I beg to move,
That this House do now adjourn."
I make this Motion in order that the House may consider a subject of very great importance—namely, that the uncertainty as to the future economic policy of the country, in the absence of definite steps for the prevention of dumping and the protection of key industries which were promised at the recent General Election is a matter of grave concern to the country, and calls for immediate action by the Government. We have exercised a good deal of pressure on the Government from time to time to endeavour to get them to declare their policy. In July of last year I had the privilege of introducing a very important deputation of manufacturers to the Prime Minister and to the Leader of the House, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. This deputation consisted of some 200 heads of important manufacturing firms, and they pointed out that without a declaration of policy they were unable to prepare for peace, and that unless when peace came their preparations were all made there would be great unemployment in the country, and consequently a great amount of unrest and discontent. That, unfortunately, has proved to be the case. But the Prime Minister spoke in reply to the deputation, and I am only going to quote a very few words of his speech, because it seems to me that they are very important. He said:
During the War we have undoubtedly discovered that there were industries in this country which were essential, not merely from the commercial point of view, but from that of national defence and security.
Then he went on to say that under no conditions, and whatever it cost, should we let these industries down in the future. The point there to which I wish to call the attention of the House was his declaration that there were industries which were essential from the commercial point of view. I am sorry to say that on that occasion we were unable to get very much
more satisfaction, but we continued to press, and at a later date the famous letter which was written by the Prime Minister to the present Leader of the House was published, and that is the letter dated 2nd November of last year, which contains a very definite statement as to the intentions of the Prime Minister and the Government in regard to our future economic policy. I am again going to ask the indulgence of the House while I read a few lines from that letter. He said:
As regards other aspects of this (economic) problem, I am prepared to say that the key industries on which the life of the nation depends must be preserved. I am prepared to say also that in order to keep up the present standard of production and develop it to the utmost extent possible, it is necessary that security should be given against unfair competition to which our industries have been in the past subjected by the dumping of goods below the actual cost of production. Beyond this, I should say that we must face all these questions with new eyes, without regard to pre-war views or pre-war speeches.
And then he said:
The object which we have in view is to increase to the greatest possible extent production in the country, so that no man or woman may want and that all who do an honest day's work may have comfort for themselves and for their children. In order to secure better production and better distribution, I shall look at every problem simply from the point of view of what is the best method of securing the objects at which we are aiming, without regard to theoretical opinions about Free Trade or Tariff Reform.
In conclusion he stated:
I am prepared at once to agree that the election should be contested on the basis of this letter.
That was the last General Election, and, as we all know, that election was fought on the basis of that letter. In the constituencies there were candidates who advocated Free Trade, and nearly all of them lost their seats or failed to get elected, and a very strong party numerically were returned to this House pledged to carry out the economic policy which is contained in that letter. After the Armistice we found that the Board of Trade were releasing the war restrictions as to importations of foreign goods, and as representing a very large and influential body of manufacturers I took a deputation to the late President of the Board of Trade and urged upon him that some considerable measure of protection must be arranged to protect our industries during the period of reconstruction. As a result of that deputation, an Advisory Council on Imports was set up. My right hon.
Friend opposite shakes his head, but I was in very close touch at the time with the then President of the Board of Trade, and I think I am right in saying that it was the result of that deputation that that Council was set up. That obviously was only a temporary arrangement to carry us over the period of transition from war to peace. We pressed and urged the Government to declare its policy, and there was a Debate in this House on the 25th March last, when the Leader of the House stated that there was an Anti-Dumping Bill in print, and he led us to believe that that would shortly be introduced. Speaking on the general question of the protection of essential industries, he said the Prime Minister's letter, referring to the letter which I have just quoted of 2nd November, made the general lines of Government policy quite plain, and that the declaration would be carried out in the letter and in the spirit. That, as far as it went, was quite satisfactory, but we could never see the Anti-Dumping Bill. We could never get any information as to when this policy of the preservation, or protection, or whatever you like to call it, of key industries would be introduced. Questions were addressed to the Leader of the House over and over again, and the reply always was that he could add nothing—that the Government were doing, all they could to hasten definite proposals. That was a question which I put to the Leader of the House on the 12th May. I put a similar question to my right hon. Friend who is representing him here to-day, and I received a similar reply.
There is an amount of vagueness, of indecision, which, as everyone must know, is most damaging to trade, because no one can launch out in business, no one can develop his business, unless he knows what the policy of the Government and of the country is going to be. I think that is abundantly clear. With regard to the Imports Committee, to which I have already referred, I should like to quote the words which were uttered by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade at a meeting of that body held on the 2nd June last. I am quoting from the official report in the "Board of Trade Journal" He told them that, in the opinion of the Government, the work which they had done had proved to be of the greatest value to British trade and had helped substantially to secure employment throughout the country. I believe it is a fact. He also informed them that, whilst they had been working out a transitional policy, others had been working out a permanent policy, and just as that was the concluding meeting of the Council, he hoped that later in the day he would attend the concluding meeting of those who had been working out in detail the proposals for a permanent policy. That was on the 2nd June. Now we are near the end of June. All these restrictions as to imports cease to have effect on 1st September. When I put a question to my right hon. Friend to-day I was unable to get any reply from him at all. All that I could get was that they are considering the matter, and had not made up their minds yet.
Really, I think the House knows that this is a grave and serious matter. It has very far-reaching consequences, and the time has come when one must press the Government vigorously to disclose their policy, to put it fully before the House, and not to be afraid of it, because I am afraid that they are afraid of their own policy. We want to know what it is they propose to do. Manufacturers want to know, and I think they have a right to know, and it is most unfair that they should have this policy all bottled up since the 2nd June, and no disclosure made. Dumping can begin on 1st September; there is nothing to stop it. Here we are getting towards the end of the Session. In a. few weeks we shall be in August, when the House will adjourn probably for a considerable period. The Anti-Dumping Bill means legislation. How are we to get it through? Time is running on. There are a number of big and important Bills with which this House has to deal. The experience of today is what we have gone through for some years past, because for the last three years we have been pressing the Government to declare its post-war policy, and it is always, "We are going to do it; we are considering it," or "We hope to do it before Easter," or "We hope to do it before Whitsuntide." Last year they said, "We hope to do it before the Autumn Recess," and then, "We hope to do it immediately after the Recess." They have never done it; they are always going to do it. They are full of good intentions which they never seem able to perform.
It is perfectly clear that if any importance at all is to be given to the Report of the Departmental Committees which have been considering this problem from the early days of the War, we must have a system of Protection, and of general pro- tection for all the industries of the country which need protection. The Reports of the Departmental Committees of the Board of Trade—quite a number of them —have all reported in the same direction with perhaps one exception—the Textile Committee, who were in favour of the continuance of Free Trade, but they wanted an export duty put on all jute which was exported from India to all other countries outside the British Empire. In other respects, I think they wanted a continuance of Free Trade. All the other Committees, I think I am right in saying, reported strongly in favour of Protection. There was a Balfour of Burleigh Committee. They reported in favour of a measure of Protection. Then my right hon. Friend will be familiar with the Report of the Engineering Trades Committee of the Ministry of Reconstruction. That Report was dated December of last year. Different Sub-committees reported as to the development of new industries. One Subcommittee for one industry said that some form of Protection was necessary, and then another Sub-committee said there was nothing doing in that particular industry until the post-war fiscal policy was announced. Another Sub-committee said the industry could not expand in face of serious foreign competition. And so all through the Report the different Sub-committees urged upon the Government the importance of a definite system of protection of all trades and manufactures.
The hon. Member must bear in mind that we arc not discussing a general system of protection for all trades. That would be out of order. The matter of importance mentioned in the Motion is the prevention of dumping and the protection of key industries. Any discussion beyond that will not be in order.
Certainly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will just deal with the question of key industries, because it is in a, sense true that some will take the view that a key industry is a very small industry. On the other hand, every manufacturer I have come across says that his particular industry is a key industry, and my infor- mation is that when the term "key industry" is examined it will be found that really the key industry is an essential industry, and that all our other industries are more or less essential. There is a rumour that in the schemes my right hon. Friend is working out he is taking a very limited view of this question, and that he is regarding as key industries only a very few industries, such as optical and chemical glasses, hosiery, knitting needles, magnetos, dyes, and a few industries of that character. If that is the line on which he is proceeding I have no hesitation in telling him at once that it is wholly insufficient, and I am certain that he will find it will not to be accepted by this House. What we mean by key industries is all industries—any industry which needs protection. I do not apologise for having been a Protectionist. I have always advocated Protection. I have always advocated a tariff as a means of protection. I do so to-day. I am afraid there are some hon. Members of this House who take a different view of the letter to which I have referred, of 2nd November last. Their view is that by subscribing to that letter, and by accepting the coupon, and consequently obtaining their seats—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no !"]—that they are still entitled to regard themselves as Free Traders. I am afraid they will be disappointed. Some, I know, regard the coupon as a scrap of paper, but those who accepted it accepted it oil the basis of that letter, which is a declaration of the intention of the Government to protect all necessary and essential industries. We have some information to-day that the United States of America proposes to withdraw from the Supreme Economic Council. That means, as I understand it, a new campaign for the markets of the world, including the British market. It is not going to help us very much in the difficulties and dangers which we have before us if we are going to buy from the United States goods which we can make perfectly well for ourselves.
