member asked why goods were exempted which received a subsidy. The only object is that before they go out of the country the amount of the subsidy must be returned. The hon. Member also suggested that the Import and Export Department should be under one control. That is being done, and the War Trade Department is coming in under the Board of Trade. The only thing I need do now is to explain the machinery by which we propose to carry out the policy which my right hon. Friend has described. The War Trade Department previously managed the questions of exports and export licences and it had lists of prohibited articles. There were three lists, one (List A) of articles prohibited for export to all countries, the second (List B) of articles prohibited to destinations outside the Empire, and the third (List C) of articles prohibited to European neutrals contiguous to the enemy. Immediately after the Armistice was signed, a number of articles were removed from lists A and Band placed on list C, which permitted their being exported to countries other than blockade neutrals, and shortly after that there were a certain number of countries exempted from the prohibition attaching to list C, including Greece, Spain, Morocco, Belgium, Palestine, Syria, Serbia, Roumania, portions of enemy territories occupied by the Allies, and other places. The information was published in the "Board of Trade Journal," and the Press was informed by an arrangement between the Board of Trade Department and the Department of Overseas Trade. The Department is now considering how it is possible to reduce that prohibited list to the lowest possible dimensions, and as soon as they have arrived at a conclusion it will be made public.
With regard to imports, as most hon. Members know, they are under the control of the Board of Trade. Everyone admits that the difficulties appertaining to a transition period are very great. The general criticism has been in the direction of suggesting there is some suspicion that we do not take the advice all round which we might accept upon these subjects. The President of the Board of Trade has now decided that the Advisory Council under Lord Emmott, which was set up some time ago to advise him on import and export restrictions, should be formed into a sort of Commission, and be reinforced by the addition of representatives of all the general interests that require to be consulted—manufacturers, merchants, retailers, workmen, and the inevitable consumer. Of course, in trades where there exist joint industrial councils formed according to the Whitley Report, or interim industrial reconstruction committees, these will naturally have a right to express their views to the Government, and arrangements will be made that their side of the question shall be represented on the Commission. The duties of this Commission will be to settle the machinery and procedure. It is to go over all the import now restricted, and the other imports as well, and recommend a percentage of the normal which is to be admitted. We hope in that way very shortly to be able to produce a list of all the restrictions that are to remain upon imports into this country. The Board of Trade will receive the Report of the Commission, which will, we hope, sit continuously, and the Government will then decide upon the matter. In the meantime it will be necessary to issue a certain number of licences until the final decision has been arrived at. That is the machinery by which we hope to be able very shortly to give the public a list of the import restrictions. We think it will be representative of all the interests that have to be consulted, and it is our desire that it should be made public and open to everyone's consideration at the earliest possible moment.
With regard to the Whitley Councils, I hope that certain Members of them will be on the Commission, but, at any rate, they will always have the right to express their views to the Commission on any point affecting the trade for which their council exists.
The hon. Member who has just spoken is deservedly popular here and I hope he will forgive me if I do not deal in my speech with the points he has raised, but turn rather to his colleague. The Minister for Reconstruction is one of the people who are shaping the future policy of this country and it is well that the House should realise the lines upon which the country is going to be established. We are evidently living at the present moment under high Protection, and there is every chance, when 1st September comes and the vested interests have been established, that that high Protection will continue. Moreover, hon. Members here and a great many thousands of people can begin to appreciate what high Protection means. The working-classes will begin to appreciate it a little later, for the unemployment it is proposed to effect by this scheme is likely to become one of the pronounced features of this country in the future. After all, they elected this Government, and they must take the consequences. The right hon. Gentleman has given us an example. He has pointed out that the Government are going to spend a great deal of money on public works, which is to ease the unemployment question by creating employment. Is it the sort of political economy practised by the Front bench and in the Government Departments at the present time? Is it necessary to explain to them that if £1,000,000 is spent on public works in this country, that does not create more employment in this country? If the money is spent in a useful way, it just creates exactly as much employment as it also destroys. Every penny found for that public work comes out of some of our pockets and it means that people who want to get useful things which are needed by their families are unable to purchase those things, consequently they are unable to employ people in this country to make those things they want. Instead of that, the Government takes the money and they spend it in some other way. If that is the idea of the Government of how to solve unemployment in this country, namely, by spending money on public works, we are likely to have a very rude awakening very shortly.
The right hon. Gentleman even went so far as to say that he was advising which was the sort of employment that was needed by the trades of the country. Is it necessary to explain that there is as much employment in every one pound's worth of coal produced for export as for every one pound's worth of sewing machines. It is the old case of 1 lb. of lead and 1 1b. of feathers weighing the same. It does not matter how the money is spent. In any case it produces the same amount of employment or unemployment. It is almost hopeless to get people in this House to realise that the mere making of employment does not benefit the country if at the same time it will create unemployment. We have had endless hon. Members explaining that if only we prevent imports coming into this country the working classes would be better employed. If it were so simple as they describe, we should have got rid of imports long ago. Every import we keep out means that we create unemployment in our export trade to an exactly equal amount. We hope that we are going to benefit our export trade by preventing imports from coming into this country is just as if we were going to thrive on the non-payment of our debts. It is perfectly simple, of course. The Tariff Reformer goes to a man out of work, who is an engineer or a glass manufacturer, and says, "Are you unemployed? If only you will let me put on a tariff we shall be able to erect glass-houses in this country and grow tomatoes and sell them at a guinea apiece." Anybody who studies the question knows it is much better that we should produce here the things we can produce most cheaply and send them abroad in exchange for goods that can be produced most Cheaply elsewhere. If you try to stimulate employment in this country by stopping cheap things from coming here in order to produce them more dearly here, you are producing unemployment and strangling business.
The Protection we are living under does not merely concern itself with the prevention of imports. We have a pretty big piece of that. We have the almost complete prevention of imports of manufactured articles except those licensed by a Government Department. How this can be reconciled with any of the traditions of Parliament I do not know. We are handing over to one Government Department, in fact, the drawing up of a Budget. At any rate, it is the drawing up of a list which will prevent industries in this country from recovering and which will give enormous bonuses to the happy individuals able to get licences to import. Look at the treatment of our export trade! It is exactly similar. Everybody says we want to increase our export trade. Of course we do. That is the only hope this country has. At the same time we are preserving the blockade, thereby actually preventing our goods from going abroad where they are wanted. At the present moment about 30 per cent. of the looms in Lancashire are not working, and we are paying £1,000,000 a week to people out of work. At the same time we are creating unemployment. Yet this is called a business Government. The case is more ridiculous when you consider that nobody knows whether he can get a licence or not. In New York you will find a million pounds worth of goods ordered and paid for which are lying there but for which licences cannot be obtained. That is the way the trade of the country is helped by the Government! It is one of the things that is creating bad blood between us and America. Not only are there a million pounds worth of goods actually paid for, but there is an enormous mass of goods contracted for but not paid for, which the Americans have manufactured but are now unable to send here. Exactly the same thing occurs in connection with France. In France they have a business Government which manages to prevent free imports going into that country. You have the woollen manufacturers of this country who have made large contracts with French firms on the undertaking of the French Government that they will be allowed import licences to get their goods to that country. It is the same with chemical manufacturers and with sulphate of copper manufacturers. They obtained promises from France that licences would be granted and they concluded contracts with French firms. In many cases they have manufactured goods, but the contracts have been cancelled because the import of the goods was not permitted. In many cases they have sent the goods over, but the Government have induced persons to cancel the contracts by themselves selling the goods at 20 francs a pound less. That is all done by a business Government. Such things as silk, wine and jewellery, which are things France wishes to export, we are allowing her to send. The Board of Trade here, like France, appear to be afraid of American competition.
What does this lead to? If you blockade all the imports into this country, it means that we cannot export from here. Imports pay for exports. If we cannot export we have to pay our debts in some other way. We cannot export gold because we have not enough to spare. What happens? Our capitalists invest capital in America instead of here. This process has already gone to extremes. There is an enormous amount of capital which should help industry in this country that is going abroad. The result is that there is a glut of capital in America. New York City 4½ per Cent. Bonds are now above par. It means that the New York rate of interest is perhaps 1 per cent. lower than it was. Of course, New York City Bonds are about the best on the market. At the same time you cannot get a 4½ Government security above par in this country. In Japan the 4½ per Cent. Japanese Bonds stand at 95½, so that the credit of Japan is better than that of this country. It is better because Japan and the United States have a surplus of exports, and consequently it would pay both Japan and America to invest the money in this way. The result is that you have a scarcity of capital in this country, which means a high rate of interest. You will have this constantly increasing rate of interest in this country. Anybody who now invests in a factory expects to get 7½ or 8 per cent. for his money, whereas before the War money was cheaper in this country than anywhere else. That is the natural result of not having sufficient exports. If your export trade is not encouraged, you are going to get a stringency of capital in this country which will lead to unemployment more surely than any amount of high expenditure or any amount of indebtedness. This is not a thing we can contemplate with equanimity, yet the Government do not seem to have thought of it at all. The Government are still maintaining the blockade, oblivious of the fact that they are blockading our own export trade. They are still preventing machinery from coming in, oblivious of the fact that we want machinery in connection with our export trade. One hon. Member who represents Nottingham gave the illustration of manufacturers who held Army contracts, who said, "Will you not prevent cheap goods coming in from Japan and the United States? It is true we cannot manufacture them at present, because we are engaged on Army contracts, and we cannot get the machines necessary to produce the goods." Then machine manufacturers come along and say, "We cannot produce machines in this country if you allow machines to come in from abroad."
