Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £729,545, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments, including certain Services arising out of the War and Grants-in-Aid."—[Note: £1,135,000 has been voted on account.]
I make no apology to the Committee in addressing them on a subject of vital importance to the nation, a subject for the discussion of which only too few opportunities present themselves to the House, namely, the trade and industry of our own country. Opportunities will arise for those who care to criticise the Estimates, and having regard to the number of Members who, naturally, desire to speak, I can do the best service to the House by confining my observations to trade and industry. It is very important, at a time like this, to take a careful survey, and to avoid—if I may borrow those two words of which we have heard so much—optimism or pessimism, and try to see things as they are. There are people who, if they see a crowd round Harrods Stores in the morning, at once write to the papers and say that the great boom has begun. The other night I was dining in the Harcourt Room—a pleasure which I often deny myself—and I had the pleasure of meeting a lady who has taken an interest in politics. I told her that I proposed to speak to-day on the condition of British trade, to which she replied: "That will not take you long." She was a pessimist. I think there is
more to be said about it than that. Even facts and figures are elusive things. If I remember rightly, it was Lord Melbourne who said:
Though you say it is a statement of facts, it is not correctly stated. Facts seldom are.
We will try to get our facts right and try and draw our deductions from them. I wish it were possible standing here to-day, to comprise in one speech, finance as well as trade, because the links that bind together finance and trade are so intimate that they are almost inseparable. Ne sutor supra erepidam. "Let the cobbler stick to his last." I am emboldened to use a tag of that kind, because only on Monday evening the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) charmed the House with a Latin phrase, which must have emerged from his subconscious memory, and of which he offered no translation. In following so excellent a precedent I am sure I am following one which we all desire to maintain. The first thing that strikes one in examining trade conditions at a time like this, and a thing that one regrets, is that the human race cannot profit more than it does by the cumulative experience that has grown up through the various crises in the centuries of the world's history. Each generation, unfortunately, has to build up its own experience. Though experience teaches for a generation, experience very soon becomes crystallised in tradition, and when it has once become tradition it becomes the duty of the advanced thinkers of the next generation to demolish it, and to leave the generations yet to come to learn from the beginning all over again. So easy is it for that to happen, that the people of the world to-day are learning elementary economics at awful cost. Experience is a hard schoolmaster, and I can only hope that the experiences through which we are passing may be so burned into the brains of this generation that they may survive for generations yet to come, and that if ever this country has to go through such a time as we have had in the last few years, those who follow us may be better equipped for the contest than we were.
Possibly it would be convenient if we look, very briefly, at the world position, which is the environment in which we have to do our trade, and then consider in some detail the conditions at home. If I dwell first upon the adverse conditions at home, I can promise the Committee that before I sit down I shall examine in some detail the many shafts of light that I see coming through the darkness, and I hope to convince the Committee that though we have a long lane before us, though we may not be through the worst, we shall, with perseverance and with courage, come through, and shall emerge once more into better times. The first fact that strikes one, when one looks about the world, is the world impoverishment as a direct result of the War. We see it not only at home, but in remote parts. We see a great deal of Europe broken; we see a great deal of Europe smashed. It is difficult for us here, in spite of hard conditions, to realise how infinitely harder those conditions are in many countries of Europe to-day. But, while we remember that, we must remember also that it was not every country that suffered alike by the War, financially and industrially. There are countries whose position to-day is no worse than their position was in 1914. There are countries which probably are better off. Without attempting to discriminate which may occupy a stationary position and which may be better off, I will remind the Committee that, so far as our Dominions are concerned and so far as the United States of America, South America, Holland, Scandinavia and Spain are concerned, there is nothing in the condition of any of those countries which should prevent them again being large buyers in the world's market.
There is another point which is well worth dealing with for a few moments. It is a point on which I have spoken before. One curious result of the War has been an increase in the spirit of nationalism throughout the world and the desire on the part of countries to be self-contained industrially. That feeling has led to one or two results which I view with some apprehension. There has been an increase in tariffs in many of the countries of the world. This tendency has been visible alike in the newly-formed countries and in the old countries. Such increases must be felt in a country which, like our own, is so dependent on the export of its manufactured goods more than in any other country. I have had many com- plaints from traders, particularly in regard to France, Italy and Spain. Our traders are also viewing with considerable apprehension the movement that is at present to be observed in the United States of America for still further increase of the tariff, which, so far as manufactured goods go, is almost prohibitive at the present day. Lancashire has been viewing with alarm the increase in the duties in India. Those duties were raised from 7½ per cent. to 11 per cent., and subsequently to 15 per cent. and the duties on luxuries were raised to 20 per cent. and subsequently to 30 per cent. It is quite true that a fiscal Commission, set up in India last autumn, is studying this whole question, and I only hope that the result of its labours may bring some comfort to our manufacturers in this country. I would only add on this subject that, so far, we should hold our own in the Dominions, because, even in instances where increases have been effected in the tariff, we have been treated with considerable generosity in the matter of preference. One other aspect of this same question also causes me anxiety, and that is the attempted discrimination which is now being made in certain maritime countries against our shipping. Our shipping is the vital link in the whole system of our commonwealth of nations. Anything that imperils that imperils not only this country, but every one of our Dominions, and I hope that the Mother Country and the Dominions will take earnest counsel together on this matter before it is too late, so that we may show, in this respect at least, a united front against any attempt that may be made to discriminate against us to damage the position of our shipping.
Then we are faced with another problem, with which this Committee is familiar. That is breakdown of the exchanges, and the consequent need for the restoration of Europe. The restoration of Europe, if there is to be a rapid resumption of trade throughout the world, is vital. The reason, of course, is obvious, and I do not propose to delay the Committee by discussing it, because hon. Members know as well as I do the extent to which the purchase of raw materials by Europe from overseas is one of the great factors in providing credits with which the purchases from overseas of the manufactured goods of this country are to be made. If, owing to any unfore- seen catastrophe, what is called the restoration of Europe should be delayed, it would make the road to prosperity longer and steeper. But I believe that this country could face such a condition of things better than any other country and that in time we should have to do what we have done before, make up for what we have lost by getting something fresh. We should have to get that by an intensified development of our own Empire and by pushing with renewed vigour into the great markets of the East and the markets or South America. To sum up, as far as the world's markets are concerned to-day, we see but little sign of rapidly increasing trade in the Dominions. We see in India difficulties placed in our way by the tariff, by the falling rupee, and by unliquidated stocks. We see in Japan financial troubles. We see in China political troubles. But we see in South America signs of improvement, and, above all, we see signs of improvement in the United States of America. In Europe I can report but little movement at present, though I am informed by my Department that there is an increasing trade being done with Scandinavia, a part of the world that perhaps suffered less financially from the War than most other parts.
I come now to what really is of the greatest interest to us, and that is a review of our own position at home. Our position in England differs, certainly in degree, from the position of any other country in the world, because to us, above all countries, the root problem is to find employment for our own people. Never was that so necessary as it is to-day, because we have, contrary to all expectation years ago, an increased population in a country already, in my view, industrialised up to the limit of safety. The increase of national wealth that would have taken place in the last eight years has not taken place, so we have to face this problem poorer than we were. We have to export for our life—export for our food. We have to pay for our food with our exports, and to export we must have raw materials. It is true that in this country we have coal, the greatest asset, perhaps, that a country can have; we have, too, a great deal of ironstone, but, apart from those, the amount of raw material that we have for our staple industries is a compara- tively small quantity. If you consider our exporting industries, you see at once what I mean. Practically all Lancashire and a great deal of Yorkshire depend on imported raw materials. Cotton, the greater part of wool, jute, copper and flax are only among numberless materials which have to be imported into this country and paid for before we can begin to export. That is the position, and, while we have to meet that situation, we have some grave problems to face. The short boom that followed the War filled our warehouses and our works with quantities of high-priced stocks, all of which have had to be liquidated. Liquidation is always a painful process. Liquidation is not yet complete, and, where that liquidation has to be completed, there will, I fear, still be stagnation in trade and probably failures in business. But I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that by now these stocks are liquidated for the most part and that the bulk of the industries in this country can now start clear of that incubus.
I should like to say a word or two about taxes, because there has been a great deal of talk in this Committee about the pressure of taxes on business. I think that sometimes people who have had no experience of business find it difficult to realise what is the weight of taxes. I can sum it up best by putting it in this way. Business in this country is very largely carried on on credit. Improvements and replacements, which are absolutely necessary for the continuance of industry, are effected by savings. The tax collector is the only man that I know of, unless it be the bookmaker, who does not give credit. All taxes have to be paid in cash. The consequence, especially in bad times, is that many of the businesses of this country have been completely skinned of working capital. That makes it far more difficult than it otherwise would be even to carry on business. It makes it impossible for them to maintain in a desirable state of efficiency their plant and machinery. Therefore, it is that a reduction of taxation, as and when it can be effected, is one of the most vital needs of the industries of our country.
I could not help thinking that there was something rather happy in the text that appeared this morning on my calendar on my desk, for when I tore off the date and
looked at the 11th May, I read these words:
Seek happiness in limiting your desires rather than in satisfying them.
I do not think there could be a better motto either for the Treasury, or for industry, or for each individual hon. Member of this House, and I make them a present of it. Of the interference with the trade of this country that has been caused by labour troubles I do not propose to say anything at this stage, although I have one or two remarks to make about it before I finish. With regard to the trades themselves, I am very anxious to avoid being tedious or giving figures, but it might be of interest just to look at the half-dozen staple industries and give some estimate of their present position. First of all I should like to say a word or two about the coal trade. The coal trade is one which has had more vicissitudes in the last three or four years than have fallen to the lot of any industry in the history of this country. This is not the time to comment on those vicissitudes, but I do wish to point out this very remarkable fact to the Committee. The coal trade is the one, and as far as I know the only, trade in this country which after protracted and very severe suffering has got down to an economic level.
The result of that has been—I am pointing out facts—that the coal trade is the only trade in this country where the export trade, far beyond what anyone expected last Christmas, has come back to something like the pre-War average. For the country nothing could be of greater importance, because coal is one of the most valuable exports that we have, and until we can begin to export freely we shall not begin to find the machinery of paying for our goods. Until coal goes out freely we cannot send our ships out with cargoes; the one natural process which, as it proceeds, must lead to that reduction of freight which cheapens the importation of the goods we purchase. Unfortunately, industrial coal has not yet been in great demand. That cannot come until the trade of the country, as a whole, begins to improve, and until the coal trade can fill up their orders with industrial coal as well as export coal, you will not get that output which will enable coal in this country to be sold at a lower price. Nor will you get that demand and that cheapening of the cost of production which will enable the coal trade to be a paying trade once more, and as a paying trade to bring up, what we all want to see, the wages of those engaged in it. It is a source of satisfaction, as far as the export trade in coal is concerned, to know that the foreign bunker trade has almost completely regained the position that it filled before the War.
With regard to the iron and steel trades, they are going through a very difficult time. It is true that more orders have been taken, and that they are getting down now to a price at which they can compete; but it is also true that the world is not yet convinced that the bottom has been reached, and orders are being held up. So far as the industry is concerned, it has not yet got, and I do not think will get in the immediate future, into a paying position. If the industry can hold its own, it is as much as it cart do. Still, it is something to see orders, and orders from abroad, coming in. The only thing for it, which is, after all, the only thing for all of us, is patience and hard work.
Of the cotton trade I would observe this: that they have had a great many difficulties to contend with, difficulties that have arisen largely from the fact that their great trade is with the East, and the Indian trade has not only been hampered so far as they are concerned by the Indian tariff, but it has been hampered by the large amount of frozen bills in that country which are awaiting liquidation. The industry has faced, with great courage and with great commonsense, the cheapening of production which has been necessary for it to get once more into the foreign market. Up to now, I think that Lancashire has set an example to the country in the way in which it has been able to settle, as it has so often settled, its trade disputes without involving the rest of the country in the maelstrom. Of wool I am given comparatively cheerful accounts; the trade is fairly busy throughout, and there is some improvement, not only in yarns, which I understand have been very busy, but also in piece goods. What is true of wool is true of hosiery.
The leather trade shows a slight improvement, but here again the growth of tariffs abroad is injuring that great industry; for boots and shoes, which have become one of the great industries of this country, are feeling the effect of the attempt of certain of our Dominions to build up a protected home industry. One of the best markets—that of South Africa—for the boot and shoe trade is one in which now they are finding very great difficulties in introducing themselves. The chemical trade is improving, both in heavy and fine chemicals, but of engineering and machine tools I think the less said the better. The electrical trades are fairly busy. Textile machinery has been very busy. Whether that is wholly a good thing or not it is difficult to say, because the demand that is being satisfied is for textile machinery for countries which in the near future will be very serious competitors of our own.
A word about shipbuilding. At the moment I think that perhaps the prospects in that trade are less hopeful than in any other. For various reasons, and partly because there is a general impression that the costs of shipbuilding have not yet got to the bottom, no one will place orders for shipbuilding. The only ray of light that I have in that direction arises from this fact. It may be that the inventive genius of this country will once more come to our aid, and when a new type of engine is perfected for propelling tramp steamers, so as to lessen costs and increase room, I think then you will find orders for ships given with freedom. I am told by those who know that they are not without hope that in the next two years some such invention may be perfected that will lead to the building of steamers, both for this country and for foreign countries, to such an extent as will give our yards full employment.
So far I have been speaking about difficulties and causes of depression. I want to turn to the other side, because there is another side. While no man can make forecasts with accuracy at a time like this, I think yet we may be able, before I sit down, to draw one or two definite conclusions. We all remember during the War how difficult it was to make fore-caste; how many forecasts proved wrong; how many unexpected things happened. If that happened in the War, small wonder that it has happened in the peace; small wonder that many prophesies made three years ago have gone awry; and small wonder that the most experienced amongst us have been deceived. When I look at the other side I see, in the first place, that this country is in possession of a very great productive power, probably a greater productive power than she has ever had before; and, as has always been the ease in this country, we are as well equipped, I think, as we have ever been in the skill and the brains of those who engage in industry, management and workmen alike. The inventive genius of this country is still with us. London, in spite of the gloomy prognostications made during the War, is still and will remain the financial centre of the world. Those markets which have maintained their headquarters in London retain their headquarters there still, and such attempts as have been made to take them from us have been unsuccessful. We have seen, and I have described, the restoration of our coal exports, and we are going, through a time of cheap money, which means that when industry does revive, at any rate for a time, there will be the chance of borrowing on reasonable terms what is necessary for starting and for re-equipment.