I would again remind the hon. Member that the question before us is the definite steps necessary to prevent dumping, together with the protection of key industries. It is quite obvious that to discuss tariffs generally and the steps taken by America with regard to them would be out of order, and would carry the matter beyond what is definite and urgent as defined by the Motion. The Motion of the hon. Member specifically deals with dumping and key industries. He must keep to that and not wander into a general discussion on tariffs. This he will see would give to other hon. Members the right to enter into a general discussion of tariffs.
I do not want to disagree with your ruling, but I do submit that what has happened to-day, and the announcement which has been made concerning the United States, is really a question which makes the urgency of this matter. Here we are going to have a totally different system to take the place of our present trading relations. The United States step out, or contemplate stepping out, from the suggested control of the International Council, and our markets and our country will be exposed to American competition not only in general produce in a wider sense, but there will also be competition against our key industries. I venture to suggest to-you, Sir, that that really makes the urgency of this Resolution. Again, I raised the question of the United States withdrawal at Question Time to-day, and that also makes the urgency of this matter; for it would appear to me to be necessary for the Government to at once take definite action for the protection of our industries.
I have endeavoured to keep my observations strictly within the limit of the Motion. When I speak of our industries, of course, I mean our key industries. The Government are shirting the challenge. They seem to be afraid to lose the support of a few of their friends who, I venture to think, in spite of the coupon, are very unreliable Free Traders. We are rapidly drawing to the end of the Session. There is very little time for legislation. There is every indication. that whatever legislation dealing with the matter is introduced will meet with very vigorous opposition. One has an illustration of what is likely to happen in what happened on the proposal for Imperial Preference in the Budget. I do not know what the Government propose to do, but I believe the matter is really desperately urgent. A big representative meeting of manufacturers was held two or three weeks ago, when certain resolutions, following very much on the lines of the resolution I have submitted now, were passed. The request was made to the Prime Minister to receive a deputation, so that these manufacturers could urge their case personally. We all know the right hon. Gentleman has been engaged in France. No doubt it is a little difficult now for him to receive a deputation of the kind. Much as I regret having to harass the Government in any way, this matter is urgent. You cannot indefinitely delay it. You are now face to face with the prospect of the whole English market being flooded with foreign goods of every kind, with manufactures being paralysed, with a great amount of unemployment and vast sums being paid in unemployment benefit. What is going to happen in the coming months? Are you going to reduce your unemployment? Are you going to find work for our own people, our demobilised soldiers and sailors? If you flood the market with foreign produce, is not that a matter of urgency? Is it not a matter to which the Government should give most anxious consideration, instead of hesitating, shuffling, and putting it off, saying there is "nothing further," or "we are thinking, we are consulting this, that, or the other Committee." The time has come when we must press, the Government. There is only one way of doing this. That is by pressing in this House, by Members pressing them to come to a decision and declare their policy, and tell us definitely how they propose to carry that policy into effect.
The fact that Mr. Speaker allowed the Motion for the Adjournment shows that in his mind the subject is one of urgency. It is certainly a fateful moment for this country when it pronounces its new economic policy. We have been waiting very patiently because we knew of the difficulties of the Government on these matters, but the Leader of the House stated plainly that we should have a Government pronouncement long before the date fixed which was the 1st of September, and we have been hoping that that announcement would not be unduly delayed. We now find ourselves in this awful predicament. After the Armistice a system of prohibition was continued with regard to imports of foreign manufactured goods into this country. To my mind a system of prohibition is the very worst that could possibly exist, because under it the British manufacturers, having no competition from abroad, easily raise their prices, and when the demand for more wages comes they raise their prices again, and under that system there is no healthy competition with the outside world. What we feel to-day is that the Government must bring this system of prohibition which exists to-day with regard to many articles usually imported to a stop, and some other system must be devised.
My hon. Friend who introduced this Motion said that manufacturers were anxiously waiting because the amount of employment they think they can give will depend very much on what that pronouncement is. We have been told from the Chair that we must keep this Debate within the limits of dumping and key industries. Dumping is a very wide question, and the difficulty the Government has been in while considering it during the last three months is where to put their finger upon the definition of dumping, and where to limit the key industries. With regard to the imports of foreign manufactured wooden ware, I was talking to a party recently with reference to the manufacture of windows and doors for our new dwellings, and he said if there was Protection he was prepared to spend £100,000 in new machinery which would give a great amount of employment, and he would import the timber in a rough state and manufacture windows and doors as cheaply as any Swedish house. That is what he wants to know. If this new system is to be adopted he will spend his £100,000. The paper manufacturers say that dumping is going on with foreign-made paper. With regard to tonnage they say that if we import all raw wood pulp and no finished paper we increase the tonnage of our British shipping, and increase labour to our people here, and the paper they maintain will be the same cost to the consumer, and the new industries that will be built up, of which paper is the key industry, will be built up under the system which I hope the Government are about to announce. The paper manufacturers want to know, and they want a statement on this question. This is a matter of laying out millions of pounds if we are going to manufacture all the paper we use, and it will mean the expenditure of millions here in buildings and machinery. These gentlemen say to me, What are we to do? We wish to increase the volume of employment and give more work."
The extraordinary position of the Government is that during this system of prohibition of imports during the War and since the rate of wages has increased very considerably in this country, and legitimately so to a large extent. In order to preserve the edifice that has been built up under the system of prohibition, the Government has to face the responsibility of enabling manufacturers to continue the payment of the present high rate of wages. We are all watching and thinking how this can be done. We had to-day, when we listened to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions, a magnificent oration as to the possibilities of English workmen and engineers and English scientists. He said that during the War the work which had been done gave proof beyond doubt that our craftsmen were the best in the world, that the inventive power of our engineers was unequalled, and that the ability in research of our chemists was also unrivalled. This is perfectly true, and this will be shown if the Government will formulate an economic policy under which these qualities can be brought out. They were not brought out in the pre-war days.
I am a great advocate of advanced education, and in my own town we have some excellent schools where technical education was given. I shall never forget one student who came to me after a three years' course at one of these schools, and ho said to me, "I have done what you wish me to do; I have taken this course of scientific training, and now I can get no more wages than I got before." The position which the late Prime Minister referred to in his speech at Leeds last week was that we must go on with advanced education, and in that way we should prevent dumping. To my mind it is the other way round. If you legislate and create conditions to prevent dumping, then you will get young men to go in for scientific training, and you will also get the men who will spend money to develop industries in this country. There are people who argue that if this policy were pursued it would rather retard initiative work in this country. As one who has travelled in many protected countries in the world, I say that the effect of Protection is the initiation of new ideas and the develop- ment of employment rather than the other way, where you have men of ability at the head of your business undertakings.
With regard to dumping I want to say that I have studied it anxiously and carefully, and if I were the head of the Board of Trade I should utterly fail to find any possibility of passing a measure to prevent dumping unless I started with a tariff. I have considered this question of the key industries—there are very few people in the House, I think, who would oppose a certain measure of Protection for the key industries—and I have got some figures which are rather interesting with regard to what has happened during the War. The Deputy-Minister of Munitions told us this afternoon how wonderfully our people during the four years of war have shown their ability even in regard to many things which we never manufactured at all, to produce supplied almost equal to pre-war days. I will only quote one instance. Take a drug, phenacetin. We imported the whole from Germany in 1912, and the German price to us was 2s. 9d. per lb. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that a key industry?"] Yes, all these drugs are from coal tar, and coal tar is admittedly a key industry. I think Mr. Deputy-Speaker will admit that coal tar and dyes are among the key industries and among the most important. Phenacetin is one of the by-products which we miss if we let our coal tar go to Germany to be manufactured. We have done wonders. The price of phenacetin which was 2s. 9d. advanced to 90s. We have now got the price down again to 10s. 6d., but if the Germans come in again and sell at 2s. 6d. all the work that we have done will go to the wind.
