British Trade, Bkazil.

Orders of the Day — King's Speech. – in the House of Commons on 24th November 1922.

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Lieut.-Colonel Sir PHILIP RICHARDSON:

I ask the indulgence of the House in making a few brief remarks as a first effort in speaking. There are many more competent than I to deal with large questions, but there are those who would draw attention to matters which are relatively smaller, and I wish to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the state of our trade with Brazil. Brazil, I need hardly remind Members of this House, is the fourth greatest country in the world, and has a large population of some 30,600,000. It is a country of great possibilities in the matter of mining, agriculture, and other things, and it is a country that buys from us a great number of British goods. During the last few months some Gentlemen who were Members of the late House and who are Members of the present House had the privilege of visiting Brazil and the opportunity of studying trade relations between this country and Brazil, being afforded the greatest assistance by all with whom we came in contact, and I have to express our appreciation of the honour paid to us by the President of the Republic, by the Senate, and by the Chamber of Deputies in receiving us, and in giving us every facility to know that which we desired to know. I also wish to render testimony to the efficacy of the British Chambers of Commerce. Both in Rio de Janeiro and in San Paulo, there are Chambers which look after British interests and take every care of them. While we were there we learned, in relation to our trade, that it was less than it was before the War, as we should expect, because the volume of trade throughout the world is smaller than it used to be, but we were distressed to find that the proportion of British trade had fallen in relation to the trade of other nations.

I should like to give some figures in relation to some of the principal headings. British exports to Brazil, which in 1913 were over £16,000,000 had dropped in 1921 to £12,000,000, but whereas that drop might not appear to be very important in view of the general diminution of trade, the British proportion of the total trade in 1913 was 26 per cent., and in 1921 it was 20 per cent. Consequently we had lost one-fifth of the whole of our trade in exports to Brazil. Similarly in imports, our imports from Brazil in 1913 were over £8,000,000 and in 1921 were £4,000,000. In the former case 15 per cent, of the total trade was done by Great Britain and in the latter case only 7 per cent.; in other words, our trade was halved. Possibly our most important trade with Brazil is the trade in shipping, and in shipping in the two years 1909–1911, going back before the War, the total tonnage entering Brazilian ports was 23,900,000 tons, carried in 23,800 ships. Of this, British tonnage was 7,800,000 tons, in 2,650 ships. In 1921, the number of British ships had fallen to 1,540, and the British tonnage to 5,800,000 tons. The Members whom I had the honour to accompany were very much impressed with this state of affairs in regard to British trade in a country which supplies us with things which we require, and with some things which we cannot do without. I do not think we can do without sugar, frozen meat, rubber, lard, cotton seed, hides, coffee, and tobacco. These are sent from Brazil to this country, and on our side we send in exchange industrial, agricultural, and mining machinery, railway material, locomotives, wagons, iron goods, woollen goods, cotton goods, and so on. These goods are manufactured in various parts of the United Kingdom, and I am sure that all of us, particularly our Friends on the Labour Benches, must take an interest in the increase of that trade.

There are several Members of our party who wish to speak, and I have been asked to give this first sketch and allow others to go still further into the matter. I do not therefore propose to trespass any longer on the time of the House, because I have broadly set forth the condition of our trade in Brazil and shown that we are, in fact, losing our trade, which is being taken by foreign countries. I trust the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department will look into this matter most carefully, because on every side we received a sympathetic reception. The friendship of the Brazilians with Great Britain is traditional, and we found everybody only too anxious to explain why our trade was falling off and to offer us every assurance that it would be very welcome to Brazil if we increased our trade. I trust we are now in for a more prosperous time and that our relations with this great country overseas will not be forgotten, but will be looked into carefully.

Major Sir GEORGE HAMILTON:

May I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend upon his first effort? I can speak, I am sure, for all of us who went to Brazil when I say we found that he could speak fluently in three languages equally well, and, in doing so, he was able to encourage British trade and make great friends with the Members of the House of Commons in Brazil and the Members of the Senate and others with whom he conversed. I am sure he has made it quite clear to the House that the loss of trade between this country and Brazil is really a matter of great seriousness, and a matter which requires prompt attention by the new Government which is now in the saddle. May I give one or two instances of how, I think, our new Government might assist trade with that great country—a country much larger than the whole of Europe? When we were in extreme difficulties in our shipyards, just after the Armistice, Brazil asked us to repair two battleships for her. Those battleships were British-built ships. We were, unfortunately, unable to take those ships into our yards, and we had to refuse the work. I think if the Admiralty had been in closer touch with the Overseas Trade Department, some arrangement could have been made to take those ships, because, as a result of our being unable to take those ships into our repairing yards, we have lost a contract amounting to £2,000,000, which would have been expended almost entirely in wages. Those wages have gone into other pockets, not into the pockets we would have liked, namely, Glasgow working men's pockets or those in other big shipbuilding centres, but into the pockets of foreigners.