How far is this business to go? In every case you have a Government Department, who are not economists, who understand no title of political economy, listening merely to the interested arguments of every particular trade which wants to have competition restricted and to build up a monopoly in this country. That is a hopeless way of getting the trade of this country on to a firm basis. I would ask the Minister of Reconstruction to understand that you do not create work by spending Government money, and, secondly, that you do not create work by setting up a very highly protective system in this or any other country. Unfortunately, we have a number of new Members in this House. They are called business men. They understand their own business, but they do not understand the public interest. They have not been through all the war of Free Trade versus Tariff Reform so as to understand both sides. I go to any old Member of the House on the Conservative side and I say, "The Government of this country is perishing on account of these restrictions on trade," and they all agree. I ask even the Under-Secretary opposite whether he himself, although a Protectionist, does not appreciate that if you allow Government Departments to restrict trade across the seas you thereby restrict the trade of the country as a whole and make the recovery of this country more difficult? The argument they use is that the manufacturers are loaded up with goods at a high price. For instance, the woollen manufacturers have bought wool ahead at a high price. We cannot see these people let in by allowing free importation, or the price goes down. It is the same with any other article that manufacturers, or even shopkeepers, store. A maker of pianos has perhaps 100 in stock worth £100 each. There is £10,000. They say, "If you allow pianos to come in to compete with ours, all these pianos we have laid in at a high price will immediately fall to half their value, and it is not fair." The Board of Trade sees that point of view and keeps the price up so as to support these people over what they call the time of crisis. When a tax is put on you have exactly the reverse. Immediately a tax is put on tobacco all the tobacco in stock goes up in price. If a tax is put on any article, not merely the articles which come in after the tax is imposed are increased, but the whole stock of any man who stocks that particular article. If that is the case, and it is realised that they get a benefit from an increased tax in that way, surely we have a right to ask that when prices would naturally have gone down under free imports the people who have stocks in hand should face the music and lose.
It is impossible to get trade on its legs again or to get the whole country manufacturing for the world as it used to do, unless we have first a drop in prices. The Government ought to make up its mind whether it wants to keep prices up or to get them down. I think the Board of Trade is really actuated by a desire to keep prices up. Every manufacturer thinks that high prices bring in high profits. Of course they do on a small turnover, but the country as a whole cannot possibly start again until the water has been knocked out of these stocks that they hold. You have uncertainty, for the manufacturer holding at a high price is not really in a better position, because he does not believe the Government will really be so kind as to keep those prices up for him and for ever, and the man who is purchasing says, "These high prices will not be permanent, and I cannot enter into contracts ahead at these prices. I will wait for them to come down." In one case you have a man who is anxious to make extensions waiting for prices to come clown month after month, while unemployment increases, and America and Japan cut out our world trade; and on the other hand you have the man loaded up with stock obtained at a high price, whose one desire is to see that the Board of Trade keeps his price up. They have now the promise that prices will be kept up till 1st September. Till then it is impossible for anyone who wants to tender for a big contract to go ahead. He dare not do it. He must wait. Others are waiting until 1st September and trying to unload before 1st September comes, or more likely trying by backstairs influence to get hold of Board of Trade officials and persuade them to keep it on after 1st September. They will do it, and hon. Members want them to do it. Under these circumstances I do not think there is any chance for industry in this country. You are crippling the export trade, you are crippling the profits which might be made in the export trade, you are creating unemployment and you have at the Ministry of Reconstruction a right hon. Gentleman who thinks that by spending public money in public works you are solving the unemployed question.
I want to pass now to the conduct of the Home Office in connection with conscientious objectors. I wish the House to realise that it is no pleasure for anyone to have to talk against the ideas of nine-tenths of the House of Commons. I do it because I believe the honour of this country demands that someone should stand up for the under-dog. It has always been our tradition that we should have people to support unpopular causes, and however unpopular the cause it is our duty, if we feel that injustice is being done, to advocate that cause. I remember talking to an Indian agitator when I was in the States a year ago. After he had been lecturing me on all the crimes that England had committed towards India for the past 200 or 300 years he turned round to me and in an engaging way said, "That is all right. America is infinitely worse than England. There is no liberty here. In England you have always got the 'Daily News,' the 'Manchester Guardian,' and the 'Nation,' but there is no independent Press in America. There is no one who stands up for the under-dog. There is no one who supports an unpopular cause in Congress." We have always had someone who stands up for an unpopular cause. Therefore I ask hon. Members to bear with me if I deal with this very unpopular subject. The Home Secretary agreed the other night that these people in the first place could come out of prison if they wanted because they can accept alternative civil employment. That is not quite true. I want to press upon the Home Secretary that he should make clear to those people, if indeed it is his intention, that anyone who wants can come out of prison, if he is prepared to accept alternative civil employment. I do not think many will come out on that plea, because fortunately there is a good deal of solidarity among these men and they say, quite rightly, "All or none." That is a spirit which I cannot criticize. There is another point on which we were more or less agreed. That is that these men, having proved that they are conscientious by haying been in many cases five times court-martialled and by having been imprisoned for two and a-half years for conscience' sake, ought to have been exempted from military service altogether. Of course almost every other conscientious objector in the country has been, I should say, although there are l,500 still in prison, there are at least 1,500 exactly similar people who were exempted by tribunals on grounds differing in no respect from those on which the other 1,500 were sent to prison. These 1,500 men, having proved that they are conscientious objectors, and being therefore according to the Act exempt from imprisonment and from the Army, ought now to be let out. I think the Home Secretary accepts that, but if he let them out, he says, we should have complaints from all over the country, from soldiers serving and from their parents and relations. It has always been a principle dinned into my ears, that it was our duty to do justice though the heavens may fall. If a thing is right the Government has got to do it. If it is just the Government ought to carry out the dictates of justice instead of being swayed by fears of what the consequences of doing justice may be. Really, if we are going to swallow popular whim or public opinion, justice in this country becomes an absolute farce. I have no doubt if the public as a whole could vote on the subject they would all send Mr. Ramsay Macdonald and possibly myself to prison. They would say, "These are undesirable people," and on exactly the same argument people who have committed no crime whatever would be put in prison because it was the popular thing to do. Is not that exactly the same as the Home Secretary's argument, that, although it is unjust that these men should be put in prison, yet because of popular clamour they are to be kept in prison? A country which carries on its ideas of administration on these lines is going downhill, and is putting a blot upon our history which it will take centuries to remove. It will be thrown in our teeth by subsequent generations, that knowing these people to be innocent we have kept them in prison year after year, although we know they had committed no crime, although they had obviously proved themselves to be conscientious objectors, because the Government was afraid. That is a situation which ought to be faced by the Home Secretary. It is very well for him to smile. He is there to administer justice and not to carry on administration by favour of public opinion.
But there is more than that. It would be bad enough if these men were kept in prison unjustly, but when in addition to that they are bullied in prison, we have an extremely serious case. The right hon. Gentleman has kindly consented to have an inquiry into the Wandsworth case, but I have put before him during the last two weeks a number of cases, in every one of which the stereotyped answer has been given, that there is no foundation whatever for the complaint made. It was given in the Wandsworth case. Every time we have had simply the reply given that there was no truth in the allegation, or that So-and-So was not well enough to be let out. In every case naturally that is the official view. We had the case to-day of the treatment of the hunger strikers at Newcastle. It is alleged that they were fed through the nose. I asked a question and the right hon. Gentleman says there is no truth in it. We have that story from three different people who were fed in that way, and he asks us to believe the doctor, who was the only person present, against these three men. Are we going always to accept the official view of what is true and what is not? If these changes are made there ought to be an inquiry into every case. It is absurd to have a very expensive inquiry, but at the same time it is also absurd to send down officials to ask the governor or the prison doctor whether or not he did something obviously disgraceful. Naturally the answer would be the same in every case. What is wanted is a circular from the Home Secretary to the various prisons concerned, pointing out that special treatment should be given to conscientious objectors, because their imprisonment is not on a par with that of any felon because they are conscientious people, and they ought not to be treated as though they were the scum of the earth and worse than any other prisoners, and consideration ought to be shown them particularly by the doctors, because most of these tales of brutality are about the doctors.
Finally, hunger striking should not be met by forcible feeding. We are now forcibly feeding more men in prison than were forcibly fed during the whole of the women's agitation, and when it is realised that these people are being unjustly kept in prison, that we should have that aggravated by forcible feeding seems to me to be an atrocious commentary upon the administration of the criminal law in this country. I wish the Home Secretary could see his way to taking that step of circularising the prisons to get more humane treatment for these people. At Wandsworth, for instance, twenty-nine men have been punished since 20th January last, and over twenty have had their privileges stopped. That sort of thing ought not to happen. It simply makes decent people boil with rage, puts the whole administration of justice into contempt, and leads to ideas which, I am sure, are wholly false as to the attitude of the Home Office towards these conscientious objectors, and it is nothing but brutality to the prisoners themselves. Do let us have an announcement that the administration of the present law, so far as conscientious objectors are concerned, is to be improved and humanised at once, and let us have, if possible, a decision by the Government that they will follow the dictates of justice and not the dictates of expediency in this matter.
I want to state the case of the working docker, who also has a conscience, and not only a conscience but a very strong and serious grievance under laws administered by the right hon. Gentleman's Department. I would call attention to four points of administration which come under his Department. If the right hon. Gentleman searches the archives of the Home Office, he will find a document dated as far back as 1907. The Department over which the Home Secretary then presided appointed a Departmental Committee, on which I had the honour to serve, and the object of that Committee was to receive evidence from all over the country, from every port, as to the nature and conditions of work done by men who were working tonnage on piece rates. It may, perhaps, interest the House to know that to-day men working tonnage at piece-work rates have no legal right to claim from the employer the exact amount of tonnage he handles. In one or two cases, in Scotland particularly, we had evidence of such a character—the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean was also a member of that Committee—as proved conclusively that one gang of fourteen men in eight months were absolutely robbed of £114 by not being able to ascertain the exact amount of tonnage they handled. This inquiry was held and the employers and ourselves practically agreed. It was a non-contentious matter and the Report was laid upon the Table of the House, but because it was mixed up with the quarries, and I think objection was taken by the quarry owners, we have heard nothing about the Bill from that day to this. We do not know whether any progress has been made with the question.