I think my right hon. Friend at the Board of Trade will recognise that there must be a period of protection for certain of these industries. All the House will agree that certain industries will undoubtedly receive protection, and I fail to see where the President of the Board of Trade can possibly draw the line between articles such as dyes and steel. Steel is undoubtedly a key industry of this country, and the position is very serious. The German mark has fallen from 1s. to 4½d., and, if the Germans produce their own coal, make their own iron and smelt their own steel, they will pay their labour in a coin which is only one-third of its pre-war value. If when they have produced their steel and their cutlery they bring it to their frontier and exchange it for gold, they will be able to sell it at such a price that it will be dumping when it is landed in this country as against the steel produced here, and I say most emphatically that some action must be taken before the 1st September if we are to prevent what would be a disaster in this country, namely, the flooding of this country with cheap German steel goods. The inference is a strange one, and I am at a difficulty to say what line of action should be taken, because we cannot put an ordinary tariff against the dumping of something that is going to be produced at one-third of the cost of producing it here. If they pay their wages in a coin which instead of being worth 1s. is only worth 4½d., and they exchange the product into something based upon our currency, then Germany's disaster is going to make for her increased power to compete with us in certain lines. On the other hand, I admit that where she has to buy her raw material before she begins to manufacture her currency will be a great handicap against her export business, and she will not be able to export very largely articles the raw materials for which she must import. If from her own ore and her own coal and with her own labour she can manufacture steel, all kinds of cutlery, ironwork and steel goods, then she is going to unfairly compete with the British workman.
I call upon the Government to view that case with very careful thought. I do not see how we are going to guard against it, but something must be done. We must take some steps to prevent our market being flooded. It will be flooded with steel goods, and the more they sell the more money they will take back into their own country to employ more of their own men in the production. They will find that their financial position and currency will give them an advantage in competing with other markets. I was pleased with the discussion this afternoon because it showed how splendidly our workmen have worked, and the wonderful skill and power of our men. There is nothing to be afraid of there. There must, however, be established conditions under which those workmen are going to work. I desire above everything that the permanent high rate of wage shall be established in this country. Years and years ago as a young man I travelled much in the United States, and the one thing which grieved me more than anything else was that the men that I employed in, Liverpool were only getting one-third the wages that men doing the same work in the United States received. I claim that there sources of our Empire are greater than those of the United States, and I claim that if any country in the world should be a high wage paying country Great Britain should be. I believe it is possible for us to make the conditions under which our men work such that they can enjoy these high wages. But, in my opinion, that can only be done by the Government giving the matter careful consideration and submitting to this House their conclusions how the dumping which will undoubtedly follow the removal of the present orders of prohibition can be prevented, and how these key industries can be safeguarded. I look forward with some hesitation and doubt, because I know that certain members of the Government are nervous as to how such measures can be produced. Neither a measure to deal with dumping nor a measure for the protection of key industries will be sufficient if kept within narrow cramped lines. This is a great issue and is of enormous importance and I press upon the Government that, at all events, within one month of to-day they make a statement of their carefully considered conclusions as to how the high wages now prevalent in this country can be maintained and how an increase of employment can also be kept up.
I am sure what we have already seen in this Debate to-night will have convinced most of us that this subject, in which we are all profoundly interested, is really too vast and too important to be dealt with on such an occasion as this, and every Member of this House will agree that at least one whole day, and perhaps more, will be required adequately to discuss this very vital matter. It is quite impossible for a Motion relating to key industries and dumping to be thus debated. The very points just raised by my hon. Friend the-Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Bigland), in his most interesting speech, show that this is not a simple thing which is being discussed. We have to realise that this country stands, as it were, between two worlds —the almost bankrupt world of Europe and the very prosperous and wealthy world of America—and that between those two worlds and ourselves there are two sets of exchanges. The hon. Member who has just, sat down spoke of the mark and its ex- change being worth something over four-pence. I think it by no means improbable that in a few weeks it may be worth about half that. But look across the Atlantic. We have got at the present moment an exchange at about 4.60. Does any hon. Member who has studied this question of the London and New York Exchange believe that it will stay in the neighbourhood of 4.60 unless it is artificially held there? It really is no good imagining that in one tariff system, even if we were all agreed, it is possible to deal with the position adequately. It is quite hopeless to imagine that a tariff, if it were adopted, would be of effect against dumping, let us say, in the case of a country whose exchange was in the relation which New York bears to London, and that exactly the same machinery would prevent dumping when the exchange was in the relation which Berlin bears to London. It is absolutely impossible to think that the trade policy of this country is going to be solved along any or either of the old lines which were so much discussed, without some change.
There is no question that this whole question of British trade policy is urgent, but until the Government is in a position really to see what the post-war position is it would be the height of folly to announce a policy and to label it permanent. It is much better for the whole country, for our manufacturers, and for other interests in the country, to realise that we are working on transitional lines, because we are passing through a transitional period. The quotation which my hon. Friend read from the Board of Trade journal with some remarks of mine dealing with imports, indicate, I think he will admit, that the Government had not been lacking in studying the trade situation and the trade policy of the country. He spoke of the Government changing. I know of no changes. He spoke of the Government hesitating. I know of no hesitation. The Government has adopted a perfectly plain policy during this transitional period; a policy known to every Member of this House; a policy avowedly based upon crude machinery, because there has been no time to refine it. The machinery may be crude, but just think for a moment what our position would be if we had not had a policy which included import restrictions. By this time there would have been across the Atlantic from America to these shores a great flow of articles which we do not really need, especially in the present state of things in this country, when everyone or nearly everyone is spending as if there were no bottom to their purses—motor cars and other things that America is only too anxious to send would be coming over at the very time when our manufacturers cannot produce them. And that is not the only evil that would be caused, because the movement of non-essential things into this country would have pushed up the American exchange to a level it is difficult to imagine; the prices of food would have risen, also, to a level not easy to realise, and the price of raw cotton for Lancashire would have been I know not what.
The policy, therefore, that was followed was designed to meet the transitional period, but it was definitely announced in this House by me as it so happened, on the 10th March, that that policy would be reconsidered and reviewed before the 1st September. It has never ceased to be under reconsideration and review. It is most anxiously watched, and I have to say, without hesitation, that the trade policy followed by the Government, in spite of obvious defects which we have done our best to rectify, has, on the whole, been successful. Employment is spoken of as bad. There is unemployment, but it is extraordinarily small considering the mass of men who were thrown on to the labour market, considering the disorganisation of our industries at the time when that flood of men returned, and considering that many of the men that did come back are in what I may call the late trades. For example, in the building trade there are the slaters. Slaters do not lay foundations. In the export trades there are the merchants' warehousemen. You will find that we have in our unemployed at the present moment a mass of men who really belong to the later trades, whom it is impossible to expect will be employed at once, when the whole life and the whole activity of a great nation has been in suspense for between four and five years. During this time has there been any dumping? No. There has been no real dumping, at any rate, not to any extent, since the Armistice. There was one instance where it looked like it, but it was the dumping of raw material, if it was dumping at all, which we were very pleased to have dumped.
There is no possibility yet—I hope soon there will be in the best interests of the trade of the country—of announcing a definite policy, nor the date at which the definite policy, the permanent trade policy of the country, will come into operation. It would have been extraordinarily unwise, in my opinion, on the part of the Government to have announced before this date what its permanent policy was to be, because obviously the permanent policy will not be the same as the transitional policy. To have announced a permanent policy while the transitional policy has still many months to run would only lead to greater disturbance and less confidence on the part of manufacturers than the knowledge that they have one system which is the only one they know, controlled by the Government to work upon. Not only that, to announce a permanent policy and to be quite unable to say on what date that permanent policy is to come into operation would surely be the height of folly. It is only to-day that we have learned that Peace is to be signed by Germany definitely. Until Peace is signed we might have been faced at any moment by a completely different situation in Europe, a situation in which there might have to be a wholesale reimposition of controls that had been removed. Would not that have been a hopeless thing to do after you had turned your manufacturers in the direction of working for a permanent policy? Would not that, as happened during the War owing to constant changes forced upon the Government by the military situation, have hampered and caused unnecessary loss? I think it would, and I believe it would have been right, if the Government had done that, for them to be blamed most severely for the action they had taken. So I say this: The Government has worked out in detail a permanent policy which it believes will best meet the situation which it expects when Peace is finally concluded. If my hon. Friend has heard rumours, he must not allow himself to believe that all rumour is true. The policy is worked out. Naturally there will have to be further discussions about it, but there is no delay. We are not waiting for a policy. The whole thing is in type, covering every line of policy, and ready as a plan against the situation which will arise. My own belief is that the best thing the Government can do is to keep the lock very tight on the box in which that plan lies until such time as it is right and proper in the interests of the country to bring it out. That time will come just so soon as we can see with reasonable clearness the approach of conditions which we may regard as fairly approximating to the new post-war normal.