That is not the whole of our loss. Almost immediately after this, we were asked by the Brazilian Government, who, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson) has said, represent a nation which loves our country and wants to do business with us, whether we could not send a naval mission to assist their Admiralty in naval ques- tions. We used to have a naval mission in Brazil, but, unfortunately, our Admiralty said they were unable to do so, as they required the whole of their staff for demobilisation and other work upon which the Admiralty were then employed. Again, what a short-sighted policy. Another nation has sent a naval mission, and they are now making friends in naval quarters in Brazil. It is not too late for us, I am sure, to regain the confidence of the Brazilian nation, and to secure from them the work we want, and must have, to keep our shipyards and other factories going, if only the Government will take prompt action. In connection with this matter, I am confident I speak for my friends when I say that in our Ambassador in Brazil, we could not have a better Minister than Sir John Tilley. But Sir John Tilley cannot do everything, and would it not be possible to have a naval attaché specially attached to the Brazilian Embassy? At present we have a very capable officer, I believe, but an officer of rather junior rank, who is naval attaché to all the British Embassies in South America. South America is a big place, and travelling there is not too rapid. What we realised out there was that we have already lost business and trade for lack of more understanding between the Admiralty at home, the Foreign Trade Department, the Board of Trade and the Embassy out in Brazil. We shall do exactly the same in the Argentine if we are not careful. We, therefore, ask the Government immediately to take into consideration whether they cannot place at the Embassy in Rio a naval officer of senior rank, who, of course, must be able to talk Portuguese, and a similar officer in the Argentine, Chile, etc. I think I can speak for my friends when I say we have formed the opinion that such naval attachés at our Embassies may, and I hope will, recover for ourselves our business in Brazil in regard to naval matters.

May I now refer to the Embassy itself in Rio? We, one of the Great Powers of Europe; we, the oldest friends of Brazil, have an Embassy which we rent furnished. I believe it is the same in Chile and the Argentine. Our friends the United States are fitting up most magnificent Embassies in all those countries. I agree we do not want to spend money, but, after all, in those South American countries the dignity of Great Britain is represented by its Embassy and Ambassadors. We are losing business by this short-sighted policy. What we want is to solve the problem of unemployment by increasing our trade. If only this Government would take into consideration these matters, I am sure it would assist. When I refer to the question of dignity in the Embassies, I would like to give the House an instance. We visited Petropolis, and there we found a very charming Embassy which does belong to the British Government, it was bought some years ago. There was no motor garage, and the British Ambassador had to garage his car in a shed composed of bamboos and bits of straw. That does not add to the dignity of the Embassy. When the Labour party comes to govern this country it will realise that its representatives must have dignified premises.

There is one other point before I leave the question of Embassies. The Overseas Trade Department, who are represented by a most competent and popular gentleman, is, unfortunately, separated entirely from the Embassy at Rio. When a business man arrives at Rio, and tries to do trade, he visits either the Consulate or the Embassy, but at neither does he find a representative of the Overseas Trade Department. Surely that must be wrong. It does 6eem to me that the Overseas Trade Department's representative should either be attached to the Embassy or the Consulate. As there is no room at the Consulate, I suggest that some accommodation should be found for him either at or near the British Embassy. British ships are constantly in and out of the vast harbour, and the Consulate does enormous business. It is situated in a magnificent position in the centre of the city, but it has only one room divided by wooden partitions. It is in the main street, and is above the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company's office. It is an extremely busy street. Motor cars are passing all day long, while in the side street the chief trades are coppersmiths and tinsmiths. The result is that in this one room, where, I think, six men and one woman work, in addition to our Consul-General, when it is necessary to dictate a letter, they have to shut their windows and their shutters in order to make their voices audible. I do not think we need to be as dignified about our Con- sulates as about our Embassies, but I think we reduce the efficiency of people in tropical climates when they have to work in such a noise. I do hope the Under-Secretary will look into this question of accommodation at the Consulate.