The next point relates to dock regulations. We have heard more than once of the enormous number of accidents that occurred in industrial occupations. Perhaps it will be news to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman that the return of accidents in the docks exceed even the return of accidents in the mines to-day, in spite of the fact that special regulations have been created to prevent loss of life and limb. Again, I served as a member of the Commission that went into the whole matter, and was responsible for the creation of dock regulations for the protection of life and limb. These regulations took in a quarter of a million more men than were previously covered by the Factory Acts, but the appointment of factory inspectors for the purpose of carrying out these regulations is of such a character that an ordinary docker who knows his business is practically debarred from passing the examination in order to carry out these regulations. It is understood and generally accepted that the docker is an unskilled worker. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that is an altogether wrong impression. As a matter of fact the all-round docker in order to do his work properly requires to have a combination of the intelligence of a Cabinet Minister and the agility of a ringtailed monkey. In the first instance it may not be saying much, but the fact remains that the man who knows his work, and does his work and is the most efficient man for carrying out dock regulations, would be the man who does know his business from the keelson to the gantling block. I suggest that the examination test for the appointment of sub-inspectors should be modified in order to enable a practical man to pass the examination and to see that the regulations are carried out in a proper way. Although we are supposed to have protection for life and limb, the number of inspectors appointed is not nearly sufficient, and the number of ambulances on the docks is not sufficient. The first-aid surgical instruments are not there, and men have been known to almost bleed slowly to death after an accident at the docks before the necessary assistance has been given to them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take that into consideration.
The next point is the question of the working and administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act. I know that all the cases I am mentioning will require new legislation, and I am not going to expect that in a crowded and congested Session such as we anticipate new legislation can actually be created. All I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to do is to endeavour, with the knowledge we have and the facts we are prepared to lay before him, to administer the existing law more humanely and generously until such time as there is an opportunity of effecting a change in the law. I wish to point out the necessity for a change, and that is the reason why I am taking advantage of this Vote. In the old days before the Workmen's Compensation Act came into existence all the cases were Employers' Liability Act cases. The difference between the two Acts the right hon. Gentleman, being a lawyer, knows better than I do, although I may tell him that the rude school of experience in my case has been a very liberal educator in respect of these Acts for compensation for injury. The Employers' Liability Act lays down the principle of full wages, compensation for injury, compensation for permanent injury and for loss of time. The Workmen's Compensation Act only gives 50 per cent. of the average earnings of the man, with no compensation for loss of limb and permanent injury. We find to-day that 95 per cent. of the cases of compensation for injury are settled under the Workmen's Compensation Act, thereby practically abrogating the Employers' Liability Act, the difference being full wages in one case and half wages in the other. The reason is easily explained. The man who is injured very probably has a good job, and he reports to the employer. The employer sends him to the insurance company, and the insurance company settles with him under the Workmen's Compensation Act, although in dozens of cases that I know of the man had a good case under the Employers' Liability Act. But he does not want to lose his job, and does not want to fall out with the employer.
Another point. A principle in my opinion has been introduced into the Workmen's Compensation Act of a most iniquitous and vicious character. That is the doctrine of light employment. I have searched the Act from cover to cover—I am speaking now as a practical docker myself, a man who has been through the mill—and I fail to find in any sentence of that Act—I may be wrong—anything to justify the interpretation that the man is compelled to accept light employment. Anybody who knows the docks, and the conditions of dock labour, knows that there is very little light employment in the docks. An injured man is offered light employment, and refuses it. It goes before the County Court judge. The County Court judge decides that the man must accept the offer. He reduces the compensation to a penny a week. The man goes and tries to do the job, something he cannot do, and he breaks down. He has lost his employment, and has lost his compensation. I call attention to that so that when the time comes it may be remedied. The only remedy for these evils is to bring the conditions of the Workmen's Compensation Act on a level with the Employers' Liability Act. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act you have not got to prove negligence or anything except that the man is injured, and unless he is injured by a deliberate act of his own fault he is entitled to compensation.
My last and most important point is the imprisonment of workmen for the non-payment for industrial and reformatory school treatment. I have had a private conversation with the right hon. Gentleman on the question and, from what he said to me, I am sure that he is sympathetically inclined towards, at least, some more humane administration of the existing law with regard to this particular question. I may give an example of what I mean. I am now quoting pre-war conditions, which may possibly come back if unemployment comes along, as it is coming along just as viciously and badly as it was before the War commenced. My point is that the law still remains a sword of Damocles, so to speak, hanging over the head of the unfortunate casual labourer. The father of a family of five is working three days a week. The children have got to go to work before and after school hours, a most iniquitous system, and I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman passes it over to the Minister of Health he will also pass over a recommendation for its abolition altogether. The children are selling matches and papers on the street. They are bringing in a weekly income to supplement the income of the father and the mother. The combined income of the family does not exceed 30s. a week. The man himself is earning very little. The wife is earning a little and the children are earning, and in one case that I want to quote the man fought all through the South African War. Parental control being removed, the children went wild because they were left to the care of a child themselves to see that they went to school. They did not go to school, and the result was that they were sent to an industrial school, and when the man came back he was presented with abill for the maintenance of those children while he was away, and had to pay it or go to gaol.
That is only one case. I will take another case in which a man with four or five children in the position I have already mentioned first went to gaol for one child. Then, no sooner was he out of gaol for that one child, and working at the docks for three or four weeks, than he went to gaol for the other, and for three months in the year that man was going to gaol all the time for the arrears of the school children. The case got so chronic that at last, bit by bit, his household goods went. The house was broken up, and the last time he went to gaol the wife and children were taken to the workhouse, and they were kept in the workhouse at an expense to the ratepayers of 30s. a week for the family, while there was a cost of 9s. for the man in gaol, and for what? To collect the magnificent sum of 3s. a week, 39s. a week was expended by the civil authorities. And the irony and the tragedy of it! When the authorities at the workhouse got to know that that man's time was up in the gaol, they put the wife and children into a cab—that was the only cab drive they ever had in the whole of their lives—and they were taken to the gaol gate and dumped down in front of the poor, unfortunate man when he was released, and he was told to go and make a home for his wife and children. There was no home. The home was broken up, and if he did not find a home for them he ran the risk of going to gaol for neglecting the wife and family.
That law still exists. So far as the city from which I come myself—Liverpool—is concerned, the most humane administration of the Act prevails there, and I am informed by the police authorities that there are men coming back from this War who will be in the same position as the men who fought in the South African War, but that the authorities do not intend to collect the arrears of these men when they come back. That is in reference to the industrial schools. There is also the case of the day industrial schools into which I have not inquired; but so far as Liverpool is concerned this law is not being harshly administered, and I want the right hon. Gentleman, when he makes his statement, to assure us that this law will not be enforced as it has been enforced in the past, because it is an unjust and unfair law in existing conditions.
I take this opportunity of asking my right hon. Friend as to some points in connection with the Mines Department. In the year 1906 the then Government appointed a Commission to inquire into fatal and other accidents in mines and quarries. I had the privilege of giving evidence before that Commission. While that Commission was sitting, after many of the mines inspectors and myself had been examined, there was suddenly inaugurated a new system in connection with mines inspection. The Commission was asked by one of these inspectors, near the close of their evidence, to inaugurate a system, so that instead of having twelve districts then existing in England and Scotland, there would be only six districts with different divisions in connection with the various mines inspected. At that time there were inspectors in charge of twelve districts with usually two assistant inspectors, but under the new system it was proposed to have six divisional inspectors, to have senior and junior inspectors, and gradually afterwards to have a new class of inspectors called sub-inspectors. While the Commission was sitting and considering the question as to the appointment of a chief inspector of mines, there was suddenly thrust upon that body the fact that already a chief inspector of mines had been appointed. At that time there were amongst twelve men those who could perfectly well undertake, that work. Amongst them were those who had been in connection with the staff for many years and had knowledge in connection with mining disasters and mining inspection. The gentleman who was appointed was a professor in one of the universities. He was suddenly thrust into the position, and it was then stated, and has never been denied, that probably the principal reason why he was put into the position was that he was related to the then First Lord of the Treasury. Be that as it may, the new system was inaugurated in 1907 and came into full operation in 1914. I am not blaming the present Home Secretary nor those who have been connected with the Department of the Secretary of State, or those who preceded them. They are the victims of a very bad system. In everything that occurs I understand they have got to take advice, because they have no time to make their own inquiries. At that time a very serious accident occurred at a colliery and two inspectors were asked to inquire and report. They made a Report, and that Report did not please the permanent officials at the Home Office, and those gentlemen were asked to delete part of the Report, the most important part of it, which they very properly refused to do. Then the Permanent Secretary for the Home Office erased the principal part of the Report and a ked the Secretary of State to lay it on the Table of the House, so that I here deliberately say that that was not the true report of the men who made the report on that accident. After the appointment of Sir Richard Redman two accidents occurred, and one of those same gentlemen inquired into them. Again the report was submitted to the Home Office, and the Home Office erased the principal part. They asked this inspector of mines to erase a part, which he probably refused to do. The result was that the chief inspector of mines himself drew up a report which stated that he knew all about it, apparently, and again a report was presented to this House which did not represent the opinion of the inspector and was not true in substance or in fact.
Benwell and Whitehaven; one on the 19th March, 1907, and the other on the 22nd November, 1907. As a matter of fact, this thing has been going on, and even up to the present time. Only recently a man who was well known in the mining world, Sir William Atkinson, who only retired a short a time ago, after presenting his report was asked by the acting chief inspector to alter it. He Refused, and said, "Nominally, at any rate, the report is my own, and I must be held responsible for it. The reports of the inspectors, apparently, are now made to order, and I am very glad I have no more to report."Therefore, I want you to take into consideration this very important thing, that it is not right that an inspector of mines should make a report and that it should be altered to suit those who are at the head of affairs in the Mining Department simply because some part of the report may not be to their liking. At present there is great dissatisfaction in connection with the mines inspectors and their inspections. It is an astounding fact that during the War the inspectors expected that everything should go on as in normal times. Any person who knows anything about these matters knows that a mine is not a factory. A thing can be all right just now and all wrong an hour afterwards, as something may have occurred in connection with roadways, or some such thing. Matters cannot just exactly be kept up to scratch as in a factory. We also know that no class of men responded to the Colours more than the miners did. The best of the miners and officials left to take up arms on behalf of their country and their King, and notwithstanding that managers of mines were asked to keep things up to the normal conditions when they were utterly unable to do so, because of the lack of men, and not only that, but because of the impossibility of receiving from various industries the materials they required. I know of one case myself, where an article was ordered at the beginning of the War, and was only given over to the colliery exactly a year before the War finished. That obtained in various districts in connection with the mines.