Before I sit down 1 would refer to one point made by the Mover of this Motion when he said that the American Government had resigned from or was about to withdraw from the Supreme Economic Council, and that therefore this matter of the protection of key industries and the prevention of dumping was urgent. I cannot conceive what connection my hon. Friend imagines there is between the Supreme Economic Council and British key industries and the prevention of dumping into this country. There is absolutely no relation between the two of any sort or kind whatever. The Supreme Economic Council is dealing with such questions as supplies to the Allies, food for devastated areas, food now for the occupied areas in Germany and also for the unoccupied areas, and food and raw materials for the countries that have been shattered in Eastern Europe. What that has to do with British key industries and their protection and dumping into Britain and its prevention, I cannot conceive. I think there must be some complete misunderstanding as to what the Supreme Economic Council is. There is really now, I think, very little need for America to continue in the Supreme Economic Council, and if that be her belief now as I understand it is, well, probably the time has come for many of us to withdraw from the Supreme Economic Council as long as there is some co-ordinating machinery. The Supreme Economic Council consists of Ministers or persons representing them. The work of the Supreme Economic Council involves a considerable dislocation of the national work which rightly and properly belongs to each nation. The withdrawal from the Supreme Economic Council of any Power does not mean that it withdraws its interest from the problems with which the Supreme Economic Council deals, but merely that it uses, instead of a Ministerial machinery an official machinery to get at the same end. That is all. So that if my hon. Friend sees in this withdrawal of America from that Council some dreadful bogey that America is preparing to dump goods into this country, I can assure him that he is really not seeing that episode as it is. It is something quite different. 1 suggest once again that really this great question of the trade policy of Britain and the Empire would far bettor be discussed with all the advantages which accrue from discussion under the conditions of a set Debate, and I can undertake to convey to the Leader of the House, if the House so desires, an expression of the House's wish that there should be a proper discussion of this subject.
The difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is this. He says he has a permanent trade policy locked up in a box and he is not going to let it out. We cannot discuss it until we see it.
No, but there is a great deal of education required—I do not mean education for this House, but it is a matter of education for the country that there should be a Debate in this House on the trade position in which all the factors involved, such as these points which have been raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Bigland) about exchanges, are emphasised. The country as a whole does not understand them, and I believe a discussion covering the whole range would be of enormous use to the country, and, perhaps, oven—who knows—to the Government.
I am sure the House is very much indebted to the hon. Member for having raised this Debate, for it has elicited an extremely useful statement from the right hon. Gentleman. I was associated at the Board of Trade with his predecessor, who is still a Member of this House, and I know with what infinite assiduity he applied himself, not only within recent months but during his whole term of office, to facing, so far as it was possible to do, the position which would be presented to us at the end of the War, and I can assure the hon. Member (Mr. Terrell)—and I feel certain that he knows it from his private conversations with the late President of the Board of Trade— that so far from this question being now solved in a hurry by the Government the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench has fallen heir to a very large body of expert opinion and advice, and a great body of detailed proposals made by his predecessor with the very able assistance which he possesses. I think one of the most useful phases of this Debate is the light which it throws upon the mind of the honest Protectionist. After all, the Prime Minister's letter lies at the root of the matter. The Motion is confined to key industries and to dumping—two very limited things. But we find before the hon. Member has gone very far that these limited things cover the whole field of economic policy. That is just the sort of thing that Coalition Liberals were inclined for a moment to doubt at that critical time when they had to make a great decision. It was because they trusted the Prime Minister and knew he would never let them down, and knew he would never permit a construction of that kind to be put upon a clear bargain, that they supported the Government without betraying one iota of their Free Trade principles. Now the right hon. Gentleman presents us with this proposal that a key industry means a system of general protection for every industry which needs it. The hon. Gentleman assents, but I look for signs of assent from his supporters on this side. He said, when he was put to it, that a key industry is every industry which needs protection. Surely we have wandered very far from the basic facts on which the General Election was fought when key industries, whatever may have been the definition, were certainly never defined in that broad sense, and being so defined would never have formed the basis of a policy which would have received the support of any Liberal. I think when one hears at Question Time, day after day, without a word of protest from Coalition Liberals, the representatives of certain industries and interests putting pressure upon the President of the Board of Trade in order that they may get from the Government, under cover of these promises, protection for their own interests at the expense of the public, it is time some of us, who may be supposed by the public outside to be tarred by the same brush, put in a humble plea for the public. The ordinary consumer in this country is not having too cheerful a time of it and he is watching very carefully the trend of opinion of that large Unionist majority which he put into power at the General Election. Then we had the hon. Member's definition of dumping. We had a very clear definition in the letter from the Prime Minister to the Leader of the House. Dumping, the hon. Member said, means selling anything which competes on favourable terms in this market with what he and his friends sell.
I think that is not an unfair reading of the entire tenour from beginning to end of every remark which the hon. Member land his successor made. Dumping, as defined by the Prime Minister, is quite different. The dumping to which the Prime Minister's policy was directed was very carefully defined indeed, and I notice that the hon. Member was careful not to say what that definition was. It was the sailing in this country of any article produced abroad at a price below the cost price in the country where it was produced.
I must say the reading which the hon. Member puts upon that letter is one which attributes to the Prime Minister an amount of treachery which not even his worst enemy would ever have suggested. It would clearly be dishonest for a country to sell goods here below the cost of production in the country where they are produced because there can be only one deduction to be drawn from that, that we are confronted by a dangerous conspiracy, at immediate economic loss to the country that carries it on, to place the British market in a position of subservience and to stamp out British industry. That is an entirely different thing from saying, We are being hit by foreign competition because the foreigner is producing something at a lower price than we care to sell it to the British public. If that is the argument we shall be able to meet it at the proper time and in the proper manner. I join with my hon. Friend in wishing to see the policy which the Government have so carefully locked up in the box to which reference was made. I should like to know what has become of the Imports and Exports Bill, of which a, great deal was heard in the last Parliament. I should like to know whether that is to be produced or whether the policy is to proceed upon other lines. Meantime no one who knows the great complexity and the constantly changing character of the factors with which the right hon. Gentleman has to deal can complain that he is taking his time and is watching the trend of world events before committing this country to a policy which may very largely prove to be a permanent policy and which, therefore, may be a disastrous policy for the country. I would rather put up with the present inconveniences, grave as they are, than put pressure upon the Govern- ment to put before the House a half-digested policy which may prove in the long run an extremely costly one for this country. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman opposite has approached the question of these Committees which are sitting from the proper point of view. These Committees, I suppose, are considering the protection of key industries. I am quite sure that the great majority of humble people in this country view with a good deal of suspicion Committees appointed to settle the future of British industries and of British fiscal policy which are in I think every case except one dominated by the very interests which are concerned.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend feels disturbed by what I have said as to the composition of these Committees. The composition of these Committees involves this curious situation that they are the judges and the witnesses in their own cause, with regard at any rate to the majority of the Committee. Of course, there are precedents for that. We have had a Commission sitting at the other end of the corridor of a similar kind in which the judges were also the witnesses, and most able advocates of their own particular cause. The spectacle of that Commission and the spectacle of these Committees is not such as to commend that form of procedure to the mature judgment of the country. In these matters what we want above everything is impartiality. I am a Scotsman. My hon. Friend may differ from me on fiscal matters, but so far as Scottish national pride is concerned he cannot take away my feelings, and I would commend him to what the Scottish national poet said:
Where self the wavering balance holds Tis rarely right adjusted.
I think those sentiments apply with great cogency when Committees dominated by special interests are sitting to inquire into and advise as to what the future fiscal policy of the country should be.
As a member of one of these Committees, I would like to say that the consumers are well represented on them. I have sat on several of these Committees, and the consumers are represented by a first-class person in the representative of the Wholesale Co-operative Society, who are themselves one of the largest consumers in this country.
If I was interested in any industry, and felt inclined to try to get the better of the country and the Government, I would not mind having an able antagonist on the Committee, provided that in every contingency that arose I possessed two votes and he had only one.