There is one other minor matter, which, however, ought to be put right quite easily, that I should like to bring to the attention of the hon. Baronet who is now in charge of the Overseas Trade Department. During the War the price of certain Consular document stamps was increased. It was increased a second time. The first increase was rather a reasonable one. The second one was in the form of a percentage, and I do not think it has ever been realised at the Foreign Office what an absurdity this has really brought about. In order to get a Bill of Health you go to the British Consulate, and apply for it. This Bill of Health has to carry a stamp. In the olden days that stamp cost 10s. On account of the extra expense the price was raised to 15s., and then about, perhaps a couple of years ago, it was decided to add 25 per cent, to that 15s. This now brings the stamp on an ordinary Bill of Health to the rather absurd sum of 18s. 9d. It is, I know, a small matter, but if you can conceive of the calculating of this 18s. 9d. in a peculiar foreign currency, with the exchange varying from day to day by jumps, hon. Members will realise what a lot of work this trivial stupidity, if I may so call it, puts upon our Consular staff. Why not make it a sovereign? The extra 1s. 3d. would not ruin anybody, and if you make the 18s. 9d. into a pound, well, then, everybody will know better where they stand, and in addition one of those minor annoyances of having to put eight stamps on a document will be done away with. At the present time the Consular official in order to stamp a Bill of Health has to put on it one 10s. stamp, one 5s. stamp, three 1s. stamps, and three 3d. stamps, the whole of which nearly covers the document, and then he has to enter each of these stamps in a book. I could give many instances of this sort of thing. For instance, the ordinary registration of births costs 3s. 2d. This employment of stamps is simply due to this 25 per cent, increase, and, as I say, the absurd result of all this has not yet been realised.

I now come to a rather larger question. The difficulty which we had when we were out in Brazil was this: We have been trying to improve our trade relationships and to get from the Brazilian Government and the Brazilian commercial houses more trade for this country, I am glad to say some of our friends out there spoke English. In our efforts we found that the answer of the Brazilians was that they found it difficult to do more than they are doing at present. We found that they had very heavy tariff walls against all foreign imports. In addition to that they have given a preference to other countries. America has a preference of 20 per cent. So has Belgium. So has Japan. When we said to our friends in Brazil that we are their oldest friends, that we have assisted them with loans, and with industrial enterprises, the building of railways and the making of roads and docks, that we have financed these things, and that we have over 250 million sterling on loans and investments in the country; that we had helped them to develop their great country more than any other nation in the world, and, therefore, why could they not give us the same treatment as they gave to the States, to Belgium and to others, their reply—what was it? The very simple one: "We should like to do better; we are most anxious to do trade with Great Britain, but what have you to offer? America has offered us a preferential tariff in exchange for ours; so has Belgium. What can you offer?" At the moment we can offer them nothing. There is no doubt about it, but here is a possibility which I should like to bring to the notice of the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department.

While we were out there, there was another body there, the International Cotton Deputation. Many members of that Deputation came from Lancashire. The chairman was a 5Torkshireman. The Secretary of the deputation was a man very well known in cotton circles, Mr. Pearce. What was that International Cotton Deputation doing in Brazil? It was out there because the cotton traders realised that there is likely to be a shortage of raw cotton in the world in the near future. Our cotton in the past has chiefly come from America. We have been trying to increase our empire cotton growing, and we have succeeded in many directions, but there is a distinct threat that the disease in the American crop may result in a very heavy and very serious shortage of raw cotton. In addition to telling us that they were giving 20 per cent. preference to America because America had given them a preference they said, remember that America was their best customer for their coffee. If only we could get Brazil to grow cotton we might provide a market for it. It is well known, I think, that in the small town of Oldham alone there are as many cotton spindles as there are in any two European countries—more than half the number of the cotton spindles of the United States of America in the one small town of Oldham in Lancashire. After all, the port of Liverpool being really the cotton market of the world, it is more than important that our Overseas Trade Department should assist Brazil to grow cotton, then we would be able to take it from Brazil and thus be able to approach them and say: "We are not taking coffee, but cotton." We might say: "Now we are your best customer, we are prepared to buy as much cotton as you can produce." Then, I think, we might be able to get equal treatment for British trade.