The reputation of our country stands high in the world and it is a reputation which has been raised by our traders. The reason that to-day we are still holding our own in our great markets overseas in China, India and South America, and hope to reap our reward later on, is because in those countries for generations our traders have gone forth. They have lived there, traded there, they have known the people, known the markets, and they have taught the people in those markets to rely on the Englishman's word, on the quality of his goods and on the justice with which he treats contracts. It will be for the generation of to-day to live up to the reputation earned by those who went before, realising what an asset that is to us to-day, and seeing that, while reaping the benefit for themselves, they pass on that great heritage undimmed. We have in this country an amount of inherent aptitude for business and of knowledge of business, greater than exists in any country of the world, and we still have initiative, and as long as the initiative of the individual is allowed free play I have no fear but that we shall penetrate into the markets of the world in the future and hold them as we have done in the past, and, if I may say so here, I think that the attitude of the Government in these matters should be one of kindly but quietly unobtrusive beneficence.
I have got two more things to say as to the direction in which we have really good reason for hope. I said some short time ago that I should return to the subject of the United States of America. It has often happened that good trade in the world at large has started with good trade in the United States of America, and, although the United States of America is no longer a great market for our manufactured goods, in America-trade is improving. The conviction there is that things have touched bottom and it is of great interest to note that the index figures of wholesale prices of commodities in America, after pursuing their feverish course on the temperature chart, very much as they pursued it in this country, fell down some few months ago, oscillated for a time and are remaining stationary, or I should say were remaining stationary, because there is just a symptom now of a move in the upward direction. It is a curious fact that a few months behind America the same thing is happening here. I have had the index figures looked into in my Department recently. The same phenomena occurred. During the last three or four months they are just quietly oscillating about a fixed point, and they look as though they were going to be stationary for a time. It does not follow from that that some commodities may not yet have to fall, but it does show that commodities as a whole are sufficiently near the bottom to encourage traders to begin to buy, and that is a necessary condition precedent to any improvement in trade.
Bearing on that, the exports from this country show very much what I expected. When I came to look into—this is the only figure I am going to give the Committee—the percentage figures of our export of manufactured and partly manufactured goods, calculated by my experts, as to their real volume, I found that if we take the figure of 100 in 1913 we are to-day at a figure of 65. That is 35 points below 1913, which we should all expect, and 10 points below the boom of 1920, which we might also expect, but it is 17 points above the bottom which was touched last year, so that it shows that we are slowly climbing out of this appalling pit into which we fell at the time of the collapse of the post-war boom, and I think that that in itself, coupled with what we learn from these index figures, should give us real and positive hope that we may be on the eve of seeing better times. I do not mean to stand many minutes more between the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) and the Committee, because twice, when he has essayed to address this House on a subject very nearly related to myself, owing to circumstances over which I had no control, I was unable to hear the finish of his speech, and I am very anxious to do so to-day. But there are one or two things I do want to say in conclusion.
Though I have spoken many times on this subject, there is one aspect of it that lies more closely to my heart than any other. It is this. We have, undoubtedly, every prospect in this country of recovering, retaining and improving the position in industry which we have always held in the world. My forecast at the moment is that trade will continue the slow and gradual improvement which, I believe, has begun. I said before that I believed that it would be a long lane. I believe that it will be, but I am sure that the turning is coming. It rests with us ourselves very much when the turning comes and whether we take advantage of it. I think it essential to maintain our position, which, after all, means our life, that while we preserve that individualistic self-reliance, which has always been the great attribute of our people, we require to develop more a communal sense which realises that our work is not only for ourselves, for our own shop, for our own industry, but is for our own people and for our own commonwealth of nations. We hope and believe that we are passing away from militarism in Europe. We want to pass away from militarism in industry. Now that we do not talk about fights and battles overseas we want to get rid in this country of talking about fights and battles at home. The responsibility laid on the trading community of this country is very great, and by the trading community of the country I mean everyone who helps to produce in this country. The responsibility is no less than that of feeding and trying to keep in comfort the people of our island because, as I said when I began, our people are dependent entirely on the trade of the country for everything that they have.
We want to realise that and to realise that every check to industry is a check to our own prosperity, that our work is for all and not only for ourselves, and we want to realise that every deliberate stoppage of production in this country is a deliberate lowering of the standard of life for our people which it should be our duty to preserve and improve. I believe that in the wholehearted pursuit of our business in this country we can see before us an illimitable prospect of improvement in the social conditions of our people. But it can only be by all of us working together, and by all of us working from the top of the country to the bottom inspired with the ideal that there is nothing which we cannot accomplish. At no time in our history have there been greater opportunities before this country. We should always remember what we have passed through together in these last few years, and, eager to serve the living, let us progress together with a reasoned hope and with a serene confidence in our future.
I beg to move "That Sub-head A (Salaries, Wages, and Allowances) be reduced by £100."
I should like, as the first speaker on this question, to express, which I am certain is in the minds of all hon. Members who have listened to the discourse of the President of the Board of Trade. That is an appreciation of the ability and the information which he has brought to bear on his general survey of trade conditions in this country, and, I may add, an appreciation of the peculiar charm of which he alone is the special master in illustrating the points which he brings to the attention of hon. Members. But the right hon. Gentleman has given us what I may call a very detached and very impersonal account of trade conditions. He told us what trade was like in this country, what the prospects were, and what the conditions were at home, but he said Very little on a subject which certainly interests some of us very much. I mean the Government's own attitude towards trade, and the regulations and administrative action for which the Government itself is responsible in its dealings with trade. The President of the Board of Trade is the most highly qualified man in the whole country to give us the survey which we have just got, but he is also called upon to defend himself and his Department when criticised, as I am afraid he may be, for the policy for which that Department has been responsible since the War.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed his impatience to hear the peroration of a speech with the exordium of which he has been perfectly familiar at 11 o'clock. He will get the peroration on this occasion. I only hope I shall get the answer. I am much more anxious to hear the answer than to deliver the peroration. The right hon. Gentleman passed over very lightly what he called the financial aspect of the Government's policy towards trade. That is natural. He is the President of the Board of Trade and not the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But it would be impossible to leave a general consideration without pointing out that in the opinion of those most highly qualified to judge it is the continuous expenditure of the Government year after year, expenditure which their own Committee has now shown to be largely unnecessary, that is responsible to some extent for the state of depression in which trade finds itself to-day. I see that such an authority as Professor Armstrong, in an interview on this financial question, said, "Industry is fighting for its life." He was referring to the urgent necessity for some relief from the financial burdens which have been laid upon industry in consequence of the Government's policy.
I will pass from the financial question, which is more appropriate to the discussion of the Exchequer Vote, and I will come to the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made. In the only indication we have got of a general kind as to what he conceives should be our attitude towards trade problems, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the general rise in the spirit of nationalism and the growing weight of tariffs in every country. He did not say anything about the growing weight of tariffs in this country. I am using only the language of the apologists of the Government when I say that the work is well begun. It would have been appropriate if, in animadverting on the tariffs of other countries,
the President of the Board of Trade had taken into account the fact that the Government have been responsible for Imposing tariffs in this country also. I take it that the needs of the moment are adequately summed up in the Cannes Resolutions, which are to be laid before the Genoa Conference. Let me read a short sentence from them:
The Conference will consider how the existing impediments to the free interchange of the products of different countries can be removed, particularly regulations governing the admission of foreigners for the purpose of carrying on business.
When you get into the light of the Genoa Conference, and see statesmen meeting for the purpose of abolishing tariffs, promoting the free interchange of commodities and the free passage of nationals from one country to another, how quaint and ridiculous appears a backward glance over the Government's own policy since the end of the war… Many hon. Members can remember the speech made by Sir Auckland Geddes when, after months and months of inquiry, we were told that the policy was locked in a box. When the box was opened every sort of thing emerged except hope. There followed a jumble of legislation, of control, of passports, and of alien restrictions. The Government seemed to forget that aliens might come over here to buy our goods, and that people might desire to travel freely over the country to sell our goods. If I wished for another summary of the standpoint which we should assume towards trade to-day, I could quote a sentence from a speech by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The right hon. Gentleman said:
Our duty is to re-create and regulate our vanished and impoverished customers. With 2,000,000 unemployed we are bound to consider a revival of world-credit and the stimulus of the purchasing power of potential customers as vital to our well-being.
That, in 1922, is understood by all to be the spirit which should animate Government policy. But what is the history of the Government policy? For two years they employed the British Navy to blockade a potential customer and no goods were allowed to pass into or out of that country. That spirit has entirely vanished. I do not think animosity is shown to the Russian Government because it is proposed to put a tax of 33⅓ per cent, on Teddy Bears. Germany is another potential customer. What has
been the Government's policy to assist in the restoration of a most important and potentially very great trade with Germany? Merely to engage themselves in reparation demands which are at the root of much of our trouble. Nobody can travel in Europe and speak to the people of the different countries, or study the problems in the newspapers, without at every turn falling over this question of reparation. The disarmament pact, the peace guarantee at Genoa, is held up. Why? Because some of those who should sign it will not sign it because they hope to use force against one another with a view to exacting reparation. Side by side with that we are having held up to the public the hope that very substantial sums can be secured from Germany. A quaint paradox is the Government introducing legislation to prevent German goods from reaching this country.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to foreign tariffs and told us what a great deal of harm they were doing. Has he ever considered that, in some cases at least, the imposition of these tariffs may be in the nature of retaliation for duties which we impose? We have continued in defiance of pledges to put on what are called the new Import Duties. We have given a preference. The right hon. Gentleman sees in that only a form of encouragement of our own Dominions. It penalises also some of our Allies. Look at the imports of cocoa, and of rum, spirits, and other articles from France. The right hon. Gentleman will find that the imports have been most materially reduced owing to the preferential duty imposed against France. In dealing with the great harm which tariffs have done to our trade abroad, would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has taken into account how far some part of those tariffs may be retaliatory for duties that we have imposed? Is it not true that at the time the French Government protested against the Safeguarding of Industries Act? A correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph" announced in an article in that newspaper, at the time the Bill was passing through this House, that French trade regarded it as a stab in the back. I observe only in to-days newspaper that M. Millet, writing in the "Petit Parisian," says:
It is forgotten that these difficulties are the result of the general situation and also of that selfish Protectionist policy which
England followed on the morrow of the peace, and which produced in trade an almost immediate dislocation of the interallied economic organisations.
Why is it proper for the President of the Board of Trade to stand here and raise complaints against other countries for imposing tariffs when we are doing the very same thing against others, forgetful that every import less into this country is one export less? If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to improve exports he can do it only by improving the flow of trade in every direction.
Let me pass from more general considerations to the question of the Safeguarding of Industries Act and its administration. Part I of the Act was recommended to this House and was passed on the distinct understanding that it was necessary to safeguard the military needs of this country. It was not a general measure of protection. The Bill was to safeguard the vital supplies on which the life of the nation depends in war. It was the lesson of the War put on the Statute Book. It is impossible to say what the military needs in a future war will be. I noticed within the last few days an announcement in a newspaper that a silent aeroplane had been invented. Whether or ot that is true now, it will be true some day. Such an invention would be the most dangerous engine of war that could be conceived. But the right hon. Gentleman taxes the constituent parts of motors. Silencers are liable to the tax unless proof is given that they are needed for a special purpose. That is only a small example. It is quite likely that the effect of this tariff may be to suppress the very form of enterprising development of research on which our military safety in the future may depend.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the shipbuilding trade as being in a bad way, but he thought that perhaps an inventive genius in this country might be found able to devise something which will mark great progress. Who is handicapping science to-day except the right hon. Gentleman himself? He talks about relying on the inventive genius of the country. Yet he is taxing their light, their instruments, their books, and he is evoking from the great scientists, not partisans, protests in the newspapers that their work of research is being hampered by his legislation.
The hon. Member for Chippenham says "No." I do not want to worry the Committee with quotations. Professor Armstrong is the first I could quote and Lord Rayleigh is the second. I suppose the hon. Member for Chippenham would not deny that these men are great scientists? Then he is putting a tax by this Act on the health of the people. The development of that idea I will leave in the more competent hands of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray). Although the right hon. Gentleman gave a pledge to the House that no tax would be placed on food, a tax is being placed on certain constituent of the people's food. Then trade is hampered by delay, which fact has been brought out with great force and cogency by the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Kiley), and the intentions of this House have been flouted by the decisions given—inevitably, I suppose, under the legislation passed. I refer particularly to the decision about gas mantles. I remember the right hon. Gentleman said in the House, when the matter was first raised, that gas mantles were not in the Act. Now we find they are in the Act, and the Act has gone beyond the power of the right hon. Gentleman to govern its operation. The result is that, among the positive harm which this Act is doing, we are encouraging foreign manufacturers at the expense of home manufacturers. I hope the hon. Member for Chippenham will take note of that. If he wishes to eat with a celluloid knife and fork, if it be bought from a British manufacturer, it is taxed, and if he gets it from a German manufacturer it is not taxed, because the raw material coming into this country is taxed but the finished product from Germany is not taxed. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded by this legislative device in putting a tax on British manufacturers. We all remember perfectly well the arguments on which the Bill was based. The patriots, the people who remembered the lessons of the War, which we were supposed to have forgotten, said, "Have you forgotten the menace of the aeroplane?" The right hon. Gentleman has taxed musical birds. "Have you forgotten that the submarine nearly starved us?" The right hon. Gentleman has put a swinging duty upon fish-pond games. I remember the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Fildes) com-
ing in one night, about dinner-time, and making a most impassioned speech. He said:
It is indeed a surprising thing to me that the hem. Members opposite have forgotten the dark and dreary days of the War.… We are the men who remember, and it is lamentable that any body of hon. Members should make light sport of what was a great tragedy … the position in which we were when, like poverty-stricken people, we were begging for the required material to allow our brave officers to save the lives of our brave men.
No such charge can be laid against the President of the Board of Trade. He has taxed face-powder. 6,500 articles, apparently copied from German catalogues, were published as articles dutiable under this Act. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman could clear up a small difficulty? Why was the letter "R" put against the articles when standing for the word "pure"? I understand it was because it is the first letter of the German word for "pure," and these articles were collected bolus-bolus from the German catalogues to form the basis of the British tariff. I am told that in this list is what is called hæmaglobin, and that every single patriot returning to this country, flushed with pride on seeing again the white cliffs of Albion, or boiling with indignation at the misdeeds of foreigners in general, carries in his veins pints of this dutiable article, which he brings through the Customs' barrier without the right hon. Gentleman's sleuth-hounds being able to impose a tax upon it.