The Scottish managers have great reason to be dissatisfied with the way matters have been going on. It is a remarkable fact that in Scotland for some time there have been more prosecutions than there have ever been. There is no reason for that, except it be this: It has been suggested, and I make bold to say that the suggestion has emanated from the Home Office, that the Scottish colliery manager and the Scottish mines are not just as good as they ought to be, and not so good as across the border. As a Scottish mining manager and mines inspector I deny that entirely. The Scottish mines are different from the English mines, and they have many troubles which they have not in the English mines, and things are very different from those in this country. But as far as management is concerned I say that the Scottish manager is just as good as his neighbour over the border. We leave had some cases of prosecutions. Let me mention one or two. On one occasion an inspector of mines went underground and did not find things as he expected they ought to be. He did a most remarkable thing. The country was calling for coal. The whole section was stopped, whereby 140 tons was lost for some days. The case was tried before the sheriff and three days was spent on it. It was perfectly evident there was nothing in it, and the sheriff in giving his decision commented very strongly upon such a case being brought into Court. The result was that out of a great number of complaints there was only one found proven, and that was that on a notice paper at the pit head, the words "where required" had been omitted, and the manager was convicted upon that one point and dismissed with an admonition. A few days ago I was asked to accompany a deputation of colliery managers from England in reference to the methods adopted by the Home Office in prosecutions, and I was astounded to hear that in every district great exception was taken to the methods adopted by the Home Office inspectors in connection with, prosecutions during the War. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will make inquiry into these matters. The colliery managers, either of England or Scotland, do not desire to be let off when anything happens, but they do desire that when an inspector inspects a colliery, if he finds anything the matter, he shall tell them on the spot. What happens is that an inspector goes to a colliery and finds a few things wrong, but he says nothing to the manager, and the first thing the manager knows about it is that he receives either a letter of complaint or a summons to appear at the court.
In the olden times the inspector was looked upon as a friend and as one who helped the manager in all difficulties, but at the present time there is a great feeling of suspicion and want of confidence in the inspectors of mines, and they are no longer looked upon as friends, but rather as detectives. In connection with the two systems, the old system and the new, I think the new system has entirely broken down. The other day I asked the right hon. Gentleman if he could tell me the number of inspections made under the old system, and the number under the new, and he was unable to do so. If pains had been taken at the Home Office, I think they might have found it out. The facts are that under the old system about thirty-nine inspectors were engaged, I think, in 1907. The cost of these inspectors, according to the Home Secretary, was £31,215. In 1914 he also told us that the inspectors numbered eighty-nine and that the cost was £48,786. I want here to say that the cost was relatively less in 1914, and for this reason, that the large number of inspectors now are what we call sub-inspectors, who are not placed on the same status as the other inspectors, but who are expected to make five inspections a week, which they usually do, and they make them well; and I want here to say that if the Labour party in the Commission did nothing else than to bring about this change of having working-men inspectors, they were amply justified in that position, because I can say from experience that these sub-inspectors do better work than it is possible for any other man to do. In this connection I must say they are not paid as they ought to be. They only receive third-class fare, and they receive from £150 to £200, although at the present time they receive a little more because of the War, and as to their allowances, when they go from home for a night they have to pay out of their own pockets. I do not see why these men should not receive better treatment than that, and I hope my right hon. Friend will look into the matter. In olden times the inspector in charge of a district was able to go down the pit four or five times a week, but at the present time a divisional inspector scarcely ever goes down into a pit. They are engaged from Monday morning till Saturday night in connection with office work, and they are hard worked at it, but they do not get down the pits very frequently, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will find that very few inspections are made by these divisional inspectors. I find that in 1918 there were ninety-three inspectors employed at a cost of £55,000, but that did not include the clerks, because every divisional inspector has two clerks, and there are various other clerks in connection with the whole matter, so that £57,000 would probably be nearer the cost at the present time. For that sum of money we ought to get double the inspections, but I very much doubt if we do.
The primary thing that I want to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman is this, that notwithstanding that we have had a very large number of inspections made since 1914, what has been the result as far as accidents are concerned? In 1907 the average for the whole of the country in connection with deaths per thousand employed was 1.29; in 1911 it was exactly the same; in 1915 it had risen to 1.354; and in 1916 it was 1.313, so that, notwithstanding that we have nearly doubled the cost, we have not made progress but have gone bank in the number of accidents during those years. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be far better if, instead of overloading the divisional inspectors with so much clerical work, the old system could be reverted to, or rather, instead of having six districts, that we should have twenty-four districts, and make one man responsible for each of those districts, with a junior inspector and perhaps a sub-inspector, and I am perfectly satisfied that he would then get far better work than he is doing at the present time. In any case, I think the time has come when something ought to be done in the direction of giving inspectors and others in the Civil Service fair play. I want to say this—and I speak from know- ledge—about myself and two other gentlemen who refused to subordinate our opinions to the Chief Inspector of Mines, that we were retarded in our promotion, and not only so, but letters were sent usually signed, not by the Secretary of State himself, when a man was asked to retire, but signed by the permanent secretary. When a man is appointed to an important position, such as Inspector of Mines, the letter is signed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but when he is asked to leave the letter is not signed by the Secretary of State but reads like this: "I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you," and I question very much if the Secretary of State ever sees the letter at all or knows anything about it. The fact is that the whole system has got to be rectified. We are living just now in a time when this question of Departments must receive overhauling, and if the Secretary of State for the various Departments is unable to do his work and to see the letters before they are sent out then there must be more secretaries. In any case, I am suspicious, and I have no confidence in any Department where the permanent officials boss the show every time, and the Secretary of State in connection with the Department has simply to bow and say "amen" to all they do. There is something seriously wrong in all that, and I want to ask the Home Secretary to look into these matters and to see to it that these gentlemen are put in such a position that it will not be in the power of any permanent Secretary to be so vindictive or to use his power in such a way that he can compelan old servant who has done good work to leave the service before the time he ought to leave the service.
I will not take more than a minute or two, and I had no intention of taking part in this Debate until a moment or two ago, when I felt that I would like to put in a plea for pit ponies and their treatment. I was quite astonished the other day to hear the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question, say that, although there were 65,000 horses and ponies in the mines of this country, and something like 1,800 mines, there were only eight inspectors, and he considered there were sufficient inspectors. I do not know to what extent those inspectors carry out their work, whether it is that they simply go down the mines and see the horses in the stables and come out again, or not, but I am quite convinced that it is totally im- possible for eight men to inspect 65,000 horses even once a year in 1,800 mines, and travel the many thousands of miles of roads which the horses have to travel; for my point is that it is quite as important to see the conditions under which the horses work as it is to see them in the stables at the pit bottom. It is not very pleasant for the boy who happens to be a pony driver to see hour after hour through the day his pony undergoing torture in order to carry out its work.
As the right hon. Gentleman may be aware, I believe it is the duty of His Majesty's mines inspectors to see that the roads are in proper condition; but during the War these Regulations have been a great deal relaxed, and to-day there are thousands of horses, or perhaps I had better say many horses—and I am having reports regularly of horses—that are travelling on roads that it is impossible for them to travel without seriously injuring themselves. I think it is very inhumane that ponies should be doing work in our mines under conditions like those. It is very painful to the boy, who becomes very much attached to his pony, to find that it is undergoing this torture. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to call the attention of the inspectors to this treatment, and see that these conditions are improved. I do not think there is any doubt that, as a result of this Commission which is sitting, we are likely to have the mines nationalised and worked in the interest of the community. If that is to be so, it is very important that the mine-owners should be compelled this moment to put the roads in the mines in a condition before the mines become the property of the nation that the horses can do their work in a satisfactory manner. I only wish to draw the attention of the House to that particular matter, because it affects so many thousands of ponies and horses in the pits. I think it would be well if the right hon. Gentleman sent out a circular or instruction to His Majesty's inspectors of mines to have a careful investigation of these pits to see that horses are being treated, or will be treated, in a more humane manner than what is the case at the present moment.
I want to add a word or two to the Debate, and to say that in connection with factory inspection my experience has been rather good, because I suppose I have met with some of the very best factory inspectors who have ever been engaged by the Home Office—men who have been devoted to the work, who have been anxious to prevent accidents as far as possible, and who have been determined to enforce the regulations, and to act fair and square both by the employer and the workman. It is for that reason I am desirous of putting in my plea for a very much larger number of inspectors to be appointed to carry on the work. Prior to the War I happened to have been one of a deputation that very many times waited on the Home Office to press the need for more factory inspectors, and to some extent we were successful. But when the great tragedy of the War commenced, manpower was needed, and certain things had to be restricted or reduced. We were informed then that the number of inspectors would have to be reduced, and certainly could not be increased, and I do not think we have bothered or pressed very much for any increase since. But to-day I think we have a right to reopen our campaign—if I might use that term—or our plea to the Home Office that more inspectors should be appointed. Of course, I know, and the House knows, that inspectors cannot prevent accidents occurring, but we who are practical men, who have worked upon the dockside and in the factory, and have seen and understood things from the inside, know all the tricks and dodges that have been resorted to, and the desire to put everything in order, if it is thought that the factory inspector will be coming along there that day. It is the effect which it has, apart from practical results.
I should like to call attention to the position, as I understand it best, at the present moment. I have had a great deal to do with Wales. Take, if you like, from Newport right down to the end of Cardiganshire. Take Cardiff as a centre or Swansea as a centre. Look at the huge docking interests there, and at the great number of people employed. Take the cast side of Cardiff, with its numerous industries. But go down to the west side of Wales, where, in addition to dock works, there are fuel works, chemical works, the spelter trade, tinplate trade, or galvanising trades. I may be wrong—and I am not giving it as an absolute fact—but I think in West Wales, in Glamorganshire, Cardiganshire, and Pembrokeshire, there are only three men employed outside the clerical staff—three men, I agree, devoted to their work. But three men, however devoted they may be, cannot do the impossible. And so to-day there are many things that have been left off since the War. We have to-day in our Compensation Act the industrial diseases' Clause, and the case has to be proved up to the hilt before you can bring it within the scope of the Act. You have to interest the factory inspector to bring his attention to the matter. When he has seen for himself, and got proof that there is a case with which we can approach the Home Office, when the inspector is convinced, you have a mighty force behind you to help to bring about the desired reform
In the appointment of additional inspectors may I make a humble suggestion? I have made it before, and repeat it now. That is, that in the appointment of additional inspectors for big industrial centres like Wales, if sub-inspectors are appointed you would be rendering a splendid service if you see your way to appoint one or two men who are practical men. No man knows dockers'work like an old docker. No man knows the tricks of the trade like the man who has been in it. A docker cannot, we know, afford, as a rule, to send his boy to a high school to be trained and taught in the way we should like him to be. Sometimes there seems to be a greater consideration given to men who know the classics, and can talk two or three languages, than to the man with the practical knowledge of the very difficulties with which he will have to deal. I am out to advocate the principle that prevention is better than cure. I am not anxious that the Compensation Act should be applied. I want to prevent accidents happening. If sub-inspectors are appointed—and I have little doubt they will be, because the arguments are so convincing, and the development is along these lines, and it is not possible even for the Government to resist the appeal that is made—I want them to go on the principle that announce of fact is worth a ton of theory, and appoint the sub-inspectors accordingly—that is to say, men with practical knowledge.