You cannot grow cotton like you can potatoes. You want great skill in growing cotton, because you must sort your seeds and get the same length of staple; all these technical details must be attended to. You must subsequently sort and pick your cotton in a regular and proper manner. All that work requires expert advice and administration. I do ask my hon. Friend whether he cannot immediately, through the usual channels, approach the Brazilian Government, after having talked over this question with the great leaders of the industry and with the cotton deputation experts? I am sure they will say to him: "You can assist the Brazilian Government now; now is the time help is needed. There is no time to be lost." They want experts quickly, advice for farmers and for ginning machinery workers, experts to assist them in all sorts of directions to develop their cotton. They are anxious to do it. I venture to suggest that it would be a good thing to arrange for a cotton mission. It is not too late to follow the cotton deputation by a mission of cotton experts to assist the Brazilian Government. I do not think they will ask us to give them any money. If they do want money I have no doubt it can be raised in the City of London by the financiers there. What they do want is expert brains. If we send a cotton mission there, I believe there is no doubt that we shall be able to do an enormous business with Brazil. I trust my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will realise that we are not criticising either the late Government, nor the Government before that, nor the new Government. All we are trying to do is to show the need for looking at once into this matter, seeing that owing to the pressure upon this country immediately after the War we have not been able to attend to the matter of our important relationship with Brazil. We have slipped behind. We have lost ground. I hope, in considering the solution, or at any rate something towards the solution, of the slackness of trade and unemployment in this country, our friends in the Overseas Trade Department and the Foreign Office will do their utmost by consulting the Chambers of Commerce in South America, the Federation of Cotton Spinners, and so on. I trust that thus they will be able to improve our trade with Brazil and so assist in the solution of this problem of unemployment and better trade.

Photo of Mr William Joynson-Hicks Mr William Joynson-Hicks , Twickenham

The very few words I intend to say are really words of thanks to those Members of the House who have taken the trouble to go out to Brazil, and I wish to thank them for the work they have done. We are convinced that any such mission as this undertaken by hon. Members of this House cannot be anything else but productive of trade and beneficial to the cause of peace. May I also congratulate those hon. Members on the fact that although they were late coming back from Brazil, they were all returned to Parliament again, which shows that the electors appreciate the fact that Members of Parliament do other work besides that which they do in this House. I want to thank one or two others who have been concerned with the work connected with the exhibition in Brazil. The Committee presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. L. de Rothschild) collected more than £25,000 in voluntary contributions, and that, together with the monies voted by Parliament, enabled the Government to present the British pavilion to Brazil, and it becomes the property of the Brazilian Government after the exhibition. We are also deeply, indebted to Mr. Lynch, the Chairman of the various Committees connected with the British section of the Exhibition. With Mr. Martin, Mr. Marr and others too numerous to mention by name, he has devoted himself wholeheartedly to furthering the cause of Great Britain at Rio.

Beyond that there is another Department of the Government which I think we must thank most heartily. My hon. Friend referred to the possibility of a naval attaché being sent to Rio, and he alluded to the harm that has been done because other countries had naval attachés there and we had not. I would remind the House of the very great work the Navy did in this connection by sending those magnificent battleships, the "Hood" and the "Repulse" which hoisted the British flag in the great harbour of Rio. Not only did we do this, but those battleships at a critical history in the construction of the British pavilion landed men who worked almost day and night in order to get the pavilion ready for the opening ceremony. They were so smart that they even found a large number of flowers and transplanted them within twenty-four hours. One afternoon a bluejacket stood sternly at attention and said, "We have found a cricket pitch about a mile away and where shall we put it?"

With regard to what the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham has said, I realise the vital importance of increasing the exports of this country. I am perfectly certain that the whole House will realise that there is no question of politics in this matter, because we are all convinced that we must get our export trade improved. I know there are great difficulties in regard to Brazil. My hon. and gallant Friend has mentioned some of them. I know the tariff is a difficulty and my hon. and gallant Friend has tried to lead me through these paths to a full-blooded speech on tariff reform, but I am not to be drawn this afternoon. All I wish to say is that every effort is being made by the officers of my Department to increase our trade with Brazil. We are in close touch with our Embassy.

I am sorry that I cannot supply the information the hon. Member requires with regard to the lack of accommodation at our Consulate in Rio; but I am told that the Inspectorate has been increased and every effort will be made to bring our Consulate up to a pitch of perfection that will secure the approbation of my hon. Friend. I will look into the question of the stamps. The increase of one of the charges from 18s. 9d. to £1 is not one that I should object to, and if the merchants and others interested feel that it would be more convenient to pay the extra 1s. 3d. I should imagine that the matter can easily be arranged.

Sir G. HAMILTON:

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reduce some and increase others.