It is quite useless for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "Well, the effect of the tariff has been to create a little industry here, to bring a few men into employment, and to improve the prospects of this little trade or that little trade." That is not for what it was introduced at all. It was introduced, we were told, as a matter of vital necessity for the defence of this country. That is the only proper object for the expenditure of the taxpayers' money. Supposing someone were to go to the President of the hoard of Trade and say, "We depend upon the Navy for our safety"—as, of course, we do—" Do you propose to maintain dockyards? "He would say," Certainly. Dockyards are necessary for the Navy. Supposing the Admiralty said, "But this dockyard is not necessary from the naval point of view, but other interests have to be served." The right hon. Gentleman would become indignant, and would say that no money spent on the dockyards was justifiable, except for public defence, and that no private interest should be allowed to come into the matter at all.
I propose to gratify the right hon. Gentleman's impatience as to the matter of Part II of this Act. Part II is to deal with "the growing and dangerous evil of the dumping of German goods." An agreement was reached between Members of the Government on this subject in 1918, when the famous manifesto was issued which has been the basis of Government policy ever since. During the passage of the Bill through the House, it was made amply clear by the right hon. Gentleman, and every Government speaker, that certain machinery was to be set up, and that if a certain result was produced, Government action would become automatic. There was no doubt that was the expectation of the House, and it was founded upon the most specific utterances of the Ministers. More than that, they went far beyond what was necessary, and they explained it was not merely in the cold pursuance of some technical policy that they were doing this thing, but they were driven forward almost by a moral sense of the necessity of acting. The Minister of Health, whose continued absence from Free Trade debates we all deplore, said that if a complaint were well-founded, an order would be made. "Suppose we do not make an order?" somebody says. The Minister replies, "Such a course would be absolutely suicidal, criminal, to the great interests we have to safeguard," and even the right hon. Gentleman himself, whose oratory is not so highly coloured as that of the Minister of Health, but carries a great deal more weight with the House,, said that no Government which was faithful to its duty could neglect taking some steps to protect employment in a time like this. That was with reference to Part II of the Act, and the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) indulged in similar flights to those of the Minister of Health. He said that if they did not make these orders, it would be not only negligent, but criminal.
What has happened? Six of these inquiries have been held, and I do not know how many orders have been made
by the Committee, but we do know of one—in the case of gloves. It was a very illuminating inquiry—what one might call a miniature debate on Fiscal Reform or Protection—on this issue of gloves. No doubt, by imposing a tax on gloves, you can assist a small trade in one part of the country. No one has ever denied that a tariff is an advantage to a small trade which comes under its shelter, but it was found in the course of the inquiry, or rather afterwards, that, while making an order to benefit a, small industry, say, in Somersetshire, at the same time you were forced to damage a bigger industry in Lancashire. Of course, you can benefit your friends—I say it in no offensive sense—persons who ask for the tariff, but, in doing so, you are bound to do more general harm than the particular good you seek. If you make no order, I think it is a very good thing, but you flout the House of Commons. There is no doubt at all that the House of Commons believed that if the Committee made a recommendation, an order would be made, and although I am a. Free Trader, I am much more strongly a House of Commons man, and I would rather see the House of Commons prevail, because we can and will change its composition. If you take no decision at all, which is the stern and manly course being pursued by the Government at the present moment, who say, "You must wait," or "It is going to be considered," or "Someone is at Genoa," or something of that kind, then you do the worst harm of all. Let me read just three lines of great wisdom, I need hardly say, from the temple of wisdom at Genoa:
It is disastrous to trade to have constant changes in its conditions, the constant interposition of fresh obstacles and uncertainty as to special treatment. What the trader needs is certainty.
The House will hardly credit the statement that that quotation is from the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department. That is his statement in the serener and more inspiring atmosphere at Genoa, but his statement in the House was that if we did not impose these fresh obstacles to trade we should be guilty of action which was reprehensible and criminal, or words to that effect. What is the Government going to do? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to say about this, and what is the hon. Member for Chippenham going to do about it? He got his Act of Parliament. It has
been passed, and he got a really substantial and creditable majority for it. There is a Cabinet in this country which is deciding issues day by day—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—well, postponing issues day by day. There is an acting Prime Minister, and even Lord Birkenhead has returned from Genoa. What can be the reason for failing to implement the pledges given in the form of an Act of Parliament to the hon. Member for Chippenham, and what is he going to do about it?
I will ask them, too. But there is going to be a Division very shortly, for I am going to move a reduction. What is the hon. Member going to do? Will he support me or take this flouting with a degree of deference which is very creditable to his good nature? What will the rest of the House do? They will support the Government, because, I venture to say, there never was a House in the history of our Constitution so servile to a Government which was so divided.
This is my final inquiry. What is the Government trade policy? For all the survey which we had, we had no light on that subject. There are two policies: there is the policy of Protection, the Conservative and Tory policy, and there is the Liberal policy of Free Trade, Does either of these animate the Government? May I ask the President of the Board of Trade this question: Does he consider that the Government's policy, so far as it affects his Department, is governed by President Wilson's Fourteen Points? I do not know whether I might pause for a reply. The right hon. Gentleman wraps himself in the imperishable raiment of silence, but the Prime Minister says, when questioned by his Liberal supporters:
Clause 3 of Mr. Wilson's Charter of Fourteen Points prevents every idea of economic war to follow the war of arms. I was reared in Liberalism. I am too old now to change"—
I am not speaking of myself, but quoting the august words of the Prime Minister:
I cannot leave Liberalism.
Tim Colonial Secretary, who also speaks for the Government on the question of Free Trade, said he stood where he had ever stood. That seems quite clear, and would satisfy the warmest adherents among the Coalition Liberals of the Gov-
ernment's policy. That is a Free Trader; but let us take another and a very well-informed and powerful Minister, an advocate of the Government, the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. The Colonial Secretary said he stood where he had ever stood. The Financial Secretary to the Admiralty said:
Mr. Joseph Chamberlain's great policy, is it not that that is being done to-day by the Government in the Safeguarding of Industries Act?
Where do we stand? Can we have some light on this question? The Mayor of Bath informed us of an unpublished incident in the newspapers recently. Apparently insisting at one time on seeing the Prime Minister in his house, he was at last admitted, and found the Prime Minister in his private rooms engaged in reading "Pilgrim's Progress," and the Prime Minister informed him that he had read "Pilgrim's Progress" 32 times. I wonder whether his eye has ever caught this passage in a conversation between Mr. Moneylove, Mr. By-ends, and Mr. Facing-both-ways. It might almost be a Cabinet discussion. One of the interlocutors says:
Suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting it … because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason but a man may do this (provided he has a call). Aye, and more a great deal beside, and vet be an honest man. For why?
I submit that the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), in making an attack on the trade policy of the Government, omitted to raise the important matters and mentioned those which are not of much consequence. I was a member of the famous Committee set up in 1917 to consider our commercial and industrial policy after the War, and the schedule which is in question and the policy with regard to dyestuffs are the result of the recommendations made by that Committee. I do not want to attach too much consequence to what was done in 1917, because things have changed since, but this was not a party recommendation. It was a unanimous recommendation with regard to dyestuffs and the safeguarding of industries. The whole of the articles included in the Dyestuffs Act and the Safeguarding of Industries Act were carefully examined by the Balfour of Burleigh Committee, and there was no division of opinion in recommending the Government to safeguard these industries, not because they were only necessary for War purposes, but because they were required in times of peace for the industrial life of the country. It was because it was felt that these articles were almost entirely manufactured by our enemy countries and that there was no proper supply of them here, that the Balfour of Burleigh Committee made the recommendations which the Government finally embodied in the Dyestuffs Act and the Safeguarding of Industries Act. If the Government had not brought forward this legislation, two things are quite certain, namely, that the organic chemical industry of this country would have disappeared and that there would be no dyestuffs industry and no fine chemical industry here. It would be quite impossible, in the present condition of the German industrial situation, for these industries to exist in this country unless they received the protection of these two Acts. It is very unfortunate, but I want the House to be good enough to remember, when they listen to the attacks on the Government trade policy, that unless these two Acts had been passed the dye-stuffs and fine chemical industries would have disappeared from this country for the time being, as certainly as that I am standing here now. I do not think the House has ever attached sufficient importance to what would have happened if the Government had not proceeded in the way for which it has been attacked this afternoon.
I submit, and I think I can show, that these two industries can only exist for the time being under Protection, and that they are absolutely necessary for the well-being of the country, not for war but for peace purposes. I submit that the policy of the House ought to be, not to destroy these industries, but to get rid of the inconveniences and the troublesome conditions with which they have to contend. In addition to the old Free Trade party war cry, there are two other very powerful interests whose toes are trodden on and who are naturally in opposition to this legislation—I refer to a certain section of the textile interests and the importers of foreign goods, who are so extremely well represented and vocal in this House. One can understand the position of both of them. The textile people, or rather one section of them only, the section chat takes the short view, are opposing this Act. Before the War the textile industries, with regard to the provision of colours, were extremely well treated, for they had the full range of all the German colours at the lowest possible prices, and not only that, but there were agents of the German dye companies who went about instructing customers in the application of their dyes. If there were no disadvantages, that was a position which could not be very much bettered, but the long-sighted people in the dye industry see quite clearly that they were then only existing on sufferance, and I submit that it is a very bad policy for the textile industry to allow themselves to continue in that position. In those days dyestuffs, which would not now exist except for the policy of the Board of Trade, were imported into this country from abroad to the extent of from 80 to 90 per cent, of the dyestuffs used here. Today the proportions are not quite reversed, but they are very nearly reversed, and so the policy of the. Government has had a large success. There has been an enormous increase in the production of dyestuffs in this country.
A year before the, Dyestuffs Act was passed, there had been a judgment under which the country was flooded with German productions. Then there came a big slump in the textile industry, and consequently the dyestuffs and fine chemical industries had to meet a situation of unexampled difficulty. France have made, and Italy are thinking of making, an arrangement with the Germans in order to meet the position, as they are not fully prepared to cover it themselves. I think we are taking the best course, and that is why I am supporting the Government in this policy of theirs over these two Acts. We are in a different position from France and Italy. I have had to feel the pulse of the German chemical industry, and I heard myself a few months ago, and had it confirmed only a few days since, that the German chemical industry are taking quite a different view of this country from that which they are taking of France and Italy. I would like to point out that this policy is pretty well marked, even on the question of price. With regard to the manufactures in this country, the Germans quote a very low price, but for the dyes they manufacture themselves, secure from competition, they quote a very high price, and this again supports my argument that if they are not very careful the textile industry here will be again living on sufferance.
The German view with regard to this country is this. First of all, we alone have a position created by the Aliens Act passed by this House. Until it was put to me by my German acquaintances I had not realised how seriously the Aliens Act affected German business operations in this country in the matter of legal rights, which for the duration of the, Aliens Act are denied to Germany. Conditions of this sort did not prevail in France or Italy, and that is another of the great reasons why we are being forced back on our own endeavours. Now, when arrangements have been made with France and probably with Italy, the Germans think they cannot afford to restrict further, the work of their own factories, so we are going to have to meet the full blast of this German competition, and very few people in this country realise how powerful that opposition is. This industry in Germany has been treated with the same precision as their military work was treated by the German General Staff, and to-day the whole of the German chemical industries are, controlled by one Board. For the industry in this country to stand up against these forces, unaided, is quite impossible, and, therefore, the Balfour of Burleigh Committee was right in the recommendation it made to the Government, that, for the time being, some protection must be afforded to these two industries. The German view is that they can afford to wait, and that the dyestuffs industry and the fine chemical industry, without the encouragement of public opinion, will languish and finally will be destroyed, and we shall be placed again in the position we were in before the War, a position in which these enormous and most important industries will have no home in this country and we shall be dependent on foreign supplies.
As to the importance of these industries, anyone who reads the German scientific papers will find that not only the big German syndicate controlling the chemical industries, but the German people and the German Government, have come to the conclusion that the organic chemical industry, including dyestuffs and fine chemicals, is one of the greatest assets they possess. These are looked upon as being even more important than the steel trade, and they are looked upon as being important not only for to-day, but being of enormous consequence in relation to the future industrial development of the world. The same view is taken in America. Here in this country we do not realise the importance, even at the present moment, of these industries. What their importance may be in the future nobody can tell, but the best judges I have met look upon them as constituting one of the greatest assets any nation can possess. I heard the late Lord Moulton, in the last public utterance he made, and it was on this subject. He spoke with the greatest solemnity in deploring the lack of appreciation shown in this country of the importance of these industries, and went so far as to say, that no countrycould afford in the future to do without them, that certainly no country could occupy a first place without them, and also, that the measure of a country could be taken by the way in which it promoted, encouraged, and established these big industries.
If I am right, or anywhere near right, and if these two industries cannot exist without these two Acts of Parliament, namely, the Dyestuffs Act and the Safeguarding of Industries Act, it is no use criticising those Measures in regard to the small things which they cover. We want to get to the really big question, and the point I submit is that these two industries connected with synthetic organic chemistry, that is the dyestuffs industry, and the fine chemicals industry, are of such supreme importance that we cannot afford to allow them to go. If this agitation succeeds in getting Part I of the Safeguarding of Industries Act and the Dyestuffs Act repealed, then both these industries will die, and we shall have made an unpardonable mistake. It will be an enormous reproach to this country if British brains are not able to make these two industries a success. I think British brains are the best in the world, and our scientific men have succeeded in the chemical field in producing many of the most important inventions. If we have no organic chemical industry in this country, there is no possible chance of applying the brains of our own people, to advantage, in this particular respect. They go to Germany, and the Germans have the benefit of them. If you allow these two industries to be wiped out, you do not leave any incitement to scientific research and discovery in this country. It is no use a large number of our best minds devoting themselves to science, if there are no facilities in this country which allow them to apply the results. I heard a remark from the other side of the House about chemical manufacturers, but nothing with which I have ever been connected is included in these schedules. It is only my general knowledge of the industry which has induced me to try and impress the House with the fact that the attack which is being made on these two Measures, on small points, is of no avail. We have to say "Yes" or "No" to this question. Do we want the dyestuffs industry and the organic chemical industry and are they of first-class importance? If we say "Yes" we are obliged to support both Part I. of the Safeguarding of Industries Act and also the Dyestuffs Act, because without them it is as certain as that I am standing here that both industries would, for the time being, disappear.