May I lastly make an appeal? In taking into consideration the needs of the situation—and I think that what applies to Wales can be applied to any part of England to-day, that the shortage of men employed on this preventive work should claim attention—I trust the Home Office will be able to augment their splendid staff so that it may continue its work of saving life and limb. Often, and I say this without fear of contradiction, good, efficient, factory inspectors do save life and injuries by keeping the house in order and by insuring that things go on in the right way. I have seen it. I know it. When the dock regulations have been applied, I have seen rotten gear condemned and of necessity being removed. Contrariwise, if a man knew that rotten gear existed, if he complained to the employer or to the people responsible—I am speaking now of the times before trade unions were strong enough to protect him, and in some places to-day where trade unions are not strong—the man was told, "If you do not like your job, clear out!" When, however, the factory inspector comes along, and points out defective gear or defective machinery, the thing is remedied at once. So I feel that the appeal I am making will not be in vain. It is with that one desire to draw attention to the need of increasing the inspecting staff that I have ventured to make my few observations.
I am sure everyone will agree with the last hon. Gentleman, that inspection is one of the most important essentials in the whole of our industrial system. I suppose, too, nobody will disagree that our staff must, of necessity, be increased from time to time. During the War, of course, many men who would have been inspectors were engaged on war work, and we have thus been handicapped very considerably. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are perfectly alive to the essential necessity of good inspection and of a good staff of inspectors, properly chosen and properly paid. With regard to the question of the coal mines, the hon. Member for North Lanark (Mr. McLaren) made an attack which, so far as I can gather, was chiefly upon old colleagues of his own. He seems to have left the House, and therefore I am not able to deal with the points he raised.
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I did not see him. My hon. Friend apparently complained not so much of the system as of individual gentlemen who carry out that system. He declared that during his own career he has come across some of them, hence his complaints. I am sure he will appreciate this point, that where complaints of that kind are made, which are not matters of criticism but matters of detail concerning the individual, that I cannot possibly be expected, without notice, to have the details of these cases in my mind. I have had no notice of this, otherwise I could have looked into it. As to Whitehaven and Benwell, which he mentioned, and the circumstances of which I have a slight acquaintance with, I cannot attempt to deal with them without having had more notice. But the hon. Member complained that there were more prosecutions in Scotland than ever. I am bound to say that I prefer to agree with my hon. Friend opposite the Member for the Forest of Dean, that inspection ought to be efficient. I should like to know how many of the prosecutions mentioned by the hon. Member for North Lanark were successful? I can well understand people who have been successfully prosecuted complaining of them. I can well understand that the people who were protected by the inspection of the mine, and whose lives and limbs were at stake, when these people were prosecuted and convicted for doing something which endangered those lives and limbs, would not be the people to complain of that particular prosecution.
Fifty per cent.! So that my hon. Friend complains of the enormous number of prosecutions, of which one-half were absolutely justified by result. I think the working men of Scotland will not pay much attention to such a complaint. In regard to two points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens as to the Tonnage Bill and also the dock regulations, I may say that on Wednesday I hope to have the pleasure of meeting a deputation from the Trade Union Congress, and amongst the subjects that are going to be raised are those raised by my hon. Friend. Perhaps he will forgive me, therefore, if I do not deal with them to-night. There was the matter of the payment of industrial school fees. I appreciate the spirit in which he contends that the Act should be carried out. The principle upon which the Home Office have always acted has been that no man was prosecuted unless there was reasonable ground for supposing that he could pay and would not pay. Those are the only cases, and I am informed that for some years there has not been a single prosecution in which the Court were not satisfied on those points. That is the information I have got, and if my hon. Friend will put me a further case where it is not so, and where a man is imprisoned and cannot get an immediate inquiry, I will see into the matter. With regard to the Employers' Liability Act and the Workmen's Compensation Act, it does make a very great difference that in the Workmen's Compensation Act for the first time we have gone past the old principle that a man must be negligible before he can succeed. We have endeavoured to use the Workmen's Compensation Act as an insurance chargeable upon the industry and payable to any injured man. It is perfectly true that the rate of insurance a man gets, where he has no legal right of action, cannot possibly give him such a return and such damages as if he had a legal right of action. Under the Employers' Liability Act you have to prove negligence, and you have to prove a legal right. If a man is injured he can bring an action under the Common Law where he is not so limited. If an employer himself is personally negligent the action can be brought under the Employers' Liability Act, but both of these cases involve negligence, while the Workmen's Compensation is pure insurance. The mere fact that the man is injured in the course of and arising out of his employment entitles him to recompense, and it is, therefore, purely insurance. It is a very big actuarial matter which I cannot pretend to go into now as to whether it is possible to increase the rates under the Workmen's Compensation Act. That is one of the things that must arise, and when it does we shall have to consider it as sympathetically as possible.
The other point raised was the case of the conscientious objectors. From what has been said it would be imagined that this class of men were entitled to better treatment than anybody else. [An Hon. Member: "And they get it."] It is true that he gets better treatment, but he is not entitled to it at all, and it is given as a matter of grace. The fact remains that the conscientious objector has not done what the average man in this country considers to be his duty to his country. I am not discussing whether he is right or wrong, but that fact remains, and of course he has to pay for it, and in that course he gets treatment very much better than those who are convicted under a court-martial for practically the same offence. I have been asked to send circulars round to ask for more humane treatment in cases where, according to my own information, and apart from the wild accusations people make without any investigation, their treatment is as humane as it can possibly be in the circumstances, and it is just this very amelioration that causes half the trouble in the prisons. Our prison officials have to deal with two classes. In the first place there is the conscientious objector who is a really good conscientious religious man. He has a good prison record, and does not make himself obstructive, andhe does things as quietly as he can, and there is no trouble with him. On the other hand, you get a man who calls himself a conscientious objector, but whom the tribunals have found not to be a conscientious objector. He has been heard before the tribunal, and has had a chance of proving his case, and the tribunal has found that he is not a conscientious objector.
My right hon. Friend divides them into two classes, and he calls the first the really conscientious objector. Has this first class of conscientious objector not been found by a tribunal to be in fact not a conscientious objector at all?
Not quite. Every man in prison to-day has been found not to have such a conscientious objection as would entitle him to total exemption. They have been found by the tribunals either not to be conscientious objectors at all or to be conscientious objectors who ought to do some work of public utility which they refuse to do. Some of them have been found not to be conscientious objectors at all, but most of them have been found to be conscientious objectors, but only in regard to combatant service. There is the man who is really conscientious, and tries to behave himself in prison, but nine out of ten of the cases picked out by my hon. and gallant Friend are those of men who make themselves as obstructive and undisciplined as they possibly can, and the prison officials, who are perfectly able to deal with the prisoners under ordinary conditions, are absolutely handicapped by the system under which these men are kept, and the effect of their conduct on the prison officials is exceedingly trying. You get a man whose business it is to be responsible for order for a certain time in prison, and he has a certain number of these men who are treated under these conditions, and they shout and yell, set up sing-songs, and jeer at the prison officials, and the officials are not entitled to exercise any disciplinary measures. These men have to be treated in this way, and it is most trying to the prison officials. Sometimes the attacks made on the official for treatment of this description are grossly uncalled-for and entirely unfounded. I have consented to an inquiry as to the case of Wandsworth. We shall see from that what the real facts of these charges are. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend he is not the only person who received that letter. These letters are sent out broadcast; they are not only sent to one person. It is not a heart-to-heart talk of some conscientious objector with some sympathetic Member of Parliament. I have got here four of them myself sent on to me. That is the way all these things are done.
We shall see what the result will be. All I was pointing out was that the thing is done broadcast. It is not only done in this case, but in all sorts of others, and in no case have I ever found, sending down a perfectly honest, perfectly honourable gentleman, a skilled official who goes to determine the truth—I have never found one single case when it was justified. May I take this opportunity of saying that two or three nights ago, when I was speaking with regard to this Wandsworth case, I said my hon. Friend had asked me a certain question and I had sent him an answer. He doubted it. I was wrong. I should like to say my memory was entirely at fault. It was not to the hon. Member, but to another Member who sent me a question. With regard to the Newcastle case, I have had inquiry made into it. I happen to know perfectly well the prison doctor in Newcastle, and the moment I had the story, from my own knowledge of him. I had not the slightest doubt it was unfounded. After careful inquiry, I am equally satisfied it is entirely unfounded.
I suppose my hon. Friend thinks that is what officials do. Does he suppose that an official from the Home Office goes down there and does not ask all the men for their stories? Does he really suggest that they go into the governor's room, have a drink with him, and come out? Really I think that is not worthy. I can assure him that these charges are so easily made; they are made without any regard, in many cases, to the truth. If any of them are true, let it be known by all means, but in the meantime, to suggest that I should send down a circular to men who are doing their best under difficult circumstances—a circular which would carry with it the implication that they are not doing their best—is something I cannot possibly do.