I do not say that that is the proportion, but that is the effect. We have to look at this matter not from the point of view of one or two or a dozen or a score of interests, but from the point of view of the whole country, and I think, with the definition of key industries we have had to-night, that if pressure is to be put on the Government in that direction we may expect the Prime Minister, at no late date, to retire to the Welsh hills and make big magic, and in the ensuing convulsion a good many political features in the landscape will be found to have disappeared. I believe, if the Prime Minister adheres to his principles, he, like every Coalition Liberal, believes that a blow at our import trade such as the hon. Member and his Friends are seeking to deliver means inevitably a blow at our export trade, and an additional burden to the consumer. I do not want to deal with that at length, but I do think that the spectacle of the hon. Member and his Friends at a time like this putting forward preposterous proposals of this kind is almost intolerable. The position at the moment is that private enterprise and initiative in this country are fighting for their lives, and for the life of the community as a great progressive concern. What is the strongest argument which they can use? It is this, that private enterprise and initiative throughout the centuries in this country has built up the great fabric of commerce and industry which has stood secure against the four winds of heaven in face of the competition of the world. But if we are to consider as a key industry every inefficient industry which seeks to be bolstered up by tariffs; if that is to be the policy, then the consumer, the general public, and the Labour party—which I believe have a great future before them in this country—will have something to say. Though I differ from the Labour party, I am willing to concede that they have a great future before them, and the hilarity which that announcement causes to my hon. Friend opposite shows how profoundly blind he is to the signs of the times in this country. I think it is a fact, but he does not think so, and therefore he is amused. I am quite as willing as he is to learn the lessons of the War. One lesson which he has learned, and I agree with him, is that there are certain industries for which special consideration must be taken. But there is one broad, overwhelming lesson which he has not learned, and which I doubt if he ever will learn, and that is the lesson that it required the finance of a Free Trade country to uphold our Allies throughout years of crisis, in which but for our help they and Europe would have succumbed to the tempest.
I entirely disagree with almost every sentiment expressed by the turn. Member who has just sat down. I have looked up the records attaching to Members of this House, and 1 find that at the last election the hon. Member received the Coalition ticket. It seems to me that he ignores entirely the principle upon which the people of the country returned the present Government to power, when they decided that it was necessary for the country that we should prevent dumping and protect our key industries. He told us that the Prime Minister's letter was a very limited thing, something which was very trivial, which was really nothing, but he never told us his own definition of a key industry, and he did not give us his own definition of the meaning of the word "dumping." In my opinion, and, I think, in the opinion of any sane member of the British Empire, any industry which employs labour is of very necessity a key industry in this country. So far as the word "dumping" is concerned, if manufactured goods come into this country to be sold at less than the price at which they can be manufactured in this country, that is dumping, and they should be taxed and dealt with accordingly. The hon. Member has made play with sarcastic remarks about the composition of the Committee which is to advise the Board of Trade on the question of import restriction. From what we have heard the ideal committee from his point of view to advise on this question would be a committee nominated by the Cobden Club.
Or somebody with Free Trade convictions beforehand. The hon. Member told us a great deal about people who were interested in the industries which were to be protected. I should very much prefer some one interested in the industry to someone who knows nothing about it. The proper people to decide a question of this kind are the people who manufacture the things and who know the difficulties with which they have to contend. If I am opposed to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock I am opposed still more to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade to which we have just listened. It is a deplorable speech because it fails to give us a permanent policy. There are two policies which are alternative for the protection of key industries and the prevention of dumping. One is, that we should have the policy of restriction which is at present in vogue. The second is that which has been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham—a tariff on manufactured goods. Everyone of us who wishes to see manufactured goods, key industries, protected, and dumping stopped desires to do something not only to protect the industries which are already here, but to bring new industries to this country. Of my own knowledge there are new industries which are waiting to come here. But we can never get new industries to come to this country until we know definitely what is the permanent policy of this country. The policy of restriction which we have at present is a bad policy, and will not attract industries to this country. The only way in which we can attract industries is by dropping that policy and stating clearly that we, at some future date, are going to adopt a tariff on manufactured goods. I do not think it necessary to state what those tariffs are, but we should let our manufacturers know definitely that a tariff policy is going to be adopted.
There have been statements that dumping is going to be prevented by some kind of Bill enacting that goods may not be sold in this country at a price lower than the price of origin. I do not know what truth there is in these statements, but it would be absolutely impossible to carry out such a policy. The delay of the Government in declaring clearly their future economic policy is causing a great deal of harm to industry. It is not only affecting the so called capitalist or manufacturer, but it is also affecting very seriously the labour conditions. I do not see how it is possible for manufacturers to go on paying the very high rate of wages at present existing unless some kind of tariff policy becomes the permanent policy of the country. The most glaring case of dumping which exists at the present time is that in reference to Japanese silk. That silk is at present being dumped into this country. It is made by people who are paid from 4d. to 11d. a day. How can our manufacturers at Macclesfield go on paying from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 9d. an hour when goods manufactured at that lower rate of wages are being dumped into this country. The nature of this particular trade is borne out by the fact that the two boom periods in this country were 1870–71, when the Franco-German War was being fought, and 1914–18. The silk industry in this country is doomed to destruction—it was nearly destroyed when the war broke out in 1914—unless there is some kind of protection. Here is another illustration. A great manufacturer in this country is prepared to put down plant costing close on £100,000, which will employ from 5,000 to 6,000 people, but he declines to go on until the Government have definitely come forward with an economic policy. I am quite convinced that, unless the Government come forward with a clear policy, there is the greatest danger ahead of this country. It is vitally necessary for the Government to make up their mind as to what they are going to do.
I only agree with the last speaker in one point. That is in regretting the speech of the President of the Board of Trade. I regret that speech because the right hon. Gentleman was unable to tell us that which the country has long looked for—that he was going to remove the restrictions, or a large portion of the restrictions, which have so hampered our trade at the present time. Until those restrictions are removed there is no chance of the bulk of prices falling, and the cost of living falling in this country. That is what we are longing for. Not the continuation of restrictions, but the removal of restrictions. When that box which contains this statement of policy is opened the large majority of the people of this country will hope that it will be found to contain a removal of the restrictions on trade which have hampered our trade up to the present time, and which if continued would destroy a great portion of it. It is very difficult in a Debate of this sort to distinguish key industries from other industries. There is no doubt whatever that when the letter to which reference was made to-night was written there was left in the minds of the country very great doubt as to the interpretation of the words "key industry." Whether that was meant or not I do not know. Sometimes words are used that can cover two or three different meanings. For my part I should regard key industries as those upon which the safety of the country depends—such things as munitions of war which it would never do for us to be unable to produce for ourselves. Others who have spoken in this Debate evidently regard almost all our industries as key industries because they give employment to our people. It seems to me quite clear that those of us who have supported a coalition Government as the best instrument for carrying on the War and bringing back a satisfactory peace, which we are thankful to know has been accomplished, would not and could not follow the Government in a policy of protection, and I for one, make my position quite clear, as I think I have done before in this House, and as I did before I was elected by my Constituents, so that no doubt can exist.
Hon. Members have spoken to-night of the British market as if the British market was confined to these islands. This is a' great mistake. The British market is the world, and not the British Islands alone. What would be the effect of a policy of Protection upon our great overseas trade, the trade upon which in reality this country depends for its existence? There is no doubt whatever that Protection would raise prices. One speaker has spoken of the establishment of a factory for doors and windows. For what purpose is he waiting to establish this factory? He is waiting for a protective duty to be put on which will raise the price of the doors and windows. That is an example, and if that example be applied to everything else we manufacture, where will our position be in the international trade of the world? We have keen enough competition now. Competition in the South American markets, for example, between manufacturers in this country, in Belgium, Germany, and the United States, was very keen before the War. I can assure the House from personal experience that very often a very small difference decided whether the contract went to Great Britain or Belgium or the United States or Germany—a very small difference on a very large order. If by any policy of Protection we are going to raise the cost of the articles which we are endeavouring to sell in these neutral markets, then the order will pass us and go to someone else. The future trade of our country does not lie in a great development of consumptive power within our island, but in the development of consumptive power by the great masses of people less civilised than our own. Africa, China, Asia—these are the places where there is a future for our trade and for growth, and if we are to cater for that trade and growth, it is essential that this country must produce cheaply. Therefore I hope that when the box which contains this valuable document is at length opened it will be found that the policy adopted by the Government is not that of placing restrictions or tariffs upon imports, but is that of freeing the trade o£this country, and of sweeping away restrictions that hitherto have hampered and are now hampering our export trade.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has put a very narrow construction on the term "key industry." May I remind the House of the actual words used by the Prime Minister in his letter. He said:
I am prepared to say that the key industries on which the life of the nation depends must be preserved.
My right hon. Friend appears to define "the life of then nation" as simply depending on munitions of war, but surely during peace the life of the nation depends upon the financial results of the industries of the country, and if we are to preserve our key industries—I will not go so far as my friend who moved this Resolution—we certainly are entitled to base ourselves on the words of the Prime Minister. I was very much astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade when he said that it would be extraordinarily unwise even now to make a statement on our economic policy. May I remind him that the hon. Member for Melton (Colonel Yate) by a question to the Leader of the House on 21st October asked when a statement would be made on our economic policy, and the answer he received was that such a statement would be made that week. Two days later I put a question down in regard to the most-favoured-nation Clause, and the answer I received was, that that point would also be made clear in the general statement
which is to be made on economic policy. On 24tn October the hon. and gallant Member for Melton again put a question as to when the statement would be made, and he received the reply that it would be made before the House adjourned for the recess. That was the recess immediately after last October, eight months ago. What I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman is this: If the Leader of the House with the consent of the Prime Minister was prepared to think it wise to make a general statement eight months ago, why should it be extraordinarily unwise for him to make such a statement to-day? I think that is a fair question to ask. I thoroughly agree with the Mover and Seconder in their view that this delay in making a general statement is extremely detrimental to the best interests of this nation, because it is impossible for the business men of this country—bethey manufacturers, merchants, or financiers to go full speed ahead while they have no idea as to national policy. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that it might perhaps be better that these business men should not know. But surely the business men of this country should not be living in blinkers.