May I, in the first place, say how delighted I was with the speech of the President of the Board of Trade. In common with other Members of the House I wish to testify to the unvarying courtesy and sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman extends to any deputations which wait on him on matters affecting the commerce of this country. I wish to speak particularly with reference to the Dyestuffs Act. To my mind it is hopelessly bad. There is not a redeeming feature connected with it, in its present form. There is a great deal of difference between a 33⅓ per cent, duty and prohibition, but prohibition is the power conferred upon persons in authority in this country, under the Act. They have absolute power to prohibit certain dyestuffs coming into this country. I contend that is a bad feature altogether, apart from the arguments used by the hon. Member who has just spoken. One or two men should not have the right to say to the rest of the community, that they are not to have certain goods which are considered necessary for the carrying on of particular businesses. It is un-British and unnatural to place one or two men in the dictatorial position of being able to say, "No, you shall not have it, and our word is final." I am against any Act or any arrangement which places in the hands of one or two individuals that great power
I have here a little information which is very illuminating as to the way in which this Act works. The Committee will understand I am not raising any point as to whether the 33⅓ per cent, duty is wise or not. The point I am trying to get at is that of prohibition. There are eight or nine very large users of indigo in Manchester, who combine for joint buying so that they may get the advantage of placing their orders in bulk and a corresponding reduction in price. These firms required a synthetic indigo paste. They wanted to buy 100 tons of this material, and the best quotation they could get from a British manufacturer was 1s. 9¾d. per pound for a hundred-ton contract, or 1s. 9d. a pound for a 500-ton contract. They could buy the same thing on the Continent for 1s. 0½d. per pound. On the annual consumption of this particular material, this difference in price makes a difference to these eight firms alone of £84,000 a year. I invite the House to look at the matter from this point of view. Supposing the suggestion were made that the textile manufacturers of Lancashire should be placed in the position of having a duty, involving such a charge on a section of the community? The Committee must understand that the instance I have given must be multiplied many times over before we get the effect on the whole trade in that case; but supposing it were suggested that a duty should be placed on raw cotton coming into the country that would produce a charge corresponding to this, the whole country would be up in arms. Yet we are being handicapped in this way under the Dyestuffs Act.
I was one who voted for the Dyestuffs Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] No, I do not consider it was a shame, because the House must remember the arguments that were put forward then. I was in the cotton trade myself, and I know as well as anybody that we were sadly punished while the War was on, because we could not get decent dyes of any kind. We then declared we would never again allow ourselves to be placed in that position. I did come to a conclusion as to the wiser method of avoiding that position in the future. The argument had been used that we must have the dye industry here, in order that, if ever we went to war again, we should have the necessary raw material for the provision of high explosives and so forth. That being so, why not keep these works going 1 Let them face competition, and if there is a loss at the end of the year, debit portion of that loss to the Army Estimates, portion to the Navy Estimates, and if the Air Force require any of these explosives, debit them with a corresponding amount. In that way the textile industry would be relieved from something which absolutely threatens its existence. We had the hon. and gallant Member for West Salford (Lieut.-Commander Astbury) speaking here the other day and defending this Act. He gave his experience, but I would venture to say this: that for one person that you can find in the textile trade using colours and speaking in favour of this Act I will find you 50 who condemn it root and branch. This includes very great organisations like the Calico Printers' Association and the British Cotton and Wool Buyers. The great users say that this Act is hampering them and preventing them obtaining trade in foreign markets, thus retarding that recovery in our trade and commerce which we are all so anxious to see.
I would join in the tribute to the President of the Board of Trade for the speech that he has delivered. I am very glad, speaking quite for myself, that he devoted a large or an important part of his speech to a discussion of the growth of tariffist restrictions in Europe and elsewhere. It is the purpose of every earnest and sincere person in the country at the present time, first of all, to try and do everything in their power to hasten the recovery of our trade, and, secondly, to promote the remunerative and healthy employment of our people. These are two great aims which we are keeping constantly before us. I was, therefore, glad that the President of the Board of Trade fastened upon this difficulty of the growth of tariff restrictions, so far giving us the opportunity of referring to the Government policy, because it seems to some of us that these restrictions are not likely to help the ends for which we are all working. I shall deal in the course of my observations mainly with this question.
There are one or two questions I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade. I will put them under two heads —the first deals with the growth of tariffist restrictions in Europe, and the bearing of these restrictions upon our trade, and, secondly, I would inquire as to the proposed policy of some of our own Overseas Dominions and more particularly the proposed policy of the United States of America in the new tariff to which the right hon. Gentleman himself alluded. I shall briefly try to cover that ground, bearing mind that we have here a very important case, affecting a large part of the future of British industry and commerce. Let us take first this problem of European conditions. Very often the restrictions on our trade do not take the form of a tariff at all. They take the form of changed conditions which have come about in European industries very largely because of the circumstances following the War. I will give the House a convenient illustration.
A short time ago no doubt in consequence of the general paralysis in which a certain portion of European trade had fallen, important agreements were concluded between Dutch and German business houses. I would have nothing to say about these agreements if they had followed the course of trade and commerce of pre-War times, but it should be noticed —in the changed circumstances which we are now discussing—that these agreements provided that the Dutch concerns should have a controlling interest in the German undertakings, and they further provided that a certain amount of trade was to flow in definite channels in the future. It so happens that the arrangements affect markets to which we in Great Britain had access in former times. I entirely agree that it will be very very difficult indeed for the Board of Trade in this country, or this country as a whole, to interfere with arrangements of that kind, but we must remember that while the circumstances are changed at the present time, we have a European conference discussing economic conditions in the main, and presumably having regard to other influences acting adversely upon the free play of the commerce of the different nations. What I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade is whether this is a development in post-War experience in industry and commerce to which attention is being given by his Department, and whether there is anything we can do under the commercial treaties and trade agreements which we negotiate with other countries from time to time which will meet the difficulties which I have just described.
Important as that difficulty is it is not merely so important as the other difficulty of the tariffist restrictions growing up in Europe. I very often wonder whether more than a small percentage of the people of this country have any idea of the extraordinary change which even now, in what we should imagine to be a universal desire to restore trade, is taking place. We can find an illustration of the tendency in practically every European country. There is a pronounced tendency in what we may call the new countries of Europe, that is to say the countries which have been carved out of other countries, and which very suddenly, from another point of view, acquire the strongest nationalist spirit, and appear to be desirous of making themselves entirely self-sufficing, to build up as much protection in the shortest time as anyone of us in this Committee could well imagine. That is the danger of the situation. Let us take the older European countries. There was a discussion—to give one illustration—in the Swedish Chamber a few days ago in which a distinguished Swedish economist and publicist pleaded strongly that they should not increase their tariff barriers for two reasons; one being that the increase of tariff barriers was really ministering to the growth of trusts in Sweden itself, and the second reason being that that tendency was really hindering the recovery of European trade. That is an illustration from what we may call the older and recognised European countries.
If, on the other hand, we take a country like Spain, we are introduced to a difficulty of even more substantial character. A few weeks ago in this House I asked the President of the Board of Trade a question as to whether we were taking any steps to safeguard our interests in connection with Spain under the new commercial treaty which is being negotiated with that country. Part of the reply I received at the time was that the matter was receiving attention, but other points in the reply were admittedly vague and indefinite. What has happened since that time? According to the most recent reports it appears to be quite impossible to get any definite decision from the Spanish Government. They are notorious in the matter of delay. There are 90 days within which the proposed new tariff falls to be ratified, or put through in a preliminary way, and these have now very nearly expired. An extension of that period is sought by those concerned in order that the claims of other countries may be considered. This is by no means an unimportant part of Europe from the British trade point of view, and not so much for what it is worth at the present day, as for what Spain, under a somewhat mare enlightened policy, might become. I should like the President of the Board of Trade to indicate what he is doing, or what his Department is doing, in this direction, and whether before the expiry of the 90 days, if it is allowed to expire without an extension of time, our British interests are being safeguarded.
These are convenient illustrations of the tendency which is at work, but I think, perhaps, one part of the argument which must impress many hon. Members of the Committee is the remarkable way in which many of our war-time Allies at the present time are pursuing a policy which is frankly in strong antagonism to the economic recovery of Europe as a whole. There was a discussion in the French Chamber a few weeks ago, not merely about existing tariff barriers, but about a proposal for a supplementary tax over and above the present, for the purpose of trying to deal with commodities which have the advantage of a depreciated exchange. Not only have we that tendency on the part of France, but we have also to take the barriers which France herself is making against her Allies, and in particular Belgium, and in relation to the goods which Belgium produces and which she is trying to export at the present time. So pronounced is that activity at the moment that only a week or two ago a Belgian writer complained very bitterly indeed of the fact that the tariff barriers of France against Belgian goods were being made higher week by week. We have here from some of our Allies contributions of the very same kind as those tariffist restrictions which have been allowed to grow up in other parts, and which are undoubtedly at the root of a great deal of the economic misery of to-day.
I would ask the indulgence of the Committee while referring to two other points of very great importance. We will pass from Europe for a moment to consider the policy which is being followed by, say, one of our own Dominions—New Zealand on the one side, and on the other by the United States of America. Beyond doubt it is perfectly plain, while in our trade and commerce we must try to drive some new bargains, or make some new arrangements within the Empire, we must also try to get the best arrangements possible with the United States. In the case of New Zealand, what actually is happening at the present day? It is rather odd that, making all allowance for the anti-dumping legislation which exists in the Colonies, they are actually having a discussion very similar to the discussion conducted in this House some weeks ago when the Safeguarding of Industries Bill was under consideration. They have two or three proposals which are quite plain and clear, and very important from the British point of view. First, they are going to take certain steps in regard to articles which are offered for sale in New Zealand below the domestic price of those articles in the country of origin. In the second place, they are going to take similar steps in regard to articles which are offered for sale in New Zealand below their cost of production in the country of origin. Thirdly —and this is more particularly the point on which I wish to concentrate—they are going to penalise articles coming into New Zealand—if this proposal be carried— which are also manufactured in New Zealand, but which go to that country with the advantage of some grant, some rebate, bounty, or concession from another part of the world. I cannot say at the moment what progress has been made with the proposals, or how they stand, but I was desirous of dealing with the tendency, even within the Empire, which raises very important considerations in British trade. Does any hon. Member for a moment suggest it is going to be an easy matter for New Zealand, or, for that matter, for this country, or any other country, to determine accurately what is the cost of production, and what is meant by the cost of production in different countries. It is, however, more important to consider how New Zealand or any other country can come to any conclusion regarding the influence upon other countries of the rebate or concession or bounty; in short, how can these things, which are often invisible, be measured at all for the purposes of a scheme of this kind? I press these considerations because I feel that whatever we may do to improve the efficiency of industry in Great Britain, even if we get a large measure of industrial peace, even if we make industry far more productive, all that will be negatived in practice by the existence of such devices which are now rapidly growing up after the War, when it appears to me that not the maximum of restriction but the maximum of freedom is required.
The only other point I wish to raise is concerning the new tariff of the United States. The President of the Board of Trade alluded to the United States of America as a hopeful factor in future, although I think he made some reference to the possibilities of the tariff which is now under discussion. Within the past few days I have seen a summary of what are likely to be the effects of the proposed United States Tariff if we assume it is adopted in its present form. They say that in the aggregate it would mean that some 29 industries could charge, roughly speaking, anything above 3,000,000,000 dollars over the prices of those articles in foreign countries. That is a very definite statement made by experts. They go beyond that and make another statement, and they say that in the aggregate it amounts to an increase of at least 1,000,000,000 dollars for the tariff on these articles at present in force.
I would like to know how the hon. Member connects his argument with this Vote, because I fail to see any action which the President can take in regard to the matters to which he is alluding. The matters dealt with in this Debate must be within the discretion of the Board of Trade, and I do not quite follow the argument which the hon. Gentleman is using.
May I point out, first of all, that your predecessor in the Chair allowed a general discussion on these points, and the President of the Board of Trade himself made his speech in such a way that we could give these illustrations, leading up to the contention that it was the duty of his Department in various trade and other agreements to protect our interests in Great Britain. That is exactly the point of the illustration that I was giving. I think it opens up very serious possibilities from the point of view of British trade. I cannot see how we can make any effective recovery unless we make our contribution in this country towards a maximum of freedom, and unless the Board of Trade can give even closer attention to these things. They seem to underlie everything that is being discussed at Genoa and touch very closely a point to which the President referred in regard to the recovery of the exchanges, and, from our point of view, unless these problems are met I feel that we may pass into a position of chronic unemployment for a very large section of the British people.
Sir WILLIAM BARTON:
I should like to associate myself with the congratulations to the President of the Board of Trade upon his most interesting statement, and I feel that the Board of Trade in his charge is not only in capable, but in very accomplished hands. The survey which he made of the world's trade was one which I am sure will well repay reading to-morrow, and I hope it will be widely read. The part of it which specially impressed me was when he faced the fact, although he deplored the possibility of it, that possibly Europe outside of England is going to experience a period of trading and economic collapse. He tried to visualise what might be the position of this country under those circumstances. I think that was a very brave thing to do, and also a very desirable thing. I am sure his conclusions will carry hope and courage throughout the country, and that is especially what we need to get back our prosperity. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for all he said in that connection. He proceeded to say something which appealed to me in my business experience very strongly. I do not know whether the President of the Board of Trade himself has actually and person- ally been directly engaged in trade, but I have, and I am engaged in trade now. The conclusion that I have come to more strongly than any other is—and it is as applicable to individual businesses as it is to great combines or national trade— that if you want to succeed you must do the right thing, and maintain the quality and the character of your merchandise. I was very glad to hear the President of the Board of Trade sound that note throughout the country.
I now come to the point of criticism which has brought me to my feet. It is all the more necessary because I am quite sure of this, that even if you had a Government of all the talents, in an extremely difficult time like this, all new legislation is likely to be wrong in some respects, and it all needs criticism. My hon. Friend opposite spoke in a connection which I want to refer to, when he directed himself to the Dyestuffs Bill. If I may be pardoned for saying so, I think he was extraordinarily lucky to have got in that speech at all, because it struck me as a Second Reading speech more appropriate to the production of a new Dyestuffs Bill. I want to confine myself, as far as I can, to what I believe to be in order, and that is the administration of this Bill, a Measure which I do not like, which I believe to be injurious, and in regard to which I do not accept the obiter dicta of my hon. Friend. His pessimism in regard to the capacity of chemists and chemical devolpment in this country has astonished me. But we are more or less confined to dealing with the administration of the Board, and I want to speak for a moment or two with regard to the administration of the Dyestuffs Act. As we all know, it proceeds on the line of prohibition, with licences for special cases. When the Bill was passing through this House, and it was a very drastic Bill, I think it was not altered in one sentence or comma between the Bill and the Act. I will state what was going on concurrently with the passing of the Bill. In Manchester, the great centre of users of colouring matters in the textile industry, there was what is known as the Colour Users' Association, and they were in touch with the Government and were led to believe that they had come to an arrangement with the Government as to how this Bill should be administered.