I am sure my Friends behind will appreciate the very sympathetic reception that the Home Secretary gave to the question of factory inspection. One recognises that to ask for an alteration in the law would be out of order at this stage, but I hope my right hon. Friend will keep in mind that the real difficulty with factory inspection at the present moment is this. Factory inspectors, like all other sections of the community, immediately war broke out, were anxious themselves to enlist. Naturally and obviously it was the Government's duty to give what facilities they could. In addition to that, the majority of the factories of the country were working under circumstances that were entirely abnormal, with the result that you not only had the abnormal circumstances in the factory, but you had a peculiar and particular shortage of factory inspectors. Now that the War is over probably, unfortunately, like a large number of other people, factory inspectors have paid the penalty. Many of them will never return; many of them will return disabled. We find no evidence in the increase of those appointed. I want my right hon. Friend to keep in mind that we are not only entitled to say we should have, at least, the same standard of efficiency in this direction as we had in 1914, but we are entitled to expect something better; and, therefore, I would ask my right hon. Friend to keep that point in mind. In the same way I would say, in regard to the question of workmen's compensation, the real difficulty, apart from the technicalities surrounding the Act, is that the £300 and the £1 a week limit, which has since been increased, was considered at that time, in the judgment of the House of Commons, a fair and reasonable compensation. Having regard to the fact that the cost of living is somewhere about 130 per cent. higher than it was when this Act was framed by Parliament, we are, at least, entitled to say that the workman or his dependants are entitled to the same margin of comfort as Parliament determined at the period when they passed the Act. That is the real complaint to-day—that many men who were injured are suffering to-day because of the totally inadequate amount of their pension. Therefore, on all these grounds, I feel I am pressing an open door so far as the Home Secretary is concerned, because of the very sympathetic reply he gave to my hon. Friend behind. When I come to the question of the conscientious objectors I must at once join issue. I speak not as a conscientious objector, because if there is a fight to defend my rights I will fight, and I will fight because my conscience tells me it is the right thing to do. Therefore I am not speaking as a conscientious objector, but I do ask the House to try and visualise the position of these men. Many of them must be known to Members of this House. All of us know someone in this particular character. We may totally disagree, as I disagree, but we cannot help but admire the courage of the men who said "I will suffer because my conscience tells me it is wrong." That I want the House to keep in mind. There may be frauds among them, but there is a fraud amongst everybody, and therefore you cannot condemn a cause for the action of a few individuals. But let us take the real conscientious man, who said, "My conscience revolts against the taking of human life. I am not a coward." Because, please observe, some of these men were not cowards who have gone through what they have. Many of these people could have taken an easier task in volunteering for war rather than the moral courage of standing up, like they stood up, against all public opinion in those circumstances. What I would rather put to my right hon. Friend is this: Surely the time has arrived when we ought not to waste the nation's money in keeping them, apart from any question of views at all. I know nothing except the same statements I presume. I am not dealing from that point of view at all. It will be common ground that these people are a charge upon the nation. It will be common ground that they are expensive to maintain in their present position. It is admitted by my right hon. Friend that, owing to their general action and attitude, they are somewhat of a danger to discipline. We all recognise that the necessity of the war is over. If we admit that these men, some of them, paid the penalty in two years imprisonment, surely the time has arrived when we ought to say, "No, there is no longer any necessity of adding this burden to the State," because you are not further penalising these people at all. No matter how long they are kept there they will adopt the same attitude, and you gain nothing by it. What you do is that you turn many honest Christian men into rebels. Someone says "No." All I say is that you cannot argue with a man's conscience. I said just now that I disagreed with the conscientious objector, but it is useless for me to go to him and say, "You are wrong," and to give the reasons why I believe he is wrong. The reasons I give may be conclusive to the majority of this House, and the House perhaps may agree that my views are right, but the man turns round and says, "There is something which tells me that it is wrong." You cannot argue with that; it is conscience. I therefore come back to the proposition that these men are conscientious objectors. I know some of them who would prefer to stand with their backs to the wall and be shot than give way on this matter. They are not cowards; they are the finest type of citizen. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Do not misunderstand me. I am trying to put the case fairly. I really believe that they ought to have fought, but the best type of citizen is the man who follows the dictates of conscience, not limiting it to the question of War. Supposing in this transition stage between war and peace, every man and woman in this country were influenced, guided, and actuated purely by the dictates of conscience, would any of us be apprehensive of the future? Hon. Members know that we would not. That is my meaning. The man who says, "I will do right because my conscience tells me that it is right" is the man who, if you like, may make a mistake, but who, after all, is a good citizen, and that is the only argument that I am developing.
It is for all these reasons that I say it is not a good policy that the Government are pursuing. In my judgment it is an unwise policy. It is not a Christian policy. It must be remembered that when this Act was passing through recognised that religious opinion was to be provided for, and it is somewhat of a reflection upon the administration of the Act for the right hon. Gentleman to have to admit, as he has admitted to-night, that there are two sections of conscientious objectors. My right hon. Friend defined them as, first, those who rebel against all order and all discipline, and secondly, those who in prison conscientiously endeavour to do their best. I ask the House to try and visualise the second class of people whom the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, men who go to prison and who in prison try at least to subordinate their personal views in order not to give offence to other people. Could there be any stronger claim or proof that these men are conscientious objectors? It is the strongest possible justification for submitting that the Act itself has been violated in this particular. I would again ask the Home Secretary not to be influenced by passion or prejudice. Nobody knows better than he does that in the Home Office during the past four and a half years they have not only had to deal with people who were enemies to this country, but they have had to deal with prejudice, suspicion, and even with unwarrantable charges made against perfectly innocent people. In other words, they have had to hold the balance, doing justice to the country and justice to certain individuals in regard to whom suspicion and spleen were active. Whatever may have been the case two or twelve months ago, the public to-day realise that there are minorities who are in the right. The whole history of this country shows that there were minorities who were prepared to stick to conscience. Many of the liberties and privileges that we enjoy to-day have been handed down to us not because the majority of the people believe in them, but because a minority were prepared to follow the dictates of their conscience.
I rise to call attention to the Vote dealing with the Board of Agriculture in Scotland, with especial reference to the administration in connection with the applications sent in for small holdings from the highlands and islands of Scotland. The only feeling of confidence that I have in rising for the first time to address the House on this or any other subject is derived from the assurance that the indulgence which the House invariably gives to those who address it for the first time will not be wanting on this occasion. I could not help listening to the eloquent speeches made this afternoon and evening, but there was a disadvantage in that, because it leaves one's brains perhaps more scattered than is normally the case, which is admitting a great deal. The discussion so far has dealt with the large Industrial masses of our population. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the interests of those who toil by the still waters of our national life. These men do not give much trouble to the Ministry of Labour, but unless their interests are attended to—I do not wish to use any language of menace; I am simply uttering a little warning—I am afraid that there will be a recurrence of some of the troubles we had some years ago, and which used to occupy the attention of this House. The people for whom I plead are deserving of the help and sympathy of this House. In the first week of the War going through the whole of the Western Isles, which I have the honour to represent, and especially through the Island of Lewis, you could hardly find a man capable of bearing arms. Every man, I should say, between nineteen and forty-one or forty-two was either in the Army or the Navy fighting on land or sea. We have had from the beginning of the War the long shadow cast by the setting sun of many a young life, darkening many a home in Lewis and the Western Isles. These sacrifices have continued throughout the War, and these sacrifices were crowned, as the House knows, when at their very door two hundred of our gallant sailors lost their lives while returning home to their families. These are the men for whom I plead here before the High Court of Parliament this evening.
I have some encouragement in speaking to-night on this question of the administration of the Land Acts because I know that, on the essentials of it, practically all parties are agreed. It is generally admitted that these men deserve consideration, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland has his heart in the right place. But we want his action to be in the right place also, and I should like to see him sometimes bristling with thistles and flourishing the claymore when dealing with those who would clog his footsteps when seeking to reform the Land Laws. The people connected with the Highlands were promised a more active administration of the Acts as soon as the War was over. I am too inexperienced to venture an opinion whether or not the War is over. That is a point in dispute. But the men of the Highlands and Islands are coming back in their hundreds. Land has been promised them on many estates, especially in the Western Isles, and they want to know whether these promises are going to be fulfilled. The Government promised, the Secretary for Scotland promised, and the officials of the Board of Agriculture promised that, when the War was over, these matters should be settled. I quite admit the difficulties of the situation while the War was going on. But many of these men have been home for a long time. The Armistice was signed many months ago, and as far as the people can see, the Board of Agriculture are doing nothing towards the redemption of their promises to divide up some of these lands among the people who have sent in applications for them. In the old days when young men in the Highlands were sent away to the war, they were promised land on their return, but when they did come back they not only got no land, but in many instances they found the homes of their fathers were burnt to the ground and their families deported to America and Australia. Of course, that sort of thing can never occur again.
But still there is a suspicion running through the mind of the people and they want to see action taken. One ground for this suspicion—I do not say I believe it myself—is that there is such a large number of Unionist Members in this House, and there is an idea abroad in the Highlands that the Unionist party have always been associated with opposition to proper schemes of land reform to the Highlands. Of course that is not universally believed, and I know that many Unionist Members of this House are as anxious to see a settlement of the land question as any Radical. It is up to them to remove that suspicion and not to clog the efforts of the Secretary for Scotland or the Board of Agriculture, but rather to stimulate them in the administration of those Clauses of the Land Acts which provide for the creation of small holdings in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Sometimes it is said there is no demand in the country for small holdings. I cannot speak for the whole of Scotland, but I can speak for my own Constituency, and I can say that in the Western Isles, without going into details, there are about 2,000 applications already in for small holdings there. If I may be permitted to invade the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland, I can add 400 applications sent in from the Island of Skye. We are hearing a great deal about reconstruction. Of course reconstruction has a very large and wide meaning in big industrial areas in the South. But the first stone in the foundation of reconstruction in the Highlands and Islands is a proper settlement of the land question, and I trust that the Secretary for Scotland will realise the necessity for that. Sometimes it is urged that in certain areas there is not sufficient land—and this is sometimes pleaded by the Board of Agriculture—to provide economic crofts. I should like to make one remark in connection with that. These people in the Highlands are often looked upon as crofters, and nothing else. I wish the House to look upon them as men who want to make a living. There is hardly an economic croft in the Western Isles on which from one year's end to another a family can depend for its living. The croft is only a part of the living, but it is a homestead on which they can fall back, and it gives them a sense of independence which working men in some large cities cannot possess. I think we should hitch the wagon of local needs on to the star of the national good. A community of this sort, self-supporting and independent, really adds to the stability of the country. It is a good reservoir from which to renew the life blood of the nation from time to time.