You cannot define in a public statement between business men and the general public. I quite agree that it would be desirable if the business men could be told privately.
I cannot really follow the right hon. Gentleman in the very fine distinction he draws between the business man and the general public, because, after all, business men employ the public. The workers of this country we might call the general public, and they arc employed by the business men, and unless business men know what the policy of the Government is they cannot make ahead those plans which are going to find employment for the working classes. If you strike out the business men you also have to strike out the working men, and what is left of the general public? I do not think we can quite accept that. I maintain that this indecision and delay is extremely unfortunate from a national point of view, and the nation surely includes both the workman and the business man, as well as what my right hon. Friend calls the general public. Then my right hon. Friend went on to say that it was unwise perhaps to make a general statement before the peace was signed, but in the next sentence he told us that the peace was signed today.
May I ask this question, then: When peace is signed, will he make that definite statement of economic policy? The minute peace is signed will ho make such a definite statement which will fix the dates, so that business people in this country will know what our policy is to be from that time? I hope my right hon. Friend will respond to that very definite question which I have asked him. I hope, too, that my right hon. Friend, and the Government generally, do not underestimate the strength of the feeling on this point amongst business men. I have attended meetings of chambers of commerce where merchants and financiers have met together, and men who differ as widely as we do in this House, and some of whom may be Tariff' Reformers and some Free Traders, but on this point they are all agreed, and have been for many months past—namely, that it is essential to the prosperity of the country that the Government should make a definite statement on its policy. That is the one point of agreement amongst men who are what may be termed captains of industry, the men upon whom the recuperation which we all long for, and the reconstruction and increased production which we all desire, depend. They are unanimous on this point, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to go at least this far and tell us what is the policy of the Government in regard to increasing production. We all know that the expenses of this country arc enormous and likely to increase, and of the great burden of debt which we have to carry, and we all know there is only one way in which to carry that burden, not only in this country but throughout the Empire and that is by the increased production. What steps do the Government propose to take to encourage production or even to encourage the production of key industries?
I beg your pardon if I have transgressed. I was speaking of key industries, and I will confine myself to production as far as key industries are concerned. What is their policy in regard to that? How are they to increase the production of our key industries? In saying that, I do not mean to quibble, as I have it on my notes, and it is not an afterthought. I would also ask, What is the policy as regards dumping? Surely on those two points, which are the two points under consideration, as you, Mr. Speaker, properly reminded me, it ought to be possible now when Peace if not actually signed is so near for the Government to give us, if not an absolutely definite cut-and-dried statement, at all events a general indication which will be a guide to the business men of this country as to what they may expect. I feel that this matter is one of such urgent and such definite importance that it deserves more than a mere pushing aside, and that it deserves now, or certainly in the very near future, some clear and definite statement on broad lines as to what the policy is which was promised to be revealed to us some eight months ago.
I am sure that the House has witnessed to-night almost as interesting a spectacle as has been afforded in its Parliamentary history. We have seen Member after Member stand up and invite the Government to declare itself in favour of a policy which one must brusquely call Protection, as one must call a policy of anti-dumping or a policy of limiting imports. One after another has been trying to extract from the President of the Board of Trade, who will not, I hope, be offended if I describe him as an avowed Protectionist, a promise which they have been seeking to get ever since this Parliament met, but I think the President of the Board of Trade has been too dexterous, and I am sure they are heartily disappointed. We are told the policy is all written out and typewritten, and that it is in a box and that the box is locked, and the right hon. Gentleman said he knew of no box as to which it was so important that it should have the advantage of a key being inserted. That may be described as a governmental key industry, and that is the method by which hon. Members are to be informed whether the policy of this Government is Protectionist or Free Trade. May I say that I think, in the name of common honesty, the very least the Government must realise is that if all the traditions of this country are to be subverted and if we are to change from the policy which we have had for seventy years to the policy advocated by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. G. Terrell), then it must be submitted to the country before it is adopted by this Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was!"] To say that it was is to imply that none of us engaged in the election except hon. Members in favour of this scheme. I went through the General Election. [An HON. MEMBERS: "With a coupon!"] Yes, with a coupon; and I was opposed by a Conservative protectionist and I beat him, having been asked whether I was a free trader and having declared myself to be a free trader. Let me refer to the Prime Minister's coupon. I attended that great meeting an the Central Hall when the Prime Minister's letter was distributed amongst us all, and while we were waiting for the proceedings to begin an organist beguiled us with various selections, and just when I got to that part; of the letter where the Prime Minister said he was in favour of Imperial Preference and antidumping the organist reached the very interesting strain, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot." "Auld acquaintance" is being revived to-night.
I quite agree with the President of the Board of Trade that this is no subject to discuss between a quarter-past eight and eleven o'clock. It is not a subject to discuss in a night, but is a subject that should be discussed in a week. It is a subject so grave that I venture to think no Member of this House would be doing his duty if he did not protest against any decision being come to by the Government until they have laid their proposals on the Table and until the House has had a week to discuss them. Dumping—what is dumping? Dumping is a foreigner doing business with you, but when you do business with a foreigner that is overseas commerce. When this War broke out we were the only nation in Europe with any real wealth, we wore the centre stone of the arch which supported the Allies. England was the centre of the financial arch which supported the burden of the War. From whence did England derive that wealth? From her capacity to dump into every market in the world. If you do not like dumping, I suppose you are not going to be allowed to dump. Other people will no more like you to dump on them than you like them to dump on you. This is the old old story. We have argued this question of dumping most actively in this country from 1903, and it is not for us now to be taught by various hon. Gentlemen opposite what dumping means. We who belong to the school of thought of which I am a member believe that this country's doom is sealed if this country produces an Anti-Dumping Bill such as is desired by the hon. Member for Chippenham. An Anti-Dumping Bill would mean that this old country would go back to a fourth or a fifth-rate position in the world. The President of the Board of Trade said, a minute ago, in reply to an interruption, somebody objecting that he would not state his policy, that he agreed that business men could be told privately, and I should like to know what that means.
I am sure my hon. Friend does not mean to misquote me. What my recollection of my words is, and what my intention certainly was, is this, that if it were possible, which it is not, to let anybody know in advance of the general statement on a matter of this sort, it is the business men, the big men, who have been called the captains of industry, who should be told first, but as it is not possible, and as such a thing could not be done, there could only be one form of announcement, and that is the complete announcement.
I think the right hon. Gentleman has left it exactly where it was, but I want the House to note the mentality behind our trade policy in this country to-day. Instead of this being a great free Parliament and we surely must be jealous of our traditions—itwill become a market place. Captains of industry ! I am full of suspicion. The whole policy reeks to me of the very thing which will ruin this country. Who is to be told? Why should anyone be told? Who is to be selected, and with what object should they be selected? The Government have a policy, and the policy will be announced as soon as conditions will permit. Suppose the conditions do not develop as they anticipate, will the policy be changed? A policy is a policy when a decision has been reached upon it, and if it is a right policy it ought to be announced, because no conditions, however they change, can affect its validity and its value. The President of the Board of Trade said that, of course, it would not be possible to tell private interests. I agree that the method of selection would be too difficult, and the question of who should be informed in advance would be altogether too delicate to handle, but what I am asking the President of the Board of Trade to remember is this. We have forty-five millions of people in the British Isles, and I want to know whether they are going to be told in advance the Government's policy before the Government attempts to carry it out? To say that the Prime Minister's letter indicated that those who supported him at the last election wore pledged to the sort of policy represented by the hon. Member for Chippenham's speech is an absurdity that I am surprised at anyone perpetrating. We never for a moment abandoned our Free Trade position. I said again and again that I was a free trader, and I have sufficient respect for our history to know that if we once abandon our Free Trade, this country will go to a third or a fourth - class nation. An hon. Gentleman opposite laughs at that remark. I am sure he will bear with me while I for one moment attempt to prove it, and I will prove it, if I may, by the argument of the President of the Board of Trade, who drew a very interesting picture of the world now substantially divided into two parts, one bankrupt Europe, the other wealthy America. Suppose that is true, are we going to right wealthy America with tariffs, and if so arc we going to survive? If we want to fight America, with her great resources, by tariffs, we are doomed to destruction at the outset. When this War broke out we held nearly £1,000,000,000 worth of American securities. She was a debtor nation to us of nearly £1,200,000,000. With all her resources she was a debtor nation. To-day she is a creditor nation. If it is supposed that we can secure the commercial strength and position of this country by tariffs, which mean restriction of trade, that is a supposition in the mind of any man which I gladly leave him to enjoy.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain whether he means that the £1,200,000,000 we had in America was money we made out of America and left there, or whether it was the savings we had made in other parts of the world and had put into a protective country?