The then Chairman of the Association (Mr. Clay), a very able and vigorous man, came to this arrangement, or at any rate he told the colour users that this was the arrangement he had come to with the Government, that, in the first place, on this Licensing Committee there would be a majority of colour users. In the second place, the arrangement was that in the event of a difference of opinion, whether as to quality, or price, or both, as between the user and the producer, the onus of proof would be on the producer. That having been arranged, to the very general surprise of all the people interested, Mr. Clay ceased to be Chairman of the Colour Users' Association, and he became a director of the Dyestuffs Corporation, and this, to me, was a guarantee of good faith, on both sides. Whatever may be the emoluments of a directorship of this company, to take up this position was undoubtedly a great sacrifice financially. I now learn that Mr. Clay has resigned the directorship of the British Dyestuffs Corporation. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] At any rate, I was informed of that fact in Manchester on Friday, and when I learned that this Debate was coming on, I wrote to Manchester on this point and asked for a wire confirming the information I had received from what I believed to be a thoroughly credible source, and I am informed to-day by wire that it was true. If, however, it is not true, I shall be very glad, indeed. If it be true that he has resigned, I should like to know whether it has anything to do with the administration of the Act.
I shall now produce one out of many cases which I think will show that the Act is not being administered in accordance with the arrangement which was come to. I quite realise that the Licensing Committee has a job in hand of infinite difficulty, and I think it is scarcely possible to administer licensing in such a way as would give satisfaction to everybody. When this Bill was passing through the House I thought I could foresee, and I am sure anybody who thought about the subject at all must have foreseen, that with a prohibition act in operation what Germany would probably do would be with regard to things which we made in this country, she would sell them cheaper, and the things for which we had to go to Germany she would sell dear. It is no use denouncing anyone for that, because it is the world practice in commerce. It is what we did when we were monopolists in coal, and I felt sure that that was what was likely to happen. On examining cases, however, so far as I have been able, I find that it has not quite turned out to be so. Those commodities for which we have to go to Germany, and which she knows we cannot make here, she has, undoubtedly, made extremely dear; but, to my intense surprise, for those commodities which we are, or say we are, making equally well here, she is still asking very big prices, and I am extremely puzzled to know the grounds on which many licences are being refused. I know that the Act is a prohibition Act, and that the whole intention was to build up a dyestuffs industry by prohibiting foreign imports; but I cannot imagine that the Board of Trade can be regardless of the fact that we have a very great export trade at stake. The right hon. Gentleman made it quite clear that the restoration of our foreign trade was vital to the life of the nation, and he knows quite well that, of our whole exports, something like one-third consists of cotton goods, and of those cotton goods certainly 75 per cent, are concerned in this question of colouring matter.
I will give an instance of an application for a licence. It is an instance which came to me without my asking for it. I do not know whether it will get me into favour with the right hon. Gentleman if I tell him what has been my attitude towards this Act, ever since it was passed. In cases in which I am an interested person, I have said to the managers, "This is the law of the land. This is an Act which has been passed by Parliament, and, so far as you can, you must use British colours. There must be no applications for licences unless, within the meaning of what has been said and done in Parliament, you can with a clear conscience press for those licences." Having said that, I asked for no cases, and the cases which I have got are cases which have been pressed upon me. This particular one comes from a firm in my own constituency, and, I think, is a clear test case which fully illustrates the position. This firm, curiously enough, is a firm which largely uses British dyestuffs, and, although I do not know the political colour of the partners in it, I have a very strong suspicion that it is not my
political colour. I have a strong belief that, while I am a doctrinaire Free Trader, these gentlemen are not. They wanted a particular red, and they had a colour supplied by the British Dyestuffs Corporation. They tried it, and found that it would not answer their purpose. It failed in two ways. In the first place, it could not produce quite the shade that was asked for, and, in the second place— and this is extraordinarily important—it could not produce a colour which was fast to washing and fast to chlorine, tests which are absolutely necessary in the case of goods that are to go to the East. In these circumstances they applied for a licence and the Licensing Committee referred them to one of the colours of the British Dyestuffs Corporation. They replied:
We have had and still have in our possession some of the competitive product which you suggest, and which, of course, is sold only, up to the present, in paste form. We find that this latter colour is not nearly so pure, and rich in tone as the Algol red, whilst its properties as regards fastness are also not quite so good.
Algol G 5 Red was the red for which they applied. Later on in their letter, they call attention to the fact that this Algol Red is only 5s. a pound, whilst the inferior colour of the British Dyestuffs Corporation is 16s 3d. a pound. I at once tried to find out whether this price of 5s. a pound is an uneconomic price which the Germans have set up in order to undermine what the British Dyestuffs people are doing; because, if that could be proved in this or any other case, I, as a Free Trader, should rule out the commodity altogether. Undoubtedly Free Trade has always recognised that defence is more than opulence, and if a country, for ulterior motives, were systematically selling a commodity at an uneconomic price, there is nothing in Free Trade which prevents you from doing all you can to break down any such attempt. Therefore, when I was told about this price of 5s. a pound for the German colour, I set myself at once to find out what had been its pre-War price. It was a colour which was well known and had been used for many years, and I got invoices to prove that its pre-War price had been 1s. 0¾d. per pound, and that this price of 5s. a pound which is now asked by Germany has been their price for 12 months. We are, therefore, confronted with this position. A dyer has to produce
a certain colour. On the one hand he can obtain by purchase from Germany the necessary colour at 5s. per pound, and produce the shade and fastness that he requires. On the other hand, he is told by the Licensing Committee that they will not give him a licence, and they refer him to a colour at 16s. 3d. per pound which is not equally good for his purpose. They again put their case to the Licensing Committee, and I will now read the last answer which they received:
With reference to your letter, I am directed by the Dyestuffs Advisory Licensing Committee to state that, if it is desired to press your application for a licence in respect of this product on the ground of the difference in price between this material and Past G Red, it will be necessary for you to furnish particulars showing that such difference places you in an unduly disadvantageous competitive position, having regard to the total costs of production of the goods into which this particular dyestuff enters.
It will be seen that this reply ignores altogether the matter of quality, which, in my judgment, is the more important point of the two, and it says that, if these dyers desire, on price grounds, to pursue their attempt to get a licence, they must prove that the commodity would be placed in an unduly disadvantageous competitive position having regard to the total costs of production of the goods into which this particular dyestuff enters. I put down a question the other day, and I tried to explain, although I had not a very good opportunity of doing so during Question and Answer, that this is a demand with which, ordinarily speaking, the dyer cannot comply. I do not know how far the right hon. Gentleman is acquainted with the nature of the cotton industry. It is a highly specialised industry. Different men carry on different parts of it, and they work in watertight compartments and know very little about the business of those who carry on other sections of the industry. I can remember, 40 years ago, when the case was different. When I was a lad you got the raw cotton, spun it, wove it, dyed, printed, and finished it, and packed it and sent it abroad and sold it abroad, all under one concern. To-day, the general way of carrying on the trade is that every one of these sections is in a watertight compartment, and I say unhesitatingly that the ordinary dyer would not know how to begin to get this information which is made a qualification for
his getting a licence. Not only so, but the sources from which he could get the information would be very chary of giving it to him. He would have to go to the persons from whom he obtained the cloth, and ask them for information about the quality and price of their cloth, and they would at once say, "That is our business, not yours. Your business is to dye the cloth, our business is to sell it, and we are not going to tell you." I am quite sure such a man would not get the information; there are plenty of other cases in which it would not be possible to get it.
Again, may I refer to a common course of procedure in this industry? A dyer or a calico printer cannot go on from year to year producing the same thing. He has to set apart every year a certain amount of his machinery for what is called sampling. He has to try new colours, new patterns, and new finishes, and the time when he is doing that is the very time when he may want a colour that he has used years ago. History has a way of repeating itself in these things. The new colour of this year, to a man who has been watching it for many years, is the old colour of 10 years ago, and he has to get that colour. But he could not tell, and no man could tell, what would be the cost of production or the competitive position of the article in which that colour was to be embodied. This demand is an impracticable demand, and one which could not possibly be fulfilled. I know it is of no use coming to the House of Commons and denouncing the Dye-stuffs Act. The House passed it, and I think that during this Session, on a Motion for its repeal, the House con firmed it. It is therefore no use my wasting the time of the Committee on that, but I think I am entitled to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, as being in some sense responsible to the trade of the country, to take into consideration the great difficulty of this system of prohibition and licensing, and to ask whether some arrangement could not be come to. In the first place, so far as quality is concerned, every dyer must have access to the best, or we cannot maintain our trade, and in these circumstances I should say that the responsibility undoubtedly rests with the producer of proving that he is producing the right quality. I should say that there can be no exception to that, and that such a rule ought to be made by the Board of Trade. In the matter of price, in the ease which I have mentioned, a colour was offered from abroad at 5s., and in this country at 16s. 3d. I have got a thoroughly capable chemist, undoubtedly one of the best men in the country, to dye for me from both of these colours, using the same quantity in each case. Having dyed the same quantity with each, he reported to me that the colour cost of dyeing with the British dyestuff had been 106s., as compared with 37s. in the case of the German.
As I have said, if it could be shown that the German or any other foreign price is an uneconomic price, with a view to destroying any portion of our trade, there is no trade risk that I would not run to fight it. But here you have a case of a price which is not an uneconomic price. At 5s. a 1b. this colour can be, and is being produced in Germany at a good profit. I agree that under this Bill there are grounds for refusing a licence on grounds of price. It is a question of degree. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should take into consideration whether he could not establish some percentage, say, 15, 20, 30 or 40 per cent., within which the home producers must produce in order to retain their trade. It would be a good thing for them if they knew they must at least come within some fixed percentage of the foreign price, and it would be a great incentive to them. The possibility of being able to refuse a licence and charge a price three and a-half times the foreign price places you in a position of simply artificially fostering an industry which, immediately this dangerous protection is withdrawn, will crumble and fall to the ground. That is not what we want, because, after all, it is common ground in this House that we want to build up and maintain a dyestuffs industry. We realised that during the War there was a period of very great anxiety. We realised that in the national interest it is essential that we should have a small army of young chemists, and that we should have opportunities of applying their chemical knowledge. That is common ground with us all. What we want to get at is the most practical and sensible way of applying that consistently with the carrying on of a great export trade, which the right hon. Gentleman has told us is the life of the nation.
The Committee will probably expect me to say a word or two on this subject, as I am the only Member who served on the two Committees which have been set up under the Dyestuffs Act, which had the duty placed upon them of advising the President of the Board of Trade on the one side whether or not a licence could be granted, and on the other with regard to the development of the dye-stuffs industry. I have listened with great interest to the extraordinarily fair, almost dangerously fair, manner in which my hon. Friend (Sir W. Barton) has dealt with this subject. It seems to me that it is always jam to-morrow, but never jam to-day. We have been told on the one hand that subsidy is the only method of dealing with a question of this kind. I rather thought we had a sufficient taste of what subsidy means during the War. I rather thought we were convinced that subsidising an industry was immediately to run up the cost of running that industry. With regard to the system of prohibition and licences, that I have seldom heard attacked in such vehement terms. My own judgment is that where you have a particular industry which is suffering, probably prohibition, with licences, if you must have some form of protection, is better than anything else, but, on the other hand, I am told that a tariff is absolutely wrong. That is the plan the Government has adopted in the Safeguarding of Industries Act. It is therefore difficult to know exactly what the hon. Members would advise in a case of this kind, but whatever their advice would be, I should be prepared to defend, not formally, as a member of the Licensing Committee, but wholeheartedly, the action of that Committee. There is so much misrepresentation and misunderstanding, even on the part of my hon. Friend, that if he of all men should fall into the error which he has fallen into, men who know so much less about it than he does can be excused for not really understanding the propaganda which has been placed in their hands, and which has misled him so seriously.
What is the work really of the Licensing Committee 1 It has been at work now for 15 months. It has had to consider over 5,000 applications for licences, and each application may consist of three, four or more different dyes. The Committee has had that work and has got through it. There has been a fair amount of criticism. There have been times when we have been very much slower than we should like to have been if we had had the facilities for going faster, and there have been times when we have gone very much slower than we should have done if the applicants had given us particulars which would have enabled us to come to a rapid judgment on the subject, or if, indeed, instead of the ease being made to us that a particular red colour differs in shade from that put as an equivalent and the Committee being asked to determine whether the shade was equal, we had been told right away that the question was one of price and not of colour. The Licensing Committee, therefore, have not only to judge as well as they can from what the applicant says, but sometimes from what the applicant does not say as to the real grounds on which the application is made. Out of those 5,000 applications which have been dealt with, hon. Members will be surprised to know, in view of what has been said to-day, that the Committee has recommended the granting of licences for 3,500,000 1bs. of dyes.
If you will forgive me telling you exactly how many were granted out of the 5,000, may I tell the Committee that the amount granted is as 3,500,000 lbs. to 2,500,000 lbs. refused. If my hon. Friend would like it in terms of values, roughly, one and a third million pounds sterling have been granted and £500,000 worth only refused. That hardly bears out the impression the Committee has gathered as to the work of the Licensing Committee. The Committee is there doing its duty whenever a case is proved, and as a matter of fact has granted licenses for much more dyestuff than it has refused. There are two reasons which can be adduced for an application for a licence. The first is that a dyestuff of the particular quality is not being made in this country, and the second is that the difference in price between a foreign and a British dye is such that it would place the consumer in an unduly disadvantageous competitive position. My hon. Friend is quite wrong, unintentionally, of course, in what he told the Committee a few moments ago with regard to the onus of proof. He referred to the agreement made by Mr. Vernon Clay, who was then the chairman of the Colour Users' Association, a name well-known to the House and very highly respected. My latest information is that he is still a director of the British Dye-stuffs' Corporation, although he is not occupying exactly the position on the managing committee of directors that he was.