Photo of Mr William Joynson-Hicks Mr William Joynson-Hicks , Twickenham

We will try to meet the hon. Member's suggestion. I am in communication with Chambers of Commerce in this country and with foreign Chambers of Commerce asking them to make suggestions on this question, and if they do so we will try to carry them into effect. With regard to the cotton question, that is a very difficult one. The cotton industry desires to increase its supplies of raw cotton. At one time I represented one of the cotton constituencies of Lancashire, and I realise the vital importance of the supply of raw cotton to that great county, and anything we can do to increase the supply of raw cotton we shall certainly do. I suggest that my hon. Friend should bring some of those gentlemen who have recently been to Rio and who represent the Cotton Federation to consult with me. We can then go fully into this matter, and if there is anything I can do to improve the position of affairs I will gladly consider it.

I have nothing more to say except to thank those Members and officials on this side of the sea who contributed so much to the success of the British Section of the Rio Exhibition. In this respect I have to thank, also, the Brazilian Government and particularly the President. I am sure that they all fully realise the very close ties of friendship which for over 100 years have bound Britain to Brazil. Brazil is one of our oldest friends and she was the only South American Republic which joined us as an ally during the War.

While we thank the President and the Government of Brazil for the very kind and courteous reception they gave to the Members of this House, I would like to go a little further and say to them, "We should be very glad if you could translate that sympathy and that courtesy into a little concession in regard to those tariffs of which my hon. Friend has spoken." It is true that we as a Free Trade country are not in a position to make any concession of this kind to Brazil but we can promise to make no discrimination against what they choose to send to our markets are open to her. I hope that one result of this great exhibition will be to draw closer if possible the ties between Brazil and ourselves. I also hope that concessions may prove possible, and that our ties may be drawn closer, not merely in sympathy and in sentiment, but in our trade relations as well.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

I hope, as one of the new Members of the House, that I may claim its indulgence for a few minutes. We have listened to three very interesting speeches with regard to the great country of Brazil. May I ask the attention of the House to another great country, the great Republic of Russia? In the Gracious Speech from the Throne we are informed that steps have been taken to bring about a settlement of the difficulties in the Near East. I want to associate myself with the hon. Member for Dundee. (Mr. Morel) in regretting that in that Speech there is not included the settlement of our differences with the Russian people. Those of us who are seeking to establish good relations, as we all profess to do, with all peoples, must regret that the Government have not taken this unique opportunity presented by the Conference at Lausanne to bring within the ambit of European amity the great people of Russia. The calling of the Lausanne Conference was an opportunity which could have been utilised by the Government to end the estrangement which has existed between ourselves and Russia since the break up of that people in the War. I come from a part of the country where Russia is important to us. Before the outbreak of the War Russia was one of our great customers, and great consignments of cloth were passing from the West Riding of Yorkshire regularly to the Russian markets. Not only was that the case with regard to cloth, but it was also the case with regard to machinery. Two years ago I happened to meet the manager of some large engineering works in a town just outside the borders of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and he told me that out of a population of 18,000, 6,000 were unemployed. The stable industry of that town was the making of ploughs and agri- cultural machinery. I further asked him where the goods went before the War, and his reply was that 95 per cent. found their market in Russia and Central Europe. That market has been killed. I hope the Government and the Prime Minister will make it quite clear that we are going to have done once and for all with this ruinous, stupid policy towards Russia which has characterised us during the last four or five years, and that we are going to seize every opportunity to restore cordial relations and to open up trade.

4.0 p.m.

A few weeks ago I was interested, as no doubt many other hon. Members were, in the first announcement which the Prime Minister made to the country after the Dissolution. Speaking at Glasgow, the right hon. Gentleman said that he had to regret that the only-policy he could foreshadow was a negative policy. A fortnight later he spoke at Leeds, and he was then able to advance a step. He said that he was prepared to state that, as a means of reviving trade, the Government would encourage the development of trade within the Empire. He advanced one step from a negative to a positive policy. He said that he was prepared to inform the country that it would be their duty in the new Government to do all that they possibly could to develop trade within the Empire. We all hope to see that done, and we hope that he will be successful in that work. But what are the facts of the case? I went to the trouble of trying to find out what that meant. Putting on one side British India, whose people are not very friendly with us, and with whom trade relations are very difficult, the total population of our great Colonies—Australia, South Africa and Canada—comes to 17 millions. But in Russia and in Central Europe, there is a population of 250 millions, whose markets are dead to us. The one wee suggestion that the Prime Minister is able to make is to develop trade within the Empire. We say, "Very well and good, by all means and in every way, but why neglect these great countries which took our goods before the War?" I do hope that we shall have some assurance that there is going to be an end to boycotting Russia or any country, and that every effort is going to be made to restore relations that will encourage trade.