I should think that that answers itself. To begin with, we had the money. That is the first point. The second point is, America owed the money. The third point is that the money was not put in America because it was a protective country which made it safer. It wag money made in this vastly richer Free Trade country, made in such abundance as to enable us to help finance a country limiting its own commercial capacity by its tariff system. That is the explanation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Eye-wash."] May I tell the hon. Member what is not eyewash? That is that that position has been entirely reversed. America has got that money back, and more yet, and now we are going to turn our backs— if we follow the hon. Member for Chippen-ham—on the policy which enabled us to have America as a debtor nation to us, and, not satisfied with the wealth it thus provided, seize on the policy which must mean commercial ruin to this country as a great world nation. The President of the Board of Trade asked the question, Is there any dumping? and he said no, there was a suspicion of something that might be dumping, but fortunately they were able to prevent it. If there is one thing this strained, stricken nation needs at this moment, it is a healthy dose of dumping. There are 45,000,000 consumers. Ask them if they would like a little dumping. The producers are deliberately whittling down their capacity for production, because by that means and the aid of import restrictions they make more money out of two factories than they can out of four or six. The less they produce the higher their profits, and we are in a vicious circle. Up goes the price of labour. We are all living in a fool's paradise. I am absolutely appalled at the present time. There is one thing alone that can save this country. Let the Government's hand get off trade. It is a strangle-hold. Give our British commercial men a chance. They have got the commercial ability and experience, and they have still, thank God, the financial resources to carry on trade in any part of the world and beat any tariff country at their own game. We are the greatest commercial people in this world. When it is reflected that we have got but one raw material—coal—to export, and that we have had competition from every quarter of the globe to endure for fifty years since industrialism became the aim of the whole world, when the position we occupied in Europe in 1914 is considered, I think it is fitting that tribute should be paid to the commercial men of this country in being as astute as any commercial man in the world. The suggestion is that dumping is an evil; it is proper that it should be placed side by side with the suggestion that we must protect our key industries. The hon. Member for Cippingham gave us his definition of key industries, and I respect him for it. A key industry is any industry which needs protection. A franker definition could not have been used. The hon. Member for Cippingham deserves the thanks of this House—[HON. MEMBER: "Chippingham!"] — I was thinking of another scandal—the hon. Member for Chippenham, I say, deserves the thanks of this House for having restored the Debates in this House to something of that frankness and candour which existed in previous Parliaments. I was not a Member of a previous Parliament, but I have listened to many Debates. They were real Debates. This is not a real Debate. This is a ridiculous Debate. It is a waste of our time. It is earning us the contempt of the country. It is making it futile for any Member to come to this House.
We are told that there are rumours going about that this House will shortly come to a dissolution. I profoundly hope it may be so if this is to be a typical Debate. I take it that the President of the Hoard of Trade realises the gravity of his position and the responsibility that lies upon him. What I am saying is not personal, for I have a great admiration for the right hon. Gentleman and for what he has achieved during the War. But he is not accustomed to the Parliamentary traditions of this country. He has achieved a great position during the War, when it was a natural means of defence for any Minister, when pushed into a corner, to say that he must stand or fall by the clearly defined policy that it was not in the national interest to discuss any given question. Here we are to-day, a trading, commercial people; all our wealth comes from our commerce. We are pouring more of our capital out in unemployment doles, while the labour market is in the most serious condition. Yet the President of the Board of Trade is asked in this House to give the policy of the Government. He tells the House that the policy is decided. It is written out— typewritten—I suppose that it may be read —in a box, and locked. What does a single Member know about it. What are we here for? We have got to go to the country sometime on that policy at no distant date, and we will be asked why we did not protest against this sort of thing. But it is no matter whether or not we protest in this House. I protest now. But it does not matter. If twenty-five Members on this side of the House and twenty-five Members on the other side of the House protested it would be all the same. The President has his policy typewritten. He has got it in a box locked up. We need to know that policy.
I think the time has come for the Government to declare their policy. I repudiate the suggestion that those who had the coupon during the election were pledged to the policy represented by the Motion we are discussing. The only policy for the Government to declare is that the Government controls introduced during the War and justified by the War should be at once removed. The Government in this matter must get out of the way and allow business men to build up trade again. When they have done that and got out of the way, the economic resources of this country are so great, and our trading and commercial capacity are so supreme, that we shall soon win back the position we held before the War, and then our economic and social difficulties will disappear, and our strength will survive.
This question of Tariff Reform ought never to have been brought before this House to-day, because we have had enough trouble over it in former days. Surely this is a matter which should be left to the Board of Trade and the Chambers of Commerce, assisted by the members of the Local Chambers of Commerce, and the men connected with the particular trades concerned. This subject can be boiled down to one point. You should take each trade on its own and deal with it according to its own peculiar circumstances. These are not questions for hon. Members of this House, and it is not either a party or a political subject. Surely the Board of Trade ought to settle these matters, and the sooner this Debate is over the better.
Sir WILLIAM BARTON:
This Motion deals with dumping and key industries, but as the Debate has proceeded it has become apparent that immediately you tackle these points you have to proceed to much wider issues. The Mover of this Motion indulged in some very interesting banter as to the embarrassment which he felt his Motion would cause amongst the supporters of the Coalition. I do not think that any of us up to the present in this Debate have shown any very great consciousness of that embarrassment. Before the Election, as a supporter of the Coalition Government, I thought it necessary to make one or two points quite clear, and I declared myself an unrepentant and an unqualified Free Trader. It may be said: "What about the constituency which elected you?" There, I equally declared myself a complete Free Trader, and was duly returned to this House. We are told, however, that we are coupon holders, and that we are bound by the contents of some coupon. My election agent asked me if I had had this coupon, and I had to confess that I did not know. Subsequently, I did find it among my papers. I quite recognise that many who voted for me at the election would undoubtedly agree with my hon. Friend rather than with me in this matter. The last election largely centred round the point whether the Coalition Government was on the whole the best instrument whereby the nation could be served in ending the War and securing a satisfactory peace. I have no doubt whatever that was the real issue settled in that election. I have been struck by the fact that in every speech supporting this Motion there has been no thought of and no reference to our export trade. The whole thing has proceeded upon the assumption that the interests of the country are purely and simply in our home trade. Surely, there can be nothing further from the actual facts of the situation. We are dependent to a very great extent for our national wealth and strength upon our export trade, and without an import trade you cannot have an. export trade.
The question, after all, is as to dumping and as to key industries. My hon. Friend below me (Mr. Bigland), in a most interesting speech, dealt more in detail and more closely with key industries than any other speaker, and he used two illustrations, both of which are extraordinarily significant. One of them was in relation to the importation of steel into this country. I remember when the late distinguished Mr. Chamberlain produced his policy of tariffs that there was in the minds of a great many men, Free Traders and others, an inquiring spirit and a desire really to study whether there was something in the policy of this man who, they felt, was a great and strong man and a wise statesman. Among these was a relative of my own connected with a large shipbuilding firm and he became a strong advocate of Mr. Chamberlain's policy. Some months afterwards I saw in the papers that till company with which he was connected toad obtained an order for six merchant vessels. A few days later I learned that there had been a large purchase of Belgian steel, and, associating the two things, I went to this relative and asked him whether they were in any way connected. He said, "Yes, we have bought that steel" I said, "How do you reconcile, that with your publicly expressed policy?" He said: The position was this: If we had not bought that steel, we could not have taken those contracts. Other countries were prepared to buy it. The price in this country was such that we had to get it over there, but as a result a very much larger amount of labour was employed than would have been obtained by its production, and more men were employed on the building of ships than would have been employed in making the steel. There might be some justification for protection if thereby we were going to employ more men than would be employed in the industry in which they used the raw material. My hon. Friend used another illustration—Phenacetin—a very small by-product among the many by-products of the coal tar industry which was developed in Germany to an extent which became colossal towards the end. We in this country had an equal if not a better opportunity of developing that industry than Germany. It was an English idea; it was born in Manchester and the real reason we lost it was the lack of enterprise on the part of our capitalists and the greater enterprise of the German capitalists. Before the War we bought phenacetin from Germany at 4s. 6d. But here it has reached a price of something like 18s., which has now come down to 10s. 6d.—or four times the German price before the War. But I want the country to look, not merely at phenacetin, but at the chemical industry, which enters practically into every industry in this country. Suppose the price at which we produce here as four times the price at which we can import, what would be the effect if we refused to import? It would not matter much if it stopped at the refusal to import. The results might not be so terrible. But does anybody imagine that a nation desirous of building up an export trade would not import its raw material to the best advantage of that export trade?