Apparently my hon. Friend and I go to sources which are reliable in different ways. The onus of proof in the case of a dyestuff which turns on the quality of the dyestuff is put on and accepted by the British maker.
That is true, but my hon. Friend did not give us the whole story. He did not tell us, for example, that the consumer accepted in the early days of the Dyestuffs Act exactly the proof that he was placed in an unduly disadvantageous competitive position. The language my hon. Friend read out with such gusto from the official letter he read is identically the language in which that agreement was arrived at. The representatives of the Colour Users' Association accepted that onus of proof and have, as far as I know, up till my hon. Friend repudiated it, continued to accept it—at least the whole of their representatives on the Licensing Committee have always admitted that the onus of proof with regard to price was placed upon the colour user.
No, I am not a printer. I know nothing actually about dyeing. All I know is that the Chairman of the Colour Users' Association, and those colour users who represent my hon. Friend and others on the Licensing Com- mittee, accepted that onus of proof. I cannot think for a moment they would have accepted it unless they felt they were in some way able to prove a case of that kind, and in any case if they cannot prove it the Committee might well ask who can?
Not to my knowledge yet, but if any hon. Member was placed in an unduly disadvantageous position, surely it is he who would bring forward the proof of that, and he would not turn round to someone else to prove that he was placed in such a position.
If you remember the discussions that took place in the House, the people who actually manufacture the colours were never given a chance of being heard at all, and they alone know what the goods cost.
Far be it from me to say anything with regard to the Colour Users' Association. I understood the Colour Users' Association pretty thoroughly represented the colour users of the country.
I should like to say a word as to the composition of the Committee. I do not think any hon. Member present will think for a moment that this is a Committee on which the colour users themselves are in a majority. The Act is criticised from several points of view. It is being criticised by colour users, or a section of them, although the actual administration is in the hands of a Committee consisting of five colour users, three dyestuff makers and three independent persons. Will the Committee think what that means. It means that if the five colour users have a case to bring before that Committee, they have only to convince one out of the three independent members and they have a majority on the Licensing Committee, and can grant or refuse or do anything they like. On the other hand, the dyestuff maker has to convince the whole of the three independent persons before he can get a majority to do anything on that Licensing Committee. This House, and the Committee upstairs, considered that a very fair arrangement. They considered that it safeguarded the colour user, and I think it does. The whole of the criticism which we hear passed on the Licensing Committee amounts to this, that with a majority of members on that Committee there is still difficulty in persuading certain colour users that the Committee is not carrying out its functions in a proper way. We have been handicapped by lack of evidence and by not having a ready-made laboratory in which experiments could be carried out.
Our criticism, as a rule, has come from three quarters—three very proper quarters. Some people who criticise the Dyestuffs Act do so from a purely political point of view. We all understand that political point of view, but one remembers all that has gone before and holds to one's opinion that something rather special had to be done in rather special circumstances. Then there are others whose criticism I cannot for the life of me understand, seeing that they have a majority on the Committee. There is a further class, which consists of agents of German dyestuffs firms, who are in this country, and other agents whose business, very properly, is to attempt to sell German dyestuffs and Swiss dyestuffs. The Committee will hardly be surprised to learn that there is very considerable opposition by these gentlemen. They have carried on in this country a very excellent business for many years; they have earned their living by it; but Parliament having decided that it will establish here a dye-stuffs industry, their occupation is gone to a certain extent, and they are very badly upset. They find sympathy, of course, among all those who, for various reasons, or simply for political reasons alone, are opposed to this course. There is ready access in the way of letters to the Papers or Debates in this House, and I do not think that the Committee should take too seriously the criticisms of the Act which come from a quarter of that kind. They are quite understandable. It would not be human for a body of men who are losing their business if they did not make some effort to retain their position. Notwithstanding, I do not think we should place too much reliance on what is said from that quarter.
I want to say a few words in regard to the question of price. My hon. Friend has dealt with the question of price some- what fully. I cannot answer, offhand, the questions he has put to me. I said that there were 5,000 licences, but I do not carry all the particulars in my head. We are sometimes told, as he told us, that if you put, say, 20 per cent, on the German price, the colour user should be willing to pay 20 per cent, more than he paid to the German, as it is highly important that we should have the dye-stuffs industry here. Does the hon. Member seriously suggest that? Imagine for one moment anybody suggesting that you can take the German price, to-day's German price, and put 20 per cent, on it. What would be the effect to-morrow? The effect to-morrow would be absolutely instantaneous. The German price of today would be lowered 20 per cent., and if you put 20 per cent, on that lowered German price, it would be lowered again. This is not a question where it is possible to take the present-day prices in relation to anything you may desire to do in establishing this industry.
I do not carry prices like that in my mind. I am dealing with a few sentences later in the hon. Member's speech, when he said that the British price should come within 20 per cent, of the foreign price. What is 20 per cent, of the foreign price? It is absolutely irrational to suggest for a moment that you can do anything in the way of a tariff, or make any relations between the presnt-day British price and the present-day German price.
You cannot get a basis on which to put 20 per cent. It is impossible to put it on the present day German price, or the present day English price. What is the position in regard to price? The hon. Member has quoted one case. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to quote another. There is a particular colour, which is called Solway blue black, which the colour users of the country asked the dye makers to make here. The dye makers went to the colour users and said: "What is the next colour you want us to make?" and they were asked to make this blue black. They made it. They put down £50,000 or £60,000 worth of capital in order to make it. The German price at that moment was 17s. 6d. At the end of the second year, when the research work was over— the Germans, of course, knew about the research work—the price fell to 15s. The dye makers were immediately ready to cut down the price, and they offered it to the colour users at 14s. 6d. The German price fell to 11s. 6d. at once. We were anxious in every way possible to make it as easy for the colour user as we could, and the British price was reduced to 9s. 9d. This could bear no relation whatever to the cost of manufacture, because there was over £50,000 sunk in plant. The total production that the country requires is only 50 tons a year, and the total amount which the users have taken up to the present is 16 cwt. Therefore, the Committee will see that there is no ordinary commercial relation between the price which the dye makers came down to, in order to assist the consumer, and ordinary commercial affairs. What is the result? The German price to-day is 6s. 8d. It can be 4s. to-morrow. They would have no difficulty if it came down to 2s. It simply has no relation, because of the exchange and the subventions, etc., to ordinary commercial rates, and it is impossible to consider any German price at all. It can be anything that the German cares to make it.
My hon. Friend has spoken about the difference in price. It seems to me that that is a double-edged weapon. If you take any dyestuffs, the equivalent of which is being made in this country, you will find that the German is selling in this country on the average at one-and-a-half times the pro-War price. Let us take the pre-War price, which is a thing you can got at, and we shall find that the Gorman price for any colour which is being made in this country is on the average, if you take 100 colours, about one-and-a-half to one-and-three-quarters the pre-War German price. Take a set of colours which Germany and Switzerland are both making, and which we are not ready to make. The effect is that the increased cost over the pre-War price is not one-and-three-quarters, but it is somewhere round about four times the pre-War German price. Take a colour which neither Switzerland nor this country is making, and over a reasonably large range you will find that, as com pared with the pre-War German price, the colour user is being charged in this country about seven times the pre-War German price, and he has to pay it.
If the colour user of this country allows the British dyestuffs industry to be wiped out, is it not reasonable to suppose, and is there anything to the contrary that can be urged, that the effect will be exactly the same as in former years, and that as you close down works after works you will find that, as each colour goes out of production in this country, the price of that colour goes up, and the textile industry of this country is going to be in a position which few people would care to contemplate.
My hon. Friend referred to the question of indigo. That is, of course, a point which is bound up entirely with the question of price. He told the House that £84,000 is the difference in price between the German price and the British price on 100 tons. Great Britain has been through the experience of having to fight the Germans in regard to the production of alizarine colours in this country, and ultimately the German price was broken, and the industry was established here. Our aim in the Development Committee and the Licensing Committee is quite simple. We believe that in the interests of national safety you have to establish a synthetic colour industry here. We believe that that industry has to be established at the lowest possible cost to the colour users who have to use the colours produced by the industry. We believe that if we can have the co-operation of the colour users—we have the co-operation of the majority of them, and it is only a very few, an influential few, I admit, who are at the moment not cooperating—and the sympathetic assistance of this House, we shall ultimately establish in this country a weapon which will not only be a national insurance in time of war, but a commercial insurance for the colour-using industry of this country.
I desire to associate myself with the congratulations which have been addressed to the President of the Board of Trade on the very admirable speech he made to the Committee this afternoon. I am sure it will be most helpful because in a great many industries people have been wondering whether the bed-rock price of production has been reached, and the authoritative statement that in his judgment things were either at bottom or nearly at bottom will, I believe, stimulate trade, and help us to recover our old prosperity. I also want to say a word or two in regard to the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and in particular to call attention to the delay which has occurred in putting that Act into operation. I refer in particular to Part II. The Act was on the Statute Book and become operative on the 1st October of last year. The first Committee reported in favour of one branch of industry _ and their Report was handed to the Board of Trade last January. Still no action has been taken to give effect to that Report. Considering that the Act is only a short-term Act—I think the period is three or four years—here are nearly eight months gone and nothing has been done. I think in regard to the particular industry to which that Report relates that it was very amply proved that there is great unemployment in that industry, that the industry is in a depressed condition, and that it is a matter of great urgency that steps should be taken to enforce the Act. I do hope my right hon. Friend will speed things up, and, in particular, I am most anxious that he should simplify the procedure under this most complicated Act. The procedure is difficult, and it is made doubly difficult by the class of Committee which is appointed. I am told—of course, unofficially—that there is too much debate on these Committees, that on each of them there are Free Traders and members who have views on Protection, and that a great deal of the time is taken up with the old debate of Free Trade versus Protection. That is not the way to get to business, and if this Act is to be administered, then instead of having two political parties represented on the Committee it would be very much better to have a Committee, if you can get it, of absolutely independent people.
People who are not committed in regard to Free Trade or Protection, Diehards or anyone. I do not care who is on the Committee as long as the work is done quickly, and done well. I should like to refer to the good humoured banter which the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) used in moving his Motion. He referred generally to the policy of this Act, and deplored the circumstance that it was on the Statute Book. At any rate, there was this good point. During the passage of that Act through this House it was one of the standing complaints on these Benches that the moment that Act was put on the Statute Book the price of everything to the consumer would be increased by the amount of the duty or probably more which was imposed on the article. At any rate, I am glad to hear to-day from my hon. Friend's speech that that line of argument has been dropped. Hardly one of the hon. Members on those Benches escaped making that charge against the Bill, and then we were told that trusts would grow up, and that the Act would be exploited by trusts. That has been dropped. The Bill is being administered as regards Part I, but still there are no trusts or any evidence that the price of the goods has been increased by a single penny-piece. That is all to the good. Another class of statement which is directed to the prejudice of Part II, the fabric glove industry, was referred to, and it was stated that if you impose this duty on German fabric gloves you would not only hit Germany, but you will hit the Lancashire trade. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the report of the proceedings before the Committee. As far as I know, that report has never been published. We cannot even get the report of the Committee, let alone the report of the evidence taken. But though that statement has been made in this House, and repeated all over the country, particularly in the Free Trade Press, there is no evidence of anything of the sort. I am perfectly confident in my own mind that instead of injuring Lancashire you will help Lancashire, that this Act will not hurt any industry in this country, but will be to the benefit and interest of trade as a whole, and, particularly, that if it is properly enforced it will greatly tend to the relief of the present unemployment. I do trust that the President of the Board of Trade will speed up the operation of this Act, and that he will take steps to put it into operation in the cases where the Committees have reported that the duty should be imposed.
I am exceedingly sorry to intervene on a different subject, but this is the only opportunity on which we can appeal to the President of the Board of Trade with regard to a matter which is of vital importance to the trading community, and to the country as a whole. I am not going to talk about wrecked industries, but about wrecked ships, and to appeal to the President of the Board of Trade in regard to the classes of wrecks that strew our coasts, with consequent danger to the fishing community, to lifeboats, and to the people who live on the sea coast. A large number of these wrecks are, of course, due to the German submarine campaign, and their total number must be enormous. The numbers in the place I know best, round about the Needles Channel and the approaches to the great port of Southampton, are very large. There are three of very grave and real danger to navigation. Outside, there is another wreck which is causing extreme damage to the fishing and danger to the lifeboats, while all along the coast even as far out as the centre of Start Bay, there are wrecks of real danger either to the navigation of big vessels, on which there is a special Vote in this House, or of danger to the fishing vessels, or of danger to the lifeboats, or a source of damage to the locality. I understand that since I last raised the matter in this House something has been done, and a few thousand pounds have been spent in the destruction of wrecks. But nothing like enough has been done. The actual wrecks to which I have referred have not been touched, though they have been there since before the close of the War. When I inform the Committee that many ships are unable to use the Channel which is one of the most important, leading up to one of the most important ports of the United Kingdom, because the wrecks hare not been removed, and these ships are obliged to take a longer course involving a considerable additional expense on each voyage, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will turn his attention to the matter, even in the midst of his very important duties.
I have said that there are four classes of vessels. There are those which Trinity House are supposed, under the direction of the President of the Board of Trade, to remove, and which are a danger to navigation. That has not been done. The approaches to our harbours are strewn with wrecks which are causing damage, although the fear of damage is even more important because ships are diverted owing to fear of the wrecks. The second class of vessels are those which are a danger to the lifeboats. They are close in shore, or are placed where big ships do not approach, but where the lifeboats frequently have to go out. There are many of these, and I could give a list of them if I did not wish to avoid detaining the House. There is the third class, which is a danger to fishing vessels, and, as I am reminded, to the nets, with a consequent great loss to the fishing people. The fourth class of wrecks are those which are full of various kinds of cargoes, oils and things, which ooze out on to the beach, killing the fish and, in the case of watering-places, making it impossible for the inhabitants to indulge in sea-bathing, or to put a boat on the beach without it being covered in oil. If the total damage caused by the laxity of the authorities in not removing these wrecks were to be added up it could safely be put at tens of thousands of pounds a year. As one who thinks that my right hon. Friend has done extraordinarily well in his office, I would urge him not to run the risk of spoiling so good a record by seeing some great vessel, in stormy and foggy weather, wrecked at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds and several hundreds of lives just because these wrecks have not been destroyed. I hope the Committee will agree that this is a matter of immense importance to the seafaring community, and that I have been right in urging the President of the Board of Trade to turn his special attention to this matter with a view to something being done in the future.