I am not speaking in the interests of local people only. I hope I am speaking in the interests of the nation as a whole when I put in my plea on behalf of the landless people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Let me give one or two details with regard to some of these applications. For instance, in the Island of Barra, for sometime applications have
been in from 130 or 150 of the people, mainly fishermen, and the Board of Agriculture in this particular island have had an excellent chance of showing their sincerity in dealing with the claims, because there is an estate there the owners of which were quite willing to sell it to the Board of Agriculture if the Board would buy it. These gentlemen were excellent men. I am not a man who runs down landlords, because I do not believe that I would have been any better if I had been a landlord myself than some of them have been. These were two excellent men, and were willing, for the sake of the people, to sell their estate at very little more than they paid for it. It cost them £9,500, and they were willing to give it to the Board of Agriculture for £500 more, provided they were left a house to live in and a field in order to raise a cow or two. That was a very fair offer. I do not understand why the Board of Agriculture did not accept it. I am certain that they will be compelled to buy that land, because the people will not give it up, and they will be compelled to pay a much bigger price than that for which they could have bought it months ago. Further north in Units there were applications of the same kind, and the Board of Agriculture failed to create the new holdings that were wanted there to the number of something like 350. I would point out that the Board of Agriculture have created a good many small holdings in the Western Highlands and other parts, showing that they are not at all unwilling in the matter, but there is something which I cannot understand which blocks the way. They have done excellent work, and there are excellent men in connection with the Board. If some of them could be let loose in the Islands and Highlands as a sort of land controllers, I would be quite willing to accept what they did. That, at any rate, would be much better than the cumbrous method at present followed of first going to the Board of Agriculture and then to the Land Court before anything is done. Further north a good many applications have been sent from Harris. I had a letter from there the other day, in which it was said they had sent in a further application to the Board of Agriculture for small holdings, but the latter added,
We have not much hope of success, because we have been sending these applications in for years, and we are afraid nothing will come of it.
In the Island of Lewis, the dominant partner in the Western Isles, which has a population of about 30,000, about 800 applications have been sent in for land during the last eight or nine years. I think I am right in saying that not one of those applications has yet been granted. I am sorry to say that many of the men who sent in applications some years ago will not return to enjoy the land for which they fought. The Board of Agriculture have promised us a farm called Gress, to which I drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman some time ago. Applications were sent in from neighbouring townships for that farm. That was some eight years ago. The usual inquiries were made. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not tell me that inquiries will be made in regard to these holdings. It is not necessary, because all these cases have been inquired into over and over again. The pigeon-holes of the Board of Agriculture are stuffed with reports of their officials on these cases, and there is no need to go beyond the office to settle these questions. To quote a remark from a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman himself, which appeared in the papers to-day and which he delivered in practical Scotland—
The time for talk is passed; now is the time for deeds.
I would like to give a serious warning to the Secretary for Scotland. I hope the House will believe that I am a man of peace and that the men of the Western Isles do not want any disturbance if they can avoid it. I should deprecate anything of that sort, and so far as my influence can and could go it has been going and will go on the side of peace. But I warn the Secretary for Scotland on the matter. I would rather like the Board of Agriculture to anticipate any direct action. Some thousands of these men have been at the War and learned the lesson of
Red ruin the breaking up of laws,
and the value of direct action, just as much as the men in your big industrial centres. I am perfectly certain that the principle of direct action will be followed in these cases, just as freely and with more effect than in your industrial centres. I should be sorry to see it, but the mischief of the thing is that the action of these Boards have always followed upon rows. I would like the Secretary for Scotland to anticipate such action and to see that every
reasonable claim is granted so far as it can be done. I quite admit that sometimes it is difficult and that the defects of the Small Holdings Act—I cannot now enter upon the question of legislation—has had a great deal to do with some of the failures of the Board of Agriculture. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be influenced by any contact with the landlords. As to what has made the people of the Islands suspicious as to whether these applications will be granted, there was one incident which in particular created a good deal of suspicion. When the Solicitor-General was candidate for Inverness at the last Election, it took the Unionist Association of Inverness, which is mostly composed of landlords and factors, three or four meetings to swallow him as a candidate, because of his radical views on the land question. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be influenced by any considerations of that kind, and I hope that he will flourish, the claymore against any of those who try to influence him in the wrong direction. As an example of the danger of delay in these matters, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a case in connection with which I wrote to him some weeks ago? In the Court of Session in Scotland there is an action for a breach of interdict against two poor fishermen in South Uist. There is a farm from which the grandfathers of these men were evicted some seventy years ago, with a good many others, and it was turned into a sheep farm. There was no one living on it except the farmer, who also had another big farm and two shepherds. These two men applied for land some years ago and their application was not granted. They married and their families grew. They had no house to live in. In these parts not only is it not possible to get a croft sometimes, but it is impossible to get a site on which to build a house, though there are miles of moorland on which houses could be built. It is a crying shame. They obtained a bit of a hovel, one family living at one end of the house and the other at the other, but the family grew and the place became over crowded and was absolutely unfit for any human being to live in. They got on the soft side of the farmer and were allowed to build a wooden shed each upon a rocky bit of moorland near the sea. They have been there for two or three years. Last year the proprietress took it into her head
to have them evicted, and so she applied for an interim interdict. Even in the Court of Session, with its very strict notions of law and order, it was refused, although the legality of the thing was quite clear against the men. Here is a passage from the judgment by Lord Sands:
There are other considerations, not so much of private interest as of public policy, at present against using the interdict for the purpose of summary ejection. I do not say anything more upon that. I think the Court must proceed with caution, in view not only of popular feeling, but also of the undoubted difficulty there is at present in the conditions that exist of the people getting any other place to go into if they are removed from these sheds.
That is a very serious and a very important statement from one of the Lords of Session. It marks a new era in the procedure and in the action of the Court, because it shows that even the Court of Session is open to the influence of public feeling in these times. If the Court of Session is willing to take a matter of that sort into consideration in dealing with a clear case, surely I might ask the Secretary for Scotland to use all the resources of civilisation, not in the way of compelling these men to go to prison, but to refuse to allow the legal machinery of the country to be used for such an outrage. This application for breach of interdict to punish these men has gone on with the concurrence of the Government as represented by the Lord Advocate. We have not too much work for these Law Officers to do. We should have a new Minister of Health, and do away with these legal offices. It looks as if they wanted to provide work for themselves. Fancy putting the whole legal machinery of Scotland in operation in order to send the wives and families on to the rocks and put the heads of the families into gaol! This is the first land reform the Government was going to show to the people of the Highlands and Islands after the War was over. I admit the Secretary for Scotland might be in a difficulty with regard to that case, but I think his imagination and legal ingenuity would be equal to getting round these technical things and leaving these two poor people where they are. If not, it will light a fire in the Highlands and the Islands which cannot be put out. I submit that I am speaking in the interests of real law and order. The law may have a temporary victory. It may be vindicated by putting these two men in gaol and sending their
wives and families to the roadside, but they are doing more harm to real law and order in the Highlands and Islands than any legal action of that sort could do.
I did not gather whether this question was decided or was still subjudice. If still sub judice, it would be very undesirable to discuss it here and prejudice the case.
I do not know that it is quite subjudice. Anyhow I have done with the case. I hope the Board of Agriculture will take advantage of some of the things which are being sold at present. I think a Scottish Board should know where a good bargain is going. There will be a lot of barbed wire fencing, wood, and things of that sort which will be useful for new holdings. I hope the Board of Agriculture will be alive and will see that these things are bought at the cheapest possible price.
Those who have listened to my hon. Friend from the Western Isles will realise that he is speaking for a body of Scottish people who receive very little attention in this House because of their geographical remoteness from London in which the House of Commons is situated. Every Scottish Member is familiar with the circumstances which he has detailed so graphically in regard to the proposed eviction of two men from Loch Boisdale. Briefly the circumstances are these. On an island in which you have a farmer in charge of a farm of over 4,000 acres, and in which there are no other living beings, two Scottish crofting families, the male heads of which are Royal Naval Reservists belonging to a class of people thousands of whom have been called up for the Navy during this War, are not even to be permitted to live on the shore of that island, and bring up their families. Scottish Members and my right hon. Friend must know that that is a condition of things which is intolerable. If my right hon. Friend allows the law to be carried to its extremity, there is no Scottish Member, whatever his polities—and I think I am speaking for Members who are not of the same politics as myself, who will not put up a fight against it, and who will not be willing, if some adjustment is not made, to express views in Scotland which may not be convenient to the Government.
Let me point to the curious juxtaposition of affairs, that while my hon. Friend (Dr. Murray), whom I congratulate on his maiden speech, has been discussing the sparcity of population in the Highlands and Islands where there is plenty of land, my right hon. Friend is faced with a problem in our industrial towns in Scotland, where there is au overwhelming number of the population living under inadequate housing conditions. We have had a Housing Report and nothing has been done. My right hon. Friend made a speech in Glasgow the other night and I was glad to read an account of it. He said he was sick of promises and sick of things that were being suggested, and that what he wanted as the Scottish Secretary was to see things done. Well, can my right hon. Friend tell us what he is prepared to do in regard to the housing conditions in Scotland in view of the Report? I will not go into it in detail, as there are one or two other Scottish Members who desire to speak, but I warn my right hon. Friend in regard to the Highlands and Islands case that he is up against Scottish opinion entirely, and I ask him, in view of that fact, and in view of the congestion in our big cities, to tell us what he proposes to do.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend (Dr. Murray), the Member for the Western Isles, on the effective statement he has made as to the conditions in the Islands and Highlands of Scotland, and I want to assure him and also the Secretary of Scotland that there is no step which the right hon. Gentleman can take to ameliorate the condition of affairs that will not have the most hearty and cordial support from every Unionist Member who has the interests of Scotland at heart. I ask the Secretary for Scotland to take his courage in his hands, and deal in a most drastic way with the Islands and Highlands of Scotland in regard to the question of land which has been depopulated. Our Glasgow constituencies are full of men whose fathers and grandfathers were driven out by the crucifixion of the people of the Highlands and Islands upon the rights of property, and extreme exercise of the land laws which drove them forth, and indignation still burns in our great industrial centres when they recollect how many thousands of men were driven out of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland for the purpose of making sheep runs which in later years when sheep failed became deer forests. Many of these men are willing to go back, but they do not want to run the small holdings as an industry. They should not be run as an industry—but for subsistence and domestic consumption. The subsistence farm is fundamentally different from the industrial farm. A man farming a little place of his own for domestic use has the producer's profit, the wholesaler's profit, and the retailer's profit in his own family circle. That is what the smallholder, the Highlander, wants to get.