Take our textile industry. In practically every piece of goods—and this is the largest of our exporting industries—chemicals enter to some extent, and colouring matter to a very considerable extent. During the War we had enforced Protection. We had not the competition which obtains under ordinary circumstances, but 1 per cent. will frequently turn the tide and decide whether a contract shall be obtained for this country or go to some other country. And the country which imports its chemicals at one-fourth of the cost at which you are producing them will undoubtedly swamp you, and properly so, in competing for the export trade. We must look at this matter as a whole. You cannot have Protection in small instalments. If you choose a policy it must be for all, and I contend that the nation which depends largely on export trade has its surest basis in the Free Trade policy. I am not ashamed to confess that I believe that if we had a wholly Protectionist world, the best way to fight that Protection is by open ports. The best way to supply your customers with what they need at the lowest price, and the best way to obtain employment by building up the largest export trade is by free and open ports.
One or two hon. Members, and also the President of the Board of Trade, referred very largely to the possible effect of exchanges on our future policy. I have been interested in the export trade all my life, and if there is one conclusion more than another to which I have come, it is that exchanges have nothing like the effect on trade that they are generally supposed to have. At bottom, trade is bargaining. It is the exchange of goods for goods, of like for like. In the long run the country which so arranges itself that it can produce to the best advantage and sell at the cheapest prices is the country which will not only make its own people most comfortable but will secure the largest share of the export trade of the world. I therefore say that I deeply regret those observations which have been freely made in this Debate, and which seemed to have some countenance from the President of the Board of Trade, that these are matters to be settled by chambers of commerce, by the Board of Trade, and by captains of industry. They are nothing of the kind. They are vital to every working man and working woman in this country. I have cordially supported this Government. I still believe it was a necessary instrument for carrying on this War, and I believe it has done magnificent work both in the War and in the Peace. But I say unhesitatingly that if I am asked, as a supporter of this Government, to abandon those principles of Free Trade which I believe to be best for the country, there will be no hesitation about my answer.
The fruits of the late Prime Minister's recent speeches are very prominent in this House. There is quite a number of Gentlemen who have supported this Government, but who are now evidently, so far as they can comfortably allow their consciences to lead them, inclined to go back to the husks of the Asquith period. I am not sure that, if they had made all the speeches they have made here at the time they got elected, they would have been here to make them. [HON. MEMBER: "We did!"] I represent an intensely industrial working-class constituency, and I am perfectly sure that none of them agree with the views that have been expressed. I listened with great interest to the views of one hon. Member with regard to the wealth of this country. You would think that, according to him, the wealth of the country was originally made by a gentleman named Cobden, and originally began about 1846. That is an entirely false view to take of the wealth of this country. This country built up its wealth and its great resources in centuries before. The wealth that has been spent in this War has been the accumulation of the previous ten generations, and it was built up long before Free Trade was thought of. The only reason why Free Trade did not do the amount of injury it might have been expected to do is that the rest of Europe was mixed up in continual conflict and strife, and as we were the pioneers in industrialism we got the start of them all. As soon as the other countries picked up and began their industrial systems and began to organise their resources; as soon as Germany in particular mobilised its capital and began to make attacks with concentrated capital in the same way as it did with concentrated military forces at special points, it was gradually extinguishing industry by industry in tins country. If you have a small isolated indi- vidual set of manufacturers who get up against a huge cartel system such as prevailed in Germany, and will prevail again very soon, the individual capitalist cannot have a chance of surviving. It is all very well to say, as the late Prime Minister said, that dumping will kill itself: it can not go on long. No one can go on long enough to extinguish a particular industry in a particular country, and that is all the length of time it needs to go on. If you are dealing with an industry of any kind, the main thing people want is security, and they want the security of their own market, and then there is a chance, if you have over production at any time, that they may export if 'they can find other countries foolish enough to give them an open port, and that is what leads to the destruction of industry in the country that has to take their surplus products. I believe it is a far sounder maxim than setting yourself out to consider always the consumer, to consider the producer first, and the consumer will take care of himself. After all, the consumer may belong either to the idle rich or the idle poor. I do not care which, but he maybe idle. But the producer is the person who is working, and the main thing is to secure a steady source of output and a steady market for his goods, and it is very difficult to secure that if he is liable to be raided at any time by the surplus products of over-production in other countries. I remember once getting rather an insight into the question of land. I was looking at a farm that did not seem to be particularly well cultivated, and I was talking to a member of the Farmers' Union, as intelligent a man as any first-class farmer I have ever met, and we noticed that the farm was rather neglected, and he said, '"That farm has neither had capital nor labour sufficiently expended upon it." I said, "Why is that?" He said, "The man will have got it at such a low rent that without very much trouble he can make an easy living. If he had more rent to pay, he would have to apply capital and labour to it, and would have to bestir himself and make a proper industry of it. But how can you expect a man to risk his capital over a long rotation of crops when some fellow in Leith or Glasgow can send a cable to the end of the earth which will bring him shiploads of stuff which will ruin him?" That struck me as an extraordinary good observation to get from that source. Those Members who have spoken of their tremendous confession of faith in Free Trade as if it were a sort of religion really speak as if the War had never happened. It has had no effect whatever on their intelligence. They want to get back to party politics, to the old party cries right away. This War has been a tedious nuisance to them. It has interfered with their political industry. I shall never forget the shock with which I read on the day before the great disaster of 21st March, the great German push, a speech by the Leader of the Free Trade Gentlemen, Mr. Asquith, who is still ingeminating the text that he is still the Leader of the Liberal party and hammering away at that worn-out text as though his own desire was to get right away and get on with party politics. I hope the House is freed from party politics. I think the country elected it largely in the hope that it was going to do away with all those worn-out cries. The whole of the discussion for the last half-century in regard to Free Trade and Protection originated from the fact that a gentleman named Adam Smith once wrote a very pernicious book called "The Wealth of Nations," in which he proceeded to prove that the wealth of nations consisted in its bank accounts, its stocks and shares, its imports and exports. I am one of those who believe that the wealth of a nation consists in the people who inhabit the country, and that these questions of trade, while they are very important, are not so important as the main thing, which is to rear strong, healthy, and industrious populations. I do not believe so much in the tremendous supremacy of the trading or commercial classes. The hon. Member for Suffolk (Mr. Lyle-Samuel) talked about the tremendous skill of our trading classes and our merchants. The people I want to see thrive in this country are the producers. It is not so much the man who buys in one market and sells in another, and who takes a rake and rakes in profit as the goods are passing through. What we want as far as possible is to get rid of the middleman in every trade and industry. The middleman is the man who rakes in the profit. That is the trouble of the fishing industry at the present moment. Take the fish when it is landed at the pier, and you will find that the price which is got by the man who braves the perils of the deep is very small compared with what it is when you go to buy the fish in a shop. The same applies in the tailoring trade, the boot trade, and in all trades. It is the case of the middleman right through. The reason why we have all this desire for Free Trade is that we have bred in our community a certain section of men who in a sense toil not, neither do they spin. They are people who simply buy the productions of other races or peoples and get them into this country. If they find that a local producer is annoying them they proceed to crush him out with the resources of their organised capital, with the result that they kill an industry. It seemed to annoy the hon. Member for Suffolk that wages are very high. I am not a bit annoyed. I should be very sorry to see a reduction of wages. I believe the working classes of this country when they understand this craze for cheapness which has led them so far astray will begin to see things in the right light. Let us remember that Free Trade was only introduced by Cobden, who was a commercial traveler and not a producer. It was only introduced to get cheap food in order that they got cheap wages, and for no other purpose. It was not introduced to benefit the working classes as a whole. It is a thousand times better to have a good wage even though you may have to pay a little more for the articles you consume. Otherwise you may find yourselves in the position you read about in Carlyle's "Past and Present," in the middle of the industrial system of the fifties, when there were thousands of men standing about practically unemployed and rate-aided, when wages were at an absolute minimum and democracy was exploited in such a way that it took a great Tory, Lord Shaftes-bury, to do something to mitigate affairs by his Factory Acts. The consequence of unbridled Free Trade and unbridled competition has resulted in the exploiting of the working classes and now we have Gentlemen in this House who want to get back to the old wicked system. They do not want to protect industries or to protect the wage-earner but they wish to leave them to what they call the free play of the market, and to allow the law of supply and demand to affect the working classes in the same way that it affects the market. The working man who has a wife and child has no freedom of contract. He has to work day in and day out. He cannot— It being Eleven of the clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.