I am sure the House will have appreciated fully the peculiarly lucid statement of the President of the Board of Trade. I think it is good that the House should be informed accurately on the points with which he is qualified to deal from his experience. Representing, as I do, a constituency which is very closely associated with the textile trade, I feel particularly grateful that the allegations with regard to this Act which are so freely put about should have been dealt with authoritatively. With regard to the Act itself, there are many of us, myself included, who are in no sympathy with Part II, but who, notwithstanding that, realise that there may be considerations which justify the overriding of our principles with regard to dyestuffs. There is a matter I would like to bring before the Committee on this one opportunity we have of raising these matters, and I think I shall be permitted to do so as one who has recently returned from Italy, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, and Germany, who has been in close touch with business and finance in all those countries, and who has consequently had rather exceptional opportunities of seeing the exact position at close quarters of some of the difficulties with which British trade is faced at the present moment. It is not unwise to refer to some of the difficulties and hindrances which exist at the present moment and particularly to explore certain reasons why trade, which formerly came to this country, is at the present moment going elsewhere. I think, with that object in view, one may call attention to the question of pre-War debts. This is a matter which has already caused great hardship in the case of many firms, who desire to bring employment to their workpeople in this country, but who, through the tardiness of the settlement of these matters, have been obliged to forgo some of the trade which they could otherwise have brought. The Committee will agree that those who in the past have hazarded their capital should, as far as is possible, receive generous support from the Government of this country. This is a matter to which I have on more than one occasion drawn the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and I should like to say how much I appreciate the sympathetic way in which he has always dealt with it.
The losses on the part of the textile trade during the past 18 months have necessitated their regarding this as a matter of urgency. A further reason might be added, namely, that, as the Committee are aware, the moratorium with regard to pre-War bills terminates on the 15th August. This question of pre-War debts is one which involves many technicalities, and it would not be appropriate that the time of the Committee should be taken up in dealing with any of the details. The pre-War debts of Germany, Czecho-Slovakia, Austria and Poland are primarily those with which the textile industry are concerned, and it is on their behalf that I raise this matter. There are so many technicalities that it would be wearisome to the Committee to deal with them, but I might perhaps select the Polish pre-War debts in particular, because here there is no question, and I can speak from recent experience, having been out there. I have been in close contact with firms on the Continent whose trade, which formerly came to this country, has now been lost to us because of the inability of the Polish pre-War debtors to pay any portion of their debts, which action alone would justify the British firms in restarting trade on any substantial scale. Those pre-War debtors, through force of circumstances and not on any dishonourable grounds, have selected other firms, with whom they had no pro-War business, from whence to obtain their supplies.
The question of receipts given by the Germans for any requisition of property in Poland is of vital importance to her textile trade. If the Committee were to devote a little sympathy to one industry in particular, it would, indeed, feel that it was due to the textile trade in Poland. There they carried on a trade requiring big sums of money, of which a large part was necessarily locked up in raw and semi-manufactured materials. Those have all been requisitioned by the Germans, and no payments have been made at all for them. In addition, these same firms have lost all the ready cash they had in the Russian banks. Let the Committee picture the condition of those people, and particularly those in the city of Lodz, where there are 400,000 inhabitants all dependent on the textile trade and desirous of getting back to work. Because British textile firms feel that a distinct hardship exists and that discrimination has been made, I particularly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see that the weight of the British Government and the Department which deals with international questions of honouring receipts given to firms may be enlisted, so that some correction of this real hardship shall be made. The point which the textile firms in this country make is that those receipts which are in existence, which are obligations to be honoured as much as any others, should have priority over reparation schemes, and should be met, so that the Polish pre-War debtors, actuated as they are by good faith, should be put in a position to recover those debts, which would enable them to pay their own debts.
With that brief reference to the technicalities of the case I will leave that particular feature of it. I should like, however, to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that Poland has a population to-day of 30,000,000 people. They are industrious, hard-working and, in my confident belief—obtained from having spoken to business men, bankers, and Ministers there—they have pacific intentions, and are unjustifiably misrepresented as adopting an aggressive, bellicose and imperialistic attitude. They have a trade which has a possibility of attaining vast proportions which it lies open to this country to negotiate after having re-established to some extent pre-War connections. Added to this, the establishment of new connections will lay the foundations for great employment in this country by our using Poland as a medium through which Russia must inevitably be reconstructed. There is in that way a great field for British industry.
May I refer also to the Austrian pre-War debts? Here the matter is on a rather different footing. We ought to remember that Poland is an Allied country, while Austria is a late enemy country. In Austria we have this clearing house system. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman again to give this matter his consideration, because the belief exists in well-informed quarters—in this matter I deal more particularly with the accepting houses in the City of London rather than with the textile firms of Lancashire and Yorkshire—that he could accelerate the liquidation of these debts in a- very substantial way were he to apply to the British debts the same expeditious system as has been adopted by the French. They have their clearing house, but they have succeeded in a similar time in liquidating an infinitely larger proportion of debts than the 12½ per cent, alleged to be the maximum by the British clearing house. May I put to the Committee two instances of the apparent absurdity of the existing system? Take the case of an Austrian pre-War debtor who has in the hands of a British pre-War creditor a substantial I sum of money, much in excess of what is needed to liquidate the debt to the firm in this country which holds it. He is not permitted to utilise the balance of this fund in liquidating debts with other firms in this country which he may have, but the balance ha-s to be paid into a general pool, thus immeasurably retarding the acceleration of the whole thing. I think that is a case in which the stereotyped procedure need not be followed and that a little laxity would affect a much more rapid liquidation.
Again, take the case of a British firm which may have a substantial balance in hand of money owing to an Austrian creditor and at the same time may have debts owing to them from that Austrian debtor. It is not permitted to set one debt off against the other. I think I am justified, on behalf of those who are suffering in the re-establishment of their pre-War trade in appealing to the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not possible to reconsider his previous decision and to set up some competent business system, such as has been suggested to him more than once, in order to effect a rapid liquidation of these debts. I would like to support that by an expression of the extent to which I was personally impressed in Vienna when speaking with bankers, and particularly with one who is a leading authority at the present moment. While the casual visitor to Vienna cannot see any apparent difference in the city at the present moment, compared with the pre-War position, and certainly nothing to justify the claim that Austria is entitled to relief credits as against, say, Poland and Rumania, yet if the allegation is true that the withholding of relief credits would probably cause the fall of the Austrian Government, that no other Government could be put in its place, and that such a result would be followed by a complete collapse of the banking system of Austria, with a wider application through Austria to South-eastern Europe; and admitting that Austria is recovering her old dominant position as the distributing centre for Southern Europe, then, in the interests of British trade, possibly the granting of these relief credits would be justified. If that is so, then much more so is the rapid liquidation of these debts justified, and I hope the question may receive the right hon. Gentleman's serious consideration.
I was sorry I was not able to attract your attention, Sir, during the time when the hon. Member for North Hackney (Mr. Woolcock) was replying to questions put by the hon. Member for Oldham (Sir W. Barton). I would have endeavoured, had I spoken in the hon. Member's presence, to have persuaded him to pay more attention to the part of the most eloquent speech delivered by the President of the Board of Trade, in which he bade us be of good cheer, and have faith in ourselves and our own abilities. Judging from the speech of the hon. Member for North Hackney, he seemed to be afraid that if we did not go in for tariffs and prohibition, the dyeing industry, which has been one of our possessions for centuries and more, would entirely disappear. The hon. Gentleman, however, has entirely overlooked the fact that though Germany is great and powerful in the matter of dyes other countries compete with her. The Swiss people have not prohibited German dyes coming into Switzerland. Despite the fact that there is no prohibition of German goods, the Swiss have not held up their hands in despair, but are carrying on their business, increasing their factories, and doing very well indeed, despite all the rumours as to the Germans endeavouring to sweep everyone else off the face of the earth. The Germans have been trying to do that for many years, but have never succeeded in doing anything save to increase British trade. Those hon. Members who will take the trouble to look at the Board of Trade figures will see that in 1913 we exported more British-made goods than we did in any other year. That was the time when we were told that Germany was capturing the trade of the world.
I was interested in the speech delivered by my once good Free Trade colleague in the representation of the Borough of Stepney. So far as dyes and chemicals are concerned, he has now become a full-blooded protectionist. They concern the industry with which he is connected and about which he no doubt knows a great deal. But I do not gather from his speech that he has very much regard for the textile industry. If my memory serves me aright, the total amount of dye imports into this country in pre-War days was something less than £2,000,000, and the export of textile goods for which the dyes were necessary was something over £200,000,000. I did not hear very much of the £200,000,000, though I did hear a great deal about the £2,000,000. If I were convinced that those £2,000,000 worth of dyes could not be obtained without some assistance from the State, I would be the last person to object, and in fact we are spending an enormous sum of money at the present day on industrial and scientific research, and if that is not enough I would give a great deal more.
The country is suffering to-day from the manner in which the dye prohibition is being worked. A few months ago I met the representative of a large American buying house, and he told me that the exports of certain British goods to New York in 1921 were three times what they were in 1920. He went to a Scottish woollen factory to obtain certain goods, and the Scottish manufacturer could not execute his order because he could not obtain the necessary dyes, and this American buyer was so astonished at the stupidity of the English Government, who put obstacles in the way of development of trade with the "United States, that he made a special point of looking me up in London to give me the information. That information has been supplied to the Dye Committee, and I am happy to say that the man has now got his goods, thanks to having the assistance of a Member in Parliament, but without the assistance of a Member of Parliament that could not have been done. It is very wrong that it should be necessary to have a Member of Parliament to perform this service.
This afternoon the President of the Board of Trade in his very interesting and delightful speech struck a note of cheerfulness, and at the same time did point out the injurious effect of tariffs which are being imposed against Great Britain, and not only the effect of tariffs, but of prohibition. We know the case of South Africa, where they prohibited entirely the admission of goods. We also know that France in particular has been constantly increasing her tariffs. We also know that we are losing a certain amount of trade through the lack of preferential conditions which might easily be obtained in Czecho-Slovakia. They have made an arrangement with France for preferential treatment, and I do not know why the Board of Trade have not made some move in this direction. If the statement which is in circulation is correct the obstacle to making a preferential arrangement was the decision of the Board of Trade, that if they did make an arrangement the provisions of the Safeguarding of Industries Act would have to be dealt with. If that statement is not correct it would be very useful to have some denial from the right hon. Gentleman. I am glad to be able to agree that there is a distinct sign of an improvement in trade in London. Business has taken a turn for the better. There are more ships and goods coming to the Port of London, though, unfortunately, there is still a considerable amount of unemployment. In my constituency alone there are on the riverside something like 6,000 men nearly all connected with the docks in want of steady employment, and if the President, can do a little more than he has done it will help to solve, to some extent, that problem of unemployment.
One point in detail in connection with the Department of the right hon. Gentleman. Has he come to any definite decision as to the Department with regard to the registration of firms which is under his control? The Geddes Committee have recommended the closing down of this Department. If my information is correct four-fifths of the registrations which this Department undertakes are the registrations of firms consisting of a father and son or two brothers trading together. There is no necessity why this Department should continue to exist so far as these firms are concerned. With regard to aliens there may be some justification, but I would be glad to know whether it is intended to adopt the recommendations to close down this Department or to revise it, so that British subjects, especially in cases such as those to which I have referred, may be left out of it altogether. In reference to the Exhibition Department, if my information is correct, at a certain period of the year certain gentlemen are engaged as canvassers to go all round the country soliciting tenants for the space which the President has got to let in his exhibitions, and while the Board of Trade charge 3s. a square foot at their exhibitions others, such as the textile and the sugar exhibitions, charge at least 4s. But the Board of Trade not only can let the same space for less but they can do something better, they can get members of the Royal Family to visit their exhibitions. This is very much resented by other exhibition authorities who do not want Government competition and who think that if the Board of Trade must be in the exhibition business they should not exploit the Royal Family in this way but should do their business in their own way. I am told and it might be interesting to know whether it is correct that at least one-third of those who exhibit one year will not exhibit a second year, and therefore canvassers have to be sent around to replace these people.
There is a return which used to be published once a month, and is now published once a quarter in reference to foreign trade and commerce. It deals with export trade to various foreign countries. From a study of this return I think that the right hon. Gentleman might consider the advisability of publishing it only once a year, and if that were done it would meet all the requirements of the case. Attention may be drawn to some matters of detail in connection with the administration of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. The Board of Trade recently issued an order that in the case of small items where they do not amount to more than 10 per cent. of the value of an article they can be omitted from the duty. That is done very largely in the clearing of goods when they are of a complicated nature and likely to cause delay, but a great deal of delay is caused at the docks. One illustration was in reference to goods of the value of £100 on which there was duty to the extent of 4s. 8d. It was an apparatus on a small part of which this duty had to be levied. This apparatus was held up for days, and charges were accumulated, and at the end of that time the Treasury obtained a duty of 4s. 8d. It is in the power of the Board of Trade, by arrangement with the Customs, to remedy this. Having issued an order which goes a certain part of the way, I would suggest an extension of the order, so that all items of this character should be included.
I have brought under the notice of the Department the case of a millinery firm which imported some small fancy articles on which a duty of 3s. 1d. was charged, but no less than 15s. was charged by the Post Office for opening and ticing up the parcels. One is bound to bring these cases under the notice of the Board of Trade, because it is the function of the Board of Trade to look after and foster trade and do everything to assist it, and where matters of this kind which obstruct trade arise, the President should do everything in his power to help. I would ask whether the time has not arrived when the Board of Trade could well give up a number of the Departments which have nothing to do with trade or the development of trade? If we could have a Minister whose entire object would be the development of trade to the advantage of the country at large, something in the nature of a Minister of Commerce, then the President, instead of being occupied with matters of small importance such as the registration of names, could give his time to matters of consequence which would really be of advantage to the country.
I desire to emphasise what has been said by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Major-General Seely) as to the great necessity of pushing on with the work of removing wreckage as speedily as possible. Those of us who have some acquaintance with shipping know how great the dangers are, and it fills us with admiration to see the extraordinarily skilful way in which the British Mercantile Marine avoid these dangers which are constantly in their path. The service which they render to the nation as a whole puts upon us the obligation to do all we can for their safety. I wish to join in the appreciation of the way in which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade opened the discussion this afternoon, distinguished as was his speech by little touches of humour and by what is the most valuable quality we can get in our public affairs—not only lucidity of expression, but a real and wide knowledge of his subject. It was delightful to hear a first-class business man talking about the Board of Trade. When he was laying before the Committee his survey of the general conditions of the trade of the country, I wished that his colleague, the right hon. Gentleman who presides over the destinies of the Exchequer, had been here to hear him, because I am certain that if he took, as we did, full advantage of the position which the President of the Board of Trade disclosed, his roseate-tinted views of the Estimates of Revenue for next year would be modified to a much more sober extent than was disclosed to us the other night.