That is why any step which the Secretary for Scotland may take, no matter how drastic, which will enable everyone of these sturdy fishermen to find a croft with which to supplement his fishing will be supported. Many of them go to sea in ships, and come home to their holdings, which they till, just as you find done on the coast of Norway. Every one of these men is a naval reserve man, and everyone of them answered to the nation's call. There is one matter that will require specially to be dealt with. That is the multiple farmer. I know one man who has thirteen or fourteen farms about the North of Scotland, keeping on each a man who does work with not half the skill of a man who owns his farm. That should be brought to an end. For every farm which that man has he is keeping out another farmer. I hope that when the Secretary for Scotland is extending his activities the will also see that something is done for Scottish drifter fishermen. Their tackle has been rotting during the War.
What we want, as the Member for the Western Islands has warned us, is to remember that the men coming back from the front may not be so submissive as the men who came back from Waterloo were when they found that their father's farm houses had been burned, because the families had been evicted, and that they may take a leaf from the lawless book of the neighbouring island where they have preserved the land for themselves, partly because they were lawless, and partly because they were so discontented. If this happens the blame will lie with the Government for not recognising that the safety of the people is the supreme law? If this fine patriotic section of the community, who have shown by their valour and their patriotism that they are a class to be encouraged and taught to cultivate the soil so that their numbers may increase, are not encouraged, then the Government will have neglected the principle that the safety of the people is the supreme law, and the worst possible consequences may ensue to the country. I wish sometimes that we had in this country something like the old Roman law that a man did only own the land he cultivated and no more. I believe that it was a very sound foundation for a State, and when Rome forgot that law her empire perished. But if the Government would enact some proper system of land purchase in Scotland which would make the cultivating occupier the owner of his land, the result would be of the greatest value to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, where we have got some of the finest people in the country whom it is most important to encourage for the future safety of the State.
I would like, first of all, to add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles upon the very felicitous and forcible speech which he has just delivered. I am quite sure that he will understand what I mean when I say that as a brother Highlander and a native of the county, part of which he represents, my congratulations are all the more warm and sincere. I agree with a great deal of what he said. I agree entirely with what he said about the bravery of the men whom he represents in this House. I do not think that any part of the United Kingdom, or perhaps any part of the world in proportion to its population, sent more men to fight in the War than did the Island of Lewis. Moreover, the House will desire to sympathise with the inhabitants of that island who, by a recent deplorable tragedy, lost so many of the returning soldiers who had fought so gallantly and who perished on the very thresholds of their homes. I agree with my hon. Friend that the people of those islands are a law-abiding people. They have always, according to my experience, believed in constitutional methods, and only when those have been exhausted have they ever shown any tendency to resort to force or to methods which are not constitutional. My hon. Friend has criticised the Board of Agriculture with regard to their omission, as he termed it, to provide small holdings for the various persons in the Western Isles who applied for them. My hon. Friend, I am sure, will not forget the circumstances under which the Board of Agriculture has been placed for the last four and a half years. He knows quite well that the system of small holdings has been slowed down on both sides of the Border during war-time. But I am very hopeful that now that the Armistice has been signed, and now that the Grant of £200,000, which had lapsed, has now been restored by the Treasury, we shall have something in the nature of action rather than talk in the immediate future. In that connection I welcome very sincerely the help which has been promised by my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Macquisten) on behalf of those for whom he speaks, and I think it is a good augury of what we may be able to accomplish that Unionists and Liberals, if one may use those words—which have almost a far-away ring about them nowadays—combine in pressing upon me the necessity of developing the system of small holdings in Scotland and of settling people on the land. My hon. Friend has referred to several different cases. I am not sure I can answer in detail, because I do not carry the precise details of those cases in my mind, but I will endeavour to deal with one or two of them. First of all, he referred to the case from Barra. The position with regard to that, speaking from recollection, is that the price which was required by the farmers, to whom he referred, was regarded by those who advise me, and by the Board, as too high a price to justify the transaction being carried through at that figure. Therefore, as the price was too high, and an attempt to secure a lower figure failed, the transaction unfortunately fell through. I will look into the subject again after what my hon. Friend has said, and see what other means of communication can be found for the people of that island. He went on to deal with the case of Harris. There, as he knows, the area of the land is extremely limited and according to my information it is not sufficient to provide accommodation for all those who desire to obtain accommodation upon that island. The only solution, so far as my information goes, is a system of migration. There are views on both sides with regard to migration. My hon. Friend may rely on it that I shall personally look into the case and see whether anything can be done. He referred also to the case of Lewis, and with regard to it there were many pre-war schemes which were in contemplation, and which were held up, and I think necessarily so, by the War. But since then a new development has occurred, as he knows, for the island has been purchased by Lord Leverhulme. He has a number of well-conceived and well-directed schemes in contemplation which, I venture to say, will neither sap the independence nor affront the pride of the Lewis people. I would suggest to my hon. Friend if he would do me the honour to come and see me and meet Lord Leverhulme we could discuss the best method of proceeding with the schemes which were hung up and with which it might now be possible to proceed.
I think some useful result might follow if my hon. Friend would be good enough to join Lord Leverhulme and myself as I have suggested. He referred finally, I think, to the desirability of the Board securing some of those items, barbed wire and the like, which are being disposed of just now, and which would be very useful in the equipment of small holdings. I can assure him that that point has not been lost sight of. I sanctioned the other day an expenditure of £50,000 for the purpose of securing the very equipment to which my hon. Friend referred, and I hope and trust that the constituency which he represents will not be neglected when these come to be distributed. Reference was made, by my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn to the case of fishermen. He will not suspect me of want of sympathy with them seeing that I sat for a fishing constituency for nine years in this House. I shall be most happy if I can, inconjunction with him or any hon. Friends of mine from Scotland who are interested in fishermen, to promote the interests of fishermen, whether line fishermen or drifters, in any way which it may be possible at the present time.
That case is, as you, Sir, suggested a few moment ago, subjudice at this moment. The ease was discussed in the Court of Session, according to my recollection, last week, and, according to my most recent information, the men in question have been cited to attend in the Court of Session in order that the case may be disposed of on 18th March. In these circumstances I feel that I am debarred—
I do not want to press this unduly, but as a matter of fact is it not the case that an interdict has been granted against these two men, and that they will now be turned out of their holdings? And is the right hon. Gentleman, as Secretary for Scotland, willing to see these two families of fishermen turned out of those houses?
I think my hon. Friend is under a complete misapprehension as to the state of matters at this moment. I am not going to discuss the merits of the case, because it would be highly improper for me to do so, but an interdict was granted. Thereafter, in breach of the interdict, these two men settled on the land, whereupon an action for breach of interdict was brought. That action was discussed in Court last week, and after the discussion, took place the two men were cited to appear on, I think, the18th March, in order that the case should be then finally disposed of. The case is entirely out of my hands and in the hands of the Court of Session. I have no power, even if I had the wish, to intervene at this moment, and in appealing to me my hon. Friends are appealing to a tribunal which has no power whatever at this juncture to assist them.
As I say, the case is not in my hands. It is in the hands of the Court of Session at the present moment. It is idle, therefore, to appeal to me, and it is equally idle to appeal to the Lord Advocate who, in this matter, merely did his official duty. All I may say—I hope it is not improper for me to say it—is to express the hope that, even at the eleventh hour, some solution may be found that will prevent sentence being imposed on these men on the 18th March. More than that I cannot say, and more than that, the House will appreciate, it would be improper for me to say with regard to a case which is entirely in the hands of the Court of Session, and entirely out of mine.
With regard to the last point my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh raised—the question of housing—as he knows, quite recently a new policy was announced both on this side of the Border and the other. Under the former policy the limitation of the local authority's liability was indefinite, and the limitation of the State's liability was perfectly definite. The result of that was that local authorities, not being quite certain what their liability might prove to be, were in many cases unwilling be build. Therefore a new scheme was devised, and the details were published in the early part of February, both in England and Scotland. Under the new scheme the limit of liability of the local authority is this, that beyond the produce of a rate of a penny in the £ the State will find the necessary amount to meet the deficit. Therefore my hon. Friend will see that, inverting the previous scheme, now the liability of the local authority is limited and that of the State, unless by a time limit, is unlimited. By that means one hopes to get the houses which my hon. Friend, in common with others, desires to secure. A circular has gone out both to England and Scotland in the early part of last month inviting local authorities to state the number of houses which, on these terms, they are prepared to build. The response to that circular, so far as it has been received, has been decidedly encouraging. In addition to that the Local Government Board has got a panel of architects for the express purpose of advising and assisting local authorities in designing and carrying out the houses which they are going to put up. A committee was also appointed some little time ago, including women, to advise the local authorities and the Board from the housewife's point of view as to the proper design which houses for the working I classes should follow. That committee has presented a very useful report. I My right hon. Friend may take it from me that everything will be done by the Local Government Board for Scotland that can be done to speed up the local authorities and to get these houses constructed at the earliest possible moment. The Board is in touch with the Ministry of Munitions with a view to getting bricks and standardised materials and other parts for the construction of houses. I can assure my hon. Friend generally that nothing has been left undone which human ingenuity can devise for the purpose of getting houses constructed at the earliest possible moment.
I think there will be legislation, and the question whether there ought to be a separate Bill for Scotland is one to which I shall very carefully apply my mind before the Bill is introduced, which will be at the earliest possible date. In reaching a conclusion, recent experience will probably not be lost upon me, but I cannot give any undertaking on that subject at present. In fact, I have had no notice that the question was to be raised, otherwise I should have provided myself with fuller information. But my hon. Friend may rest assured that the Local Government Board is doing everything it possibly can to carry out an effective programme of housing.