It is clear that we are in only the middle of a very long lane. I share with my right hon. Friend his great satisfaction that, speaking generally, the worst is past. In some parts of our trade, probably, the worst is still to come, but, speaking generally, I think it is safe to say that the worst is over. There is no more important evidence of that than the revival in the export coal trade of the country. That shows that a demand is arriving overseas for the necessity of business. It is a great satisfaction to know that 90 per cent, of the demand for our coal traffic overseas is in the hands of the coal exporters of the country again. I say 90 per cent, of the demand. Unfortunately, it is not 90 per cent, of the supply compared with 1914. Sufficient coal is being raised, but the difficulties of transport are so great and the block at the ports is so disadvantageous that although we have the demand and we can raise the coal we cannot get the stuff away. That is the position in that part of the coal trade of which I have personal knowledge. Unfortunately the export trade in Scotland is not on quite so satisfactory a basis as is the trade in South Wales and in some parts of the North of England. I have no doubt that trade will improve there and that a satisfactory revival will occur.
Nothing was more interesting than the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the immense importance of a revival of our shipping industry. It is safe to say, "No export of coal, no import of raw material." The one follows the other automatically. The only way to get raw material in is to get the tramp ships out, fully loaded with coal. Almost every shipload of coal is worth more than its weight in gold, so to speak. If we send out our coal we are certain of getting back raw material and of being able to manufacture it at a lower rate than would otherwise be possible. With regard to the re-organisation of the Board of Trade, the sooner we can get rid of the redundant war services, the Food Department, the Wheat Commission and the other minor Departments, the better. The Geddes Report said on this subject:
Great opportunities will exist for the staff being carried Bug after they have become redundant.
If I have an opportunity of speaking on this Vote on another occasion, I shall ask my right hon. Friend to state how far
the recommendations, not only of the Geddes Committee, but of the Departmental Committees, have been carried out, and how far his own ideas of further economies are likely to be realised in the immediate future.
I am sure that my Department will have no cause to complain of the tone of the Debate to-day. I would like, first of all, in answer to my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, to say that I had intended to make some observations on the Estimates and to give information to the Committee as to the position of the War Departments, but when I learned of the possible curtailment of the Debate this evening I thought it better to leave that on one side rather than occupy too long a time with my speech. Perhaps at the moment it will be sufficient to say that I hope that all the War Departments will come to an end in the course of the present financial year. More I will not say at the moment. I hope I may have an opportunity of doing so later. I am glad that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Major-General Seely) raised a point on which I had some apprehension of my own. I, unfortunately, have not with me any information as to what has been done in the last year or two, but I can tell him that the full programme submitted by Trinity House is being carried out this year, and that, after what was said by him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), I will look personally into this matter again and see whether any means can be adopted to expedite the removal of these wrecks. My right hon. Friends know as well as I the difficulty at present in obtaining as much money as one would like for the most necessary service, but if at any time I am convinced of the necessity for more work being done in the year, I shall lose no opportunity of trying to impress that upon those who control the purse.
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for South Bradford (Lieut.-Colonel Willey), I assure the Committee that we are doing all we can to press on with the collection of pre-War debts, and I shall be only too pleased at any time to receive representations from any particular bodies, such as that represented by him, who may wish to put any further points before me or to make any sugges- tions for the expediting of collection. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) made a very interesting speech on tariffs. We are watching the situation very closely, but he will realise that it is an extremely difficult thing to bargain with a country when you have very little with which to bargain, and that from the essence of the case a Free Trade country, such as we are still, finds it very difficult to argue with a country that has a tariff weapon in its hand. I can assure him that we are using every argument that we can think of to come to some arrangement with Spain, whose tariff is a very hard one for us. The Finance Bill has not yet been before the House, and there are means of exercising pressure, even for a country in our comparatively defenceless position.
We had a very interesting discussion on dyes, and fortunately we had the pleasure of hearing two experts who cancelled each other, and that always make the position of the Minister a much easier one than it otherwise would be. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Kiley) raised a number of points. With regard to issuing Orders of the nature he suggested, I would merely put this to the Committee. The Safeguarding of Industries Act has been working for a short time only. With an Act of this kind in a country like this, that is not used to the working of even a modified tariff, people are naturally inclined to complain very much at the forms they have to fill and the delays that occur before the Customs have got into their stride with the work. It will soon be time to review some of the effects of the Act in such matters as those alluded to by the hon. Member, just as it will soon be time to review the work of the Committees to which the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. G. Terrell) referred. I shall do both those things, and if I can see any way in which any improvement can be effected, which will mean less trouble or greater efficiency, I shall not hesitate to adopt it. The hon. Member also asked me if I would convert a quarterly publication into an annual. Of course, that would save some money. I will look into the matter. The circulation of this special kind of document is not necessarily a test of its utility, because there is no doubt that the "Daily Mail" has a much lamer circulation than the "Economist," but that if you wanted to study financial problems you would subscribe to the "Economist."
I was not profoundly impressed with the hon. Member's story about the American who was so amazed at our putting difficulties in the way of getting dyes. It is much like an American joke. The American quite forgot that in his country the greatest difficulties are put in the way, because the importation of dyes is prohibited, and if they get in at all they are subject to a swinging duty. It is no answer to me to say that they have dyes in America, because that industry was built up under strict Protection. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith regaled us with one of his apt quotations. I know no one in this House who can bring a more apt quotation to the Table than he can. I remember with delight one or two he gave, and I enjoyed as much in hearing, as he did in producing, a quotation from "Pilgrim's Progress." When I heard it, another one occurred to me, not from "Pilgrim's Progress," but the words in which Betsy Trotwood described Mr. Dick in "David Copperfield":
Nobody knows that man's mind so well as myself, and he is the most amenable and friendly creature in existence. If he likes to fly a kite sometimes, why shouldn't he?
A kite has been flown, and I will do my best to answer the various points the hon. and gallant Gentleman has put. I agree with him, and with what every member of the Committee has said as to the damage that is produced by uncertainty. During those long, lean years of opposition, when we were trampled down night after night by mechanical majorities, I think the great apostle of Free Trade on these Benches was my right hon. colleague the Minister of Health, and I remember his using these words, which always remain in my memory:
Business can flourish with tariffs"—
He made that remark from the benches behind as a Free Trade Liberal—
Business can flourish without tariffs. What business cannot stand is uncertainty.
I think he was absolutely right, and if I am responsible in any way for causing uncertainty to business men, no one regrets it more than I do. My hon. and gallant Friend has challenged me as to the delay in making a decision on the
question of fabric gloves. I shall have no difficulty at all in giving him an answer, because the answer was given very briefly and very accurately by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in answer to a question, a few days ago. My hon. and gallant Friend said the other evening that he could not understand the delay. I think I can explain it. If I remember aright, I assured the House, during the passage of the Bill last year, that if eases, where matters ought fairly to be considered before an Order was actually made, were not able to be brought up under the Statute before the Committee, I should regard it as my duty to satisfy myself on these points before I was issuing, or refusing to issue, an Order. It is perfectly obvious, in this particular case, my hon. and gallant Friend explained quite clearly to the House that there was an interest worthy of consideration, which was unable to be represented directly under the Statute before the Committee. I, therefore, took it upon myself to see a deputation from those interests, which I did, and the Committee knows that it is not a matter of four and twenty hours to arrange to see a deputation, or to see them. I saw several people in connection with this matter. As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, owing to circumstances certainly beyond my control, it has been impossible to get anything like a full Cabinet meeting for many weeks, and this matter has to be considered at such a Cabinet, which, I hope, may be held in a very short time, and, as soon as a decision has been come to, that decision will be announced.
The Act introduced a fresh principle into the legislation of this country, and it is only natural that, before a matter is fixed, very careful examination should be given to all the points likely to arise. That examination has been given. With regard to the gas mantles which my hon. and gallant Friend said were in the Act, they are not in the Act. If there should over be a real tariff in this country, I do not know what my hon. and gallant Friend would do. He expresses such terror at the little fragment in this Act, that I almost tremble to contemplate the result which a full-blooded tariff would have upon him, if there ever should be one. The only consolation I can find is that there are people who are frightened at a mouse, but will contemplate an elephant with equanimity. I hope that will be the case with my hon. and gallant Friend, and I feel convinced that, frightened as he has been with the Safeguarding of Industries Act, I am sure, if he had a full-blooded tariff, he would make friends with it.
Mr. L. MALONE:
I want to confine the very few remarks I have time to make to what the President of the Board of Trade said with regard to coal, and what he ought to have said in regard to oil. He dealt with a number of matters—exports, exchanges, tariffs—about which, if I had longer time, I could give him very sound advice, and I hope on another occasion I shall have an opportunity of giving him my views on the question of exchange and tariffs and other matters, but I want to talk now on the question of coal. The President of the Board of Trade told us that the coal trade had revived, and that so far as the bunker export trade was concerned we were nearly back to our pre-War standard. I want to put it to him, that this revival of the coal export trade is probably only a temporary revival due to the War shortage, and due to the replenishment of coal stock in various parts of the world. The question of the replacement of coal by oil fuel is a question which affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and demands more attention. What I am going to propose is that the President of the. Board of Trade should appoint a Committee to discuss and report as to the probable effect in the next five or ten years of the replacement of coal by oil fuel. It affects us in two broad directions. It affects the lives and prosperity of hundreds of thousands of miners, and it affects the question of export. Every day oil fuel is replacing coal in the bunkers of our ships, both mercantile and war, in the tenders of locomotives, in road transport, in air transport, in factories, in blast furnaces, and in domestic life—in fact everywhere one goes one sees oil fuel replacing coal. This means that the coal-fields throughout this country are dying. Our trade may have revived in the last few years after the War, but in the next five or ten, or, it may be, even 20 years, the coal-fields of this country will be dying. Many of them will have been eliminated. It means that hundreds of thousands of miners who are now employed will be out of work. The coal-owners, I believe, are well aware of this. If the markets are examined, if the financial statements of the coal companies are examined, it will be found that new money is not being put into coal mines and coal development. Profits out of coal companies are being transferred to other industries. That means that coal mineowners and others connected with the coal trade will not lose all when the mines die in this country, because a large portion of their money is invested in other industries; but it means that coalminers will be out of work, and 800,000 or 900,000 people will have to be provided for by some means or another. Exports will be affected in this way. No far-sighted Government can possibly fail to ignore this question. It will vitally
Sir J. D. REES:
Will the right hon. Gentleman let nothing prevent an early issue of an order under Part II of the Act in respect of fabric gloves? Not only is my hon. and gallant Friend interested in this, but a large number of my constituents are, and I shall be glad if my right hon. Friend will bear it in mind.
|Division No. 103.]||AYES.||[8.15 p.m.|
|Banton, George||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Halls, Walter||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hancock, John George||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hayward, Evan||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bromfield, William||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Robertson, John|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Hinds, John||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Cairns, John||Hirst, G. H.||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Irving, Dan||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Spencer, George A.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Johnstone, Joseph||Spoor, B. G.|
|Edwards, C, (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sutton, John Edward|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Kennedy, Thomas||Swan, J. E.|
|Finney, Samuel||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Foot, Isaac||Kiley, James Daniel||Waterson, A. E.|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Lawson, John James||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Gillis, William||Lunn, William||Wignall, James|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Wilson, James (Dudley)|
|Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne)||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Wintringham, Margaret|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Malone, C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Myers, Thomas|
|Guest, J. (York, W.R., Hemsworth)||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Hogge and Mr. G. Thorne.|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Evans, Ernest|
|Armitage, Robert||Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Falcon, Captain Michael|
|Atkey, A. Ft.||Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Carr, W. Theodore||Fell, Sir Arthur|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||FitzRoy, Captain Hon. Edward A.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Flannery, Sir James Fortescue|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. (Glas., Gorbals)||Coats, Sir Stuart||Ford, Patrick Johnston|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Forestier-Walker, L.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Forrest, Walter|
|Barrand, A. R.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Cope, Major William||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.|
|Bigland, Alfred||Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South)||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Birchall, J. Dearman||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham|
|Bird, Sir William B. M. (Chichester)||Davidson, J. C. C.(Hemel Hempstead)||Gilbert, James Daniel|
|Blades, sir George Rowland||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John|
|Blair, Sir Reginald||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Glyn, Major Ralph|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Gould, James C.|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-||Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.)||Green, Albert (Derby)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.||Dawson, Sir Philip||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.)|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Doyle, N. Grattan||Gregory, Holman|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William dive||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Brown, Major D. C.||Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Bruton, Sir James||Elveden, Viscount||Henderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston)|
|Herbert, Col. Hon. A. (Yeovil)||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Morltz||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Simm, M. T.|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Morrison, Hugh||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Murray, C. D. (Edinburgh)||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Hopkins, John W. W.||Neal, Arthur||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Home, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)||Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)||Starkey, Captain John Ralph|
|Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Nield, Sir Herbert||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Sykes, Sir Charles (Huddersfield)|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||Taylor, J.|
|Jodrell, Neville Paul||Pearce, Sir William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdoeen, South)|
|Johnson, Sir Stanley||Perring, William George||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Sir William||Pickering, Colonel Emil W.||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Kidd, James||Polson, Sir Thomas A.||Waddington, R.|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Walton, J. (York, W. R., Don Valley)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Purchase, H. G.||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Lane-Fox, G. R.||Rae, H. Norman||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Raeburn, Sir William H.||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Lindsay, William Arthur||Ramsden, G. T.||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Lister, Sir R. Ashton||Randles, Sir John Scurrah||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Lloyd, George Butler||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler||Willey, Lieut.-Colonel F. V.|
|Lorden, John William||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)||Windsor, Viscount|
|Loseby, Captain C. E.||Reid, D. D.||Winterton, Earl|
|Lowther, Maj.-Gen. Sir C. (Penrith)||Remer, J. R.||Wise, Frederick|
|Mackinder, Sir H. J. (Camlachie)||Renwick, Sir George||Wolmer, Viscount|
|McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)||Richardson, Lt -Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)||Woolcock, William James U.|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S)||Rodger, A. K.||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Marks, Sir George Croydon||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Mason, Robert||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Middlebrook, Sir William||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr. Parker.|